Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Worse Than the Holocaust?

I think we can all agree that the Holocaust that occurred in Germany during World War II was a tragic, horrid event. It’s the type of event that humanity would very much like to prevent from ever happening again. Most humans are compassionate and look with horror upon the suffering of people at the hands of evil. We want the perpetrators of these despicable acts tracked down and punished. Many people relish the thought of Hitler and his minions being cast into a fiery hell, getting their comeuppance for their misdeeds. While I too like to see evil punished, my bigger concern in the case of the Holocaust is the fate of the victims.
As we know, the majority of the people killed during the Holocaust were Jewish. This is unfortunate if we are to believe some Christians. According to them, everyone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior will end up in a fiery hell. I would venture to guess that the majority of the Jews tortured and killed at the hands of Hitler had not converted to Christianity. Therefore, they will supposedly spend eternity in hell RIGHT ALONGSIDE HITLER!! I don’t know about you, but this form of justice seems to come straight from the Bizarro World of the DC Comics. It’s the ultimate example of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Think deeply about this. WWII Germany inflicted much pain and death on a group of people based on who they were by birth and what they believed religiously. Most people find this unfathomable. Yet, many of the same people who are horrified by the actions of Hitler actually believe that their God is going to inflict infinitely more pain on those same people. If Hitler was a monster, what does that make God?
Many believers, in an attempt to exonerate God, say something like this, “God does not SEND anyone to hell. He simply gives them a choice of their eternal destination while living on Earth. Those that choose hell will get their wish.” To that I say, “BALONEY!” People are not put on a precipice with heaven in view above and hell in view below and then asked to choose where they want to go. We all know what each person’s decision would be under those circumstances. Rather, people are asked to choose their faith based on incomplete information. Most people who reject Christianity, or any religion for that matter, do so because they simply don’t believe it. Some have investigated it as thoroughly as possible and found it wanting. Some don’t really think about such things and just accept the faith of their parents or peers. The point is, people are NOT in any way saying, “Hey, I like that idea of being tormented for eternity. I can’t wait to get there so I can writhe in pain day after day without end. I sure hope hell is just as Robert Jeffress described it on his radio program: dark, lonely, nothing to touch, no one to talk to, my body feeling as though it is ablaze. And to top it all off, after I have been though this suffering for ten billion trillion years, my suffering will not have been reduced in length by even one second. Yeah, that’s what I want. Who wants to join me?”
It should be plain that our supposed choice between heaven and hell is not as simple as choosing what we’re going to have for breakfast. There are a lot of competing religions and philosophies in the world all claiming they have the real truth. Since God does not come to us directly to reveal which is correct, we are left to ponder this ourselves and make a decision with far less information than we really need to make an intelligent decision. Ask yourself: would a loving God torture a good person for simply not being convinced of the truthfulness of a particular religion? If so, how does that speak to his morality? Some say that since God is sovereign he can do whatever he wants and he is still moral. Well I have news for you, I can be perfectly moral if given that amount of leeway. So could everyone on the face of the Earth, including Hitler. I just don’t buy that. Certain actions are evil no matter who perpetrates them; God included. Otherwise, morality has absolutely no meaning. We are told that we should emulate God in our actions toward other people. But if God can do anything to anyone and it be perfectly moral, then in the process of emulating him, so can we. This makes no sense.
The issue of man’s choice of his eternal destination is further complicated if God is omniscient as many claim. If God actually knows from eternity past how every human being will live his life, then why would he create anyone that was going to “choose” hell. Since we humans have no choice about being born, who really bears responsibility for us existing and making the choices we make? Certainly not us.
For further reading about what some believers are saying about hell, try these:
Of course, there are some Christians that do not believe the Bible teaches that hell is a place of eternal torment. I did a study several years ago and concluded this myself. Some people teach that unbelievers will be annihilated, while other teach that in the end all mankind will be saved. Here’s some reading along these lines:
Here’s a motto to live by: THINK before you BELIEVE.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real Encounters With the Paranormal?

Given that Halloween is upon us, and this is the time for spooky unnatural events to occur, I thought I would share with you a few related personal stories.

I grew up hearing many bizarre stories from my mother concerning her youth. She used to tell me stories about seeing lights bouncing around in the sky and a fireball passing close overhead, so close that her father threw his hat at it. She was not afraid of these things since she had never heard anyone talking about UFOs and flying saucers from other planets, and she saw them often enough to where she just accepted them as normal.

The most intriguing and unbelievable story she told me was of the time she got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom (done outdoors in those days). When she stepped onto the front porch she noticed a multi-floored building across the road with the windows all lit up. This may not sound all that strange except for the fact that my mother lived in the country where there was no electricity, and only trees were across the road.

My mother also told me that she would occasionally hear a disembodied voice telling her something was going to happen, and it would always happen. It was like she had a personal invisible prophet speaking to her from time to time. The first time this happened she was fairly young. She heard the voice say that the barn was on fire. Then, just a minute or so later, a brother came running to the house saying that the barn was on fire. When I was in elementary school, my best friend’s mother came to our house. As my mother was talking to her, the voice told her that my friend’s mother and father were going to get a divorce. A couple of years later this came to pass.

Back in the late 1970’s, soon after my grandmother died, several of my relatives were at my grandfather’s house. An uncle was sitting in a chair directly opposite a wall where a whatnot hung. On a shelf of the whatnot was a small porcelain cup that had belonged to my grandmother. Suddenly my uncle saw the cup slide off the shelf and begin floating in the air toward him. Flabbergasted, all he could do was stare. When the cup got within a few feet of him, it quit moving towards him and the handle turned upward as if someone was holding it. Slowly it descended straight to the floor whereupon the cup appeared to have been released and then rolled over until the handle contacted the floor. He later described it to me as something straight from the TV show “Bewitched.” A second uncle, who was standing nearby but facing the opposite direction, caught a glimpse of the cup as it hit the floor. Thinking a young niece was responsible, he called out for her to stop throwing things. She was not even in the room at the time. A cousin was in the dining room at the time and reported that he also caught a glimpse, through a doorway, of the cup as it was moving though the air. When the second uncle asked the first how the cup got on the floor, the latter was speechless. After asking a few more times, he was finally able to answer that it had just floated over there. Several of the family members got together and tried to determine what had caused the cup to come off the shelf, cross the room, and settle on the floor. During the course of their investigation, they set the cup back on the shelf and pushed it off my hand. The cup sailed quickly through the air and hit the floor with such force as to break it into many pieces. A third uncle, when later told about this incident, said that he would give a hundred dollars to have seen that cup floating through the air. The uncle that saw the whole event responded that he would give a hundred dollars to not have seen it.

What do you think of these stories? Do you believe they happened just as I told them? You are probably expecting me to now tell you that I just made them up for this Halloween season. If so, then you would be wrong. I did not make these stories up. They were told to me by my relatives. And given that the relatives reporting these stories were trustworthy, I have to believe there is something to them. I just don’t know what. What was the point of the lights in the air and the building across the road my mother saw? I don’t know and neither did she. What was the point of the cup floating through the air? Some of my relatives believe that the cup was moved by my recently deceased grandmother, who owned the cup. I don’t know what to make of it. Given that, until the cup incident, my uncle was a diehard skeptic about supposed supernatural occurrences reported by others gives his story even more credence.

I have personally only had a couple of weird experiences that seemed paranormal in nature. Many years ago I went with a female coworker to a new restaurant in town for lunch. It was fixed up with a lot of decorations, TVs on the walls, and a side room with arcade games. While waiting for our food, I began watching an old B&W movie that had just started. The title of the movie was a woman’s name that I cannot remember, so let’s just say it was Amelia. Well, at the point that Amelia makes her first appearance in the movie, she is asked who she is. She responds, “Amelia.” Well, just at the time she said her name, an employee of the restaurant came over the intercom to call out the name of the customer whose order was ready to pick up. You guessed it, the name was Amelia. Kind of bizarre, don’t you think. Anyway, after my friend and I finished eating, we were just sitting there relaxing when I heard a deep male voice behind me say, “Better get back to work.” I quickly turned and looked all around, but there was no one anywhere near me. Just when I thought I might be hearing things, my coworker said, “Yeah, you’re right.” I asked her who she was talking to. She said, “Didn’t you just say we needed to get back to work?” I responded that I had not, but I had heard someone else saying it. To this day I still don’t know whose voice that was or where it came from. Upon telling my mother, she of course believed it was a supernatural warning that we really needed to get back to work.

On March 30, 1981, as I was driving home from work, I heard a report on the radio that President Ronald Reagan, Press Secretary James Brady, and others had been attacked and shot by a crazed gunman. The report went on to say that James Brady, as a result of a gunshot wound to his head, was dead. Being a man of faith at that time, I began praying that Brady would somehow not be dead. I knew this was a rather brazen prayer given that I was in fact praying for nothing less than a resurrection. Later I heard reports that Brady was in fact not dead. The earlier reports had been incorrect. Even so, the report of Brady still being alive gave me pause.

To be honest, I am skeptical of all supernatural or paranormal stories, even MINE. It seems that when such claims are put to the test scientifically, natural explanations are always forthcoming. One person who has been diligent about exposing people with supposed psychic, paranormal, or supernatural abilities is magician James Randi (aka The Amazing Randi, must see this video). For many years now he has had a challenge in which if a person can demonstrate his powers under controlled conditions he will receive a substantial cash prize. Everyone who has taken this challenge has failed. Randi documents many exposés in Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions as well as other books.

Even so, may you have a HAPPY and SPOOKY HALLOWEEN.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

An Interview With Myself

I recently released my first novel, “Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster.” Since I am an unknown author trying to self-promote my book, I have not been inundated with requests for interviews by the established media. Therefore, I decided to interview myself. Why not? Who better to ask just the right questions? I can be just as hard or easy on myself as I choose to be. So, without further ado, here is Randy C. Finch’s interview with author Randy C. Finch.

Q: I have read your novel, “Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster,” several times now and find it a good read and thought-provoking. I know this is your first novel, but I understand that it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Is that true?
A: No comment.
Q: Huh?
A: Just joking! Yes, you understand correctly. Having been a chemical engineer for the last 33 years, I have written many technical reports. I have also written and presented many papers at conferences. Apart from my work, I have authored over 60 computer related articles for magazines and journals. For two years I wrote a regular column for a computer journal. I also had several essays published in a philosophical journal and some poetry published online and in book compilations. I have actually written some unpublished SciFi short stories as well. About 10 years ago I published a non-fiction book, “Beginnings to Endings,” which is a humorous philosophy book.
Q: So, what prompted you to write a novel?
A: I have thought about writing a novel for many years. When I was a teenager, I was an avid reader of science fiction novels. Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and others were my favorite novelists. In my post-teen years I discovered John E. Stith. The first novel I read of his was “Manhattan Transfer.” I read the first chapter in a SciFi magazine and immediately went to a local bookstore and preordered a copy. I just recently reread the novel in eBook format on my smart phone. It’s an excellent read. After Manhattan Transfer, I obtained and read every book Stith wrote. He is one of, if not my favorite, SciFi authors. His books made me want to write my own novel even more. The thing that drove me over the edge was a dream I had a little over a year ago.
Q: A dream?
A: Yes, you remember the dream we had, don’t you? In the dream a religious skeptic cheats on his Christian wife. He is really torn up about it and decides he must go to her, confess his infidelity, and beg her forgiveness.
Q: Ah yes, I remember now!
A: Of course you do. Anyway, just as the man, whose name is Tom, is about to leave for home, he is inexplicably confronted by a man from the future telling him that it will be a big mistake to reconcile with his wife. Unpleasant things will happen if he does.
Q: So how much of your novel is based on the dream you had?
A: The core of the first third or so of the book is based on my dream. I embellished it with character development and dialog, of course.
Q: What about the remaining part of the book?
A: Once I realized that my dream was a good idea for a book, I soon realized that there had to be more. There had to be some kind of twist. When you read the book, you will see that the man from the future makes additional visits and provides more warnings to Tom. Then, about halfway through the book, something very unexpected happens. Everything after that point is based on my waking thoughts rather than my dreaming thoughts.
Q: So, what happens?
A: I can’t say. That would be too much of a spoiler for those who haven’t yet read my book.
Q: So you’re just going to leave those reading this interview hanging in order to prompt them to buy and read the book?
A: Absolutely.
Q: Okey dokey, then. Let’s move on. It’s seems rather strange that your dream would be specifically about a skeptic married to a Christian. Why do you suppose your dream was so defined on this point?
A: That’s an easy one. In real life I am a religious skeptic and my wife is a Christian.
Q: Really? How in the world did you end up married?
A: Well, I was a Christian when we got married. I de-converted about five years afterwards.
Q: I guess that was a tough time for your marriage.
A: To some degree, yes. However, we soon discovered that our love for each other was stronger than our differences in beliefs. Next year we will celebrate our 30th anniversary. We love each other more today than yesterday. Say, that would make a good song.
Q: It has already been done years ago by Spiral Starecase.
A: I know. I was being facetious.
Q: I couldn’t tell without an emoticon.
A: Oh, sorry. I should have added one.
Q: Well, anyway, back to the interview. So, I guess you being married to a Christian explains why you present Christians in such a positive light in your novel. Many skeptics these days make fun of and denigrate Christians.
A: Oh, absolutely. And it’s not just my wife. I know many Christians, and the vast majority are fine, intelligent, upright people. I cringe when I hear certain unbelievers try to make Christians appear to be deluded idiots. Of course, Christians are not exempt from this behavior either. I have heard many preachers try to portray all unbelievers as being ignorant or licentious or both. And it just isn’t so. I know that I personally de-converted because I came to believe that the evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible was not as great as it should be, given the incredible claims that it makes.
Q: But what about all those very intelligent Christian apologists such as Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell that went from being a skeptic to a Christian based on the evidence?
A: That is puzzling, isn’t it? A few years back, Josh McDowell came to town and gave a talk at a church just a few miles from my house. It was quite enlightening. He said that Christian beliefs had to be based on evidence, not faith alone. Why? Because a person can choose to believe anything by faith. They can choose to be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on by faith. Simply having faith in some system of belief does not speak to its truthfulness. That is where evidence comes in. Evidence is what allows us to determine what is true and thus worthy of our allegiance. However, the problem is that the evidence is incomplete. Therefore, we find that some level of faith is necessary to bridge the gap between the evidence and our acceptance. It’s kind of like sitting on a jury. Evidence is presented both for and against the defendant. The jury must then decide the defendant’s guilt or innocence. When it comes to religions, the world is basically a hung jury. Some believe the evidence is sufficient; others do not. So, Josh McDowell and I agree that we should only accept a religion based on the evidence. However, he, and many others, believe the evidence is sufficient. I, and many others, believe it is not.
Q: I found it interesting how you handled the issue of an afterlife in your novel. You seem to be hopeful that even unbelievers can be a part of a wonderful afterlife rather than a hellish eternal torment that some people believe await them. Do you personally believe in an afterlife?
A: I’ll have to play the politician here and answer, “Yes and no.” What I really mean is that I simply don’t know. On the one hand I know for sure that it didn’t bother me one iota to have not existed before I was conceived, so why should it bother me to return to that same state after my death? On the other hand, it seems rather bizarre that we humans, with the capability of self-awareness, would come into existence, live for a few years, and then disappear forever.
Q: My thoughts exactly.
A: I’m not surprised. 8>)  Notice I didn’t forget the emoticon this time.
Q: Thanks for that. Now, changing the subject, I wanted to say that I really enjoyed the cultural references you sprinkle throughout your novel. A good friend of mine who has also read your book agrees with me. You mention many popular movies, TV shows, and songs. Why did you do this?
A: Because that’s how I think personally. Many times during my life I have had situations arise that remind me of a song, or a movie, or a particular episode of a TV show. Many times I will make a comical reference to it. I usually only speak the reference when other people are around and just think it when I am by myself. However, I have been known to speak aloud to myself every now and then. I hope that’s not too freakish.
Q: What? Did you say something to me? I thought you were talking to yourself.
A: Okay, wise guy. No emoticon?
Q: 8>)
A: That’s better.
Q: Speaking of popular culture, you mentioned earlier that you used to be a big fan of science fiction. Are you still?
A: Not so much. The bookstores these days have combined two categories: science fiction and fantasy. While I enjoy SciFi, I am not much of a fan of fantasy. When I visit the SciFi / Fantasy section of my local bookstore, I find that most of the books are really fantasy, not hardcore science fiction. Back when I de-converted, I found myself reading more non-fiction than fiction. I was reading a lot of philosophy books, particularly those by Ayn Rand. I also read a fair number of books criticizing Christianity and others defending it. I even wrote three essays explaining the problems I had with the Bible that caused me to reject it. However, one can only read so much of this type of literature before it begins to get repetitive. Recently I have gotten into reading thriller authors like David Baldacci and Lee Child. Interestingly, shortly before I published “Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster,” I found out that another writer friend of mine had just published his first novel. Like me, he had also written a lot of non-fiction articles and books. The big difference was he became quite well known, having written at one time for Reader’s Digest. We talked by phone and Email and he gave me some sound advice about how to approach the publication of my novel. I appreciated that.
Q: So, who was this friend and what was his novel about?
A: His name is Robert Bidinotto, and his novel is entitled, “HUNTER: A Thriller.” Don’t let the title fool you. It’s more than just a thriller, it’s also a romance novel. It’s also a good read for anyone concerned about the current state of our criminal justice system.
Q: I just found out that Mr. Bidinotto’s novel is available in print as well as an eBook. How about your novel?
A: Right now it is only available in various eBook formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBook store, and Smashwords. I am looking into producing a print version, also.
Q: I’m really getting tired of interviewing you, but I did want to mention one other thing about your book: sex. While I realize that the sexual content of your novel is very mild compared to today’s standards of sexuality, don’t you think it’s too provocative given that part of your target audience is the Christian community.
A: Who told you that Christians were part of my target audience?
Q: Do you really have to ask that?
A: Oh, sorry, I forgot who you were for a minute. We seem to be taking on the persona of a ventriloquist act. I just can’t decide who’s the ventriloquist and who’s the dummy.
Q: I have an answer to that, but I’m going to let it slide for the moment. So, go on, tell us about the sexual content of your novel.
A: I actually debated with myself, this time in my head and not out loud, how much sexuality to include in my book. After all, I was writing a mystery romance novel with elements of the supernatural thrown in. I felt like it had to have some level of sexual content to emphasize the romance between the main characters. The boundaries I put on the book were based on several factors. One was the Bible. There are a number of suggestive passages in the Bible such as David’s lusting after Bathsheba and Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and having sex with him. And the love letter “Song of Solomon” has some rather provocative content in it. Another factor I considered was how much more open the Christian community is about sex than it used to be.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: I believe a lot of the openness stems from the studies showing that Christians were divorcing at the same rate as were non-Christians and that part of the problem was due to the lack of sexual fulfillment in their marriages. There are a fair number of books and marriage seminars that now address how Christians can maintain their sexuality in a monogamous relationship with their spouse. I have even heard that some rather provocative sexual questions can now be asked at Christian women’s conferences without the questioner being called down. Rather, answers are given to the questions. So, with all these things in mind, I limited the sexual content of my novel to what I believed would be acceptable to the modern day mainstream Christian.
Q: Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. That’s all the questions I have, but I reserve the right to ask more if I think of more.
A: I’ll be nearby any time the urge to ask another question arises. 8>)
Q: Indeed you will be.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Interesting Year: Of Atheists and Christians

Back in the early part of 2000 AD, I picked up a copy of “Christian Research Journal V22 N03” at a newsstand. It had several very interesting articles in it. Being the vocal dissident that I am, I decided to write a letter to the journal, commenting on the most intriguing of the articles. I received responses from several of the authors, but one stood out: Rachel D. Ramer. She had penned an article entitled “Examining Translations with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Upon receiving her response, I countered with another response. She did likewise, then me again. Ultimately, we became penpals (probably more accurately called keyboard pals since we were corresponding via Email). Over the course of about a year we exchanged many, many Emails. Our conversations were sometimes frustrating, but mostly intellectually stimulating.

In the course of our Email discussions, I mentioned a book written by nineteen-year-evangelist-turned-atheist Dan Barker entitled “Losing Faith in Faith.” Rachel mentioned a book by four-year-preacher-still-preacher Brian McLaren entitled “Finding Faith.” The opposing titles were too much for us to resist. Rachel sent me a copy of the latter for a Christmas present. I countered by sending her a copy of the former. It was interesting contrasting the two books.

After having read these two books, I exchanged a few Emails with both Dan Barker and Brian McLaren. Then I found out that the Atheist Alliance Convention of 2001 was being held in Atlanta. Lo and behold, Dan Barker was going to be present and debating Rubel Shelly, then Senior Minister of Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, TN. I contacted Dan via Email and we arranged to have a private meeting while at the conference. I planned to discuss the similarities of our deconversions, give him a copy of my recently released book “Beginnings to Endings,” and to get Dan’s autograph in my copy of “Losing Faith in Faith.”

Then another interesting development occurred. My employer was going to send me to some training in the DC area that summer. My wife and son were going with me. We planned to spend a few extra days while there sightseeing. This presented us with two opportunities. One was to see some of my family I had not seen in years. The other was to attend Cedar Ridge Community Church. Brian McLaren was the founding pastor of that church. I sent an Email to Brian and we arranged to take him to lunch after services. As with Dan, I was planning to give him a copy of my book and have my copy of “Finding Faith” autographed.

Happily, everything went as planned. I traveled to Atlanta to attend the Atheist Alliance Convention in April 2001. There were some very interesting papers presented, but the highlight was the debate between Dan Barker and Rubel Shelly. The questions I submitted to each of them via index cards were both asked during the Q & A session. I met with Dan the next morning and had an interesting conversation. As you may know, Dan Barker and his wife are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. This organization has become quite controversial in the Christian community. I hear it criticized quite often on Christian radio.

In July 2001, my family and I traveled to the DC area. I had a great class, a wonderful time touring DC, a nice visit with my relatives, and an interesting time with Brian McLaren. He preached that Sunday morning on the Apostle’s Creed. After services, he rode with us to a Mexican restaurant where we bought his lunch. Unfortunately, his wife and kids were all busy with other activities that weekend and were out of town. However, we had a very good conversation with Brian at lunch. As you know, Brian has written a lot of books, some rather controversial amongst Christians.

To top off all these meetings, I eventually got to meet Rachel, my penpal, in person, also.

So, in the space of a year, I made a new friend and penpal due to my having written some comments about an article she wrote, exchanged books by an atheist and a Christian, then got to personally meet the authors of each of those books, and eventually meet in person with my penpal. It was indeed an interesting year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PB&J and Dating

I’m sure everyone has a funny story about dating. Well, I am no exception. The story I am about to present to you is totally true. I have told it to many different people over the years, and everyone thought it was a hoot. So, I decided to share it online as well.

Back in June and July 1980 I was attending a Church of Christ in my hometown and studying the Bible with a local minister and teacher. On July 13 of that year, that minister baptized me. Several months later that same minister decided to play matchmaker and set me up on blind date with a young Christian girl seven years my younger (I was 25, she was 18). Sue (not her real name) was a very attractive girl, but a bit shy. Most of the time I had to carry the conversation during our dates. I asked her about this a couple of times and the best answer I got was that she was a bit uncomfortable about our age difference.

Even thought Sue was a bit shy about talking, one thing that Sue was not shy about was making out. Whenever I would take her home, she would invite me in. We would have a short conversation with her parents and then they would conveniently leave the room, allowing us to have an extended kissing session on the couch. Her parents probably allowed her this leeway knowing that if her date got too fresh, they would be nearby to protect her.

One day Sue went with me to a town 70 miles away to attend my first cousin’s wedding. It was a bit of a struggle driving that far since I was finding it more and more difficult trying to think of things to say given that she barely ever instigated a conversation. So, I decided that on the drive back, I was not going to say anything unless Sue said something first. During that entire 1-1/2 hour drive she only said one thing.

While driving along with nothing to talk about, I suddenly realized that I was getting hungry. So, I started thinking about what I wanted to eat. Then it dawned on me. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s what I wanted to eat. The more I thought about it, the more I craved it. Yes, indeed. When I got back to my apartment I was going to fix me a good ole PB&J sandwich.

We finally arrived at Sue’s house and I just dropped her off. I didn’t ask if I could come in as usual, and I guess she sensed that she shouldn’t ask me either. So, after making sure she made it into her house safely, I headed home.

Just as soon as I entered my apartment, I headed to the kitchen to fix that PB&J sandwich I was craving. My roommate was still awake and began inquiring about how my date went. I said, “Well, let me put it this way. On the way to her house I wasn’t thinking about making out. I was thinking about getting home to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” From that point forward, whenever my roommate or I asked the other about how a date went, we simply answered that we either were or were not thinking about a PB&J sandwich. That was all the information needed.

Now fast forward almost two years. It’s July 1982. Kathy, my fiancĂ© at the time and now my wife of 29 years, and I were preparing to be married. One thing we wanted to prevent was my car being decorated. So, we locked it inside her parents’ garage. Well, when it was time to head out on our honeymoon, Kathy and I went to the garage to load the car. Lo and behold, we had been double-crossed by her brother. He had found the garage key and allowed everyone into the garage to “trash” my car. In reality they mostly just filled the cab with balloons and other decorations, but I was still angry. One of the decorations was a PB&J sandwich inside a plastic sandwich bag hanging from the rearview mirror. When my wife saw it, she asked what it was for. I said I would tell her later. On the road I explained to my new bride the significance of the PB&J sandwich. She got a real kick out of it.

Now, fast forward a week. Kathy and I are returning home from our honeymoon. I had explained to my roommates that they needed to vacate the apartment by such and such a date. (They were moving into another apartment in the same complex.) Well, when Kathy and I entered the apartment we found my PB&J-sandwich-hanging roommate sitting at the dining table eating and talking on the phone. When he looked up, he said, “Hey, Randy.---RANDY!!! I thought you weren’t going to be back for several more days.” It turns out the other roommates remembered the return date correctly and had already vacated the apartment. They tried to tell the straggling roommate, but he had insisted they were wrong.

Well, now it was Kathy’s turn to be angry. My roommate spent the next several hours moving his belongings to his new apartment. Kathy decided we might as well clean the kitchen cabinets while he made his move. We were up until after 3:00 AM. Finally the move was completed and we were able to go to bed.

A couple of days later while I was at work, the roommate came over to visit Kathy and pick up a few remaining items from his old room. While there, Kathy asked, “Do you remember that peanut butter and jelly sandwich you left in our car?” He responded, “Yes.” Kathy said, “We didn’t need it!” And indeed we didn’t.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I've Written a Novel

Well, I've gone and done it now. I have written a novel. I've written a lot of non-fiction in my life including papers for conferences, articles for magazines, a regular column for a journal, poetry, etc. I've even written several fictional short stories and a non-fiction book. But up until recently I have never tackled writing a full length novel. I found it both challenging and fun. The novel is entitled "Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster." It has elements of mystery, romance, mysticism, spirituality, religion, and skepticism. It is currently available in a variety of eBook formats. The Kindle version is available at Amazon while a number of other formats are available at Smashwords. It will soon be available Barnes & Noble, Apple's iBook store, and other online booksellers. I'm quite proud of my book and am glad to say that it is garnering 5-star ratings at Amazon among early readers.

Here's a teaser:

Would you divorce your wife of 10 years after one night of wanton pleasure with another woman? What if a man claiming to be from the future told you it was the right thing to do? Tom Shallot faces this dilemma and more as additional visits occur. When the nature of these visits become known, Tom finds he must team up with the "other woman" to interpret cryptic clues. Lives are at stake.

Here's some links:

Amazon Kindle
Web Site
Facebook Page

A preview is available at most of the links above. If you decide you want to read the whole book, it costs just $3.99. I hope you'll give it a try. If you read and like it, please go to Amazon and write a review. Word of mouth and a multitude of good reviews are what can make or break a book.


Monday, May 30, 2011

A Huge Thank You From A Wimp

Well, today is Memorial Day, the day in which we are supposed to remember all of our nation’s fallen soldiers. This post is my attempt at doing that.

You see, I am very, very thankful to all the courageous men and women who have put themselves in danger to protect the rest of us. I was in high school during the Vietnam era and faced being drafted upon graduation in May 1973. This was not good news because I was a wimp. Even though I was tall, I was very skinny. I was the quintessential 90-pound weakling, except I weighed 160 pounds. I was the last one to be picked when dividing up for sports teams, and I was definitely not popular with the girls. I figured that if I got drafted and ended up fighting in Vietnam, I would be one of the first to die. Heck, I might simply die during basic training. You might be thinking that after training I would buff up and be okay. Perhaps. But I just couldn’t see that happening. Fortunately, the US government decided to end conscription in 1973, shortly before I had to register with the Selective Service System. What a relief I felt.

After finishing college and starting a job as an engineer, I thought back often and wondered what my life, if any, would have been like had the military draft not have ended. One day I was listening to a Christian radio talk show. The topic of discussion was whether or not the draft should be reinstituted. I was vehemently opposed to the draft, believing it was a violation of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution which says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Since the military draft was a means to force people to serve their country, it seemed very clear to me that it constituted involuntary servitude. I simply thought that if We The People wanted some among us to put their lives on the line for us, we should be willing to pay enough to get those people to voluntarily join the ranks of the military, just as we do with police officers, firemen, etc. So, I called the talk show and told them my opinion. The host pointed out that the Supreme Court had always viewed conscription as not violating the 13th amendment. I simply responded, “Then they have always been wrong.”

Even though I am very glad that the involuntary system ended when it did, I still deeply understand the need for a strong military. There are people in the world who would like to do our nation harm, and we simply can’t allow that to happen. We need brave men and women to step up to the plate and put their lives on the line to preserve the freedoms we enjoy every day and to thwart attempts by outside forces to destroy those freedoms. Fortunately, we have such people voluntarily stepping up to the plate each and every day.

So, to everyone of those courageous men and women, I give my hardiest THANK YOU! If I were worthy, I would salute you, but that gesture is best left to the non-wimps among us.

Monday, February 21, 2011

God’s Perfect Foreknowledge and Free Will

Recently I posted a couple of comments on Facebook that indirectly questioned whether or not free will can exist if God has perfect foreknowledge of every single detail of the Universe. Here are the comments:

1. If God knew a billion years ago that I was going to eat chicken salad for lunch today, is it possible for me to choose roast beef instead?

2. If God knew 100 billion years ago that I was going to eat cereal today, then could he have created the Universe in such a way where I would never exist?

I have thought a lot about the idea of God’s foreknowledge and free will. I cannot help but conclude that if God has perfect foreknowledge of everything that will happen in the Universe, then free will does not exist.

Take the first comment above. If God knew absolutely positively that I was going to eat chicken salad for lunch today, then I really cannot choose any alternative food. If I did, then I would prove God’s foreknowledge is not perfect, but rather flawed, as is our human foreknowledge. When I say this to people who believe in both God’s perfect foreknowledge and free will, they usually respond, “No, you still have free will. It’s just that God knew ahead of time what your free will choice was going to be.” Okay, I can kind of see that reasoning, although it is troublesome. That would mean that even though God knew ahead of time what Hitler, Stalin, murderers, and child molesters were going to do, he created them anyway.

But wait! If God knew ahead of time what Hitler was going to do, then was it even possible for God to create the Universe in such a way that Hitler would never exist. That too would negate God having perfect foreknowledge. This is where the second comment above comes in. If God knows ahead of time what any person is going to do, then can God create a Universe that excludes that person? I wouldn’t think so.

Let’s take this even further. If God knows in advance every single particle in the Universe and where it will be at any given moment, then could God have created a Universe any different than the one we observe? Again, I don’t think so. So, in the end, the thing that is most troublesome about God having perfect foreknowledge is that his own foreknowledge would limit his own free will. Consider the following.

God is alone; he has not yet created the Universe. He decides to look into the future to determine how things will unfold. He sees a Universe that contains a galaxy that will later be known as the Milky Way. In that galaxy, a star system will exist that has a planet that will later be called Earth. On that Earth will come to exist many billions of people over many generations. He sees what everyone of them will do at every moment in time. Now it comes time for God to create the Universe. Does he have any choice as to how he will create it? If yes, then he can negate his own foreknowledge, which makes it imperfect. If no, then God himself has no free will as he must follow every foreknown action. This seems too limiting for God.

Let me suggest another model for God’s foreknowledge. Suppose God has the ability to see every possible chain of events stemming from every possible free will decision. Thus, God could see how every possible Universe would work and how every possible decision by humans with free will would alter the course of the Universe. He did not know ahead of time the exact path that the Universe would take. But he did know every possible path, the number of which would be very close to infinity.

Yes, I think I like that idea.

Monday, January 31, 2011

God or Money?

I was listening to Dr. Jimmy Jackson, senior pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, on TV this past Sunday morning. The topic of his sermon was finding financial freedom. He discussed what people normally consider to be financial freedom, which is being totally free of debt and having enough money to live on for the rest of our lives without having to work. He said that this goal was fine, but the financial freedom he was going to talk about was the only true financial freedom, and that was depending upon God for our needs rather than ourselves, other people, or our finances. He quoted from Matthew 6 where Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

At one point in Dr. Jackson's sermon he said that if we put our trust in money, it will disappoint us, as it did in the recent financial crisis. However, if we put our trust in God, he will not disappoint. I understood the point he was trying to make, but I had to take exception with it. Just think a bit about it. Many people place their trust in God for many things. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't. For instance, a person places his trust in God to protect his children during those times when the parent cannot. Yet, the child ends up severely injured or dead. A farmer trusts God to protect his crops by not bringing severe weather, but the freeze comes and the farmer's crops are decimated. There are many, many ways in which people trust God, only to be disappointed. Some of these people become disillusioned, while others take the attitude that God knows what he is doing, and the bad things that have occurred happened for a reason. Now think with me further. If people took the latter attitude with money, they would find that they could trust in money just as much as God. For example, if a person trusts that his money will see him through his old age, but suddenly all is lost due to a severe economic downturn, the person could just say that it all happened for the best. His money has not let him down after all. So, the success or failure of the object of our trust is more in the eye of the beholder than in the object itself. If we take the attitude that things should always work out as we want if we trust in something or someone, then we can become bitter with that object should things so sour. However, if we take the attitude that the object of our faith can do no wrong, then regardless of what happens, we will consider the object blameless. This can apply to Yahweh, Buddha, Zoroaster, Zeus, money, or a totem pole.

Some of you might say that God cannot be compared with money since God is eternal while money is temporal. That is true, and that is exactly the point that Jesus makes in Matthew 6. Many people trust in God for eternal things, but I know of no one that trusts in money for eternal things. So, if we are to make a valid comparison between God and money, we must talk about temporal matters only. Who or what can be trusted the most with temporal matters: God or money. Well, there have been many people who have placed their trust in God for their temporal lives here on Earth only to be severely disappointed. Other have been extremely satified with God's provision. On the other hand, many people have placed their trust in money and finances for their temporal well-being and have been greatly disallusioned. There really are things that money cannot buy. However, others have been very satisfied, being able to live into old age with all their needs, and many wants, met, while perhaps being able to leave much of their wealth to children and charities.

So, it appears that there really is no person, thing, or deity that we can place our temporal trust in 100% and never be disappointed. Unless of course, you are one lucky dude.

I have spoken of money in this post as if it is some sort of conscious entity that can decide whether to benefit our lives or destroy them. Of course, it is no such thing. Money is simply a tool that we use to make it easy to exchange our labor for the labor of others. So, when money blesses us, that typically means that we have managed our money well and no one has been able to take it from us. When money fails us, it typically means that we have mismanaged our money or others have either stolen it or set in play the financial conditions that led to its devaluing. In the end, it is normally conscious entities, such as ourselves and others, that ultimately determine how well money works for us. However, there are also those chance circumstances, whether fortunate or unfortunate, that can make or break us.

Whenever I think about money and it's nature, I think of Francisco d'Anconia's speech about money in Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged". It lays out how money arises and what its purpose is. If you would like to read this speech for yourself, it is available online at http://www.usabig.com/autonomist/moneyspeech.html . While reading it, please keep in mind that Ms. Rand uses the common misquote of 1 Timothy 6:10A. She uses the phrase "money is the root of all evil" rather than the correct "love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". I am not sure if Ms. Rand was mistaken in her knowledge of what the Bible says or if she used the misquote because so many people have a misconception about what the Bible actually says.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Instant Gratification

On Sunday morning I went to hear a former coworker, Bill Parkhurst, speak (or preach?) at the UU church. (For the UUnchurched, that's Unitarian Universalist.) He spoke about faith and science. During his talk, he highly recommended a book by Bill Bryson entitled, "A Short History of Nearly Everything". Several times I have looked at this book and thought about buying it, but just never did.

Well, at 2:45 this morning, I was awakened by some Stephano's buffalo wings I had for lunch yesterday. (BTW, Stephano's buffalo wings are the best EV-ER!) While ruling my kingdom of one from my throne, I began thinking about Bill's book recommendation. I decided I wanted to read it. But it was nearly three in the morning. Books-A-Million was closed, and I didn't want to get out in the middle of the night to purchase a book anyway. Perhaps I could order it online. Yes, Books-A-Million, as well as many other booksellers, are open 24/7 online. But I would have to wait a few days for it to arrive. I wanted the book NOW!!! Well, being a king and all, I have the best technology money can buy. Actually, many lesser people in my land have the same technology. In this case, the technology of which I speak is a Motorola Droid with Verizon Wireless phone and 3G service.

The Droid is NOT a phone, it's a SMART phone. Actually, it's as dumb as a doornail. After all, it's just a small plastic container containing electronics. However, the people who designed it are VERY SMART! The phone itself would best be called a Multifunctional Phone. Facebook, Twitter, Email, texting, photos, videos, weather, news, the Internet, GPS navigation, and more are all available through this little handheld device. Heck, with the proper app, you can even use it as a flashlight. WooHoo! Another app that is available, and that I have installed, for the Droid is Kindle. It allows you to read any electronic books you have purchased from Amazon.com. I also have a Nook app (from Barnes & Noble), the BAM reader (from Books-A-Million), and other book readers on my Droid.

So, here I was on my throne in the middle of the night wanting to read a book that I did not currently own. What to do? Fortunately I had grabbed my Droid off its charging cradle before entering my royal chambers. So, I just loaded up the Kindle app, went to the online store, searched for Bill Bryson, found the book I wanted, pressed the 1-Click purchase option, waited a few seconds, and Voila: instant gratification. I read the first few pages of the book as the buffalo wings settled down to just a slight flutter. Then I went back to bed to finish out my night's sleep.

Man, how things have changed.

Another example. At one time, if you wanted to find a particular restaurant in an unfamiliar place, you either had to stop and ask someone, or you had to stop at a pay phone booth and look it up in the telephone book yellow pages (assuming the relevant page had not been torn out by another hungry person). (For you youngsters, a pay phone booth is a small glass building with a phone that would only work if you fed it money. To see one, watch an old Superman show.) Well, one day my family and I were driving through Nashville, Tennessee, and decided we wanted to eat at an Olive Garden. My son, being the first one in the family to own a smart, uh multifunctional, phone, pulled out his Droid and searched for Olive Garden. The search worked in conjunction with our location and displayed an Olive Garden that was nearby, but still in front of us. My son then instructed the phone to navigate to the restaurant. The computerized voice started telling us which exit to take and what turns to make. We were soon at the Olive Garden enjoying their fantastic Fettuccine Alfredo.

Ah, yes, INSTANT GRATIFICATION. Don't you just LOVE IT???

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year, Resolutions, and Spirituality

Well, it's New Year's Day, 1/1/11. It is my understanding that this day rolls around about once every year. And it's a time when many people attempt to turn over a new leaf. Assuming, of course, that the old leaf was rotten. If not, I prefer to just turn that old leaf over one more time.

At this time of new beginnings, resolutions spew forth from so many people, you'd think we were in the halls of Congress. And these resolutions are generally kept with about the same frequency as are the Congressmen's promises.

Many of these New Year's resolutions concern doing healthier things like not setting on fire things stuck in your mouth, not super-sizing anything other than the occasional salad, walking more and talking less, etc. But some people look more towards the spiritual side of life, wanting to become more spiritual and more acceptable to God. But what does it mean to be more spiritual?

For people who share a common belief, the things that are necessary to become more spiritual can sometimes go unspoken. For instance, Christians generally consider a more spiritual life to consist of more time studying the Bible, praying, and seeking the will of God. For Hindus, it might consist of following more fully the four objectives of human life and practicing the four yogas to a greater extent. For Muslims it might entail following the dietary laws more faithfully, being sure to pray five times a day, and finally making that pilgrimage to Mecca.

What is interesting is how people in each religion see the spiritual actions of people in other religions as being unfruitful, perhaps even silly. For instance, a Christian may laugh at the idea of repeating a mantra, saying that repeating syllables do not carry any special powers and is not of interest to God. For a person steeped in a particular faith, the criticisms of other faiths by his fellow brethren seems so sensible. After all, he has perhaps been immersed in his beliefs for many years. All seems so clear from his perspective.

However, to a person standing outside any faith system, the whole notion of a person being able to speak definitively for God is nonsensical. Why? Because once God is thrown into the equation, anything goes. One person may criticize another person's belief in reincarnation, claiming it to be a ridiculous belief. But when you really think deeply about it, why is reincarnation any more ridiculous than resurrection? Both involve a dead person coming back to life in a different form. And why is repeating seemingly nonsensical syllables over and over any more crazy than speaking to God in prayer? Both involve speaking to a being that we cannot observe.

The bottom line is that if God (or a group of gods) exists, and if God (or a group of gods) is sovereign, then his actions can be capricious. After all, if God just exists, and there is no higher being to define good and evil for him, then God can act in any way he so chooses and no condemnation would be forthcoming. That means that God can choose spiritual things to be anything that meets his fancy. If he wants people to speak mantras, then so be it. If prayers, then so be it. If chants, then so be it. If God wants to reincarnate people, let him do so. If resurrect people at the end of this age, let him do that. Nothing can be proclaimed silly or ridiculous.

It is only when men look at these "spiritual" actions and practices and weigh them against the benefits that proceed from them, that we can say that some are useful while others are a waste of time. And when we look at the world, we find that some people are greatly benefited by practicing Christianity while others are greatly benefited by practicing Islam. Some people are much more fulfilled and happy by not practicing any religion. It seems that there is a belief or a non-belief for just about any type of person out there in the world. So, while it can be healthy to have serious discussions about the truthfulness of various beliefs when done in a civil manner, we need to guard against excessive bickering and all come together, cherish, and proclaim that which most of us have in common.


Be it resolved.