Wednesday, February 10, 2010

how to become an atheist in 3 easy steps part 1

Hi, Loren Hopkins, post post Mormon, recovering slacker, all around stand up guy. Walk with me now, as we journey down the perilous path that leads to eternal damnation or as I like to call it emancipation...

THE EARLY YEARS (or my Blue Period)

I, Loren, having been born blah blah,

It began innocently, as most lives do, in the largest city of the most insignificant country, at bottom of the world. The land of the long white cloud, New Zealand, home to the All Blacks, a disproportionate number of the planets sheep population, and a boy who didn't know any better.

I was a quiet child given to bouts of deep introspection, that's how I like to remember it, but in truth I was absent minded and when my attention was diverted from present concerns it found itself focused on nothing in particular. The halcyon days of youth as they say. My later experiments with meditation can no doubt be traced back to those empty headed excursions of my early years.

Time marched on and though I felt out of step with its beat I had little choice but to keep formation. The journey was all do this's and don't do that's. Along the way I was introduced to religion. Nice to make your acquaintance. I had a natural affinity for Mormonism and gravitated toward its monolithic pull. I devoured the doctrine and stories far more rapidly than many of my peers. I thought that I was gifted (which encouraged me to keep learning), but later realized I just happened to grow up around an unusually large amount of unusually slow people.


OK lets get to the juicy bits, I was a mostly a good mormon boy and ate up absolutely everything I was taught. Ticked all the boxes too: priesthood holder, seminary graduate, endowment recipient, return missionary, multiple callings hog, married in the temple. The last one didn't actually happen. I was well on my way to 3rd degree celestial burns until one day while bored at work I stumbled upon Mormon Stories. Game over. 9 to 5 free internet access can be a dangerous thing.

Mormon Stories (not the type of stories that my teachers told to me bom, bom) was intended to help people struggling with difficult issues relating to the church. It had the opposite effect with me. Poor John, I'm sure in my own small way I contributed to the shutting down of the entire enterprise. Thankfully he's back now, doing what he does best. After smashing through the complete catalogue, I just had to write him (circa August 2008):

Dear John,
I've always wanted to start a letter that way. I discovered your podcast about a month ago and have just about listened to every last show. You know how Cypher (in the Matrix) says that ignorance is bliss, I think I should have taken the blue pill. The unfortunate thing is when they let you out of Plato's cave there's no way you're ever getting back in again. I was a good faithful member, had been a missionary, a Young Men's President, an Elders Quorum president. My only major "failing" so far is that I'm not married in the temple yet. You must be so sick of emails like this.

Well, about one month ago I wouldn't have questioned the truthfulness of the church even one iota. I've got to say a lot can change in one month. Now, many of the issue's which you raised I encountered in some form or another on my mission, but I dismissed many of them as half truths and lies cooked up by enemies of the church. When they come from people in the church I tend to pay a little more attention. Brigham Young made a prophetic career out of making offensive and questionable statements, I'd made peace with those long ago. But to see the fall from grace of my golden boy, the man, The Prophet, Joseph that was almost too much. I literally cried myself to sleep when I found out about polyandry and the angel with the flaming sword, did he just make this whole thing up? Then all the other wonderful details piled on, the seer stones in a hat, treasure hunting, selling the Book of Mormon copyright, the book of Abraham, DNA. Where have I been my whole life? It was weird, then I started thinking about other things that don't quite jive with my Mormon world view, evolution and the fall of man? Before this I was happy to let things like that slide. Well, "Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more, sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded" (I've seen the Dark Knight way too many times); I can understand the dilemma in some sense of what the Brethren experience.

As I've actually entertained the idea that there might not be a God at all, that this is all there is, I've started to be a lot nicer, strange. In saying all this I have a feeling that God is real, that there was something that Joseph Smith experienced with Him and that's the only reason I'm sticking around. I want to be a TBM again, I want to know it all and believe anyway. In the end "the truth cuts its own way." Thank you John for the truth, hopefully "I can take it."
Much Love,

Two Dark Knight references in one email. Not bad. TBC


Hypatia said...

I really enjoyed reading the letter. How long after writing it did you realize you were an atheist?

Hypatia said...

Sorry if I'm getting ahead of you telling the story. hahahahaha :)

Justin said...

OK... I thought splashed around in this stuff for a while. Maybe I missed something... can you tell me the one about the cheribum and flamming sword?

Loren said...

Hi Hypatia,

no worries, we all know how it ends anyway (happily). Would you believe it took me a year, I guess I shouldn't tease other people about being slow.

Hi Justin,

maybe you did. Here's a nice round up of my issues with the church
and the angel thing, it was actually just a normal sword sans the fire (I was misinformed when I wrote the letter). So dodgy.

Justin said...

One year sounds very quick.

Well from what I see it turns out I've already taken the 'red pill' back in 2002. Funny how two people came get two different conclusions isn't it?

Interestingly it was the testimonies of your own family members that helped keep me going to church and looking for answers. That really impressed me.

I'd like to talk about the Book of Mormon... when we get around to it eh.

Loren said...

hilarious, yep it's the weirdest thing in the world that people can interpret the same facts so differently. i can see reasons why people would continue to believe the church is what it claims to be, i just think they should do so after examining the evidence. my family has a general idea of where i stand, some of them are cool with it and some of them not.

Andrew S said...

Will be interested to see future posts.

I, for one, don't think it's all that weird for people to look at similar data and come across with different conclusions. Since people have different ways of approaching and interpreting information, it's easy to see how the same event -- told in exactly the same way -- can inspire a, "Oh that's really bad!" reaction in one person and not even faze another.

Loren said...

I admit to being a victim of doublethink. I have an absurdist streak painted over a hyper-rational backdrop. It's just weird to me how we can agree on what truth means in principle, yet our choices as to what best represents the concept can vary widely. Very widely.

On the other hand I should have expected as much, with the mad, mad world that we're living in, but having an expectation of irrational occurrences/tendencies may require a rational mindset. It's an infinite loop of loopiness.

Once again existentialism may present the most serviceable way to proceed through the madness (in spite of my reservations about some of its consequences)

Andrew S said...

Well, for your sake, I think rationalism is vastly overrated and absurdism is a-ok. The whole "difference in practice" is critical to me, in my opinion.

I'd be interested to hear about some of your "reservations" to the consequences of existentialism. I'd be willing to bet (but I'm not a betting man) that these "consequences" can already be seen in life, but we often want to explain them away instead of accepting them.

Loren said...

I agree as far as philosophies go, existentialism is probably best practice.

We've touched on the difficulties I have in your Authenticity & Atrocity post. Free speech requires that we defend the indefensible sometimes, existential requires that we go further and defend not only what an individual says, but does (no matter how reprehensible). That's the price of freedom I guess.

Andrew S said...

Loren, that isn't the case at all, and that is not the conclusion I thought we had come to after my post. Existentialism, and even moral relativism, doesn't require that we stay inert.

I think my final paragraph really captures the divide:

Ultimately, I have to side with authenticity. No matter how drastic the consequences. No matter how socially unpopular (or villainous) that makes me seem. If there is a god, and he wills that nonbelief is something that merits eternal hellfire, then I still have to side with authenticity. If it is a choice between annihilating myself and letting whoever the power that is try to annihilate me, then I say: try and catch me!

I have bolded the particularly relevant parts.

The bolding of "I" points out the individual role. The individual should seek authenticity, because the other choice is internal suicide. HOWEVER, others, in their pursuits of authenticity, need not acquiesce to the individual's pursuit of authenticity. If the two diverge, the individual becomes an outlaw while the others "catch him if they can."

And, as I predicted, I think this is CURRENTLY the case. This system can CURRENTLY be seen in life. The reason why have so-called criminals is precisely because there are individuals who seek their authenticity (though it is tragically divorced from the spirit of the times). The reason we have policemen is NOT because there is an objective morality or because existentialism is unpalatable for "real life." Rather, it is because others in society are ALSO seeking their authenticity, and through a game of numbers they are asserting their reach
on the minority.

Got any other reservations?

Andrew S said...

I'd probably make a slight of humility.

The difference between the existentialist policemen and the non-existentialist policemen, IMO, are few -- when you consider it from a standpoint of ACTIONS. Both will try and catch the "bad guys."

I think the difference is in ATTITUDE and BELIEF. While the two have "bad guys" that they seek to "catch," the non-existentialist police man believes the laws that defines outlaws and bad guys is set in stone in the universe. The existentialist policeman, on the other hand, is open to recognize that his position is subjectively projected. Rather than having a "divine" or "universal" right, he is being imperialistic with his beliefs.

In some cases, we justify the imperialism (e.g., the "crime" is deemed to be so terrible that we want to extinguish the criminal.) But in some cases, the sense of imperialism offends us so much that we become more humble about our own views, and willing to accept that *we* are causing harm with them.

This distinction in attitude is something you might find objectionable. After all, it's easier to live life believing that your way of living is sanctioned by the universe that to believe that your way of living is simply your way of living.

Loren said...

I think I see what you're saying now. (and this is only part of it) When opposing wills collide, neither party need acquiesce to the other. There are 6 billion authenticities in circulation, that interact in interesting ways. None of which are inherently right or wrong. They're either authentic or not.

Let me put my stance this way. I can see how existentialism is being played out all the time in society. I am one of the players. I realize that the only meaning that happens in my life is due to a creative act on my part (using the tools that society has given me: language, culture etc.). I realize that their is probably not an objective measure of morality, but for me it feels right, so that's what I roll with.

As for reservations, I've definitely got gaps to fill, but my questions aren't exactly and impediment to my acceptance of the philosophy. I want to get deeper into how the social plays off against the individual, within the framework of existentialism, but I need some time to think about it.

Loren said...

I probably should have put inverted commas around "authenticities" in that first paragraph. Some are more authentic than others.

Andrew S said...


When opposing wills collide, neither party need acquiesce to the other. There are 6 billion authenticities in circulation, that interact in interesting ways.

Well, the thing is that each party tries to project its authenticity on the other with varying levels of success. Experience in the church can tell you that -- the church projects its authenticity onto all of its members, but it doesn't present it as just one of presents it as the "one true" system.

That's why I'm cautious. Even if I feel like some things are just *objectively* bad or *objectively* good, I don't want to put others in the same situation I was in the church...or at least, when I do, I want to take responsibility for it instead of passing the buck to an invisible god.

Justin said...

Loren, I a good place to start on the Book of Mormon thing is with the witnesses, (later we can go through the translation process and then the book itself). Maybe you can make a start with the next post/thread?

Whatever communication medium you wanna use is fine.