Monday, July 9, 2012

An Interview with The Wise Fool

The following is an interview with TWF of The Wise Fool and Speaking in Foolish Tongues.

Before you became an atheist, you were Christian. From reading your blog, it sounds like one of the main factors of your current skepticism of religion was the lack of divine interaction. You honestly believed, prayed and listened for God--to no avail. What do you think is the difference between you and those who claim to feel God’s presence and have their prayer’s answered?

I don't think that there is much difference, except perhaps a slightly more determined drive to validate and verify experiences in the religious arena.  Ironically, that was spurred on by fear of demonic influence (Satan always looking for ways to ensnare us) and self-deception (listening to my own little voice in my head as opposed to God).  I never could really discern any Satanic influences, but as I grew to better know myself and others, self-deception was rampant, and not just regarding God.  It is far too easy to accept your perceptions without scrutiny when they seem favorable to you; far too easy to fool yourself.

I asked the previous question because believers often claim that atheists have never opened their heart and tried to believe. They also claim to know more about the Bible than atheists. It doesn’t seem like either accusation applies to you. In fact, a close reading of the BIble helped you move to atheism. Was their any one thing in scripture that made you take the final step away from faith?

I'm an engineer, so you might think that the plethora of scientific data contradictions; creation of man, creation of multiple languages, creation of rainbows, etc., would play a major role, but they didn't.  It was seeing God's humanity through Scripture which was the end for me.  God wasn't some perfect, all-loving, all-knowing, benevolent but just deity, like I had been taught to believe.  God was just like you and me; petty, loving, vengeful, caring, etc..  And when He dwelt in the negative emotions, which was often, He seemed to be the most pernicious person I had ever read about.  At least, He would be, if He truly understood what we were and what He was doing.

Like many of us, your choice of church was led by your loved ones. Was there much friction for you adopting the faith of your significant other? For the other atheists out there, do you recommend they stick to their infidel guns when dating a believer, or should they try to share the church experience?

Fortunately, none of my loved ones were fundamentalists, so I didn't have any problems.  They didn't seem to care what flavor of Christian I was, and just accepted me for who I was.  As for atheists dating believers, it's tough to give a blanket recommendation because of all of the different varieties of both atheists and believers.  However, two things do come to mind:  One, when you understand our human nature, then you understand why people believe, and why they do so with such conviction.  From there, you can have the compassionate patience to get you through any friction which may be cause by a clash of beliefs.  Two, when it comes down to the activities which really matter in life, metaphysical beliefs do not really factor into your enjoyment of the time spent together.

You write a Bible blog with a skeptical eye. In your opinion, which book or verse is the most meaningful and which is the most nonsensical?

At the book level, that's mostly easy.  Ecclesiastes is a clear winner for the most meaningful, despite the obvious and heinous God-biased addition to its ending.  While many books have nonsensical parts, for the whole book I would choose short one of Malachi.  It has similar content to other prophets, but what makes it stand out is that Malachi is the prophetic book which claims that Elijah would come back and set things right, and part of setting it right was restoring the Levitic priesthood, replete with tithes and sacrifices.  It becomes nonsensical when you see Jesus claim that John the Baptist was Elijah, doing so through quoting a cherry-picked, context-neutered verse from Malachi.  My choices change with my mood and current events at the verse level.  For example, Jeremiah 5:22 is pretty nonsensical in the wake of the Japan tsunami.  One of the most meaningful verses I had recently discovered was Psalm 78:39:
"[God] remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return." NIV

As atheists, we often talk about the harm caused by religion. What do you see as the primary benefit of religion, if any?

Religion has many benefits, for sure.  As tainted as it can be with judgmental people fostered by the spirit of ultimate judgment, building of a community is probably the primary benefit to religion.  In its best form, it provides the platform and the impetus to bond with people outside of ourselves, meet on a regular basis, and look after one another.

Who is your atheist role model? Why?

I've been kind of a loner, by design.  As I explored the question of religion, I didn't want to be overly influenced by eloquent atheist scholars such as Dawkins or Harris, so I avoided most atheist outside influence, and thus never picked up a role model.  However, I am in great admiration and debt to Steve Wells' work in producing the Skeptics Annotated Bible website.  I dream that my own Bible book summaries on my blog would be at least half as useful as the site Steve has put together.

Is there anything that would convince you that there is a god? If so, provide an example.

I am a little less hard-lined than some atheists, in that I have little trouble conceiving of a real god (as opposed to God with a "G"), but such a god is under no obligation to make its own presence known to us (and seemingly has not so far), and it would not care whether or not I think it exists.  However, I consider that such a god unlikely, and that we have a better chance of discovering alien life on other planets in my lifetime than we do in ever finding such a god.  Back to your question, though, a personal appearance would be nice proof.  :-)


  1. @ Grundy: Excellent interview! Grundy, you ask some very good questions!

    By the way, one thing I noticed about The Wise Fool soon after I began to read him is that the posts on his Bible blog generally equal or beat just about any other Bible analysis I'd read -- including those of Dawkins and Hitchens -- for thoughtfulness, accuracy, creativity, and completeness. At least that has been my impression.

    @ The Wise Fool: You say at the end of the interview that a personal experience of deity would be proof of the existence of deity. Now, I don't believe that to be the case. I think one would still be left with two questions -- even after a personal experience of deity.

    (1) Whether the experience was simply a brain fart -- such as an hallucination.

    (2) And, if you could somehow determine that it was not a brain fart -- but rather caused by something independent of you -- then you would still be left with a question about whether what you experienced was representational of reality. For instance, we see colors, but colors are not actual properties of things. So if you experienced an omnipotent deity what's to say omnipotence was an actual property of it?

    I realize I have just now inanely quibbled over a totally trivial detail of no great importance while ignoring the remainder of a wonderful interview, but I was curious what you might make of my objections, TWF.

  2. What a synchronicity! (word of the day) I just happened upon your old blog today, Cafe of the Cosmic Dance.

    Thanks, BTW. You might like a post of mine a couple back that talks about what it would take to convince me of a deity. I figure God could not only appear, but shut off your skepticism if he so desired...but then there goes free will.

    1. Strange how coincidences like that happen. :D

      I'll go take a look at your post!

  3. Sorry I didn't explain what I meant, Paul. I kind of shorted Grundy too in the process.

    I, too, would be concerned about being fooled, so I would opt for a personal appearance in the other sense... as in I suddenly find myself in Heaven, or Hell, or whatever plain of existence God is on, in front of the BBG (big bearded guy). Preferably, I would like a witness on earth to have seen me disappear when that happens.

    I've been in dreams which have seemed real in the dream, but not after I woke up. On the other hand, I have never had a real experience which I thought instead was a dream. So if this was a real experience, I suspect that I would know it.

    And, of course, the BBG and I would have to have a conversation; one where He reveals that He really is omniscient, or at least knows more about me than anyone should, by example.

    After we have a chat... poof, I'm back on earth in the same spot, just with some time passed, and preferably a really freaked-out witness to my sudden time-blink.

    That would probably make me a believer in God. :-)

  4. Cool. I've always enjoyed Wise Fool's dissection of scripture, and it was nice to read this interview.

  5. Agreed. TWF's bible blog is much more in depth than any I read while coming out or really since.
    Grundy, your questions are very thoughtful. Have you interviewed yourself?
    Wise Fool- If you had someone who could verify every detail you experienced, would that convince you? If they saw you disappear and reappear and then told you that the same thing had happened to them and described a similar scene, would that synchronicity convince you of a god? I had some pretty freaky things happen to me while a believer but I can't see you taking any of that as actual proof.

    1. Why would I interview myself? I already know me. ;-) Someone else can interview me.

      Good use of the word of the day!

    2. prarienymph, that's a good question. I'd like to say that I wouldn't be fooled, and that a synchronicity would mean something. But I haven't had much of the freakier side of faith happen at all to say with great certainty. Fortunately, I doubt I'll ever have to worry about that. ;-)