Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hello all. Happy holidays. I am up in Spokane for the next week or so. And I haven't posted a blog recently because I just love the discussion that's happening in the comments section of my blog and I don't want to interrupt.

SO... the forum is here! It's here! It's here! Please click on the forum link at the right (in my list of links) to get to it. Or go here: Julia's Forum. For the time being I won't be posting on my blog and will probably just post only on the forum. I think this will keep things going in a much more straighforward and open-discussion-oriented way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Okay. This is why eye-witnesses are so unreliable. I watched my appearance on Craig Ferguson, thanks to One Good, and it’s startling to me. My version of my appearance is disputed by the undeniable evidence that I saw. I didn’t get a big laugh off of not being “sure” there was no God. I think the comedienne in me just relaxes after I get a quasi-laugh, and that was the quasi-laugh that relaxed me, so in my mind it was a big laugh. So, that realization is kind of embarrassing. But on the other hand, I thought I didn’t mangle things like I thought I did. In any case, I think I did okay and thanks for the notes of support.

I really don’t want to be one of those needy girly-actresses who says she thinks she sucks while her eyebrows raise, waiting for others to chime in and say she didn’t suck at all. Oh, I hate that kind of person so much and that is what I feel I did with my blog entry, to a certain extent. In any case – yes! The appearance. And I did sell a bunch of Cds so that is good. (Thanks if you are one of those people!) I am trying to wait to put the Cd on Amazon until AT LEAST after Christmas. So, this publicity is good in that I am making my money back towards the initial investment of the Cds before Amazon has it and my profit goes down to almost zip. Amazon – amazing how they do business. But that’s another story.

I was wishing I had said something about eye-witnesses to Craig Ferguson when he said the thing about people having experiences with "purple dragons" that make them know they are real. Because right there, that is one of the most startling and unsettling things I learned in my journey away from God. I didn't realize how completely unreliable personal experience was in terms of verifying facts and relying on it for real hard information. All those religious experiences that people have had, that convinced them there is a God, that started religions and so forth -- all personal experience and memory, all highly faulty! It might seem like it's obvious to the people reading my blog, but just this little thing to me -- made everything different. This alone turned me into a skeptic. Visions, feelings, memory -- emotionally important, sure. But reliable as truth? Not really. Not really at all.

OH. I am just about decided on the type of forum that I am going to put up. This, I hope, will happen very soon. I mean – all those forums look almost identical to me, but I have to have a certain type of one that goes with the language that my website uses. Talking to people about this is like me in a foreign country where I know exactly ten words and I just keep using them over and over and nodding my head vigorously like I know what people are saying when really I only get a very general idea.

I loved people’s posts from yesterday. I really loved the person who wrote with all the reasons I should send my daughter to a religious school. I agree with everything she said! And it was really funny too.

But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Mulan is in a really great public school and unless I move to Spokane while she is in school, the chance is incredibly small that she would go. I think I couldn’t do it, anyway, if it really came down to it. On the other hand, I really want Mulan to know religion. I want her to know about St. Paul and Abraham and have some idea of why those stories have such impact. I think I will have to start my own Sunday school teaching it all my way! Ha.

My grandmother had this beautiful rosary – it’s large, like maybe three or four feet long, with huge wooden carved beads. It was always hanging over her bed, on two nails, so that the rosary hung in a kind of shape that almost looked cross-like. And the beads sunk down in the middle. I thought it looked like a person with arms outstretched to the sky, to God. I really loved my grandmother and that rosary reminds me of her and how it felt in her house, which was really cozy and safe.

Anyway, after my aunt died, I got the rosary and I hung it in my bedroom. Not right above my bed, but over some bookcases. I really like it there and it’s comforting for me to look at. So, the other day, Mulan referred to the big “Y” necklace. And I said, “What?” And she pointed to the rosary and said, “Y’know, the big “Y” necklace!” And my heart sank. How does she not know that is a rosary!?!

I know, this falls under the heading of anything that kids won’t be familiar with that I was familiar with – dial phones, Tvs with no remotes, blah blah. But still, there was a little sword sticking me inside when she didn’t even know what a ROSARY was.

I guess it’s that I think of Catholicism as art. That was the art of my childhood. That was the place with flickering candles and people in robes and incense and paintings and stained glass windows and people huddled together away from the cold reciting poetry and singing songs. And I am giving none of that to Mulan. And even though – really, I mean this, I think she is better off without it, it KILLS ME that she isn’t getting it. Sure, sure, I am giving this feeling to her in other ways, in other places, with other things – sure. But not in this particular way.

On the other hand, I think of this incident, too. Last summer I was up in Spokane, with my girlfriend Darcy at her house. She had had a lunch with me and four or five other of our friends. We’ve all known each other since childhood. And anyway, there was a kid’s drawing framed on one wall and it said, “Family is important. Family is great!” And there was a picture of a family. Darcy’s children are now in Catholic school. And another one of my girlfriends said, “Isn’t that darling? It’s so… Catholic.” And I said, “What’s Catholic about it?” And she said, “It’s so Catholic, the importance of family.” And I said, “But that’s not particularly Catholic.” And she said, “Oh yes it is. They really talk about family a lot at Catholic school.” To me the implication was that in a public school, kids wouldn’t draw pictures like that.

Now the point of this is – as we all know, family is important, especially for kids – this has nothing to do with religion. Mulan comes home with pictures like that all the time. But for my friends who send their kids to religious school -- they think that something like this is unique. They reinforce to each other and their kids, just with little comments like that one to me, that it’s Catholicism that promotes the idea of family and in the cold harsh world outside Catholic school, they don’t. It’s this subtle prejudice that is built in. I mean, we all do this, of course, about some things. But this time it really struck me. It was so odd to me, that comment.

What’s funnier still about this is that my friend Darcy is gay, living with another woman and they have two sons together. Not only that, my friend Darcy is not even a Catholic anymore but this choice of school for her sons is the right one for the moment and the situation for her. Furthermore, when Darcy put her sons there, she and her partner went to the school principle and said, “This is our family, we are proud of our family, and if there is any problem with the school about our family, we aren’t coming here.” And there were assurances that there would be no problem. And as far as I know, there hasn’t been one.

But still. That comment reverberated in my mind. “It’s so Catholic.” The emphasis on family is… so Catholic. ARGH! And that’s why I am so glad that Mulan is not at a religious school no matter how enlightening it might be and how inoculated against religion it might make her.

I know, I am rambling about small points today.

And I am off to Mulan’s school for the Holiday Performance this morning!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Well, I just got home from a taping at Craig Ferguson. I really don’t know how it went. I am sort of flummoxed. Well, maybe not flummoxed. I will probably know better how it went when I watch the show. Which won’t happen because I won’t be able to bring myself to watch it. Mostly because it's on so late. And because I can't bear to watch myself. Those two things will stand in my way of having a reasonable feeling about it.

First of all, one of the wonderful things about doing the show was that Tim Meadows was also there. We were on SNL together. He does little sketches for Craig from time to time. Tim was also in the Pat movie. We had a good time talking in my dressing room about friends and what has happened with everyone we know from SNL.

Craig started right off (after a brief mention of Pat and SNL) with asking me how I could know for absolute certainty that there was not a God. I said I didn’t know for sure (which got a laugh) but that I think the evidence for God was weak. And then I said that I describe myself as an “atheist” because I do not live my life under the assumption that there is a God. I am “a” theist. I’m not sure I was very clear about this. And then that started a longer defense of atheism. I spurted out the Carl Sagan analogy of the purple dragon in the garage and I think I sort of mangled that. Then he asked me if I was trying to convince people to be atheist. Atheist, Atheist, Atheist. This is the only thing people will remember about the interview. And my nervous laughter. I am sure this will help me sell about two Cds. UG. It’s so hard! I mean, this is so not really what my show is about. Which I tried to get us back to. The struggle, the FUNNY.

Craig is really smart and charming. He said he “used” to be an atheist but now is not so sure. He had a joke about a dog crossing the street in the pedestrian crosswalk and how this makes him believe in God. I mean, we got to talk much more about the topic of my show than I did on The View. But still, I wasn’t totally thrilled when it was over. Not because of Craig – I mean, he is smart and funny and he gave me time on his show. But I felt I didn’t represent my CD as well as I wanted to. I wasn’t ready for the “how can I know for absolute certainty there is no God” and so forth. I made my case, but I don’t think it was very clear. OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH… I mean, how could I not have expected to be asked that? It's the obvious question. But I thought I was so smart and had figured out that people who interview me were going to only ask me questions, like, about how my parents reacted to my show or how I am raising my daughter. Because no one would want to touch the topic directly. See -- just shows me never to assume anything. So, I am glad it's over. Criag genuinely listens to his guests and that is really unusual and nice. I think he is smarter than your regular talk show host. But still, I felt that many of you blog-poster people could have done a better job defending the viewpoint. On the other hand, I had a good time. So, go figure.

Oh. I am so tired. I must go to sleep.
Good morning! Okay, that does it. I am definitely starting a forum. This conversation is getting too good and too all over the place and we just must find a better vehicle for it. That means a forum. I am working on this with my friend Joel and I will let you know what it up very, very soon. In the meantime, I would love to get some suggestions for subjects. Anyone, as probably most of you know, can start a thread, but I have to decide what the subjects are. So, what? Ethics without religion. Parenting without God. Navigating through social situations with the religious, but without God. God as a euphemism, too good to give up?

And speaking of the last idea. That's what I've been talking to myself and to my boyfriend about this weekend: God is such a great euphemism. But when you're ME, you can't really use it so much anymore. DAMN.

I can't write much -- I am off to take Mulan to school and then meeting with my music composer friend who may be doing the music for the film version of "Letting Go" today and then the Craig Ferguson Show later this afternoon.

Btw, I am so over on the side of no-Christian songs at public school -- 10,000%. I listen to classical music on the radio and of course it's all Jesus and all Christmas all the time at this time of year. Which I love, but still. Enough already.

Yesterday, as my boyfriend and my daughter and I were driving to Monterey Park for Chinese food last night, my daughter said she wanted to practice her Christmas song -- the one she's singing at the "Holiday Performance" at school on Wednesday. We said, "Go ahead." And she belted out, "Oh Kwansaa! Oh Kwansaa! The Seven days of Kwansaa!" And I was filled with joy! YEAH PUBLIC SCHOOL. I was actually filled with national pride too. I can hardly believe that this is the way it already is in our country. We are so lucky. This separation of Church and State is our most precious resource.

Anyway, give me your ideas. What are discussions you would like to see explored?

Also, I plan to take some of my favorite posts from the blog and put them up in a special place on my website. So many things people have written have taken my breath away.

And, yeah... the new blogger allows me to have such a bigger font. BIG, huh?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Thoughts

Once again, I am beat. I am working on getting the forum together, because clearly, we need one on this site. But I thought I would offer some random thoughts, some of them in regards to posts that have been written in the last few days.

I have gotten hundreds of emails after doing The View. Most of them, the vast majority of them, positive and encouraging. Several have been from Mormons, correcting me about their Church's belief in the Virgin Mary and the divinity of Jesus. Of course, as most of you know, I understand that. When I speak about the Mormon missionaries and their stories, and then say that I couldn't be condescending to them because I believed in things like a virgin birth, etc. What I meant was that I also had mythical stories that I took seriously. I didn't mean to imply that the Latter Day Saints didn't also believe in those stories as well as their own, specifically Mormon stories. All I have to say to all those emails is... WOW.

I also got some disgruntled letters from atheists! One said I wasn't smart enough to be an atheist! Well, I'll show him or her! I will not be smart AND be an atheist and, and... just take that, mister. Or, sister.

Anyway... WOW. I think this person in particular was upset about comments I made on this blog about Christmas songs being sung at public school. (Combined with being what was characterized as overly polite to the Elizabeth on The View...) I have been thinking about that -- and since I wrote that blog entry I have been literally drown in a sea of Christmas -- every radio station (almost) filled with stories about Our Lord And Savior's Birth -- and I was thinking how sick I am already of it and how GLAD I am that when I go to Mulan's "Holiday Celebration" next week I will mostly hear about Kwanzaa. But after being so snidely insulted, I offer more defense of my original idea. I, like all of you fellow non-believers - think the Christian stories are myths. I am still not sure that making those stories off-limits in public schools is making things better. I am not sure that every teacher would teach the Bible with a believers slant and I offer up England, Australia and much of Europe for evidence. Yes, based on principles, Christian stories should be kept out.

But what if there was a group of people who seriously believed that Santa Claus was real? Would we have to stop anyone from talking about Santa Claus in a public area? Then the Santa Clausists might feel persecuted and huddle together - starting their own schools just so their kids could talk about Santa Claus openly. I think it's a difference in opinon in the matter of strategy. What will make the myth of Christianity become more obviously mythical? Having kids do nativity plays in public school and singing Christian religious songs? Or having them not mention a word about Jesus during Christmas time? I think that we blew it, frankly. Or possibly. My own strategy would have been to innundate the kids with Jesus to the point where they were puking from it. (The Shick Center Concept for getting rid of Christian Myths!) And I don't think having this opinion makes me "less developed in my thinking." (As one writer put it.)

For the record: I am not the president of Atheists of America or any group that is like that. I am not even an op-ed writer for a newspaper. I am just me. I have opinions. Not everyone is going to agree with them. I might even change some of my opinions as I get more information. But that's no reason to start calling me names. C'mon you atheists who wrote me in anger, jeez!

Also, Norma. In response to your response to Becky. Not every one of us is rational through and through about everything we do. I can totally understand Becky's desire to send her children to CCD (Catholic religious school) to get a "conscience." Norma wondered, in the face of all the obvious damage that Christianity has done - specifically Catholicism, and in spite of the fact that Becky herself didn't need continuing "conscience" education as an adult, why she would want to send her children to get indoctrinated.

Well, maybe I can answer.

1.) Maybe Becky wasn't sure why she had a "conscience." Maybe she felt her own morality had been shaped partially by her church and then she took it from there. Maybe she felt her church had inculcated a sense of deep morality in her that she couldn't instill in her children on her own. Now - mind you - I don't think this is the case. I can just understand why someone would think that way. It's reasonable.

2.) Churches and church communities offer lots of opportunity for reciprocal altruism. There are lots of personal interactions and much social debt that is spent and accumulated at a church. As we know, this is the basis for the evolving of a moral conscience. Maybe there was no other equally dense social opportunity for her to immerse her children in that would cause them to be aware of how they treated others with such scrutiny and such payoff.

3.) How old was she? It sounds like she was in her twenties. If I had had children in my twenties, they would have all been Catholic. I think my decision to raise them Catholic would have been reasonable, given my age and circumstances.

What else? Oh yes, my interest in fantasy in film. I loved "Heaven Can Wait" before and after I believed in God. The Lubitch film is brilliant. But on the average, I am more inclined to reality-like films than fantasy-based films. I don't know why. I would take Yasojiro Ozu's "Late Spring" (where the big drama is a subtle shift in attitude) over Star Wars. Which brings me to my next admission. I have never seen Star Wars. But if I did... Okay, that's not fair. I should have seen Star Wars. I am just not one for fantasy or science fiction. I do like The Wizard Of Oz.

And now I get to Mulan. So, recently Mulan put it together and figured out that The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were not real. Because I want to encourage her skeptical thinking, I admitted it when she asked. I couldn't keep up the ruse. Basically she found a baggie of her teeth in my bathroom and one question led to the next. It was a pretty funny conversation we had. Of all the moments I wish had been secretly filmed between us, that was the time. And to be honest, I was proud of her.

But now Mulan has told one of her friends that there is no tooth fairy and the mother of this friend has complained to me. I talked to Mulan and she promised not to reveal this to anyone else. But then she said, "But... I want to tell!" And I thought, "I TOTALLY understand."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Well, I just did “The View” and I am waiting at the airport to head back to Los Angeles. I had such a nice, even fun experience doing the show. I was moderately concerned about the response. I think I was just skeptical that they were really going to have me on at all. I mean, this is a major daytime talk show – whose target audience is mainstream American women, and it’s ABC, y’know a huge corporation. And all that usually means that people who have views outside the norm are not on. But it was really great. I had a wonderful time. Rosie came to my dressing room before the show and told me how much she enjoyed the CDs. I was really impressed that she actually listened to them. I mean – not that she wouldn’t have, but come on, there must be so much material in one week on that show that I figured it would get lost. Joy Behar was delightful and even Elizabeth, the conservative Christian, who I was worried about -- a little bit – she was just receptive and nice and open. We spoke after the show for several minutes and she told me how she just can’t look at a little baby and think that that baby was an accident. I tried to explain evolution to her in, like – 30 seconds. She said when she sees the beauty in the world, she feels it must be designed and come from God. And I explained that we all innately have a feeling that the world is designed and blah blah blah – everything I’ve said before. And she was really nice and sweet and said she wanted to listen to the CD and I was really bowled over by her sincerity and graciousness. I felt a little more nervous than I usually feel, going on shows like that. I guess it’s been a long time. I think the audience didn’t quite to know what to make of me, and I was so glad they put my CD/book in their gift packages. I mean, to me this is a major deal that they did that. Anyway – one little voice out there and all, but still it felt good.

One of the producers walked me to the limo and told me how he was feeling more comfortable being outspoken about his lack-of-faith. That was really nice, too. There is so much I wish I could have said – I wish I’d been more relaxed and funnier – I was worried that people wouldn’t know that the show is a comedic look at my search for God too. But all in all, when I figure I really had only six minutes and two minutes were taken up with “Pat” and talking about Mulan, so really, four minutes, I did okay. I feel good.


Next week, on December 11: Craig Ferguson.

Oh! My big news, and I really wish I had said this on The View as well, is that my show is now downloadable from This means that in two weeks it will be up on iTunes as well and will be linked from Amazon as a download. I got several emails from people in the last few weeks saying, “Come into the Twenty-first Century Woman!” And so, I have. You can download it. Go to audible if you care. And there will be a link on my site to audible very soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Okay, so here I am in New York City. I just flew in to do this appearance tomorrow on the View. I have no idea how it will go, but I am so thankful and happily surprised that they are having me on the show to talk about Letting Go of God. I know that Jenny McCarthy is also a guest. I don't know if we will get into my show very much or not. But we will see.

I am going to start a Forum so we can continue all this great discussion. It probably won't be up for a while, but it eventually will exist. In the meantime, I'm collecting my favorite comments that people have made and I am going to post them in a special place on my website.

In the meantime, I wanted to answer the letter that Michael wrote to me -- after I asked him, why he believes in God and what that God is like. His letter to me is in italics. My response is not.


Thank you for at least acknowledging there are issues with the concept of spontaneous creation. I appreciate your honesty about that.

Wait a minute! I didn't say there were "issues" with spontaneous creation. I said that there are lots of possibilities for how life got started on earth, all of them plausible and from natural sources - or not-God sources. I worry that you use the word "issues" to mean that the evidence for a wholly natural universe is shakey, when it is not.

Now, to answer your questions. I write this with a little trepidation because I know that it will be jumped on by many, but, you asked an honest question and I will provide an honest answer. I don't expect that it will be a satisfactory answer to most, but it is at least a contrary viewpoint from a believer to a non-believer.

The short answer to your question of why do I believe what I believe is that I believe that God loved me so much that He voluntarily came to earth and became human. He endured incredible suffering of physical and spiritual pain and torture for the redemption of my sins. He was humiliated, mocked, laughed at, and killed because of that love. Yet, he was resurrected. I cannot escape his love for me and I, in turn, love him. Boiled down to its core, love is the essence of my relationship with God.

But there is no evidence that God loved you so much that he came to earth and became human. To me, this is a myth - a common myth - that you believe as true because your religion told you it was true and you have some reason to need to believe it. This story of Jesus divine nature is repeated through out many myths. There is no credible evidence that he was resurrected. The evidence is based on heresay and eye-witnesses and we know that this is one of the worst possible types of evidence. Even though it might feel good to believe this story and even though there might be plenty of social and psychological reasons to believe this story, to me - it doesn't seem like there is any solid evidence to believe this story as fact.

I feel his presence in my life. I have joy, peace, and contentment trusting in him even in very difficult situations. God has been faithful to me even when I have not been faithful to him. He has answered prayers and provided guidance with difficult decisions. Without Him in my life, there was a gaping hole in my being that only He could fill.

I think you have been coached to feel that the joy and peace and contentment came from God when really that is all within you. You have the capacity to make yourself feel joy and peace and contentment and God is a mechanism through which you can transfer your inner powerfulness onto a "God" and then give it back to yourself as if it's a gift. And it IS a gift. It's the gift of your own evolved psychology and biology. You may need to believe in God. You may be a better person for believing in God. But that still doesn't mean there is a God.

Now, the longer answer. There was a time in my life when I questioned whether there was a God "up there." But, in doing so, I had to acknowledge that the universe had a beginning at some point. It likely started with a singularity and rapidly expanded from there. Why would that have occurred? What would have caused it? How could matter be created out of nothing? In the words of the old Billy Preston song, "nothing from nothing means nothing." Logically, it does not make sense that something would be created out of nothing for no reason without the force of a creator creating it. An intellect and power beyond anything we can comprehend or even imagine in this dimension would answer that dilemma. It makes much more sense to me that a being created the universe than believing that it just happened.

I think that there is plenty of evidence for a Universe created without intention or intelligence. I think consciousness is a product of an organ that we have evolved: our brain. I think we have evolved to think that consciousness is something that is other-worldly or exists outside ourselves. We overly-revere consciousness -- and it's easy to see how this could be. Consciousness is amazing. But that doesn't mean that the Universe has a consciousness. Also, the universe didn't "just happen." It happened through a long process of evolution and natural selection. Our brains are also designed to expect a designer. We see such a small little bit of it in our lifetime -- that's why we need science and a concillience of evidence from many disciplines to really see what is likely to be true. And all of that points to a world without design and without an intervening and loving consciousness that is concerned about us. Even though - I know - that SUCKS. It was really hard for me to take that. It meant that bad things really did often happen for no reason. It meant that all that time I "kept it to myself" when I was wronged or thought I was wronged, and then thought - "well God knows this and that's what is important." It meant that I had to stand up for myself and see all the terrible injustice in the world. And that bad things can happen to good people because lots of bad things are random and not deserved. So, I know, it is difficult to look at the world that way. But I think it is accurate to look at the world without a Supernatural Love. And now I see the dark side of believing that, too.

Secondly, there is the question of where did life on this earth come from. Life on this earth also had a beginning. How did it begin? Evolution is one attempt to answer that question. An atheist friend I used to work with tried to show me how clear evolution was. He provided me with some books, one being from Gaylord Simpson. As I read it, I noticed how many assumptions, speculations, and holes there were in the whole theory. Why should I abandon my faith in God for a theory that required my faith to accept. (I acknowledge that there are many Christians who accept evolution as being God directed; however, I personally don't buy macroevolutionary theory).

Evolution is not a theory in that it is debated in the scientific community. Theories in science are what describe groups of facts. Evolution is a theory and a fact. The theory of gravity explains why apples drop from trees. But gravity is not a theory that is debated in science. The same is true for evolution.

The more I've learned about evolutionary theory, the more incredible it is for me to believe. I've touched on only a couple problems I have with it. I don't accept these assumptions that have to be made. For example, creatures more advanced than apes supposedly led up to man in a string of transitions. Those creatures would have been at that time the most advanced creatures on earth. Where are they? Why aren't they still around? Oh, I know that we have a few bits and pieces of bones here and there which are subject to interpretation. But I'm talking about the living, breathing creatures. Why would the most advanced creatures on earth ALL disappear except the last in the line? It doesn't make any sense. Therefore, again, the Bible supplies the answer for creation of the species that makes much more sense. A creator created that life.

I don't really understand what you are saying here. They are us. Or they are other species that are not extinct. I don't think you understand what evolution really is. The Bible's description of the creation of the species is a story that was made up by an ancient people that didn't have the means to look at the evidence. It makes much less sense. Why would God create all those animals? We don't need all those animals.

I also have found that the Universe, the beauty of nature, and the incredible complexity of life from cells up to humans displays not randomness but design. Design implies a designer. One may make patterns out of a cloud, but the cloud is not the object you see. I wouldn't expect to come across a sculpture and wonder what windstorm or firestorm caused some hunk of bronze to fashion itself into the replication of a horse. Rather, I would wonder who created the sculpture. Yet, atheists see an incredibly designed, perfectly complex universe and all that is in it but believe it just happened on its own by chance.

We see things as designed becasue we are arriving here on earth so late in the process and we are only alive for a very short period of time. It is reasonable that you would think the world was designed. This is one of the greatest gifts of insight that science has given us -- it shows us that the world exists without a designer. It goes completely against our instincts and common sense. And yet, the evidence points this way. We can see it in the smallest levels -- the ones that you accept -- in viruses and bacteria. Evolution happens and the byproduct, over a very long period of time, is a world that looks designed.

Fourth, why are humans so different from all the other creatures. The Bible says man was made in God's image. There is a quantum leap in intelligence between humans and animals. Furthermore, isn't it odd that all peoples throughout history have believed in a God. Now, you can chalk that up to ignorant superstition, but if that's the case, why do doctors, mathematicians, lawyers, CEOs, and, yes, even scientists, etc. in the year 2006 also believe in God. It would appear that there is some connection between being human and believing in God. It is not unreasonable to believe that God has given us the ability to find Him.

That's just it! We humans, it turns out, aren't all that different from other creatures! And it SO seems like it. But the more we learn about animals, the more animal like we find ourselves. Because we are animals. I think people all around the world believe in God because people made up reasons why there was thunder and lightening or why their particular tribe was special. They made these stories up to explain things they could not explain, or to help their group psycologically. And I think the reason that so many educated people say they believe in God is because there are a lot reasons to benefit from believing in God. It makes you part of a defined community, it alleviates anxiety about death, there is a social stigma to not-believing and so forth. It makes sense to me that there is not God AND that most people believe in God.

Next, I had to consider the life of Jesus. He clearly lived on this earth. He clearly claimed that he was God. Reliable witnesses saw him perform miracles. He was crucified, died, and was buried. There is no question that the tomb was subsequently empty and many witnesses saw his resurrected body. His ministry lasted only 3 years in an insignificant country in the middle of nowhere. Yet, within a short time, his message had spread and is now one of the world's dominant religions. The mention of his name provokes reactions like none other. His disciples went from being afraid to even admit they knew him to boldly preaching his word and being willing martyrs rather than deny his deity. You ask for proof of God? Jesus Christ was that proof.

Becuase someone claims they are God, that doesn't make them God. Lots of people claim to be God. The witnesses that saw Jesus perform miracles were not reliable. There were a lot of incentives to make this up. There have been many messianic characters in history and many stories about them. That doesn't make it true. The reactions that people have about Jesus are real, but they have them for psychological reasons and not because Jesus himself is having some effect on them. Many scholars don't even think that Jesus ever existed. AND just because people like the disciples went from doubt to faith to preaching doesn't mean that it is real and true. Jim Jones also had disciples who went through the same progress in behavior and thinking. I don't think you understand what "proof" is, really.

I have seen people who were addicted to drugs or alcohol turn their lives 180 degrees after accepting Jesus as their Lord. I have seen people who have been homeless for years completely turn around after becoming a Christian. I have seen individuals who have attempted suicide because of depression and failed lives be healed of that sickness. Christ offers redemption and hope to those who are suffering or in pain, which is most of us at one time or another. I'm not sure what atheism has to offer those individuals.

You are right that the idea of God or of someone like Jesus can have a dramatic psychological effect on someone. But I think those people all had that strength to turn their life around themselves. I think humans are capable of the most astonishing transformations.

Finally, God offers the promise of eternal life to those who believe and that's no small thing.

Yes. And there you go. I think that the idea of God and eternal life alleviates a great deal of anxiety in us about death. This is potent and deep. But it doesn't make it true. It just makes belief effective in that way.

I have explained in part above what the God that I believe in is like. He is an intellect far beyond my comprehension and understanding. I may wonder why some women die in childbirth. However, to say that I cannot imagine a God who would allow that is to say that I know everything God knows, and, knowing that, I conclude that a true God would not allow such things. Job had the same debate with God and God's responses were instructive.

Hmmm... Well, I thank you for describing your faith and what your God is like to me. I think that your faith is really meaningful to you and maybe even psychologically necessary for you. In that case, I am glad that you live here in America where you can have your faith. In many areas of the world, you would not be able to have your faith. You would be forced into some other faith. But here in America, at least it still seems like it - you can believe this story as the truth and you can privately worship in your own way. I am so glad that this country guarantees that people can worship - privately - in whatever way they want to. I just get ticked when one group of believers feel that they must make me believe the same thing as they do.

It seems like you want to have it both ways. You want to believe and you want what you believe to have the facts and reason and science behind it. But I think you have to let go of that. I think you should just believe because you believe. Just have faith and I would say, don't even try to get into explaining it or proving it. I know you aren't asking me for advice, but that is my advice. I am mostly concerned about keeping our society a secular one where the laws are based on reason and science and a tolerance for people to have their faith that they can express privately. I have no reason to convince you not to believe in God.

Anyway, there you go.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lordy, Lordy how I love reading the posts. And I wanted to write a thoughtful response to Michael's post of a few days ago and now today is all gone and I am too bleary eyed to write or read. And tomorrow is going to be even harder... I may not be able to write till Monday! But keep writing. I love it so much. I mean, if you want to. Thanks!


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Religious Symbolism, A Book I Forgot, Marcel Cairo & a note to Believer Michael:

Once again, I love all the comments. I guess - after turning it over in my mind for a day - that I am thankful that Mulan does not have any references to Jesus at school. Even though I also hate it. Cause I guess I want it both ways. I want to enjoy the myths as myths and I am tired of rejecting the symbols of those myths because some people think they are real.

But leftdog said something wonderful and I think true: Leftdog wrote, "Sure, it's a good story. I understand that, but it needs to be discredited before it can be reclaimed. Think Norse Mythology or any other similar; great stories, but only acceptable now because they have been defanged." Defanged. I like that word in regards to the Christ story. Sheldon said this too -- we need space and time before this story can be indulged in as a good story.

Plus, it's true - Jesus is everywhere, on every church lawn, inside churches, and it's only in the public areas where it's absent - or should be absent. I dream of a day when Jesus is as interesting and weird as Persephone or Eros. And I want that day to be NOW.

Austin Cline: thanks for all your wonderful research and writing. I read everything you linked to at your site. But still, even though I agree that it was the Christians that killed Christmas to a large extent -- how do we account for Europe, who have state sponsored religions and yet seem to be highly non-religious (at least at the moment, and in regards to Christianity.) They seem to be able to slip into secularism without a war with the fundamentalist Christians. Do they ban the creche from the government lawns? I don't know. I'm looking into it.

Maria: thanks for reminding us about Mithra. It's true. And the Mithra story is rawer and I think, better in lots of ways, over the Jesus story. See, Christians are plagiarists! Or, as I heard at a recent Skeptic lecture at Cal Tech, "Ingenuity is simply a matter of masterfully concealing your sources." Or maybe he said "Creativity." In any case, you get the drift.

Norma: I wasn't suggesting that the Jesus story be taught as another way of looking at the world, I like it as one of the myths that is part of our culture. In answer to your question: You are unduly cranky and cantankerous, but that is what I love about you. ONE of the things I love about you. But I don't think you have to be perpetuating fraud to enjoy a Sader meal or a Passover meal or Easter or the story of Jesus being born at Christmas. But I do agree, we aren't there yet. It's weird to enjoy the Jesus birth story amongst a group of people who actually believe that story is true. It feels condescending and wrong, but still, I'm going to do it. I want my daughter to feel what it's like in church on Christmas and the songs and the candles and all the rest. And if my experience last Christmas is an indication (I was told by my fellow pew-mates that they had seen my show and agreed wholeheartedly with my view of Catholicism and God...) I'm not sure that most of the people in that church won't feel just like I do.

Ben Turk: You are absolutely right about Donohue when you wrote: "Donohue's attempt to paint himself as a victim of exclusion by straw-man 'multi-cultural gurus' is an attempt to 1. reaffirm the dominant culture's symbol set. 2. make that dominant culture feel threatened and incite a backlash." And for that alone, I revise what I said. I wish we could have Jesus and the songs, but we can't at the moment. Maybe in my lifetime but probably not.

Boo Hoo.

Okay. There is another book I totally forgot from my 17 and is almost the most important!

18. The Moral Animal, Robert Wright.

I am still recovering from this book. As I said to Robert Wright, when I met him at the TED conference last year, "Your book totally f**ked me up!" It's so hard to accept that even those qualities that I strive to perfect in myself: compassion, love, sacrifice and so forth, stem from the most unwily and advantage-seeking impulses. Also, this book made me truly admire Charles Darwin, the man. Wright analyzes Darwin from an evolutionary psychological standpoint. And this book made me realize that if you were to put Darwin the man, and Jesus, the maybe-a-man side by side, Darwin -- outside of his scientific research and what he contributed to the knowledge of our species -- was truly admirable, much more so than Jesus. Darwin was an exemplary family man, devoted to the needs of his community, he stood up for animal rights and even took two neighboring farmers to court over their mistreatment of their animals. He was conservative in his advice to others, kind and compassionate. He was not damning anyone to hell for not "believing in him." He was not frightening people into thinking the world was about to end. He was not counseling others to abandon their families. Wright doesn't make these comparisons, I am making them. But it was impossible for me not to think about Darwin's life this way. In any case, I recently reread the Moral Animal. When I first read it, I had to go lie in the fetal position for what seemed like months, just to recover from it. I gave it out as a Christmas gift to the entire Sex & the City writing staff. This book is so important to me.

And now we come to Marcel Cairo. Yes, I agree, our discussions of God on this blog have been childlike in that they are referring to the God that most Abrahamic religions believe in. And i would like to take you seriously, but it is hard when you make statements like you do. You say you believe in the afterlife BECAUSE you are a spiritual medium. What does that mean, exactly? This is what a spiritual medium is to me - a person who takes other people's money by playing on their weaknesses. I think what you must mean is that you feel you have communicated with people who are dead?

What do you say, gang? Should I engage this fellow? I went to look at the research that you mentioned in your blog responses and none of it looked terribly legitimate to me. The thing is this: I have a biological and natural view of the world. My understanding about consciousness, which was opposed to my inclinations - is that it is an evolved adaptation that our species has in order to help us survive and reproduce. Why would that survive death? The whole idea that this organ would survive death, just because I like my brain so much, seems narcissistic and silly. My critical thinking tells me that the chance of the brain having some special otherworldly-function is so highly unlikely that it is not worth pursuing. Do you think animals brains survive death too? What about insects? Anything with a brain? What about people with Alzheimer disease, whose brains have atrophied? Do they have some other brain, their healthier brain, that survives out in the universe after they die and is just hanging in purgatory until they do?

Why do you discredit James Randi and Richard Dawkins? Those of us who admire them are admiring them because they strictly follow the scientific method and are willing to speak out about their findings and are willing to expose people who do not. This is not adulation, but respect. I can't believe you would put Randi and Sylvia Brown in the same category. They are completely different. I am suspicious of engaging with you based on that alone.

If you say your experiences with those who are dead are not able to stand up to the scientific method, then I don't know what we have to talk about. I reread the recent research on near-death experiences and I don't see anything revolutionary about it since I was reading Susan Blackmore.

Believer Michael (If you are reading this...) I just saw that you posted an answer to my question to you from a couple of days ago. I am going to read it later today and write about it tomorrow. Thanks so much for writing back. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Catholic League President: William Donohue's NYTimes Ad pleading for Diversity at Christmas.

So, this ad appeared yesterday in the New York Times"

Celebrate Diversity: Celebrate Christmas

The United States is 85 percent Christian, which means we are more Christian than India is Hindu and Israel is Jewish. Moreover, 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas. So why do we have to tippy-toe around the religious meaning of Christmas every December?

There is something sick about Friendship Trees, Winter Solstice Concerts, Holiday Parades and Holly Day Festivals. The neutering of Christmas extends to the banishment of Nativity Scenes from the public square, the expulsion of Baby Jesus from creches not otherwise forbidden, the banning of red and green at school functions, the censoring of "Silent Night" at municipal concerts, etc.

All of this madness is done even though 97 percent of Americans say they are not offended by Christmas celebrations. So as not to be misunderstood, it is important to recognize that the few who are complaining do not belong to any one religious or ethnic group - there is plenty of diversity to be found among the ranks of the disaffected. No matter, fairness dictates that their intolerance should not trump the rights of the rest of us. Diversity means respect for the traditions and heritages of all groups, not just hose which have been cherry-picked by the multicultural gurus.

To be excluded is normal. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veteran's Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Parades - they all exclude someone. The Olympic Games are a showcase of segregation - men are barred from women's sports - yet not even radical feminists call it sexist. Should all of these holidays and events be banned because some feel excluded?

By celebrating Christmas we are celebrating diversity. Don't let the cultural fascists get their way this year.

William A. Donohue, President

I thought I would post this ad and see what people thought about it.

Okay. Here's what I say: I agree with Donohue (!!!). Well, I agree that it's silly to take Jesus out of Christmas. I mean, we call it "Christ" mas, fer chrissake.

When I discussed this ad with my friend Jim Emerson (who sent it to me to begin with) he said, "Yeah, but you could also argue that the Christians took a perfectly good pagan holiday and made it about Jesus!" Which is also true.

But it kills me that Mulan can't sing any religious songs at school for Christmas. Everything is all about Santa (as if that is less religious than Jesus!) and holiday-time. Which I really hate. I love the story of Jesus' birth. A baby born in a barn, after a long trip? Born in the humblest circumstances and yet became a leader and revered? This is a great story. It's a myth, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great story. That means that if I want her to hear the Jesus birth story I have to take her to a church. Which sucks. I mean, this is the myth of our culture! Why do we have to pretend it is not?

I think it's silly to distinguish between myths-that-everyone-accepts-as-myths, being okay (i.e. Easter Bunny, Santa Claus) and the myths that people actually believe in as real (Jesus, Santa Claus...)

Plus, de-emphasising Jesus over Christmas inevitably leads to over-emphasis on Santa Claus, which means presents and THINGS and buying, etc.

So, I tossed and turned last night thinking this through. If I think Jesus is okay at Christmas, then what about crosses on government land? No. That is not okay. What about prayer in public schools? No, that is not okay. I think a moment of silence so the kids can be thankful should be part of the school day. Meditation, yes. Prayer, no. What about "under God" in the pledge? No. What about Bibles in schools? Yes! I think they should be reading the Bible and learning Bible stories along with stories from the Qur'an and everything else.

But I have to say, I really miss the story of Jesus being born in a manger. I love that story. And kids like it too, unlike, say the Fourth Of July, which is a really hard concept to understand for a little kid -- a baby being born in the barn is a fantastic story that should not be banned from the public square.

I really love that William Donohue rejects "political correctness" as well. He's right. We should be concerned with the facts and not whether those facts upset someone or not.

I listened to a speaker at a skeptic conference from Australia who said that he was amazed at all the hoopla surrounding Christmas in the states. Australia is highly secular and they sing about Jesus in school at Christmastime. Same thing in Sweden -- a highly non-believing population and they just go crazy at Christmas. The holiday lasts a month long and a lot of their celebration has to do with Jesus and the story of his birth.

Okay, I am thinking out loud here:

Maybe Easter is perfect example of my mixed feelings. I mean, the Christian Easter story: Jesus dying and then rising from the dead. Gawd - that's a great story too. It's much better then just symbols: eggs, bunnies, or concepts: fertility. On the other hand, I like all the symbols of spring at Eastertime - I like eggs and bunnies.

Maybe it's the writer in me that likes the details of the crucifixion story. It's a real story. Characters, events, surprising endings! And the bunny is just... well, a bunny. And... eggs. But in the end, when it comes to Easter, I like the religious story AND I like the symbols. But at Christmas, I think I just like the religious story the best.

But the point is, why can't it just be everything? I think it's a mistake for people like me (atheists) to argue that Jesus should not be taught and shown during Christmas in public schools. That's just the kind of thing that makes a lot of parents send their children to religious schools. I think it's a mistake not to have Jesus and a creche and the kids singing Silent Night.

When it comes to Christmas, even though it was originally a holiday with pagan roots, I like to be reminded of the story of Jesus. I think those garish Santa Claus' are creepy compared to a creche, which I think is beautiful and poignant. Maybe we should just pick 10 holidays and just go for it. Tell the whole story - whatever the story is. And just enjoy it, it's a STORY.

Well, I just thought I would throw that out there to see what people thought.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To God-Believing Michael:

(I'm not even sure anymore what's been covered in the Believing-Michael debates - but this is me throwing in my two cents...)

Earth appears to be a very rare place. Earth has conditions on which to
support life, and allow life to evolve and flourish. Lots of events
seem to have been necessary for this: a magnetic field, a moon, a
meteor bombardment at just the right time, continental drift, etc. How
did life get here? It could have been floating through space. It could
be that the chemicals to produce life occur when certain elements are
in place.

And, it could have been implanted here by a God. What do you think is more likely?

If you look back on the history of human's search for answers to natural phenomenon, each time there is a groundswell of support by the religious that it is God who did it. And the scientists say, “No, there is an answer to this.” And every time the scientists find an answer, the religious take up their fight again
on the next question that is unanswered.

So, wouldn’t it be arguable that the most likely answer to the question of how life arose on Earth is that there is some natural, scientific answer? Crick is
right, it IS miraculous (in the sense that it is has a small chance of
happening) that life arose on earth. The conditions had to be just

But we don’t even know how many chances there really are out there for life. If the Universe is as big as it appears to be, and there are as many stars as we calculate there are, and as many planets and moons and so forth, it seems that – even with an
infinitesimally small chance of life taking hold on a planet, there is
still room for that to happen.

So, wouldn’t it be more prudent to go with the conservative answer? Not leap to God, but to instead assume that life arising on earth is a natural phenomenon?

Personally I have no problems with the panspermia hypothesis. Sounds
reasonable to me. I think that the seeds of life are ubiquitous in the
Universe, and that this is a likely way that life began here on Earth.

I don’t know exactly what this has to do with God, frankly. Or more specifically, what it has to do with a God that wanted us to exist (and knows our thoughts
and feelings, cares about us individually, sent his son to die for our
sins, etc.)

Do you deny that evolution is the way that nature creates species? I can’t remember if you are a young earth creationist or not. If you accept evolution, don’t you see what a horrifying and uncaring process it is? Even if God cared about human beings, why wouldn’t God care about all the other animals that lived, struggled, and died along the way? Why would God create human beings through the method of evolution, a
process that inevitably caused inestimable heart-ache and pain for our
species, people, human beings just like us?

For example, one of the costs of humans having a large brain is that females have a hard time giving birth. Their birth canal cannot accommodate such a big
brained baby easily. Think of all the mothers with narrow hips who died
in childbirth! Millions, probably. Women who were smart and cared
deeply about their babies. But still – killed off, the horrible
by-product of evolution. Why would your God do that to these women?
What had they done to deserve this?

For me, evolution and life as a natural product of the Universe is the most conservative and reasonable answer I can give in the face of this evidence. This allows me to feel compassion for those women and feel enormously lucky that I
am not one of those women. I get to have a full life. I get the luxury
of being able to love my friends and family for a very long time. Even
if I died tomorrow, I am still the lucky recipient of being born at
just the right time to live a long life.

But what would I feel like if there were a God who decided that those women should die in childbirth and that I should not? What a horrifying, uncaring,
maniacal, diabolical creature that would be! Fortunately I do not have
to hate God. Because science has given me a reasonable answer to these
complex realities. And that is the view of earth and our Universe as a
natural landscape, filled with accidents and natural selection.

So I ask you, Michael, “Why do you believe what you believe? What is the God like that you believe in?

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 17 Books I Read Along The Way

Over about three years, as I searched my heart and soul for God, I read the following 17 books. I actually read many more books, (or parts of several more books) and I actually think I may be leaving some very significant book out. Eventually I would love to write extensively about each of these books and how they affected me and led me to the next one on the list.

But since so many people have asked for this – I thought for today I would just post this.

Remember too, my path was specific. I went from a liberally minded Catholic to an openly out atheist. So my books are particular to where I was starting from.

1. Papal Sin, Garry Wills

This book was the first time I considered the hypocrisy inherent in the priesthood – that the whole idea is that priests were supposed to be people who upheld truth as an ideal and yet just becoming a priest was a lesson in learning to lie – to their parishioners, to themselves, etc. Garry is still a Catholic, in fact his next book was called, “Why I am a Catholic.” But for me, this really made stark the inherent corrupt nature of the Catholic Church – and how deep it all went. I couldn’t really experience Catholicism again – whatever that means – after I read this book. Even though I read it while I was attending Mass regularly and rededicating myself to the Church.

2. The History Of God, by Karen Armstrong

Even though I had majored in history in college and had an educated appreciation for religious history, I had never had it served up to me – in connection with the history of worship and God – exactly like this. Karen is still a believer – she calls herself a freelance monotheist – but this book made clear the social and political and human need for God and all the ways that this has been manifested in recorded history. Reading this book eventually led me to read all of her books. I really like the ones about her personal journey, Karen was a nun for seven years and she wrote about her experience in “Through The Narrow Gate” and it’s really riveting.

3. Ken’s Guide To The Bible, Ken Smith

This slim volume is hilarious and right to the point. I used a couple of the examples of Bible ridiculousness from his book in my show. It’s really a must-have for any skeptic. At this point, I was still a believer in God, I just thought the Bible and organized religion got it all wrong.

4. The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, Ruth Hermece Green

Wow. I really wish I could have met this amazing woman before she died. The book is a little all over the place – much of the information is repeated because the book is a compilation of lots of different essays and writing about the Bible. But still, she has an uncanny ability to see through the crap and write about the Bible. And she is hysterically funny too.

5. The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman

This book was actually recommended to me by my trainer (how Hollywood!) when I told him one day how I was coming to see Bible as a terrible human distortion of history. And he responded, “More than a distortion! The whole story of the Exodus isn't even true!” Which just floored me. Really, the whole exodus story, not true? And that’s when I began to read about it and this book is the best one. And it turns out, yeah – the whole Exodus story: not true. Or rather, there is a telling lack of evidence at the archeological sites which points to the Old Testament stories’ mythological roots. This may seem obvious to many, but for me – at this time, this was revolutionary in my thinking.

6. Origin Of Species, Charles Darwin

I read this while traveling in the Galapagos and just when I had decided that God – for me – was nature. Darwin doesn’t even mention God in this book, but I did start to look at nature in a whole new way that was significant. And this book is easy and interesting to read. Plus, such a big important part of history!

7. Rock Of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Steven Jay Gould

Okay, at this point I was basically in a panic. I wanted to be able to believe in God and learn more about science at the same time. And this book seemed to offer me a way of looking at both without rejecting one or the other. Gould has this idea of science and religion being different magisterias – science explains “how” and religion explains “why.” Eventually, however, I came to understand that if the "how" obliterates the need for a "why" -- then what is the point of trying to get "why" out of religion to begin with? Why can't "why" come from myself, my community, the why's that I give my own life...? But I did like that Gould was addressing what is a big problem for most people; trying to reconcile religion and science.

8. Losing Faith In Faith, Dan Barker

This was the first personal journey story about letting go of God. I was engrossed and thrilled – I felt there was a person out there who may, possibly, be able to understand what I was going through. I still wasn’t sure I could give up on God myself, but I respected Dan Barker for standing up for what he believed in – or rather DIDN’T believe in.

9. How The Mind Works, Steven Pinker

Okay, I would call this my first real science book of my life. And it was super hard for me to read. I had begun to wonder about the mind – this amazingly complex and mysterious part of myself that made me who I was, in the deepest sense. I didn’t know how this could be explained by science and I wanted to know. I remember I was visiting London while I read this book and I spent a whole day in the hotel room reading it, slowly – slowly, underlining this and that, rereading it. I can’t say I really understood everything, but this book gave me a way to look at consciousness and brain function from a materialistic point of view.

10. Dying To Live, Near-Death Experiences, Susan Blackmore

But wait a minute! What about all those people who see God when they die and the light at the end of the tunnel and all that???????? I was kind of panicky again at this point. Susan Blackmore led the way for me to understand that those experiences that people have, all have scientific explanations. This was also the first time I really considered the idea that the “self” is a mental construct. Her theory is that the near-death experiences are a result of the breakdown of the sense of self, and how our brains are constantly trying to construct a model of reality that is acceptable to our self. Reading this book also led me to another of her books (also amazing), “In Search of the Light, Adventures of a Parapsychologist.”

11. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett

Okay, this book was really it. I wanted so badly to mention this book in my show, because in many ways it was the most significant. (This book was super-hard for me to read too. Like Pinker, this was the first real scientific look at the world from a scientist's point of view, written by a scientist. I was so glad Dennett wrote little paragraphs at the end of each chapter summarizing it! I would often reread it and then go over the chapter again, just so I got it.) Anyway, I got to somewhere in the middle, and that’s when I put the book down – walked through my backyard – and thought, “Just admit it. You can’t believe in God anymore.” Amazingly, it was the first time I really seriously considered the idea that there may not be a God out there. I put on the no-god glasses and it was frightening, exhilarating, and mind-blowing. Not to mention life-changing.

12. Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins

This is when I thought, “Wait a minute. I want to see the world like an artist. I want the beauty and poetry that looking at the world through the lens of an artist allows. But science is all technical and Dr. Spock-y. And Dawkins tackles the idea that looking at the world scientifically makes it less beautiful. He argues that it makes the world much, much more beautiful. And I think he is right. It was a beautiful book and led me to many more of his books.

13. How We Believe, Michael Shermer

This was another big book for me. Michael explains why people want to believe in God, and how they justify it to themselves. It is written clearly and plainly, but not ineloquently. I'm not sure this book should be listed earlier -- I was reading it and rereading it all along the way. I probably bought twenty or twenty five copies of this book and gave it out to people anytime anyone started to talk about God. I thought his book would be alarming and persuasive, but also easy to understand and accessible. But so far, no one's come back and t0ld me they'd been changed by the experience of reading it Also, learning about Michael Shermer led me to learn about the Skeptic’s Society in Pasadena. I started going to the lectures at Cal Tech and became friends with Michael Shermer. This gave me a whole new group of people to hang out with, a group much more in line with my own thinking about the world.

14. Tales Of The Rational, Skeptical Essays about Nature and Science, Massimo Pigliucci

I had dated a guy who was a believer in Intelligent Design (he didn't call it that, but that's what he meant) about a third of the way through my journey letting go of God. He made arguments for the existence of God based on things like the complexity of the human eye. I had no real answers for him, but this book provided them. Pigliucci is a wonderful writer and really funny too.

15. Can We Be Good Without God? Robert Buckman

This is around the time that I began to consider “ethics” as an adult, as a non-believing-in-God adult. Robert Buckman’s book is a good overview of the flaws in the idea that people need God in order to behave justly or compassionately. I also gave this book out to a few people, like Shermer’s book, I thought I would really rock some people’s world. But it didn’t seem to happen. In any case, I thought about what Buckman wrote in depth. In fact, I always think of Buckman during my show when I talk about diverse religion's similarities, "We all sure seem to worship in the same way: we recite prayers, we make sacrifices, we wear special garments, we use special objects." I think that is practically a quote from Buckman. It's a good read and I recommend it to anyone who wants to find the way to "be" without God.

16. God’s Funeral, A.N. Wilson

This is when I began to wonder how the study of philosophy dealt with the evidence against God. What is philosophy without God? I thought this book would answer that. It really didn’t – BUT, I really liked how it told the story of God and philosophy, doubt and belief, in the nineteenth century and it’s repercussions today. This book made me realize that even what we are experiencing now in our country is a tale retold over and over again in recorded history – as the waves of realization hit us over who we are and what we know about ourselves and the world. In any case, this book doesn’t really discuss modern doubt, but after I read it I realized that I was staunchly on the side of the Doubters. (Now, for turning over ideas in ethics, I read Peter Singer – but that’s another story…)

17. The Demon Haunted World, Science as a Candle In The Dark, Carl Sagan (& Ann Druyan)

This is the book that galvanized me. Activated me. Made me realize that I couldn’t keep my lack of faith to myself anymore. I had watched the "Cosmos" television series during my quest (it was out on video and available to rent at my local video store. I didn’t see it when it was first on TV. Really, I should list “Cosmos” along with all the other books because as I was reading them I was watching that Sagan's brilliant series.) After reading "The Demon Haunted World," I could see how important it was not to let the believers get too much power over those who advocate reason and secularism. I became an activist after reading this book. I also realized how important a concept and tool science itself is! After reading the chapter “Real Patriots Ask Questions” I no longer pussy-footed around the question of God or the fall out from that belief that we live with in our culture.

So there you have it, 17 books. There are so many more, too! But for right now, I will just list these seventeen.

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving by the way -- boyfriend's mother and boyfriend's brother and boyfriend all were fabulous house guests. Lots of Scrabble, jumping on trampolines, reading and eating amazing food.

I just found out that the View (where I am appearing on Tuesday next week - December 5th) they are going to give the CD/book to the audience members. am so excited about that!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The posts are fantastic! I am really into reading them. I am wondering why this is even on my blog, I am the least interesting one writing! I feel Sheldon and Norma and Mcglk have done so much in terms of answering Michael. I don’t know what more I can do. I really loved Bookeraptor’s comments about how, even framing the arguments about science as anti-God makes the discussion give more weight to the super-naturalists. I laughed really hard at the anti-Keebler elf paradigm. If you did not read this post, go back to the last one and find Bookeraptor. That is so right! It’s like the word, “atheist.” Just that word sets up the faith argument in a way that puts non-believers at a disadvantage. As I think Sheldon pointed out, Christians are also atheists about, for example, Zeus. What does atheist really mean, anyway? Mcglk, I really liked your posts in response to Michael regarding Denton.

And Norma made me laugh when she wondered whom the descendants of the New England tribes say “thanks” to, and… why? As far as my own thanks on Thanksgiving, I usually try to take a moment and think about all the effort that has gone into the meal. All the labor that has gone into the meal – not just from the preparation, but even all the ancient farmers who helped evolve the wild grasses into something that could be planted intentionally. And the animals that were bred over eons into something that could be kept and bred in captivity.

I wanted to respond to Anonymous, who wrote, “I'm angry, I'm scared, I'm overwhelmed at the realization that I can make my own decisions and run my own life without waiting for Divine Intervention, Guidance or Permission...things that I'd sometimes LIKE to have!! Julia, when things get screwed up in your life these days, where do you find comfort? Can you still feel like it'll all turn out alright in the end, or do you just hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope for the best after doing everything that's in your power to do?”

So may answer is: Yes. It is really scary. I think I don’t emphasize that enough, because I feel pressured (from myself) to make people think that being an atheist is so wonderful! And I DO feel it’s wonderful, insofar as letting go of god made me capable of such a deeper – and fuller - wonder. But it IS a cold, heartless abyss out there. And even though – if you think about it deeply – the idea of a loving, caring God is absurd (given the reality of how people’s lives are played out) and even cruel (when you think of people blaming themselves for bad luck, for example) – it is also true that accepting a cold, indifferent universe is no small pill to swallow. It’s practically unbearable. Which is why I think so few people can really do it.

I am reading “The Denial Of Death” right now by Ernest Becker. It is tough. (A poster on my blog actually recommended this book and I can’t remember who… but, thanks!) It talks about human ego, and the anxiety about death being the basis for all our heroic struggles, our wars, our tribalism, everything. For the last several years, I have been saying to myself, “Everyone is the tragic hero of their own life story.” And this book is saying much the same thing. But it’s really tough to take. It’s dark.

So, I guess what I am saying to the Anonymous that wrote to me, I guess I find comfort in a variety of things. Like, just relying on statistics is even helpful. For example, I will think (if, say, I am worrying about the outcome of safety of someone) the chances are they will be safe. Or chances are that it’s going to work out amenably to everyone. Or, chances are, even if this one thing blows up badly, in the end, people will find their way. Or, more specifically, I will find my way.

Another thing I do is that I recognize that the God I was praying to, before, was just me. I have a lot of good advice inside of me, for me. I can ask myself, my smarter – better – more rational self – what would that ME do? And I get a lot of good answers that way. Also, I acknowledge that when I prayed before, all I was really doing was “hoping.” And “hoping” is okay! I can hope! I can have a lot of hope! And that is comforting to me too.

Bookeraptor wrote something that I thought was amazing:

“Schopenhauer said something like "The world shapes itself chiefly by the way in which it is seen." Seen through the anthropocentric eyes of western theology, the world was created solely for the benefit of man, and is merely a stage on which our ultimate fate is played out. But nature as revealed to us through science is an impartial, elegant and intricate system within which man stands and falls equally with all other life, unique only in the quality of awareness and the responsibility of intelligence. Of this magnificent universe it is quite as possible to be reverent as it is to be reverent of the various intellectual constructs we have invented for man's reassurance and glorification (read, gods). If some people find their egos deflated viewing the universe in this way, others are exhilarated and find new grounds for wonder.”

I am squarely on the exhilarated side of the no-god equation. Seeing the world without relying on God has made me filled with such deeper wonder than ever before. I wouldn’t trade the comfort I used to get for that wonder.

Sometimes I think that if I were going to sue the Catholic Church, it would be for denying me the natural “wonder” that I might have had for the world for almost forty years. That’s the worst thing that religion does, it quells the natural curiosity of human beings towards their surroundings. It’s a drug that makes you feel good in the short run, but makes you pay highest price, it takes your curiosity and awe away.

Film update: after much thought this weekend, I have decided (at least for now) to shoot Letting Go of God on a stage just like I did God Said Ha! I have really, REALLY appreciated your comments. I wrote more notes in my script and it seems to work (in the version where I would do it in my own house) until I get to the second act. And then, because it’s so heavily science-driven, it seems to slow down in my mind. Whereas, when I am onstage, I think that the second act is really more dramatic and moves faster than the first act. So I want to protect that feeling. This is mostly on my gut feeling about this piece. But I think the most conservative and most reliable way to film it is like I did God Said Ha! And plus, I know how to do that. So that’s where I stand on that topic as of today, November 20, 2006.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I really appreciate your comments about how I should shoot the movie version of Letting Go Of God. It’s really having an impact on me and I am thinking about each of your ideas.

This summer, I got the chance to do about thirty minutes of my second monologue, “In the Family Way” accompanied by the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, with a new score written by the same composer who did the music for “God Said, Ha!” It was really fun to perform with an orchestra. I mean, duh.

And afterwards I kept thinking about orchestras, and chamber orchestras and choirs and the music I used for the stage version of “Letting Go of God” which is Vivaldi’s Mass in D major. And I kept thinking about – perhaps – doing a shoot with the orchestra on stage with me, almost like I’m giving the Church it’s voice back, and it’s the music that accompanies me.

Anyway, I was just thinking about that…

So anyway, I guess I just want to say that I really appreciate your opinions and ideas about how to shoot this. Right now I am favoring shooting it in my own home, but also with an audience. It would be very surreal. My house is small, but I have a backyard – a little backyard, but a backyard – and I could put in seats, on little risers, and I figured today I could probably get about sixty people back there. And so I would start the show there – and the way it would be shot, you might not really understand if it was in a theater or not. And at some point I would walk out of the backyard and into the house and the rest of the show would be a transition between areas of my house and times when I am performing in front of an audience and other times when I am clearly all alone.

And I could even have a small chamber orchestra in, say my dining room and maybe a small choir too (although I would still use the music from a full orchestra, it would be just suggested by the few musicians and singers) and they would just sort of be there, and then maybe when I walk back through the house, not be there. And I could make a makeshift church in the garage (I like that idea, that the church is in the garage!) and I could go there when I talk about being in the church and the Bible study classes and so forth. And I have a big map of the world that I used to have on the big front door of my garage that I could re-put-up, and I could go there when I talk about traveling through the east, and going to South America.

My mind is just exploding with this. I don’t know if it’s too hokey or not. And I don’t know if it’s because my daughter, Mulan, watches Pee Wee’s Playhouse incessantly and that’s inspiring me too. But I don’t know. I think I can do both, the audience and the house, surreal and real. Maybe, possibly? And all for under a million dollars?

I was thinking I could shoot a test of this with just a camera operator walking with me through the house, cut that together and see how it really looks.

We will see. It’s true that an audience in a theater adds a certain amount of energy that cannot be caught in a house all by myself. And that thought makes me want to just do it the same way I did “God Said, Ha!” Hmmm… But I have to say, that I like the idea that I invite the audience into my home, just the same way I did the Mormon boys. And it feels the most organic and right from an artistic standpoint – I mean, when I did the stage version, I created a set that basically was my living room.

When I discussed this with my friend Jim Emerson (see his blog, it is fantastic, it’s at he liked this idea and he said that he loves when movies have that sense of space and you know where you are and you can feel comfortable there. Okay, just writing that last sentence makes me think that this idea sounds obvious, but Jim was much more eloquent about it (as usual) and I agreed with him!

Anyway, I was so glad to see that the creative idea I was evolving into is shared by so many of you. I really want to try to make this surreal both-in-the-theater, and-at-home shooting thing work.

OK. Enough of that.

All day I thought about science being anti-God or not. And I think I have to revise my answer. Because I came at it from a different point of view. I put on my belief-hat and I asked myself that question from the person I was before, when I was a believer. And I would have answered sort of like Anonymous suggested: that there was a God, but it wasn’t a super-natural force, it was natural. But it was an intelligence and had consciousness and was able to know about us, human beings. And THIS is what I would think that science was biased against.

Of course, at that time, I really didn’t understand science. But, if I did, that’s what I would have thought. And then when I read the blog posts I saw that Anonymous wrote (see I have no idea which Anonymous is which) basically the same thing I was getting back to. Anonymous wrote and suggested that God could be a schoolteacher watching his class, dispassionately, play around and try to learn about the world.

And yes. I think that when believers think that science is anti-God, they aren’t thinking of God as supernatural, they are thinking God is natural, a natural Something that instigated the Universe and watches over us.

And that is sort of Deism. And I remember, that was my last great hope – I was going to be a Deist. It made sense to me that some intelligence started this whole thing, and then set back and since it was clear to me that this intelligence didn’t intervene in our affairs or affected anything, I just saw It as this passive presence. And I mentioned this idea to Vic Stenger – this physicist who has written extensively, and he said. “Yes, that could be true. But it sure doesn’t have to be. And why would it be? And wouldn’t it be much more likely that we would, as narcissistic as us humans are, come up with that idea because that idea is so agreeable to us?”

And then I thought about evolution, how cruel and horrifying evolution really is. And then I thought, what is the difference between no-god and a god that does nothing? And why would I elevate consciousness above anything other than an adaptation that our species inherited that allows us some advantage in our reproduction and survival problems.

And then I just had to let go of the whole thing. I guess I am only slightly revising my answer. Science is not anti-God, unless God is defined as a Supernatural power that can change the laws of nature. This does not seem to be a very helpful idea in science. It basically just says, "Anything is possible." But I think most people think that God is a part of nature. Not supernatural. I mean, I didn't think of God as supernatural. But then, I didn't understand what supernatural was any more than I understood what nature was.

I mean, I think for me, the problem is – that even though, as Pontifica wrote (which I am so thankful by the way) and quoted the Salon article, “The God that people like Dawkins reject is a God very few people believe in.” And yes, I would say that is true. I think most people were like the way I was. And that means I didn’t really define who God was, and I just had this vague sense of love and direction and fate and the world seemed, on the surface, to be designed.

But when you start to define God, that’s when it gets tricky. That’s when God disappears, because he is impossible to define. Now, my old self would think that was a compliment. Yes, yes, God is so elusive, he is beyond description. But now I think that is just a cop-out. And that people who believe in God like that (which is, in my world, everyone!) just haven’t sat down and thought about it deeply. Because when you think about it deeply, it is very hard to keep God alive in any sense.

Okay, I’ve already written too much and I have to get off to the grocery store to buy Thanksgiving supplies! But I wanted to write to Pontifica about the ghosts – there are lots of books about this, but the bottom line is that it is amazing what people can “imagine” together. People are naturally coerced into a collective agreement over experience, especially families. It seems to me, much more likely than there actually being a ghost, that the family conjured this idea of a ghost up for themselves and then agreed on the sounds and feelings. This isn’t really conscious on their part. I think it’s just something we all naturally do.

I did the CNN interview. It was really short. I wanted to make a point that Atheism is not a faith (that was a really good comment by the way, and I really wanted to say that) but I didn’t get a chance. He asked me, like, three questions. How can I be moral without God? How could a good Catholic girl like me become an atheist? And I forget the last question – oh yeah. What do I want people to get out of my show, am I trying to proselytize?

I always get that last question. As if they are saying, “You are as bad as all the rest!” And I have such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am simply telling my story. On the other hand, I am actually making my case. I dunno.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Oh. Oh. I almost hate to post a blog entry because the discussion is really getting so interesting. I am enthralled with each entry. Carl – your story made me well up. Yes, it’s true. Atheism has nothing to say about how to cope with life. And you are so right, when you lose a loved one and are surrounded by people who try to comfort you by telling you that you will see the recently deceased again one day… it’s just a big old reminder that you aren’t.

And Michael – the person who wrote that science is anti-God. Yes, it is. You are right. It’s anti-God. Many others said the same thing. Science has a bias against evidence that cannot be tested. And since most people define God in a way as to make him, her, or whoever completely Un-testable, then God is not a good solution to scientists.

And so, in that sense, you could argue that science is anti-God. Of course there are scientists who believe in God and the ones that I respect (I am thinking of Martin Gardner) insist that their faith is completely private (and I think he even has admitted that his faith is for his own comfort, nothing more - he won't define his God or debate about it) and people like him don't even try to do silly things like argue against evolution or try to prove a 6,000 year old world, or that there is something called a quantum consciousness. They just have their faith. And it's private. And they don't insist that other people have their faith and they agree that science and secularism are the best ways through which to govern and exist in society.

Imagine if Copernicus had just accepted that the earth was flat because that’s what it said in the Bible. Any scientific advance necessarily discounts a supernatural answer. Because then that’s the end of the inquiry. God did it. End of story. And yet, this computer that I am writing on right this minute, is a product developed persons who dared to think further and experiment more and wonder deeper than the limited worldview that belief in God and compliance with a religious text might have instilled in them.

I say to Michael, just try and think of it. Just try to. Imagine we are right and you are wrong. Now I say this because I spent so many years thinking scientists were wrong and religion was right.

So I say to you, just sit and think about it. A species like ours, lurching – careening – bumbling into existence, in a world with a million, a billion possible outcomes. Here we humans come, oozing up out of the earth right along with the caterpillars and worms and bats and whatever existed at that moment. Imagine all the accidents – the asteroids destroying so much, the climate change, the deforestation, the flooding, supervolcanoes and wandering continents and magnetic fields switching up and back – all the species that died off that inadvertently benefited us, all of that – and here we are. Dominion over the earth – and not pre-ordained by God, but by pluck and luck and the virtues of natural selection and time and evolution – here we are.

And we have these brains that can figure out so much, and we are chock full of wonder and ability as well as violence and hate and jealousy. And we populate the earth, we over-populate it! Our success will, surely, participate in our ultimate demise – and yet here we are – you and me. Aware that the earth is round and that our solar system is about 6 billion years old. And we can’t even think about time that long because our puny little minds only evolved to be able to really appreciate about a hundred years or so. And here we are for this glorious moment, looking back at the Universe, blinking.

And then gone again and who knows what other species will evolve after us or if there will be an enormous asteroid plunging into us tomorrow. Or if we will extinct ourselves because of our violence that seems to be inexplicably, and intrinsically intertwined with a species’ intelligence (Dolphins, turns out they aren’t all so sweet as Flipper…)

But I ask you Michael, just let yourself imagine that we are right. Now, I know you will go right back to your other way of thinking. And I know that I would march to the Capital by foot to defend your right to believe anything you want to (in the privacy of your own home). But imagine that we are right for just a moment.

What a magnificent moment! How terrifying! How exhilarating! How tragic! How beautiful and poignant! Here we are, a little field of flowers and who knows when we’ll get plowed over and if the right insects will come and pollinate us.

And we know this because of this method – this crazy simple, but mind-bogglingly difficult method – the scientific method. And this method requires of us to stand up taller, distance ourselves from our feelings for just a moment, pull the camera back so we can see where we are standing when we face this evidence and then with tough, accepting eyes – take in the answer. To me, that is science at it’s best. And of course there are a zillion mistakes and missteps in this endeavor because we are simply humans and we are full to the eyebrows with emotions that cloud our perspective and our competitiveness and our desire to imprint our own expectations on the evidence. Of course! But science, when it’s done right – attempts to take the most honorable road. Even when that road offers us no comfort, and in fact makes the world much starker and more difficult to swallow.

I listened with some interest in the meeting of the American Bishops in Baltimore. And they started their weekend (which came to some announcements about homosexuality and the Church, more in a minute) with a shared reading that reminded us of god’s grant to humans, dominion over the earth. And I thought: that’s the problem right there! Dominion over the earth. Dominion. That arrogance!

But then I thought, but they are right. The outcome I mean. We have dominion over the earth. We are causing the sixth great extinction right now. And who cares if it was the Bible who told people or if we just evolved into this position of power and vulnerability. But we DO have dominion over the earth. And we are not handling our dominion particularly well.

And then the Church made an announcement that it was perfectly all right to be gay and Catholic as long as you agreed that acting on your sexuality (if you are gay) is sinful and wrong and heinous. And that it’s the actions that are bad, not the person. It’s just… something inside you that God put in you that makes you want to do things that are… bad, bad, bad. But don’t worry, that’s not YOU. That’s just God testing you.

ARGH. It just makes you wonder how that church even can continue at all.

In other news: I am doing a CNN interview tomorrow that is supposed to air Sunday morning on the CNN news. This segment is on faith and I am the subject of this week’s story. I did a pre-interview this morning and I go to tape tomorrow morning. The man who interviewed me today said he was shocked I was willing to say I was an atheist and that his friend told him not to even talk to me because I didn’t believe in God. Even though, this man was perfectly wonderful to talk to. I think, mostly, that people don’t understand why you are good if you don’t believe in God. It always amazes me that people think that if they didn’t have God to answer to, they would just bust out and do all kinds of unlawful and immoral things. It’s as if they, themselves, don’t understand why they behave well.

I am gearing up to shoot the movie in February, probably mid February. There is a raging debate going on in my mind about whether to shoot the show in a theater with an audience, like I did God Said Ha! Or film it all in my own home, me talking right to the camera, like the audience is a visitor. I go back and forth all the time over what is right.