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Before getting to the questions, let me first off make this clear.  These questions are directed at the vision of the afterlife held by those Christians who believe in a “literal” interpretation and understanding of the Bible, in a very real heaven and a very real hell, and in angels, Lucifer, and fallen angels.

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Second off, while written mainly in response to the above mentioned  Christians’ views about the afterlife, they also have, surprisingly, a great deal of relevance for almost any idea and conception of a life after death.

Now, having gotten the offs out of the way, on to the setting up questions.

333px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Fall_of_the_Rebel_Angels_-_Google_Art_ProjectGod created Adam and Eve.  God created Angels. He created both toGen_03-24_Gjertson be his eternal companions.  Yet both failed him in that.  Some angels rebelled against God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God.

Given that so far God has a 100% failure rate in creating beings to share eternity with him, then why should the afterlife be any different?  What is the difference this time from the last two times?

Is free will the issue?  Then is God going to take away humanity’s free will?  If so, then why not do so at the beginning and avoid all the pain and suffering of humanity while on earth/. And the pain and suffering that most of humanity will be in for eternity after they die? If free will was important enough to justify that much pain, then wouldn’t taking it away mean that we become something other than human, something less?

If free will is not the answer then perhaps  it is because we are going to be purified by our life here on earth  and our dross will burn away with our deaths?   In which case, what are our impurities?  What is our dross? Often our strengths in some areas also creates weaknesses in other areas, our weaknesses in one area are a strength in another – different sides of the same coin so to speak.  What then?  Burn the coin?

In addition, we are the sum of our weaknesses and strengths.  Change them and you change who we are.  To an extent you could mess with that, but at some point in doing so that person who is experiencing heaven is not the same person who experienced life in the here and now.

Also, humans form groups.  More accurately, we are individuals who form groups.  Being individuals we form stronger groups with those who are most like us in some way.   And being individuals we are going to have disagreements with other individuals  Which means the groups are going to have disagreements.  What is to keep them from becoming violent and creating conflict and pain as they so often do now?

Perhaps  we are purified so that these differences will never get out of hand?  I am not sure how that would work.  Put a banana in a bowl of water and nothing much happens. However, take the potassium out of the banana and purify it and then drop it in the water and you get this:

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Perhaps we should  be adding more dross?  Perhaps it is the dross that defines us?

Or perhaps no borders and limitless land and is the secret?  Along with limitless food and drink, and a body that does not get hurt or know pain?  All of which would reduce or eliminate the most common sources of conflict. But not all.  After all, both Adam and Eve had that, as did the Angels. And it did not work then. So, why now?

It seems that God made both angels and humanity with the same design flaw.  In fact, I You_are_God's_mistake_think that this “flaw” would also make heaven, a paradise in a forever life after death, impossible for humanity, whether it is a God driven one or a secular one.   Humans are too diverse a group for that.

 

Somehow, I think the only way an eternity of bliss would work is if the species inhabiting it were not human.  Between our needs as individuals and our needs as part of a group, I am very much afraid that humans are not meant for an eternity of bliss and happiness.

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One of my pet peeves are people who believe in the literal meaning of almost anything. The argument is that people know what the words mean so there is no excuse for not understanding the clear and obvious meaning of whatever. Where I live the Bible and the Constitution are the most common items where this belief holds sway.  But it can hold true on other topics and areas too.

Just recently, a person used this argument on me in regards to the U S. Constitution. What follows is what I said to this person, in a slightly more organized and cleaned up (grammar and spelling, not what you are thinking) version of that response.

 

DictionaryYes, words do have meanings. However, when those words are applied to specific situations, fuzziness results. For those interested in science, consider it sort of a reverse quantum effect where instead of becoming more defined when measured or looked at, as happens with atomic particles, words become less defined and more fuzzy.

To illustrate this, let’s take a non-political, non-religious, and, hopefully, non-controversial example – colors. Haven’t most of us at some point disagreed with someone on the color of some object?  Is that dress red or pink, or is that car black or grey or Color testspossibly dark green. Some of you may have, at one time or another, looked at one of those  color perception tests where they lay out a large array of color circles– say blue on one end and green on the other with small differences going on in between. At what point do you say this circle is blue green, or that one green?  Yes, people can agree on the definitions of words, on the definitions of colors, but once you start applying that definition to what people are looking at, disagreements come about.

And that is the crux of the issue. Yes, people understand the dictionary definitions of words. But, in applying those definitions to the world and that understanding fuzzes.

It gets worse.

Words make sentences. Sentences make paragraphs. And paragraphs make pages.  Each rise in the number and ordering of words also increases the complexity of the meaning of those individual words since each word is modified and changed by the other words around it.   Because of this, when these masses of words are applied to the real world, greater fuzziness results.

Now, when talking about the Constitution, people who make this literalist sort of argument often also say that the reason people do not read the words as written is due to an agenda or politics or being lazy and not wanting to go through the process that the founders of this country created to change the Constitution.

However, these people never seem to consider the fact that the actual men who wrote Constitution-1250x650the Constitution disagreed, often strongly disagreed, on what those words meant and how they should be applied to real world situations.  One of many examples of this was the creation of a national bank.  Alexander Hamilton believed it to be Constitutional.  James Madison believed it to be unconstitutional.  Yet both men were there and helped in creating the Constitution. This fact alone should be strong evidence that it is not just a matter of reading the words and following them.

For another example, read a good biography of George Washington, especially his years as our first President.  He frequently worried and discussed what this or that passage of the Constitution meant and how it should be applied with his staff and advisors.  Although composed of well defined words, their meaning was not clear and simple to him. And he was the President of the Constitutional Convention.  Again, strong evidence that it is not just a simple matter of reading the words.  Words become fuzzy when applied to everyday life and reality.

This means that a person’s views of the world – of law, of the issues, etc. – are going to play a role in his understanding of what the Constitution means and says in regards to this application of its words or that application of its words.  There is no way it cannot.  But, and this is also important to understand, this does not mean that anything goes.  Fuzzy is not the same as having no shape or form.  A fuzzy boundary is not the same as no boundary.  Fuzzy means that the edges of meanings of the words are not clear and sharp and distinct, but are, instead, vague and blurred. This becomes even more true when they interact with the fuzzy meanings of other words.  In other words,  there is a great deal of room for honest disagreement and dispute.

As a final example of this fuzziness, let me use this a bit of this person’s own words in his comment to me; “we the people”.

This is a phrase used many times by people all along the political and social spectrum.  And each word of this phrase is easy to understand. And even the whole when looked at abstractly can be reasonably understood. But then try applying it to the real world, as I did with this person.

“What does that mean?  Do you include those who believe and think like me?  Or just those who think like you?  Do you mean everyone, rich and poor, educated and non-educated, communist, KKK member, John Birch Society, farmer, scientist, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, and Jew?  Or is its meaning more restrictive?”

Puzzled

 

I am sorry sir, but your meaning is not clear.

 

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I have been told I do nothing. That while on Facebook I talk about changes and issues facing our nation, that all I do about them is blog. I write the write but don’t do the walk. Usually this is when someone is in heated disagreement with me on an issue and are looking for a way to put me down, and minimize what I do.  Which, along with my experiences during Hurricane Harvey, got me thinking, and so this blog.

For myself, my critic is partially right. I don’t do any big earth shaking , country roiling , state rattling deeds. My words and actions are not going to inspire any great movements, or even any memories that will outlast me by much.  Which makes me just like most people.

However, that does not mean that what we do does not make a difference, or that the difference we make is unimportant.  In fact, one way of viewing this makes what we are doing the most important thing possible.

I know that when I view the actions and policies and statements of those who can influence and change the state, the country, the world, the bottom line of my evaluation is how will it affect people. Not people as a massive group, not people as an idea, but people as individuals. As persons.

And it is at that level that everyday people can and do make a difference.

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Stopping to help a person with a flat. Seeing a person struggling with a load and offering to help carry some of it. Pausing to let another driver in during heavy traffic.

Small things, everyday things, but they make a difference to that person at that time. They set a tone for our neighborhood, our town and help create our society.  Some examples that I personally know about during our time in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

A neighbor with a well has run a hose from her house for everyone to use since our city water is currently contaminated.

When out scouting for food and water, and too often standing in long lines, people share information and suggestions. There is water to be found there, that street is flooded, avoid it, this store is open until then, that one is not, etc.

People using grocery carts to take their water and food to their car returning that cart to those waiting in line instead of putting them in the parking lot cart corrals since there are no carts at the doors.

A co-worker with a swimming pool letting people know if they need water they can come get some from his pool – this was when we had no water, contaminated or clean.

On the neighborhood website, people in our addition offering help- from going to help clear the fallen tree, to passing on info about where to get water. One guy’s house flooded and another neighbor went right over with heavy duty vacuums to help clean the mess.

One woman got caught away from home when her street flooded and she couldn’t get back in. There was a litter of puppies trapped in her yard.Another woman managed to get through the water to the pups and rescue them.

And of course, this does not include the many people with boats and jet skis who rescued people from flooded homes.

Small things really, overall. Things that will be not only be soon forgotten, but are often not even covered to begin with. But, they helped someone, and made a difference for individual people.  Such actions not only create the bonds of a society, bonds which are essential for the survival of any society,  but are also the result of those bonds.

And this happens everyday everywhere in the US (and the world). It is not limited to times of disaster. Other examples from my life, my wife’s life, and from friends.

Having a stranger stop to help fix a flat on a rental car during a wet night in the middle of nowhere.

Providing a place to stay not just once, but twice to those displaced by tragedy .this-beautiful-random-act-of-kindness-was-photographed-give-this-awesome-guy-a-like-for-caring

Providing first aid to those injured by a tornado that was still there.

When seeing a man who had enough money for a gallon of gas but not enough to pay for the gas can the gas station insisted he had to buy instead of borrow – buying the gas can and the gas.

Paying the difference for a person in the grocery costs at the store when they were short of money.

Helping a neighbor look for a lost pet.

Along with other drivers who stopped, pulling a young man out of a car that had flipped just before it caught on fire.

And the list goes on. Nothing that by itself will change a nation. But done by the tens and hundreds of millions each day, they help cement the bonds of society. In all of the above, there was no concern about the person’s race, religion, gender, employment, or politics. Just a person in need.  And a person willing to help.

So, while it is well worth the time and effort to try to influence the ones who can shape and shift the country, to join together with other like thinking people to advocate and to press for needed changes, you and I can still make a difference on that most fundamental level, the person.

And as for my blog.  Well, even if I can just influence a couple of people with one or two of my blogs, cause a couple of people to think, or maybe even act, that would be enough. Especially since from small beginnings such as this, things can grow and grow large enough to make the bigger differences that so impresses people. But, probably not. And if it does wind up making a larger difference through a chain of hundreds of people, I will probably never know. And that’s OK.   I am fine with the small.

So, no, no earth shaking differences. Just small ones. And usually not original either. In Just a Reminder 2fact, the ideas embedded within my words here are not new, and have been expressed many millions of times by others.  But, then, perhaps they need to be. Just as a reminder.

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I am an atheist. There are some atheists who get upset when someone says they will pray for them. Many others who would denounce prayers, and sometimes thoughts, as being worthless and empty nothings. Especially during times such as now.  I am an atheist who lives in Beaumont, which is about 90 miles east of Houston.

What that means is that, although we did not get whacked nearly as badly as Houston, we did experience severe flooding (still on-going in some areas as I write this), power outages, loss of water, and loss of lives. As I write this, there are no open roads leading out of the area I live in.

It is times such as these that you see many people calling for prayers for those of us in danger. Or passing on that we are in their thoughts. Or that they wish and hope for the best for us.

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Many atheists, and even some non-atheists sneer at such things as nothing.  Me, I don’t.

When something bad happens to me, my wife my will say she is sorry that it happened, and give me a hug. Those are not nothings, they are expressions of emotional support. They also build up and support the bonds of our family. The same happens when you expand this to friends.  Much of what we do and say to family and friends is nothing more, and nothing less, than expressions of emotional support meant to provide comfort.  These words ware not meant to solve the problem. Instead, they are meant to let you know that you are not alone.

Humans cannot live by bread and water alone, especially during times of trouble. We are a social species. In fact, a highly social species. Emotions are an important part of who and what we are.  To ignore that is to ignore a large part of what it means to be human. Relationships and society are an important part of what we are.

To me, when I see these expressions of support – our thoughts, our prayers are with you – I understand them as being these sorts of statements. If I gratefully accept it from friends and family, and find it comforting, then why not from the society I live within and am a part of? These sorts of words are part of our social fabric and part of the ties that bind us together.

Now, if there are actions that can be taken but these words are taking their place, then there is a problem. I have blogged about that before. But, that is not true for the vast majority of these.  Many of these people have offered us a place to stay if we need it. Others have contributed money or food to relief efforts. And others have actively participated in such relief efforts. For others, prayers and thoughts are the most that they can give.

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Finally, why should I take offense or get mad or make light of someone else wishing me well. To me, our society could stand to use more, not less of this.

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The other day I had finished eating my nice healthy lunch at Subway. In depositing the trash in the approved container I noticed a small magazine called Signs of the Times.  On its front cover it had the name of one of its articles, “Christian-atheist dialogue”.  Well, since it was free, I of course had to grab it and look it over.

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The article was actually not bad, and not what I was expecting going in.  It was, basically, an article about how too many discussions between atheists and Christians are not truly discussions because both sides are talking “past each other”.  Neither side is understanding what the other is saying and meaning – something that happens in many other areas besides atheist Christian dialogues.  The writer, Ed Dickerson, made it clear that this article was not about debates but about actual conversations.  And Dickerson does a good job of quickly laying out some guidelines for how to have a  meaningful and worthwhile conversation.

First, recognize it is a conversation and not a debate.  In debates most people are not really listening with the intent to understand what the other person is saying, but are, instead, listening for a weakness that they can exploit or a way to counter what is being said.  In other words, no true listening goes on.

So, the first requirement for having an actual conversations is to listen and understand before responding.  The next requirement is to avoid harsh language.  So far, so good. And it is good advice for any true dialogue on anything.  Dickserson also ends it well, with a bit about “respect versus ridicule”.

If that were the whole article then this article would fit nicely in my recommended reading list as a basic primer on how to have a dialogue.

But that is not the whole article.  There is a bit next to the end  where Dickerson takes a wrong, but instructive turn. It is, of course, his section on “facts versus assumptions”.

Dickerson starts out well, saying that the scientists use of naturalism has worked well – “If you don’t think so, try taking a ride on an airplane!”.  However, after this he veers off.  Which is to be expected I guess since it is a publication that supports young earth creationism.

Dickerson veers straight into the both sides rely on faith on some issues view.  Namely, in this case, the origin of life on earth.  Yes, says Dickerson, Christians have to accept on Rauserfaith the Bible’s story of divine Creation, but so too do scientists.  After all, there were no humans around to see it happen.

This statement is instructive in that it shows a basic misunderstanding of science and how it works, one that is very common among creationists, especially among the young earth variety. What is instructive, and frustrating, is that they honestly believe it to be true and do not see how their assumptions has caused them to support a false narrative.

Yes, no one was there. But that does not mean we cannot know anything.  Actions have consequences.  The eruption of a volcanoes leave their mark  The decay of atoms can tell us many things about the objects they are part of.  Skeletons leave fossils behind, and even soft parts can be fossilized.  Yes, we can only see things directly today. But the things we see today were formed by processes acting in our yesterdays. What we see today can be combined with what we know of physics and chemistry and geology to provide very good evidence of what happened in the past. Even as long as billions of years ago.

So, no, science does not have to take it on faith.  They take it on evidence.  And, although this was the only place in this article that broke down, it is a major break down, and instructive. It shows that there are times when we cannot even agree on what is fact and what is assumption (something that is not unique to just Atheist/Christian dialogues).   When that happens, it becomes much harder to bridge the divide on that issue. Note though my words at the end of the sentence; “on that issue”. Not agreeing on what is and is not fact on one issue does not mean that all issues are going to have similar divides.

Overall, it was a good piece about how to have a constructive dialogue.  As I said,  I find it interesting that it falls down in regards to what is fact and not.  I find it of more interest that in a publication in which I expected this article to be about converting the atheist, it was, instead, about how to have a “meaningful conversation”, “a respectful conversation, the purpose of which it to exchange ideas, inform each other, and clarify issues”.

In my last blog The Emptiness of Atheism, I had a bit in there about how it is not only possible, but likely, that there will be times when an atheist may have more in common with a theist, including Christians, than they do other atheists.  Christians who have the sort of goals in mind exhibited by the writers of this article may be one of them.

 

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In my last blog I talked about how confederate monuments are not about history but, instead, monuments about a society’s values.  In this blog I to stick to the theme of values, but this time to discuss an atheist’s values.

 Atheism has none.

Does that mean then that the  Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who claim that atheists are immoral creatures devoid of any redeeming trait are correct?

the_atheist

 

No. But, the reason this is not true is not due to atheism.  Atheism is nothing more than emptiness.  It is, according to the Oxford dictionary; “ Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”

There is nothing there in atheism.   It is a void, formless and empty, waiting to be filled It is what this void is filled with that allows an atheist to have morals and ethics, a sense of right and wrong. Or not.

Not believing in a God or gods leads only to the belief that there is no God or gods. It doesn’t even mean that there is no life after death. It doesn’t even mean that there is no supernatural. Both concepts are perfectly compatible with a lack of belief in a God or gods.

Atheism is a void waiting to be filled.

A curious fact though is that theism is almost the same. According to the Oxford Dictionary, again, theism is “Belief in the existence of a god or gods”.

Theism then is an idea of God/gods, formless and empty, waiting to be shaped. The idea of God/gods does not lead to any beliefs in and of itself. Not even in a life after death or the supernatural.

Like atheism, theism requires more to become formed enough to provide a framework for understanding the world for making decisions about how to live in that world.

There are no values, no ideals, no morals embedded within either atheism or theism. Both take more. That more comes from the world around us, our family and friends;  from our enemies and those who do not care either way. It comes from schools and teachers; from church and ministers;  from shows, movies, plays, and advertisements. It comes from books and music and art.

It comes from conversations, debates, and arguments with others – in person, on line, through letters, through emails, through reading.   It comes from love, from hate, from hurt and from joy. It comes from being part of a group. It comes from being alone. Both the void of the atheist and the blank face of the God/gods of the theist are shaped by our lives.

It is why, when you come right down to it, most theists and atheist share the same values. There can be, and often are, significant and important differences. But there are, most often, more areas of agreement than disagreement.  Do not believe this? Then, instead of looking at the differences start looking at what you and the others have in common. What laws, rules, morals do you agree on. Yes, the ones you disagree on may be highly important, but that still does not change the fact that most values are shared, even important ones. To have a functioning society it can be no other way.

It is also why there are times when a theist and an atheist may find their views more in agreement than the theist with other theists or the atheist with other atheists.  A anti-racist, feminist theist will find more in common with an anti-racist feminist atheist than either will with a racist, misogynist person whether that person be atheist or theist.

What it comes down to is that it is not the fact that one person is an atheist or the other a theist that really matters. What really matters is with what did the atheist fill his void, and what shape and color did the theist give their God/gods.

 

 

 

 

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A favorite argument of the Confederate monument defenders is that those who are trying to take them down are destroying history. They we are whitewashing it. That we are making future generations ignorant of history by destroying them, and that they will be the poorer for it.

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My governor, Governor Abbot of Texas, just weighed in on this issue on Wednesday.

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.

What my governor, and all like him overlook, is that these monuments were never about history.  History is best taught in museums, in schools, in books, in articles, on historical tours, all of which can provide the context and details that will allow a person to understand the history.

A stone or metal statue can and does do none of that.  What they do instead though is show what values a society values   They provide a tangible form to intangible societal beliefs and ideals.

This is something that those who created and raised these monuments understood.  It is why they so often have inscriptions that make this very plain, such as that that once was on the Battle of Liberty Place monument (taken down in 2017).

McEnery and Penn, having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed bb this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant –Governor Antoine (colored).

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.

Values, not history is what is being shown here.

The same holds true for the vast majority of other statues and monuments. When not explicitly inscribed in the monument, it is explicitly inscribed in the words of the newspapers and speeches of the time on why this or that confederate monument was raised.   A testament to white supremacy.  A testament to white superiority.

This should be something so obviously true that there should be no dispute. A monument to honor the Confederacy – an almost country created to preserve and protect the ideal that whites can own blacks as easily and as morally as they can own a dog and the ideal that whites are supreme race – can be nothing else.

These were not monuments to men and history. They were monuments to the ideals of white supremacy. Their primary intent was not to remind people of a historical person or event, but rather to remind both whites and blacks of their place.

These monuments were raised to promote the values of the Klu Klux Klan. They were raised to promote the values of Jim Crow.  They were raised to promote the values of white supremacy.

Those values are, or should be, our shame now.

 

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