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Making sense of my crazy life

StressI’ve been neglecting this blog way more than I’d like recently, due to the repeated intrusion of real life. Lots of things are going on both at home and at work, with the two of them locked in a battle for supremacy and grinding my inspiration and energy into the dirt.

This week was fairly typical of what I’m trying to deal with at the moment – a sapping day-long meeting with a lot of people who are probably going to end up deciding on my future employment; a struggle to do a week’s work in three days while additional tasks are thrown my way because I made the tactical error of being competent; and finally, a sudden request for an early morning radio interview relating to the thing that’s occupying most of my home life, ahead of another potentially career-defining day. Read More…

Thanks and apologies to my readers

TypingAs you may have noticed, I tend to be a bit down on religion. Not entirely, and I hope not without good reason, but it’s largely due to the nature of my story. I’m still on a journey from my former conservative evangelical beliefs, with various stops along the way, and a lot of my thoughts are directed towards ideas I used to hold and am now questioning or rejecting.

I know that I have a number of followers who are religious in some form or another, generally with a sensible, progressive or liberal approach and an awareness of the various problems with the sort of beliefs I usually criticise. I respect them both for their beliefs (even if I disagree) and particularly for their interest in reading things that are often less than flattering about religion. They are a valuable addition here, and I’m grateful for that. Read More…

What my son has learnt about the Tooth Fairy

ToothElder son lost tooth number three today, which was a hot topic of conversation chez nous. Yes, those long winter evenings really do fly by.

As usual, he spent most of the conversation putting younger son in his place by showing off his superior knowledge of the Tooth Fairy. And that was what interested me, because it was the first time I’d heard him stating anything as fact, rather than asking (possibly completely misguided) questions. Because he’s so bright, strange ideas notwithstanding, and because no one’s been carefully telling him the “right” answers, it’s a fascinating case study in belief and superstition. Read More…

Relative Normality – How my idea of normal changed completely

OrganWhat is normal? How do you know? Even identifying normality as a simple question of numbers is fraught with problems in practical terms, because we don’t know everyone and generally associate with people who are similar to us. For most people, normality is all about the people they spend most of their time with.

There was a time when I thought church was a boring, ritualised affair, carried out in a big stone building with horribly uncomfortable pews. To me, that seemed normal, because it was what I grew up with. It never occurred to me that there was anything strange about lots of people sitting on cold, hard benches, mumbling the same almost incomprehensible words week after week, before eating a tiny, dry wafer and having a small sip of nasty fortified wine. Read More…

Doubting Thomas, patron saint of the gullible

I don’t think there is such a thing as a patron saint of the gullible (as there’s one for the internet, it might be unnecessary duplication), but if there were, Thomas should be right at the head of the queue.

Strictly speaking, it would probably be more precise to call him the patron saint of easy marks, but however it’s phrased, it probably strikes you as unfair. After all, Thomas was the one disciple who’s named as being dubious of what the others told him about the resurrection. It was an outrageous claim, and he was justifiably cautious. If anything, shouldn’t he be associated with scepticism? Read More…

Steering clear of the Red Sea Bubble

TulipsBubbles are fascinating. I mean economic bubbles, not the sort you get in the bath, although they’re quite interesting too. Start again…

Economic bubbles are fascinating. However rational we think we are, a mixture of greed and a belief that it must make sense if everyone else is doing it leads people to act in ridiculous ways. Never mind that there have been bubbles throughout history and they’ve always ended badly, people are always lured into the latest one, from tulips to derivatives and now Bitcoin, and unsurprisingly get burnt. Read More…

Top-down religious indoctrination is so last century – these days it’s all crowdsourced

Cult or religion? The line between the two is often controversial, but the word “cult” is clearly understood to be pejorative. It often appears in the form of an irregular verb:

I have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe
You are religious
(S)he is in a cult

Stained GlassOne of the more popular criteria for distinguishing between them is indoctrination, the idea being that cults indoctrinate, but religions are more respectable and allow people to believe without the coercion that word implies.

That seems like a pretty good working distinction, and it always seemed to fit with my experience. I’ve spent my life in the church, but I never felt that I was being coerced into any belief. Obviously, there was encouragement to believe this, or that, and I’ve been taught various doctrines, most of which I now reject, but I never felt that I’d been indoctrinated at any point. Except that looking back, it appears that I was. Read More…

Were They Real? The impossibility of a neutral presentation of information

Elder son’s at it again, trying to determine whether certain people and characters are real or not. This time, he’s been set off by a book he brought home from school, called Were They Real?, which gives potted descriptions of various figures, and then asks the reader to say whether they’re fact or fiction.

He loved the process of discovery, and we talked a lot about the people and where the stories come from. He was particularly intrigued by the page on King Arthur, which slightly hedged its bets by saying that although the stories about him aren’t true, they were probably based on a real warrior king from around that time. Read More…

A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for. Read More…

27 percent of Americans think God will decide the Super Bowl – how do the rest think it works?

A survey this week reported that 27% of Americans believe that the result of sporting events like the Super Bowl will be determined by God, which has stirred up a lot of comment on the extraordinary beliefs of the American public.

The survey allowed the responses “Completely agree”, “Mostly agree”, “Mostly disagree” and “Completely disagree”, plus a “Don’t know/Refused” option, but while that makes the true picture a little more complicated than the “Agree/disagree” dichotomy that’s been presented in most reports, I don’t think it loses too much detail to aggregate the figures in this way. This is not only a belief with no evidence offered in support, but it makes no prediction about God’s preference or even His criteria for choosing.

Raven

Ravens? Closely associated with Norse mythology. God must favour the Niners

Even though I don’t believe God has anything to do with the course of the Superbowl (you won’t be surprised to hear), the detail of how He allegedly decides isn’t a trivial issue. If you think the outcome of the game will be dependent on God’s preference, but make no claim about how that preference is reached, your belief can’t be disproved and you’re free to engage in ad hoc justification after the event. Read More…

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