Friday, March 4, 2011

A secular mantis

January and February blew by, and March has arrived in a hurry. I am not happy to greet it. And I would be, if it weren't for SXSW. The thing is that I know that when the festival does actually arrive, we'll get around just fine, despite the traffic, and though we'll have to park and load a million miles away from the actual venue, we will survive like we always do. And we will probably have a great time, like we always do, but it just creates so much anxiety beforehand.

However, I'm excited to play in Bryan tonight, because our last couple of shows there have been really encouraging, and I'm super excited about next weekend, when we return to the two best venues I've ever played: the Houses of Blues: Dallas & Houston, respectively.

The record is almost done and we've lined up an artist to do the design. Things are coming together on that front.

Leah has recently broken through another career goal for the year and it's still early. I imagine she'll break through a couple more before the year's over. Another reason I'm looking forward to being done with SXSW is that right after that, Leah, Harper, and I are heading to the Great White North for a few days to see our family in Toronto. We're not terribly anxious to put our increasingly squirmy daughter on a crowded airplane, but I think she'll really love seeing her Canadian family.

Woke up stressed this morning because I had a dream where I was on a boat with an older Harper and her friends and the waters were full of sharks and killer whales that kept bumping into the boat, almost capsizing us. I'm somewhat phobic of large bodies of natural water, and the reason is probably not unrelated to a religious observance of Shark Week in my younger years. The dream ended with me chaotically piloting the boat down the hilly streets and busy traffic of San Francisco, frantically weaving between cars until finally coming to a stop when the boat became airborne and crashed. Everyone was OK, but it was one of those that feels too real.

I don't know much about Rob Bell, and by "much" I mean "anything," but apparently he's very famous, as pastors go. I've been seeing him take a lot of grief over his soon-to-be-released book, in which, I guess, he's making claims that are getting him called nasty words, like "Universalist." I haven't read it, but apparently there's no Hell. Great news! Well, I don't think it particularly noble to believe things based solely on wishful thinking and circular reasoning, but if you're going to do it anyway, why not choose the belief structure where everyone wins?

I don't believe in Heaven or Hell, but I really hope that I'm wrong and that Rob Bell is right.

But he's probably not.

So it goes.


  1. It is kind of amazing what denying the existence of hell will do to you...people freak the eff out. I get it: if there's nothing to be "saved" from then what is the point of being "saved"? Aaaaaand there goes your religion right out the window which I know from experience causes people to panick & freak out. However, there is something funny in people who claim to be, at the very least TRYING to be, loving & forgiving & compassionate, clinging desparately & arguing passionately for the existence of hell. Hell! It just kind of makes me chuckle.

    There is a This American Life episode called "Heretics" about Carlton Pearson. He was Oral Roberts' "black son" & right hand guy for a long while until he started to doubt whether a truly loving God would condemn anyone to eternal suffering. His entire life got turned upside down when he started saying he didn't believe there was a hell. The most awesome thing about his experience, to me, is that his lack of belief in hell stemmed from a personal revelation (which translates to just a thought or an idea really) about the nature of love within the context of who God is. Pastors have forever been making proclamations & dictating what people should do based on their own personal revelations but for whatever reason Pearson was, forgive me, crucified for stating his own thoughts.

  2. The idea of Hell is definitely a tricky one. Most of what people think of it comes from Dante, rather than scripture, and scripture's definition seems to be tentative, at best. It's certainly difficult to reconcile the idea of a loving god with Hell, and it's kind of heartbreaking watching people trying to make the pieces fit. In recent years the arguments I hear have become a weird kind of "Well, Hell isn't eternal torture, its just separation from god, so see, god's not such a bad guy....right?"

    I think more and more of my Xian friends are tossing out the belief in Hell, which is encouraging. Of course, for a while now, I've thought that most of my Xian friends were really just Universalists with an affinity for the character of Yeshua.

  3. "Well, Hell isn't eternal torture, its just separation from god, so see, god's not such a bad guy....right?"

    I've heard that one too. I remember the hoops I use to jump through in my own mind trying to reconcile who I was with what I had been raised to's not easy.

    While I am no longer a Christian, I do think there is a new wave or type of Christian that is taking shape in some of the younger generation (between 20-30, give or take a few years?) and I think that could be one descriptor of it: "Universalists with an affinity for the character of Yeshua". In fact, I think that may be a place I am headed to. I don't want a religion, I don't want dogma or doctrine...but when I think of the type of spiritual experience I would like to have it is still framed in the Judeo-Christian personality, at least peripherally. Though I am still not sure if that is just because that is the only frame of reference I have. I avoid all religions & spiritualities because I think, after what happened to me in my own religious journey (nothing too terrible, just your run of the mill loss of Christian faith but it was really difficult for me), I am just afraid of putting my trust/faith/dependence on anything that I cannot actually see and hear and touch.

    I know you don't write much anymore about religion but I love it when you do because it seems we have similar religious pasts and I know so few people who have had similar experiences. I also love it when you brag on your wife & daughter because that is just nice to read.

  4. much to be said, though arguments are usually not what people need to hear on subjects like this. I believe in hell, and I believe that hell is wholly consistent with a loving God. In fact I believe that at least the potential existence of hell necessarily follows from the existence of a loving God. It is, in a way, the reality of God's respect for our autonomy.
    Many Christians of my generation have embraced Universalism, and I can appreciate why. I think the desire to do so comes from a good place, even if I think they are wrong on this subject.
    I appreciate the candidness of your story. A potential worry: We all have 'doctrines', and 'dogmas'. We all make existential commitments of one kind or another in order to live our lives. Some of us make God-centered commitments and some make non-God-centered commitments. But they are both 'religious' in the interesting sense of the word. Make sure you have seen the best, most well argued for presentation of a position before you dismiss it.

  5. by the way- Taylor
    Do you know if you will playing be in Houston this summer after June 1st-ish? Sara and I would love to finally make it to one of your shows.

  6. TD,

    Can you give me examples of what you might consider to be non-God-centered commitments that could be someone's 'dogma' or 'doctrines'? I need examples because otherwise I am afraid I will come up with things that you did not intend :)

    I had 24+ years of well argued presentations and my life as a Christian was almost wholly good but ultimately, I don't believe Christianity is for me. It is not a part of who I am and the older I got, the more clear that became to me.

    I very much respect what you have to say even if half the time I don't agree and the other half I don't understand what you are saying (the fact that you are well versed in your faith & religion & can explain clearly why you believe what you believe lends to that respect). And really, I don't even know if it's about not agreeing with you, because I have no interest in talking people out of their religious beliefs or telling them they are wrong - I think it is more of just not being of the same beliefs, they are just no longer for me. One other thing that sets you apart and would prevent me from ever thinking you are 'just another Christian': you married outside your faith and yet continue to practice that faith. Where I come from that is almost unheard of and I think it makes you atypical of most religious folk.

    I think I have told your wife this but I am fascinated by people who marry outside their religion & have happy, healthy relationships with their spouses because I was raised to believe that it was absolutely impossible and that God would not bless your marriage if you took that path. I sincerely respect inter-faith marriages.

  7. Lindserannie,
    As for examples of non-God centered commitments, there are almost too many to list. The problem with identifying them is that many don’t have a name attached to them, so it can get a little tricky.
    A very common one places a particular view of ‘science’, or ‘rationality’ at the center of their beliefs, which makes serious thought about God (or beauty, or ethics, or philosophy) impossible. For many very smart people, the ‘scientific worldview’ becomes something like a religious faith, which limits the types of things that can be said to possibly exist, and very narrowly controls the way we look at and interpret the world. This view of science is almost never argued for, but adopted naively and used to inform all other beliefs. I have some very specific examples of this happening if you want them.

    Other people put a very ambiguous a view of ‘love for humanity’ or ‘social justice’ at the core of their worldview, and build upon that core conviction. It is very common for people to leave Christianity because they see that it conflicts with some of their general political or ethical beliefs. But how often do you hear people defend fundamental political or ethical beliefs? Not too often. Usually, they are just taken for granted, and then used to inform other beliefs.

    Some people (usually disillusioned idealists) become disenchanted with the world and become ‘pessimists’ or ‘absurdist’s’. This is a HUGE one, although I don’t think people recognize it very often. I think Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain are of this type. These sorts of people usually have very acute senses of right and wrong, but then they see that the world doesn’t seem to be in line with that sense. So the idea that we live in a cruel, meaningless universe secures itself at the center of their worldview. Obviously, this will inform their religious beliefs. The argument would go something like this:
    1) If God exists, humanity has cosmic significance and there is a purpose for the evil and suffering we see in the world.
    2) But humans have no cosmic significance, and there is no purpose for the evil and suffering we see in the world.
    3) Therefore God does not exist.

    I could go on and on. A few more crude examples: some people live for pleasure, some for power, some for themselves. Sex, drugs, money, pride, etc. A fundamental commitment to any of these things will color the way they see the world, and will thus be ‘religious’ commitments.

    I was very touched by the last half of your response. I am very fortunate to have a wife who loves me and respects my religious beliefs. I think our relationship works because we both come from traditions that value respect and sincerity. I have told my wife many times that I hope she one day becomes a Christian. But this is something she would have to come to for the right reasons, not because it would make our marriage or the raising of our daughter any easier.
    One more worry and then I will wrap this up. If Christianity really is true, then it is ‘for’ everybody, whether they believe in it or not. Beware of falling into the contemporary trap of thinking that religions are just preferences that can be ‘for you’ or ‘not for you’. If one thinks about religion in those terms, then anything you land on will be about you, not about God. If you feel you have seen the best, most well argued presentation of Christianity and you still find it intellectually/ existentially unsatisfying, then you have to reject it. Maybe this does describe you. Just remember that there is a WEALTH of intelligent theological and philosophical writing devoted to it, and so many Christians (and ex-Christians) are totally ignorant of its existence.

  8. "If you feel you have seen the best, most well argued presentation of Christianity and you still find it intellectually/ existentially unsatisfying, then you have to reject it".

    Yes, that does describe me. I use the words 'not for me' because I consider my choice/lack of belief highly personal and thus I consider others' religious choices highly personal so I soft pedal it when it comes to this stuff because I make a sincere effort not to form any judgments on people when it comes to something so personal.

    I may have a lot of criticisms of religion but I keep them to myself in a public forum. I am sympathetic to religious people because I use to be one. I don't see me fairly new found lack-of-faith as a free pass to say whatever I want about Christians. If anything, I would hope that my perspective (having been on both sides) could help to bring understanding between the two least in my own little sphere.

    Thanks for responding :)

  9. Travis,
    As someone who has read every single Vonnegut book, Imma go ahead and disagree with you. I find Vonnegut always has a core of optimism. Sarcastic, yes. Pessimistic or absurdist, no.

  10. Travis,
    I'm sure we will be in Houston at a convenient time for you this year. We're trying to make 2011 all about Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. We're actually going to be there this Friday, if you're around I can probably get you guys in. Just let me know.

  11. Wish we were- won't be moving until the first of June. We'll catch you sometime later this year, or maybe take a drive up to Austin!