Dialogue with Ben

Ben: If I understand you correctly, you may not be able to comprehend why some people would hurt others, but you wouldn’t say that their path in life; their ultimate goal, is any less valid than your own. Have I represented you accurately?
Thomas: Not exactly. I can’t comprehend why people hurt others because I’m not in their skin, soul, whatever and because what I have learned about myself has made hurting others on purpose incomprehensible. I have no way of knowing why others do what they do and don’t see how I can judge them.
Ben: You said that in your worldview, the world should be a place “where everyone accepts everyone”. Why?
Thomas: “Should” is the operative word in that statement. It is not the way the world is, it will not be that in my lifetime and probably never but my view of a perfect world, heaven, if you will, is one in which everyone accepts everyone else. I use the word “accepts” rather than “love” because love is a word that has too much emotion and misunderstanding attached but I am basically talking about Christ’s central message of love for everyone. The reason everyone should accept everyone, other than because it is what Christ wanted, is that to do otherwise is frequently a source of conflict.
Ben: What if butchering another human makes someone happy?
Thomas: Accepting a person as they are does not include accepting certain behaviors.
Ben: Should we judge or encourage a serial killer like Tommy Lynn Sells?
Thomas: Judging his actions is a no-brainer. Putting him away forever or killing him is all fine with me.
Ben: Why should everyone accept everyone?
Thomas: It’s really hard to love someone if you don’t accept them for who they are. Accepting is not condoning or agreeing with; it is “I see you as a person.”
Ben: Why should we love everyone?
Thomas: Maybe you think Satan wrote Matthew 5: 43-48 and Luke 6:27 or are you picking and choosing? But rather than rely on the Bible I’ll give you my own answer from my own life. While trying to follow the advice from your savior, Jesus, I have found that the more successful I am at loving neighbors and enemies the happier I am. Hating Tommy Sells may make you feel better and if that is the case, it is what you should do. Finding it in my heart to love him, while difficult, makes me feel better. Do I love him enough to think he should be running around in society? Hell no.
Ben: Is your worldview morally superior to the worldview of Tommy Lynn Sells?
Thomas: Sells is a character in my life similar to the ghosts in Pac-Man. I have no morally superior worldview
Ben: Do you exist in a worldview of total relativism where anything is right for anyone?
Thomas: I exist in a place where there is only one person I can change and, thus, only one person to judge. Put me on Sell’s jury and I’d judge his actions unacceptable and I wouldn’t care much what happened to his body but I might feel some compassion for his soul (if I was in a dualistic mood). I have no idea what is right for you or for Sells or anyone else.
Ben: Would you appeal to the Bible? But if you do, why reject so much of it while taking just the parts that you like?
Thomas: Gosh, Ben, it seems to me you are rejecting the passages I cited above. Of course I take the parts I like as do you. There is enough contradiction in the Bible to make everyone happy.
As an aside, I’ve done some research into religion and serial killers and haven’t found one that came from an atheist upbringing so I was further amused at Sells statement: “I’ve made my peace with my maker.”

Thinking

I get great pleasure out of thinking. Concentrating on the meaning of life is as satisfying to me as, I presume, it is for a golfer to concentrate on an important putt. I don’t place any greater or lesser importance on my pleasure than on the golfer’s pleasure. I write these thoughts largely for myself though it is quite possible that if I were the only person in the world, I would not bother.
Would I still think if I were alone? One of the things I have found when I am alone is that I frequently think in the past tense. “As I walked up the road toward Mt. Vesuvius from where the bus had dropped me …” I was 27 when I was having that thought in those words while climbing Mt. Vesuvius. I wrote them down in my diary along with the thought “If there was only one person left on earth, and he was I; He would die. Why?”
Why? Because the thought in my head seemed to indicate that I was not climbing through a flowering orchard on a spring day with the cone of Vesuvius ahead of me for my current pleasure but rather for an experience that I could relate to others. Otherwise, why were not my thoughts in the present tense?
Deep breath. “Ahhh. The air is so sweet. God! I love this.” I breathe the air again. I look toward a sound and see a bird. As I emerge from the orchard and start up the cone I can feel my body carrying me upward smoothly. I pause and turn to look out over the bay of Naples. No words in my head about what I am doing. I’m just doing it. No recording necessary.
Would my mind be blank, blank of worded thoughts that is? I shouldn’t think so. The bird might call to mind something I know of birds that could be added to. The fragrance of the air might recall a spring day somewhere in my past. The pull of gravity on my body might bring thoughts of pride at my fitness or a resolve to become more fit. But I’m glad my thoughts weren’t in the present tense. Realizing that brought the philosophical thought, that I was not doing this for myself alone. It is those somehow larger thoughts that I enjoy most, larger and ever so debatable.
There are many things I would not do were there not other people to tell but that is a different thing from thinking. If all other people on the planet suddenly disappeared, would I stop thinking? First I would probably think that was strange. Then I might think it a bit frightening. My life would clearly be different with no one to talk to. I would have to sort out my needs and figure out how to meet them. There would be no one to generate electricity or make matches. How would I cook food? Where would I find food? There would be a lot to think about, at least at first.
At age 27 I thought that I would die if I were the last person on earth. Now, I’m not so sure. Of course I would die eventually but I’m not sure that I would just curl up and die because the only reason for living was to communicate with others. I think I would want to solve the important questions like food and shelter and then I think I would be able to amuse myself with thoughts about the meaning of it all. What was going on? What was I supposed to be doing? The thoughts might not be global or cosmic so much as “What is over the horizon?” “Am I truly alone in the world or are there people that I can find somewhere?” “How did this happen?” Ah, the thoughts seem to progress toward the more philosophical fairly soon.
It is difficult to try to understand thinking before there was language. One model would be animals, I suppose. What does the woodchuck think when it’s nose touches my electric fence for the first time? How do animals learn to be fearful of predators? Are they fearful or merely cautious? What did the early hominid think before language? Can there be thoughts before language?
If I try to think without using words, I think I can have thoughts. Are they thoughts or emotions? Certainly they would be extremely limited absent thoughts from others through written and spoken words. Hunger, shelter, sex are processed through the brain. Those are the “thoughts” I can imagine without words as I sit here half a million or so years later. It was clearly thoughts that brought about the development of tools. It has only been within the past 3,000 years that we have been thinking philosophically. Most of our thought up until then, I suspect, was focused on survival and on improving the quality of life.
What is my dog thinking when she huddles close to me during a thunder storm? What is she thinking when, alone in the house during a thunder storm, she gets into the bathtub? If dogs could communicate about things like thunder, would they exchange ideas on how to cope, try out each others ideas, and come to a general agreement on which strategy worked best?
Before language did hominids wonder what thunder was all about? Did they try to figure out a reason behind it? Once they developed language how did they come to the conclusion that thunder was caused by a god driving his chariot across the sky? As I try to think myself into the skin of people living under those conditions it seems a pretty logical explanation for something that was inexplicable at that time.

Does Satan Exist

Do you think Satan exists? If so, then, yes, Satan exists in your reality. We each live in our own reality and that reality includes our beliefs. If you believe there is a Satan but not a God, then you might want to consider where the notion of Satan came from. The simple answer is that your Satan came from the Bible. Satan is a personification or deification of evil to contrast with the personification or deification of good which, in the Bible, is given the name God. There is really very little information about Satan in the Bible. He has been fleshed out by many authors since which has given the notion of Satan pretty much the image people hold today. The dialogue between Satan and God in the book of Job in the Old Testament is the only place in the Bible where Satan actually appears and is a good place to try to understand the Biblical Satan. The image I suspect you hold of Satan can be found in Paradise Lost by John Milton or in sermons by people who believe they are teaching from the Bible.
I don’t think Satan exists. My thesis that Satan wrote the Bible is for people who believe that God wrote the Bible or caused it to be written, that the Bible is the word of God. If you believe that, you should read what “God” says and does in the Bible. You believe that God gave you your mind; use it. Use it to try to understand the God and the Satan that you believe in. Don’t rely on what others (like preachers, rabbis, popes and the like) tell you about God. Don’t rely on what is said about God in the Bible. Go right to God’s actions and words and I think you will find an image quite different from the one you worship.
Neither Satan nor God wrote the Bible or had influence over the writing of the Bible. The Old Testament was written by men passing on stories that were created in the minds of men (and likely some women) to try to explain creation and the early life of the Jews to explain how they came into being and to lay down some rules of behavior so the species could get along and live good lives. Science has come a long way since then toward explaining creation and how we came into being. That some people reject what we have learned and cling to notions developed over 2,500 years ago is an indication of how powerful teaching beliefs rather than teaching open mindedness and how to think at an early age can be. For those who can use the minds that came with their bodies I suggest looking at the age old questions from a current day perspective.
As for creation scientists have reached back to the big bang which comes from evidence of what the universe is doing today—expanding at in increasingly rapid rate. They don’t know where the material came from that came together and then exploded—still a mystery. If you like the notion that God created the universe, why not have him do it with a clap of his hands, BANG! Or how about the notion that this is a virtual reality much like video games; the creation is this fantastic game that surrounds us wherever we go, whatever we do—it is us. We have been getting ever closer to creating virtual reality; movies, then 3D movies, surround sound, Imax and video games that keep getting closer to reality. Scientists have figured out how to stimulate nerves in amputees to give them feeling in prosthetic limbs. From that it is comprehensible that they will be able to stimulate all our nerves in a virtual experience. For me I’d like that to be a date with Sophia Loren when she was about 22.
Another way to look at this notion is to consider what we know about the makeup of matter. We are made up of atoms that have a nucleus and electrons spinning around them interestingly much like the planets spinning around the sun. These atoms are mostly space. Take out all the space and we would be reduced to a speck of dust. Science has got another thing going on that I don’t understand very well as it is too new for my brain but as I understand it they have now got us or everything reduced to wave lengths. From another reality looking in on us we might be holograms.
Might it not be a good idea to think about how we came into being (actually science has largely answered that one), the purpose (meaning) of life and how best to behave so our species can get along and live good lives with all we know now rather than hanging onto ideas developed before electricity, before computers, before we had any thoughts about a virtual reality?