Periodically I have a pleasant email conversation with Steve, a Christian who rarely goes to church. I like how Steve is willing to consider the blasphemous and ungodly musings posted here.
Interestingly, it was two years ago today that I shared a thoughtful message from Steve in my "Why I'm not a Christian." Since, Steve has been a regular Church of the Churchless visitor.
On New Year's Day he emailed me again. Steve spoke about the lack of change he observes in the content of this blog – both my posts and the comments of other people. I found this intriguing.
Because I both agree and disagree with him.
I expressed my yin and yang reaction to his message in a reply. Which led to Steve…(make a guess) changing.
Cool. I like a guy who walks his own talk. Wish I could be as self-consistent. Anyway, our email conversation follows, mildly edited. My favorite line from Steve: "Maybe the conversation itself is the goal."
Join in, if you like. Has anything you've read here changed your mind about something? Or spurred you to lead your life differently in some way?
(the conversation between Steve and me is fairly lengthy, so I'll make it a continuation to this post)
First message from Steve
Brian, happy new year!
It's been a long time since I've emailed you. Here's a link I ran across today I thought you might find interesting: http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_1.html?#tudge
It's one scientist's understanding and expression of the limitations of science - as powerful as it is.
As much as I've enjoyed visiting Church of the Churchless, I realized I needed to wean myself from it. Here's why: as wide an audience as you have, and as engaging as the topics have been, I saw no change. I finally realized that as much time and thought as I spent considering the ideas and opinions expressed and shared, I saw no benefit; and, whatever responses I made also seemed to benefit no one (if even acknowledged).
Please don't take offense because none is intended. It's certainly not for lack of ingenuity and inquisitiveness on your part. I believe discussion and exchanging views are important but I can't think of a single instance where you, your readers or myself changed their stance due to another's way of looking at things.
Perhaps it's just my hope that discussion will actually yield change or at least bolster tolerance. But I came to the conclusion that nothing of the sort ever transpired. I think it boils down to people really thinking differently and perceiving reality uniquely at a fundamental level.
It may be this: I'm a Christian and my faith has value to me. Just as, I imagine, your commitment to a lack of faith, is valuable - and useful - to you. By confessing my faith I am not including myself in the stereotypical lot of fundie Christians. By the same token, knowing your staunch lack of faith doesn't make me want to lump you with the assertive, acerbic evangelical atheists.
I guess just by composing this email to you I've learned something: even though I'm firm in my faith with supporting personal experiences and reasons for belief, you likewise must have similar reasons to maintain your faithlessness. Even though I have my faith (and actually consider it a gift), I can understand and entertain the possibility that perhaps there is no god and that some people choose this as their foundation. It may be simpler, after all.
The one thing I think you and I can agree upon is the need for humility before the great unknown. As much as our senses - and now science - inform us about the universe, it's vastness, depth and scale, we still know so little. We haven't even stepped out of our stellar nursery.
Another thing that one can't help but encounter in blogs is human nature. No matter what blog you visit, you'll find people who don't read the original topic post but rant on regardless about what they think it may have said.
I saw a post on a blog about the 'Christian-ness' of the White House Christmas card. As a Christian, I saw nothing Christian about it. In fact, the Bible verse it quoted was from the Old Testament (pre-Christ). The word 'Christ' was never used; neither was 'Christmas'. But that didn't stop numerous comments trashing Bush for trying to force religion down peoples' throats at taxpayer expense. Now, I'm not a fan of the man in the White House, nor do I like his policies or his actions, especially while calling himself a Christian, but the responses just showed me how knee-jerk and uninformed our fingers can be.
On your blog, I've noticed there have been a few frequent posters that often short circuited the conversation by directly posting to each other. If there were meaningful exchanges going on that benefited the rest of the readers, great; but if they're using it as a severely delayed and public form of IM [Instant Messaging], with only personal comments, what good is it to me (and your other readers)? At one point, I was tempted to leave the comment: 'get a room!'.
For all the time, consideration and effort you put into your blog, I felt I owed you these sentiments. I admire your resolve and discipline. I encourage you to keep searching and sharing the results of your quest(s). And in truth, I guess continuing the conversation is of the utmost importance because even if (and especially if) we truly are at heart fundamentally different, I'd much rather converse than engage in name calling.
Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, enlightening 2008,
My reply to Steve
Steve, thanks for your thoughtful message. I took a look at the link. I sort of get the author's point, but my reaction is: what's the alternative? And, is science really all that reductionist? I spent two years in a Systems Science Ph.D. program that was anything but. Science has evolved to a greater understanding of how things interrelate, so I think the author was beating on a dead horse, in large part.
I enjoyed your observations about blog life. I don't really agree that people aren't changed by reading blog posts and comments. I know I've been. Just today Edward left a comment to my most recent post that pointed to something I had subtly felt, but hadn't paid much attention to until he talked about it (namely, whether there really is a gap or difference between the physical and spiritual worlds, or matter and mind).
So I'd say that your comments have made a difference. Most people who read anything on the Internet don't comment on it. They visit a while and then move on. Thus it's easy to feel that you, or me, or anyone hasn't touched someone, but clearly this happens. I know from people who occasionally email me and describe how something I wrote affected them.
Yes, the "nyah, nyah" back and forth between some visitors to blogs (including mine) gets tiresome, blogs are like any other place people congregate. Most visitors are pleasant and nice, but there's always a few jerks around. Fortunately, on the Internet another place is just a click away.
Would you be willing to let me share some of your email message in a blog post? You raise some points that I think other people would find as interesting as I did. One, which I want to ponder more, is whether change in a point of view is to be expected. Generally, I believe it is, because nothing is static. But what fundamental aspects of our selves should, or could, stay the same?
I've always been attracted to science. So when I read an article like the one you linked to, I read it but it doesn't have much effect on me. It doesn't change my mind. Yet, why should it? Like you said, you have certain beliefs that are part of your worldview that you're comfortable with. We all do. Those aspects of us are pretty immutable. I don't see this as a negative – just a seeming fact of life.
Steve's reply to me
Thanks for the response. No, I don't mind if you use some of the ideas I shared in my email to you. Just don't give me a public flogging...
More seriously, I asked myself the same question you posed in your reply - why did I expect otherwise? Considering it a bit, I guess it really exposes my hope that discussing these ideas actually is useful and can yield measurable results. (Plus, it doesn't hurt the ego when you convince someone else that one's own viewpoint is the 'right' one...) ;)
What I was left with was this: maybe the conversation itself is the goal. As long as we're conversing, we're being civil, behaving and hopefully, learning. When conversation breaks down or degrades into shouting and name-calling, that's when problems arise.
So, I've adjusted my expectations and resolved to be satisfied with an ongoing conversation. If there is a change in viewpoint, all the better.
By the time I'd finished writing that email to you I was already feeling sheepish about the matter. Instead of stopping my visits to your blog, I should actually be commenting more and participating in the discussion; keeping the exchange alive.
There you go - a quote you can use to hopefully fuel some more discussion and guilt some lurkers into commenting. (Merry Christmas! Santa doesn't work as hard for those who don't believe in him...)
Now, it remains to be seen whether I will practice what I preach. Just to keep you guessing, I'll post under new names... (I don't run a blog, so I don't know if IPs are logged). Disclaimer: Even though I'm a Christian, it's been a long time since I've been to church, so you may not want to hold out much hope.
What I said in my last email holds: I admire your resolve and discipline. It's obvious you put a lot of thought, time and effort into your blog.