Our August 6th service occurred on the anniversary of the devastation of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the first atomic bomb used as a weapon of war. An estimated 70,000 people were immediately killed on that day and a like number within days and weeks of injuries and radiation sickness. A second device was dropped on Nagasaki four days later and by the 15th of the month the Japanese Empire had unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. The world changed on that day. It began living under threat of World War III, about which Albert Einstein said that he did not know how that might unfold but that “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Is violence and especially organized armed violence still an issue with which religions are concerned? It used to be! ("God" commanded it in the Old Testament!) Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there has been less worry about a nuclear war. But now China’s proxy, North Korea, has begun threatening the US with nuclear weapons. What outcomes may be reasonably hoped for in this? And what should the proper attitude be with respect to this renewed threat? Will religious groups weigh in? So far, we have Robert Jeffries, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas saying that “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un” Why doesn’t “God” just “take out” the North Korean tyrant himself?? Meanwhile, China’s goal is obvious: remove American influence from Asia so that China may have its way in the region.
August 6th was also the birthday of Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945, shared with his collaborators Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, for the discovery of penicillin in 1928 and its ultimate world-changing effects when it came into use in 1942. Surely Fleming saved more lives than any “holy prophets” ever did.
August 6th is also the birthday of fantasy-sci-fi author Piers Anthony, now age 82. And Anthony is an agnostic-atheist.
We enjoyed a very brief Moment of Science in connection with the upcoming eclipse on the 21st of the month.
The remainder of the time was taken up with a fascinating talk and Q&A session with Jim Majors. Jim is a former Pentecostal preacher who began his career as a preacher at age 9 in the church founded by his grandfather. This form of Christianity is deeply rooted in, among other things, an extreme idea of biblical inerrancy, that the Bible is infallible and free of any and all errors. Jim related that as he matured and began to want to know more about the Bible he began studying it. To his dismay, he found many contradictions that could not be explained. The "devil" in these "details” is that they fall into a number of categories, some more resistant to “explanation” than others and some that are flat-out impossible. One of these last is that in Matthew the father of Joseph is Jacob and in Luke it is Heli. [Apologists make a complicated and unconvincing argument that the Gospel of Luke is referring to Joseph’s father-in-law.]
Jim read the statement he gave to his Pentecostal congregation when he “outed” himself as no longer believing in “God.” Although he expressed himself honestly and without denigrating the beliefs of his friends, he was ostracized from his church and all evidence of his having any connection to it and even any connection with his family was expunged. When his grandfather died he was not even named among the survivors in the obituary, though all of his other relatives were.
Jim took a number and variety of interesting questions. Among other things, he acknowledged that giving up a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible does not necessarily equate to atheism. Jim said that he investigated other versions of Christianity and a variety of other, non-Christian, religious viewpoints. But by this time he simply saw more benefit and appeal in a rational outlook free of supernaturalism altogether.
Learning about such transitions in which people find their way out of supernaturalism is endlessly fascinating. It is almost always a slow process and happens differently for different people. And some do slip back into less “fundamentalist” versions of supernaturalism if they began from extreme fundamentalism just as some begin in "liberal" religious traditions and become enamored of rigid doctrines.
What is tremendous about Freethought is that, once one finds one’s way out of supernaturalism, or if one has been so lucky as to have been raised from the beginning with a rational outlook, one’s journey through life and efforts to make sense of and discover its meaning is an ongoing adventure. The “conversion” or “Eureka” experience of feeling that one has achieved a new understanding or “enlightenment” is something that Freethinkers can have again and again. This has been said many times in many different ways:
“To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
“The journey is the reward.” – Taoist saying
A similar thought is expressed in Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “man in the arena” passage from his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech in 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
What do you think about these things?
Postings about each monthly service includes topics discussed and an open forum to further discuss those topics.
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