Lord Of The Rings’ Heretics

May 12, 2009 at 5:13 pm 60 comments

RL Wemm recently posted this analogy here on de-conversion.com in response to an anonymous theist. It seemed worthy of being its own article, so with a few touch-ups (including two italicized additions of my own), here it is. (Thanks RL.)

Imagine if the people you trusted and looked up to believed that the Lord of the Rings was a work of fact, and imagine that you had lived your early life as if this were true. Then imagine the turmoil you would feel as you gradually discovered that the stories just did not gel with reality without an unacceptable degree of “special pleading”. Imagine your consternation and discomfort upon recognizing that Gandalf’s self-sacrifice made no logical sense given the other properties which he was supposed to have; that Sauron is an unrealistically one-dimensional character (all bad); that the archeologist who discovered the site of Rivendell was likely to have been mistaken and that Frodo may not have actually existed.

Then imagine that your community has deified Bilbo as the Real Son of Gandalf, and Frodo as the Real Son of Bilbo. Imagine that Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and Sauron have been imbued with a whole lot of magical and personal characteristics that are at variance with the descriptions of these characters provided in many sections of the Holy Books of the Rings. Imagine that your community tells you that it is the Evil Mind of Sauron that makes you aware of these inconsistencies and that dwelling on them is a sin that will result in eternal torture for you in the furnace of Mt. Doom along with the Unholy Ring.

Now imagine your community insists that the reasons why you no longer believe in the truth of these stories are one or all of the following:

  • You are angry at the Lord Gandalf and His Real Sons (LG + HRS), May They Be Forever Praised (MTBFP) for what you wrongly perceive to be a failure on their part
  • You are angry at the sins of False Followers or those who have slipped and fallen while temporarily failing to keep their eyes on the LG+HRS (MTBFP)
  • You have rejected the LG+HRS (MTBFP)
  • You have willfully turned your back on the LG+HRS (MTBFP) so that you could sinfully follow in the ways of Sauron
  • You have decided to hate the LG+HRS (MTBFP)
  • You have never been a Real Follower of the LG+HRS (MTBFP)
  • You have rejected the truth because it is too difficult to follow
  • You have had your heart hardened against the LG+HRS (MTBFP) by Sauron
  • You have failed to read the right books (canonical Tolkien)
  • You have insisted on reading the wrong books (probably Harry Potter)
  • You have preferred to have faith in logic and reason
  • You have failed to prayerfully suppress your evil doubts
  • You have questioned the stories told of the Holy Ring as interpreted by those who had been filled with the Spirit of Gandalf
  • You have failed to read the Lord of the Rings – at all, properly, frequently or prayerfully
  • You have failed to ask for help from those properly grounded in the Ring of Faith
  • You are deluded by False Prophets and people who are not Real Followers
  • You are ignorant of the True Faith and the Real Followers

PLUS

  • mirrors of every other claim which continuing Christians make about those who have abandoned their beliefs because they found them to be logically untenable.

Now change the story to the ones you were told about Santa Claus and see how it reads. Then try Tinkerbell, the Tooth Fairy, Trolls, Goblins, Ghosts, Witches, Leprechauns and any other childhood beliefs which you once held and have now abandoned thanks to the fact that they are not socially sanctioned in your community.

Finally, re-read what you have written about ex-Cians and see if you can feel the sense of shame which many of us experience over doing this kind of thing to others when we were in the grip of the Believe-It-Or-Else imperative.

While I doubt if this will de-convert you (because that invariably takes a long time), it may help you develop some understanding which is more closely allied with reality. Hopefully, it will lessen the likelihood of you insulting de-cons because of your reliance on the kind of ignorance and distortion which is promoted by religious communities under threat.

I assume that your intentions are good and that you do not actually intend to insult people whose lack of belief threatens your own position.

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  • 1. DeafAtheist  |  May 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    It’s a good analogy, but I think unfortunately Christians will argue that Lord of the Rings is fiction and their bible is an historical book. They refuse to see it as logically fictional despite the illogical stories contained within.

  • 2. RLWemm  |  May 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I like the additions, Leo. Smirk.

    You seem to havev picked up on just about all of the misspellings and grammar errors. Thanks. The one I still see is in the first paragraph:
    “The archeologist who discovered the site of Rivendell was likely to been mistaken” shoulld read: “was likely to have been mistaken”.

  • 3. RLWemm  |  May 12, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Now do you see what I mean about my evil keyboard. I swear that I did not type “havev”. Except of now, of course.

  • 4. RLWemm  |  May 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    And I didn’t type “except of now”, either. So I conclude that it is your server that is evil. :-)

  • 5. Quester  |  May 12, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    RLW,

    Welcome to the party.

    LP,

    I think you forgot to italicize your italicized additions.

  • 6. RLWemm  |  May 12, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    @Quester:

    Leo’s fun additions are obvious on my monitor. They are the stuff in brackets here:

    # You have failed to read the right books (canonical Tolkien)
    # You have insisted on reading the wrong books (probably Harry Potter)

  • 7. Quester  |  May 12, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    And thus mine eyes are opened.

    Sorry!

  • 8. RLWemm  |  May 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

    @Quester: You are forgiven. Please eat a plate of Pasta and recite the appropriate Ramen.

  • 9. Luke  |  May 13, 2009 at 12:36 am

    not a bad analogy, but i gotta say that if you still must have something be fact before you believe it’s true, then put down your books, destroy your TV, and never go to the movies.

  • 10. Quester  |  May 13, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Luke, why do you say that? In your definition of truth, does the term have more to do with enjoyment than accurate representation of what is?

  • 11. RLWemm  |  May 13, 2009 at 2:09 am

    @Luke. I find your statement hard to make sense of what you said. Are you implying that I cannot enjoy fiction if I believe facts to be true? If so, that makes no sense. Please clarify.

  • 12. Amy  |  May 13, 2009 at 8:59 am

    I’m loving this analogy…

    And then you have those of us who weren’t brought up as Real Followers, but really wanted LOTR to be true because of its beauty and symbolism. We read the books. We saw the movies. We named our pets after Prophets in the Scriptures (okay, I didn’t do this, but I did name our cat Lucy after Lucy in the “Narnia” books (quite frequently, I refer to her as Lucy-fer, blasphemer that I am). We imagined ourselves in scenes from the Canon, which character we might be–would we have fought against Gandalf like Saruman, or helped Frodo like Legolas? Were our very souls twisted beyond recognition like Smeagol’s? Could we be redeemed?

    Regardless of how we immersed ourselves in the true Lore, however, we could never shake the sneaking suspicion that it was fiction, after all. Regardless of how often we watched the films, we could never quite suspend our disbelief to the point necessary; inconsistencies in the filming always caught our eyes–in one scene, Frodo is sitting, and in the next, he is standing. Regardless of how we longed for our own Mithril coats, our own quivers that never emptied, we could not forsake the voice in our heads telling us, It’s just a story; they’re all just stories, just like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Harry Potter.” They may contain truths, but that doesn’t make them True.

    When we questioned Real Followers about the inconsistencies in the Scripture, or things that didn’t make sense to us, they gave us answers that did not satisfy us, and led to more questions. When we continued to question, we were told we must simply accept them as “Holy Mysteries.” They wrote us off as not really wanting to believe, or told us we were “trying too hard.” They told us to behave “as if” we believed LOTR to be true, and that eventually, Gandalf would give us the faith we so desperately sought. Yet when we did so, we knew deep down we were lying–to ourselves and more importantly, to Gandalf.

    In the end, we decided that if Gandalf wanted us to believe, He was going to have to make it a bit easier somehow, that we had done all we could. And though we still believe in Gandalf, it’s not really the same Gandalf as described in LOTR. We are still a bit sad when we attend viewings of the film, knowing we will never be Real Followers. We still read the Scriptures occasionally, because Frodo still calls to us. We still see the beauty of Middle Earth, even though we know we will never see it.

    One day, perhaps, we will be able to let go of our desire to believe, our desire to be Real Followers. But that day has not come yet.

  • 13. peter  |  May 13, 2009 at 10:15 am

    i think this post makes one think for sure. there is no question that it would be devastating to a person who believed a created lie like this and then woke up one day to find it false.

    with that said, i dont think that this analogy is very adept. using LOTR in the manner used above is a major stretch. i think the reason it seems so utterly ridiculous to believe something like this story is because these analogies dont mesh with the storyline of LOTR.

    in order to make a closer connection between LOTR and christianity, one would have to choose the right characters to analogize. for example, if one chose aragorn, the analogy goes much further. gandalf, frodo, bilbo, etc, dont really connect in the storyline of LOTR. so of course it doesnt make sense.

    i think in a lot of ways, this is why christianity doesnt make sense. when we grow up hearing ridiculous claims about this and that aspect of christianity it doesnt mesh with the storyline we see in the world.

    however, when the story of the world is put in a coherent manner, i believe there is a much stronger case for this analogy. so in the same way that choosing gandalf as a jesus figure doesnt work, believing certain things about jesus as a historical figure doesnt work either. i think it is only as we see the whole storyline and not misapply theology that we find a coherent story.

    peter

  • 14. Lucian  |  May 13, 2009 at 10:25 am

    As for this article not changing anyone’s opinion, You’re spot on again. As Lord Chesterfield told his son: “You will hear in the Chamber of Communes a lot of speeches, many of whom will change your opinion: just watch out that none, however, changes your vote“.

  • 15. RLWemm  |  May 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

    @Amy: You have a talent for writing poetic de-theology texts. Nice exigis.

    @Peter: It is inevitable that heresies such as yours will arise in an effort to follow the sacred writings more closely. Heck, we have Islam, don’t we? And we have Protestanism, too. In fact, we have a whole range of variations of the Abrahamic religions, all of which assert that their version is the closest one to the Real Truth as expressed in whatever Canon they accept. I am sure that some will reject the wisdom of Bilbo Baggins as unnecessary with the Coming of Frodo (Blessed be his Holy Finger).

  • 16. RLWemm  |  May 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    The question of Authentic Ring Scripture has been raised.

    Most Real Followers accept only the three books contained in the Holy Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King). There is continuing controversy about the divinity of earlier writings.

    The Inclusionists insist that the earlier book (The Hobbit) is an essential part of the revelation as it sets the scene for the essential revelation. The Exclusionists argue that The Hobbit was written for a less mature people and has been superseded by the more mature books which provide evidence of the Ring Bearing of Frodo and set out the holy mysteries of the One Ring. On the other hand, the Hobbitians accept only the earlier book as inspired and reject the Holy Trilogy as heretical.

    Academic Ring Scholars include the disputed book of The Simarillion in their studies along with fragments of earlier works which appear to come from the same source. The Simarillion contains an elfish creation story was has been labeled as purely mythological by some. Others contest the validity of the story of the Great Elf Fall, pointing out that it is inconsistent with the high status accorded this race in the Holy Trilogy.

    The discovery of the Tolkein Letters has both delighted and troubled many scholars. The study of mythopoeia and philology, the elements of which are taught in mainstream schools of the ring, have become disputed sciences among many Real Followers who argue that they lead to apostasy or cause people to abandon the True Faith.

  • 17. Luke  |  May 13, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    what i mean was that we love a good story. humans are story telling peeps. we get in trouble when we take things literally which is a rather new thing and a rather western thing. the East doesn’t have this problem. they take the story truth… like it doesn’t have to be factual to be true. like “slow and steady wins the race” is true regardless of if a rabbit and turtle ever lined up and had a race.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-secrets-of-storytelling

    really interesting article. but i did enjoy your critique of literalists. just wanted to remind y’all that not ever theist or deist is a literalist, which i will constantly remind every time i see a blanket statement.

    *back to my hobbit hole ;-)

  • 18. Quester  |  May 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    like “slow and steady wins the race” is true regardless of if a rabbit and turtle ever lined up and had a race.

    Except, you know, when it isn’t. Anyway, the truth you are getting out of the story is factual truth, even if it is presented through fiction. If this is not so, in what way is it true?

  • 19. Luke  |  May 14, 2009 at 12:12 am

    “Except you know, when it isn’t”

    there is a time for everything under the sun, fast and furious would be one of them. there’s exceptions to every rule.

    “Truth getting out of the story is factual truth”

    is it? no rabbit or turtle raced? the story is made up! how can it possibly be fact? and there’s exceptions to it, so it must not be truth either… crap! what are we to do?

  • 20. Quester  |  May 14, 2009 at 1:45 am

    crap! what are we to do?

    Well, we could use stories to help us to understand what is going on around us, and share that understanding, and then there’s this handy thing called the scientific method which we could use to learn what is or isn’t true, refining our understanding and growing as people.

    Or, I suppose we can take our ignorance, raise it up as a Mystery, worship it as God, and expect to be respected for doing so.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your question?

  • 21. TitforTat  |  May 14, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Maybe Luke is pointing out the fact that you can take some of the Bible stories and have truth from it. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • 22. Amy  |  May 14, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Maybe Luke is pointing out the fact that you can take some of the Bible stories and have truth from it. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    That’s true, depending on which baby you’re throwing out. But if you throw the “Jesus was God, and is God, and did miracles, and died and came back to life, and somehow by dying redeemed humanity from ‘sin'” baby out, and look at Christianity in the same way you might look at the myths of Greece, just like any other story, with truths illustrated imaginatively (because, Quester, science is great, but sometimes we humans like to play), then you don’t have Christianity. You have something I could accept, but it’s not a religion. It’s a mythology, a collection of stories.

    It’s the whole difference of looking at LOTR as just a rip-roaring good story versus looking at it as something we need to dedicate our lives to for fear of some horrible punishment or in hope of some sublime reward somewhere out there in the future that no one can prove or disprove.

  • 23. BigHouse  |  May 14, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Yes, tell me which is baby and which is bathwater and we can discuss how useful these “stories” are.

  • 24. paleale  |  May 14, 2009 at 9:39 am

    At least we have the historical commentaries of ‘The Simarilion’ to help guide us in our exegesis of the Holy Trilogy

  • 25. Luke  |  May 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    T4T nailed it on the head. to just accept something at face value is beyond crazy, but this is what many have done with the bible because they didn’t have the tools (i.e. scientific method) in which to see how accurate these stories in the Bible were. the Enlightenment came and people thought they could verify the historical truth… well turns out they can’t.

    what the bible does give us is the ideal identity of a group.. that’d be the “Baby” there BigHouse… the bathwater is what surrounds the group… just like Americans. we hold certain values and folk stories to tell our values.. those like Johnny Appleseed, Paul and Babe the Blue Ox, and George Washington Chop’n down the cherry tree as well as our whole founding fathers ideal.. these didn’t really happy historically.. but they show what Americans value and want to be known for.. namely “exploration and new growth, vast industry and work ethic so much so that a wild land is tamed, and that we always tell the truth and fight against tyranny (when in actuality it was more like spoiled landowners complaining about taxes).

    we’re a story-telling people. we can learn a lot from other culture’s stories. it also helps us see what stories we’re carrying and which we’re holding above others. go into any church and see what gospel or text they use most frequently… that and the mission statement of the given group will tell you a TON about the identity of the given group… just as you have a “who are we” section here and you tell your stories of deconversion.

  • 26. BigHouse  |  May 14, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Luke, how do you know you have successfully parsed the baby and the bathwater? You could have it 100% backwards.

  • 27. Luke  |  May 14, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Baby is the metaphor for the physical body of the community. i.e. the numbers in the census data. like “it is possible that the population within the border of old Judea was twice that (about 240,000) during the Persian Period according to archeological theories.” according to Frank Frick (OT Scholar).

    the water would be that fluid “stuff” that surrounds an isolated group. this would be the “And they left Egypt with 40,000 men and their families and children” which in actuality would be something like 6 million according to the Exodus story which is how the Isrealites wanted to think of themselves… the “bathwater” of a mighty nation that is unfathomable.

    that’s how i’m using the metaphor, you on board with that interp of the metaphor?

  • 28. Quester  |  May 14, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Luke,

    I hope that you’re enjoying arguing with yourself. You’re the only one arguing that fiction is useless (#9), and then the main one arguing against this strawman. No one is saying that the Bible lacks literary value. This is a red herring, and an insulting one.

    What we are questioning is your slippery redefining of “truth”. Narratives have value. No one is arguing that. No one. What we are questioning is this strange divide you place between “fact” and “truth”. Something does not have to be factual to be valuable, but if you want to address our actual concerns instead of your own miscastings of what we are saying, tell me in what way something can be true, but not fact. How are you defining these words?

  • 29. RLWemm  |  May 14, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks, Quester. That last posting expresses the increasing frustration I have been feeling over what appears to be a nonsensical set of postings. No offence, Luke, but I think you are on a different tram from the rest of us.

  • 30. Luke  |  May 14, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    here’s what i’m seeing.

    the implicit argument here is “look how put upon we are by these stupid people.” and while i agree to a certain degree, it seems as though you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying that the bible holds no truth or merit.

    as for the truth vs. fact idea, what i’m getting at here is there are multiple ways to the “truth” or “a truth that happens to coincide with another” if you don’t believe in an absolute truth. there is the factual and imperical way. the scientific method way that hasn’t been around for all that long. then there’s the intuitive way, the realm of the artists, poets, and mystics… ways to truth that aren’t measurable but are effective none-the-less. this has been around since the dawn of humanity.

    the problem is that there are those who can take things as symbols (i.e. turtle and rabbit are representations) and those who take things at a literal level (i.e. turtle and rabbit actually had a race.). humanity has had 2,000 years or so of thinking the Bible was the imperical kind of truth and is just finding out that it’s mostly intuitive with some nuggets of fact thrown in there.

  • 31. Quester  |  May 14, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    All right, Luke. What I see in the article as the explicit argument, is “Some theists who haven’t listened to actual deconverts have come up with many reasons for why deconverts deconvert. The reasons are easily dismissed, place the blame on the deconvert, and absolve the theist of any need to critically engage with their worldview. This is insulting, and a source of shame for those of us who remember doing the same when we were theists”. There is also a touch of, “The real reason is that we gradually became aware of the distance between what we claimed to believe about the world, and what claims could be supported by what we find in the world”.

    I’m not sure where you get your implicit argument. Can you quote a few lines and show me how you interpret them?

    I agree that there are multiple ways by which truth can be discovered. One can find truth deductively or intuitively, and one can express it in a manner easily understandable by either deductive or intuitive thinkers. Nontheless, truth and fact are the same thing. The tortoise and the hare may or may not have had a race. The tale of the race can teach the moral that “slow and steady wins the race”. Experimentation can modify that moral to show that “calm perseverance has a higher likelihood of leading one to success in certain fields than natural talent which is unnurtured due to arrogance.” Not as catchy, but more accurate. Shoot, you can even get that far straight from the story, if you don’t get hung up on what the story tells you the moral is.

    Telling the stories and encouraging critical thinking can work together to help people discover, share and build upon what we can learn and have learned about the world. There are not two truths, or two levels of truth. There is truth, and different ways to discover and share it. The Bible expresses some truths in an intuitive format, through deductive reasoning, we can discern what is wheat and what is chaff (baby and bathwater, truth and metaphor). Intuitive means might get us there too, but how would we know? Only deductive reasoning has a built-in process to check for errors.

  • 32. RLWemm  |  May 15, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Luke, I think we are having semantic problems here. I suspect that you want to include a meaning for “truth” which is correctly defined as a culturally accepted myth, value, moral , attitude, opinion or prejudice. An example would the the “lesson” implied in the tortoise and hare story: that “slow and steady wins the race”. A common response from someone could be “That is so true!”

    The problem here is that we are not looking at any kind of objectively defined truth. As the song says: it ain’t necessarily so.
    Psychological science is full of studies which provide disconfirmation of many of these so-called “truths”, or else provides evidence for a wide spectrum of truthfulness. I think these maxims are better defined in Stephen Colbert’s term as “truthiness”.

    To use the hare and tortoise example, “slow and steady” does _not_ always win the race. It is only true in limited circumstances. It requires properly controlled objective studies to discover what these circumstances are. The findings are not always in line with what the general population images is true. That is the fatal failing of “truthiness” which is derived by literary and other non-empiral means.

    Telling the truth is a good idea. So says the moral of the girl who called “fire” when there was none. But the fact (=objective truth) is that telling the truth is _not_ always a good idea and can actually be not only stupid but highly immoral. Social tact is at one end of the moral lie spectrum and providing false information in order to save a life is at the other end.

    Applying information which is outside the box of the culture may also show that the truthiness of moral stories is not quite where most people see it to be. In the child who cries wolf story the child has been sent out to look after sheep (or was it goats?) without adult supervision and before she has the maturity to deal responsibly and sensibly with such a task. When she cries “wolf” the last time those who were responsible for her well-being acted irresponsibly. This is a story meant to scare children into always telling the truth but it inadvertantly provides adults with an excuse to burden children with tasks they are not equipped to handle and then to blame the child when there are problems.

    So the story is well written and interesting but the point it tries to make is not only subjective, it is not universal and it hides a social crime of a different nature. It isn’t factual.

    The story may be quite beautiful but not prove reliable as a source of valid and verifiable truth. “Steps in the Sand” is one such story. It has brought tears to my eyes at times when life has been tough, but I do not make the mistake of believing it be providing anything more than comfort through imagery and word poetry.

    I can appreciate the Song of Solomon and many of the Old Testament Psalms in that way. If they happen to gel with my view of the world then that is nice, but it is not proof that it and I share is objective factual and realistic view. In order to find that out I have to look for empirical evidence.

  • 33. RLWemm  |  May 15, 2009 at 1:48 am

    There is also the phenomena of absolute and limited truth. Something does not have to be true all the time and in every circumstance. This kind of graduated thinking is hard for those with a personality which is uncomfortable with things which are not clear cut and black or white. Unsurprisingly, passionate fundamentalists of all varieties tend to score highly on tests of authoritianian and dogmatism.

    Here is an example of why.

    Christians frequently insist that God is Love. What they mean is that their particular version of god is always loving in every conceivable situation towards every conceivable person.

    The problem with this mindless assertion is that is is inconsistent with reality. The Jewish/Christian god he is frequently depicted as behaving in a very unloving manner in the writings which these same Christians believe were divinely inspired by this god. Fundamentalist Christians have the added problem of having to maintain that these writings are absolutely accurate in every detail – except, of course, when it suits them and/or their leaders to interpret the passage as allegorical.

    Leaving aside the problem that Christians posit a supernatural being with human-like emotions, all but extremely liberal Christians are faced with the uncomfortable theological necessity of the positing a god with absolute and unchanging characteristics in the face of significant and embarassingly contrary evidence. The problem would dissipate (except for the supernatural part of it) if they were willing to accept that their version of god was capricious (like many of the Greek and Roman gods).

    Unfortunately for them, a god which is nice one minute and an utter bastard the next does not fit in with the central theme of the a perfectly behaved god who is so overwhelmingly moral that he can transfer his perfection to all humanity for eternity by having part of himself tortured for a few hours and then killed for a few days. If this god is only loving in a limited fashion then the whole theology of the sacrificial death for the sins of humankind comes tumbling down.

    Most Christians faced with the stark reality of the Old Testament description of the Yahweh god work extremely hard to deny it, ignore it, shelve it or explain it away. The weakest argument is that god’s ways are not knowable to man so that what looks as if it were disgustingly immoral is actually wonderfully moral when looked at through god’s eyes. In other words, they argue that what looks to be black is actually white when god is the agent because they just do not have sufficient understanding of god’s purpose. If they don’t have the understanding to understand god’s actions then it is very arrogant of them to imagine that they have the understanding to interpret it. They can’t have it both ways.

  • 34. Gryfino  |  May 15, 2009 at 5:34 am

    I hate it when someone you trusted or information you based a part of your life on is wrong. It can often shatter some people’s world view (even such meaningless details can have profound affect on some people).

  • 35. TitforTat  |  May 15, 2009 at 9:03 am

    The story may be quite beautiful but not prove reliable as a source of valid and verifiable truth. “Steps in the Sand” is one such story. It has brought tears to my eyes at times when life has been tough, but I do not make the mistake of believing it be providing anything more than comfort through imagery and word poetry.(RLWemm)

    Seems to me you cant prove that story true or false. So if the story brings comfort is it not “true” for the person who derives comfort from it? There are many things that are not yet verifiable but that doesnt mean they arent true. I agree with much of the “truth” Luke talks about, just as I agree with much of the “truth” you and Quester talk about. One thing I do know is that what is true now, may not be true in the future. Maybe its all like Colbert says, Truthiness.

  • 36. TitforTat  |  May 15, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I heard a funny one.

    “There was a time when religion thought it would explain all the world, then came science, they both come up short”

  • 37. RLWemm  |  May 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    “Steps in the Sand” was never written in a manner which indicated that it was meant to be “true”. It is just a pen picture which helps the reader change the framework of their thinking. It makes no sense to describe a helping tool as “true”. It is merely a thing which exists.

    I ate my breakfast this morning with a spoon. A spoon is a concrete noun which labels something which is neither true nor false. Any attempt to prove it so makes no sense. I can, however, attempt to prove or disprove the existence of the spoon (which is either fact or fiction) or that I used the spoon this morning in the way I asserted (that is, the truth of a statement).

    Likewise I could attempt to prove that “Footprints in the Sand” (I think that is its correct title) is helpful to a particular person, or that it generally helps or harms people when read in circumstances of type x. In that case the truth of the helpfulness is statistically defined as more or less probable rather than absolute.

    Saying that a story is “true” for someone it helps is not logically permissable. It’s a nonsense statement which tries to redefine the English word.

  • 38. Quester  |  May 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    So if the story brings comfort is it not “true” for the person who derives comfort from it?

    No. If the story brings comfort, it is useful for the person who derives comfort from it. It is comforting. It is valuable. It is helpful. These are wonderful things, but don’t imply something is necessarily true. Unless you’re using an especially broad definition of “truth”? Perhaps it would be helpful if you told us how you define the term.

    There are many things that are not yet verifiable but that doesnt mean they arent true.

    I agree. But that just means that we should go looking for the answers, not that we should choose the answers we like best. This is what makes exploration and learning so valuable.

    “There was a time when religion thought it would explain all the world, then came science, they both come up short”

    The thing is, T4T, both religion and science should expect to come up short, and I’d hope that most people who use either tool to gain understanding would know that. There is more that is unknown than is known, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Both religion and science also change in response to new discoveries about how the world works. It is only science, though, that has a built in process for discovering new things, and changing in response.

  • 39. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Quester,

    ” Can you quote a few lines and show me how you interpret them?”

    i think i was more responding to the first couple comments from Deaf Atheist and then later, BigHouse, than the actual post now that i re-read them. i re-read the post as well and see that some of those very same charges have been leveled at me too… what can i say, a heretic to both sides ;-). sorry for any frustration.

    “Nontheless, truth and fact are the same thing.”

    I see what you mean about the wheat and chaf analogy, i was using “truth” as in what is known (yet can’t really be measured) and “fact” as in a imperical way of getting there (the measuring type). i think there’s logic in your way too and i see it. but then i keep coming back to metaphorical truth vs. imperical.. and that’s how i’m separating truth and fact. i really don’t think they are the same thing although there’s a very strong link. like Buddhists have believed that the world is an illusion and reality is largely empty. they accept this is truth without any real evidence. now with our molucular microscopes and quantum theories we see that this concept, this long held “intuitive truth” is actually a verifiable fact.

    “There are not two truths, or two levels of truth.”

    aha! exactly! i like it! but i’m still struggle’n to put the two together.. i’ll post something on my blog later and see what your thoughts are… thanks for your time and kind response. RAWK

  • 40. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    RL Whemm,

    “The problem here is that we are not looking at any kind of objectively defined truth. ”

    i don’t think there’s anything that’s objective. our bais is enculturated, encoded into our language, even in our behaviors and assumptions about the world. so when you say “It requires properly controlled objective studies to discover what these circumstances are” i would say “it requires properly controlled verifiable studies to discover what these circumstances are.”

    new developments in post-Newtonian science, such as chaos and string theory and the shift in science from certainty to uncertainty, demonstrated a movement past the mechanisms of modernity.

    “telling the truth is a good idea”

    but this is also culturally embedded in means of conveying truth. in my trip to Egypt, truth is always embellished. a story we would say would be like “i had a big party, 15 people showed up, there were 5 cars in my 3 car-capacity driveway, and it took 45 minutes to do the dishes which normally takes 15.” this is a western “Just the Facts Please” way of telling the story. eastern way of conveying the truth would be “i had HUGE party.. there had to have been 100 people there, cars were lined up and down the block, and i used every dish in the house!” this way is loose with the “facts” but i’d argue you’d remember this story longer.

  • 41. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    “It is only science, though, that has a built in process for discovering new things, and changing in response.” -Quester

    well there is that line “reformanda et semper reformanda” used by Calvin. funny thing is, dude was never really big on universal doctrines but contextual pastoral ones that would adapt. it was his later, more literal followers that would put the “ed” on Calvin’s “Reform” and act as though they had it all figured out.

  • 42. BigHouse  |  May 18, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    this way is loose with the “facts” but i’d argue you’d remember this story longer.

    BINGO. Now, would you accept that Jesus presented as resurrected deity looks an awfully lot like an embellishment for the purposes of “remembering the story longer”? If so, then it’s bathwater, but to many many others, it is all baby.

  • 43. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    BigHouse,

    good reading comprehension skills. it may surprise you that scholarly work since the late 1700s has figured this out. even Erasmus didn’t support the virgin birth and he was writing in the 1500s about the return to simplicity.

    to say it’s all bathwater or all baby is mistaken. recognize the mix, but don’t expect everyone to line up on one p.o.v. of what’s baby and what’s bathwater when it comes to matters of faith. i’d even extend that and say matters of identity and reality. things are more fluid then they were in the past.

  • 44. BigHouse  |  May 18, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    So, Luke, you think Jesus was just a man, not resurrected deity?

  • 45. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    what does it matter? if i answer one way you’ll say it’s crazy talk and if another, then i couldn’t possibly be christian. that being said, i’ll explain my view:

    i’m not sure what i make of the resurrection, i just know something happened. if it was Jesus coming back or his ideas resurrected in his followers, something came back. the only prerequisite for resurrection is that something has to be dead first. Jesus was dead, his followers scattered and beaten.. yet here 2,000 years later, we’re still talking about Jesus.

    as for a deity… i think we’re all children of God. Jesus just provided a better example of what living like a divine-human would look like. so yeah, i think he’s just as much a deity as we all are. 100% human and 100% divine.

  • 46. BigHouse  |  May 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Luke, I have to hand it to you. Your views are so squishy and shape-shifting I honestly do not know what to make of them or you. And we’ve now been “chatting” for months. Congratulations on your amoeba-Christianity!

  • 47. TitforTat  |  May 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Bighouse

    Luke is easy to read. He’s a relational Human, who tries his best to be loving and relational. It may not be something that relates to a mind that needs absolutes, but hey, werent most of the De Converts at one time absolutely sure they knew G-d. Now they absolutely know there is no G-d. Go figure. ;)

    Youre the Man Luke, may the force be with you. :)

  • 48. Quester  |  May 18, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Luke,

    You seem to be distinguishing between that which we can prove to be true (until we get information that shows we are wrong) and and things that are true, but we can’t prove it yet. This is a good distinction to make, but calling the former fact and the latter truth seems unhelpful- an even misleading- to me.

    TitforTat,

    Now they absolutely know there is no G-d.

    Well, we know that we have not found any convincing evidence to support the idea that a god exists, using any definition of “god” that we need to concern ourselves with, anyway. It’s not quite the same thing.

    BigHouse,

    If you look at Luke as a pantheist or panentheist who is inspired by biblical narratives, it might help.

  • 49. BigHouse  |  May 18, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    If you guyd are going to “define” Luke in that way, then I don’t see how “Christian” comes into the picture. But he continues to use and identify with that word, which I frankly don’t see as very applicable, and is one of the reasons these discussions take off on tangents.

  • 50. TitforTat  |  May 18, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Bighouse

    Can you honestly say there is one definition for what a Christian is. Come on man, theres over 33,000 takes on it out there. Which one are you using to define Luke? It seems you need him to be absolute in some form for what he believes, and if not then you dismiss him. Too funny. I havnt once seen him try to evangelize or attempt to convert or save anyone?

    Quester

    Maybe we need another word other than G-d for what started this Universe. Seems to me everything that we see supports the idea of Creation, dont ya think?

  • 51. Quester  |  May 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    BigHouse

    If Luke wants to call himself a Christian, I’m not going to say he’s wrong. In the same way, I’m going to dismiss anyone who says I was never a Christian because their definition of Christian doesn’t allow for deconversion.

    TitforTat,

    Maybe, maybe not. That’s the thing- I don’t know whether the universe was created or not. I do know that nothing I’ve found so far tells me anything about this possible creator. So why concern myself with it?

  • 52. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    BigHouse,

    must you always go for tight definitions and literalist interpretations? have you ever read the works of Søren Kierkegaard? i’d advise that.. maybe even Voltaire and see if they match your definition of Christian, whatever that is… what is that btw?

    i’m not a Christian that you’ve had experience with just as 99% of the stories on here are stories about christians i don’t have experience with.. namely the fundie, John Hagee type variety.

    as for defining me… T4T hit it square the first shot. Kierkegaard said, once you label me, you miss me entirely. i label me… and i label me Christian.

  • 53. BigHouse  |  May 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I don’t wish to label you, Luke, I honestly don’t. And I don’t need tight definitions, hell, I’m not sure what I would define me as.

    But you also come in pretty strong to say how people here have got “Christians” all wrong, and then seek to distance yourself from every other stance a Christian here takes to prove that point. All I’m saying is, I know what you DON’T stand for, clear as spades. I’m just still not sure what you do stand for.

    Is there a problem for my admitting this honestly?

  • 54. TitforTat  |  May 18, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Maybe, maybe not. That’s the thing- I don’t know whether the universe was created or not. (Quester)

    I beg to differ. You see creation happening all the time. We witness it on a personal level and on the cosmic level. How can you say that you dont see it? Creator doesnt have to mean personal G-d. I agree with your beef against organized religion. I just dont think if that is proven wrong it means creator is ruled out.

  • 55. Quester  |  May 18, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Er, what? I’m afraid I’m confused, T4T. What do I witness on a personal and cosmic level? And I don’t believe I said that the possibility of a creator is ruled out. I said that I don’t know if there was a creator, nor do I see anything that would tell me anything about this possible creator, if there is such a force or being. I can say that I don’t see it, because I don’t. If you see something I don’t, feel free to point it out.

  • 56. Luke  |  May 18, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    BigHouse,

    ahhh… your honesty is MUCH apprieciated! thank you for your candor. i didn’t realize that i was all apophatic about things. what i am trying to say is that there are many ways to be a Christian and i’m an odd duck, as you rightly defined. i can affirm many things said by Robert Capon about Christianity, best found here in my good friend’s post: http://www.christianheretic.com/2007/06/christianity-is-not-religion_04.html

    what i stand for is relationships and understanding. no blanket statements, each allowing for the other’s POV. to say “all Atheists/Agnostics/Christians believe or are this” is the first step to ruin.

    i mourn the pain and crap suffered here at the hands of religion. i too suffered under my Catholic upbringing. what i seek is understanding of how to correct these mistakes for my future ministry as well as an understanding of where i’m not looking or left unconsidered. you learn the most from your harshes critics, as they say. i’m also interested in reading about the healing process y’all are undertaking, that’s what i’m most interested in.

    thanks for your response. hope that sheds some light on things.

  • 57. TitforTat  |  May 18, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Quester

    Do you have children. If yes, I guess you are part Creator. New moons, suns, planets are being created all the time. Something is at work there. Is it such a stretch to say creator for the creation? In my mind it only seems logical to suppose a creator. If I define it then we run into trouble.

  • 58. Quester  |  May 19, 2009 at 12:25 am

    TitforTat,

    Energy can transorm into matter, which can transform into energy. Different forms of matter can be shaped or combined into other forms by yet more forms of matter or by the movements of energy. Some of this may be called creation, but can it not also simply be seen as transformation? There may be a creator, but I don’t see this assumption to be in any way necessary.

  • 59. TitforTat  |  May 19, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Ok. Thats fair, I do though. Thats the joy of diversity. Sleep well. :)

  • 60. Quester  |  May 19, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Thanks, T4T. I’m going to hope that you mean that you do think there is a creator, not that you do think it’s necessary to do so. *grin* Pleasant dreams.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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