Sunday, October 31, 2010


About a week and half ago, I mentioned that I had not been posting as often because I had not been feeling well. I have been sick since September 2009 due to an unknown cause. It became so bad I had to take a medical leave from school. Last week, after seeing more doctors and having more tests done than I can remember, I was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia. The first thing I will say is that my chances are very good. People rarely die from this form of cancer. After being sick for so long without a diagnosis, I'm actually happy for this knowledge. However, I will have to undergo some chemotherapy. When I started this blog a couple months ago, I was hoping to post at least 4 times a week. Unfortunately, that will not be possible for awhile.

I absolutely love writing this blog. For the first time, I feel like I am meeting and interacting with people whose have similar views on religion and God as myself. The knowledge that I am not alone in my unorthodox beliefs is extraordinarily comforting. For the time being, my goal will be to post at least once a week. But, if I disappear for awhile, don't assume I'm gone for good. I enjoy writing this blog way too much to give it up permanently.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?

Several weeks ago, Richard Beck of Experimental Theology made a post that I have not been able to stop thinking about. He talked about the disconnect between the love Christians preach to the love Christians practice. The reason I appreciated this post so much is it put into precise words a phenomena which I had difficulty describing, but whose existence helped drive me away from Christianity.

I grew up going to conservative Southern Baptist churches and love was frequently the topic of sermons. This included God's love for humans, our love for God, and our love for each other. It was the last one which bothered me. Countless times I was reminded that Jesus said "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44).

No matter what happened, we were to love our enemies. No matter how we felt, we were to love our enemies. No matter how they insulted us, stole from us, or physically harmed us, we were to love our enemies.

In words, it sounded great. It still does. But I did not see it practiced. At least, I did not see it practiced in any substantial form. What I repeatedly saw felt more like judgment. Anyone whose views or lifestyle did not conform to the church's was demonized. Unfortunatly, I experienced much of this personally, from my step-father. Liberal politicians on the nightly news were accused of murder and sexually deviancy. Homosexuals and feminists were blamed for destroying families. Even strangers were targets. If someone cut him off on the road, the string of insults that would follow could be rather nasty. Yet, when I would ask why he hated these people, I would always get them same reply: "I don't hate them. I'm a Christian. I love them."

So what exactly was this love? How could love allow for such seeming cruelty? In his post, Beck wrote that:

"As best I can tell, [loves] means the following: To love someone is to wish that they go to heaven."

Personally, I felt it had even a narrower definition. To love someone is to wish they would convert to Christianity (and, of course, to claim conservative our views). To love someone means to proselytize them, to "save" their soul. It did not mean to truly listen to them. It did not mean to learn about their life and to have compassion for their unique sufferings. It did not mean to forgive them when they actually harmed you (since I do not believe mere disagreement on political or social issue can usually be classified as "harm").

Love became some strange ideal, something that existed only in theory, not a concrete action with practical value. 

As a universalist, I believe God's love for us is not only unconditional, but involved. It is not just an emotion He possesses for us, but an action He directs at each one of us individually. He supports us during periods of suffering. He teaches us lessons throughout our life to forge us into better people. He even forgives us when we screw up, and helps us return to the correct path. God's love is NOT passive, and ours should not be either.

For me, to genuinely love your enemy can be quite hard. Our first instinct is towards anger or revenge. But love demands it must be towards understanding and forgiveness. People injure others when they have been hurt themselves: they are suffering, so they force others to suffer. Love stops this viscous cycle. To love your enemy represents that you have a profound desire to help end their suffering NOW, not a hope they will be blissful in some distant afterlife. It means you must see past the exterior of anger, greed, jealously, and hate, to an interior person who is in deep pain, allowing you to forgive their transgressions.

How often have you accidentally hurt someone when you have been preoccupied with your own pain? I know I have. Maybe that guy who cut you off today just lost his job. Or the woman who is rude to you is preoccupied with how she is going to afford food for her children this week. Or the person who roughly bumps into you and walks away without apologizing just found out their child has a terminal disease. If we truly knew the reasons behind people's bad actions, I believe we would be sympathetic more often than judgmental or wrathful.

Unfortunately, we cannot see people the way that God can. In some ways, it might be easier for Him to love us than for us to love each other. He sees our pain and suffering, so He understands why we lash out at others. We do not have that luxury. When we love our enemies, forgive them, and offer them our help, it means we are giving them the benefit of the doubt. They might have hurt us, but that does not mean they are bad people. It means we sympathize with their hidden pain, because we too are human. It means we recognize that love is not just a dream for the future, but a healing force in the present.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Bookshelf (Sorta)

Lately, I've seen many of the blogs I read posting pictures of their bookshelf. Unfortunately, this would be rather difficult for me to do. I love books, and have 4 large bookcases, so if I took a picture of every shelf, it would be almost 20 pictures. Instead, I picked out 15 of my favorite fiction books to share (I posted many of my favorite non-fiction books here)

  • The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
  • God's Debris (Scott Adams)
  • God is Dead (Ron Currie Jr.)
  • Notes from the Underground (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  • Book (Robert Grudin)
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  • The Cyberiad (Stanislaw Lem)
  • Peace on Earth (Stanislaw Lem)
  • Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
  • A Dirty Job (Christopher Moore)
  • 1984 (George Orwell)
  • Death: A Life (George Pendle)
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard)
  • Cat's Craddle (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Harassment of Gay Children and Teens

First, I wish to apologize for my lack of posting lately. I have been sick for awhile now with a so far unknown illness, and there are times when I am just not able to write everyday.

The past few weeks, I have seen a flood of heartbreaking stories about children and teenagers taking their own lives after being relentlessly bullied, often because they were (or perceived as being) gay. Every single news story has brought tears to my eyes.

Although I personally am straight, two of my  three best friends are gay. Growing up, I saw them struggle, not only with bullies at school, but with their own families. In middle school, my male friend (having come out only to me and my two other best friends) would continue "dating" girls so the popular kids wouldn't call him a "fag" or "homo" all the time. In high school, we stayed up with my female friend all night when she was devastated at her father's reaction to meeting her first serious girlfriend (she is getting married to this women in the spring, and I couldn't be happier for her).

Because I have seen firsthand what such hate can do, these stories don't just make me cry, they absolutely infuriate me. The adults who attend churches where homosexuality is condemned and who lecture their children on how homosexuality is evil,  and who then claim they are not to blame for these suicides because they never explicitly told their children to torment their gay peers, infuriate me. The people who protest laws meant to protect homosexual and transsexual children and teens from harassment, claiming they violate their rights of free speech and freedom of religion, infuriate me. And the teachers who do nothing or who blame the victim for being "different" (which I realize is probably a small minority of teachers, but I have encountered them), infuriate me.

Homosexuality is not a choice, just as heterosexuality is not a choice. It is something programmed into our DNA, just as is our skin-color, gender, and height. Your religious beliefs do not give you the right to torment someone into suicide for a characteristic they have no control over. It is especially sickening in Christians. Do they truly believe Jesus would have treated homosexuals so poorly, especially the children? Dan Savage (who started the It Gets Better Project) wrote about this as well, in extremely blunt words:

"The kids of people who see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered and unworthy of full civil equality—even if those people strive to express their bigotry in the politest possible way (at least when they happen to be addressing a gay person)—learn to see gay people as sinful, damaged, disordered, and unworthy. [...] And while you can only attack gays and lesbians at the ballot box, nice and impersonally, your children have the option of attacking actual gays and lesbians, in person, in real time. [...]You don’t have to explicitly “encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate” queer kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It’s here, it’s clear, and we’re seeing the fruits of it: dead children."

Despite advances in the past couple decades, homosexuality in many areas of the US is not tolerated and homosexuals themselves are not welcome. A gay child growing up in such an environment is irreparably damaged. Their own parents teach them they are "wrong" and that God is angry with them. Are we really surprised that some of them have taken their own lives?

The central tenet of my beliefs is God is love. God loves everyone absolutely equally. Personally, I do not believe God hates, or even disapproves, of homosexuals. Why would God create gay people and then punish them for expressing their unchangeable homosexuality, when He places no such restraints on heterosexuals? It makes no sense.

We must change the attitudes of society. Children are dying by their own hands because they are so terrorized by a world that hates them for who they are. It's shameful and disgusting. We must change, or more children will die and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Omni-Characteristics of God (Part 3: Omniscience)

This will be my third post in a five part series discussing the common characteristics of God and how I see them in light of my universalism. The five parts are:
  1. Omnibenevolence (God is all-loving)
  2. Omnipresence (God is present everywhere in space and time)
  3. Omniscience (God is all-knowing, past, present, and future)
  4. Omnipotence (God is all-powerful)
  5. The Problem of Evil (The question of why, if God has the above 4 characteristics, evil exists in the universe)
For my third post in this series, I continue with God's omniscience. The word omniscience comes from the Latin words "omnis" (all) and "scientia" (knowledge). God's omniscience is His quality of being all-knowing, i.e., God knows everything in both space and time. For me, it is the most challenging characteristic of God to understand. Even worse, God's omniscience is perhaps His most controversial aspect, since it seems to be in conflict with the idea of human free-will. Despite these issues, I believe God's omniscience to be vital in His relationship to His creation.

The reason I consider God's omniscience so problematic to understand is because it is virtually impossible for a finite human to relate to such a characteristic. The other three characteristics in the this series (omnibenevolence, omnipresence, and omnipotence) are easier to comprehend, even if unattainable for humans. Omnibenevolence is just unconditional love extended to all people, and most humans experience unconditional love through the parent-child relationship. Omnipotence, while far beyond human capability, is easy to imagine, and frequently bestowed upon literary, television, or film characters. Omnipresence is formidable, but still within the limits of comprehension. Omniscience, though, is downright inconceivable.

When you genuinely begin to ponder omniscience, the shear size of the information in the universe is overwhelming. Everything truly means everything- the actions and thoughts of all living beings down to the nerve impulses in their brains, the changing positions of all the stars in the planets in all the galaxies, the location of every single proton and electron...the list is practically infinite. My comparably small mind cannot even begin to fathom the sheer amount of information an omniscient being would have to know, let alone how all this knowledge is comprehended.

However, it is not this perplexity which makes God's omniscience so fascinating. It is how God's omniscience appears to clash with the concept of free-will. Before I begin to discuss this, I will state that I plan to argue this from premise that free-will is factual, because I believe it to be. Sometime later, I will post on exactly why I accept free-will over determinism.

The argument that free-will conflicts with God's omniscience generally takes this form: If God is all-knowing, He knows all of your future actions before you are even born. Therefore, you cannot change those actions, because that would violate God's omniscience, which is impossible. Therefore, you do not have free-will.

To be honest, I do not have a quick answer for this paradox. Many of them have been proposed, some of them philosophically complex. Personally, I believe, there are two main options: God has what philosophers call "middle knowledge" or that God has the potential to be omniscient, but He deliberately limits His omniscience in order to give His creation free-will.

Middle-Knowledge: To say that God has "middle-knowledge" means that God knows how an individual will act beforehand because of His knowledge of the individual, but the choice behind the action still belongs to the individual. When you know a person intimately (their previous actions, thoughts, biases, dreams, fears, needs, desires, etc) you can accurately know what action they will take. Even humans can do this with our close family and friends: we know them well enough that we can know how they will act in specific situations, but that does not mean their action was predestined. Because God knows us perfectly (i.e., He possess all knowledge about us, even what we keep secret from everyone else), it is possible He knows how we will react in all situations without affecting our free-will.

Deliberate Limitation: To say that God deliberately limits His omniscience means that God could selectively stop Himself from gaining certain bits of knowledge, even if He has the ability to do so. While God might know some future happenings (like, the next time Mt. Vesuvius will have a major eruption or the next star in the Milky Way galaxy to go supernova) he would stop himself from knowing future human actions (like whether I will murder somebody in the future or whether an individual will ever choose to believe in Him). In this situation, God would know everything accept the things that, if he knew them, would threaten our free will.

These are by no means the only explanations, but I personally believe they are the most reasonable. Nevertheless, I do not claim to have a specific answer to this question. The only answer I can give is "I don't know". What I do know is that, regardless of how God's omniscience functions, I believe God knows us better than any other person on Earth, including ourselves. It is this knowledge which allows God to be so forgiving to each of us. God is compassionate when we make mistakes and sin because He knows why we make them. He understands our pain, fear, and anger and the reasons we lash out at others. This does not mean he approves our actions or that remorse for the pain we cause is unnecessary. What is does mean is that, no matter how badly we screw up, God is still there for us, God still forgives us, and God still loves us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

I just finished reading Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. Before deciding to take the year off from school, I was supposed to take a class on Buddhism this fall and bought several of the books on the class reading list to read over the summer, including this one.

I found reading this book challenging, mostly because of the horrific descriptions of the oppression, torture, and murder of Tibetans by the Chinese given by the Dalai Lama. Despite the enormity of the human rights violations that have taken place in Tibet since the 1950's (and continue to this day), I have heard little about it in either the news or at school. To be honest, I am unsure why that is. It is common to see stories on atrocities committed in the Middle East, yet we hear nothing on Tibet. At least for the United States, this is probably influenced by our large economic ties to China.

However, I greatly admired the Dalai Lama himself. Throughout the book, he never insults an individual, even if their actions against his people were terrible. All the way up to Chairman Mao, the Dalai Lama always attempted to point out the best qualities in people. Although he never explicitly related his views on human nature, my impression was that he believed that every person is inherently good, a belief we would share.

I also admired his tolerance. While he discussed his Buddhist beliefs in great depth, he also praised the beliefs of other religious traditions and thought that these traditions had the same potential for helping people as Buddhism. When it comes to women, he encouraged their participation as leaders both in the Buddhist religion and in his own government in exile.

His courage and endurance are inspiring. His life has been filled with great suffering, yet he has never stopped working to help his people in Tibet, despite how difficult and sometimes dangerous his mission is. He is a truly selfless man. 

My favorite quote is a prayer the Dalai Lama uses to end his autobiography, saying it gives him "great inspiration and determination":

For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

I loved this prayer because it can speak to a person no matter when religion they practice. For me, it means our goal must always be to help others and to selflessly work to eliminate all suffering on Earth. Sometimes, I think people become so caught up in the dogma of their religious beliefs and trying to live "right" that they forget this goal, yet it is too important and vital to ignore.

Friday, October 1, 2010


For the first two decades of my life, prayer was not important to me. When I was young and we prayed in church, I would go through the motions like everyone else. My eyes would be closed, my head would be bowed, and I would attempt not to fidget too much. If the pastor was leading us in prayer, I might even mentally repeat his words in my head, but rarely did I actually pray. Usually, I was bored and just wanted the service to be over soon.

Sporadically, however, I might break the pattern and ask God for material possessions, like a new set of Legos or whatever other toy I had recently been begging for. Nothing I ever prayed for then was serious. Prayer also was never scheduled for me. I had many friends who prayed with their families before bed every not, but this was not a tradition my family followed. Nor did we pray before meals, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Prayer belonged solely to the realm of church.

When I was slightly older, and the teachings of my church began to have more of an impression on my young mind, I was conflicted about prayer. On one hand, I knew I was supposed to pray to God. Good Christians prayed to God all the time, right? If you did not pray to God, how would you prove you were a Christian and, therefore, get into heaven? Yet, I absolutely loathed it. God scared me. Why would I want to pray to Him? At the time, I was convinced God hated me. Why would He listen to my prayers if I was such a bad person? Time and time again I would try to conquer my fear. I thought if I prayed more and promised God I loved Him, he wouldn't hurt me. But in my heart I knew those promises weren't true, and even worse, I knew that God knew they weren't true.

Once I was able to cease attending church, my weak attempts at prayer stopped too. I felt no desire for God or communication with Him. Actually, I desperately yearned not to believe in Him. 

Recently, however, prayer has become absolutely vital to my life. Universalism brought about a radically new view of God and a great longing to communicate with Him. I began to pray daily. Usually, my prayers take place at night. I'm a night owl (if you couldn't tell by the timestamps on my posts) and that is when I feel the most comfortable.

For me, prayer is like a conversation with God. I actually talk to God. Putting this into words actually makes it sound kind of stupid, but I talk to God about being upset, or angry, or scared. I talk to God about the worries I have about my friends and family. I talk to God about my frustration at being sick. I even talk to God about theology. I ask for patience and strength. I ask for understanding. I ask for guidance to become a better person. Rarely do I ask for something material.

The best part though, is I do feel God listening to me. It is when I pray that I am best able to perceive the pure love of God, and it never ceases to amaze me how strong His love really is. Before, prayer bored me or scared me. Now, I can talk to God for hours and not even realize the time slipping by. Nothing in the whole world makes me feel like I do when I pray. God feels my pain with me and sharing it with Him is extraordinarily comforting. Often, I cannot even say my prayers have an end, for I drift off to sleep immersed in my connection with my Father.

It is through prayer that I am starting to understand the nature of God, as much as a human possibly could. It is the foundation of my relationship with God, it is how I most directly experience the love of God, and it has become the best part of my day and an integral part of my life.