I’m spending this odd, COVID-19-dominated Holy Saturday inside, watching Jesus Christ Superstar. This was actually one of my primary information-sources regarding Christianity before it occurred to me to read the New Testament for myself, in my early twenties. If you’d like to watch it with me, here’s a link to the 1973 film-version, as a YouTube playlist.
During my 4th period class today, I got asked one of my least favorite questions by one of my students: “Do you believe in God?”
It’s a science class, and I want us to stay on-topic. Discussing my views on the existence or non-existence of a deity isn’t going to help with that. I sighed, and said what I always say in this situation: “That’s a personal question, and I don’t answer personal questions.”
The students then remembered that I have a Bible on the bookshelf in my classroom, and concluded, on the basis of this single shred of evidence, that I am, indeed, a believer. (The Bible is there as one of many options for my students to read during their designated reading time, just before lunch.)
Since then, I’ve been to Amazon, and ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, which I will place on that same bookshelf — probably right next to the Bible. I wonder what my students will make of that?
When the topic of labels for belief systems, life philosophies, and the like comes up, I find that I tend to become uncomfortable with labels which are also used by, well, anyone else. For this reason, I’ve named my own system “attempted orthoism,” which I will now try to explain.
First, I’ll deal with that elephant in the room: the Creator of the Universe, by any name. Does such an entity exist? Well, I simply don’t know, but I also realize that this could change. If there is a deity, and that entity chooses to make evidence of his/her/its existence known to me, I’ll pay attention to the evidence, and see where it leads me. This is, to me, given my present state, the only position that makes sense.
“Ortho-,” as a prefix, can mean “right” (as in a right angle), or “correct,” either one. The suffix “-ism” is used in words such as Catholicism, capitalism, materialism, socialism, Communism, Hinduism, etc. — the “-isms” are simply systems of belief and/or thought. The meaning of “attempted” is obvious, so if you put it all together, here’s what it means: I simply attempt to be correct. Less formally, I try do the right thing, in the various situations I encounter in life.
These are some of the features of attempted orthoism:
The desire to hold positions on various issues which are correct.
The desire to do the ethical thing in all situations.
Honesty. Lies are not helpful in any effort to be correct.
The willingness to admit it when I do not know something, once I realize that I do not know it.
The refusal to reject the possibility that supernatural entities exist, in the absence of empirical evidence for their non-existence.
The inability to embrace a belief in any supernatural entity, as long as no compelling, empirical evidence is found that such a being does exist.
Respect of the rights of others peacably disagree, on these or other issues.
Maintaining high standards for evidence, and acceptance of principles. This means using and testing hypotheses, reasoning logically, and guarding myself from error with a mental shield: my skepticism. To prove something to me, a mathematical proof would be an excellent approach. If you simply want me to accept that something happens provisionally, until and unless new evidence arises to disprove it, then the scientific method is the way to go. I place a premium on logic, and reasonable arguments.
Refusal to accept emotional arguments, or arguments from authority, for the simple reason that such methods so often lead to serious error.
Re-testing previously-accepted principles, for we can all fool ourselves better than anyone else.
Reservation of the right to question anything and/or anyone.
This is not a complete list. Attempted orthoism is a work in progress.
I don’t like to use terms I did not make up myself for things as important as questions such as these, and so I don’t. Attempted Orthoism rests on a foundation of skepticism, which is a metaphorical lens I try to apply to everything. Skepticism is, of course, essential for anyone who works in science and/or science education, and I am a science teacher. This is why science plays a role in both definitions above.
Whether one is a Christian, or not, we should all be able to agree that the Bible is an important book, and that greater understanding of it will benefit anyone who lives on this planet. There are, after all, well over a billion people, alive today, living in families which try to use the Bible as a guidebook for life. (As an aside: is it also true that anyone on earth can benefit from improving their understanding of the Qur’an? Of course it is — and for exactly the same reason.)
Before today, I had never encountered a website which serves that purpose — greater understanding of this important book we call the Bible — with the purity of Bible Hub. I found it by accident, while discussing, with my wife, the original languages in which the Bible was written: Hebrew for the Old Testament, and, in the New Testament, an ancient form of Greek — plus one important sentence (depicted as the last pre-death-and-resurrection words spoken by Jesus) in Aramaic. The New Testament was not written for an audience which understood Aramaic, so the books of the Bible which include this sentence (Matthew and Mark), as originally written (as far as we can tell), follow the Aramaic words of this sentence with a translation into the same form of Greek (Koine, or the ancient Greek of the common people, as opposed to the ruling class) in which the rest of the New Testament is written. The influence of Greek culture (which could have spread along with the Greek language) could only have affected the New Testament, not the Old Testament, for historical reasons. The two of us were discussing the possibility that the absence, then presence, of a Greek influence might help explain why the Old and New Testaments are so radically different from each other. For quite some time, though, I became sidetracked by my inability to remember the last words of Jesus on the cross, in Aramaic, and I decided to investigate that topic more closely.
I do not read Greek, so I have read the words in this important New Testament sentence (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) only in English translations of the Bible. I simply used Google to do a search for this sentence — and that’s how I found Bible Hub.
On the two pages at this website related to the verses I was researching, the first thing I found was an amazing variety of English translations of each verse, clearly labeled, including many translations of which I was previously unaware. Navigating to other languages is easy, at the upper right. Below the numerous English translations, there is commentary, but it is clearly labeled as such, so that no one will confuse the commentary with the various translations of the verses in question. If one wants to read sermons related to a given verse, there is an easy-to-find link provided for that purpose, but it is easier, of course, to not click on a hyperlink than it is to click on it.
My favorite feature of this website, by far, is that I was able to get the information I wanted quickly, without anything at all telling me how to interpret what I read. At Bible Hub, the default format is to let readers interpret the various parts of the Bible for themselves. For that reason, in addition to other features described above, I give this website an A+ grade.
I am posting this to make one fact obvious: I want my blog to be a place where believers (of various types), and non-believers, can interact peacefully. There is a need for such places. This is one of the things my mother taught me.
This happened near the end of Summer school, about four years ago. I haven’t been able to write about it until now, but my life is now separated into the unknowing part before this day, when I was so often angry without knowing why, and the part after I painfully found the truth which explains this anger.
The three-second video above was correct — for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t handle the truth, and was having one PTSD attack after another as a result. There was a break between Summer School and the resumption of the normal school year in the Fall, and that’s a good thing, because I had a lot of “repair work” to do before I was fit to be around large numbers of people again.
All of this followed what I refer to as a “proselytizing attack.” The person aggressively proselytizing to meat me was also a teacher, and the only thing he did right was to avoid this activity in the presence of students. In another religion, one inflicted on my family, by my father, when I was a teenager (Soka Gakkai, a variant of Buddhism), the technique he used is called shakabuku, which translates from the Japanese as “bend and flatten” — although this teacher was, of course, using a Christian version of shakabuku. My entire family was subjected to these efforts to “bend and flatten” us, during my father’s four or so years as a practicing Soka Gakkai member. Many years earlier, before I was born, he had actually been a minister in a certain Protestant Christian denomination. There were many other “religions of the year” my father dragged us to, as I was growing up. If one wishes to raise a skeptic, that method is quite likely to work, but I would hardly call it good parenting.
I tried to politely end these unpleasant after-school conversations, explaining to the other teacher that I only have two ways which work, for me, to gain confidence in ideas: mathematical proof, and the scientific method. What he was looking for was faith, a different form of thinking, and one which is alien to me — my mind simply will not “bend” in such a direction, which helps explain why proselytizing efforts of the “bend and flatten” variety never have the desired effect with me.
Polite efforts to end this rude behavior repeatedly failed. No one else was nearby at the moment I finally snapped — so I could say whatever I wanted to the other teacher, while remaining unheard by others.
“Listen,” I said, “do you really want to know how to get fewer atheists in the world? I can tell you exactly how to do that.”
He said that, yes, of course, he did want to know how to do this.
“Here’s how,” I said. “It’s simple, really. Just tell your fellow Christians to stop raping children!”
He had no reply, for, in the wake of such things as the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal, and similar scandals in other churches, there is no satisfactory reply to such a statement. The truth of it is self-evident (provided one does not generalize the statement to encompass all Christians, for that would clearly be false), and the message to stop the “Christian shakabuku” had finally penetrated this other teacher’s mental defenses. I then realized something that explained the intensity of my dislike for this man: he used a voice with a hypnotic quality, a trick my father also used to influence, and manipulate, others.
I turned around, walked away, and he did not follow. I returned to my classroom, where I had work left to do, such as preparing for the next school day’s lessons, before leaving. I was also acutely aware that I was in far too heightened an emotional state to safely drive. Therefore, to calm down, I played the following song, at maximum volume, on repeat, perhaps a dozen times, scream-singing along with the vocals, as I prepared my classroom for the next day.
After venting enough fury to be able to safely drive home, I did so . . . and listened to this song some more, along with another song by Muse, the two of which I used to scream myself into exhaustion.
I finally collapsed into sleep, but it wasn’t restful, for I was too angry — for weeks — to ever reach deep sleep. I knew only dark, emerging memories and half-memories, as well as horrific dreams that temporarily turned sleep into a form of torture, rather than a healing process. Not being stupid, I got the therapy I obviously needed, after the proselytizing-attack, and my reaction to it, caused the truth to fall painfully into place. By the time the school year began, I could once again function.
My earliest memory is from age 2 1/2, and involves surviving an attack of a type that often kills infants and young children: shaken baby syndrome. This was described as the “story within the story” told, right here, in the context of Daredevil fan-fiction. It was bad enough when that memory surfaced, but this was even worse. The only “good” thing about what I had learned had been done to me was that it was before age 2 1/2, and, for this reason, could not become a “focused,” clear memory, as my recollection of the near-death-by-shaking is. Instead of sharp memories, I was getting imagery like this . . .
. . . But the intensity of my reaction left me with no doubt about what had happened, at an age when I was too young to defend myself, nor even tell anyone else.
Years later, I even abandoned the term “atheist,” choosing to simply use “skeptic” instead, a switch which angered far more people — atheists, of course — than I ever expected. I now realize a major reason I made that change, and it’s the fact that I have seen so many obnoxious atheists using “atheistic shakabuku” — and I am, for obvious reasons, hypersensitive to any form of shakabuku, whether it be religious or anti-religious. Humans are not meant to be painfully bent, nor flattened, and I want nothing to do with those who engage in such atrocious behavior. Whether they are religious, or not, no longer matters to me — what does mean something is, rather, their lack of respect for their fellow human beings.
To those who do engage in aggressive proseltyzing, I have only this to say: please stop. Even if you played no part in it, there is no denying that abuse, by religious authority figures, has happened to thousands, perhaps millions, of people — and one cannot know which of us have such traumatic events in our personal backgrounds. For this reason, no one knows what harm proselytizing might do to any given person.
[Note: absolutely none of this happened at my current school.]
In the Summer of 2014, with many other science teachers, I took a four-day-long A.P. Physics training session, which was definitely a valuable experience, for me, as a teacher. On the last day of this training, though, in the late afternoon, as the trainer and trainees were winding things up, some of us, including me, started getting a little silly. Physics teachers, of course, have their own version of silly behavior. Here’s what happened.
The trainer: “Let’s see how well you understand the different forces which can serve as centripetal forces, in different situations. When I twirl a ball, on a string, in a horizontal circle, what is the centripetal force?”
The class of trainees, in unison: “Tension!”
Trainer: “In the Bohr model of a hydrogen atom, the force keeping the electron traveling in a circle around the proton is the . . . ?”
Class: “Electromagnetic force!”
Trainer: “What force serves as the centripetal force keeping the Earth in orbit around the Sun?”
Me, loudly, before any of my classmates could answer: “God’s will!”
I was, remember, surrounded by physics teachers. It took the trainer several minutes to restore order, after that.
The term “evangelical atheism” may seem like a contradiction, but, hopefully, the image above clarifies what it means. It’s the zealous pushing of others to abandon religious beliefs, and it isn’t helpful to anyone.
John Lennon never, to my knowledge, publicly proclaimed a personal religious belief, but he didn’t apply the word “atheist” to himself, either; others did that. The same thing has happened repeatedly to Neil deGrasse Tyson, as he explains further, below. In both cases, these are people who are fiercely independent in their thinking, and not afraid to offend others — but that doesn’t mean they want to be associated with evangelical atheists, whose hostility to religion, and religious people, makes the world a more dangerous place. The more logical goal is a peaceful world, and that means one where the faithful and the skeptical can coexist peacefully.
For this to happen, work is needed on both sides, by the people on each side. The reasonable and moderate religious millions have religious extremists to (try to) calm down, each in their own groups, and they’ve got their hands full with that. It falls to non-religious people to deal with the extremists on the other side — the type who go beyond Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, all three of whom conceded, in books of theirs which I have read, that they would change their minds on the subject of the existence of a deity, shown adequate empirical evidence for the existence of one. This was a consequence of the fact that all three men have written things based on rational thought. (They’ve also let their emotions get in the way sometimes, and become overly angry, but I’m referring to their better works, especially that of Harris.)
Evangelical atheists don’t write books. They can’t calm down long enough for that. Instead, they are more likely to speak out through angry and insulting videos they post on YouTube, harassment of believers (or agnostics, or those who simply don’t want to be labeled by others) on Facebook, and, of course, old-fashioned, face-to-face bullying.
I prefer the term “skeptic” for myself, as I have explained here before, for I like that balance struck by that term: insistence on evidence, balanced by openness to new evidence, even if it contradicts previous views (about anything). I also don’t want to associate myself with the evangelical atheists, which is the primary reason I abandoned use of the word “atheist” for myself, some time ago.
This made a few evangelical atheists angry, some to the point of losing all ability to reason (predictably), to the point of open warfare on my Facebook. To stop this, I literally deactivated that account for several days, that being the easiest option to shut that down quickly.
As for Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Lennon, I will let them speak for themselves.
Religious people aren’t going away any time soon. Neither are the non-religious. If we’re going to enjoy “living life in peace,” the hatred and hostility both need to go, from both sides of the “divide of belief” . . . and that isn’t too much to ask.
I’ve been trying to determine the appropriate phaser setting for dealing with these people, and have decided to go with “heavy stun.”
Heavy stun is kinder than the WBC adults deserve, but some of those WBC people are infants and children, and they have a chance of throwing off their brainwashing as they grow up. I would not deny them that chance.
[Photo credit: This website is where I found this image. It’s a story about the WBC announcing their intent to protest Leonard Nimoy’s funeral.]