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.
I have to admit that I am addicted to this blog now. I read it literally three to five times a day. I consider myself both intellectually inclined, and drawn to spiritual ways of being, which can be a combination that some people (ehem my wife) feel makes me talk tirelessly, to her chagrin, about death, life after death, karma, etc. I am thinking of your post about thinking too much, or not, depending on how you look at it.
What I appreciate about your postings is your honesty and your willingness to process a lot of your doubts publicly. For me this can be at best healing, as it's always good to know I'm not alone in these thoughts, especially when our culture is so sad these days.
Posted by: Komposer | January 05, 2008 at 03:13 AM
I disagree with Steve that people are not influenced or changed by comments and posts on this blog and others.
Sometimes someone writes something and I go, "Right on !". It has helped to clarify or add a new perspective to something for me. I may not comment, but the insight or information is appreciated.
I have actually been influenced in important ways by web posts and the writer never knew it.
I imagine others would say the same.
Posted by: Tucson | January 05, 2008 at 11:30 AM
Steve said: "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."
-- I thought about all this for a day or so, and then I realized that I definitely don't agree with Steve's artificial moral imposition of (as he said) "being civil, behaving", or of not "shouting and name-calling", or that "that's when problems arise". I don't think those are "problems" at all. And I didn't come here to be Churched - ie: to be told what and HOW I should and shouldn't communicate. Sorry, but that kind of suppression and stifling is definitely not for me. And thats also why I tend not to dig phony christians like Steve. (The supposed) Jesus never said or imposed any sort of "being civil, behaving", or not to be "shouting and name-calling". If I wanted or needed to be told how to be "behaving", then I'd go to a church for the churchfull, not a "church of the churchless".
Brian you said: "Most visitors are pleasant and nice, but there's always a few jerks around."
-- But "jerks" come in ALL flavors. So I am of the opinion that its much better to be right up-front and nitty-gritty with folks, than it is to "behave" and to hide behind pseudo-niceites. If that means being a "jerk" and I'm a jerk, then so be it imo. If others can be jerks (and they most definitely have been), then I can be a jerk too. So I don't buy the attitude that some people (like Steve) have that others should or must "behave", or communicate in a certain way or a pleasant "civil" manner. I say "let it all hang out". But I guess you and your buddy Steve don't agree. This is your blog and thats your choice.
Anyway Brian, I got the over-all, or should I say underlying, message.
I would also like to mention that I have benefited in some ways by being here, but I don't necessarily agree with Steve that anyone need or should or must "change". That's more of an expectation that self-righteous religious folks seem to want to impose upon others. I myself think a forum like this is much more just about a SHARING (or debating) of different viewpoints, information, insights, and what not, rather than having to change someone else or of becoming "changed".
In closing, I would like to say that it was really good here (while it lasted) here at the Churchless.... that is until this last time around when it got just a little bit too churchy for me.
And now I will leave you all to have a 'nice pleasant civil and behaved' blog forum. Enjoy.
But that kind of thing rather nauseates me... ...So this will be my very last comment, and now I'll have to BRIGHTLY say.... Adios amigos!
Posted by: tAo | January 05, 2008 at 03:23 PM
tAo, I agree that sometimes it's good to speak plainly and bluntly. But here's the thing: anyone who espouses plainness and bluntness has to understand that this is a two-way street.
I mean, if you feel that you can say whatever you want to me, then you should also feel that I can say whatever I want to you.
If we can do that, then open communication occurs. But it has to be two-way. The messages have to be both given and received.
Steve shared his views with me. Personally, like him I prefer a fairly civil and restrained way of communicating on the Internet. However, I realize that some people prefer a different style. That's fine.
Those who want more openness, though, need to be open to other views. I'm a bit surprised that you reacted so strongly to this post. Steve expressed how he felt. I reacted to his message with how I felt.
Initially Steve didn't want to keep commenting on this blog. Then he changed his mind. He might change it again. I liked, though, that he recognized that keeping communicating is the key -- not shutting ideas down because they aren't agreed with.
I spend a lot of time in my car listening to conservative talk radio. I disagree with about everything I hear. But I like to expose myself to different views, in part to "know my enemy."
I hope you'll continue to express your own views here. In any way you want to. Just expect that others are able to express their views about your views, and how you state them.
Having written some books, I know what reviews are like. People criticize both what you say and how you say it. If I can't take that criticism, I shouldn't be writing for public consumption.
Blogs are much the same. Anyone who writes a post or a comment has to understand that criticism comes with the writing. That feedback is what it is: it can be agreed with or disagreed with.
But I don't believe that it should be ignored.
Posted by: Brian | January 05, 2008 at 03:47 PM
I pretty much agree with what Brian said above, except for the part about conservative talk radio which I find myself agreeing with more often than not, depending on the host. Dennis Miller often makes sense although I'm not as well-versed in cultural and literary nuance as he is, so many of his subtle analogies and metaphors go over my head.
Personally, I enjoy the clarity of what you say. There is never any doubt about how you feel about an issue or what you are trying to say. Hopefully, you will continue to comment here. Some are offended by your style, but that's their problem and you shouldn't take it too much to heart, keeping in mind that if you dish it out you're going to have to take it sometimes too.
Posted by: Tucson | January 05, 2008 at 05:35 PM
Reading and writing is more or less ''walking'' together now and then and that is nice.
Posted by: Sita | January 05, 2008 at 05:52 PM
It is difficult for me to imagine that Steve's words can be so important that you may opt to stay away from the blog. Only bitter pills of yours have helped me get rid of my many ailments. Whatever I have not liked in your comments I have always pointed out and in the next post you have always put the things straight.
I hope you will continue to add your comments and links in the blog.
with kindest regards,
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | January 06, 2008 at 03:02 AM
from the day I began visiting this blog, I have seen you rip into people over and over again, presumably with the notion that direct honesty and confrontation are more healthy in the long run than polite, placating, untruth. Fine. But now what you are doing is what children call "taking your toys and going home."
Why do you think that this post was directed at you? You say that "you get the underlying message." I think it has nothing to do with you and that this is an overpersonalized interpretation.
I have come to enjoy your comments, but if you're gonna dish it out, you got to be able to take it tAo, and this is a case where no one's even dishing it to you.
Posted by: Komposer | January 07, 2008 at 02:21 AM
I have felt the way Steve has, reading the posts and comments and thinking, "this again?" wondering if things will change. (I'm looking at you, Edward.)
I can also identify with what tAo reports in this post: "if you don't like what I have to say, I can just as well say it somewhere else."
They just don't make soul-crushing self examination the way they used to...
Posted by: Edward | January 07, 2008 at 12:11 PM
Brian, and all of you Churchless visitors who disagreed with my initial thoughts: I stand corrected.
And, frankly, I'm glad. I would much rather know that these conversations actually are read, thought about and perhaps even change minds from time to time. The comments on this post changed mine. But no one drove home the point as demonstratively (and unexplicably) as tAo.
I'm assuming most of the readers of this post understood what I meant when I said 'being civil' and 'behaving'; but to be clear, I meant a loose set of conventions shared among those taking part in the conversation; mutual respect, if you will. Not any imposition of moral principles and certainly not anything specifically Christian. This is Brian's place, after all...
Brian has done a great job of posing fresh, provocative questions that people of various faiths (or no faith) can discuss and mutually mull over. It's an engaging and worthwhile enterprise.
Sita, thanks for your thoughtful (and thought provoking) comment.
Posted by: Steve | January 07, 2008 at 03:23 PM