Archive for May, 2011

On the Irrelevance of Propositional Beliefs

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 31, 2011 by RWZero

One of the most prevalent beliefs among evangelicals today is Justification by Faith Alone (note the caps): also known as “Propositional Beliefs can have an Impact on your Eternal Destiny.” If you “believe in Jesus,” you will be saved, and if you don’t, well, you run the risk of eternal damnation (although perhaps some extra people will get in–but do you want to take that risk?). You could perform some acrobatic exegesis on the gospels to support this view, but I think it’s pretty much a Pauline thing. Even though the book of James is right next door (warning believers that “faith without works is dead” and that believing in one God means nothing because “even the demons believe this, and shudder”), Christians today are entirely comfortable hedging their eternal destiny on their assent to a few statements–and moreover, they are comfortable believing in the damnation of people who do not assent to these statements.

I recognize that if the Bible is taken as God’s Word, one is inclined to accept Paul’s claim that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” But I don’t think it’s consistent. Mind you, nobody else even vouches for the divine inspiration of Paul’s words. For all you know, he just decided to say that.

I do not believe that it can possibly, under any circumstances whatsoever, not even in the wildest regions of unlikely truths, make the least bit of difference what facts you believe during your life. When you die, the bare facts you believed cannot have any impact on what happens next (under the assumption that something happens at all), and here’s why I think so.

First, without even stepping outside Christianity, read the Bible. Jesus does not talk about the “doctrinally correct” rising to eternal life; he talks about the “righteous.” He tells a parable where a bunch of confounded do-gooders get swept into the Kingdom of God, whereas some upright folks who “did great works in [his] name” go to hell. That’s right, hell. I’m pretty sure that the goats in that story believed in the bare facts of Christianity, because they did even did great things in the Lord’s name; yet they went to hell because God “never knew” them.

So I don’t know why so many Christians sit around thinking they’ll be OK if they believe a few facts about Jesus. They’re the ones who should be worried about hell, because they believe in the absolute truth of the gospels, in which Jesus tells a parable about ostensible believers (believers like them?) being tossed into hell.

Now, once you permit yourself to step outside of Christianity, you encounter several cans of worms that I do not think any Christian (who believes in the eternal efficacy of propositional beliefs) can account for…

First of all, you encounter statistics. The people who believe certain facts about Jesus do not believe them because of some mysterious condition of the heart that has to be spiritually ascertained. They believe them for very clear demographic, social, and psychological reasons. If we are to believe that these people’s eternal destines are riding on their doctrinal beliefs, then we have to believe that God loves women more than men, loves unintelligent people more than intelligent people (based on their raw IQ, mind you–not on their intellectual humility, or lack thereof), and loves people who were raised by Christian parents more than people who were not. He even loves your grandparents’ generation more then he loves your generation. You can cite counterexamples all you want, but you will still be left with statistically significant trends that make a lot of sense. I do not think, under any theological paradigm, that God’s will is supposed to be so transparent, or so amenable to scientific study.

We won’t even talk about all those people who’ve never even heard of Christianity (although I would pose the question: if someone has the possibility of getting into heaven without knowing about Christianity, but becomes responsible for that information once you tell it to them, why risk it? Leave them alone!).

Perhaps the main thing I would like to point out is that people get talked in and out of their religious beliefs in the same way that they get talked in and out of other ideas. Arguments about religion look exactly the same as arguments about politics, sex, gender roles, and economics. Tempers flare, biases solidify, emotions percolate, misinformation is spread and logical fallacies fly. In many such conversations, every participant believes firmly in the rightness of his or her position. But never in a million years would anyone at the table believe that there are eternal consequences for being wrong–except in the case of doctrine.

I have seen long, exhausting arguments about the authenticity of certain biblical texts, and the plausibility of the Christian claims; but the very existence of such arguments proves my point: it cannot possibly make an eternal difference what side of those arguments people come out on. Do you really think it all comes down to whether William Lane Craig did a good job on his notes that night? Consider a young man who is told, by some angry intellectual, that the Bible is a book of fairy tales and myths: we cannot trust a single page in either the Old or the New Testament, and archaeology has not corroborated any historical references therein. When he reads the Bible, he does not see any reason to doubt this conclusion. Christians who try to evangelize this man will say that he “has a hard heart,” or that he “loves darkness rather than light,” but it is not true! He just believes what he was told. Perhaps he was misinformed, but he believes the misinformation, and he has no reason to doubt the misinformation. He also has no time to go digging into the issues, because he has to work 12-hour shifts to feed his family, and he does not have the Internet because it is 20 years ago (mind you, the Internet has not really been strengthening many people’s beliefs either).

People do not have perfectly rational minds. We expect them to come to the wrong conclusions in every other arena of life, but we’re to accept that the mistake of denying Jesus is eternally lethal? When a Christian is extremely gullible or misguided, the punishment is, at worst, a blind faith (Jesus is Lord? Thanks; I’ve never looked into it, but I believe you). But when an Atheist is credulous or gullible (i.e. Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking don’t believe in God, and I guess I believe them, because they sound convincing, and they are smart) he is eternally boned.

The argument that people’s religious beliefs arise from some deep and mysterious realm, completely separate from the factors that drive all our other conclusions, is demonstrably false. People believe what they’re told as children, and they believe what makes them feel comfortable. They believe what they read in books, hear from friends, see in movies, and sometimes they believe what they’re manipulated into believing. But there is no reason to think these things have to do with “loving darkness more than light,” and so on. People just think these things because they think them, and there are reasons why they think them.

Christians argue. They argue that the foundational tenets of Atheism are flawed, and that there are deeply mistaken assumptions involved. You can go ahead and tell the Atheists that they’re wrong about God’s existence, but the existence of the arguments suggests strongly to me that it cannot matter who is right. Those Atheists really do think what they think. They’re convinced of what they think because it makes sense in their heads, just the way that everyone’s political views make sense in their heads, and I think it’s just ludicrous to suggest that anyone is going to burn for things making sense in his or her head.

I will throw in a bonus argument, and that is the representation of these ideas. None of us has ever seen Jesus. Lots of people have never even been to the continent where he lived. We have never experienced the world of 2000 years ago. So what does it mean to “believe in Jesus?” When we hold ideas in our mind, it necessarily follows that they are accompanied by some sense perception that gives meaning to the idea. If I am told that my mother was reading the newspaper yesterday, I imagine her sitting in the chair; I place this event at a certain time, and I have the ineffable experience of “believing” that this took place–I “feel” that it was a real event.

None of us are furnished with even the basic building blocks to represent a “belief in Jesus.” To “believe” that he rose from the dead involves, perhaps, a set of mental images and feelings that are completely idiosyncratic, given that 2000 years have passed since then, and we have never seen anyone else rise from the dead (if you have, please inform me). The belief that Jesus is one’s Personal Saviour is a totally abstract idea, and there is no reason to believe that it produces a remotely uniform set of feelings and perceptions in those who assent to it. While some people may have dramatic, identical conversion experiences, I have very good reason to think that one propositional belief can represent an almost boundless gradient of arbitrary feelings, images and mental states in the people who hold it. Christians, if you don’t believe me, just look how completely different from each other you all are, and how many other Christians think that your Mode of Operation is heresy!

At this point, the Christian drops the carpet bomb: “God knows your heart.” End of discussion. But what good is God knowing all our hearts if this information is hidden from absolutely everyone, including ourselves? I can dredge up innumerable propositions from the back of my mind that I neither believe, nor disbelieve–I simply have the information that was told to me, and I have a reaction to that information. While I can make decisions about my official position on it, there is a component of my “belief” that is beyond my control: if I feel, for instance, that a particular story is not true, no amount of “deciding” to believe it will remove that feeling. I think it is clear that most of us are not sure what we believe about a lot of minor issues. We simply live with a slurry of feelings, shifting inclinations, and complicated attitudes. It is ridiculous to say that God knows what we “really believe,” because if nobody on earth can find these hidden black and white beliefs in their own hearts, God cannot know them either. Any such beliefs cited by God would be equivalent. It is not the same as having a mark on the back of your neck that only God can see–such “belief,” by which we are supposed to be judged, is portrayed as a conscious condition of mind, and by the way it is defined, I think it is absurd to suggest that it may not be accessible to us.

Given the fragility of propositional beliefs, the reasons that people believe them, the means by which people acquire them, and the fluidity of their representation in the mind, I cannot accept that belief in a set of truths or propositions has any impact on anyone’s eternal destiny. Period.

“I agree!” say some Christians.  “It’s about the whole person that you are. The beliefs are just a part of the whole thing: believing, trusting, doing, etc.”

Well, then, shouldn’t you be concerned about how similar you are to everyone else?

But I admit that that is another story.

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Of Atheists and Weasels

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 28, 2011 by RWZero

“A lovely collection of uncited straw men. Argument is so easy when you can just make up your opponents’ positions. But that’s the Christian way, eh? Whatever it takes to further your position; who cares if it’s actually true.”

I have come into possession of a comment (on the post below) that so precisely epitomizes the problems with Common Atheists that I have decided to hold it up to examination. It is a matter of almost sheer luck that I have been furnished with such an example, so I’ll not pass up the opportunity. I dare say that it’s better than the original sentiment I wished to express.

The central (implied) premise of my previous post was that many present-day Atheists are encumbered by a number of poisonous qualities and/or dubious dogmas that stain their credibility, and demonstrate that they are blinded by bias, irrationality and emotion (ironically so, considering that they are often arguing with individuals who are equally blinded by bias, irrationality and emotion). This prevents me from regarding the bulk of them–the New Atheists, that is–as a group of even-handed and rational individuals with whom I can have anything meaningful in common. So hear me out, all ye who read this, because you too can be taken more seriously, and be more persuasive, if only you are more careful with what you think, say and write.

I have admitted that my observations may be confined to the Internet. But the Internet has a lot of people on it, and thus, I am inclined to presume that it represents a lot of people. This being said, there are recurring, and problematic, traits that keep on cropping up.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with our friend’s criticism (and for which he loses credibility) is that he calls me a Christian, and fails to discern my intent. Even through the introduction of the very post that received this comment, it is possible to recognize that I am not writing polemic from a Christian view – but our commentator fails on this count.

One might argue that this is a forgivable mistake. I disagree. This kind of a mistake is only possible if one is unwilling to spend a few extra seconds reading. It substantiates the fact that many people simply respond emotionally to text that they read,  especially when that text criticizes a group that they identify with.

The next problem is that the comment has no substance. Let’s take another look at it without the padding:

“[These arguments are] uncited straw men.”

Citations do not affect the truth claim of a statement, mind you, but there are nonetheless two serious problems with a comment like this.

First of all, the complaint about the straw men is, presumably, directed towards my bold headings (“Atheists do not really think that way”). The complaint about the lack of citations is, presumably, directed towards my responses (“You have not proven those Atheist views wrong”). But you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either Atheists do not hold those views–in which case the views are straw men, my responses are moot, and I don’t need to cite them–or Atheists really do hold those views, in which case I ought to cite my responses, but there are no straw men.

Let us neglect the possibility that he was calling the Atheist beliefs straw men while simultaneously asking me to cite them, since that is just ridiculous. It amounts to: where are the Atheists who believe those things? I don’t believe that! Provide citations so I can find the kin who have slandered my belief system!

The second problem is that a straw man is a false representation of an opponent’s position (in this case, Atheism).* If our commentator had paid any attention, however, he would have noticed that there was no attack on Atheism. There was only an attack on a list of particular Atheist beliefs and attitudes that I have seen all over the Internet. By invoking the “straw men” fallacy, the commentator wishes to tell me that I cannot destroy Atheism by destroying those views–but he fails to notice that my only point was to attack those views themselves. There is no comment on the actual evidence, or lack thereof, for the existence of God. Since he continues on to say “Argument is so easy when you can just make up your opponents’ positions,” it seems obvious that this is what happened.

Does the commentator really think that Atheists do not hold any of the positions I listed below? I would like it if they didn’t, but I have seen them espoused many times over.

Whatever kind of a person this man may be, his comment is nonetheless a perfect example of the qualities that I cannot abide by in today’s Atheist movement: namely, laziness, hatefulness, shabby logic, and dogmatism. Laziness for failing to understand the opponent’s position. Shabby logic for writing an incoherent critique. Hatefulness for spending more time on insults than on substance, and dogmatism for providing a knee-jerk defense of “Atheism” when the subject of attack was not even Atheism, but merely the dogmatic tendencies of some Atheists (such as providing knee-jerk defenses of Atheism).

* A small revision: I recognize that the straw man is a false representation of an argument, not a position (such as Atheism); but the practice of destroying straw men is generally used to demolish the opponent’s position, and this is what I meant to say here… lest I be accused of not knowing what a straw man is.

Common Problems with the Atheists

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 27, 2011 by RWZero

Every day these days is like a box of chocolates.

I have been down to the bottom of several lines of thought, and one of the things that amazes me the most is that they all exist in the same world. How is it possible that this world produces such widely divergent views? If they are all delusions, why does it generate such delusions?

I shouldn’t be criticizing the atheists. I need those guys. But for all the things they have right on paper, they keep on saying a handful of remarkably shaky catch phrases that prevent me from ever really supporting them in any dialogue that lasts more than 5 minutes.

Why do people always overstep the reasonable limits? Is it worth sacrificing the airtight quality of the rest of their arguments?

Why can’t the atheists just argue that atheism is a rational viewpoint, without trying to demonstrate that it produces the happiest, more beneficial life? I’m not inclined to believe that it does.

Ask them for any doctrine you please, and you will get it. Your University professors are bound to preach optimism; and it is an easy and agreeable task to upset their theories – Arthur Schopenhauer

Everyone would be happier if we got rid of religion.

People who are religious are happier than those who are not.

Religion is bad for the world because of the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is of no significance that Communism has links to atheism. Hitler was a Christian.

Largely untrue.

Good people doing bad things? That takes religion.

Bad people doing good things is just as likely to take religion, and this scenario is more common in the civilized world.

America is not a Christian Nation.

The fact that you even take the time out to argue about this shows tremendous bias and irrationality. Discussions about America are totally out of proportion with the topic at hand. Only in the United States do the arguments over God’s existence include regular debates about the intentions of the people who founded the country in which the debate is taking place.

Theists came up with this idea of life being meaningless [without God] because they needed reasons to justify God’s existence.

The problem of meaninglessness was noticed by perspicuous atheists because they were the ones who needed to deal with it.

Anyone can be a smiling, ardent atheist. You can be one of the best and the brightest.

Smiling, ardent atheists tend to be first-world, intelligent, gainfully employed, computer-literate Caucasians born into privileged families. Only the best and the brightest can be the best and the brightest.

I am an atheist and I am happy. Therefore, atheism is nothing to be upset about.

Many Christians believe that atheists will burn in hell, and they are happy. Therefore, Christianity is nothing to be upset about. Also, see above.

There is a natural explanation for everything

There are discernible correlations between everything.

Believing in heaven diminishes the importance of this life, and of everything

Or you could face up to the obvious flip side of this coin. If there is some kind of afterlife (any at all), presumably things done in this life can impact it, making this life “important.” If there isn’t, nothing you do can make any difference that will be preserved, making what you choose to do rather “unimportant.”

Science has shown that the supernatural, God, etc. is superstition

Science makes testable claims.

It’s nobler to be good without God, because this shows you don’t need reward or punishment systems.

Everyone needs reward and punishment systems, because everyone does everything for a reason.

You are in control of your life without God looking over your shoulder. Take control of your life.

Even though you always say, as a natural consequence of your arguments, that:

Free Will is an illusion

And you have no choice but to say that.

Jesus didn’t even exist

Stop saying this. You lose credibility when you say this one.

I am an atheist who accepts evolutionary theory. I am among the ranks of the intelligent.

This result can be achieved with no parenting and a grade 10 education, provided there is no religious influence.

I have degrees in science. I could not have gotten these degrees without having a correct worldview.

There are Young Earth Creationists with PhDs in science. If things like that can slip through, there are probably infinitely many smaller things that gush through on a regular basis. Lots of them are probably in your head.

Presenting, the Evidence for Christianity

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 22, 2011 by RWZero

Some may wonder how I could be so hard on Christianity after having adhered to it for so long. Some may wonder how I could have believed it for so long in the first place. In any case, thinking about that has prompted me to succinctly summarize what I perceive to be the state of Christianity with regard to “evidence.”

I have never been much interested in people who claim that they don’t need evidence, because, as I explained in a previous post, you cannot even know what to have faith in without evidence. I make no comment on how I regard such evidence these days. But in my view, there is some.

Jesus (the Gospels)

A lot of people today may be under the impression that the Bible is an ancient book of myths and legends that cannot have anything serious to say about history. To whatever extent this is true of the Old Testament, there are a handful of documents in the New Testament of which this cannot be said. The gospels are the best documents from antiquity by a mile, and they substantiate, in my view (and in the view of most anyone who studies such things) that Jesus existed, and that various basic facts about him are accurate. Being the Son of God is another matter, of course, but the fact is that the documents are impressive.

The Origin of Christianity

If Jesus did not come back from the dead (or rather, if nobody saw him after he was dead), where did Christianity come from? Common retorts to the “the disciples wouldn’t die for a lie” argument are that “people die for lies all the time.” This is embarrassingly bad logic. The argument clearly asks why the disciples would die for a lie they themselves invented, whereas people who die for lies in other circumstances are usually not aware that they are dying for a lie.

It cannot really be substantiated, I think, that Christian beliefs were a total mess, and that orthodoxy emerged due to capricious circumstances and manuscript sifting. The canonical texts were in use quite early on, and the view that Jesus was the Son of God and rose from the dead seems to really be the “Christian” view of what happened. It is admittedly difficult to satisfactorily explain how the belief in a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth persisted, especially when such stories would have to be invented by the people who were endangered by believing them, and when producing the body itself would have stopped the madness.

Of additional interest is the conversion of the apostle Paul. It is hard to deny that he had some kind of visionary experience that caused the dramatic reorientation of his views, by his own account. Since Paul wrote letters that can be dated even earlier than the gospels, it can be fairly well established that he was who he was, and that he wrote them.

The Jews

I joked in a previous post that if you want to destroy Christianity, you can try destroying the Jewish people. But this is not really a joke because the existence (and nature) of the Jewish people is remarkable, and could be regarded as evidence that they are “God’s people.” They have survived in the most impossible circumstances, and are a unique people group. The fact that they have moved back into Palestine and somehow survived attempts by neighbouring countries to wipe them off the face of the earth is notable. It is very politically contentious, but it is notable.

Miracles in Christian Contexts

Having grown up in an environment where people simply believed in this stuff and openly talked about it like it was normal, I have been exposed (mostly second-hand) to a number of incidents that I confess I am unable to really explain away. Over the years I heard many stories, and they eventually piled up to the point where it seemed to me that–even though people do tend to imagine things–one could not unilaterally dismiss them all.

There are a couple incidents I have in mind as I write this. They mostly have to do with physical healing (not the kind susceptible to a placebo), although a few others, which I read in books or heard from known friends / acquaintances, are all over the map. I have never heard much about other major religions having solidly miraculous events associated with them (although I have read and heard about many such events occurring in fringe, decentralized spiritual practices). From my reading and experiences, Christianity is the only religion that produces a steady trickle of events that are genuinely difficult to explain. Some of them are well-documented, such as the explicitly Catholic “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima (which includes the three “secrets,” the second of which is a prophecy conclusively demonstrating either foreknowledge or very lucky guessing about Soviet Russia). Also notable is Our Lady of Kibeho, an apparition that appeared to predict the Rwandan genocide. Other people are full of more benign tales. Tony Campolo had an interesting story about how some Pentecostals prayed over him while randomly mentioning the name (and address) of some man who had just abandoned his family, and when Tony picked up a hitchhiker on the highway that evening it turned out to be that man (he promptly drove him home).

Unlike many of my skeptical contemporaries, I do still believe that there are a lot of events in the world–occurring on a semi-regular basis–that are genuinely difficult to explain, even given our understanding of science. The salient question (if one is able to believe that such events are worth consideration) is why Christianity is the only established world religion to report them with consistency.

(If you have knowledge of any significant or documented Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist “miracles,” even just from a trusted friend, I’d be interested to hear them; I’ve not heard of any)

Argument from Something Being True

You could argue that there just has got to be a God of some sort, given the existence of the universe and we who live within it. Then you could move on to say that such a God has just got to have revealed himself, because it’s ridiculous to create people without revealing yourself to them. Then you could say that Christianity is the only religion that fits the bill.

I consider this last argument especially weak, however, if only because there were billions upon billions of humans who lived and died before even the Jews came into existence, and the Christian God did not speak to them.

Judgement Day

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on May 20, 2011 by RWZero

So apparently Judgement Day is tomorrow.

If you’re a Christian, at this point, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Oh, those people are just a crazy, cultish bunch. They don’t represent Christianity.”

Well yes, they do. And here’s why: it’s a standard doctrine of Christianity that Jesus really is going to come down and bring the world to a grinding halt on some unknown day. It’s a standard doctrine of Christianity that there is going to be a Judgement Day. So tell me: is it really just the absurdity of it happening TOMORROW? Or is it the absurdity of it happening at all?

Issues

Posted in Faith Experience on May 15, 2011 by RWZero

I’ve been reminded, recently, that most people have “issues” in their lives.

People are involved with drugs, alcohol abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, poverty, debt, disease, disability, unemployment, abusive relationships, violence, emotional breakups, anger management, teenage rebellion, clinical depression, theft, failure to meet familial or bureaucratic expectations, and so forth.

I’ve had none of these issues in my life. My family was always relatively peaceful, modest, and measured.

They should not tell you to avoid all these things. They should tell you to avoid most of them, and save at least a couple of them to shroud the future in a shimmering haze and provide something to overcome in life. A story without an antagonist makes the reader question the legitimacy of the story. Suddenly, the reader remembers his hands on the page, his surroundings, the time of day, and so on, until the spell is broken entirely.

Love, Sex and Confessions

Posted in The Narrow Path on May 12, 2011 by RWZero

The evangelical church teaches its members that God created this wonderful tension between the man and the woman. It teaches that sex is a divine gift to be enjoyed only between a husband and a wife. There are books about relationships in the Christian bookstores that have pictures of a man and a woman in soft-focus-filter on the front, and they keep on coming out with more of them. God created the universe because he wanted to paint a story (“history” is “his story”) and perhaps the most important story of all (you guessed it!) is God’s plan for you and your future lover.

Evangelicals are obsessed with sex and relationships. They are absolutely obsessed. Such things have universal sway in the secular world because of our overwhelming desires. Just imagine how much the tension is ramped up by spiritualizing the whole thing! The story of you and your lover becomes a cosmic plan written in the stars. Those sexual desires become the snares and lures of demons! The secular fornicators are the harbingers of destruction, breaking God’s sacred laws. They will be cast out of the Kingdom of God. It makes breaking the rules tremendously exciting, and it makes keeping the rules tremendously exciting.

Nevermind all that. The lesson of the evangelical church is that you reserve yourself for someone, make a commitment to that person, and love that person unconditionally and completely without ever giving up on her (or him) just because you want somebody hotter. I bought this. I bought it hook, line and sinker.

The honest truth (I don’t even know why I’m writing about this) is that this was the only tangible, “earthly” thing I really ever wanted. And it is the only thing that never happened. I “succeeded” at pretty much everything else that the world told me to succeed at, and I got everything they told me to want. I have half-decent degrees, a good job, and a wonderful boss. I can play a bunch of instruments, I can sing, I can write, I can draw, I can run, I can climb, I can speak another language. I’ve read a pile of stuff, I’ve played a pile of games, I’ve seen a big chunk of the planet, I’ve tasted a pile of different cuisines, I’ve watched a pile of movies, I’ve written a pile of stuff, I have money, and my body turned out pretty good and rarely complains (nor does it often get complained about). None of it means anything to me. The only reason I wanted other things in life was to share them all with another living, breathing person who would appreciate them with me.

I’m going to regret writing this publicly.

I saw the state of sex and relationships in the culture. Yes, it made me suspicious from time to time that I was supposed to choose from a pool of 10 girls who were so different from me, while other people had hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. It made me suspicious that your body starts demanding sex about 10 years earlier than the church says you’re allowed to have it. It made me suspicious that everyone just went about their romantic affairs with reckless abandon, sometimes with dramatic consequences. It made me suspicious that time kept passing, and people kept dating and breaking up, while I was looking for something that seemed impossible. But this didn’t matter to me. I actually did want to be a rare find, or some kind of a hero, for some girl. I wanted to transcend the world of noncommittal, meaningless relationships and care about someone in a way that people in the world generally don’t care about each other. I wanted to care for some girl when she was feverish, clean her vomit off the floor when she was sick, tell her not to be embarrassed for embarrassing things, forgive her for things that people don’t forgive each other for, promise not to leave her for anyone else, and use all those ideas I came up with over the years for interesting and romantic evenings. I wanted to defy all the terrible influences of natural selection and love a girl for her mind before her body (even though my body tells me to reverse that order), break the trends of insensitive men who can’t communicate and won’t listen, and be that living, breathing person in someone else’s life. But it didn’t happen, and it might never happen. It might even be impossible.

It never happened because the same evangelical Christianity that fed me my desires also made it impossible to realize them. It constrained the options to a tiny little group of people. It gave me rules that people just don’t follow. It told me lies about the reasons behind all these things. It told me that people were actually interested in deep, hidden, honourable qualities, when all of us, really, are superficial and driven by blind forces that we can’t even understand. It told me that these things were bigger than a missed opportunity, a misspoken word, or a bad impression.  But they are no bigger than that at all. People are awful, and relationships appear to be little more than a hopeless game of animals trying to fake transcendence in suits and dresses.

One might expect me to say that in light of my shredded and tattered beliefs, the field is wide open, and that makes things easier. But that isn’t true. It’s even worse. All those secular people mostly lack such values, they mostly do not think about the big questions, they are mostly brainwashed into pointless societal pursuits, they are still mostly not like me, and they have all been in long relationships with other people that I just cannot deal with, given who I am, and the place I am in. I still believe in all those approaches that I believed in before—and now I don’t even have a belief system to ground them in. I cling to them for no reason at all. I can’t even pick from the little cluster of Christians anymore (so long as they follow the rules). I am a living study in isolation and futility. And all the evidence indicates that I believed and did all these things to an extent that many of my fellow Christians did not.

Some people love each other, and some people understand each other. But I fear that people may never really both love and understand each other.

I need my old self back. Who’s going to go back and get it for me? My past is gone. My desires and aspiration grew all my life; then they ripened, and now they’ve begun to spoil inside me.

I held out for a really long time. I was never once in a serious or steady relationship, because I always knew that it wouldn’t work out (or that it would be breaking the rules). In those few rare cases where I thought it would work out, the person burned me to a crisp. I did everything I was supposed to do. I constantly questioned the purity of my motives (even though this is complete lunacy, and it takes evangelicals to come up with such a ludicrous way of thinking). I can’t make it through the rest of this existence alone. Why should I have to be alone? Why should I keep on pretending that I’m not troubled by this? Why should I be saddled with these needs and desires that I didn’t ask for? Who are you to say, over your lover’s shoulder, that “it’s all in God’s timing?” It isn’t in “God’s timing” at all, and if you would look at the rest of the world and stop being so selfish, you would see this.

I think… that an unmet need to be loved, inflames and brings forth those qualities, that make one unlovable. I think it’s a terrible thing.

My despair grips me like a vice. The world is overwhelming, and it has taken everything from me, even my very identity. I was alone before, I was alone when it happened, and I am alone now. I can’t bear to think about it for more than a few minutes at a time.