Christianity; unplugged

I read an analogy that I found appropriate.

Being on the outside and looking in at Christianity is like being unplugged from "The Matrix".

Everyone who is "plugged in" lives in a world where a deity rules supreme, where angels and Satan exist, where the saved mingle with the saints, and the unsaved are forgotten - or worse, they are NOT forgotten!

But outside, there are those of us who look at this complex inner life, and can do very little to change it.  We can talk, we can yell.  It doesn't matter. As Cypher said, "Ignorance is bliss."

I won't strain the analogy by talking about pills of various colors, and whether or not it is a sign of intelligence to be on the inside, or the outside of this belief system.

But I will say that being on the outside has been very rewarding.

I am responsible for my own actions.  I'm not "gifted" - no deity gave me anything.  I have some talent, and some hard won skills, and a lot of luck and support from those who love me.  What I've accomplished I can have pride in, and I can be grateful to those people who have invested in my future.

I don't have a mental peeping Tom.  That realization alone was extremely valuable to me.  In the privacy of my thoughts, I'm allowed to be unkind, to be jealous, to be angry.  I'm allowed to feel, and not feel guilty for feeling.  I spent almost 3 decades believing that my thoughts were monitored, in a real "tinfoil hat" manner.  I was being judged by a deity who knew my least charitable thoughts.

That's gone.  And it is freeing!  And yes, I know that my actions are informed by my thoughts, so I do try to keep good mental hygiene.  But at the same time, I'm allowed to give myself some space to be outraged, to be unkind, to throw my own pity-party.  I just keep it short, and then get over it.  I didn't realize how much I stressed over this silliness.

I've lost my fear of Hell.  That gave me nightmares as a believer.  Even as someone who can lucid dream, some nightmares hurt before I could bring them under control.  With that worry gone, my dreams are much less Armageddon-ish.

All in all, my life is much less stressful outside the Matrix.  It is more relaxed.  There is no "God-shaped hole" in my life.  And there is no more fear there either.

The Christian church is its own biggest enemy

Ed Stetzer writes in Christianity Today about pastors who are finding themselves on the Ashley Madison list.

From the article:
Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday. (Due to being on the Ashley Madison List)
I'm not surprised.

This isn't a dig. Oh, sure, I've been making digs at the Duggar family for Josh's (many!) indiscretions. But mostly that is because they have made a name for themselves as a literal "Holier than Thou" family. They are suffering from a poverty of humility.

From Steve Farrar’s book, "Finishing Strong" (published in 2000):
A number of years ago a national conference for church youth directors was held at a major hotel in a city in the mid-west. Youth pastors by the hundreds flooded into that hotel and took nearly every room. At the conclusion of the conference, the hotel manager told the conference administrator that the number of guests who tuned into the adult movie channel broke the previous record, far and away outdoing any other convention in the history of the hotel.
The consumption of "porn on demand" in hotels during Christian conferences has been noted since the '90's. Pastors, Churches, and major religious bodies have been publicly warning their flocks that they are being watched. But the warnings never worked because "Plausible deniability" made it all too easy.

Non-Christians fail too. But even very public non-Christians generate little more than a "meh" in the media when they are caught cheating.

This deficit of humility, this hypocrisy, this facade of pretending that biological urges don't exist, and the refusal to have frank and rational discussions about human sexuality is chipping away at religion like an ice pick.

The Church is portraying itself as rigid, unyielding, and impassive toward those who are vulnerable. It is seen as being unable to live up to its own ideas.

No wonder church attendance is dropping among young people.  The youth of this generation is having this conversation.  And they are noticing who is telling them to "shut up" about it.

Ten Year anniversary of the Calladus Blog!

Can you believe it?  As of today I've had this blog online for ten years!

Way back when, in 2003, I started a website called, "The Calladus Project" on Tripod.  It was about some of my thoughts, and I used it to play with wysiwyg HTML editors.  I wrote several pieces there, but didn't touch much on the themes of skepticism and atheism.

I quickly ran into the limitations of HTML and HTML tables, and in creating multiple pages and a table of contents to jump to each new posting.  Frankly, it was a dinky website that was becoming claustrophobic.  And since I was holding down a full time job AND going to school at the time, I wasn't about to use HTML to invent the "next new thing".

So in 2005 I shut down my tripod page.  I left a sign there, to indicate I was moving.  And I started "The Calladus Blog" right here on Blogger.

I created a brand new first post in which I mentioned the new podcast, "Skepticality".  I also wrote about how terrible it was that people believe that humans in the past just are not smart enough to invent and build wondrous things.

In 2005, three years before California Proposition 8 was implemented, and ten years before the Supreme Court ruling that same sex marriage is constitutional, I made the prediction that same sex marriage was inevitable.  I based this upon the fact that same sex couples were already raising children, and that these children were more accepting of same sex couples.  I did not mention that friends and relatives of these children, and friends and relatives and parents of gay children are also more accepting of homosexuality and of LGBT rights.  I didn't mention that this was a form of positive feedback that would continue to grow.  I think I knew this argument at the time, but didn't include it.

In August 2005 I purchased the domain names and  I set them up as a redirect, so if you put those into your browser address bar, you'll end up back here at my blog.  If for some reason my blog ever disappears, try using those addresses and see if you get to a new destination.

My first post to gain lots of attention was a humorous post I made about a very unfortunate Gecko.  It also gained me a friend that I've never met in person, but hold great respect and admiration for.  (Hi Sumi!)

Here are a few of my most popular posts over the last ten years:
The one post that gets absolutely the most traffic on my blog is, Testing the Counterfeit Money Detector Pen by DriMark.  This post was created in response to a Skeptic's Circle contest held in September 2006, and hosted that month by Dr. Janet Stemwedel.  You can find Dr. Stemwedel at her blog, "Adventures in Ethics and Science" - where she's still doing great things.

Traffic to my Counterfeit Money page comes mostly from Google searches, or from links in various web forums that talk about counterfeit money - from both sides of the law.  I am somewhat amused that I get just as much referrals from police and law abiding people warning about DriMark as I do from people who are attempting to create "funny" money.

Looking back at that post, I can see that the formatting didn't change gracefully when I made blog changes.  I may re-make the entire post to make it prettier.

I am proud that one of my posts has actually been cited in a few different semi-scholarly places.  That post was in response to Tony Perkins, President of James Dobson’s Christian lobbying organization “Family Research Council".  Mr. Perkins stated in March 2007 that there are "stacks of peer-reviewed research" that show abstinence only education is effective.

Due to Mr. Perkin's statement, I started reviewing the "peer-reviewed research" that he cited.  And I found that it was all a sham - a facade created out of whole clothe to give people against birth control something to point at.  I wrote up what I found in a post called, "Let's examine the proof that Abstinence Only education programs actually work".

Some of the posts that I'm the most proud of have to do with the intersection of religion and human rights.  Specifically how some religious positions limit human rights.  The post that most demonstrates this is, "If Abortion is murder, coffee is manslaughter".  In this post I explore the implications of declaring humans to exist as persons under the law from the moment of conception.  If a blastocyst has the same rights as a born human, then how shall we treat those women who are guilty of the death of their unborn through criminal negligence?  Later, I followed this post up with, "Abortion vs. Personhood" - which further clarifies terms, and explains why the chance of miscarriage can increase due to a woman's actions.  This leads to grave implications if a zygote is legally the same as a born person!

As an atheist, my blog contains questions and responses to Christians.  Of course, I'm not a "big name" atheist, so I get relatively little discussion.  Still, I have to ask.  For example, how can anyone be happy in Heaven if there is a Hell?  Or how about this, if an atheist can recreate the experience of the Holy Spirit at will, what does that say about people who base their faith upon this experience?  Here's another question - if you try to witness people into a religion, what happens when that religion is proved false?  In this case, it can be both funny, and extremely sad.

And I answer questions that have been put to me.  "What do you believe?"  "Why do you discuss atheism", and my favorite, "What's the point of life if you're an atheist?  Why bother?"

I've tried to inform and teach in my blog from time to time.  I'm very much interested in art, and most love Romantic Realism.  Over a 3 year period from 2005 to 2008 I posted "Friday in the Atelier" about art that I love.  I also posted a 3 part series called, "What is Art?" where I explained the difference between the skill of Pierre-Auguste Cot, the unskilled "happy accident" produced by Jackson Pollack.  And I speak about Pablo Picasso - who had skill but decided to use as little of it as possible so it wouldn't interfere with the time he spent with wine and women.

One of my informational posts that gets heavy traffic is about the aggressive selling tactics shown by members of the Core Gas Aggregation program.  These are the people who knock on your door and say, "Hi!  I'm from PG&E!  Can I look at your latest PG&E bill?"  My take is that if you have to lie to sell your product, then you don't deserve the sale.

There's been drama in my blog.  Frankly, I wish I could have avoided the whole "Possummomma" affair.  I am left saddened and confused by my friendship with Chris - who is no longer communicating with old friends.  I haven't heard from her in years now - although I see occasional updates on Facebook.  I am still not making any conclusions on the matter, one way or the other.  But because of this drama I have become much more wary of offering assistance to any blogger.

And that is sad, because I've been the beneficiary of assistance when I needed it most.  On the death of my late wife, Won Chong, I received over $3,000 from very kind people all over the world - which helped me fly to Korea and bring Won back home.  That was a dark time for me, and my blog updates dropped off dramatically after that.

I've had other dark spots in my blog.  Not quite as traumatic, but traumatic at the time.  For example, when my dog Leena died - it shook me deeply.  From my point of view now, it seems like the foreshadowing of Won's death.

There's been bittersweet.  Losing my dog Tasha, just after proposing to my wife Wendy.  That is also a whiplash of the heart.  Wendy and I have recently lost another dog due to old age.  I've yet to write about her, but I expect that I will.  I've heard it said that owning a pet was owning delayed heartbreak.

But there has also been healing.  Finding out that my scumbag ex-stepfather was in jail for his crimes was extremely healing for me and my sister.  And knowing that my sister had some part in putting him there made us both do a fist-pump of triumph.

And buying a house together with Wendy has also been amazingly great.  I had not thought that I'd ever be married again, but I lucked out and found a perfect mate.

My blog posting hasn't increased to the point where it was before 2010.  But that's for mostly happy reasons.  I'm a homeowner, a newlywed, and more active in my hobbies of woodworking and aquaponics.  I have also started researching several possible books, and have been writing a little.  I hope to become more serious about that.

I do write in a much more trivial manner, much more often, on Reddit.  Look me up as Calladus there to see what I've written.  Don't expect too much of it to be very profound.

And now, at the ten year mark, the question remains.  Do I continue blogging?

Yea, whenever I think I have something to say, I'll blog about it here.  It probably won't be amazing, and I will probably never have a large audience.  But it will always be what I'm thinking about.  And it may occasionally be profound.

What do you say at an atheist's funeral?

First, don't be alarmed.  This isn't about me.  I've got plans to spend a few more decades on this planet.  Longer, if possible!

But I recently ran into a conversation where a very nice Christian pastor had been asked to speak at an atheist's memorial.  Much of this person's family was religious, but the deceased and a few family members were decidedly atheist.  The pastor was at a loss of what to say that wouldn't offend someone.

I sympathize with the pastor - if he is truly empathetic then he is in a difficult position.  The answer is much easier to someone who lacks sympathy and rests on the black & white worldview of a devout evangelical.  That person would just declare the atheist to be lost from God, and take the opportunity to evangelize to the rest of the people at the memorial.

This pastor is one of the good guys.  He wanted something meaningful to say about an atheist.

An atheist usually doesn't believe in an afterlife - but there is still the very human urge toward some sort of permanence. There is still the human hope that we matter.

I think it is appropriate to celebrate our good fortune of being alive.

Richard Dawkins, in his book, "Unweaving the Rainbow", speaks of this good fortune:
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
I agree that this sentiment is true, but I also think it lacks feeling.  It lacks that spiritual poetry that Carl Sagan was so good at creating.  I also think that it lacks our own expression of how we will miss others.

Here is how I would say it.

We are here today to remember and celebrate the life of someone we love.  Think of (deceased's name) life as a rock thrown into a pond.  Think of the ripples and waves from that impact, and how they influence others.

Every life is like this.  Every splash we make in the pond we all share creates ripples that reach out and touch other people.  Each person touched by someone else's waves are influenced as their lives in turn create their own swells.  It is an ever-expanding series of concentric waves that touch us all.

Each of us is influenced by these echos of the waves of past living people. We are touched by the crests and furrows of the actions of people we have never known, and will never know.  We are also caught up in the breakers from those who have made a huge splash in their lives.

In this way, one life can impact many.

Our words and actions also have permanence.  What is done can never be undone. This is a great benefit of our lives!

If you speak the truth, give aid to a stranger, help a friend, hug a child, kiss your lover - these words and actions happen in a point in time.  And when they happen, they can not ever un-happen.

When the Earth comes to an end, when the Sun finally dies, when the entire Universe ends - that simple kiss will still have happened. It will never un-happen. That small moment in time is eternally fixed at that point.

Your friend, partner, child or parent may die. You may age, and age or disease may rob you of your memories. It doesn't matter. That moment you had with them won't un-happen.

How shall we celebrate the life of the one we loved?

We do this by remembering those permanent points in time that we shared with them.  Those cherished moments that happened, that can never be undone.

We celebrate their lives by telling the stories of the one we loved.  Tell the funny stories, the sad stories, the meaningful stories.  Tell them all!

In sharing these stories, we are emphasizing those points in time in their lives. We are amplifying the ripples of their lives into a swelling wave, into a fun splash that is echoed among us.  The influence of our loved one expands even further through our stories.

And for us who remain behind, what should we take from this? I'll tell you.

What we do matters, because it matters right now!

We should live with joyful exuberance, we should act out of compassion and sympathy and love.  We should seek happiness for ourselves, and for others, because it matters.  And yes, we can strive to make a huge impact in this little pond we all share, but it is better to be joyful - to joyfully throw our rocks into the pond!

Hold close those who are dear to you.  Do it for yourselves.  Do it in memory of the one we loved and lost.  Do it to make that perfect moment that will never be undone!

Humans need vitamin C to live. This implies that evolution is true.

So humans need vitamin C to live. We get vitamin C mostly through fruits and vegetables.

But what if humans can't get vitamin C? Lack of this vitamin leads to Scurvy, a disease that leads to death. There is lots of evidence of sailing ships losing much of their crew and passengers on long distance voyages because they didn't have a source of vitamin C onboard.

This leads to an interesting question. What about the Eskimos? The Inuit and Yupik live in the Arctic. During the summer these people had access to grasses, berries and seaweed, and could get vitamin C from that. But winters in the Arctic are long and dark. Plants became unavailable to them.

So these people got vitamin C from animals. Seal liver and whale blubber both have good concentrations of vitamin C. (Only if eaten raw! Cooking vitamin C destroys it!)

The Inuit didn't get Scurvy.

This leads to another interesting question. Why do these animals have vitamin C in them, and we don't?

It turns out that most mammals don't have to eat foods rich in vitamin C because their bodies make vitamin C naturally.

Ascorbate (the "ascorbic" part of ascorbic acid - the scientific name for vitamin C) is a basic requirement for life by all animals and plants. It is made internally by every plant, and almost every animal on Earth. Dogs and cats make their own vitamin C. You could get vitamin C from fresh Cow liver. (Raw, of course.)

But in apes, monkeys and humans, the ability to make vitamin C is... broken.

And I mean "broken" literally. Animals can synthesize vitamin C from basic carbohydrates through a series of chemical steps in the cell, driven by enzymes. In humans, this sequence of steps is interrupted at the very last step by the lack of one specific enzyme.

Scientists can detect these steps being performed in our cells, and can see what is missing. On investigation, it has been discovered that the gene that makes this enzyme in other animals is not functioning in humans.

At some point, our Simian ancestors suffered a genetic mutation that turned off vitamin C synthesis. But no one noticed, because of all the fruits and vegetables that were being normally consumed as part of a standard diet of anthropoids - apes, monkeys and humans.

This mutation would have been a harmful mutation if circumstances had been different. Our ancestor who couldn't produce vitamin C would have died, leaving no offspring. But vitamin C was still readily available by eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, and since this was our ancestor's diet this genetic mutation was neutral - not deadly.

This leads me to other questions. Are there other animals that are unable to produce their own vitamin C? The answer is yes. Most bats, all Guinea pigs, some birds. And what is interesting is that their vitamin C generating machinery is "broken" in different ways. For example, Guinea pigs also have the same missing enzyme, but it is due to a different gene malfunction. It's not the same gene as the one in humans.

Another question. We humans are learning how to do "gene therapy". And restoring the process that produces vitamin C in our cells seems like low hanging fruit (excuse the pun). Can we not "fix" humans so that our progeny will produce vitamin C naturally?

I've discovered that there are lots of people looking at this, and some studies and experiments indicate that restoring vitamin C synthesis is possible. But really, we still don't know enough about human cells to guarantee that there are no unintended consequences. Like a higher risk of cancer due to the method of genetic modification used.

And lastly, an observation. The study of why humans don't synthesize vitamin C naturally only makes sense when considered together with the theory of evolution. Without this basic foundation, we are unable to understand what has happened and why.  Instead we would be left with silly ad-hoc non-explanations like, "God did it".