Thursday, June 28, 2007

If I die, you could...

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Fraser

Today I finished my second day helping out at Fraser, a school for children with special needs. Even though I don't get paid for this, it is an amazing opportunity. Since I someday want to develop my own method of alternative communication for non vocal children, I couldn't ask for more than to placed in a classroom where children are using AACs. I work with twelve three to four year olds who don't use vocal communication, either because of a developmental delay, or by choice. I love working with these kids. It is my favorite part of the day, outranking sleeping in. Though I usually use my Blog to vent, life is good. Writing about all the little small things that I experience everyday that make me happy doesn't make for interesting blog material, but my work here is something I'll be writing a lot more about. This really makes me realize I chose the right path of study. I never knew how attached I could become to these kids or how rewarding it is to just hear them say one word.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Meet your friendly neighborhood atheists


After a breakfast with Minnesota Atheists, Natalie Zett interviewed a handful of members of Minnesota Atheists. You can read the article here. I liked this part, which is a quote from Cynthia Egli:

“There are a lot of very decent religious people, and many share some of our perspective,” she said. “They also want to keep religion out of government. We want civil rights for everybody. We want women to have rights and GLBT people to have rights. A lot of churches are the same way. We’re trying to make connections with other people who have similar perspectives. We don’t believe that you have to be a religionist to be moral, decent and ethical.”

This is what shocks some of the Mormons we talk to, that we have similar ethics. There is a bias that atheists can't lead moral lives. But, unlike some Mormons, I don't believe homosexuality is a sin, or can be cured like a disease.

Gay Pride 2007

This afternoon I manned the Minnesota Atheist booth at Gay Pride at Loring Park in Minneapolis. Over all, it was a very positive time. Atheism is enjoying an up tick in interest, partially due to recent books, and partially due to religious fanaticism. The most common question from passers by was, "Why would atheists support gay rights?" The answer is, "Atheists support equality and human rights."

If you feel up to it, you can spot me in the parade tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Elongated pennies

Thanks to the trip to Chicago, I've developed a new habit. We stopped at the Belviere Travel Oasis to get gas, play a crane game, which I won, and left the penguin prize on the machine. A girl picked it up before we left, which was good, neither of us need a penguin doll. Anyway, I saw a penny souvenir machine, which squishes a penny, imprinting a picture onto the metal. Jeannette picked a Earnest Hemingway design. I've since squished a penny at the planetarium, aquarium, Wisconsin Dells, and at the Twins Pro Shop in Roseville.

Chicago Sunday

  • 8:00 AM - Wake up bright and early, to the sounds of planes taking off from the busy airport next door.
  • 9:45 AM - Arrive at Adler Planetarium, geek out over space things.
  • 10:30 AM - See Our Night Sky, a show designed to teach you how to find your location on Earth, as well as where certain stars are.
  • 11:30 AM - See Egyptian Nights, a show about how the Egyptian mythology was formed from star gazing, similar to astrology.
  • 2:30 PM - Enter the Shedd Aquarium, after waiting in line for 40 minutes, and eating a Chicago Dog.
  • 4:00 PM - See the last dolphin show. Exploitation of animals? I don't know, have the dolphins formed a union yet?
  • 6:30 PM - Check out of Chicago, and rush home.
  • 11:00 PM - Stop in Wisconsin Dells, because water parks are fun, but drunk Wisconsinites are more fun, plus there is fudge.
  • 1:30 AM- Fall asleep by a gas station. Obviously the energy drinks didn't work.
  • 3:00 AM - Fall asleep again.
  • 4:30 AM - Arrive at home, pet the cats, go to sleep.
  • 10:00 AM - Back to work.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Chicago

Jeannette and I had a great time in Chicago over the last weekend. It was cheap and quick, but exhausting. Here's a brief timeline:

Saturday
  • Wake up at 4:00 AM
  • Go to Mickey's Diner at 5:00 AM
  • Leave for Chicago at 6:00 AM
  • Find out the tolls are less numerous, but more expensive in Illinois. $1.60, $1.20, $0.80, $1.00, when they used to be $0.35. 11:30 AM
  • Follow my GPS instructions to the Lakeshore Theater through Wrigley Field before a Cubs game, past half a dozen Walgreens, then to the theater, located in the most prideful neighborhood I've seen. 1:30 PM
  • Jeannette needs to use the bathroom, so we try Bed Bath and Beyond, no dice, try Marshals, no luck, try PetSmart, the doors are keycoded, and the sales staff wants you to buy something before you get to use the 'privilege.' 1:45 PM
  • Take a stroll out to the lake, it starts pouring like mad, Jeannette and I hide out under a tree until it clears, then rains again. Jeannette looks miserable, and my infusion set has become undone. We have to head back to the car. 2:15 PM
  • Get back to the car, Jeannette changes pants, I've dried off enough, and fixed my insulin pump situation. We're off to see Julia Sweeney in "Letting go of God." 3:05 PM
  • No crowd at the theater, the show has started, we are late. 3:15 PM
  • The show finishes, it was really nice to see, and we walk back to the car in the rain. 5:45 PM
  • We're off to Orland Park, IL to see Hemant Mehta, author of "I Sold My Soul on eBay." 6:00 PM
  • Jeannette and I are both soaked. We walk into the bookstore fifteen minutes late. The book signing hasn't even happened yet, Hemant is chatting with a few 'groupies' who are waiting for the signing to start. 7:15 PM
  • We get to chat with Hemant, snap a quick picture, get a book, buy pajamas, look at the tigerdirect.com outlet, then head off to find an Indian restaurant Hemant recommended. 8:15 PM
  • My GPS is a great tool, but horrible sometimes. After driving around the suburban Chicago area, we end up right by O'Hare. We give up finding a good Indian place, and will settle on room service. 9:15 PM
  • I forget which hotel we are staying at. Is it the Hilton, or Hyatt? I guess Hilton, punch it into the GPS, end up in the middle of a bridge, rather then at the hotel. Then I remember the Hilton is in O'Hare. We drive around twice, and settle on parking the car, just to walk in to see if we have reservations or not. The GPS happens to have the phone number for the Hilton, even if the directions are a bit fuzzy, so I call them, only to find out we're at the Hyatt. 9:45 PM
  • Jeannette and I have been soaked twice, haven't had food, and are cranky. We get into the hotel, and are surrounded by muscled men and women. There is some sort of body building conference going on. 10:30 PM
  • We order cake and a pizza, watch a show about how possible things are in Star Wars, then get to sleep. 11:30 PM

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Word to Bicyclists

There is a new trend among bicyclists called "crushing" where a group of bikers get together and hog the street to prove that the road needs to be shared. Bjorn and I saw a bunch of obnoxious thirty somethings in their underwear blocking a crowded road in uptown. Not only was this rude and inconsiderate but hypocritical. I agree that motorists need to treat bikers with respect because they are doing the eco-friendly thing, but only when the bikers follow the rules they need to. The majority of the bikers I see do not follow common rules, as if they are above it. It is a rarity to see a biker stop at a stop sign or red light, unless they need to ( and I live in a biker heavy area). If you want to share the road, put headlights on your bike. Wear a damn helmet. Be considerate. Don't back up traffic. If you want to share the road be an adult and follow the rules, or you deserve to get hit.

Finally!

Jeannette and I have been to four Twins games this year, the latest before last night was on Friday. That was embarrassing. Feeling that the Braves would be weak, I bout two tickets for the game last night, and we lucked out. Silva got lucky. If the Twins defense hadn't been as sharp, the game would have been much closer, and many times Silva almost lost his shut out. But, the Twins offense stepped it up, took advantage, and created good momentum early on. Everything died off after the fourth inning, but we still had a good time.

After the game, Jeannette and I started walking home. It's a good tradition, and good exercise. We stopped by the Newsroom Restaurant and Bar for a drink and some food. I had an excellent burger which I can't remember because of a drink I ordered called the Shipwreck. I know the burger was excellent, with jalapeƱos and provolone cheese, but as far as being able to savor it, that was out of the question.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Me, and Ex-Mormons on MTN

Last night, I was on a panel about Mormons for a show called Humanist Views. There was a host, me, and two ex-Mormons. My title for the show was Mormonologist, which I thought was silly, as one could spend a whole life studying Mormonism, and you'd never get it all. Blast modern revelation! Plus, I've only covered the beginning of the Book of Mormon, haven't touched the Pearls of Great Price, or the Doctrine and Covenants. But, I have had a chance to dialog with Mormons over the past two months, which has been invaluable. A historian can look back on words which were written, and judge a people, but reality lays in dialog with people.

I am skeptical of the history which is presented by Mormonism. I don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but I also don't know why he did what he did. Maybe it was a power, control issue, maybe he thought it was a good way to make money. Maybe he really believed what he preached. While I don't believe Indians are descendants from a family from Israel, who came to America in 590 BCE, I do like some of the messages from Mormonism. The call to moderation, messages about equality, reluctance to fight war, are all positive. While these messages appear in Mormonism, they are practiced differently, and often reiterated each Sunday, because passions can drive you to intolerance, addiction, or violence. While I'm not going to become a teetotaler, I do think moderation, for lots of things, is good. It can keep you balanced.

I have no idea when the show will be on, but it'll be on MTN, so you can only watch it in Minneapolis.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Answers to Mormons

For almost a month now we have been meeting with Mormons, and have had the opportunity to question them on their faith. The time came when they asked us about ours. I can't speak for Bjorn, but here are my answers.

Q: Are you actively looking for God in your life?
A:I am always open to the idea of finding God. There was a time in my life when I considered myself Christian. It was when I was in confirmation, and started asking questions, and not receiving answers to these questions that my faith started to stray. Upon entering college I took a course that forced me to look historically at Christianity, and my rationality kicked in. At first it felt empty to not have this outlook. Honestly things would be a lot easier to think there was a God to take care of my family and I after death. However I can't let transcendental temptation, or the belief in God to make up for fear of no afterlife, be my motivation. When, or if I chose to devote my faith to anything, I don't want it to be out of fear. I want it to be genuine.

Q: Do Bjorn and I pray together?
A: No. We have attempted to pray separately, and have achieved the same sense of nothingness. To us it is like talking to ourselves. In the movie "The Ruling Class", the main character, played by Peter O Toole, believes he is Jesus. When asked why he thinks so, he replies "When I pray it feels as if I'm talking to myself". When we pray, now and in the past nothing is felt. Maybe we are incapable of feeling or believing. I'm trying. I'm not intentionally keeping myself hard of heart. The sense of contentment simply has yet to come from this spiritual exercise.

Q: What would it take to believe in Mormonism?
A: Honestly a lot. But for me it would take a lot to believe in any religion. I've always said watching an amputated limb grow back by the grace of God, in front of my eyes would do the trick. Or seeing the rapture. That would loosen my neck real quick.

In short, the point that Bjorn and I want to get across is that we did not chose to be atheist. However, it is the only thing that makes sense to us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Answers from Mormons, Part 2

We were fortunate to have dinner with a Mormon couple who live near by. As is our tradition, we grilled them on the specifics in the Book of Mormon.

6:18 And I will feed them that oppress thee, with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Again, is this literal? Why would God make people eat themselves, and drink their own blood just so they would believe in him?

A: This is allegory, referring to inequity which will destroy the wealthy or selfish.
This does make more sense to me then a God so wicked to make unbelievers drink their own blood.



8:9 Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?

Was God asleep for some time? Why would God need to convince people to action by reminding them that he was the one that cut Rahab, the sea monster into pieces, and he was the one who wounded a dragon? Why couldn't he just say, it's me, God, creator of everything?

A: God needs to remind people, from time to time, of what God has done before, because people forget to be grateful, so God will remind them of why they should be obedient.
While the interpretation may be valid, it still sounds like a jealous God, or is angry that people forgot that he was the one who cut up that sea monster, remember? Guys? Can't you give me a little sacrifice at the temple? Come on guys, I did wound that dragon, remember?

9:16 And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire; prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.

Is this allegory? How can there be a fire which has no end? How is one considered 'filthy?'

A: The way the Mormons described this passage, was that it had to be a strong warning against doing wrong. If you die, and are righteous, you kind of stay that way in the afterlife, but if you die wicked, you get stuck that way too.
While the Mormons I have spoke with haven't used fear as a reason to become Mormon, this passage certainly warns against being outside of the church.

9:19 O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

This seems to contradict the current view of the afterlife by the Mormons, who don't preach fire and brimstone, just stagnation and regret.

A: This is referring to the end times, not the afterlife, which even hell, according to Joseph Smith, he imagined being a "delightsome place."
While the Mormon afterlife isn't fire and brimstone, the fire is still waiting, but just until then end times.

10:2 For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.

Is God killing unbelieving children?

A: This refers to children of God, not literal children. It could be said that without belief in God and Jesus, you physically die, but anyone who believes doesn't "perish in the flesh."
This depicts another benefit of believing in the Book of Mormon.

10:3 Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ -- for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name -- should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him -- for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.

Why are the Jews depicted as wicked Christ killers? Does this view hold today with Mormons?

A: Mormons are a part of the House of Israel, so there would be no reason to be anti-semitic.

10:6 Wherefore, because of their iniquities, destructions, famines, pestilences, and bloodshed shall come upon them; and they who shall not be destroyed shall be scattered among all nations.

This seems to be foretelling the Diaspora, but why couldn't God kill all of the Jews if they were wicked?

A: Maybe the Jews served as a witness to the power, and mercy of God?

10:16 Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.

This seems like strong language to assert that you are either for Mormonism, or against God. Has this been reconciled within the church, or do Mormons still hold this belief?

A: Mormons believe that the Mormon church holds all of the answers to salvation.

Why does Joseph Smith include 18 chapters of Isaiah in 2 Nephi? I thought the Nephites already had the words of Isaiah?

A: Maybe God wanted emphasis of Isaiah.

26:4 Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.

Is this allegory, or are proud, wicked people going to literally be burned as stubble?

A: Allegory.

26:5 And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder.

A: The Mormons we talked to believed this was literal.

26:6 And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.

Is this literal, or another warning not to kill the prophets, or saints?

A: Allegory.

26:15 After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them; and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten.

26:19 And it shall come to pass, that those who have dwindled in unbelief shall be smitten by the hand of the Gentiles.

Is this a warning against doubting God, is it such a sin to question that just to dwindle in unbelief is cause to be smitten?

A: There wasn't a clear answer to this. You should be free to question your faith, and are not doomed for doubting.

26:21 And there are many churches built up which cause envyings, and strifes, and malice.

Does this refer to any non-LDS church?

A: Yes.

26:33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

This verse speaks of equality, no one is restricted from partaking of God's goodness. Has this been used to support equality within the LDS church?

A: This passage was referenced to support the priesthood for Blacks, so yes, this statement would support equality within the church.