Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Pandora and Her Box


I’ve been following The Aspirational Agnostic for some time now.  I don’t comment a lot because she is seeking out a faith or not faith or wherever she ends up.  It is not my place to attempt to steer her (as if I could) in any particular direction.  She wrote a post recently about an experience her son had entitled ‘Yeah, dont tell my son he’s going to hell….just, no.’  In an attempt not to hijack her post I’ve written my response to them here.

Sigh…and they battle rages on.  “My version of God is better than your version of God.”  Without “hell” and “eternal damnation”  juxtaposed with “heaven” and “eternal salvation”, for some, there is no purpose for a God.  Like Jennifer points out, even the grown ups are guilty of “My dad can beat up your dad” arguments.  Even in the apology she offers she reinforces, basically, that heaven or hell is a choice, though she tries to frame it more diplomatically.  And that if you don’t believe a certain thing you are choosing “no”.

I am not attacking Jennifer or anyone else, for that matter.  It’s just that I read this post as a plea to stop with the bullying (yes, that’s what I’m calling it). And yet, here in the comments, it continues to rage on.  Each side giving dissertations as to why their version is better or right and why this portion of people are going to heaven or to hell.  All backed up by scripture references and X, Y, Z and “God said”.  If my God were that much of a bully that I had to be afraid of him sending me to hell that wouldn’t be love now, would it?  It would be fear.  Through out the Bible that is what the Almighty mandates, is it not?  He equates fear with love.  And this is the God you all are trying to convince other people to obey?  Even if I did believe he existed I would not like him. As I know that whether I believe a particular thing or not has no bearing on it’s reality, you should know the same.  Just because you believe this does not make it truth or reality.

You see we all start out with a premise.  Some can be proven, some cannot.  Whether there is or is not a god cannot.  That God is is not a given.  Even if I started out with the premise that he is, I would not naturally conclude that he is love and wants to be my friend.  Where I come from actions speak louder than words.  Just giving birth does not impart love or friendship.  There are many children who can attest to that fact.  That Jesus is his son and is God himself is an assertion that, again, is unproven.  It is found within a text that many believe to be true.  Just because they believe that doesn’t make it so.  From that the rest of the conclusions seem spurious at best.

All of these conclusions and beliefs might be attested to by your own personal experiences, but they are just that.  Your own personal experiences.  No one else can or should be expected to believe what you believe unless they have their own experiences.  Else it isn’t a relationship the way you would like to claim.  It’s third-hand, not first-hand, experience.  I don’t have a relationship with a person someone else told me about.  I have a relationship with someone I have personal experience with.

Guess what?  I’ve been guilty of the same things.  I had this experience or that and wanted others to feel the same way about it based on my experience.  I’ve tried to convince people that they were in jeopardy of the fiery flames of hell.  I’ve told people all about the bridge that was out and the house that was on fire and that I was just warning them about the dangers.  I’ve also extolled the wondrous kingdom of heaven.  All without a single shred of evidence except the wrinkled, highlighted, worn pages of an ancient text that I believed was inerrant, uncorrupted truth.  Except now I don’t believe that anymore.  And I know that my believing it didn’t make it so any more than my not believing it doesn’t.  It’s just that when I look at the facts of how it was built, how it was put together, it seems less likely that it is than that it isn’t.

For what it’s worth, Jennifer, I don’t think you opened Pandora’s Box at all.  I think the lid has been off for quite some time.  All it takes its the mere mention of uncertainty, disbelief in certain aspects of what another believes, or a different interpretation of certain scriptures, ideas, orthodoxies, or doctrines for her to come out and play.

25 thoughts on “Pandora and Her Box

  1. Great post. I agree 100%.

    I lurk at a couple of blogs written by people who are slowly losing their Christianity. Like you I also refrain from commenting. Their journeys are their own, and I don’t want to ever give the impression that I know what’s best for them.


    • I don’t think she’s loosing Christianity. She’s not been a believer, but is interested and seeking out a faith she can make work for her. I’m finding her journey fascinating.

      Oh, and I’m glad you’re still reading, Lydia! It’s good to hear from you.


  2. As I know that whether I believe a particular thing or not has no bearing on it’s reality, you should know the same. Just because you believe this does not make it truth or reality.

    Just so.

    If you’ll pardon the length of my comment, I would like to take the opportunity to explain why this is a problem implementing and what we can do to help bring about this necessary recognition.

    Presenting faith-based beliefs as if equivalent to knowledge is very much a root source of a veritable host of ongoing problems… ones that create the environment necessary for the kind of divisive bullying the son was subjected to in the name of piousness and caring and love.

    It clearly doesn’t stop here in the playground. This confusion between belief and reality is endemic and is carried into the public domain and imposed on all of us all the time as if it were a justified difference of opinion cushioned by caring and compassion and concern. All of us need a personal relationship with reality far more than we do with some unworldly divine agency if we want to eliminate this kind of bully behaviour. And this is the reason for the New Atheists to do what they do: confront and challenge faith-based beliefs pretending to be knowledge wherever it is to be found, to point out what others “should know (is) the same”, namely, that faith-based beliefs of any kind – not just religious – do not define reality nor in any legitimate way justify any actions and policies carried out in its name.

    This lack of agreement from the public with your statement, what you presume should be rather obvious, is in fact very much part of the problem.

    People are fully endowed with the secular right to believe whatever they want in their private lives but need to be taught to leave it there when venturing out and engaging in the public domain. Faith does not inform knowledge of any kind – never has and never will (hence we find no faith-based applications, therapies, or technologies that work) – but continues to be used as an excuse, a permission, to make claims about reality that simply don’t work to produce any. (Quite the opposite, in fact, considering that the only obstacle to evolution, for example is entirely faith-based).

    So when faitheists of all stripes stop trying to make the incompatible seem compatible – that science and faith-based claims that inform religion have the means and mutual respect when they do not to have a two way exchange of ideas – then the voices of New Atheists will fall silent. Until then, the ‘discussion’ must continue to be fraught with conflict because there is no middle ground in this great divide. Faith does not inform reality. And it’s rather obvious just how skewed is the public perception of promoting faith that it seems quite reasonable to most to tolerate a child tell another that hell is real and an actual danger because it is widely believed to be … but woe and condemnation for those who confront this claim and criticize it for its content as well as effects! Suddenly, they are the confrontational ones, the ones who are militant and strident and fundamentalist and rude! It is this warped perception that also has real effect – and not just the behaviour of one child interacting with another – one that requires significant change in order for all of us to “know the same.” And that change to respect reality over and above respecting contrary and conflicting faith-based beliefs isn’t going to happen as long as confrontation between faith-based claims and the reality we share is avoided out of a misguided sense of civility and tolerance.

    It’s an important argument that needs wide public exposure. Personal experience can inform personal beliefs but cannot be allowed to hold equivalent status with knowledge in the public domain without push-back from those who respect reality’s role to arbitrate claims made about it.


    • “All of us need a personal relationship with reality far more than we do with some unworldly divine agency if we want to eliminate this kind of bully behaviour. And this is the reason for the New Atheists to do what they do: confront and challenge faith-based beliefs pretending to be knowledge wherever it is to be found, to point out what others “should know (is) the same”, namely, that faith-based beliefs of any kind – not just religious – do not define reality nor in any legitimate way justify any actions and policies carried out in its name.”

      Would it be too cheeky to say, “Amen!”? Thanks for your comment!


      • Ha! I truly wish everyone would say ‘Amen’ to that. And you’re quite welcome to my comment. It is comments I make like that one that most administrators ban me! How’s that for cheek?


  3. Well said, D’Ma. It is a type of bullying, isn’t it?


    • Hey, TWF! It happens on both sides, I would say. But, yes, when it resorts to threats of any kind, and especially when children are involved, I’d call it bullying.


  4. Anyone expressing an opinion of any kind these days seems to seen as bullying. I could feel bullied by agnostics, atheists etc but I choose not too., My only reply is Psalm 14 verse 1. If you don’t own a Bible just use Google.


    • It was not my intention to be disrespectful to you. I was not calling you a bully. However, the entire post Eva put up was about how she was aware of the heaven/hell debate but didn’t like her son being “threatened” with hell.

      Several people then attempted, in my humble opinion, to convince shove the teaching down her throat using their Biblical teaching to back it up. I wasn’t being snarky with my post. I was being honest. Even in your own apology for being so forward with your reply you reiterated the fact that if she or her son don’t believe certain things they’re going to hell, just more diplomatically. I’m sure she got it the first time.

      I own several Bibles in different versions. I’ve studied them extensively and I’m quite well aware of what it says about people who say there is no God in their heart. The thing is it’s no threat, nor is hell, to those who don’t believe the Bible to be the word of God.

      It’s not being a bully to have an opinion. It’s being a bully to assume everyone wants to hear it and even when they say it’s of no value to them to “biblically” threaten them.

      Furthermore, if the only way you can “reach” someone is with threats of doom if they don’t love your God it’s really not very effective. It’s emotional blackmail.


  5. I find it hilarious in a not at all hilarious kind of way when people quote scripture at me to prove their belief and try to convince me to embrace my own. I don’t recognise the authority of the bible for gods sake, so why would I take that as a cogent argument? I understand that it is often done with the best intentions ( yes, I really do) but its just not relevant.


    • Precisely, Eva. What’s more, they perceive their message as so important (because the Bible tells them so) that they do, indeed, become bullyish. They don’t even realize it. I also realize that atheists, agnostics, etc. can come across the same way. Like bulldogs with a bone.


  6. So what “really” happened to Sodom? I gather that it was on a fault line, but I am grasping at straws trying to find other ancient texts related to its destruction.


    • I’m not sure what “really” happened. I’m not entirely certain that Sodom and Gomorrah existed. If they did an earthquake is plausible. I did find this:


      Maybe ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah will be found, maybe they won’t. Even if I don’t believe the Bible as being literally true doesn’t mean it has no historically accurate information in it. There are many fictional books, movies, and tv programs that have their settings in cities and countries on the map. That doesn’t make the plot of the story real or true.


  7. I need some advice. I’m questioning my beliefs right now. I would like to understand the journey you are on. What made you start to wonder? What is your story in this regard?


    • I’ve written a lot of my story here and here on my blog. I come from a Protestant Southern Baptist background. My doubts have been around for a long time but going through a personal crisis caused me to face them head on. There were way too many opinions about doctrines that should have been pretty clear. Why would the same Holy Spirit cause different believers to come to such drastically different conclusions about matters that are so important to the faith? When I started researching these differences one thing led to another and here I am. I find myself Agnostic on a good day. Learning how the Bible really was put together and it’s history, learning about science and evolution, learning to think critically about ideals put forth from a supposedly holy scripture and god, all of that and much more caused me to rethink my faith.

      One piece of advice I would give you is the same advice I was given by a fellow blogger:

      “Start simple.You still need to eat. Dress. Chores about. Do those.There is a great deal to be said for breathing. Taking a moment to breathe. In and out. Doesn’t hurt to take a five-minute moment and NOT worry about what to do next. Look outside, watch the world. Rest.Now…you have plenty of time. There is too much for you to learn it all; let alone learn it all at once! What interests you? What area would you like to study? Cosmology? Biology? Textual criticism? Swimming? How to play shuffleboard?Take a class on iTunes that interests you. Download it and listen when you drive.I could give you recommendations, but that would be what I am interested in—not you.Remember to breathe.Start simple” ~DagoodS from Thoughts from a Sandwich

      If you get a chance you should get over to his blog and read a bit. He has lots of good posts and information.


  8. Basically I’m trying to tap this other knowledge more. Many have questioned Christianity and religion in general for a number of reasons. I’m trying to tap this world of realizations. What can I do to open my eye to the truth more? What secrets have others found that perhaps I haven’t.


  9. All I can really say to that is that if you are open minded you will learn more and more. There are no secrets to tap into. People do question Christianity for a number of different reasons. Some people’s research leads them to conclude Christianity is the truth and they maintain faith. Some people’s research leads them to the conclusion that it isn’t truth and they lose their faith.

    Keep reading. Keep researching. This journey is your own. No two people will tackle it the same way. Try not to get overwhelmed with information. I don’t know how old you are but none of us are promised tomorrow. So, with that, I’ll say you have the rest of your life to figure this out. If there is a God surely he can withstand the scrutiny of your questions. If he can’t he isn’t much of a God in my opinion.

    What areas of your faith are you questioning? Is it evolution? Cosmology? Historicity? Doctrine? What specifically has you questioning your faith?


    • I’m focusing a lot on historicity these days.


      • There is a lot of good material out there. You’re a Google search away from it. Historicity of Jesus? The Bible? Infadels.org has good information and reading lists. Have you read anything by Bart Ehrman?


    • However, it was God’s lack of personal interaction that got me started on this path.


      • For all the different people who question their faith there are probably as many reasons. I wish you luck on your quest for truth and for answers. You may not find the definitive answers you’d like. I haven’t. Coming from a pretty fundy background that’s what I was used to. Black and white. Knowing that you know that you know. I’ve had to get used to a whole new normal. One of uncertainty and learning to be okay with that.


      • Mother Teresa, too. From her ‘Dark’ Letters published posthumously:

        “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead,” she wrote in 1953. “It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.'”

        Then in 1956: “Such deep longing for God — and … repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. (Saving) souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”

        And then in 1959: “If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no Soul then Jesus — You also are not true.”

        “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love,” she wrote to one adviser. “If you were (there), you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

        But there are two kinds of doubt. Doubt of the religious kind is acceptable only so far as it leads towards the goal of reaffirmation of faith. The goal here is fortified faith. This is what Mother Teresa is after and the context in which her replier responds.

        Doubt of the skeptical kind waits on reality to arbitrate claims made about it. The goal here is to respect what is probably true. These two goals are not compatible and each of us must decide which is more important to us.


        • Agreed, tildeb, and well said. If we approach our doubt with a skeptical mind it is advisable to prepare ourselves for where that might lead; eventual relinquishing of faith. I was ill prepared for that reality.

          If we approach our doubt with a religious mind it is highly doubtful that our faith would be lost. After all, what we are looking for is confirmation, affirmation, and the tiniest fragment of support of our beliefs. I was stuck there for many years, clinging on to the slightest – even most ridiculous- – explanations, to prop up my faith rather than what was probably true or what was most likely.


      • Yup, you and million untold just like you in that state of being stuck between a rock (faith) and a hard place (reality)! It’s quite uncomfortable but produces the most spectacular Olympic mental gymnastics… a marvel (of apologetics) to behold!


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