Doubt and Certainty

4 08 2013

I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s not because I haven’t had anything I wanted to say. I’ve definitely had thoughts that I would have liked to express and this blog has always been a good venue for thought expression in the past. I think the reason I haven’t written anything here or elsewhere lately is because I have begun doubting that anyone would want to hear what I have to say.

Maybe this is a good thing. It could be a sign that I’ve become a little less narcissistic. I’m reminded of the parody quotation concerning blogging, “Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.” So maybe I’ve just grown up a little bit. :) But my graduate advisor has even pointed out the same thing, that it seems like I’ve lost the belief that I have anything interesting to say.

I have no accurate insight as to why this might be the case but I can speculate. I imagine it has something to do with my recent disaffection from religion and my recent divorce. The reason I think these events are partly to blame is because each has caused me to seriously question what I think I “know.” These days, I’m simply much less comfortable saying that I “know” anything with certainty and this, in turn, makes me reluctant to share my thoughts and beliefs because I think I fear that they, too, may one day be proven wrong and I don’t want to commit myself publicly to something that is potentially false.

I think I’ve been treating this kind of doubt as a virtue, in the vein of Charles Bukowski’s words when he said, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” This is, admittedly, very self-serving and it’s quite easy for me to recite such words to myself and inwardly gloat about my “intelligence” without actually learning or contributing anything to the world. The truth is that this kind of doubt that I’m feeling has only caused me to become more reclusive in terms of sharing the fruits of my intellect.

I envision myself, in my future career, as an educator of sorts and, in a certain light, educating requires a degree of arrogance, that is, you must possess a degree of confidence that you know more about something than the people whom you would like to educate. It also requires a degree of humility, being willing to accept that you could be wrong and being able to accept correction when you receive it in order to ensure that you are always teaching as correctly as possible.

Anyway, the point of me writing this is not to say that I have finally found enough knowledge or truth for me to feel comfortable and confident sharing it now. The point is that my fear that I don’t know enough has paralyzed me and kept me from sharing my thoughts and exposing them to public scrutiny, to be validated or rejected as others see fit. This has potentially robbed me of many opportunities to learn and increase my knowledge. I don’t want to continue like this.

I have things to say, thoughts to share, knowledge that others don’t have. I enjoy sharing such things with others but I have let my lack of certainty prevent it lately. I want to begin sharing again. As far as this blog goes, hopefully I’ll get motivated to do as I’ve done in the past: share my thoughts on social issues, share important events from my life, etc. I also want to share more of what I learn in my studies. I hope that people will still want to read it. :)


I Now Blog for the National Institute for Civil Discourse

14 04 2013

I don’t have to tell you that I haven’t blogged much lately. Grad school is busy. You may have heard that before. Haha. But, I didn’t stop blogging completely, I just decided to try my hand at some more potentially important blogging. I volunteered my services to the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) here in Tucson (it was formed shortly after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords) and they told me they just had a grad student blogger leave and asked if I would be comfortable filling the spot. So, I’ve blogged for them (at the site Your Words Count, the community outreach arm of the NICD) about a half dozen times in the last couple of months – mostly simple pieces that describe some of my personal reflections on civil discourse and getting along. I’ve kept quiet about it because I’m a terrible self-promoter and I put more pressure on myself when it’s a much more public platform but a friend recently told me that the site’s goals are really worthwhile and, while my blog posts are just one small part of it, I should be promoting it a little more. So, I would love it if you checked out the Your Words Count blog sometime and let me know what you think. While you’re there, check out the rest of the site as well. The site is kind of a work in progress still but it’s got some great stuff. For a more academic take on civil discourse, visit the NICD website.

What Atheism Means To Me

11 01 2013

To follow up my statement a couple of posts ago about wanting to be understood, I wanted to share something that might help others understand what atheism and being an atheist means to me. Atheism is one of those words that has a lot of connotations (often negative ones) attached to it. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the Mormon/Christian approach to life but I know that when I was an active Mormon I had a slightly skewed understanding of atheists. Most people probably still have a skewed understanding. Some social psychology research came out in the last year that showed that, in North America, atheists are mistrusted to the same degree as are child molesters. Personally, I definitely don’t think that level of mistrust is warranted. Hopefully, some of what I’ve included below will help illustrate why atheists are no worse than anyone else. I’m not intending or expecting to “convert” anyone with the following, I just hope you understand me a little more afterwards. :)

*NB: All of the videos below were created for or presented to predominantly secular audiences. In my opinion, none of them are intended to be offensive to religious believers but it’s quite possible that they contain things to which a religious person might take offense. Nor do I intend to offend by sharing any of these videos. Even if you disagree with the beliefs and/or politics of these speakers, I think you can agree that all of them want people to get along.

All together, the videos represent about an hour of viewing time and I understand if you don’t want to commit to that, so I have briefly summarized each video. Also, this is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of my thoughts on atheism, rather it is just a sampling of things that I think are important and represent me.

Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy – This one is less about atheism and more about my worldview in general but it is certainly relevant when it comes to bridging a religious/secular divide. In this video, Sam Richards uses an analogy about nations invading other nations for natural resources to illustrate why it is so important to try to see things from the point of view of other people. Empathy is what will allow people of all different beliefs, from all walks of life, to peacefully coexist.


Instruction Manual for Life – This is a relatively short animated video that uses a metaphor about cupboards and instruction manuals to illustrate the importance of being open-minded when it comes to the beliefs of others. The message is that there are many different ways to live one’s life and all of those ways have value and being too narrow-minded can cause you to miss out on appreciating the value in others and their beliefs.


Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0 – In this video, Alain de Botton describes how many atheists are missing out on a lot of the good that religion has to offer and how atheists can benefit from adopting (in a very broad sense) certain religious traditions and rituals. The message is that people of all beliefs should implement good ideas and life strategies, no matter where those ideas come from.


Phil Plait: Don’t Be A Dick – In this video, Phil Plait is speaking to a very secular audience about the best way to convince others to believe as they do. This video is probably the most likely to offend a believer, not because of the core message but because of some of the asides that are included in the talk. Remember, he is speaking to an audience of skeptics and non-believers. However, the message of this talk is one of the most important. The take away is that no matter who you are or what you believe, you’ll never convince someone of anything by being a jerk to them. I believe this message applies to everyone and I, personally, take it very seriously. I learned the same lesson as a Mormon missionary, in fact. But it’s probably much easier for people to imagine a nice Mormon than a nice atheist. So I wanted to share this version of the message to demonstrate that not all atheists and skeptics are jerks and that we do, in fact, care about being nice to others and not just jamming our beliefs down other people’s throats.


Humanist Manifesto – Although I don’t describe myself strictly as a Humanist, I very closely identify with this description of Humanism and its aspirations.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

This black cloud has had a lot of silver linings.

9 01 2013

I’m worried that my last post may have seemed a little too cynical and pessimistic. The truth is, while what I said is probably true in a literal sense, my experience with Mormon friends and family finding out about my drama and beliefs has been predominantly positive. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since they have always been such great people. My heart goes out to those people whose experiences within and without the Mormon church have been so much more negative.

I don’t know how I got to this point without completely offending and alienating Maren. But I did somehow. And that makes me very happy. I am so grateful for her maturity and positive regard of me given everything we’ve been through together. I’m grateful for the non-judgmental reactions of my friends and family, including Maren’s family. The last few months have had a lot of pretty painful and sad moments but I get warm fuzzies when I think about all of us, despite having dramatically different belief systems, continuing to have positive and rewarding relationships.

Nothing but love for you all.

I understand what Mormons might think of me now.

4 01 2013

I want to let my readers know something (particularly the Mormon and otherwise religious ones). It’s okay if you don’t want to talk to me about the events outlined in recent posts or if you don’t want to read what I write about my new beliefs or if the whole thing makes you uncomfortable. I understand.

I’m going to share with you a little insecurity of mine. As people continue to find out about my divorce and change in religious beliefs, the thing that I am most afraid of is how my Mormon friends and acquaintances will react to it. You know, time passes, people move away from each other, people have less contact with each other, close friendships become less close, perhaps, but, regardless, I still care about the people who have made a difference in my life and I care what they think of me and my choices. I am constantly trying to imagine myself in their shoes, finding out for the first time that someone they knew to be a devout Mormon is now a non-believer and lost his marriage because of it. I remember how I felt as an active Mormon about people who left the church and I remember the Sunday school lessons, both explicit and implicit, about those who leave the church. To be honest, none of those things make me very optimistic that many active Mormons will continue to think very highly of me in light of recent events.

The reason I wanted to write this out is to let my religious friends know that I get it. I understand the suspicions and misgivings you might have toward me now. You are all too polite to say it to me but if you’re anything like I was as an active Mormon you probably have your theories about why I ended up going down this road, very few, if any, of which reflect favorably on me. You might even think I’m a less moral person as a result of all this. I understand what I represent to Mormons now. In a way, I’m a threat. I am someone who has spurned something that Mormons consider extremely sacred and special. I am someone who has knowingly rejected the core doctrinal precepts that give Mormons and other believers their sense of purpose and meaning in life. From a believer’s perspective, and in a very simplistic sense, someone wouldn’t do this unless they were stupid or wicked or, at best, misguided. And I get this kind of thinking. I’ve been there myself.

I realize that I’m painting with a broad brush here and greatly simplifying complex issues. And I’m speaking from my insecurities, too, so the negatives may be exaggerated in my mind. I understand that not all Mormons are the same, just as not all atheists are the same, or Muslims or Hindus, etc. And not all Mormons have the same interpretations of gospel teachings as I did when I was an active member. Luckily, I do have many friends and family members who, while they may not agree with my spiritual decisions, have reached out to me during this difficult time, proving that the reasons for my insecurity are not as generalized as I feared.

I also understand how difficult it is to think of something to say to someone who has just gotten divorced. I haven’t had many such opportunities myself but when I have, I sure don’t know what to say and if the divorcee isn’t a very close friend, I usually just opt not to say anything. So, I get that as well.

Maybe this all seems like I’m just playing the victim here to drum up sympathy for my situation and guilt people into reaching out to me. If it seems like that’s what I’m doing, then please ignore me and don’t reward my behavior. It’s not my intent to make anyone feel bad. Rather, I want people to feel understood, just as I want to be understood. I don’t want to be a threat to anyone. The people that have been important to me in my life, I want to keep in my life. I really hope that my beliefs don’t get in the way of that. But if they do, I get it.

Why I will always consider myself a Mormon

19 12 2012

In my other posts I think I sort of assume that my readers know that I belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but just in case you didn’t know, now you do. Now, as I said before, I now consider myself an atheist and I no longer actively participate in the Mormon church. That said, I think the church will always be a part of my life in one way or another and I’m okay with that. Here’s why:

I am who I am in large part because of the Mormon church and my participation in it.

  • I was born and raised in the Mormon church in a pretty devout family.
  • My ancestors came to Western Canada because of the Mormon church. I’m glad I’m Canadian.
  • My morals have and will likely always have a strong foundation in the Judeo-Christian ethics instilled in me by the Mormon church.
  • I still consider the teachings of Jesus Christ to be good rules to live by (and I still try to be “Christ-like”).
  • I have made a lot of good friends and known a lot of great people because of the Mormon church.
  • The people of the Mormon church have always treated me with respect and dignity. I believe such people also deserve my respect.
  • Many of the people who have been most influential for good in my life have been other Mormons. There are many leaders and friends who have helped shape me into what I am today (and I consider that a good thing).
  • Part of my appreciation for other cultures and my love of traveling I owe to serving a mission for the Mormon church.
  • I speak Spanish because of my mission.
  • I owe my work ethic and sense of responsibility in large part to the things I learned on my mission and in the Mormon church generally.
  • I became interested in psychology because of the experiences I had on my mission. Now I’m a psych grad student!
  • I still love giving service to others and helping where I can, even if I don’t do it as often as I could.
  • And there’s certainly more, as well.

In short, I owe a lot to the Mormon church.

To be fair, the church was definitely not the only source of good things in my life. My morals and attitudes have also been shaped by a wide variety of experiences in other areas of life. I have met many, many good people who are not affiliated with the Mormon church and who have taught and inspired me for good. My motivations for volunteering and giving service were always due to a variety of factors and not just religious ones. But my point is that I have a lot of Mormon in me and I’m not trying to rub it out now that I’m a non-believer. I’m just different now. I have added to what I once knew and who I once was and I think I’m better for it.

Also, my story is not everyone’s story. On this spiritual journey of mine I have met many people who have had very negative experiences with the church. It makes me very grateful that my own experience was so positive. I may believe differently now but I readily acknowledge the vast good that the Mormon church has done in my life. A lesson I learned from a Mormon leader that has stuck with me is that if you look for the good in something, you will find it and the same goes for the bad. As long as the Mormon church keeps doing good things, I will try to look for it. But, I also like that my new spiritual vantage point allows me to acknowledge and address the negative as well, rather than just ignoring it.

In sum, the Mormon church has been a part of my life for nearly 30 years and in that time it has provided me with many good opportunities to learn and grow as a person and meet good people and do good things. Those good things will always be a part of me. Even though my beliefs are different now and I probably won’t ever identify myself as Mormon again, I know that there will always be a little Mormon in me – and that’s alright with me.

I don’t believe in god.

17 12 2012

I am an atheist in the most basic sense of the word. I do not believe in a god nor do I believe any god exists. I willingly concede that I cannot know for certain that there is no God at all, but I maintain that the probability of God’s existence, especially as most people conceive of him/her/it, is vanishingly small.

Also, I am NOT an atheist activist. I am NOT on a mission to convert anyone. I do NOT belong to any atheist group or organization. I am NOT like Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher. I am NOT interested in mocking or belittling the beliefs of others.

I’m just an atheist now. I was a Mormon, now I’m an atheist.

This probably raises some questions for many of you – the how’s and why’s of my unbelief. I may get into that stuff later, but not now. For now, I just want to admit it to someone that doesn’t already know.

I confess I get a little nervous talking about this stuff openly. If I imagine myself 5 years ago, faced with a friend who had stopped believing, I can see myself feeling betrayal, disappointment, anger or pity. I can see myself trying to change my friend’s mind, wondering about his personal worthiness, questioning his motivations. I hope I wouldn’t have actually been that way but my point is that I completely understand the reasoning behind those emotions and behaviors and I wouldn’t be surprised if my old friends and acquaintances felt some combination of them upon learning this about me.

The truth is, I haven’t changed that much. I still enjoy the same kinds of things. My lifestyle and habits are still nearly identical to what they were when I was at my most active in the church. I still want to be a good person and my definition of a good person is still probably very similar to anyone else’s. For most intents and purposes, I am much the same person as a non-believer as I was as a believer. There are certainly some important differences but being an atheist does not influence my behavior any more or less than my religiosity did previously.

Please know that this is a place I arrived at only after lots of time and careful thought. It has been a big deal for a variety of reasons and I definitely took the transition seriously. I hope my readers take it seriously as well.

Has atheism changed me and the way I see the world? Yep. But not as much as you might think.

Do I think my beliefs are superior to other belief systems? Of course. Else why believe it? You, too, probably think your beliefs are superior to mine, even if you wouldn’t say it. And that’s okay.

Do I think I am superior to other people? Definitely not. I am just as flawed as any other human on earth. I am finding my way the best I know how, as are all of us.

Do I still consider myself a moral person? Absolutely.

Do I want my life to be filled with people of all backgrounds and faiths? Most definitely. (That means you, dear reader!)