Empty House: Part 2

Finished taping up a box, Jack looked down at his watch. Most of the morning had evaporated as he packed. Elaine and the grandkids would be there any minute. The living room looked strange and unfamiliar to him, he hadn’t seen it so empty since he and Suzy had first moved in. All the furniture Jack could move was pushed neatly by the door and Jack has spent most of the morning filling box after box with knick-knacks and memories. All of his books were packed away, and Suzy’s china was carefully wrapped up. It was odd that Suzy hadn’t gotten out of bed yet, but maybe she really needed the rest. Jack stacked the box along the wall with the rest and then pulled on a heavy sweater. He decided he would let Suzy sleep as much as possible and that he would wait for Elaine outside. The fresh air would do him some good.

He hadn’t been waiting long when a green minivan pulled into the driveway. As soon as the car was parked the sliding door raced down its track and a barefoot boy in a blue soccer uniform came sprinting across the yard kicking up amber oak leaves as he went. Kaden, Elaine’s 8-year-old son, plowed into Jack for a hug without slowing down. It hurt, but Jack wouldn’t trade Kaden’s enthusiasm for the world.

“Kaden be easy on your Grandfather!” shouted Elaine while working to unload empty boxes from the hatchback.

“Grandpa!” exclaimed Kaden, ignoring his mother. “I scored two goals today!”

“You don’t say? I think that earns you a dollar, you better take this” said Jack handing Kaden a bank-fresh dollar bill from his wallet. “Put that in your pocket before your mother sees.”

“Sweet! Thanks!” Kaden shouted, then added “Mom says that after we get you moved you will be able to come all the time.”

Jack ruffled Kaden’s hair and laughed “I wouldn’t miss them.”

Mary, Elaine’s oldest walked up giving Jack a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before she sat down on the stoop and opened her book. Last to walk across the lawn were Matt, an athletic boy of fifteen and Elaine, both carrying awkward armloads of flattened packing boxes.

“we’re just getting the small stuff now,” Elaine explained to Matt. “Your dad is coming by later for the furniture.”

Matt threw down his stack of boxes and slid Mary over so he could have a seat, putting a dangling ear-bud back in his ear.

“Apparently you are ruining his life,” translated Mary without looking up from her book. Elaine shrugged and smiled hesitantly at Jack.

“Dad, how are you?” she asked, a note of concern in her voice.

“Oh, I’m doing alright. This chill wants to take the strength out of my old bones, but I’m as ready as anybody for some heavy lifting.”

“Well let’s get started then,” Elaine said with relief. “I’m glad you are on board with this Dad, it’s going to be so much nicer having you closer and out of this big empty house.” The four of them filed their way into the living room.

 

“Grandpa, come here!” Called out Mary from half way down the attic ladder. “I want to show you something.”

Carefully climbing the ladder, Jack poked his head up into the attic, and looked around, dust floated lazily through the sunbeams coming through the window. Getting his bearings Jack hefted himself up until he was sitting on the floor.

“Oh Geez, I haven’t been up here in ages,” he said taking stock of the numerous boxes he had tucked away and then forgotten about. Mary sat in one of the only spaces not occupied by junk, a couple of half packed boxes surrounding her.

“I thought we were supposed to be packing, not unpacking,” he teased as Mary pulled something out of a box. Mary laughed, exposing two slight dimples.

“Nah, this is more fun.” She raised a blocky, black and grey camera with what appeared to be folding billows to her eye. “Say cheese, Grandpa” she said, pushing the button. There was a click and then the old Polaroid began emitting a low buzzing sound.

“How did you get that old thing to work? Asked Jack. “Where did you even find it?”

“Please, you never throw anything away,” said Mary,  pulling out the photo and waving it back and forth. “the instructions were in the box.” She blew on the photo and then handed the black and white portrait to him. “There! Look at that handsome devil” Jack wasn’t so sure, but he smiled anyways. Mary had already turned away. “Look, it even has a self-timer!” she balanced the camera precariously on a short stack of boxes and hitting the shutter she quick-stepped her way behind Jack and hugged him around the neck. Jack reached up and put one hand on top of hers, smiling for the picture. The camera beeped and then clicked before buzzing again.

“There are a lot of great old pictures up here,” she continued, while waiting for the new picture to develop. “I even found your wedding album.” She handed a shoebox of loose pictures to Jack who began sifting through, smiling at the memories.

“Your grandma would love this.” Said Jack letting the pictures fall back into the box one-by-one. Marry continued waving the polaroid in the air.

“Yeah I wished we could show her.” She looked down at the developing photograph, blowing on it gently.

“Well, let’s start bringing some of these boxes downstairs, and we can show her. It is well past time she got out of bed.

Mary didn’t reply.

“Mary?”

“You were doing so good this time Grandpa.”

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Empty House: Part 1

Jack felt the heavy quilt slip down as he tried to rearrange his pillows as he leaned against the headrest. It was still dark outside, making it difficult for him to guess how much time he had before his alarm went off. The cool night air prickled his exposed arms. Jack blew a few warm breaths into his hands before wiping the sleep from his eyes.

Sleep didn’t come easily anymore and Jack found himself falling asleep later and waking up earlier. Arthritis had set in making eight hours of sleep a challenge. His doctor had prescribed him some sleep medication to get him through the night and a host of other pills to get him through the day. They did their job, keeping the aches and pains at bay, but the sleeping pills could do little to prevent his dreams from troubling him. Jack pressed his palms deep into his eyes trying to remember what had shaken him from his sleep.

The air was wet and fresh and there was a faint scent flowers and earth in it. He held a large white daisy in his hand.

He pressed his palms in deeper, as he tried to remember more. Every time he felt himself getting close to the memory it slipped through his grasp, like fine sand pouring through his fingers.

He sat for a long while with his arms up revealing the sweat stains on his undershirt. Eventually the chill air of the room caused little goose bumps to rise on his arms and his neck hair to stand on end. His body convulsed suddenly as something of a mixture of a shudder and a shiver overtook him. With a deep sigh Jack decided to face the day. His dream had stolen any remnant of sleep from him and besides he had plenty to do.

Elaine and the grandkids would be coming over later that morning to help him move and he still had to finish packing. He had five kids. Elaine was the only girl and the only one who still lived close enough to visit. She made the trip with her kids as often as she could, but Jack missed the days when it was easier for him to get about and he didn’t have to miss as many soccer games and choir recitals. That was why they had finally decided he should move closer.

He looked over to his wife’s side of the bed. She hadn’t moved despite his abrupt departure from slumber and for that he was thankful. He braced himself for his arthritis to kick in, and then slung his legs out from under the quilt to land on the pale yellow shag carpet. Out of bed he looked back. For some time now Suzy hadn’t been feeling well. Mostly it was old age he thought, she was just slowing down like he was. Some extra sleep would help her regain some of her vitality he hoped.

A few steps short of the door a soft meow reached his ears. He looked over to the corner of the room where a pair of eyes shined softly in the dark.

“Well, Come on,” he said.

Without further ado the cat rose and sauntered over to jack in the way only cats can. He was still young, filling out his slender form. Elaine and the kids had given him to Jack a few months ago; another guy to keep him company in his old age. At first Jack protested, but in the end he did it for the grandkids. He reached down and scratched the grey fur behind the ears and under the chin as the cat rubbed against his legs purring. The kids named him Charcoal, but Jack called him Charley.

“Good morning to you too,” Jack said, giving one last scratch and opening the door so Charley could run out to his food dish.

Padding down the hall after the cat Jack turned into the bathroom. At seventy-five his eyesight was poor and without his glasses he walked mostly from memory and long years of routine. That was something he was going to miss. At his age it wasn’t going to be easy to pick up and start over again in a new place, but he reminded himself how it would make it easier to see his grandkids. Still, he was going to miss his routines, the house, even the yellow shag carpet. All of his memories had the kids playing on that carpet. Jack chuckled at himself as he peeled off his undershirt, slipped off his boxer shorts and stepped into the shower.

“Of all the things to be nostalgic about,” Jack muttered to himself shaking his head and turning on the hot water, “Honestly, shag carpet.”

He stayed in the shower a few minutes longer than he needed, letting the hot water push out the chill and relax away both his physical pains and the anxiety from his dream. It frustrated him that he couldn’t remember more of it, but there was no point lingering on it and he let the water wash it away.

Out of the shower, Jack tuned and studied himself in the mirror. Time had not been kind. His once distinguished salt-and-pepper hair was now a uniform white, and Jack noted the deep creases in his brow, the chipmunk like cheeks, and the lines around his eyes. He smiled at his reflection and watched as the wrinkles transformed his face. He smiled wider. No, time had not been kind, but he figured he and Suzy could squeeze a few more grains of sand out of Father Time’s hourglass.

Childlike Faith

Why is it acceptable to have childlike faith when it comes to Christianity, but we are expected to evaluate other religions with critical thinking skills?

Recently I’ve had a couple of conversations with theist bloggers that have really left a sour taste in my mouth in regards to this idea of childlike faith.

The first was a gentleman who was actively trying to proselytize to me. So I asked him “why should I believe your god and not someone else’s”  to which he would respond that Jesus was the only God to die to save the world. This of course is not accurate statement of world religions, but setting that aside, even if he was that isn’t a reason to believe Christianity over another religion. Right off the bat Islam and Judaism are going to counter that claim, so I pushed again “why should I believe Christianity over Islam.” He had two suggestions for me, first that I needed to diligently seek after (his) God, and if I did I would find him. And second that I needed to just believe, and that answers would come later.

Now I live in a major US city and work for a large university. I encounter many people of differing religious beliefs on a daily basis. If I treated every religion the way this individual wanted me to treat Christianity, basically sans any critical thinking skills, I would be changing my religion more than a freshman changed majors. Somehow I don’t think he would be supportive if I “just accepted” Christianity today and “just accepted” Islam tomorrow.

So this whole concept of “childlike faith” seems, well childish. But apparently you can’t get into heaven without it according to Matthew 18:3. I don’t understand why this doesn’t offend more Christians. After all, we convince children that a fat man in a red suit can fly around the world in a single night delivering toys created by elves in a workshop at the North Pole, squeezing down non existent chimneys all along the way. Children are, in effect, stupid. No disparagement is meant, they just lack the critical thinking skills to evaluate information effectively.  And this is how Jesus wants you to be or you can’t go to heaven. This seems incredibly insulting to me, does anyone else feel this way?

The Blood of Christ

Not getting into whether or not the figure known as Jesus Christ is an actual, real, historical figure or not. Has anybody wondered what would have happened if the Romans had chosen to strangle, drown, suffocate, or otherwise kill Jesus without any blood letting, would his death still have “washed” the sins of the world? Or was literal blood spilling necessary? 

The Great and Powerful Oz

I am always amazed and the sheer number of Christians who do not believe in an All-Powerful God. In my experience this is actually all of Christianity, no seriously, I’m not generalizing here. Naturally Christians will of course pay lip-service to their Omnipotent God, their God who is so powerful he created the universe out of nothing, but if you engage with any Christian for longer than five minutes on some of the stickier issues of Christianity, they always reduce God to no more than a man standing behind a curtain. Let me explain by looking at a few common arguments I hear when I am engaging with Christians.

Slavery

First up is a favorite topic of mine, Old Testament slavery. Now most reasonable people agree the slavery is a bad things, even Bible believing Christians will profess to believe that. But where do Christians come by that belief since slavery is clearly approved throughout the OT, to the point of being regulated and even encouraged by their God who can do no wrong? The argument from Christians here is that of course the Great and Powerful Oz would never ever approve of slavery and genocide, but the man behind the current was limited by the reality of the culture of the time. And they will actually say “God was limited” so that should be a major red flag. This is the God who created the universe from nothing, but he can’t forbid his chosen people from engaging in owning other human beings because it is a reality of the culture of the time?  On its face this is absurd because starting in the OT and continuing to Christians today, followers of the Biblical God are constantly being told not to be like the cultures around them. In the OT it deal particularly with what gods they worship (obviously) how they worship God, not engaging in human sacrifices, what foods they can eat and so on. So I don’t see why an all-powerful God can’t make not owning slaves just another way the Israelites are supposed to be different from the cultures around them Probably the most common follow up I hear is “God knew the Israelites wouldn’t be able to follow a no slaves policy so he regulated it to make it less harsh then how the surrounding cultures treated their slaves.” First off, that is just categorically false and if you spent any time reading OT slavery laws you would see that. Second, the way I understand it, as Christians will point out every and anytime an atheist brings up the OT that the whole purpose of the OT laws were to show the Israelites they could not follow all of the laws, so what is one more law that the Israelites would break? Finally (although this is by no means an exhaustive list), that perhaps there were economic reasons as to why it was necessary for God to allow slavery. They of course believe this is the same God who fed 2-3 million people with literal bread from heaven for forty years, so I’m confident that he could have shielded his chosen people from any negative impact  resulting from a non existent slave trade. And this is all of course without mentioning that an omniscient God could have superseded culture by giving laws before their was a culture, like when he created the first man and woman, or when he saved only seven people from a global flood. Or that he didn’t seem to be limited by culture when he destroyed the whole world in a flood or wiped Sodom and Gomorrah off the face of the planet. So this line of thinking doesn’t track. Christians either need to come to terms that their God is totally okay with something they believe to be morally repugnant, or that God is in fact not all-powerful enough to even outlaw it from his own people.

Hell

The concept of Hell has plagued Christians for centuries and so many will try to argue away eternal torture as a necessity. But of course with an all powerful God nothing is a necessity, everything is a conscious choice. Christians will say that God is too Holy and to Pure for anything that is not pure and holy to exist in his presence, therefore our immortal souls have to spend eternity somewhere. There are, as you would expect, a number of problems with this line of thinking in consideration of an all-powerful deity. For starters if God is all-powerful than he can, in fact, allow a sinful person into his presence without affecting his holiness or pureness. Also if God is omnipresent as Christians claim than sinful people are constantly in his presence because he is present everywhere, in fact God will even be present in Hell, that is what omnipresent means. Furthermore, in the first chapter of Job we see Satan presenting himself in the Lord’s presence, so so much for that theory. Also immortal souls don’t have to spend eternity anywhere, If God can blink them into existence, he can blink them out of existence just as easily, so an all-powerful God could have created heaven without needing a hell. Even if Hell the location is necessary, which is isn’t, the fire, brimstone, and eternal torture are aesthetic choices God has intentionally made, and keep in mind this is torture not punishment, punishment is designed to modify/correct future behavior, Hell is, by intentional design, continuous and eternal, there is no getting out of it once you are there. So here, Christians have to come to terms with either God somehow finds burning people for eternity pleasing and good, or he is not all-powerful enough to stop it.

The Crucifixion

The argument here is the world has grown so wicked that the only way to “save” it was for God to send his son (by impregnating a thirteen-year-old girl, also totally unnecessary), in order to die by crucifixion so that his blood could wash away the sins of the world, but only if you ask for it. This is of course replacing the atonement in the OT by slaughtering animals. It seems this “all-powerful” deity has an unhealthy reliance on blood-magic to actually be able to accomplish anything. An all-powerful deity could of course just forgive the sins of those who asked (or even if they didn’t), no blood magic necessary. And that is really the kicker with Christianity, the central component to the faith, the so-called necessary death and resurrection of the savior Jesus Christ, even if it really truly did happen, it is just completely unnecessary theater. Here Christians need to come to terms that either God is reliant on blood-magic to accomplish his goals, or the death and resurrection of Jesus was a marketing ploy to make Christianity more appealing.

So those were a few instances where Christians have indicated to me that they don’t actually believe in an all-powerful God as they keep trying to limit his power. I encourage you to push back anytime you hear a Christian claim it was necessary for God to, God had to, or God was limited by, and see if they believe that God really is all-powerful or not.

I Don’t Want Christianity to be True

The biggest understatement of the year is my mother and I do not see eye to eye on religion or politics and I would be lying if I said my “sudden” switch from liberal albeit non-practicing Christian to vocal capitol A Atheist has not strained our relationship. For the most part we do our best not to discuss the issue and instead focus on my five-month-old son, because nothing brings families closer together than cute babies. However there are times when I wish we would or could talk. It has been about a year since I proudly embraced the Atheist label (just before Christmas, admittedly my timing could have been better), and since that time I have noticed an uptick in Facebook “likes” on posts detailing what Atheists think, or more accurately what Christians think Atheists think. This frustrates me in general, but in particular with my mother because if she wants to know what an atheist thinks perhaps she should ask her son. Go ahead and take a second to watch the Frank Turek video that graced my Facebook feed the other day courtesy of my mother.

Did you catch all that?

“They have a moral issue, an emotional issue. They have an accountability issue maybe… People don’t want Christianity to be true. Why? Because they don’t want there to be God, they want to be God. They want to go their own way. They don’t want to have a moral authority above them. In fact most people are not on a truth quest they are on a happiness quest, whatever is going to make them happy they are going to believe.”

Its a wonder I haven’t left my wife and son to go marauding and pillaging, and
I have to ask myself, is this what my mother really thinks about me? And even if I did leave Christianity so I could go live an immoral life and not be accountable to God why on earth would I become a capital A Atheist as opposed to a little A atheist? Why would I proudly embrace the label of one of the most disliked groups in the country? For that matter why would I even leave the comfort and privilege of the Christian community? Look at how the evangelical community has rallied around Donald Trump, I assert there is zero reason to leave the Christian community in order to live an immoral life accountable to no one. My act might not fool “God” of course, but certainly would fool Christians. For seven years I lived as a non-practicing Christian, a little A atheist for all intents and purposes, and so long as I occasionally professed a belief in God no one questioned my morality, then one day I embrace the atheist label and somehow with absolutely no change in lifestyle suddenly my mother believes I am an hedonist. And I have to ask, what part of alienating  my family does she think is fun for me? It makes no sense to become a capital A Atheist for moral or accountability reasons as Frank Turek describes them, I can do that just as easily while still being plugged into the Christian community without the added stress of being an Atheist. No there must be something more, like the complete and utter lack of evidence for the two most foundational events of Christianity, the Exodus and the Resurrection, for starters.

But I must confess I am guilty of Frank Turek’s accusations. I don’t want Christianity to be true, also if Christianity were true I wouldn’t become a Christian but not because of moral or accountability issues as Turek spouts off. No if Christianity were true that would mean God actually did kill the slaves of the people he was mad at for owning slaves. It would mean God actually did save the life of a man who offered to let a depraved mob rape his two virgin daughters (probably around 13-years-old) but murdered his wife for looking over her shoulder at the wrong time. It would mean there is a God who exists that thinks picking up sticks on the wrong day is a worse offense than beating someone with a rod. A God who cares more about the appropriate way to boil a baby goat (not in its mother’s milk) than he cares about slavery, polygamy, and rape (often all at the same time). Exactly which part of that does Turek think should be appealing to me?

I wouldn’t become a Christian because why would I join an organization that has zero respect for other faiths and cultures, that oppresses women, and discriminates against the LGBT community for the privilege of worshiping a deity who did all of the above? I wouldn’t become a Christian because being commanded to say “I love you” to someone pointing the gun of hellfire at your head means nothing at all and I won’t degrade myself by saying it. I wouldn’t become a Christian because my principles would never allow me to praise someone who made that the choice in the first place.

On second though I did leave Christianity for moral reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Absence of Evidence

Christians have a problem. Their problem is much of their 100 percent accurate Bible does not have the evidence to definitively prove, or even support that the Bible is 100 percent accurate. A favorite counter of apologists though is “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Which is logically true, but let’s examine that a little bit deeper.

While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the absence of evidence can lead us to make fairly accurate predictions. Take sloths for instance, I have no evidence that a 5 toed sloth does not exist. What I have is good evidence that every sloth species that we are currently aware of either alive today or extinct have been either 2 toed sloths or 3 toed sloths. Now it is entirely possible tomorrow some biologist in Costa Rica, or some paleontologist in Canada might discover a 5 toed sloth either a single mutated individual or an entirely new species, at which point I would need to reevaluate my views on the subject. For the time being however, I am very comfortable stating 5 toed sloths do not exist because all available evidence points in that direction. In light of the available evidence, the absence of evidence provides no reason for me to believe in the claim that a 5 toed sloth exists.

Let’s apply this to the Bible. When examining the Bible as an historical text (that is a text from history, not a history textbook) it is the position of mainstream scholars of all faiths that the exodus story, as well as its leader Moses are both fictional. We have zero archeological evidence to suggest that 2-3 million Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt, that the ten plagues happened, that 2-3 million Jews wondered around a relatively small desert for 40 years, or that a Canaanite conquest ever happened, and if it did, definitely not in the scale proclaimed in the Bible. That’s four events that include any number of smaller details that should be attested through archeology and other historical analysis. Only one needs to be untrue for the inerrancy of the Bible to be shatter and the entire foundation of Judaism and therefore Christianity to come crashing down like a house of cards, and we have zero evidence to confirm any of it. Now again, just because evidence hasn’t been found yet doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, new evidence could always be found tomorrow. However, the fact that experience tells us that the events as described in the Bible would leave behind a mountain of positive evidence, and the fact that we have searched for decades and have been unable to uncover any evidence to suggest the exodus story, as described Biblically, is accurate, the absence of evidence here is incredible suspicious and we can with a high degree of confidence conclude that the exodus story is in fact fictional.

Furthermore, we do have positive evidence of much smaller nomadic tribes living in Canaan worshiping a tribal storm god named Yahweh as part of a larger Canaanite pantheon during the time period 2-3 million Jews should have been wondering around in the desert, which makes the lack of evidence for 2-3 million Jews running around the desert even more suspicious and suggests a different development of the Judaism religion/culture, and consequently Christian tradition thanthe development described in the Bible. So the fact that we do have evidence for smaller nomadic tribes but no evidence for the 2-3 million Jews, we can again, with a high degree of confidence conclude that the Biblical exodus story is not historically accurate. 

I would even go so far as to say that if the Bible did not exist the historical and archaeological evidence produced in the past 200 years would never lead us to entertain such stories as remotely plausible. And since part of the circular reasoning of Christianity is “The Bible is 100 percent accurate because God exists, and because the Bible is 100 percent accurate we know that God exists,” the Bible being wrong, doesn’t necessarily prove that a god doesn’t exist or even necessarily that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, but it does require a serious recalibration in Christian thinking.