Monday, October 26, 2009

Jeff: A Spiritual Awakening

I've been reading with interest and enjoyment your blog, The Story-of-Everything. What touched me most directly was your old and new story. Old Story: First spirit, then matter, then life. New Story: First matter, then life, then spirit.

I've been a member of the new school my entire academic career and have professed that message near and far. About 15 months ago I had a genuine spiritual awakening and have become a card carrying member of the old school. As a matter of fact, my change in world view has prompted me to decide to retire from teaching and become a student once again. I've been studying the Torah with a rabbi in for the past year and following retirement I plan to study in Israel.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gary Kirby: "Journey Out of Religion"

Ultimately, the only journey we can make is the one we make for ourselves. I agree that the whole person travels, not just the head. Reasons and feelings, conscious and submerged, push the journey forward even as the world rushes into them. I have long been fascinated by the wonder and intricacy of everything. I fondly want to know it all, especially what is relatively true and right.

Born a Catholic from a Mother who said she would rather have me dead than ever commit a mortal sin, at about thirteen I began to look on the Catholic sacraments as baloney. This flat circle of bread is God? Dumb and impossible. And if I bit God I would hurt him even though my digestive juices will shortly dissolve him. Dumber.

I attended a Jesuit high school which was heavy on Catholic culture and weak on science. I suspended my anti-religious questioning only because the Jesuit scholastics were so brilliant. I reasoned they knew so much more than me.

At seventeen I made what I later found out was the Pascalian wager—I bet my temporal years against eternity, making the bet of my life that had the odds infinitely in my favor. I decided to enter the Jesuits, give it try, and if it was not for me, to leave.

Brainwashed. That’s the best word that describes my seminary experience. From eighteen through twenty-two I was given one side, the Catholic side, of everything; Catholicism was drummed into my being that belief was all: “If you think white, and the Pope says black, it’s black. You are to be like a stick in your Superior’s hand, and you stay where you are put, and move at his command.” Immersed into a thirty day retreat, I actually began to believe in the existence of the devil and his ability to take physical form (St Anthony). This period of my journey was brainwashing into belief.

At twenty-three I returned to that questioning I had as a thirteen-year-old. I now felt that my brain was as good as my superiors though my knowledge base was less; I felt confident to challenge my beliefs, which I now knew were geographical in origin (If had been born in Saudi Arabia, I would have been a Moslem). My questions were sequential: Is there a god? If so did that god communicate to humans? If so, was it through Christ? Was Christ God? Did he found a religion? Was that religion Catholic? Is the Catholic Church the same religion Christ founded? Do I belong in a military arm, the Jesuits, of that Church?

I spent an obsessive year on that god question during which my philosophy grades plummeted-- I considered all other pursuits irrelevant to that absolute question. Since my life-long bias had literally been baptized in Christianity I aggressively challenge the deity concept. After a year I realized I could spend my life snarled in this one question without getting certain resolution, so I listed all my pros and cons. Since the pro list was longer, I decided to believe rather than not believe so I could get on with the other questions.

Meanwhile the collar around my neck burned. It symbolized externally that I believed in Christ, while inside I did not know. The collar burned with a personal intensity because I detested hypocrites, and now I was now one of them. I left the Jesuits intending to answer the rest of the questions by beginning a doctorate in theology at Marquette, but with the blessing of my spiritual advisor, I dropped my hard intellectual approach and just ‘lived.”

Quickly I “lived” outside of Christianity. From this perspective I saw for the first time that my former efforts, seemingly open-minded, were really just efforts to reinforce my belief. This outside perspective was similar to my travel to Europe, which helped me to know the U.S., or the moon shot of the earth which boosted my astronomical vision. A fish in the ocean cannot know the earth, nor know the ocean either. Fortunately I was not a fish, and fortunately, I got an outside view. My empirical instincts as a thirteen-year-old were right—bread does not become god because of human words: hoc est is latin for hocus pocus, the hocus pocus of the culture I was born in.

Age twenty-six to current: religion has remained a tertiary social and historical interest. I consider all religions to have been culturally conceived, and in so far as the religions help their members flourish in health and happiness, I consider them to be positive. In general I think most religious leaders know full well the human element of their beliefs, and that too many of them are caught in power and greed. This knowledge and self-aggrandizement exacerbates the competition with other religions and increases the need of the leaders to protect and proclaim the preeminence of their beliefs.

My journey has been away from religion and into an empirical, scientific, questioning, searching, open-ended view of origins and ends. That journey has been one of beauty, awe, and wonder, and that is as close as I can come to satisfying my urge to know all. I will die not knowing, but I have sure had fun living, and I do not fear going into that unknown country from which no traveler returns.

While all our journeys are solitary, at times we hold hands and our journeys speak to each other. Perhaps mine might say to yours: Question! Open! Live! Know! Love! Grow! Accept! And say thanks! Thanks to whomever, whatever, and certainly to those precious people whose journeys you have intersected. Thanks!

Dr. Gary R. Kirby

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bill Elkington: "Beauty Had Me at Its Feet"

I've always been partial to the aesthetic of the natural world. Long before I was a person of faith, I was a lover of beauty. One day I wondered into Yosemite Valley, and I could not for the life of me understand what was happening to me. I was overwhelmed, shot through with an awe and a wonder and a sense of the holiness of the place. And here I was an atheist. It didn't make any sense to me why I was weak in the knees. But I was. I couldn't deny it. There was something in me that recognized and responded to the mystical, God's own presence there. Beauty had me at its feet, and I was indeed convinced of the reality of something that rationalism did not begin to approach until the birth of quantum physics.

Read more from Bill Elkington here.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Greg: From the Priesthood to "Both Feet on Earth"

I have traveled a long way from the Christian canonization of the Bible and the apotheosis of a remarkable Hebrew preacher named Jesus, and all that the early church has built up around them. Nevertheless there are places upon places in those writings (scriptures), Old and New Testamets alike, that have their parallel applications "in these latter times." One of them is the story Matthew tells in his third chapter, a story of wrong ways and needed repentence, a full repentance beyond feeling sorrow but that leaves the darkness of wrong behind and embraces the light of right living. Today, however, we will find that the source of that righteousness is not Jehovah or a Father God enthroned above in a Heavenly Kingdom but the only ground of being we can point to, this earth. I have landed both feet on Earth as a rational basis for morality or right living. Therein we find our responsibilities as earthlings. Of all creatures only we are gifted with freedom but by nature charged with responsibility to live in accord with that condition. Ethics / morality lie in meeting responsibilities.

Who said it would be easy to live with (within) the reality of limited resources or to repair the damages mankind does daily to the planet? Who said that exhausting earth's resources, or damaging earth's air, waters, soils, and other denizens, flora and fauna could be pursued with impunity?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Howard van Till: From Calvinism to Freethought

Born into a Calvinist family, shaped by a Calvinist catechism training, educated in the Calvinist private school system, and nurtured by a community that prized its Calvinist systematic theology, I was a Calvinist through and through. For 31 years my teaching career was deeply rooted in the Calvinism I had inherited from my community. During most of that time it was a fruitful and satisfying experience. Nonetheless, stimulated in part by the manner in which some members of that community responded to my efforts to practice what I had learned from my best teachers, I eventually felt the need to extend my intellectual exploration into philosophical territories far outside the one provided by Calvinism. Did I complete the lengthy journey from Calvinism to Freethought? The listener will be the judge.

View the full story here.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Charles Finn: Ithaca Is The Journey

Ithaca is the Journey is the story of poet Charlie Finn's evolution from being a born-and-bred-Catholic to being a Quaker who embraces the new cosmology and all of its theological implications. The story is told in poetry and prose, with many references to other readings. Here is an excerpt from a chapter called "Anniversaries of Spirit":

Maybe the question can be better put, do we have any private anniversaries of spirit? Our other anniversaries celebrate a person, community, nation, or whatever. What about events of the spirit in our lives that involved no other--affairs of the heart, if you will, between each of us and the ground of our being? One of the things that got me thinking along this line was learning that what many Native Americans had emblazoned on their shields were breathtaking breakthroughs of the spirit. It was like they carried their coat of arms with them, but what they felt most deserved tribute was not pedigree of family lineage or conquest of war but conquest of spirit, visitation by spirit, often relating to vision quest or sun dance or great dream. And these shields were not painted with symbol and color so much to tell the world of these great inner events as to show gratitude to the spirit world on the one hand and, on the other, to help the bearer himself remember.
Ithaca Is The Journey: A Personal Odyssey by Charles C. Finn


Saturday, August 18, 2007

John Bayerl: Years In Between

My older brother and I are both fascinated with the Story of Everything. Our own life story began on a farm in the Upper Peninsula where we attended the center of the community, The Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit. It was there that we learned our original story of everything by discussing the sermon of the day, world events and the newest scientific discoveries around the dinner table after Mass on Sunday. It so resonates with us to understand that we have, indeed, been between stories for many years now. My brother attended MTU and had a long career as an electrical engineer, while I, (who didn’t inherit the “math gene”), eventually earned a Ph.D. in school counseling at the UM. We are both fond of the teachings of Teillhard de Chardin, who, in our judgment, understood the emerging story long before it arrived. We are particularly taken with his notion of the increasing complexity and diversity of life. His statement that “at some point in time a cell became an I” is similar in content to the story of how and when everything began. We have nothing to document when that happened, but we can clearly deduce that at some point it did happen. So, no matter how one breaks it down, at some point (maybe they are points, not seconds), darkness turned to light and mere awareness became consciousness. To the extent that these were “all at once” events, I suppose there may be some basis in fact for the creation story. (


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Anonymous: When My Own Search Began

This reminds me of when I first began studying evolution in my anthropology classes. Strict religious people in my family actually became upset with the fact that I had even signed up for a class involving evolution. Many of theses religious people were under the impression that a person could only believe in either religion or evolution, but not both.

That was when my own search began. I spoke with professors, pastors, people from other religions, and anyone interested on the topic.

It was during that time in my life that I came to the realization that science and religion could work together.