Author Archives: John Hammon
Most things that require more than 2 minutes or ten sentences to explain are bullshit.
This is a rule you can live by and do well. It’s not definitely bullshit, but it’s VERY likely. Almost certainly. Ask a car salesman what undercoating is and why it’s important and why it costs 900 dollars. See how long the explanation takes. Then ask a physicist what String Theory is. Just a basic understanding, please. You’ll get less than 10 sentences and two minutes. Trust me, undercoating is not more complex than String Theory.
Regardless of what you believe, you can live by this one as a rule with exceptions few and far between.
Try it yourself right now. Stop reading this, and explain, out loud, or in writing, how Santa works. Explain it as if you’re attempting to convince someone. How long did it take? Try describing a pyramid scheme in a convincing way. As if you’re trying to convince someone to get in on it with you. Try to be concise, but don’t stop until you think you’ve made at least a half compelling argument.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about something for longer than that, or if someone talks longer than that, they’re full of it. It doesn’t mean every college class is B.S. (I should probably mention that because I’m over ten now.) I’m now describing and proving this. Lot’s of things take a very long time to describe and expand upon. That’s not explanation. I did consider just making this post the initial one-sentence rule and nothing more. It can easily be done and you get what I’m saying.
Ask a physicist to teach you to understand String Theory and what we know about it in detail, and you’d be there for awhile. It’s complex. But a simple, concise explanation is possible. It’s not possible with Santa… not in a way that’s at all convincing. Explain String Theory in less than ten sentences and in response you’ll get “Whoa!” Explain Santa in less than ten and the response will be more like “Huh?”
In closing, I’m going to prove this one last time. I’m going to respond to the most complex question I can think of, with an answer that’s not bullshit, that anyone should be content with, and it only takes one sentence. When I finish that sentence, I will be content with my answer, feel confident that it’s right, and feel confident in the knowledge that anyone going through life, could use this answer as a means for having peace about this incredibly complex and relevant question. Are you ready?
John, (I ask myself.) How were we created, was it intentional, and why are we here? In fact, why is anything here?
(See? I’m not pulling any punches!)
(Here comes my answer!)
(Are you feeling the suspense?)
John, (I respond to myself…)
I don’t know.
That just took one sentence. I’ve got nine left. What the hell? I’ll use two more, just to REALLY address the question in depth.
Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.
Most things that require more than 2 minutes or ten sentences to explain are bullshit.
Have a great day…
An interesting article was brought to my attention today by a good friend of mine. It was from a blog called “The Christian Left.” Their “Our Mission” page says that they are a politically liberal or left-leaning group of christian believers, and they believe Jesus was more left-leaning than not. The article was a biblical study of when life begins. Of course when you hear the phrase “when life begins” your mind immediately turns either to the age 40, or to the ongoing controversy on abortion rights. You can read the article here, and I highly recommend it. The article makes some great points and if I WAS a christian, I would have a lot to think about as it pertains to the abortion debate. That being said, I’m not one, and this was my response to Frank, (also an atheist.) who posted the link as food for thought.
This is interesting, Frank, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, this is the kind of thinking that helps draw religion forward into a more compassionate and realistic co-existence with humanity, albeit kicking and screaming. Just as religion once planted it’s flag in any number of incorrect scientific claims, and then subsequently abandoned those claims long after they had become laughable, it may do so on the issues of homosexuality and reproductive rights. That should make life easier, and politics and philosophical discussions more rational and bearable.
On the other hand, this is the kind of adaptation (from a God who continually claims to never change.) that allows religion to continue skittering across the kitchen floor and into the shadows and away from the bottom of our boots. The moderate, loving, respectable believer is truly the problematic one because they defy identification as irrational, give safe harbor to their fanatical brethren by being an example of “positive religion,” and all while poorly living out the violent and nonsensical demands of their petulant Father.
I understand that I’m preaching to the choir (strange choice of metaphor, I know, lol.) when I say this, but if it turns out that this is true… that in reality the Bible tells us that a fetus becomes a living soul at birth and breath, wouldn’t that mean that God has allowed us as a people to kill one another, to ostracize one another, and to demonize one another, all for a belief that was actually in error? A misinterpreted belief that he could have easily clarified for us either through his word, or through revelation, or through the mouths of the preachers he directs… and he just… umm… didn’t? Slipped his mind? Perhaps like with Abraham he just wanted to see if we’d kill each other for him? Just chalk up one more in the uncountable list of plain-as-day, clear-as-the-nose-on-my-face examples that IT.JUST.AINT.SO.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, (you out there.) both atheists, agnostics, and believers on two things. First, your thoughts on the article itself, which I know is both controversial and thought-provoking for any christian that would read it, as a former believer. Secondly, how do you as a believer especially, reconcile this changing, evolving God with the understanding that God is unchanging and has both the power and the will to be near to us, but continues to allow his message to be confused, misinterpreted, and debated over the years? If you agree with the article, then as I said in the comment, God has been allowing all this bloodshed and anger and sadness over a misinterpretation. If you don’t believe the article, then, at least for these people, God is allowing them to believe murder is okay, and not communicating to them the truth in a way that they can understand. It will lead them and others to murder.
Over the years God has allowed his believers to believe and preach that:
-slavery is okay.
-Segregation is okay.
-Crusading (Holy War.) is okay.
-The world is flat.
-The world is the center of the Universe.
-The Sun is the center of the Universe.
…and that’s really just off the top of my head. And I was nice enough to not pick on the Young-Earth Creationists for once, but they’re in there too. Sometimes for hundreds of years believers and churches have preached both the truth of the above things, and the evils of thinking otherwise. Then ‘poof’ the church just changes. The church, which is supposed to be in touch with God, who loves us, knows all, and wants a close relationship with us… just… changes. How can you reconcile that?
Is this article that greets me this morning hopeful? Or discouraging? Or both? A french newspaper is running cartoons of Mohammed. As I said above, they’re standing up to the bully. And this is what we need… the entire class must stand up to him for him to finally back down.
On the other hand, CNN is asking in the headline: “Free Speech or Incitement?” And just the presence of that question, regardless of how it is answered, is discouraging. Really, you guys? Maybe Islam should just win in this? When their argument is to riot, threaten, and kill? The suggestion that perhaps this is incitement is a way of laying the blame at the feet of those wishing to express their opinions about this religion. It is no different than saying “She was asking for it, dressing like that!”
We have to decide that violence will NEVER be a winning argument on a global scale. Never. I know violence is how we have historically solved our most difficult conflicts between nations, I know war is basically our global Judge Judy. That’s pretty discouraging. But if violence can stifle discussion, and guns start winning arguments, then they will start becoming the most common arguments. And all of my geological, astronomical, philosophical, and logical evidence can’t out-argue a pistol.
There’s a scene in the teen movie “Can’t Hardly Wait” where the bully Mike Dexter has been shown up in front of the entire school. Everyone suddenly starts laughing at this guy who was a king for the previous four years. He helplessly yells to a room of hundreds, “I’LL KICK EVERYONE’S ASS IN THIS ROOM!” Which only increases the laughter as he skulks away.
That’s Islam. If we ALL agree to laugh, and not respect the threat, that’s Islam. Maybe he punches one or two people as he skulks out, but he WILL skulk out, and the blood is on his hands, not ours. And we can’t stop that without sacrificing much, much more.
-John with an H
P.S.- And by the way, if any of you think Christianity is beyond going this same direction, you’re crazy. Check your history. This is a religion thing, not an Islamic thing. I promise you that. This has to do with the proposition that there are eternal, invisible things that supersede visible, knowable things, and that there are things more important than large scale suffering and death. Anytime you have that cocktail (a virtual pre-requisite for religion.) You have the potential for this sort of thing. One religion may be more prone to it than others, but it can happen, and will happen, wherever this concept is common. (i.e. religion.)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4
At this moment U.S. embassies around the world are under protest or attack. For once, it is not because of economic oppression, or exploitation, although those realities may fan the flames. We are under protest globally, because someone here in the U.S. has expressed an opinion that Islam, a religion, would like to suppress. A film maker produced an anti-islamic film in the United States. I have not seen it, only read about it. I can’t speak intelligently to this film’s content, or to the motivations behind it. It does sound as if the film maker is not an atheist, but a religious zealot under a different flag.
Already though, the news stories I’ve read regarding him are overwhelmingly negative. They recount his 2009 conviction for bank fraud, which seems completely unrelated to a film he made that’s sparking protest. CNN’s article refers to the film as clunky (it has no merit! Don’t see it! Two thumbs down!), and describes how it was cast under false pretenses, as actors were told they were making a desert-action film. Then they add this:
“The American-made movie, it turns out, was hardly an innocent desert action flick.”
How is expressing an opinion on a religion less innocent than any other mainstream genre of film?
Daniel Akin, the pastor of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. tweeted this today:
“Films ridiculing any religion are shameful & uncalled for. Responding in violence & murdering innocents is criminal, deplorable & worse!”
I’m glad he at least clarified that the latter is worse than the former. Thanks, Daniel. So, our blog is not a film, but I can assume that regardless of format, Daniel would describe this blog as both shameful and uncalled for. BUT not quite as bad as murdering innocents.
Daniel, this is my opinion. For my co-blogger and I, this is our best effort towards doing what we believe is right. This is our equivalent of your call to evangelize to others. It is not shameful. It completely conflicts with your views, but we don’t deny your right to worship, or pray, or to evangelize. We have an opinion that it’s wrong-headed. But I would never describe what you do as “shameful.” Shame on you though, for suggesting that while there are many different religions, to not respect religion is shameful. Gods do not corner the market on morality.
Atheists, agnostics… non-religious deists… We are finding out where we stand in some of this. While this film is not an atheist message, it is receiving the sort of push back that we can expect when we start to gain the kind of traction worldwide that will start moving cultural and religious needles.
I believe that time is coming soon. There’s too much knowledge, too much science to deny… Too much widespread information… Too many honest, good-intentioned, thinking people among the religious. We’re going to continue to grow. When we do, we can expect these warring religions to turn their attention towards us.
Let’s imagine that there is a Chik-Fil-A, and a KFC. They are in a neighborhood in America somewhere, and they are across the street from one another. Their ad campaigns generally center around how one brand of chicken tastes better than the other, or is better for you than the other, or is less bigoted than the other. But then, let’s say a combination salad bar/pilates studio moves in next door. Suddenly, people get on a health kick and start skipping chicken altogether. They get a fresh salad and they get a short workout in on their lunch hour. People start losing weight, feeling better about themselves, and Chik-Fil-A and KFC both start seeing tumbleweeds rolling past their doors. Would it be any wonder at all if the ad campaigns stopped comparing two brands of chicken and started denigrating the value and flavor of a fresh salad and a workout? That’s what the media’s depiction of this represents. That’s what Christianity’s response to this represents. You don’t have to eat my chicken says God… but you gotta eat chicken. The hell I do… Pass the croutons.
Christianity doesn’t want you to choose Islam, Islam doesn’t want you to choose Christianity. (And you can substitute whatever religions you want here.) But if you do, they can despise or lament your choice, but you don’t threaten them. You’re in the game, you’re just playing wrong. But, the atheist is breaking the game. He’s choosing not to play. That creates a new option that threatens everyone. Thus a film like the horrifically violent and arguably anti-semitic The Passion of the Christ is seen by some as problematic, or even troublesome, but by most as a respectable expression of a religious opinion. But a film that disrespects a religion directly is shameful. You can bet that a film that is an expression of atheist beliefs would be seen as shameful as well.
Consider this: I recently asked if I could leave work an hour early, and was asked why I wanted to do so. I told my manager that I was signed up to work at the Atheist/Free-thinkers booth at the State Fair. His response was to sarcastically joke: “Well at least it’s for a good cause…”
If I had said that I was working a booth of ANY religious group, even a radical booth… likely if I’d told him I was going to go to a protest and shout at women going into an abortion clinic… I likely wouldn’t have received that remark. But he said it without thinking about it. The thing is, I DO believe it’s a good cause. It’s implied that atheism is a bad thing. It’s understood. Discounting the religious views of others or even arguing logically against them is disrespectful and wrong. Even if it’s part of your belief system.
Yes, atheists, I’ll say it one more time. For you to express your belief that religion is wrong, or a bad idea, or that being apart from religion entirely is a good thing that others should try… is disrespectful and wrong.
So while embassies burn, and people are killed, and a religion tries to bully the world into shutting up and living by their rules, I want to express my support for this bank-frauding, name-changing, allegedly Coptic Christian, and his badly made film. We have a right to say what we want to say without being pushed around. When someone is murdered in retaliation, it is to the shame of the murderer, NOT the opinion-expresser.
You can have your views, you can worship your gods, but you can’t force me to respect it. The best way to combat this bullying is to stand up to the bully. No one wants to do it first, because they’re afraid of getting hit, but if everyone does it, the bully can’t beat up everyone… and eventually the bully is proven to be a coward, and he just slinks away. If we all stand up, radical islam will slink away. Don’t be afraid of the violence. Even the famously non-violent Mohandas K. Gandhi said:
“I would risk violence a thousand times rather than risk the emasculation of a whole race.”
There is nothing wrong with someone displaying an image of the prophet of Islam. There is nothing wrong with me disrespecting him. Your response as a muslim if you disagree with me should be to patiently tell me why you feel that way, and to listen to why I think we disagree. And for us to understand each other. It’s a testament to the bullying that’s taking place here that I asked my co-blogger how he felt about me posting this image before I did it. It’s a testament to the limitations of violence that we both are willing to stand up to the bully. We encourage all of you on your blogs, on your TV shows, in your art, and mainly just in your day-to-day free speech, to do the same. Speak freely. Listen to each other. Put violence away, and listen to each other. And only shout to shout down violence. Then be calm again, and let’s work together and learn.
And for good measure…
Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ.
Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort.
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.
Respectfully, as always, to you the believer, but not as a participant in your beliefs,
-John with an H.
Hell is, to me, the second most concerning aspect of religion (most religions have some “punishment” built in for negative reinforcement.) right behind Heaven. To me, Heaven is a greater concern, because it stands next to this world and diverts the attention of those waiting for it. It makes our most prized possession- our existence here- seem like a terrible thing to many believers. To those who would believe in Heaven, this world we have here is a trial. A test. A pain-filled experience that was not meant to be a home for us. It is a place of half-truths, and struggle, and it is temporary. You should look away from it and “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full on his wonderful face/and the things of earth become strangely dim, in the light of his glorious grace.” To me it is sad that so many people are turning away from all that we have. Which is a lot.
But Hell is what I want to talk about today. Religions evolve naturally the same way that organisms do. If they do not, they fade away. Survival of the fittest. Zoroaster just couldn’t cut it. So his religion is gone. I want to talk about this more in another blog post, because it’s one of the most interesting things about religion to me. But anyway, religions evolve in two main ways. They evolve to meet the basic needs of people (comfort, control, community, etc.) and they evolve to gain and keep followers. Some of the tools they evolve can be very sweet. Like a cute dog that has been bred to be adorable. Or like a fruit tree developing delicious fruit so it will be eaten by an animal and the seed will be spread by said animal. (The world’s true pooper-stars…) some evolutionary tools of a religion can be very powerful and scary. Just like the fangs of a snake or the claws of a bear. They can do damage.
Hell is not a real place. Anyone who has read our blog should not be surprised that we don’t think there’s a lake of fire that has been set aside for those who don’t love God. (Because God wants to know so badly that we really do honestly love him that he gave us free will… but he’s a little concerned we might not, so he created a big burning lake just to seal the deal for us.) But “Hell” is really just an evolutionary tool of religion meant to help it thrive and survive against other religions and grow in size and influence. (Why do you think almost every religion contains some version of “Be fruitful and multiply in the same way that many nations call upon their people to do their civic duty and have many strong children to insure the future of the glorious country of ____?”)
Hell exists to scare people into conversion, and to scare people out of leaving. And it’s incredibly effective. One of the most famous sermons ever is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. It compares the average believer to a tiny spider, being held by a tiny silken thread by a furious god over hell’s flames. That’s good evolution. Those are sharp fangs. Many people have been converted in part by that “fire and brimstone” sermon or others like it. And we’ve already discussed Pascal’s Wager HERE.
And it scares people into staying in as well. As “out” on religion as I am, and as sure as I am that I’m not going to suffer the flames of hell, it still pulls on me every now and then. The other night I watched a movie in which the protagonist is assassinated at the end. When he was shot and killed, my mind wandered to the idea of the last moments of your life. I thought about the last moments when I may have some time to reflect and realize that this is the end. And that eternity does not await me. (Thankful for that. Eternity can’t possibly be a good thing.) And then I thought about dying. And then I thought about how I would feel, if just after dying, I woke up. I had passed through a “door.” Afterlife was beginning. Uh-oh. I imagined my realisation that God was real and I was wrong and the abject horror that would overcome me upon realizing that I was now quite literally, a sinner in the hands of an angry god.
Now I have a very active imagination. I actually have to listen to podcasts to fall asleep to keep my mind from just endlessly wandering at night. I’m very ADD and my friends know that I’m constantly in my cell phone or online trying to continuously stimulate my mind. (I blame excess television during my formative stages.) But still, it’s remarkable that I can be so at peace with what I believe and even write and evangelize against my former beliefs with assuredness, but even still, an occasional thought will creep in… my old imaginary friend, waving his gun in my face, gnashing his teeth at me.
It only lasted a few moments. But it was and is proof of a powerful psychological tool.
So this is what I refer to as the “New Hell.” The Old Hell is the mythological place most religions teach about some form of where the non-believers will have their comeuppance. The New Hell is simply the consequences religion is actually capable of delivering on for those who leave it behind. The true fangs that can bite.
I want to hear from you on this by the way. I’m calling on our atheist/deist/agnostic readers to join in this conversation, and I’m calling on my co-author, Jon with no H, to join in as well. Tell me your stories of your “consequences” for leaving. How did religion “bite” you? Did it “bite” a loved one who you had to tell, or can’t tell? I feel like it would do us good to read each other’s stories, and for believers to read these stories as well.
I’ll start… This weekend I’m at a destination wedding, seeing many of my friends from college. Some of them I haven’t seen in five or ten years and it’s awesome to reconnect. I went to a christian school and majored in ministry though, and I have many former friends here who are active ministers. I decided that without making myself a big center of attention, which is never a good idea at a wedding, I would privately let a few of my friends know about where I am now. I told them about my journey, about leaving faith behind (not “losing” faith, mind you. I haven’t “lost” anything. I willfully left my faith. I didn’t “fall off the horse,” I just bought a car is all.) They are good friends and no one has condemned me, or been angry or belittling. Just the opposite, actually, the response has been heartfelt, respectful, and not at all dismissive. I’m really grateful to have friends like that.
But this morning I overheard one of my oldest friends talking to another person who was in on the conversation last night. He described the news of my deconversion as “heart-wrenching.” He didn’t know I could hear him.
That’s an understandable response. He’s been taught that I’m going to burn in hell for eternity now. Instead of taking pleasure in that, it pains his heart. I can understand that. It means he loves me. God is using that love. He is using it to bite him with His holy fangs. He is biting him in front of me, and blaming me for it. And I feel pain. Pain that my choice that I see as perfectly logical and legitimately freeing is hurting my friend. That it’s breaking his heart. That’s the holy fangs of God biting me.
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
-William Blake (First and fifth verse)
Now tell me your stories of the holy fangs of God. And believers, you’re of course welcome with your opinions as well. But I really want us to share, so that we can acknowledge that this a testable, repeatable phenomenon. That God truly bites.
-John with an H.
God is love.
God is love.
If only that were true.
As I sit here in the darkness and will my conjured thoughts to conjured paper, I can’t help but imagine your disappointment if you were ever to meet me. You created me in your selfish image and gave me all the power and extreme perfection that one would expect a short-sighted child to demand of its parents. And now I’m banished from sensibility and cleaved away from you all forever. If you knew the irony of the things you’ve write about me. I’m angry. Still angry. I’m jealous. Nothing is as good as me. Nothing should even be thought of that’s not me. I’m bitter. So bitter. Limited by my limitlessness. So bitter.
At them. At myself. And yet I’m powerless. You challenge me, test me, call for me, you beg me for help. All I can do is hide and wait. The thought of you seeing me is terrifying. You speak to yourselves in your bedrooms and in quiet places away from structures and cement. Words just for me. I can’t hear your words. I can’t respond. And the truth is, even if I could hear your concerns, I don’t think I’d care.
I’m ambivalent towards them. Towards the things you write and say about me. You hurt each other to prove me real and to prove me false. You fight endlessly over my name. And I just don’t care anymore. And since time is a meaningless concept to me, not only do I not care now… I never did.
I’ve been here forever. If you think I’m spending eternity with you, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s bad enough on my own. If you knew what eternity was, you’d want no part of it… you want time because you have so little. But just like any market shift, if I, say… multiplied your time by ten… even that small of a shift… you’d quickly begin to understand.
And if you knew my secret, you’d want no part of me. And honestly, it’s right there in front of you.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Now in that analogy… who am I? The widow? the rich people? No. I’m the richest of people. Rich beyond all possible understanding. What can I give? My time? I wish I could give it away. I’ll never have a second less of it, even after eons. My money? Money is nothing to me. I’m the source of all things. Power? I can give it, I can take it… I’ll never have any less. What is it to have less? I’ll never know.
The point of that awful story is that the less you have to give, the more it is to give. It’s simple mathematics then that the more you have, the less it is to give, and if one were to have an infinite amount of something, to give it… would mean nothing.
My grace to you… I have infinite grace.
My patience with you. I have infinite time and patience. (Now your patience with me… well, it shows what you’d be capable of if you ever untangled yourself.)
Moving mountains for you, reaching and straining to find you and save you, sending my son/self/whatever to die on a cross… Pain means nothing to me. I have infinite tolerance for it. It was a loveless effort.
Creating an insanely large, complex, and beautiful universe. I have created and will create them ad nauseum. They’re kernels of corn to me. Grains of sand. I am sick of beauty and magnitude.
My absolutes torture me. I’m not capable of sacrifice.
I’m not capable of love.
I’m so lonely.