Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Dark Night of the Soul

I have been trying to get off obsessively pouring over atheist blogs or anything to do with atheism or skepticism cold turkey. I have had a few lapses, but for the most part, I have managed it.

But in the place of frantic anxiety of colliding into the views of people who not only disagree with the Church, but the very idea of the Church--people who think not only is Christianity false, but it isn't even a good story, and we're better off that its not true--a dull, formless mass of doubt and pain has set into my heart. I wonder if this is what the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross is like--I have had this feeling many times before and wondered so every time, but I think that might be a feeling of being cut off from God's presence, not doubting that presence was there in the first place. Maybe it is at least analogous.

There is so much I don't know. Today, I was talking to Dr. Gamble in between my conferences and he, in relating how he had come to be at Arkansas, said something to the effect of "God decides everything." And in my subconscious, the half-formed, not even verbal idea bubbled up, "Maybe God does not even exist." I only realized afterwards I had even had the thought. It was appalling. I have referred in the past to pathetic accounts of former believers who are beset with a persistent shapeless doubt built up from a thousand little pinpricks on their faith who finally realize they are atheists with thoughts like this. How disgusting! I don't want to be like that, no matter what, like a deflated balloon who admits his inflation was simply a delusion against the scientific truth of atmospheric pressure.

God, please help me. If you don't help me, I will try to soldier on. I can't make any demands on You. But help me still. I don't want to worry that percentage chance for the likelihood that You exist might be considerably below 50%. I don't want to read about twins with body parts from their dead twins still stuck to their bodies and wonder if this means You don't exist--if it must make me think of something, let it be pity, however worthless or hypocritical.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Disliking Carl Sagan

I spend a lot of my time reading the blogs of rather shrill atheists, but those aren't the only ones, nor even the most effective. It is the ones like Carl Sagan that I don't engage with that much, because they are not sufficiently lacerating - whatever I mean by that. But that doesn't mean they are any less insidious. Yes, I said insidious, knowing it makes me sound like the evangelical pastor of a megachurch. I don't care.

Take a look at this and this.

I know perfectly well, dear reader, that you may well be moved by this. Especially the former - why, with such a mellifluous tone and tinkling music, why the Pope himself might cry out, "Ah, it has all been for naught, all these years, we do not indeed live in a privileged reference frame, we must find some worthy goal as this man has said."

The hell we don't and the hell we must.

Isn't this exactly what the Underground Man despised, this nonsensical idea that science and pursuing our rational betterment will be our salvation. If "We long to be here for a purpose, even though, despite much self-deception, none is evident", then let us throw off the final self deception that there is any goal worth pursuing. 

Maybe it is different for you reader, but for me, this is the only conclusion I can come to. For you, there may be some sense of secular meaning. Me, I spit at it. All the familial love and friendship in the world, all the protection of civil and human rights, all the feeding of the hungry and nursing of the sick, all of it doesn't mean a damn to me if the goodness of it isn't metaphysically significant.

For me, all I can say so a statement that we are unimportant and therefore should pursue our rational interests -- to hell with that. If I am unimportant, I have all the more reason to be as irrational as I feel like. But I am not unimportant. This is not a pale blue dot, but the seat of a finer majesty than any star however massive.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
But you're wrong! They were justified, in their cruelty, in their hate, in their killing, in their misunderstandings, in their spilling of blood, in their glory, in their triumphs, in their posturings, in their self-importance, in their delusions.

I may just be dashing my head against the wall of materialism, but I'll do it again and again. They were right, and you are wrong Mr. Sagan. It isn't naive romanticism to say so. The murderers and the saints, the victors and the failures, the singers and the silent, none of them were obscure, none of them were specks.

They were men.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Note on Mythicism: Goodbye to All That

(Maybe one day I will try to compile all of these entries on this topic into a coherent essay).

I am trying as hard as I can not to read anything more on Mythicism. The whole thing is indeed greatly troubling - and I admit as much - but at the bottom, I found that what is today called Mythicism is primarily backed by the idea that Paul wrote his letters about a "Celestial" Jesus who supposedly was born and killed by devils in a sort of "sublunar realm" between heaven and earth (and so he never appeared to anybody) which is supposedly from Platonism. It is the lowest of the heavens, but not quite Earth - apparently, Paul thought that the god acting out some sort of pageant in here was the salvation of us all. Now, for all I know, it may well be that Osiris and the like were indeed supposed to carry on such pageants. But the idea dying and rising gods being some kind of unique category is basically dismissed by most comparative religion scholars.

But that's not the clincher. The fact is, the entire argument is based on the idea that every single time Paul refers to Christ as coming in the flesh, shedding his blood, etc. it refers not to real flesh, but magic Osiris flesh. A man named Earl Doherty, who I don't care to link to, is the source of most of this, and if you look on his site, you can find his exegesis of all these passages in Paul - and in all of them, you can see nothing but a lot of what appear to me (though I only know Latin) to be a bunch of convoluted readings that he twists to fit into his paradigm. He claims that Paul is "silent" about the life and the Earthly existence of Jesus, but he has no trouble accepting his apparent silence about his sublunar existence - you never, for example, see Paul making any disclaimers that he isn't talking about real flesh and blood, but "mythical" flesh and and blood. And these interpretations passages are basically the crux around which Mythicism is built, since without them they have nothing to stand on for Paul quite obviously at least believed that Jesus was a man, and they are all bad bad bad. You can poke all the holes you want in the Gospels, but if this is your best explanation of where Christianity came from, then agnosticism about Jesus's existence is by far the more reasonable position, and I would even say that hisotricism is considerably more probable given the fact that this is the apparently the best alternative they can come up with, and it is terrible.

Like I said, I am trying to turn my back on it, let it go, but it is hard. I keep on wondering if there is something I have missed, something I am not admitting to myself. Maybe I on some subconsciousness level I feel Mythicism might confirm that old notion that Christianity is simply too good to be true and therefore everything that attacks it might be coming from someone with a clearer viewpoint than I, someone less afraid of death than I am. I am insecure I admit it.

But I think this is one of those cases where I might be able to somewhat securely say, no, this is just wrong. Or maybe I want to say that, but I do have this nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. But then again, I almost always have that. So for now, I'm just going to go with the consensus of NT scholars and seems to be true, that Mythicism is (probably) just wrong.

Now I just have to be able to accept that and stop reading their stupid blogs.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Follow up - more of the same

Spent pretty much all day reading, practically against my will, about the Mythicism. The strange thing is that it brings me into sympathy with Bart Ehrman, an agnositic NT scholar who nevertheless argues Jesus was a historical figure - one who just a few months ago was my worst enemy for introducing me the seriousness of the Problem of Evil. Going back and forth between Ehrman and this so-and-so (I'mma try to to stoop to his level) who is nevertheless one of the more credible voices for Mythicism, actually having a degree with history instead of Educational studies, like this guy and his pal Widowfield, who studied I know not what. The main mark of Mythicism seems to be a rather derisive attititude toward NT scholars, who they rightfully point out are mostly Christians trained in divinity schools, even if many of them went on to study the New Testament (if you were wondering what that acronym meant) as a historical document. They don't, they say, use the same methods for establishing evidence that real historians use. Here's a taste:
I began this post with a claim that these methods are unlike those used by historians of other ancient peoples and topics. I will need to address that more specifically in a future post again, too, though I have posted several times on it already.
In brief, the first thing historians generally establish is the nature of the evidence they are working with to determine the most appropriate way to understand its contents. This means literary and textual criticism of some sort must be applied first before assuming any historical intent at all in its contents or any core historical event at its base. It also means the importance of external (independent) attestation for the provenance, nature and/or contents of the text. These concerns are generally taken for granted in studies of, say, Julius Caesar, Hadrian, Justinian, even Socrates. Casey follows pretty much most historical Jesus scholars in overlooking these  practices that are standard in scholarly studies of ancient persons outside the Bible.
Which sounds all well and good. But one problem, as far as I can tell, is that if NT scholars don't follow the rules of historical analysis, then why is it that, instead of, you know, real historians pointing this out, we get the Mythicists, none of whom have real academic chops in history. The only one who even comes close is Richard Carrier (So-and-So from above) and he only has a few articles in legitimate (i.e. non Skeptical Inquiry) journals, and he was never even an adjunct (though I imagine he would claim that's because of the prejudice of his NT scholars against Mythicism that has nothing to do with his inability to publish much of anything on other topics).

Oh, not to mention, dying-and-rising gods of Frazer are not accepted as, like, a thing anymore, and this isn't by NT scholars but people working in comparative religion and specializing not in Christianity but Hellenic religions. Even Tryggve Mettinger who has tried to resurrect (no pun intended) Frazer's view admits the consensus it that it's bogus.

But what do I know? Maybe the Mythicists will win the day, and as one of their ranks claimed, "Within 5 years it will be widely accepted in the West that Jesus never existed." Maybe.

Ack. The worst part is that, caught up in my obsession, I basically consciously missed Mass. I want to say I can't stop myself, but I could have. That's what really gets me. Why can't I just let these things go? Why am I so worried about what other people think? Why can't I just live the way I think is right without having to refute, in explicit detail, every possible objection.

Also, yesterday, when I was working the basketball game, being disappointed they weren't giving out free brats, I snuck into one of the open suites and purloined some of these tiny burgers. A lady saw me through the window. I didn't make out what she said but I think it was something like, "We need to close the doors to the suites" or "You need to stay out of the suites". I was all like "I'm really sorry, it'll never happen again [please don't report me]" but she just kept walking.

I'm really just the worst.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Can it just be okay?

I have for the past several days been caught up in what has turned into an obsessive compulsive mode such that I alluded to in my past entry. Basically, whenever I am confronted with a name or an idea, I am compelled by the thought that I must find out what those atheists think about it, in particular the one I mentioned before.

It is getting/has gotten very bad. I considered at one point calling the emergency line at CAPS, but I didn't. I read in the Wikipedia article on OCD that what you have to do is allow the trigger to be pulled, and then build up a tolerance for the unbidden thoughts that tell you "Doing it will allow you to enjoy the thing you want to do now." But I just haven't been able to do it.

One of the persistent ideas I have been slamming into my head with these constant readings is that it's not okay to have faith. Faith is a vice. Any definition of faith that isn't "blind faith" isn't really faith at all.

Is it really not okay to have faith?

I think I can maybe establish the existence of a necessarily existing being that is not the universe itself - but even this most atheists dismiss out of hand (I only cite this as an example of the "dismissing out of hand" - you can find plenty of examples of them dismissing it normally as well) - but the rest, that is all on faith. Or rather, the way I think things ought to be if God does in fact exist.

I just want to be able to feel like that's okay. Without an addendum like, I'm not hurting anyone. I just want it to be okay to believe in a thing I know I don't have the proof for. I just want somebody to tell me that and believe it.

I just want to let go so badly. When I was thinking of an example showing an atheist dismissing the cosmological argument, I began to flagellate myself again - "You should look at more of these arguments." It's not even a "You should do it, or else your a coward who's totally insecure in your beliefs" it's just "Do it! Do it! Do it!" There isn't even a reason anymore, just a horrible subconscious shriek.

Some people reading this are probably unbelievers. I know a good deal of the people I know are, though I don't know specifically and I don't really want to know - when you work in the academic world, that's just how it is.

Could it just be okay for me to let it go? I know you probably think I should just become like you. I would be happier if I did, I would get away from all this madness that you think has been imposed on me by superstition.

But I just don't feel like it, for some reason. Maybe it is because I really sincerely believe, in spite of my doubt. Maybe I a just afraid of death and want to cling to my deluded fantasies. Maybe I am just a troubled, depressed person who would be this way no matter what I believed.

But I just don't feel like it, even if I don't know why. Can that be okay? Please?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A post just to say I've posted

I don't want to let this blog go silent - not because I think many people are reading, but because I want to keep at a writing project for once without giving it up. I may one day turn these posts into essays or something.

I've been doing very bad with my fixation on atheist blogs. One of a certain Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago in particular has given me a lot of trouble. The man truly hates religion. It is not just that he thinks it is incorrect, it is absurd and not only is everyone who embraces it absurd, everyone who does not think it quite so absurd, even if they do not agree with it, is also absurd. I have been, on several occasions, prompted by a thought "I wonder what that man thinks of this issue?" Like, if I put "faith in yourself" into the search box on his blog, will I come up with a tirade against believing in oneself without any evidence. I don't know why I fixate on people like this, because even if I became an atheist, I would not be one of that sort - I would be the reluctant William Rowe type of atheist.

Anyway, this when this sort of thing gets to the point that I even think "What does that hateful fellow think of Weird Al?" even I get embarrassed enough to force myself to resist. But for those weaselly little sentences and phrases like "believe in yourself", it is hard to resist the call of the search-box. I know these thoughts are absurd, but what you are caught in a kind of monomania, there is no way out but to surrender to these impulses and hope the next doesn't prick up too soon. I once grew so tired of this impulse that I wretched the Shift key off my keyboard and threw it into some trees behind my old apartment in Chapel Hill so that I would no longer be able to use the quotation marks to engage in this sort of Boolean madness.

I am out of metaphorical breath at the moment, though I feel I have more to say. Maybe later.