Hi Autumn,


I can appreciate where you are coming from, and I do admire your courage to stand where you are and present your beliefs and objections in a very honest and open manner.    We tend to live the life that other people before us structured for us long time ago, and some of the most painful reality one has to confront is that of “wasting your life” on things that don’t eventually matter in a larger scope of things. In many ways, I know exactly what you mean when you say that religion robbed you of experience, especially in terms of the valuable time that all of us have to make an impact while we are here.

I tend to ask this question every single Saturday “What if we as a church, instead of singing and listening to the same exact sermon reshuffled, would go out and do something constructive in our community?” I tend to think we would have much larger impact for what we claim to believe.

Needless to say, religion is not without problems, but I disagree that religion is the problem.   I’d like you to offer you a broader perspective, mainly because where you are now happened to be my default upbringing and position.

I grew up in a late Soviet System.   It’s not the one you’ve heard about in US history books. I actually got the better end of it all, or I tend to think so.   The education system was very well-tuned towards cultivating rational mindset with critical thinking in mind, as ironic as it may seem in context of the location.   Most of our tests were oral or essays. We had to be able to explain. We had to know the reasons and answer follow up questions that other students had to create to try to intentionally stump us.   We examined religions and did reports on Biblical narrative, among some.   We learned philosophy, history, science… at a very early age.   Needless to say, I was quite aware of the arguments against religion in general and people like Hitchens, Dawkins, or Harris don’t really bring anything new to the discussion table IMO.   That part of the world was simply ahead of its time when it comes to deconstructing certain religious views of the day and embedding rational thought and philosophy of positivism and empiricism as a guiding force in human development.

When I came to the US, I went to religious school and was presenting some problems for the teachers who had trouble explaining questions that I’ve asked, at least in a rational manner. I was very surprised to find that the education was lagging, although it was flattering when people called me a “genius”. From where I was coming from, I was an average student, and below-average in some ways. At sophomore age in US I already covered Calc I, organic chemistry, and college-level history.   US multiple choice approach seemed like a way to try to trick students to pick the wrong answers at times, or an attempt to make them mechanically pick the correct ones. So, it wasn’t really surprising that rational thought process was lacking. I’ve asked some questions that I thought were blatantly obvious, and generally got non-answers, which frustrated the hell out of me.   I think it was my eventual pursuit to see if there were answers to my questions that eventually aligned me with Christian thought, although I wouldn’t exactly view those things in light of typical Adventism or Christianity.

I know this reply is a bit long, but I hope you can at least appreciate some of it.

The first step for my experience was to examine the approach from either side of the argument.   I found both sides somewhat lacking in perspective and rather dogmatic.   I think that both sides refused to confront the inherent inability of us dealing with the concept of certainty.   Both sides seem so certain, and that part of the cognitive dissonance I had to confront early on.

I think we should be honest about how we know what we know, and our inherent inability to know whether a model of the world inside of our head properly aligns with the world outside.   We tend to fall into some delusions of certainty when we run to a presuppositional mindset in order to claim some answers or “truth”, but we have to confront the semantic meaning of it all prior to moving on to communicating some meaning as “the answer”.

I tend to conduct some meditation experiments now and then to re-examine where I am today.   If tomorrow all of the abstract concepts were gone out of my memory, would I come to view these the same way when trying to piece these back tougher? Words like, freedom, love, religion, God… would these mean the same things to me if I had to reconstruct these from scratch?   I think that the problems are not with religion, politics, or whatever… The problem tends to be with us attaching semantic concept to a labels that we tend to overlook and perceive emotionally.   When we think of “love”, “freedom”… we tend to attach emotional context that then drives our response. That’s why people tend to feel “offended” when we questions these concepts.   These carry a lot of emotional baggage for them.  That rings true when we questions the concept of God, because God is an abstract concept we package in a word that we can grow to love or hate, depending on what to attach to the concept.  

But, I think it’s important to look at some rational ways to approach the question of God.   I think that it’s important to first confront our inherent problem with certainty of knowledge and accept inherent uncertainty of our perception of reality at some level.   Our certainty is built on observing regular occurrences outside of our perception. But IMO it’s problematic to build certain conclusions from a mix of these observations that we reshuffle, equivocate, and then stuff into an equation.   Thus, the answer to the question about our metaphysical reality will only be hinted, thus we should allow for some room for various possibilities.   In respect to the question of God, I’d say that all people are agnostic, regardless of what they believe.  

The inherent paradox of God reality is that there’s no way for us to know for certain or in any way that would be close to certain if we approach this subject with a mindset of empirical positivism.   God is thought of as an ultimate reality responsible for ours.   It’s not a reality we can perceive, and there are plentiful functional and imperceptible things that we derive indirectly.   How can we know that God exists except via a leap of trust?   Unfortunately there’s no other way.   If there would be some odd events visible to everyone and voices in our head, how can we truly know that it’s God, and not work of some aliens?   We can always question the validity of any experience, be it collective or not.   Sure, on some level it would help people believe in God, but I really don’t think that’s the ultimate objective of Christianity or God in that matter, if such entity exists.

And thus, I’ll attempt to provide some answers to your questions.   Forgive me for this prolonged introduction, but I think it’s necessary in order to show you that I do care about what you experience, and not merely find some way to brick you back into “safety of salivation”.

As to whether God exists or not, with the way our reality is structured, there’s no way to know with any kind of falsifiable certainty, and maybe it’s a good thing. But, I think there are hints, and I’ll share the strongest hint of all.

Over my lifetime of thought I’ve concocted an example, because I think it show that certain arguments can cut both ways, but we tend to rationally lean towards drawing conclusions from observable causes that we find most likely.

Let’s say that our families gather together to play some monopoly.   We are all ready for a night of fun, and I’m the first one to throw the dice.   I get two fours.   Some people think … wow, that was lucky, but it’s just the beginning of my luck.   I then throw 10 double digit throws in a row.   As I do that and make my moves taking over the board, everyone around me begin suspecting that I’m cheating somehow.   I ask them why they would think so.   They demand to test the dice, and they throw it and they don’t get a double number.   I throw it again and my luck goes on with another double number.   Everyone demands to tell them how I’m doing this trick.   I assure them that it’s a pure chance, and that there are innumerable players around the world throwing dice, and that eventually one is bound to get 20, 30, or 50 in the row against all odds.   No one is buying that argument, and the game is essentially over at that point.   So, I go on with my streak of luck to a casino and bring the house down.   The owner doesn’t buy my probability explanation.   He thinks that I’m cheating and bans me.   When examined by scientific minds of the day, they are not able to see how that can be possible in spite of everything they observe, so they try to come up with any and every explanation and try to change variables.   But, I still throw only doubles against all imaginable odds.   Am I cheating somehow?   Perhaps.   If I don’t directly admit it then you’d never know for sure, but everything that we know about dice and probability would hint that it’s not a very likely scenario that I can just do that because improbable things do happen.

In essence, that’s the basis for the intelligent design argument. If one has hard time believing in plausibility of the above scenario, then it’s difficult to conceive a rational that doesn’t hint into intelligence behind the functional arrangement of the local clusters of our otherwise chaotic universe. When we come to explain the complexity of the brain itself, which of itself relies on a massive amount of processing power that runs our cognitive and functional existence… it’s very difficult to conceive a scenario in which against all natural odds we are here, and have sentient function of otherwise “braindead” matter.   Sure, on some level the complexity merely points to the fact that we are complex and may not speak about any causes directly, but from what we observe about the known Universe, there’s a good hint that there’s cause we’d label God.

But ultimately, we’d have to resort to philosophy to answer some questions that you have about what type of God it would be if we see examine this world objectively and without any religious axioms.   Would God be good or evil? Does God seem to pose double-standards?   If the God the God of the Bible? The honest question is that I don’t really know, and I’m currently unable to know.   But I can follow a certain trace of evidence for form beliefs, which I think do ultimately matter.

Some beliefs that we form can’t be altered and not something that we choose. They exist as an inevitable result of the overwhelming evidence that point in their direction.   If you’ve never experienced Australia directly, it would be very difficult for you to believe that it doesn’t exist.  

Less certain beliefs we can choose.   For example, I can choose to believe that my business will succeed when I start it.   I can choose to believe otherwise if I have certain doubts but lack certainty.   I can choose to believe that my wife is cheating on me or reject that very same claim and believe otherwise.   That’s the essence of faith-based belief.   It’s a belief that you can choose.   Belief in God is a very similar in nature.   There is some evidence for it, there’s some against it, but the choice is ultimately yours.

Hence, that’s where a lot of questions about problem of evil tend to reside.   It does seem inconceivable to think that a good God would be behind a somewhat flawed Universe, but the question is as to what type of Universe do we really want?  

For anything to exist as a perception, there has to be a recognizable contrast.   This reality is a sum of opposites.   Good and evil are simply the opposing sides of our aggregate experience.   Without darkens there’s no contrast for light.   If everything is dark or if everything is light then nothing really is. IMO we tend to approach the questions of good and evil with a rather naïve mindset that isolate reality from alternatives.   We tend to think… why do we have to suffer?   Why can’t everything just be good all the time?   How can someone good watch people get raped, while we punish people for doing the same?   How can someone good side with genocide, slavery, mysoginism, etc? And we tend to ignore the implications of the alternatives in case of God’s intervention.

There are a couple things to observe from reality that may help you form some conclusions, but I’ll share my own perspective on it.  

If God exists, God seems to be a non-interventionist for the most part.   The problem of evil is essentially a problem of lack of Divine intervention in this world, apart from whatever odd claims that you get as answers to prayer or claims from history.   It seems like this world is ours to explore, and Bible loosely hints at the issue of “sin” as an explanation, but I don’t think it’s the same as you’d typically hear it from the pulpit.

In spite of what you think about the scientific inaccuracy, I do find the creation story relayed in Genesis to have some profound implications on the nature of our reality and choice.

If we approach it from the position of philosophy, and not the one of Biblical literalism, I think we can begin to appreciate some implications.   In the beginning there was no discernable “contrast” and only a mushup of what author can describe as “watery void”, and God creates some contrast of for existence.   Then God creates some functional being of this contrast which constitutes some level of sentient experience, but ultimately it’s the moral experience that seems to matter the most, thus God creates a moral contrast as open-ended choice of the type of experience we may want.   I think that ultimately the implication of the story is not about the disobedience, but about choice of experience as a sentient being.   Do we want a controlled environment in which all of our problems are solved for us, or do we want to solve our own problems?   Do we want to be in a perpetual state of childhood, or do we want to grow up and explore the world on our own?   I think that the answer is rather obvious from our own experience.  

Thus, the question about evil is not as much about whether God cares if God indeed exists. The question is about the solution.   Does God solve all of the evil and build the world in which our experience is derived from lack of our choices?   I simply don’t see an alternatives to moral sentience other than the experiential progression with minimal intervention that’s more of a guidance rather than a threat of violence.

If we examine religion with a bit less superstitious dogmatism, and take a rational approach, I think that Biblical narrative makes more sense.   But, in any case, I really don’t think that the Biblical narrative was meant to be something that we hammer into our children by reading it every single day, or something that we dissect every day in Sabbath school. That’s not what Bible is for IMO.   Once we drop the literal approach to Bible, which NONE of the Christians today take, and approach it from a perspective of philosophy of understanding meaning behind certain principles and concepts that play out in inner-reflections of authors that trace some oral accounts of history of God’s involvement, I think there’s more to Christian worldview than a bulleted list of dogma that you believe to be saved.

The problem of “sin” is the problem that stems from of inherent human inability to know everything.   That’s all it is IMO. Sin literally mean “missing the target”, but what target?    The target of perfection?   I doubt that God, if it exists, would impose such unrealistic expectations on us.   I think that the target is that of proper contextual behavior that results in positive outcome, which is essentially what morality is.   It’s not a set of laws, but rather a set of hierarchy principles that are flexible enough to shift and accommodate a wide range of situations that we confront in our lives.   Since we lack awareness in all cases, then missing the target of that behavior is the eventual inevitability, especially if we are misinformed or lack proper understanding.   Essentially, most of the human problems stem from improper understanding and misinformation, and there are few exceptions.

But, eventually it does boil down to a leap of faith in a direction of the type of the reality you want to live in, because that’s the ultimate nature of the choice of a belief that can change our existence.

The problem with concept of religion is that it’s an overarching label that’s placed on every single belief system with a lot of emotional baggage attached to the negative context of belief systems.   I don’t think that concept is well-explored enough to conclude that “religion” is responsible for X.   Religion can’t be responsible for anything.   Religion is a concept.   Words don’t mean anything. Humans do all of the meaning.

So, eventually, “A rose by any other name”… would still be the same thing, no matter which flag it carries, be it of religion or secularism.   It’s not a question of God.   It’s a question of one’s view of God that ultimately shapes our behavior.   If one sees God as a cruel dictator that we must obey unquestionably, or suffer the consequences… then the church will eventually reflect that.  

BUT, if one chooses to perceive a possibility of God who did create this Universe and us with a concept of responsible behavior in mind, which implies choices, which implies choices and ability to do wrong, which implies actually doing those things… then it’s not inconceivable that solutions will not always lead in a predictable direction we tend to see.   When cancer grows we don’t lament killing off tumors, or cutting out chunks of organs.   I personally wouldn’t hesitate incapacitating someone who attempts to harm my family.   I think it would be extremely naïve to paint complex scenarios in black and white colors, especially coming from a position of ignorance of the broader implications of any give action.

But, either way, I’d like to challenge you about a couple of things.   Not in a sense that “you are wrong”, because I don’t know which one of us is correct.   I can only guess and believe, present some thoughts, and hope that someone can do the same for us to make better sense of the world we live in and adequate actions we may take to make it better.

We make a mistake of thinking that the world is ultimately about God, or about other people, etc… and that position is used to manipulate our opinion and surrender our personal power and responsibility to other entities, be it cults, religious or political organizations, states, families, people, etc.

But I choose to look at it differently.   If there is a God, then this world is ultimately not about God, but about you.   You don’t give a live to a child so that you can lord over it, or turn it into a slave.   Our inherent instincts is to give life and pass some part of ourselves that will survive our death and will move on, and in that sense we won’t die.   Our ideas and actions tend to carry on with our children that do make their own choices without us dictating their every more other than via the principles that we try to instill in them.

I’ll tell you a little secret.   I graduated with a minor in theology, and I don’t read Bible every day.   In fact I barely read it at all, and I wouldn’t read it to my child as a bedtime story.  I don’t memorize verses, and  I really don’t get how a single verse can change someone’s life for the better.   Knowledge and understanding doesn’t work that way.  In that sense, I really think that we fail people eventually, or we retard their development in church in which we have enormous potential to move it in an unimaginably positive direction… mainly because it’s one of the few institutions left these days that adherers and upholds the ideals of voluntarism and formal community.   Unfortunately in many cases it does come with come with strings of conformity to the proper theological dogma.   I think we would do much better if we approached the subject from a perspective of principles, which is really what religion is all about.

I think that you are correct that we should lead our children to desire of understanding, but I’m not so sure that religious experience robs kids of proper perspective.   Religion is a label for a set of philosophy which is inseparable from our human experience.  I don’t think it’s something that we can run away from completely, because we merely trade one set of unknowns and presuppositions for other set of unknowns and presuppositions, and subsequent functional descriptions that these carry.  You don’t escape from inherent problems of humanity because these problems are not really caused by any give “conceptual label” we place on them, be it a label or religion or secularism.

The causes are very complex, and these require complex solutions.   We tend to gravitate towards a “magic pill”, but we neglect that the magic pill will not work, and what does work is the hard and painful workout that eventually shows some results.

Thus, I would challenge you not to throw the baby out with the water.   Religion is not a thing, neither is the church or theology.   There’s a web of complexity, and any web will have spiders in it. But, if we choose to focus on the spider, then the world becomes full of them where prior you wouldn’t even notice them.

Either way, Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.    Know that we care and understand. I’m always here if you’d like to continue this discussion, and I’d always both challenge and defend your position to explore the reality in which you live in.   I think that person-to-person this type of discussion could be awkward, but if you’d like to carry on via email… I’d be more than happy to do so.   I’m not here to convince you of things I have no idea about, but I do think that reading opposing perspective can both challenge and contribute to our overall growth and understanding.