My Spiritual Autobiography

The eye of God.  An image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.

I believe in the obvious, particularly in what I can observe.  I have an evidence-based view of the world and the cosmos.  I feel fortunate that I never was committed to the ideals developed by, as written by Sam Harris, “sand-strewn men… who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology."

I was baptized in the Moravian Church.  I have no memory of this, but I do have a baptismal certificate.  The church was in Ohio, near the home of my maternal grandparents. 

The Moravian Church stressed humility, discipline, peacefulness, and simplicity in worship and lifestyle, and I assume my mother shared these ideals at one time. Its “founder,” John Hus, was burned at the stake as heretic in 1415 because of his insistence that Scripture and plain reason were the final authority in the church rather than canon law. "He untiringly preached that mere belief in doctrine is not sufficient for salvation. Faith must be completed in love, by which he meant love for one’s neighbor." Pope John Paul II officially apologized for the church’s actions in executing Hus, five hundred years after his death.  I’m sure Hus appreciated the gesture.

I remember attending Sunday School at a local church in Xenia, Ohio, but I really don’t remember much of the experience.  I always thought it was a Presbyterian Church, but my mother later told me it was Lutheran.  Obviously, it didn’t leave a huge impact!  My father rarely went, but my mother herded my brothers and sister there for a few years.  Eventually, the effort proved futile, and we stopped attending.

A decade later, I briefly attended a Lutheran Church to impress a young woman (not recommended).  By then I was a committed irreligious person.    

Eventually, I was attracted to the “Beanite” branch of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as “Quakers” or simply “Friends.”  The persecution of Quakers in North America began as early as 1662, when Richard Waldron of Dover, New Hampshire, tortured three Quaker women, ordering that “these vagabond Quakers are carried out of this jurisdiction, you, and every one of you are required in the name of the King's Majesty's name, to take these vagabond Quakers, Ann Coleman, Mary Tompkins, and Alice Ambrose, and make them fast to the cart's tail, and driving the cart through your several towns, to whip their naked backs, not exceeding ten stripes apiece on each of them, in each town; and so to convey them from constable to constable, till they are out of this jurisdiction." Waldron's punishment was severe, calling for whippings in at least eleven towns, and requiring travel over eighty miles in bitterly cold weather.  

What people will do to those who seek an alternative spiritual path!

That’s not why I was attracted to Quakerism.  Their commitment to peace, social justice and equality, and environmental protection seemed tailor-made for me.  As I told a number of people, I invented Quakerism, and later found out that others had done the same.  Why did I seek any organized religion?  Two reasons.  First, I respected the opinions and actions of my friends who were attending.  Second, like many parents, I was looking for a way to introduce my children to a healthy understanding of religion, or religiosity.

I remember attending my clearness committee meeting for membership in the Logan Monthly Meeting.  The senior member of this 3 person committee was Allen Stokes, a retired wildlife professor at USU and a graduate student of Aldo Leopold.  The committee members asked Caroline and I many questions in order to gauge our understanding and commitment to the ideals of Quakerism.  Then Allen asked me, "Do you believe in God?"

Allen Stokes during a lecture.

I'm asking for membership in the Logan Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends, a religion.  And I'm asked whether I believe in God.

My reply went something like this.  "If by 'God' you mean the supreme Biblical entity that is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (always present), then I do not.  If, however, you are using the term 'God' to refer to the infinitely complex set of rules that capture the substance and behaviors of everything from black holes, to the moon's trajectory, to sea turtles foraging, and to subatomic particles interacting, then I am a believer."

The face of God... a leatherback sea turtle.

Only a Beanite Quaker would accept me after that (and they did)! There is no creed or formal set of beliefs that you have to hold to be a Quaker.  There are no ministers and no sermons.  Meetings are held in silence, with the occasional spoken word coming from an individual's "inner light."  And I definitely shared a bond with the other members.  The family attended the Logan Friends Monthly Meeting for many years (we even attended the Honolulu Friends Monthly Meeting for a year), until most of the other children had grown up and moved away, resulting in a youth program that wasn't working for us anymore.  I'm still a member, although I rarely attend their functions.

As an alternative, we started attending the meetings of the 
Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists. CVUU defines itself as a "a religiously liberal, welcoming community, united in a responsible search for knowledge and spiritual growth. Bound by no dogma or creed, Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists value and promote peace, liberty, social equality, and environmental sustainability through personal, community, and global action."

Or, as I like to joke, 
Unitarian Universalists are Quakers that like to speak and sing at their meetings.  If there is a local event to support immigrants, or decry racism, or promote peace, members of both the Logan Monthly Meeting and CVUU will be there.  Always.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to eat lunch at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, or Sikh house of worship, in New Delhi, observe a Hindu wedding in Malaysia, sit through a Muslim worship service at the Logan Islamic Center, visit a Buddhist Temple in Japan, and walk through an Islamic cemetery in Morocco and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.  For the past three decades, I've been immersed in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community.  I found all of these experiences interesting.  Of course, I also find pieces of Giant Kelp, washed up and rotting on the beach near Monterey, similarly interesting (if you experience this, make sure you look at the "holdfast," or base, for small creatures).

Caroline and Wesley getting ready to enter the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

There are estimates that, beginning 50,000 years ago, more than 100 billion humans have walked the earth.  With those 100 billion minds, I would expect that a few would come up with self-replicating memes for religion.  Most of these religions have gone by the wayside.  I don't know anyone who still believes in Osiris, Zeus, or Jupiter

Recent religions?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Founded (restored?) in 1830, it boasts around 5 million members.  The Church of Scientology.  Founded in 1953, it claims to have around 8 million members worldwide.  The Unification Church.  Founded around 1965, it claims to have over a million adherents.

And I encourage you not to bet against the emergence some new religion in the future (I like the prediction of "The Church of the Evolved Lamb," envisioned by John Scalzi).

I used to collect snippets from other authors when I was hit with an "ah-ha" moment of inspiration. It seems that everything I believe has been said by others.  With this sampling of those snippets, you shall know me.


Who I am and who I want to be...

“I hope I die before I turn into an old bitch.”
(p. 77, Dakota, by Kathleen Norris)

“You’re one Cheerio in the bulk box of life…”
(Nicky in Orange Is The New Black, Season 2)

"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. I have no other as great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed." - Abraham Lincoln, 1832.
(Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin)

"But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need - if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us - if only we were worthy of it."
(p. 190, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, by Edward Abbey)

"I no longer require answers to the Big Questions. 
I want instead answers to the Little Questions... How does a hummingbird hover?"
(p. 31, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

“If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” 
(attributed to Carl Sagan)

"The God I know does not ask us to conform to some abstract norm for the ideal self. God asks us only to honor our created nature, which means our limits as well as potentials.
(p. 50, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer)

"My house is me and I am it. 
My house is where I like to be and it looks like all of my dreams."
(The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater)

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” 
(The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan)

"Each of us is a chemistry set that knows it is a chemistry set - a chemistry set unlike any other." 
(p. 80, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

"'s hard to imagine any aspect of public life where ignorance or delusion is better than an awareness of the truth, even an unpleasant one. Only children and madmen engage in 'magical thinking,' the fallacy that good things can come true by believing in them or bad things will disappear by ignoring them or wishing them away." 
(p. xxix, Steven Pinker, in What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable)

"Later he asked his parents, 'Why can I do these amazing things?' So Jonathan Kent showed Clark the long-hidden spaceship from Krypton. 'We don't know where you came from,' Mr. Kent told his son. 'But you have great powers and must always use them wisely.'" 
(p. 8, True Story of Superman, by Louise Simonson)

"It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion - to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious taboos, and religious diversions of scarce resources - is what makes the honest criticism of religious faith a moral and intellectual necessity. Unfortunately, expressing such criticism places the nonbeliever at the margins of society. By merely being in touch with reality, he appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors."
(p. 56-7, Letter To A Christian Nation, by Sam Harris)

Where I plan to go...

"It's natural to die... The fact that we make such a big hullabaloo over it is all because we don't see ourselves as part of nature. We think because we're human we're something above nature."
(p. 173, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom)

"What a relief it was when it finally dawned on me as a young man that the whole panoply of supernaturalism was a sham, and that hell was no more to be feared than heaven longed for." 
(p. 69, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

"I have no idea what will happen to me when I die, but I know that I will die. And I know that the choices I make in this life affect the way I live. It is in this crucible, mysterious and uncertain, that my religion must be foraged."
(p. 8, A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, by F. Forrester Church)

"Tell [a devout Christian] that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever." 
(p. 15, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris)

"I like to think that someday my bones will fertilize the grass that will make his grandchildren fleet." 
(Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt, by Ted Kerasote, on the consequences of eating an elk he had killed)

"Consider the Christian alternative. Life after death in a world beyond time, beyond space. When there is no time there can be no change, no motion or movement. No space implies no dimension. And yet we would be conscious - of what? Of God, they say, of His Love. We shall bask forever in the Love of God. (Forever is a long time.) Like staring at the sun with hands bound, head in a vise, your eyelids taped open - but in this case without even the hope of blindness or the salvation of shrieking insanity." 
(p. 341, The Fool's Progress: An Honest Novel, by Edward Abbey)

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.” 
(The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker)

"You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe." 
(The Bet, by Anton Chekhov)

Nuggets of irreligious wisdom...

"Those three little words - 'I don't know' - may be science's most important contribution to human civilization." (p. 27)  "If science has given us one great gift to the world - greater than the wonders of technology, greater than modern medicine, greater than flights to the moon and planets - it has given us permission not to know everything."
(p. 63, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

"There are still thinkers around the world, some in commanding political and religious positions, who wish to base moral law on the sacred scripture of Iron Age desert kingdoms while using high technology to conduct tribal wars - of course with the presumed blessing of their respective tribal gods." 
(The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, by Edward O. Wilson)

"Many of our biggest world problems are caused by different religious views. But it’s not socially acceptable to even discuss whether those views originate from the almighty or a drunken guy whizzing on a tree stump. At a bare minimum, just to pick one example, either Christianity or Islam is completely and utterly wrong. The beliefs are mutually exclusive. Muslims believe all Christians will burn in Hell. Christians believe that the Koran is fiction. They both can't be right. (They could obviously both be wrong if the Heaven's Gate guys turn out to have it right)."
(p. 116, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!, by Scott Adams)

Isaac Asimov“I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”
(Isaac Asimov, The Roving Mind)

"...some recipients of a kidney transplant can see in the returning trickle of urine the very presence of a loving God."
(p. 159, Dropsy, Dialysis, Transplant: A Short History of Failing Kidneys, by Steven J. Peitzman)

"People have been cherry-picking the Bible for millennia to justify their every impulse, moral and otherwise."
(p. 18, Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris)

"Science had found no proof of gods or angels, and so most who believed truly in the superiority of intellect and reason had drifted away from belief in a supreme deity who created the universe. We believed - for I was certainly among that group - that with time and sufficient knowledge human beings could eventually unlock all the secrets of the universe, from the smallest components of fermions and bosons to the vastness of the universe itself."
(p. 294, The Eternity Artifact, by L. E. Modesitt Jr.)

"What I cannot do is image the girl I was at twelve becoming the girl I was at fourteen. I remember the emotions vividly -- at twelve, adolescent confusion tempered by the security of family, a sense of trust, openness, innocence, I guess. By the time I was fourteen, I felt only anger, loathing, a need to escape from the restrictions imposed by my parents and the church. Even now it scares me to understand how easily a soul may pass from one dimension of itself into another, as though the boundaries separating what we are and what we might become, given an infinite set of motivations and conditions, are little more than the line between waking and sleep, between story, memory dream."
(p. 170, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country, by Kim Barnes)

"There is something to be said for moderation, especially in a world wracked by religious strife, and the hypocrisy and arrogance of institutional churches. The golden mean is the secret of tolerance, of modesty, of a healthy skepticism - of knowing that every dogmatic definition of God is a pale intimation of the truth and, inevitably it seems, an excuse for jihad, pogrom, or crusade."
(p. 4, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

"Faith is that quality which enables us to believe what we know to be untrue."
(Herrings Go about the Sea In Shawls: ...and other classic howlers from classrooms and examination papers... by Dr. Seuss)

"When was the last atheist riot?"
(p. 39, Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris)

"How, for God's sake, could God put up with suburbs and malls and superhighways and plastics?"
(p. 135, On God: An Uncommon Conversation, by Norman Mailer)

"The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious."
(p. 51, Letter To A Christian Nation, by Sam Harris)

"Billions of people share your belief that the creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of our books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live."
(p. 79, Letter To A Christian Nation, by Sam Harris)

"The first book in the Bible is Guinness."
"Science is material. Religion is immaterial."
(Herrings Go about the Sea In Shawls: ...and other classic howlers from classrooms and examination papers, by Dr. Seuss)

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
(The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan)

"By definition, science cannot prove the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural. What science can do is show that there is no evidence, other than anecdotal, for immaterial souls, miracles, or answered prayers."
(p. 96, When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, by Chet Raymo)

"Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." 
(p. 13, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris)

“An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth - scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books - might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?”
(The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan)

"'God'... is a noise people make when they're too tired to think anymore"
(p. 313, The Fool's Progress: An Honest Novel, by Edward Abbey)


“Suppose the spouse you love more than anything is a committed atheist. Given the behavior of religious/atheist people, it's hard to imagine such an arrangement actually working well on earth, but it does happen.

What's heaven going to be like without your earthly soul mate? If you spend eternity yelling "Hallelujah!" at the feet of Jesus, but you're also sad because your earthly companion isn't there, then heaven will at least partially suck.

But eternity is rather a long time. Maybe love in heaven works like it did in high school, and after enough time you won't really care that your former spouse/earthly mate is somewhere boiling in a vat of demon urine.”
(Families are forever messed up, by Robert Kirby)

And this is me trying to get a rise in the thermometer rating for humanists.  I'm speaking to a group of interfaith leadership students in a class offered by Dr. Bonnie Glass-Coffin.


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