Social Networking and the Gift Economy

I just created a new blog focused on the economy, especially the monetary system, and possible alternatives. Here is my first post. If you are interested give me a follow! 🙂 Love you guys!

Such Is Life

To say the internet has revolutionized the social sphere is an understatement. The way we relate to friends, family, and even perfect strangers is constantly being shaped by a new era of instant, seamless interaction on a scale never before seen. Your new t-shirt or invigorating chai tea can instantly be “shared” with a few close friends or thousands, even millions of people around the world. Before Facebook, one would have needed to be a well known television host to have such a platform. Now a bit of charisma and luck can produce similar levels of exposure.

The realization of socioeconomic potentials latent in this emerging technology will depend primarily upon our willingness to reimagine what is possible in the realm of human interaction and organization. In order to innovate we must reassess the value of current concepts in economic thought and determine how they relate to the new structural…

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Economics, Society

A Rant Against Capitalism, and Why I Believe We Should Aim Higher

Here are some reasons why I believe we should be devoting ourselves to the development of an alternative economic system.

Reason #1: Capitalism’s Focus on Compound Growth is Unsustainable, and Destructive to Society and the Ecosystem

A minimum of 2 to 3% GDP compound growth per year has been the average rate of economic growth in the U.S., and has been necessary to maintain a decent level of employment in a capitalist economy. But as Marxian theorist David Harvey has pointed out, compound growth eventually becomes unsustainable if you continue to run the numbers out for a sustained period of time. The economy must grow at a faster rate every year, and doing so has mostly exhausted the earth’s natural resources and destabilized the environment. Financially, it has led to expansionist economies dominated by large amounts of fictitious capital and debt in hyperinflated financial markets.

The 19th century French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote  regarding the mathematics of compound interest*:

If men, united in equality, gave to one of their number the exclusive right of property, and if this single proprietor placed with humanity a sum of 100 francs at compound interest, repayable to his successors of the twenty-fourth generation after the lapse of 600 years – this sum of 100 francs would, if invested at 5 per cent., amount to the sum of 107,854,010,777,600 francs, a sum 2,696 times as large as the capital of France, estimated at 4,000 millions (50 years ago), or 20 times as large as the value of the whole globe with all movable and unmovable wealth.

Mathematically, it doesn’t take long before compound growth engulfs everything.

In order to keep the economy growing at a compound rate (through increased profits) there also must be increased exploitation of workers and devaluation of their labor power. This arguably defeats the purpose of keeping employment steady through growth. Capitalism was built on slavery, and now much of industrial production is occuring in Chinese sweatshops. Undeveloped countries are exploited by global powers in order to remain mere exporters of cheap goods or resources with little to no global bargaining power.

Domestically, the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) contribute more to our GDP (20.2% as of 2014) than any other industry by a very wide margin. And most of this is simply funneling money from the average person to the rich through interest charges and rents. The total domination by these sectors has led to instability in the global system, as speculation accounts for an increasingly large amount of our economic activity.

Decoupling our economy from GDP and other measures of growth, and committing to the creation of a steady state economy  is a change we need to make. Such an economy would aim to stay within ecological limits and prioritize human well-being over profit.

Reason #2: Capitalism is an Inequality Producing Machine

As I mentioned in a previous post, Oxfam estimates that the richest 1% globally will own more wealth than the bottom 99% combined by 2016. Meanwhile 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day. In the U.S., the bottom 40% of Americans own only 0.3% of the wealth, while the top 20% own 84%. And since the recession, the trend in income inequality has been exacerbated, with the top 1% capturing  91% of all new income. Economists Piketty and Saez, among others, project that we are heading into a neo-feudalistic economy, where ownership of capital and inheritance will largely determine outcomes, and produce an increasingly disconnected plutocracy of global elites.

These elites have almost godlike powers as a result of their wealth. We have already seen them take over our political system. Gilens & Page concluded in a 2014 Princeton study that:

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.

Capital accumulation = power accumulation = manipulation of the political system = subversion of democracy.

Reason #3: Efforts to Reform Capitalism Through Tax Policies and Regulation Can Only Go So Far

Progressive taxes are largely an attempt to counterbalance the financial exploitation which occurs in the labor process, and reduce inequality on the back end. Regulation is an attempt to prioritize certain externalities which are often in conflict with profit seeking activities. Without changing the totalitarian, strictly hierarchical structure of multinational corporate institutions (many of which receive more revenue than the average country produces in GDP), we will remain in a losing battle with them at every turn. And without reforming our financial system, and escaping the stranglehold it has put us in, we will continue to be a nation of debtors.

Contrary to the idealized conception of capitalism as a decentralized and unplanned ‘free market’, what actually exists is a highly centralized, planned economy. The planners are located primarily in New York City. This is where most of the profits are distributed by a small handful of oligarchs (the One Percent). CEOs, shareholders, bondholders, and bank managers plan where our resources are allocated, with little interference from goverment regulators or practically nonexistent worker unions. Over the last thirty-five years these funds have almost entirely been used to inflate asset markets through massive lending and speculation, while simultaneously cutting investment in production and destroying the power of labor, along with their benefits. Investment in production, when it has occured, has been largely focused on developing technology and acquisition of cheap foreign labor power, both of which have been rapidly replacing domestic workers in numerous fields.

A fair amount of the money collected by the One Percent has been used to subvert the political system, as mentioned above. This has resulted in deregulation (e.g. repeal of Glass-Steagall), and shifting the burden of taxes largely off of the wealthy (Reagan cut the top income tax rate in half) and onto the middle and lower classes (through increasing payroll taxes for example). Bank bailouts under the Bush and Obama administrations were examples of how much the financial sector has infiltrated government for the purpose of socializing the costs of their reckless activities.

The defense department likewise is largely a means of subsidizing industry, whether it be directly (e.g. Lockheed Martin), or indirectly (e.g. opening up oil markets through foreign intervention). The military has also developed much of the technology that private companies now profit from.

The poor are given enough handouts to allow them to consume (and subsidize the food industry, retail, etc.) and keep them voting for Democrats, but little in the way job training and higher education to get them on their feet and out of poverty. Since the lower classes have a higher marginal propensity to consume, there is little incentive in a consumer culture to help them move up in society. Private colleges and lenders use the market to exploit high school grads who must go deep in debt to gain an education in an economy which now has little room for non-college educated workers. Hence the hyper-inflated college tuitions (up roughly 600% since 1980).

Privatized health care has also been a way to exploit the poor and jack up prices. And likewise, the compromises capitalist reformers must make to avoid the appearance of socialism has led to the subsidization of private health insurance companies through costly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits, and now Obamacare. A single payer system would eliminate such exploitation, but there are no insurance companies to enrich, so it stays out of the discussion.

Decentralization and democratization of profits through worker cooperatives and alternative business models is necessary if we are to tackle our economic problems head on. Capitalism as it exists doesn’t really avoid the problem of centralized power accumulation. Usually the right argues in favor of decentralization, mainly through limiting the federal goverment, and emphasizing state power; but without decentralizing the private power of capital, this only continues to weaken the one democratic institution which can act as a counterbalance to private corporate tyrannies.

Reason #4: Capitalism’s Fetishization of Profit-Seeking Degrades Us as Human Beings

Our culture celebrates activities which are profitable and add to GDP, regardless of whether such activities ultimately benefit human beings. Does our work lead to more good in the world then bad? This disconnect was described in Marx’s theory of alienation . When our work is meaningless, it demoralizes us, and degrades our communities. A sociocentric economy, which prioritizes the well-being of people over profits is necessary to achieve the world we wish to see. This means looking beyond GDP, the Dow Jones, NYSE, and even official unemployment rates for alternative measures of a good society.

*For further reading on compound interest, I recommend the economist Michael Hudson’s article The Mathematical Economics of Compound Rates of Interest: A Four-Thousand Year Overview Part I

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The contents of this article may be used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Credit should be given to thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com.

Economics, Society

The Invisible Hand of God: Evangelical Economics

It is no secret that evangelical Christianity has played a significant role in uniting poor and middle class white Americans with big business to form what is called the religious right here in the states. The rise of Reagan and Volcker in the eighties, and Greenspan in the nineties brought the doctrines of neoliberalism into alliance with a newly engaged voting bloc: theologically motivated social conservatives led by the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson. Likewise supply-side economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek gave the movement legitimacy, and helped neo-classical economic theory displace Keynesianism. This turn of events created an extremely powerful political coalition, which still dominates U.S. politics today.

Without the alliance with evangelicalism, it would have been significantly harder to sell lower and middle class voters on the merits of neoliberalism. Domestically speaking, free trade is code for ‘flexibility for corporations to outsource, or at least threaten to, if labor groups demand such frivolous things as living wages’. Lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations cause capital accumulation, inequality, and budget deficits which can be used as a political tool to force cuts in social spending. Likewise financial liberalization (i.e. policies that favor Wall Street over Main Street and liberal monetary policies) frees up excess capital for speculation in order to boost short-term profits for a few, while exacerbating systemic risk and socializing costs. The wealthy and opulent grafted opposition to legalized abortion and gay rights among other social issues into the Republican platform, effectively pitting the average worker’s moral convictions against their well-being, and solidifying support for these anti-worker economic policies.

In this article I’d like to explore a few ways in which evangelical theology mirrors the conservative view of the economy, and why it is such an effective alliance.

God and the market are both absolutely just, and should not be questioned.

It is widely believed that all people will be judged by God according to their actions, and rewarded or punished accordingly in the afterlife. Likewise, conservatives believe in a form of economic karma (i.e. hard work produces financial wealth and laziness produces poverty) guided by the equitable “invisible hand” of the market; a belief which establishes a selfish incentive for effort and moral grounds to blame the poor for their predicament. This belief in economic karma and it’s connection to conservatism is described in detail by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in relation to Moral Foundations Theory.

This overreliance on mythology was put on display several weeks ago when Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul said that “income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things,” This is a textbook example of what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error, which may be cute when expressed by a child, but is not so appealing when you contemplate the fact that Paul wants to lead our country.

It goes without saying that the supposed justness of the market, if defined by an equitable effort-to-compensation ratio, is contradicted by some very basic facts. According to the AFL-CIO, in 2013 the average CEO earned 331 times as much as the average employee. And what is even more shocking is that they earned 774 times as much as those who earn minimum wage. If the ratio of effort-to-compensation is fairly consistent, then we should expect that the average CEO works 774 times as hard as someone making the minimum wage.

To put that in perspective, it is estimated that a 155 lb. fast food worker making minimum wage could burn more than 1,500 calories in an eight hour shift. If calories burned were proportional to compensation, then the average CEO would burn 1,161,000 calories in the same eight hour time period. To replenish those calories, the CEO would have to consume the equivalent of 2,639 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers daily; roughly five-and-a-half-burgers-per-minute over another eight hour period of time, leaving him or her with eight hours remaining to sleep and do it all over again after presumably being 774 times more productive than the average minimum wage earner.

If it isn’t sheer effort that determines compensation, one might say that it must be intelligence, ambition, and creativity; the intangibles which lead to success. But if we allow this, then what we are effectively advocating is social darwinism. It is an attitude which suggests that a person’s worth is almost entirely dictated by how well they can increase the bottom line for shareholders through utilizing the natural abilities they were born with.

I think it is fair to assume that the right series of events, partially determined by the person’s disposition, and partially by non-dispositional factors culminate in the diversity of financial outcomes we see in the market. Ultimately neither a person’s disposition, nor their environments (the product of disposition and chance) were the result of the person’s conscious choice. And how we approach this issue as a society has a lot to do with how we view human responsibility in light of the determinism vs. free will debate.

Ultimately, this obsession with rewarding an incredibly small few with a repulsively large share of our resources and punishing the many who do not rise to the top (through the “discipline of the market”,  as Chomsky likes to say) is quite fitting when you consider the projected gap in well-being between those who enter Heaven (and enjoy infinite joy) and those who enter Hell (and endure infinite torment) according to orthodox theology.

Nicholas Fitz of Scientific American reported this year that “the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%.” He went on to add that “The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined”. Likewise Oxfam projects that the global 1% will own more than the remaining 99% by 2016. Despite these alarming figures, Americans have been indoctrinated into the belief that the outcomes are just and deserved, regardless of whether situational factors (e.g. being born into a low income household in an inner city ghetto) have greater power in predicting outcomes.

All of us deserve Hell, and likewise we all deserve poverty; so we should be grateful to God and the market for the blessings they bestow upon us, which is more than we deserve.

This low sense of self-worth can be promoted by instilling an undue sense of gratitude within a culture. Pastors tell us that we are all sinners (depraved and selfish by nature), worthy of nothing more than Hell, the just punishment for the sin of being born as a sinful human. Likewise, the average worker should not be ungrateful by asking for more than is necessary to remain productive, even if impoverished, for the wealthy elite (who are so generous to allow the selfish masses to be their wage slaves). After all, we don’t deserve anything more than poverty. Likewise God is infinitely generous in allowing all to be His slaves, and serve Him in fear and submission. He would’ve been justified in torturing us all forever.

Orthodox theologians fear populist preachers who present watered-down gospels emphasizing love without retribution, which they warn can result in a loose form of morality. Likewise politicians warn that without the threat of poverty and starvation (enforced through the curtailing of social benefits), the selfish, depraved masses would rebel against the societal order. ‘Rebellion’ in this context may be defined as protesting the form of work and degree of compensation which is optimal for growth of corporate profits. Protesting this form of work may be the right thing to do if such busyness ceases to contribute  to the well-being of society, or becomes detrimental to it. Much of our current economic activity fits this criteria.

Rigid forms of evangelicalism and conservatism discourage independent thought when such intellectual experimentation challenges authority. This is largely rooted in fear, as numerous findings in the cognitive sciences have shown us that conservatives are on average more fearful (to be fair, liberals may run the risk of being oblivious to threats). It’s easier for many to assume they are taking the safest route and avoiding the possibility of Hell and poverty by conforming to the existing social and religious order.

Nietzsche had noted that Christianity encourages and enforces a form of humble and submissive “slave morality”. Because of this it is no wonder that capitalism has thrived within Christian cultures, creating powerful growth engines fueled by submissive labor forces. This may not be a problem if you are fairly comfortable with your life, but for those who are at the bottom of the social stratum here or among the exploited workers in imperialized nations, the ever-present injustice within the global economic system must be difficult to bear.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The contents of this article may be used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Credit should be given to thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com.


What I Believe – My Three Philosophical Pillars

A while back I decided to write out my beliefs. I ended up limiting myself to three philosophical categories: 1) my ethical philosophy, 2) my epistemic philosophy, and 3) my political philosophy. So, here they are!

[My views are constantly being refined, and do not represent absolute beliefs which will necessarily remain static. I pride myself on being open to ideas, and any beliefs I have are merely a reflection of my current mindset. That being said, I wrote this about three months ago, and found it to still be an accurate representation of my views. It seems I have come to a place of moderate stability in my intellectual development since my deconversion.]

Ethical Philosophy: Secular Humanism

I believe that all actions should be taken primarily for the benefit of human beings, with consideration given to animals and the environment.

Supernatural beliefs play no role in my ethical decisionmaking and religious concepts are only valued insofar as they enforce humanistic values. I do not oppose supernatural beliefs, but I do oppose harmful consequences of those beliefs (e.g. teaching creationism in public schools; persecution of LGBTQ individuals, etc.)

I consider myself an atheist and a naturalist, but I do not seek to force those beliefs on others. I believe that people should be aware of humanism and the benefits of living a secular life so they can decide if it’s a worldview they could accept.

I respect intellectual and religious diversity, although I do not think any belief should be above appropriate criticism and scrutiny. I believe that robust and respectful discussion and debate of important issues is beneficial and necessary. Every person should be encouraged to form their own conclusions about the world and pursue truth wherever it leads.

Epistemic Philosophy: Empiricism

I believe that the foundation of knowledge is sensory experience and that the scientific method is the most effective way to gain reliable knowledge about the world.

I believe that the unfalsifiable testimonies of intuition, personal anecdote, emotion, and hypothetical entities or senses (e.g. sensus divinatus or testimony of the Holy Spirit) are not enough to support a truth claim in the absence of relevant objective evidence. These may or may not be sufficient justifications for personal belief, but they do not meet the minimum requirements of proof in an interpersonal discussion. The reason being that if these were allowed as legitimate evidence to establish truth, any hypothesis could be considered true on the testimony of personal belief; with the corollary that every belief must therefore be true.

I believe that public discussion and debate should center around identifying common values, and using reason, logic, supported by  relevant, objective evidence to determine the best course of action to take.

Political Philosophy: Progressivism

I believe that we should seek to improve the conditions of life for all people, rather than resting on the accomplishments of the past. There is still work to be done to improve our nation and world, and applying a critical approach to the issues we face and suggesting possible solutions is an act of patriotism.

I believe that cultural traditions can and should undergo a constant process of re-evaluation in light of advancements in science, education, and moral attitudes. No pre-existing belief is beyond scrutiny and revision in accordance with our expanding knowledge of the world.

I believe that tolerance of others’ beliefs and practices insofar as they do not cause direct harm or infringe on the rights of others is a virtue. I believe in justice and liberty.

Democracy, human rights, and the pursuit of a reasonably egalitarian culture of prosperity, security, health, and psychological well-being are the foundational elements of my political philosophy.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The contents of this article may be used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Credit should be given to thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com.

Philosophy, Society

When Humanistic Ideals Collide with the Myth of Anthropocentrism

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Protagorus famously said “Of all things the measure is Man,” which is usually paraphrased as ‘Man is the measure of all things’. Despite it’s poetic value, Protagorus’ statement represents what is essentially the pinnacle of human arrogance. This paradigm of thought is reflected in religious beliefs about humanity’s eternal destiny, superiority over wildlife and the earth, and the supposed importance of individual purity and morality. But it  was also a cornerstone of enlightenment ideals, which still strongly influence secular thought.

Yesterday I met an atheist in my town through a Unitarian Universalist event. He is a fascinating British man who gave me some great ideas to chew on. One of which is a provocative philosophical concept called inhumanism, which at first blush sounds horrifying until the meaning is explained. As a self-identified progressive Humanist, this idea appeared to contrast strongly with certain tenets of my own philosophy.

The term inhumanism was coined by the 20th century poet Robinson Jeffers to describe his philosophy. He elaborated on it in the preface to The Double Axe  (1948):

The first part of The Double Axe was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, as of some previous work of mine, is to present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times; it has objective truth and human value. It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy. It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.

Essentially, inhumanism is about shifting the focus off of humanity, and the myth of anthropocentrism, and onto the universe at large, which we are inseparable from. No longer should we view ourselves as the center of the universe. Instead we should recognize that we are but one tiny part of an enormous whole.

The catalyst for such a worldview shift should be obvious. With looming ecological, geopolitical, and economic disasters staring us down, we, as if looking up the barrel of a gun, must stop denying the nature of reality, and admit that the world, and the universe may go on without us very soon. We should recognize that at the very least, the destruction of civilization as we know it may very well be inevitable.

The prognoses appear grim on most fronts. As exemplified by the sobering title of the great intellectual Noam Chomsky’s 2014 article for In These Times:“The End of History? The short, strange era of human civilization may be coming to a close.” Whether it be the possibility of nuclear war, environmental collapse, or socio-economic upheaval, we are facing some damn scary hypotheticals as a species.

There is still human optimism, but much of it seems naive or pragmatic at best. I am no scientist or economist, so I could be wrong.  Like most people, I am only capable of second-hand knowledge of such matters.  Maybe human civilization will rise to the challenge and work it’s way out of the messes we are facing. Maybe something unforeseeable will occur which changes everything. Who knows?

But it seems like the cracks in humanity’s optimism are showing. Are we really so confident? Is progress inevitable? Are we just hitting another speed bump along the road to victory?

Why do we assume that the Earth needs us? Can we imagine a universe without humans? It seems almost scandalous to suggest that humanity may just be a passing fad, subject to the arbitrary whims of the universe’s ever-changing taste in cosmic fashion.

A concept so unorthodox as this can easily be opened up to the charge of unproductive pessimism or fear-mongering. I think at it’s worst, a sense of hopeless, nihilistic determinism could be a potential side-effect. At it’s best however, it could challenge those who can accept it to reprioritize their lives accordingly. For example, I continue to feel more and more inclined to see art as a more noble ‘purpose’ so to speak, of mankind’s existence. Rather than being concerned with humanity’s self-aggrandization, illusions of progress, and anthropocentric fantasies, maybe we should focus more on living a life of beauty and harmony while we are here.

I believe that these sort of ideas should probably be tempered by the pragmatic ideals of Humanism. Progress can still be valued, even if demoted to a lesser role;  human optimism has a important psychological role to play; and sometimes artistry and beauty must compromise with the ugliness involved in facing difficult humanitarian crises. Secular Humanism and inhumanism may not be as mutually incompatible as they appear. Maybe more complementary.

I’d encourage you to check out the  Dark Mountain Manifesto, from the website dark-mountain.net created by a group of artists and activists. They create art and writings based on this philosophy of inhumanism, which they somewhat euphemistically label uncivilisation. If nothing more, it will give you some food for thought. It resonates with my skeptical side; especially when it comes to criticizing political, economic or scientific optimism.

This story has many variants, religious and secular, scientific, economic and mystic. But all tell of humanity’s original transcendence of its animal beginnings, our growing mastery over a ‘nature’ to which we no longer belong, and the glorious future of plenty and prosperity which will follow when this mastery is complete. It is the story of human centrality, of a species destined to be lord of all it surveys, unconfined by the limits that apply to other, lesser creatures . . .

. . . Today, humanity is up to its neck in denial about what it has built, what it has become — and what it is in for. Ecological and economic collapse unfold before us and, if we acknowledge them at all, we act as if this were a temporary problem, a technical glitch. Centuries of hubris block our ears like wax plugs; we cannot hear the message which reality is screaming at us. For all our doubts and discontents, we are still wired to an idea of his- tory in which the future will be an upgraded version of the present. The assumption remains that things must continue in their current direction: the sense of crisis only smudges the meaning of that ‘must’. No longer a natural inevitability, it becomes an urgent necessity: we must find a way to go on having supermarkets and superhighways. We cannot contemplate the alternative.

Dark Mountain Manifesto, via dark-mountain.net

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The contents of this article may be used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Credit should be given to thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com.


Atheists vs. Evangelicals – Negative Stereotypes and Mutual Dislike

I have been thinking recently about relations between Christians and atheists, and the gulf of animosity between the two. I’ll go ahead and share some of my thoughts on the dynamics involved.

There was a Pew poll last year which highlighted something we already knew: Americans have a very negative view of atheists. On a scale of 1 to 100 representing negative to positive emotions, Americans ranked atheists a chilly 41, only one percentage point above the most negatively perceived religious group, Muslims, who got a rating of 40. This is 8 points below the third most disliked group, Mormons, who got a rating of 48. When it comes to atheists’ and evangelicals’ rankings of each other, there is a mutual dislike between the two. Both groups ranked each other worse than any other group. Atheists gave evangelical Christians a score of 28, while evangelical Christians gave atheists a score of 25.

Religious Tension Even more alarming than these numbers are the studies which have suggested that Americans distrust atheists less than rapists (!) I find this incredibly saddening. It is also unjustified.

Just the other day I was having a conversation on one of my Twitter accounts with someone who I’ve followed since before I left the faith. We had brief conversations before, but we were more like Twitter acquantainces. I didn’t intend on turning it into a debate but as you know, sometimes certain personalities can’t resist sparring. I didn’t mind it, as I enjoy a good, respectful (key word) debate. But it took a turn which annoyed and angered me. I took a bunch of screenshots so you could see it. Keep in mind that Twitter convos can be somewhat hard to follow, depending on which tweet is replied to, the order can be confusing.

Tweet1 Tweet2 Tweet3 Tweet4 Tweet5 Tweet6

This man revealed his biases about atheists, by trying to suggest we are okay with rape and murder. As much as I find this thinking offensive, I feel sorry for him. I personally am not easily hurt by fundies’ opinions; this case is no exception. From his perspective, he really thinks I’m going to Hell. Can I blame him for not having tact? It’s unfortunate when people embrace false beliefs which require unbending devotion. Having been on both sides I know that there are many factors which lead someone to accept these stereotypes and biases. Fear of punishment, mixed with indoctrination is a potent combination.

Now it would be unfair of me to say that this guy is representative of most Christians. Most of my followers on that account are Christians I’ve known since before my conversion, and immediately several of them started to chime in with apologies for what this guy said. It truly is nice to be reminded of the amount of love within Christianity. That sounds strange as an atheist, but I believe it. There are great Christians; some of the best people I know are believers. There are also great atheists; something I hope more Christians would see. People are individuals. Stereotyping is wrong; regardless of what a person believes or doesn’t believe. I listed some stats on my feed regarding atheism and crime which I thought I’d share here. uq3hYhp

There is evidence that atheists are overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding. 2013 data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons shows that atheists make up only 0.07% of the prison population; Protestants on the other hand make up 28.7% and Catholics 24%. Atheists make up 2.4% of the American population according to a 2012 Pew poll.This means that atheists are 34 times less likely to be incarcerated than those who do not identify as atheists. The caricature of lawless, conscience-devoid atheists running wild is absurdly inaccurate. We have consciences, and societies don’t necessarily crumble due to a decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, there is considerable evidence that secular societs fare better than religious ones.

All of this however, has nothing to do with the truth value of Christianity or the debate of it. But what it does show is that the negative stereotypes of atheists are simply invalid; in addition to being unproductive to society. We don’t need more Phil Robertsons saying “You lose your religion, you lose your morals.” And on the flip side we don’t need more New Atheists in the vein of Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens agitating Christians (as much as I can appreciate some of their work.) What we need now is respectful dialogue and a more positive approach on both sides to help restore some civility between the two groups.

I might add that there are still a few statistics that favor religiosity as well; such as higher charitable donations. However it is not surprising that giving would increase if you pass around an offering plate once a week and urge people that it is their duty to give.

Some atheists caricature Christians as stupid and intolerant. Some Christians caricature atheists as immoral and obnoxious. These stereotypes will continue to hinder forward progress in relations between the two groups if both sides don’t commit to changing the focus. It shouldn’t be ‘us vs. them.’ We can disagree respectfully, and commit to loving each other regardless. We may not gather together and sing kumbaya on the weekends, but we can learn to respect each other and not stir up animosity. We have a long way to go, and I’m a work in progress myself.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

10721328_278062212388486_378808137_nMy name is Zach Van Houten and I am a secular Humanist with progressive values who enjoys good discussions with intelligent people. I was a passionate conservative Christian from childhood until I found intellectual freedom in November of 2014. I take an interest in Humanism, general philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, eastern religious philosophy, atheism, politics, Biblical studies, and most importantly, the life cycle of sea turtles. Email me at meinperspective@gmail.com if you’d like to offer tips on how I can make myself less boring or start up a convo about the weather.

© Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Atheist logo by Chookbeatle via DeviantArt – image modified by me.

A Rough Examination of Pragmatic Belief

Lately I’ve been thinking about epistemology (the study of knowledge); and more specifically, how we build on presuppositions in order to form our beliefs. I came up with a basic list of what I call ‘pragmatic beliefs’; those presuppositions necessary for a person to live with any form of sanity. Here is the basic outline I came up with. Each presupposition builds on the previous one:

1) I exist.

I have yet to decide whether I believe this to be a presupposition, or an absolute truth. Frankly, I don’t think it matters in any practical sense. No one seriously doubts their own existence; and I can’t imagine what anyone would do with such a useless skepticism if they did. Although I do consider myself very skeptical of any sort of Cartesian/Platonic dualism; that is a separate matter. Our own existence, whether purely physical or partially metaphysical, is about as close to an absolute truth as humans can affirm.

2) There is an external reality independent of my existence.

This is where a philosophy known as solipsism diverges from contemporary thought. The solipsist makes the argument that it is impossible to know if reality is not an illusion created by the self; from there they might argue something like “I am the only mind which exists,” or “My mental states are the only mental states.” What makes this tricky is that people who hallucinate are experiencing illusory sensory experiences; which means that it is possible for even our senses to be deceived. It’s a kind of Matrix-style take on the problem of perception. This makes solipsist beliefs pretty much unfalsifiable.

There are two problems I see with solipsism. First, I don’t know how one could attempt to positively prove that there is no external reality, and secondly, the belief seems to have no practical benefit, and could lead to strong forms of nihilism or egoism if taken to it’s logical conclusion. After all, if no one else exists, no one else matters but yourself. However, I don’t presume solipsists necessarily embrace nihilism or egoism.

It seems to me that all a solipsist can do is point out that there is no way to positively prove that there is an external reality. I think it’s safe to say that presupposing an external reality independent of our existence is a beneficial and natural belief.

3) My sensory inputs supply me with reliable information (empirical data) about reality.

Another aspect of the problem of perception is that we can’t know for certain that our sensory inputs are relaying accurate information to our brains. This means that empirical evidence can, in theory, be misleading.

Accurate information is information that corresponds with, or helps us understand reality. Every human assumes  that their senses are reliable until proven unreliable. A good example of this is when, after a mental episode, a patient in a mental hospital recognizes that his or her senses were misleading (as in the case of a schizophrenic.) In that case, the patient uses reason to infer that his or her brain was not accurately translating the empirical data; but this can only be realized after the fact. This is not an instance where the sensory data itself was inaccurate, but rather the data was not being interpreted correctly by the brain. I suspect this is the usual cause of illusory sense perception; but there may be ways in which the senses themselves are dysfunctional.

4) My mind uses reason to form reliable hypotheses and theories of reality based on the empirical data obtained from my sensory inputs. These allow me to make probability-based predictions that have pragmatic value.

This is where much of the battle lies. I am convinced that a person cannot disconnect reason from responsible belief. Yet anti-intellectualists, and some religious leaders, encourage people to ignore reason; usually to believe a specific proposition being promoted. There is a strong current of this in some strains of Christianity.

Insanity is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as: “something that is very foolish or unreasonable.” Notice that “unreasonable” is a part of the informal definition of insanity. Reason is a sign of intelligence, and a part of being a responsible human. Abandoning it would literally be insane.

To quote the 18th century Quaker/philosopher William Penn:

Truth never lost Ground by Enquiry, because she is, most of all. Reasonable.

Nor can that need another Authority, that is Self-evident.

If my own Reason be on the Side of a Principle, with what can I Dispute or withstand it?

Reason, like the Sun, is Common to All ; And ’tis for want of examining all by the same Light and Measure, that we are not all of the same Mind : For all have it to that End, though all do not use it So.

It is worth noting that it is circular to validate reason by using reason. But it is a self-evident truth if there are any, that being reasonable and logical is beneficial to humanity. It could be viewed as the truthmaker, fully beyond scrutiny, as it is the sole mechanism that scrutinizes.

Diagramming Pragmatic Belief

I put together a basic diagram of this concept here:

Chain of Pragmatic Belief

As you can see, self-existence is the first foundational presupposition, followed by belief in an external reality. After that, we presuppose the reliability of our sensory receptors to convey empirical data, and we could add our brain’s reliability in interpreting it. Last we have reason, which organizes all of the empirical data and forms probability-based hypotheses and theories about reality that enable us to make better predictions. This skill of making probability-based predictions helps us make wise choices.

If we are to make good choices, it would help to have reliable beliefs. If we believed for example, that all people want to kill us, we would perhaps never leave our home, or move to the wilderness. This sort of belief would be considered irrational, and unbeneficial. Yet, someone who believes this may feel they have an intuitional basis for such a belief; and for that reason it is justified. This brings us to our next consideration and the sticky issues that accompany it.

Incorporating Intuitional Beliefs

Intuition is a controversial concept in philosophy. What exactly is intuition? I will refer to Merriam-Webster’s again for the definition:


: a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence : a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why

: something that is known or understood without proof or evidence

There are several ways we could attempt to incorporate intuition into this scheme. These vary depending on how you imagine intution in relation to empirical data and reason; or even if you acknowledge intuition as a relevant factor at all. This tension can be clearly seen in the rationalism vs. empiricism debate.

Since intuition is viewed as something understood without proof or evidence, the implication is that it fully bypasses reason, since reason demands evidence. You can’t really call a belief intuitional if it passes rational scrutiny; it has then become a reasonable belief. Reason would have to be out of the picture for intuition to make sense. The way I imagine a typical person seeing intuition is as an option alongside of reason. Let me illustrate:

Chain of Typical Belief

The person who believed intuitively that all people wanted to kill him is an extreme example of intuition disconnected from reality. This alone shouldn’t make us distrust intuition entirely. There is certainly a case to be made for intuitive thinking in the proper contexts. We are not emotionless, purely rational beings; we rely on intuition more than we would like to think.

That being said, every belief can and should be scrutinized appropriately. We don’t live our lives assuming that gut feelings are fully reliable. Intuition should be considered as evidence, but be wary of trusting it in situations that demand accuracy. Imagine if you were on a jury and someone said ‘I just believe he’s guilty,’ or ‘I have faith in the defendant’s innocence,’ and then proceeded to act as if the case were closed without examining the evidence. Surely that would be foolish, irrational, and irresponsible to the highest degree. If your intuition is not supported by evidence, reason should make the final call after weighing all the different factors.

Now reasoning can be done poorly, regardless of how strongly we believe it to be correct. Poor reasoning is often intuition in disguise. This is why many unjustifiable beliefs are popular. What appears to be a well-reasoned argument may be built on one or two tendentious presuppositions that the hearer has failed to identify. A highly skilled orator can sell almost anything if it serves to confirm the biases of an audience. A skilled logician can make a case with substance, but when the biases of an audience are exploited, reason almost inevitable takes a back seat.

And that’s the problem with intuition. Intuition looks just like bias. When intuition is presented in the absence of evidence, the probability of deception is significantly greater. Intuition could be correct, but there is no objective way to know.

Critical thinking has been described by some as a defense mechanism. It is a way we can protect ourselves from intellectual exploitation by raising our standards for what constitutes a good argument. If there are no good arguments for a belief, it is likely a product of bias or propaganda.

Learning the difference between intuition and reason is important. Here are a couple of very interesting articles about intuitive thinking if you want to do some further reading on the subject:



Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

10721328_278062212388486_378808137_nMy name is Zach Van Houten and I am a secular Humanist with progressive values who enjoys good discussions with intelligent people. I was a passionate conservative Christian from childhood until I found intellectual freedom in November of 2014. I take an interest in Humanism, general philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, eastern religious philosophy, atheism, politics, Biblical studies, and most importantly, the life cycle of sea turtles. Email me at meinperspective@gmail.com if you’d like to offer tips on how I can make myself less boring or start up a convo about the weather.

© Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zach Van Houten and thefreethinkinghuman.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Dan McCay on Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Paridigm Shift – Human Responsibility and Neuroscience

I came across an incredible article the other day, which perfectly sums up my thoughts on human responsibility. I remember this topic was something I wrestled with when I was a Christian long before I started to experience any serious doubts. It’s often conflated with the ‘free will vs. determinism’ debate, but the subject of human responsibility or blameworthiness is a slightly different issue.

Here’s the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/308520/?single_page=true

I hope you get a chance to read it, as it’s well worth your time. This topic has important implications for our justice system, as well as for society as a whole.

The crux of the issue is whether humans can truly be blamed for their actions. Or more specifically, whether a person’s actions can make them worthy of punishment. I take the stance that the writer of the article, neuroscientist David Eaglemen takes: vengeance and retribution should play no part in our justice system. Rather, we should be placing our emphasis on creating a healthy, and safe society. It is not necessarily an argument against incarceration or all forms of punishment. Rather it is a call for a progressive philosophy of justice which takes into account the scientific evidence which suggests that our decisions are inseparable from our biology and cognitive makeup.

I have been familiar with mental illness for as long as I can remember. My mom is paranoid schizophrenic, and one of the most amazing people I know. She did not choose to have her brain malfunction. The traditional view of human responsibility cannot explain things like her illness. Our minds are intimately connected to our physical brains. We cannot remove ourselves from the causal chain.

Eaglemen goes into many examples, from those who suffer from Tourette’s to people who have become violent as a result of brain tumors. It reminds me of what Neuronotes wrote a while back about how brain injuries can affect a person’s moral character and lead to violent, uncompassionate behavior. The point is clear: we cannot look at another person and accurately predict that we would act differently in the same situation since we don’t have that person’s genes or brain. It’s apples and oranges. Those of us who are mentally stable should be profoundly grateful that we weren’t dealt the same biological hand as a psychopath; who did not choose to have a messed up brain.

Does anyone deserve pain? I would say no; regardless of what that person has done or how evil a person is perceived to be. Does that mean we never inflict pain on other humans? No. Sometimes it is necessary. The point is, all pain inflicted should have a purpose. Punishment for the sake of retribution or vengeance is a lingering relic of past assumptions about libertarian free will that are demonstrably false, and should have no place in our justice system.

Image from Wikimedia Commons, modified by myself.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Bible

Hell? No!

Back in October of last year, I made waves among my Christian friends when I announced that I no longer believed in Hell. I was still a believer at that time, but stopped believing sometime between the end of that month and early November. I announced it with a nearly-exhaustive 13,000 word article, which dissected every aspect of the topic, and addressed every single verse used to support the doctrine. I shared the article on Facebook and Twitter; much to the dismay of some family members and friends. The article got the attention of one of my pastors, who even indirectly addressed me during a sermon (most people probably didn’t catch what we going on.) I didn’t have a problem with that (it was good natured;) it was just a weird time for me as I had never been controversial before. One of my two writers left the Christian website I was running immediately after learning of my change in beliefs. I was suddenly labeled as a heretic by some. I think I got more negative reaction from that change in opinion than I got when I announced I was leaving the faith.

Desite the negative reactions, there were a few people who actually changed their mind on the issue after reading the article; including the other writer for my website. Many people weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong, but no one actually tried to disprove my reasoning. At most people would quote verses to me; all of which I covered in-depth in the article. I think it ended up getting around 600 views (I haven’t checked in a while) and a lot of shares on social media. I was pretty happy about that. I felt it was my calling to get the word out that God was truly good and would simply burn people to death instead of burn them forever (yeah, I know, still sounds evil.)

You can read it here: Why I No Longer Believe The Bible Teaches Hell

I came to this view after following my gut and discovering what the Bible reallys says. I was watching a television show; a sketch comedy called Studio C (the best show on television btw,) and for some reason that night I was trying to reconcile the idea that all of these wonderfully funny and seemingly nice people were most likely on their way to eternal torment in Hell. So after the show I decided to look up different views on Hell and stumbled across some great articles on a view called annihilationism, which I described in my article. I researched the topic for over a month, devoting nearly all of my free time to the study of it. I researched all of the arguments against the view, as well as the Greek and Hebrew words used by the biblical writers. I studied the history of the doctrine, and the views of surrounding religions at the time the Bible was being written.

I’ll go ahead and list the fifteen core points, each of which I explore in detail in the article itself. If you are interested in my reasoning and the evidence, it’s all there. The numbers all correspond in the article so you can examine individual parts of the argument if you choose to. Keep in mind that I had written this from a Christian perspective, not a secular one.

15 Reasons I Stopped Believing In Hell

1. Scripture never once warned people of eternal torment, but always warned of destruction.

2. The English word translated “hell” does not occur in the original manuscripts.

3. The Old Testament contains no teachings on or allusions to eternal misery in the afterlife.

4. The NASB and ESV bibles (the two most popular translations among conservative Christians) both contain a mere 13 occurrences of the word hell; all in the New Testament, translating not one, but three different Greek words.

5. There is no evidence that the apostles ever preached or taught about hell or alluded to a place of eternal misery; and Jesus only spoke of it twice to unbelievers.

6. The doctrine of eternal torment is based on the idea that man possesses an immortal soul; which is never taught in the Bible.

7. Not only is hell built on man’s presumed immortality, but it is also built on the assumption that the soul is always conscious (important when discussing the period of time between death and the final judgment.)

8. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (used to support hell) cannot be taken literally without creating conflict with the rest of Scripture.

9. Metaphors such as “unquenchable fire” and “worms that never die” clearly refer to the shame of death and destruction as seen in Isaiah 66:15-24; which Jesus alluded to.

10. By the time the lake of fire is introduced in Revelation 20, it is far too late for it to have had any direct influence on the prior meanings of words.

11. The eternal fire is said to have been prepared for Satan and his angels.

12. The lake of fire is to be viewed figuratively.

13. The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can only be understood as figurative language, and therefore does not contradict annihilation.

14. When the Bible refers to things as being eternal, it is referring to effect, rather than process.

15. The lack of common knowledge about even basic aspects of the doctrine of hell lead me to believe that it is not a commonly scrutinized doctrine; nor one that is taught in detail to churchgoers.

Here are a few other articles I had written about this topic, including other aspects of the argument against ECT which you may find interesting as well:

Defining Death

Proportional Punishment

50 Questions For Those Who Believe In Eternal Torment

Image by omar omar via Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


A New Experience

The other day I got a chance to check out the local Unitarian Universalist church in my area. For those who are not familiar, Unitarian Universalist churches are pretty much open to people of all beliefs. It’s a very Humanist-esque philosophy of embracing religious and nonreligious alike, without discrimination or dogma. I’ve always been heavily involved in evangelical Christian churches, and since my deconversion, have missed the community and social value of church. I figured that if I could meet even one or two people with similar thoughts on life, I would be better off than the state of social semi-isolation (at least from anyone who thinks like me) I had been in prior.

I was unsure of what to expect, but wanted to keep an open mind. I couldn’t help but think it would be an odd experience. After all, these are the type of people Sunday School teachers warn you of. You know, social liberals who seek to unite people of varying cultural backgrounds for the purpose of promoting shared values, such as love and compassion, must necessarily be the Devil’s henchmen (or so the fundamentalist logic goes.) I had forgot to bring a prayer shawl to defend me against the demons, so I knew I was going in for battle a bit unprepared.

As I expected, it was a very small congregation; maybe fifteen people. More of a small group than a church. The building itself was small, yet inviting, with a traditional church appearance on the inside. There were pews and hymnals, and a room with tables set up for snacks and conversation afterward. Most of the members seemed to be over forty if I had to guess. There was a couple who were probably in their thirties with a young child. I was the second youngest there, next to the child from my estimate.

Before the service began, I was greeted by a pleasant lady with a wonderful British accent. She asked a few typical questions, including how I found out about the church. She mentioned to me that they often have people speak, but they mix it up some weeks. This week, they were planning on playing two TED talks, and discussing them afterward. Now, in all my years of going to church I’ve never seen a TED talk on a Sunday morning. I thought that was pretty cool. A church that likes science and research . . . I could get used to this!

The service began with a man on a piano playing traditional hymns and singing. The songs had no explicit spiritual meaning that would lend itself to a specific religion, although the hymnbooks contained some Christian songs. I enjoyed the group singing, and found it refreshing, although I do enjoy a good worship band. There was something nice about the simplicity. The person playing and singing had a pleasant demeanor and was moderately skilled.

Between songs a few rituals were observed, which I found interesting. I appreciate the church’s use of ritual, as it is one underestimated aspect of religion that can serve to bond people together. Community singing and recitation can be powerful psychological tools. They also have certain traditions, such as the lighting of a chalice, and a recitation that goes along with that, which affirms positive, universal values.

After a couple of songs, the lady with the British accent introduced the video, which was played via the young couple’s laptop hooked up to a projection screen. The first talk was about our misconceptions about stress and how they might be doing more harm than stress itself (!) It was very interesting, and entertaining. The lady who gave the talk was not only a engaging speaker, but very attractive as well (being cute never hurts.) Here it is, if you have time to watch it:

After the video, we discussed the topic as a group (one of the advantages of being a small church.) Even though it was my first time, I felt comfortable enough to share my thoughts here and there. The discussion was interesting, and I enjoyed the participatory nature of it, as opposed to the usual disconnect I am accustomed to at the much larger churches.

After the short discussion of the first video, we watched the second. Now what is so interesting about this one is that it is given by the twin sister of the lady who gave the first talk. But they didn’t tell us until halfway through, so it was a surprise for sure. The second sister is a video game developer, and she talked about the benefits of gaming. While some of the benefits may be overemphasized, I think the main point is certainly valid, that gaming can be a very positive aspect of our lives. I’d imagine moderation is the key. Here’s that video:

The first sister (the one who talked about stress), from what I was told, has suffered from constant migraines her entire life. But what is crazy is that the second sister suffered a concussion/brain injury a few years ago that gave her constant migraines as well for a period of time. What a rough turn of events!

During the video, I might mention as well, there were certain things the speaker asked us to do, such as shake hands with someone for six seconds, or count backwards from one hundred, etc. That made it fun and light hearted, in addition to the fact that the talk was about games.

After that talk, we again discussed the topic of the video. We shared thoughts on gaming, most not being gamers, but a few mentioning certain phone app games they got sucked into. I personally have been somewhat of a gamer in the past, but never a serious one. I haven’t played video games in probably six months, and should probably dust off my PS3 sometime.

After service, I had a nice, short discussion with the lady with the British accent and another lady. They were very pleasant to talk to. It was quite an odd experience talking openly about my atheism/Humanism in a church. But it felt very natural, as all of us had equal respect for belief and nonbelief. I think many of the members are Deists or Christian Universalists, but they told me that there are several professing atheists in the group, so nonbelief is not a problem. The lady with the British accent said that her husband is what she calls a “Christian Atheist”, that is, he enjoys Christian religion but doesn’t believe. I found that fascinating and cool.

We all went into the room with tables and snacks, and I sat down at a table with three other men. I had some great conversation with them, as we discussed our religious pasts, current beliefs and philosophies, etc. We shared a good deal in common, although we each had our own particular thoughts on whether there was some sort of God (basic Deism) and what that meant, or the nature of reality as a whole. It was nice to have that type of open, respectful dialogue that could never work at an Evangelical church. We hit several topics that never come up at church: atheism, a critical view of theodicy, and a positive appreciation for Eastern religious thought (something I always find fascinating.)

I really enjoyed my experience there, and plan on going again next week. I could see this being a good place for me. Who would’ve guessed? If there is a similar church in your area, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind, and check it out at least once. You never know until you try.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.