The Critics Respond, Special Religious Nutjob Edition

There’s an email. It’s dated December 14, 2011, it’s from the most respected automotive brand in history, and it starts with “We need to talk about the women you’ve been bringing to these events.” Apparently, your humble author had what appeared to be two threesomes, with a total of four different women, over the course of three weeks, at a pair of press events in Las Vegas and Palm Beach. The reality of it isn’t quite that depraved; there was just a time in my life where I slept best if I had a girl on both sides of me, and you’re not going to easily arrange that across the country using the same crew every time. Alright, there was that thing where I ended up in a hot tub with two of those girls plus the fellow who owned the hotel and I was then offered five thousand dollars for half an hour with one of my companions, a nineteen-year-old waitress (they say “server” now) from Nashville, TN — but she ended up being a lovely wife and mother in the years that followed.

At about the same time, I was the tireless and committed musical director for a grassroots church, driving a 90-mile roundtrip twice a week to make sure our crummy little Christian rock band was in perfect working order.

I’ve gotten in more trouble over the past forty-nine years than about 96% of Americans, and that’s not a guess, it’s a statistic. On the other hand, I’ve put about two dozen children on bicycles at my own expense, I’ve helped build an animal shelter, and I’ve loaned or given tens of thousands of dollars, and two cars, to friends in need since 1995.

All this is being mentioned up front as a disclaimer for what you’re about to read regarding my personal justification for;

0. The idea of a Creator;
1. The idea that the Creator is a very specific entity;
2. The idea that this Creator is best experienced as part of a church and/or community.

I’m not trying to convince anyone here. I’m not a role model, nor am I worthy of emulation in this respect. I may be a good writer, but I’m not a good religious writer. If you want that, check out C.S. Lewis. The purpose of this special edition of “The Critics Respond” is simply to answer the above request. If you’re disgusted by religion, or if you think it’s the opiate of the poor, or if you feel yourself to be intellectually above the idea of Space Magic Eight Pound Baby Jesus, you are invited to skip this one and come back tomorrow for the Weekly Roundup, no harm done.

I’d like to talk briefly and simply about why I think there is a God. I was raised Catholic, and was never all that impressed by the theology of the Church. By the time I was seven or eight years old I had a lot of questions that nobody seemed to be able to answer. When I was twelve years old my mother started dragging me to a Southern Baptist church. This church was filled with lovely people, but I thought the sermons were both moronic and monotonous. Therefore I contrived to escape this church as quickly as possible. From age 14 to about age 25 I was agnostic at best and openly contemptuous of religion at worst.

In the quarter-decade since then I’ve devoted a lot of thought to the unpleasant and slippery interactions of science and religion. I’ve read science at most levels from pop trash to the stuff that looks like hieroglyphics. I’ve read everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Barth. So these are my thoughts, in a nutshell:

  • We will never scientifically determine the reason for our existence, or the true nature of the Universe, because the building blocks are too small and slippery for us to work with. There is an observability limit beneath which we are guessing or inferring. Some people say this is a good argument for the idea that we are living in a simulation; in order for any palatable universe simulation to exist, it has to be less complex than the universe in which it actually resides, the same way “Verdansk” in Call Of Duty is less complex than New York City. Therefore, there is presumably a universe beyond ours in which, say, it is possible to know both the position and velocity of an electron, but these complex things are abstracted for our simulation. However, I don’t believe we are living in a simulation. Even if we are, the net result to us is the same, just as it was for the people who died in “the matrix”.
  • Insofar as it is not possible to truly understand the Universe, some things must be taken on faith. We all have faith in a lot of things, ranging from “if I let this go, it will fall” to “I have not been hypnotized into seeing aliens as human.” Everybody made fun of the Insane Clown Posse for asking, “Fucking magnets, how do they work?” Well, guess what? We do not, as a species, understand magnetism as well as you probably think we do. Ferromagnetism is not possible in classical theory and it’s only possible in quantum theory if you hold your breath and wave your arms a lot. You don’t understand magnets. You have faith in them. “Violent J” and “Shaggy 2 Dope” are your intellectual superiors in this; they have proceeded from blind faith to blind questioning.
  • As a vaguely rational creature, subject to everything from magnetic fields to brain chemistry, I believe that I have the right to choose what I will have faith in. Therefore, I will choose the creation story that makes the most sense to me, because all creation stories, from the Big Bang to “It’s turtles all the way down”, require faith.
  • It seems reasonable to me that there is a Creator. A creation implies a creator. Furthermore, there’s no working argument against a Creator. The most common non-religious origin story involves a recurring moment of Creation — the Big Bang — and unless you’re willing to put aside your (admittedly mammalian and abstract) sense of time, it doesn’t account for itself.
  • I don’t have enough mental horsepower to completely envision a Theory of Everything that operates without a Creator, and neither does anyone else. Try it yourself. Sit down with all the available materials, at a level that works for you, and see if you can genuinely imagine a universe that has always existed and will always exist, one that iterates through endless Big Bangs. Where did it come from? What set it in motion? There is some evidence to suggest that the laws of physics are created shortly after the moment of the Bang. What exists before that? How is it governed? Don’t wave your hand at it. Try to understand it. You cannot, any more than a dog can imagine TCP/IP. This is not because you, individually, are not smart enough. It’s because people are not smart enough.

All of this boils down to: it is easier, more practical, and less incomprehensible to believe in a Creator than it is to believe in nothing. Unless you spend every moment of your existence really pondering the mysteries of that existence, you aren’t going to get anywhere. (If you do, you still won’t get anywhere, but you will at least be able to say that you tried.)

Having agreed on the practical values of a Creator, the biggest value for a +3SD person being that it lets you go about your day without perpetually falling down an autistic rabbit hole about the way time is correlated with the speed of light, the next question is obvious: In which Creator should one believe? If we optimize for efficiency again, the answer is the Creator you know best, or the Creator with a ruleset that seems easiest to accept. There is no hard evidence to suggest that one God is any more real than another; we are in the realm of faith here. Therefore, pick one you like.

I chose Christianity because I was raised in it, I know the rules, and it seems just as likely as any other system. Furthermore, I like the rules. I can see the value in them. There is ample evidence, both historical and current, to suggest that Christians are happier than non-Christians. There is no question in my mind that I would be happier today had I spent my whole life unerringly following the teachings of Christ, by which I mean “the teachings of Christ as modified by that canny humanist, Saul of Tarsus.” The actual historical Christ is a little tough to follow sometimes; he wants you to leave your family, buy a sword, and bring about the Kingdom of Heaven ASAP. Paul’s Christ is a lot mellower. He wants you to have a strong faith in a strong family in a strong community.

Christianity has a lot of anthropogenic baggage that strikes me as unlikely at best and risible at worst. In particular, I think any notion most people have of Heaven is highly unlikely. “Will my cat be in heaven? Will my knees still hurt in heaven? Will I be able to jam “Stairway” with Jimmy Page in heaven every afternoon? Won’t there be a line for that? Is it really heaven if you’re #25,699,012 in the list to jam with Jimmy? For that matter, how does Jimmy feel about it? Does Jimmy Page’s heaven include toiling eternally in Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp? Maybe that’s Hell for Jimmy, and they’re the same place, and your job is determined by how often you said the Rosary?”

In fact, I can easily take a shot at dismantling heaven, using what I call the Ugly Jack Theory. Those of you who have met me in person know that I am unpleasant-looking and a bit of a cripple, although not too much of a cripple to pick up a Lotus Esprit engine and carry it somewhere else. Any Heaven worthy of the name would let me be not ugly. I’d like to resemble Pierce Brosnan.

Wish granted! In heaven, I look like Pierce Brosnan. But what about the person with the 85 IQ? Shouldn’t they be allowed to be as smart as I am, since I get to be as handsome as Pierce Brosnan? For that matter, why I can’t I be even smarter? After all, I’ll want to understand the building blocks of the universe. Pow! It’s done. I’m now much smarter, and so are you. The problem is that we are not the same people we are now. What about dead children? People with Downs Syndrome? Or fetuses? How old are they in heaven? How smart are they? What are their personalities like?

It seems obvious to me that “Heaven” is not some human-styled super-sweet rich-guy afterlife thing where I ride Whistler A-line every morning before getting Planty and Pagey together for an afternoon jam, but rather is some scenario where I have access to the mind of God, or are subsumed into it. Heaven, if it exists, means you’re joining the Infinite. Which is why Genesis is written about “us” rather than “I”.

It seems unlikely that such a group mind, one capable of manipulating the very fabric of space and time, is really all that concerned about any point or aspect of religious/moral dogma, whether it be the wording of the Nicene Creed or that little robbery-homicide spree you and your pal Waingro pulled off last week. It follows therefore that the moral rules we have been given by God through Moses (or anyone else) are really for the purpose of making life on Earth tolerable. This makes sense because, as previously noted, religious communities and religious people tend to be happier. Human beings like rules. When you take religion away, as we largely have, our rule-making instincts will persist and manifest themselves in things like being fired from your job and losing your child’s medical care because you didn’t put pronouns in your Twitter bio.

So, to summarize:

  • The existence of a Creator is the most efficient belief to hold.
  • The religion you know best, or that surrounds you, is probably the best belief to have.
  • Following religious rules makes your life on Earth better.
  • Heaven is likely not what you expect.

Put all of the above together, and perhaps it helps you understand why I am a struggling Christian, attempting to be a better one but often failing in the attempt. I am freely hypocritical: if my neighbor asked me about dumping his wife and engaging on a half-decade-long spree of binge drinking and deviant behavior, I would advise against it despise the fact that I engaged in, and survived, just such a spree. Hypocrisy is often nothing more or less than the desire to be better than you are. It is far more admirable than its opposite, which is a depraved casual amorality that also seeks to drag all who encounter it down to its own level. There are bad churches, and bad pastors, but the institutions of “church” and “pastor” do more good than harm. A God-fearing community makes some people miserable, but a Godless community makes us all miserable, cf. “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”.

We could leave it here, except for one thing. Of all the barriers in my mind to wholeheartedly accepting the risen Christ as my savior, the greatest one has been His seeming indifference to everything from nerve gas to Down’s Syndrome. How can He let us suffer like this? This is my theory, which you are free to accept or reject. When my son was about four years old, he complained to me about something that felt intolerable to him — I can’t remember what — and I told him that in the long run it wouldn’t matter. That when he was ten years old, or even five years old, his unhappiness would seem trivial in retrospect.

It seems to me that our life on this earth is so short (cue my always-on-hand Venerable Bede sparrow story) that it is completely irrelevant to the eternal existence of God’s mind. It no longer bothers me that I used to ride my bike in the rain to bag groceries for a living, or that I once got punched so hard in shop class that I vomited into a spinning table saw, with predictable results. These things are distant ephemera. Similarly, our unhappy and uncertain lives filled with pain, sorrow, and humiliation will be as less than nothing when we are joined with the infinite.

I realize this is all pretty thin gruel. I’d like to tell the readers of Riverside Green that I had a personal spiritual experience, or that I feel connected to God in a special way, or even that I have blind faith in the King James Bible. None of that is true. Instead, I will merely tell you that I’ve put some thought into it, and that the above is what I believe. I hope it’s helpful to someone. As always, thank you for reading.

67 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Special Religious Nutjob Edition”

  1. Tony

    I’ve often heard an argument in favour of a creator go something along the lines of “this world is so complex, humans are so complex, that there’s no way it could have happened without a higher power.” You touch on that line of reasoning when you ask us to contemplate the big bang, and what came before it.

    But all this does is pass the buck, so to speak. It’s a general truism of manufacturing that the machine that makes something, is more complex than than the thing that it makes. And so it would be here too. If our world is so complex that it must be the work of a creator, then who created the creator, who almost certainly would be that much more difficult to create than us? It ends up being circular logic. So my hopping-off point is to say that yes, our world is just a happy accident, because believing in a creator only makes it harder, not easier, to fathom how everything got started.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Well yes… unless the creator operates in a universe where that simply isn’t true and our laws don’t apply. Which would almost have to be the case.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        Jack – I really enjoyed your essay as usual, but one thing bothered me a bit. Your belief that heaven couldn’t possibly include jamming with Jimmy Page or looking like Pierce Brosnan seems to conflict with some other elements of your essay, because it seems to me you are not considering heaven as a place where the creator uses his own rule book and isn’t limited by earthly laws. Who says heaven can’t have multiple Jimmy Page’s for everyone who wants to jam with him, or that my favorite dog won’t be waiting for me at the gates – it’s heaven and anything is possible including 2 girls for every guy if that is what you want, although for a lot of guys that might very well be hell.

        Reply
        • Jack Baruth Post author

          You’re absolutely right, of course — but I also suspect that heaven involves more than the mere gratification of earthly desires. One could argue that the purpose of our existence here on earth is to shape souls worthy of addition to “the cloud”, rather than to simply exist in a loop of perfect happiness. Of course, we will all get the answer to this, eventually…

          Reply
        • Rick T.

          …”it’s heaven and anything is possible including 2 girls for every guy…”

          No, that’s Surf City. On second thought, that MIGHT be heaven!

          Reply
          • stingray65

            Rick – …and all you got to do is just wink your eye, and we’re going to Surf City cause its 2 to 1 – I was wondering if anyone would catch the musical reference, but at my age I would prefer the 34 woody.

          • -Nate

            I’d really like having all my old dogs back at one time / place .

            Being “heaven” I wonder if I’d still be raking up dog poop….

            -Nate

          • Ben Johnson

            In the Christian tradition there is indeed work in heaven – perhaps it’s picking up dog poop. I’d be happy to do it, because you and I would be in a relationship with God and we would be brothers and sisters in Christ.

            Frankly, that’s comforting – the the God that can create the universe values something in us that is unique to each of us. There’s work to be done.

          • -Nate

            Well Ben ;

            We’re already in that relationship, that’s how strong my faith is .

            I don’t need to beat up others with it like many self claimed ‘Christians” do ~ that’s a sign they don’t really believe along with counting how man “souls I’ve saved” .

            Stuff and nonsense .

            -Nate

  2. Mike O

    The good, another thought provoking read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The bad, my head is spinning with all the things that I want discuss further with you after reading it. When I read “the building blocks are too small and slippery” it really caught my attention. I do consulting work and one of my customers is a facility looking for the smallest of small particles. I often wonder why are they doing this? Are they hoping to somehow answer the unanswerable questions of existence that you brought up? I know after my occasional trips to Church I feel really good for whatever reason, I can’t help but wonder if they will feel the same way when they finally find that smallest particle.

    Reply
    • hank chinaski

      At the center of an odd venn diagram that includes topics of creation, deviant behavior, and very small particles, might I suggest the novel ‘The Elementary Particles’.

      Reply
    • 98horn

      We’re already there. The subatomic zoo ceases to behave like a particle or a wave, rather it has elements of both, and neither. So there will be no “smallest particle.” Part of the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics is that our experience with the physical world (i.e. what happens when we walk into a wall) simply has no application on atomic and subatomic scales.

      Reply
  3. toly arutunoff

    we’ve always been a Christian family. God delivered my parents from several horrible situations in their longish trip escaping the soviet revolution. and when my father died, 55 miles away at 4:45am on feb. 28, ’78, he stepped through a golden ellipse above the door of my bed, bareheaded, young, in a white robe that was both dazzling and easy to look at. then we were looking into each other’s eyes and I heard the word ‘brother.’ then I was above and behind a concave arc of several people, all wearing ‘Lawrence of arabia’ headdresses; my father was 10′ in front of them, facing the same direction. the person on the end nearest me looked up and back to see if I was there. the man in the middle took two steps forward with his robe swirling around his legs and put a similar headdress on my father. then I was back on my bed. after getting a call that my father had died, I cried and sobbed for some time…I saw a simple ‘face’ on the ceiling above me which faded out, leaving the triangle representing the nose. nothing happened–the face came back and faded again, leaving the triangle. I said out loud ‘I don’t get it’ and a voice in my head said ‘blow your nose.’ I did and smelled a marvelous aroma throughout my house

    Reply
  4. Tomko

    Next Week: How they put the Caramilk in the Caramilk bar.

    But seriously, if 55% of the world’s population pray to the same god – and a sizeable portion of the remainder pray to a single god – then the argument for a single creator seems pretty well settled.

    Or is it?

    Regardless of translation, the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are clear that there are many gods. But only one true god: The Lord.

    So that brings me to Albert Einstein’s embrace of pantheism. A belief that implies a variety of specialists worked on one aspect or another of creation. But was it planned – or random serendipity like the Fab Four? Or was it a fortunate accident like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Post-it Notes, Kevlar or the Amana Radar Range?

    At the end of the day, all religions are the creation of man: In the vital pursuit of placating some unexplained force, to explain the unexplainable, and to upload our innumerable human inadequacies.

    Reply
  5. Ken

    Jack, thanks so much for the incredibly thoughtful reply to my comment. I was sincere in the ask, hopefully I didn’t come off too ignorant.

    I’m going to spend a bit more time with it over the evening, but wanted to at least thank you for the effort and your thoughts as soon as a saw it. Amazing what you’re capable of writing in a few hours!

    Ken

    Reply
  6. J. Fleetwood Whiffenpoof

    This is probably the best and most thought-provoking piece of yours that I’ve read. Thanks for sharing it.

    I’m going to go off and ponder awhile.

    Reply
    • 3MZFE

      It’s a pretty stunning indictment of modern writing standards that some of the most thoughtful, reasonable prose I’ve read on this is coming from some guy with two Honda Accords.

      I was raised in a non religious household and firmly in the Epic Reddit Atheist category for a long time. But as my 30s dawn and I look around me, the draw of Christianity is incredibly powerful. I have zero doubt that religion can bring incredible benefits. The most successful people I’ve known have all been religious, some to a great degree. The outspoken atheist crowd seems absolutely miserable and I want nothing to do with them.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        Well, if all twelve apostles had just one Accord (Acts 2:1) then I should be twice as insightful!

        Reply
        • sgeffe

          Insightful? How Fitting!!

          Just like a Honda Owner’s favorite hymn: “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me!”

          I’m sure I can come up with a few more! 🙄

          Reply
  7. Ryan

    It’s unfortunate that conversations such as these are considered taboo regardless of which side of the religious fence you sit on. This was truly an excellent article, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it.

    Having been raised Catholic and attended a Catholic school, “the church” (more specifically, the Parish itself) has its hands in every aspect of my life from romantic partners to career advancement. There is no better community, in my opinion, than one linked by a place of worship.

    That said, over the years I have found it more and more difficult to accept how things in The Church operate, not only in Rome but even one’s own Archdiocese. It’s one thing for me to accept The Avignon Papacy as a product of the time, but I am seemingly unable to get past both how local Parishes are treated from a fundraising standpoint (CSA shortfalls causing closures due to operating at a “deficit”) and the things coming out of Rome since the passing of John Paul II.

    I’ve considered joining the Eastern Orthodox Church because it seems to be less perverted by the hierarchy of man, but I’m just not there yet. In the meantime, I’ve focused that energy upon following of the message rather than the men who work to deliver that message every Sunday.

    The most difficult thing is getting over what we call the “Catholic Guilt” that’s burned into every young kid in school/religious ed. I respect anyone who managed to get over that, regardless of whether they’ve converted to atheism or Zoroastrianism.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      “It’s unfortunate that conversations such as these are considered taboo regardless of which side of the religious fence you sit on.”

      If you feel this way you are definitely in the wrong church or faith tradition, because to question the existence of God or a creator, the role and purpose of the church, why bad things happen to good or innocent people, and what comes after our hearts stop ticking are important topics that should not be taboo to discuss. The problems occur when some people are uncomfortable with others who have different answers or beliefs regarding these types of questions, which is almost certainly why there end up being so many different religions (including Atheism), variations within the same faith traditions such as Christian Catholics and Protestants, and even within branches of Protestantism such as Lutheran there are something like 15+ synods in the US that all have slightly different viewpoints on some issues. Chances are whatever questions, issues, or beliefs you have about religious issues, someone has already been thinking about it and has formed a faith tradition or church around it. The link below is from a very interesting discussion between two religion professors on the very issue you bring up:

      Reply
  8. dejal

    I’ve always been taken by Genesis where the time line from nothing to Adam and Eve seems to follow the Big Bang to Humans even if the time frame isn’t right. How could something thousands of years old get that time line basically correct?

    Reply
    • Ben Johnson

      Indeed – that light comes before matter is Genesis is very telling in my opinion. It’s only in the last 80 years that we now understand that this aspect isn’t completely insane.

      Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      You might enjoy Gerald Schroder’s Genesis and the Big Bang. He postulates how the universe is simultaneously 15 billion years old and ~6,000 years old. It has to do with the expansion of the universe, time dilation, and whether you’re looking forward from the creation or back to it.

      Reply
  9. -Nate

    A good article, thoughtful and reasonable .

    ” This makes sense because, as previously noted, religious communities and religious people tend to be happier. ” ~ except the westboro Baptist church, they’re seriously unhappy .

    FWIW, I have unshakable faith due to my life experiences .

    -Nate

    Reply
  10. Ronnie Schreiber

    there was just a time in my life where I slept best if I had a girl on both sides of me

    Some might say that puts you in a group with Gandhi and King David.

    I’m a practicing Jew in part because I was raised to be a Jew. It would be foolish to deny that. My mother’s family is intensely Jewish. My grandparents were orthodox, and while none of their five daughters were/are orthodox, about half of the 17 grandchildren embraced orthodoxy, and the other half are still active Jewishly and for the most part keep kosher homes. All married Jews. So statistically I and my family are outliers.

    However, I could have walked away from the religion as many Jews have done. Instead I made a conscious decision to be a practicing Jew because Judaism makes sense to me. Perhaps more importantly, because I’m a non-conformist at heart, none of the core issues require me to believe in things that don’t make sense.

    I was once learning some Talmud with a chareidi (what the NYT would pejoratively call “ultra-orthodox”) rabbi who is a friend of mine, Shimon Shapiro, at the local Kollel, a post-ordination rabbinical seminary, rabbi grad school if you will. The passage mentioned “shaydim”, typically translated as demons. I raised an eyebrow and asked Rabbi Shapiro, “I don’t have to believe this stuff, do I?” He laughed.

    In his Code of Jewish Law, the great rabbi Maimonides (aka the Rambam, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), asks what I think is one of the most honest questions to be found in any religious work: Why did God send the Ishmaelite and the Nazarene?

    You have to consider the historical context of that question.

    With the possible exception of the early Roman period, when they made up about 10% of the Roman empire, Jews have always been a relatively tiny population. They certainly were so approximately 850 years ago in the 12th century, when the Rambam asked that question. It was a time when Jews had virtually no politcal power and suffered depradations in both Europe and the Muslim world. Christianity and Islam were both ascendant, so much so that Christiandom and the Ummah were literally locked in a struggle for world domination during the Crusades.

    While Judaism considers the other two Abrahamic faiths to be distortions of what God teaches in the Torah, Jews have to acknowledge that Christianity and Islam have been amazingly successful in terms of growing their faith communities, far more so than Judaism (even putting aside persecution, pressure to assimilate, and genocides). The Rambam was asking, why, if we Jews consider Jesus and Mohammed to have been wrong in many ways, have Christianity and Islam been so successful in this world?

    The Rambam’s answer is perhaps even more surprising than the question: God sent Jesus and Mohammed to prepare the world for the ultimate revelation of God in the messianic age to come.

    As a Jew, while I theological disagreements with Christians, and to a lesser extent Muslims, about the nature of God, I have to acknowledge that Christians and Muslims know and worship the God of Abraham.

    By the way, if anyone would like to get a good introduction to traditional Jewish beliefs and practices, Herman Wouk’s This Is My God is perhaps the best book on the topic. Apologetics are best when written by actual writers.

    Also, I find it interesting that Judaism says that God is restricted by His very nature. Can God do what is impossible? No, that would be contrary to the meaning of impossible, like asking if God can divide by zero. About 300 years ago, R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato asked a series of questions. If God can literally do anything, can God create another god that is just as powerful as He is? Can God destroy Himself? Can God become subject to the physical world? R’ Luzzato argues that the answer to those questions is no, because they conflict with the idea that God is perfect and infinite.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Good comment as usual Ronnie, and I think much of what you write and what Jack’s fine essay suggest is lost on the many critics of organized religion and faith traditions. If you want to believe that a creator or God sent down commandments or messiahs or prophets to organize human life so we don’t all kill each other off, or simply that some very smart humans here on earth observed human weaknesses over time and came up with some rules for living that became a religion or “Bible”, it doesn’t really matter in this life because the rules worked as evidenced by the people who followed them or their descendants who are still around today. Certainly the Jews are living proof, because I don’t believe there has ever been a group that has been as viciously and frequently persecuted and is still around today.

      Critics will often cite aspects of religious doctrine they don’t like such as “intolerance” for homosexuality, or pork, or non-believers, or other religions, or “promotion” of patriarchy, traditional families, faithfulness, law and order, and heaven and hell as backwards or cruel, without understanding the historic contexts they are derived from. For example, for tribes that are in fights for their very survival against the elements or other tribes as has been the case throughout human history, it makes sense the homosexuality is frowned upon because it will not produce new members of the tribe, while patriarchy and traditional family structures that protect fertile wombs and helpless children from depravation and predators is promoted because they do. Concepts such as heaven and hell also make a lot of sense as mechanisms to keep civility and law and order in societies without resources for police and justice systems, and to provide outlets for human grief and suffering when lifespans were typically very short and harsh and heaven was a reward, or as non-violent forms of vengeance against cruel oppressors who believers would know were destined to spend eternity in hell. The interesting thing to observe is that as many traditional religious doctrines have broken down due to a desire for “greater tolerance and diversity”, we do not generally see greater happiness or tolerance, as ‘out of the closet’ homosexuals/transgenders and women who are free to pursue any goal or lifestyle, often turn out to be miserable tyrants, while fertility rates are well below replacement values – especially for the least religiously observant. Perhaps God and/or those old wise men actually knew what they were talking about?

      Reply
    • John C.

      This was an interesting post Ronnie, as was Jack’s original article of course. Do I understand that religious Jews do not think that the coming Revelation from God will be a Savior in human form? If I understood that correctly it surprises me. I while ago I did an Israeli stamp displaying a town on the highest hill in Galilee. It was founded as a Crusader town but under modern Israel was ethnically cleansed and repopulated with Jewish Kabala followers who believe that the tallest hill in Galilee is where the Jewish Savior will first appear on Earth.

      Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I’m no Torah scholar but as far as I have studied the subject, the annointed redeemer, aka Messiah (from the Hebrew for annointing with oil) will come one of two ways, to inspire world Jewry to follow God, or as a reward for world Jewry for following God. That being said, the Jewish Messiah will be fully human and no more divine than you or I.

        I had to do a little research on your convoluted story and I believe you are talking about Meron. I’ve never heard anything about the Messiah first appearing on Mt Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is attributed with having written the Zohar, the primary text of Kabbala, Jewish mysticism. Bar Yochai lived in the 2nd century. Meron was settled by Jews centuries before the Crusades and likely has had Jewish Kabbalists living there ever since.

        After the local Arabs ran away duing the 1948 war in hope of returning with conquering Arab armies, Jewish religious army veterans settled in Meron, which had a Jewish quarter that dated back at least to the early 19th century. Those veterans weren’t likely to be kabbalists.

        Reply
      • John C.

        The town that started as a Christian Crusader town then had Muslim and Jewish Quarters and now has Kabala people per the early 1970s stamp was Zefat. I didn’t include the name because Hebrew seems to have been updated since then and they now call it Safed. Sorry if I sent you down a rabbit hole, stamps do that , which is why I like them. When I picked the stamp to write up, I had no idea I would be studying Crusaders or Kabala.

        Reply
    • Davis

      I think one of the main reasons that the jewish faith doesn’t grow as fast as others is the fact that the vast majority of jews consider Jewish to in fact be a race.
      I’m part Jewish by race on my father’s side, but because my mother is not Jewish I’m not a true jew. Yes I can convert, but I still wouldn’t be considered a true jew by most in my community.

      Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I’m part Jewish by race on my father’s side, but because my mother is not Jewish I’m not a true jew. Yes I can convert, but I still wouldn’t be considered a true jew by most in my community.

        That’s simply not true. I know many converts, including the mother of my children. All of those converts are absolutely considered to be Jewish by the orthodox Jewish community. As a matter of fact, my daughter-in-law’s mother is a convert and just one of her dad’s grandparents was Jewish so my grandsons have more non-Jewish great-grandparents than Jewish, and they attend a mainstream orthodox yeshiva. Nobody questions their Jewish status. To be clear, all of the conversions I mentioned were orthodox conversions done in accordance with Jewish law.

        Reply
      • Yossarian

        Your conversion would be accepted. The question is by whom? We have no pope. The orthodox are very picky and legalistic about these things. The rest of us,not so much and we are in the majority. If you find a synagogue that appeals to you, discuss conversion with them. If you don’t like their process, shop around until you find a synagogue that fits your style. The only issue you have with a less rigorous conversion is with some cemetaries and israeli citizenship.

        Btw, the reason we haven’t grown much in size as a religion is because we don’t proselytize. There is an exception – mixed marriage – so most rabbis will want to work with you.

        Reply
        • Ronnie Schreiber

          The rest of us,not so much and we are in the majority.

          According to the demographics, not for long. Orthodox Jews have large families, and chareidim and chassidim even larger families. I have friends with 10, 12, and 14 kids. Reversing trends in the mid 20th century, these days only about 10% of orthodox kids leave orthodoxy. At the same time, the Conservative movement is aging and literally dying out while the only way the Reform movement keeps its numbers up is by considering the offspring of all intermarriages to be Jewish, when statistics show those offspring have little interest in Judaism and don’t affiliate as adults.

          I personally believe that the Conservative movement, ironically lived up to its name in that it conserved a couple of generations (~1950-2000) of American Jews as Jews. The majority of Jews who have embraced orthodoxy over the past two generations have come from Conservative backgrounds.

          Conversion affects much more than burials and Israel’s Right to Return.

          There’s some irony in the fact that according to Jewish law, one cannot convert for the purpose of marriage, yet there are some leniencies when considering conversion of a non-Jewish spouse if the marriage has already taken place. The logic is that since the marriage has already occured, there’s no ulterior motive for the conversion.

          Reply
          • John C.

            Assuming the big family Orthadox Jewish children attend private religious school, how is that handled? Is it through the Synagogue based on ability to pay or are there rich Jews or Israel backing it?

            Those of us with central European mothers will immediately understand how a big clan can be well fed with big pots of tasty, filling, cheap to make food, with the Jewish mother adding Kosher. It makes me hungry remembering. except for those days where organs took the place of meats.

  11. Panzer

    The question about how and why suffering exists or why bad things happen to good people is a vexing one.
    The conclusion I personally seem to have come to is that we need the suffering and the bad things so we understand how precious the good stuff really is. For instance, if you lived an existence of perfection, when your first child was born, how would you know how glorious that moment was, if every other moment of your life was also glorious and happy?
    I know that is absolutely no comfort to the man who has lost his 4 year old son to leukaemia, but somehow this seems to be the right explanation to me..

    Reply
    • stingray65

      I often think of God’s relationship to the world with an electric train analogy. I loved electric trains as a kid, and still admire the elaborate sets that mostly adults play with as they create scenic and historic sets to run their trains around, but once the system is “finished” it quickly becomes rather monotonous simply watching them go in circles no matter how fancy it is. In other words, the fun is in the planning and building. So God makes his “train set” on earth and rather than populating it with inanimate people and environments, he makes it self-perpetuating and never finished by providing imperfect creatures and environments that require constant learning, invention, adjustments, and building/rebuilding, which never gets monotonous to watch and perhaps inspires the occasional divine intervention to put the “train” back on the track.

      Reply
  12. BlueovalDave

    If an asteroid fell to earth with DNA encoded in it, the popular consensus would be that intelligent life beyond our earth had created it. Yet we debate the existence of a creator. Can we see da Vinci in his creation Mona Lisa? We see his handiwork, but he exists beyond the realm of his creation. Could an ant in an ant farm comprehend the people observing them? Is our level of understanding enough to comprehend God beyond the physical universe? Could this God humble and manifest himself in a physical body to give us “ants” an example we could follow?

    Reply
  13. Daniel J

    I was bought up Catholic. I still hold many Catholic beliefs, I just don’t practice like I should.

    I’ve always been fond of Saint Anselm or Descartes’ philosophy or discussion on the proof the the existence of God. I think Aquinas had similar ideas but his are a little more convoluted, I think. As an Engineer, I appreciate Descarte, as both a mathematician and a philosopher.

    Reply
  14. bluebarchetta

    I think the answer to “How can He let us suffer like this?” lies in the moment Christ calls out from the cross “My Lord, my Lord, why have you forsaken me?” and the only reply is silence. Not that I understand it enough to explain it. It’s like knowing the treasure likes inside a safe you can’t (yet) crack.

    Jack, have you read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins? It seems to be the atheists’ bible, but I found it full of logical holes and “fast dances” past questions Dawkins hopes you won’t ask. He seems to be so proud of his 747 Gambit, but as far as I can tell, the 747 Gambit goes a lot farther toward proving there IS a Creator than proving there isn’t.

    By contrast, there’s CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” Fantastic stuff. Thanks to Ronnie, now I have to read Wouk’s “This Is My God.” Better Wouk than woke!

    Reply
    • BlueovalDave

      Protestantism says that Christ’s declaration at the time of his death was due to his separation from God at the moment of death. Prior to that he was in constant communion with the Father of the Universe and Christ could not bear the separation.

      Raised Catholic including Parochial schooling. Went thru agnosticism, atheism, returning to Catholicism and finally Protestantism after studying the actual Bible.

      Reply
  15. Shortest Circuit

    On the individual concept of Heaven, the evergreen “A game of pool” from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone makes the point of there being an afterlife but you’d struggle to call it Heaven. Barring any spoilers, just watch it, it’s on Dailymotion; think about which actors or whose script could hold your attention for 25 minutes nowadays with only 2 characters.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      The Twilight Zone did lots of good heaven stories. Earl Hamner of later “Walton’s” fame wrote an episode beloved by dog lovers called “The Hunt”, but my personal favorite is the episode titled “A Nice Place to Visit” that has a nice surprise ending. The link has some excerpts:

      Reply
  16. Disinterested-Observer

    re:rules. I had been hoping you might address this at some point, but it hasn’t come up so I may as well shoehorn it in here. What do you make of all the legal gambling that happens now? When we were kids many states didn’t even have lotteries. God (or whoever) help you if you engaged in any other type of gambling or the agents of the state might come to your house and murder you ala Sal Culosi. Now there is in-person and legal online gambling everywhere. I could not care less about gambling per se, but It is striking that the prohibitions against it have happened so rapidly concurrent with the abandonment of other blue laws. If you adjust your tin foil hat just right you might even see the hand of foreign enemies behind the change.

    Reply
  17. Rick T.

    I suppose we have to assume a Creator given who we are as a species. Wrapping our minds around an infinitely large universe existing in infinite amount of time is so far beyond what we can even begin to imagine, it’s not worth thinking about to me.

    I see the value in organized religion when practiced as it is meant to be. A creator who knows me and loves me? No to me it’s more likely a disinterested creator who set the laws and events unfold according to those laws. I suppose I will find out (or not) when the time comes.

    Reply
  18. 98horn

    Thank you, Jack, for sharing your personal testimony with us. I was also raised Christian, fell into a season of disbelief that happened to coincide with unfettered access to booze and southern sorority girls, and have come back around in middle age. I’d like to recommend The Bible Project Podcast for a sober, entertaining, and erudite study of Christianity.

    Reply
  19. Dirty Dingus McGee

    I was brought up Baptist, lived next to the church so there was zero chance of not going unless I was physically unable. Thru my early teens I attended Sunday school plus the regular service. As typical of most teenagers in the late 60’s early 70’s I had little interest and abandoned the church as soon as I could. As the years have rolled by, I have asked questions of those who pursue religion as a way of life. Most all of these folks are in faith based motorcycle ministries that are quite common these days. They are non judgemental as opposed to most of the physical church folks who seem to believe that unless you are in church twice a week, and tithe at least 10%, you will rot in hell no matter what.

    One of my bigger questions, still unanswered to my satisfaction; Where is heaven? And for that matter, where also is hell? Having had an interest in space exploration for at least 50 of my years here on this spinning rock, neither are in the universe as we know it. So are both only in the mind/spirit of each individual? If that’s the case, then how is the Savior, or the Devil, able to keep track of each and every soul under their supervision?
    I suppose in the not too distant future, I’ll find out. But until then, I’ll keep asking questions.

    For those who change their life in later years to follow Gods word, I like this songs thoughts on that. Especially the lyrics at 4.30 of the song;

    Reply
    • blueovalDave

      Of course this spiritual realm is beyond our time-space dimension. Scientist’s I believe concur that there are plenty more dimensions beyond the ones which our senses cannot (dare we say purposefully) perceive. When a person (not me) ingests certain amounts of DMT can they not enter into a universe that to them is strangely real and consistent across the user community, malevolent elves and self bouncing balls and all. Even the groovy Hollywood Deepak Chopra talks about how our physical bodies and like a deep diver’s suit needed by our spiritual beings to observe the physical universe. Lucifer is an entity in the spiritual relm. Whatever set of dimensions he exists on I cannot give you the directions on how to get there.

      Reply
  20. One Leg at a Time

    Thank you for this.

    It reminded me of a room mate I had in college – one of the smartest people that I have ever met. We were having one of those super late-night conversations that you have when there are five guys for every girl in your immediate locality.

    He said “the thing that keeps theoretical physicists up at night is that there probably is a God.”

    Reply
  21. George Jetson

    I enjoyed this article, thank you.

    I have also found the idea of God far more acceptable than other alternatives. However, I was raised so strictly Baptist, constantly in fear of sin and hellfire, that it took me a long time to realize that there was also an enjoyable, non-fearful side of the world, a place where people are free to enjoy blue skies, warm breezes, the smell of the ocean, rock and roll, AND dancing!

    That reminds me of the joke: why are Baptists against pre-marital sex? Because it could lead to dancing.

    Once my mindset was freed, or the scales fell from my eyes, just like our friend Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, the richness of everything became apparent, and I’ve been happy ever since. Mostly. Or as happy as a person can be in this world. I don’t think we’re made to achieve happiness — we’re made to help each other.

    I think the suffering of the world is a test. We either try to improve things and help people, or we make things terrible, and we will be judged for it. The system has remained the same since the dawn of time, and will remain roughly the same. Nothing is fair. The absent watchmaker concept works well enough for me.

    The idea that we are headed toward nirvana on earth is wishful thinking at best, or a lie to manipulate the masses and achieve control … which is what religion is about. Any organization made up of people is doomed by the weaknesses and desires of them. It is tragic that organized religion has poisoned so many people to the underlying, beautiful concepts of God, and one could say that it’s the devil’s best trick.

    I think that the ultimate goal of science (the humanist aspects, anyway) is to disprove the existence of God, because if that happens, we have no responsibility for our actions, and then we don’t have to worry about judgment or feel guilty for anything. I’m fine with using science to discover air travel and capture solar energy — that’s just being practical and helpful, but I am suspicious of the theoretical, or theological aspects of it.

    Reply
    • Ice Age

      Christian fundamentalists are always so serious, and seemingly angry, that I question their faith and how well they understand it themselves.

      I’ve met several people over the years who fit the stereotype of the Born-Again Christian: happy, calm people at peace with life, who seemed not to be bothered by any of the problems they had to deal with. Like they weren’t carrying any weight at all. I’m convinced they genuinely had personal relationships with Jesus. I can’t prove on paper that they did, but they fit the profile and I CHOOSE to believe that was the case.

      I think that’s how faith is supposed to work: That you’re NOT supposed to be able to prove it. That God made reality so that no one could put a yardstick to Him, or to faith in Him. It’s supposed to be a deliberate choice a person makes, to believe and accept, made in the absence of quantifiable evidence. People who try to prove the existence of God using science, or “science,” are missing the point.

      Fundamentalists may want to be good Christians, but judging from their behavior, they lack that most important part: The actual personal relationship with Jesus. Which is why they aren’t happy. And why they try to beat people over the head with Religion.

      At it’s core, Christianity is about one simple idea: A personal relationship between Jesus and the individual human being. That’s it. Like the one you’d have with your dad or your best friend.

      Reply
  22. Chris

    One time at work I was in the men’s room taking a wiz and there was a little moth fluttering around in the urinal. I thought it would be a fun activity to blast the little guy with a steady stream of pee. I chased him around the bowl a bit and thought I’d gotten the best of him as I finished up. Son of a bitch flew up and landed right on my shirt. Coming to understand that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are my intellectual superiors was very much like having that moth soaked with my own urine land on my shirt all over again.

    Reply
  23. -Nate

    It is good to see that many here grasp the simple concept that life by design, is to be enjoyed, not endured .

    -Nate

    Reply
  24. LynnG

    Jack this was just put out today.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-11/the-dangerous-rise-of-the-supersized-pickup-truck

    Not on this topic but worthy of your response.
    They (and we know who “they” are) are coming for your Silverado HD. Dr. Cara Daggett of Virginia Tech says you are practicing “perto masciulinity” and that “Burning fossil fuels is an act of violent white (notice it had to be white) masculine power”. Nate Powell noted that your Silverado HD signifies a rejection of communication, reciprocity, and legal accountablity….. They are coming for your truck and Joe has only been in the White House less then two months…. Gee…

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      ‘In 2020, 85% of pickup trucks sold had “crew cabs” or “extended crew cabs” or one of a handful of other tough-guy euphemisms with two sets of seats for five people — most with four doors.’

      Ah yes, “crew cab”, that tough-guy euphemism for a “cab” that will fit a “crew” of workers. I’M LITERALLY SHAKING AS I READ IT!

      Reply
      • Panzer

        Notice the bit in the article where she writes that trucks are ‘less gas guzzling’ than a Hinda Odyssey?! Since when were Honda Odyssey’s ‘gas guzzlers’?
        Unbelievable how transparently propaganda this stuff is..

        Reply
    • Compaq Deskpro

      Late comment, but I couldn’t let this one slide:

      “These passenger-heavy, cargo-lite arrangements are so popular that some automakers — like Ram — have stopped even offering single cabs in their best-selling pickup brands.”

      I just saw a new RAM dump truck on the road yesterday, and it even had a factory yellow cab. Local Uhauls have new 2 door long Silverados, they are ugly but they exist.

      Reply
  25. galactagog

    maybe we only exist in a virtual environment, to entertain our immortal, and eternally bored spirits. After all, if our spirits are eternal and immortal, what the hell are we going to do with all that free time? We would need entertainment. Lounging around on a cloud, being fed grapes gets dull after a few thousand years.

    Much more interesting to lead out various lives somewhere, that is perpetual, and progresses as it’s own self contained terrarium.

    Everything that exists here is a natural evolution of events within that system. Kind of like HBO but more interactive & advanced.

    I don’t really believe this but it’s possible

    Reply
  26. Hex168

    OK, this is a late reply, sorry. I missed seeing this post, but I was always interested in what your view on religion would be. I, personally, could never get past all the different religions each claiming to be exclusively right. You seem to have threaded that needle successfully. Is it legitimate to summarize your choice of Christianity as “dance with the one who brung you?”

    Sitting out here at 3+ SD myself (although I feel that fading with each additional decade), I’m perfectly comfortable with “we are living an a quantum vacuum fluctuation.” The math says it has to happen eventually, and we can only observe a universe that allows observers. It sounds like a tautology but it is not.

    As for rules, I like the ones I was brought up with and will happily stick to them.

    Thanks for sharing; your post is well-reasoned and, as usual, exceptionally well-written.

    Reply

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