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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don’t Ask, If You Don’t Want To Know

October 1st, 2009

A friend of mine recently sent me a few of the comments people have left here over the last few months. She thought that it would be a goof idea if I answered some of the questions posed by many of you, and I agreed with her. I’m going to try to do this more often, as there are some very worthy and intelligent thoughts here that probably deserve some elaboration. I knew there were some brights out there! I am going to need the assistance of though of you who write to supply me with any interesting comments as they are posted, however. I cannot claim that there is going to be much of a system for deciding which ones I shall answer, save that I promise they wont be softball type questions. Not much of a point to that, and I can take the abuse, in any case. Also, please don’t confuse a passionate response for derision. I’m not making fun of anyone for honest questions. For dishonest ones, well… that’s a different story. So, post with caution, I guess. Onward!

From the entry If I Only Had a Brain – June 30th, 2009

terry said...
I thought the purpose of this blog was to show how much Thomas has changed because of his faith in God. So much good could come from this blog if he would give hope to those who faith is lacking. Instead he is using this as forum to constantly complain
.


Terry, don’t you think that I would love to write something about how God has moved in my life? There is nothing, not a single subject, that I would be more overjoyed to write about. I’ve said it a thousand times, but people don’t seem to like to go back and read the older entries, so I will say it again, just to cover the bases: I do not consider myself a gifted writer. That said, I am good enough to write campy, Sunday-morning-special Kumbah-yah-fest of an entry which would convince most everyone that we are all okie-dokie, how love is all around and how great God is. My readership would undoubtedly soar my education fund coffers overflow, and my petition become so popular that even the Governor would be impressed. This would be simple to do. Except for one thing: it would not be honest, Terry, not at all.

I want to be very, very clear about this: I have never met anyone, ever, who has tried to find God as hard as I have. I was an extremely faithful young man, forgoing many, many social events (and the important social development that would have sprung from my attendance) because I thought there might exist the possibility that I would be tempted into ding something immoral. At summer camp, while everyone else was busy swimming or playing baseball, I was wandering the back trails of the Ozarks, Bible in hand. I’ve been to churches all my life, of many denominations, and scanned the pulpits of each one of them for some kernel of truth that I could latch onto. I attended a Christian High School. During all this time, I read mostly theological books, and understood nearly all of them. Since my arrival here, I have read probably…oh, say 200-ish Christian books, everything from the dreadful Hal Lindsey (whose poorly concealed glee of the destruction of the world should be quite frightening to any sober and sane individual, but who we pardon, collectively, because he is merely interested in “eschatology”) to the admirable Blaise Pascal. I am not one of those lazy types, who has never scanned the skies and then had the audacity to lament over never having found sign or signal from above. I didn’t stop with the Bible, though. I’ve read the Koran, and the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Rig Veda, and the Mahabharata, and the Upanishad. I’ve devoured more Buddhist Sutras than I can count. I ingested, sometimes with much discomfort, at times with much appreciation, Moses Maimonides, CS Lewis, Hegel, Lucretius, Aristotle, Plato, Ibn Warraq, Loyola, Descartes, Freud, Kant, Epicurus, Aristophenes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Tertullian, Polkinghorne, and many more. I didn’t always understand everything they said, but I worked on it until I got most of it. I do not say this to brag. I have a lot of time. I mention it, so that you can understand me when I say that, despite all this, despite the countless hours I have spent on my knees, I have yet to see God present himself to me.

Oh, I have changed, my friend. In more ways than I could list. But these changes did not come from above. They came, because I willed them into existence. I rolled up my sleeves, and put my hands to work, the work of fixing a ship badly in need of some repairs. My religious friends continually want to give God the credit and glory for this, and I do not object too loudly, because this is typical of religious thinking: to ascribe anything positive to God, and credit anything negative to another account. But it does sting a little inside, because we all want to be praised for the hard work we devote ourselves to.

I am sorry that because my faith is not your own, you consider the sum value of this site to be equal to merely complaints. Nice. I do so appreciate that. And I am also sorry that you do not see any “hope” here for those whose faith is lacking. There is a species of hope to be found here, though I fear you are unwilling or unable to detect it. True, it is a variety of hope far, far apart from what you are accustomed to, where you are told that everything is fine, everything is dandy, and better days are surely coming. Next to this, my version of hope is certainly cold-comfort. I’m not going to tell you all will be merry, because, most likely, it will not be. We are all only one three AM phone call away from disaster, and me telling you that this is not tries does you a serious disservice. No, the hope hidden aware from some on this site is for those who say to themselves, “Ok, so things are bad. Lets deal with it, and fix it.” It is about finding strength inside, when faith is weak or dead, when friends and family are gone, when the night is dark and you are alone, utterly alone. It is about survival. And about seeing the world the way it really is, not the way we want it to be. It is about denying our tendencies, such as accepting only the version of the truth that we already believe in, the one that makes us feel warm and un-challenged.

We should get this straight: I do not want you to feel good, after reading this site. I want you angry. I want you to be horrified. This delusion that the world is just peachy – this is the problem. We have real problems to solve on this planet. There are crises coming which will kill us as a species, and this will only get addressed after we realize that the only way to get out of this alive is if we get serious about this “being human” thing. No more candy-coating the truth, Terry. That has not worked thus far, and it will not work as the temperature rises and the population soars above 9 billion in a few decades. That is where your hope has gotten us. Mine will give us a chance to survive.

Terry, I will tell you what I have told many of my religious friends lately: if your God is who you profess him to be, if he is benevolent and loving, omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent, then he already knows who I am, and where I am, and what I need from him, and when. He knows how to reach me, in words that will penetrate. If he loves me, he will show himself. If he does not, well, that is your theological quandary to deal with, not mine. I’m past it. I’ve got work to do.

My doubts do not make me a bad person. In fact, my wanderings from the realms of faith and revelations have made me infinitely better, by any standard you care to list. I help the men around me more, even though I have far less. I don’t do this to please the skies or to shore up treasures in some paradise. I do this because they are my brothers and they need help, and because no one else – particularly not the faithful – are willing to. My system of ethics does not require promises of reward for being good, or the fear of roasting eternally in some fiery pit for doing wrong. I do good, as much as I am able to, because I have found purpose in life, and this purpose requires me to lift up the cast down and protect those who cannot protect themselves. My reach is short at present, sure. But it grows longer by the day, and you really do not want to see what I am going to be able to do to this system in ten years, if I am still alive. I can think of no better reason for the state to kill me as quickly as possible than to prevent the storm that I am bringing.

It sometimes confuses me why the religious seem to pretend to themselves that they have the market cornered on morality. Have you read the Old Testament lately? Scan it, and you will find every act of murder, rape, torture, and depravity imaginable is not only permitted by Yahweh, but endorsed and commanded by him. You deign to look down on me from these heights? Sorry. Not buying it. Whatever comes later, the Yahweh of the OT is a petty, unjust, vindictive, jealous (of humans, why?), money-grubbing, retrograde tyrant. As noted by many observers, who but a slave thanks a ruler for what he was planning to do anyway? That is your morality. I’ve moved beyond that, and we had all better consider doing the same, and soon. I may choose to delve into the specifics of what I believe at some point, or I may not. Mainly, I believe that I should stay out of someone else’s decision as to what to believe. That’s why I haven’t talked a lot about God of late.

But you asked, so there it is. I figured that silence was probably better, because, frankly. I doubt you really want to hear what I have to say on all of this. There is a point on most journeys, where, once you cross, there is no going back. I’ve thrown the gauntlet down before God. It’s his move.

It has only been about a year since I finally found my feet in this world, finally learned of the power locked inside my mind. Drugs, depression, nihilism, pain, loneliness, and yes a faith that answers none of the real questions that I desperately needed answered, caused me to flounder about for 28 years. I blame no one but myself for this, and if it were in my power to rectify every negative act I have ever committed in this life, I would do so with a glad heart, regardless of the cost. But this is beyond my power. What does lay within my reach, however, is to concentrate on the good I can do from this point forward, now that I am nearly a year old. Maybe you dislike this new me. If so, I am sorry. Truly sorry. I do not like to disappoint anyone. But I will not turn back for you, or anyone. You do not have the right to ask this of me. You do have the right, however, to clickety-click that little “X” in the upper right-hand corner of our screen, and -magic- I go away. It’s not so easy for me. I have no little “X”

Despite all of this, despite my real feelings on the matter of religion, I do not rail against my religious friends when they say something which is truly cringe-inducing. I even acquiesce to their requests to read such-and-such book, or to attempt this-or-that prayer. I have a particularly good friend (whom I do not have to agree with in order to love) who counseled me to make a “Blessings Journal,” wherein I was to list, daily, all the blessings that “God provided for (me)” I do this, still, after more than a year, simply to honor the friendship that she has shown me. Since this is my journal, though, I do it my way: on the left side of the page, I list the “blessing,” such as today’s: “got an extra lunch tray, which had a burrito on it.” On the right, I list the natural science explanation for the “blessing”: “I was the last cage in the last section to be fed. Since my neighbor is at the hospital, there was an extra tray. I asked for it. As you can always count on a TDJC officer to be lazy, he gave it to me, rather than carry it back to the tray cart.” Now, if you so choose, you may believe that God, or Satan, or angels, or Mary, or any one of a thousand “Saints”, or a demon, or a devil, or a Jenn, or a Jinn, or an ifrit, or a marid, or a shaitan, or a fairy, or whatever, altered the physical composition of the universe, to so influence this particular guard to cough up the goods. Or, you can believe that he gave it to me because he was lazy, and because I have chosen to be kind to him in the past, he returned the favor. That is your choice. For me, Occams razor is both clean and decisive, and the correct choice is quite apparent. I engage in this type of observation any time I hear about some “miracle”, and have yet to find any act so statistically improbable as to qualify as a genuine miracle. But I am still looking, still open to being proven wrong. And that is a claim that few of the religious will ever make in converse.

Pierre-Simon de Laplace took Newton’s calculus a step further, to show how the planets and gravity worked in a vacuum. In his “Celestial Mechanics”, he showed the solar system as seen from outside, which we must see as rather novel, because, remember, the church had long insisted that the earth was the center of the universe. You could be murdered for saying otherwise. Napoleon once asked for Laplace to show him a model of the solar system, called an orrery, as well as his 5-volume work. He wanted to know why God did not appear in any of his calculations, and Laplace coolly responded: “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothese.” When it comes to the “Blessings Journal,” I add humbly and simply: and neither do I.

In conclusion, I return to a point that I mentioned earlier: I really could make this a religious site. Quite easily, actually. Even now, I still have whole portions of the Bible memorized, much to the dismay and consternation of the people who choose to debate with me (but, only, I add, when they beg the argument, and have been duly warned of the possible outcome) I never promised this site would be pretty. I merely said that I would be honest. If things change, I will report that. In the meantime, maybe you could consider that the religious have a tendency to vocalize their dislike for many things, but when it comes to fixing anything, they tend to prefer to merely pray about it. Maybe look at what I am “complaining” about, and realize that these problems need to be dealt with. So get busy, or don’t. I’ve made my choice.

You see, Terry, now I am the one with my faith lacking. I could easily (and scornfully) laugh that you are doing exactly what you accused me of: depriving the needy of the hope they require to move forward. But I wont. I don’t need hope. Hope is…what? Some illusion that some higher power, be it God, or chance, or Ed McMahon, is going to swoop in out of the blue and save us from a situation that is probably our fault to begin with. If this hope fails to materialize, what then? There is no recourse to a failed hope. You simply have to go and make a new hope. No, hope is nice, but a plan is better. A plan, just like a good hypothesis, allows you to go back and dissect it, to see where error crawled into the process. I guess I will pass on hope. I have enough, here inside me, to make it, to face whatever comes, until the end. And when that end does come to pass, I will face it with stoicism, because that is also part of my purpose.

Wow, Terry, that turned into a rant! More “complaints,” sorry. I will do another one of these comments this weekend, probably. I will try to be less of an ogre, I swear. And, Terry, if God does happen to pop up, I promise that I will be instantly writing about it, and will publicly call myself the biggest nincompoop ever born, and beg your pardon. Until that day, then.

“Is he (god) willing to prevent evil but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”


Epicurus

“And do you think that unto such as you a maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew God gave a secret, and denied it me? Well, well – what matters it? Believe that, too!”


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
All rights reserved.

12 comments:

jessica.craven said...

You articulated many of my thoughts on faith better than I ever could Thomas.

I don't subscribe to formalised religion or God for many of the reasons you mentioned. But that doesn't mean I'm not a moral person or that I don't have faith.

In fact, some of the most immoral and mean-spirited people I have ever met have been fanatical Catholics or Christians. Those people thought because they went to church regularly and believed in God, it made up for all manner of failings and bad behaviour. It didn't.

I've read your blog since you began writing and while you still have a way to go, I can see the changes in yourself and your approach to life. You seem less paranoid than you used to be ( although still more paranoid than most). Don't be discouraged Thomas- and keep the faith, no matter what form it takes.

terry said...

adamI'm the Terry that wrote the commcent.

Sice this comment section is a place for people to kiss Bart's ass, I imagine this won't get posted.

Bart is every bit the same sociopathic narcissistic prissy little spoiled brat that he was when he committed his crimes.

His sanctamonious attitude leaves me cold. I think he would plan to murder me if he were free, not having the balls to do it himself.

His arguments are weak, he is a TERRIBE writer and is so full of himself I'm surprised the ink doesn't trun brown.

What ower thsi animal in a cage thinks he weilds is laughable. ("the storm
that is comning)

I look forward to his execution date

PS- Thomas you are a very frigthening man, and I mean your looks. Your high voice only adds to the creepiness. You murdered your mother and brther, so do not get all righetous on me. You are doing nobody good, you are a liar!

Your mon is dead. Your brother is dead. rot in the hell in the cage like you deserve and who gives a goddamned fuck abour your teen weeny arem pain.

Man up, fuckhole.

nicolas said...

That's... very good ! Very strong, and very sincere an,d honnest.

Now please, Bart, move one step-further: why are you there, why did you do what you did, and without hidding behind philosophical and/or psychological explanations - in the same maner as you are not hiding behind any God to live and confront your current life and explain your presence where your are. You are today what you did: what did you do and for what reason, a human reason ?

Move one step further on your past, Bart, frankly and honnestly like you've done in this blog entry, spell it out clearly and plainly, once and for all. Why ?

Courage, friend !

gord said...

I have a question now, I have read in your blog and other guys blogs on how bad the food is, Perhaps you can tell me what you had for lunch today and how you spiced it up. I enjoyed past posts on how you made dinner, take care and the Red Wings suck

Maya said...

I think you're truly amazing TBW, there's not much else that I can say. :)

the_truth said...

I did five years with the state and the food wasn't that bad. Realistically it is equivilent to what public school kids get. The only thing BAD about it is it isn't what you want. And normally it is the same group of things over and over. But the food isn't that bad. He is in prison, not the Marriot.

Lindsey said...

It has taken me a long time to decide if I wanted to write anything on here. After reading some of the comments I've seen I realized I had to. I knew Bart more than 10 Yrs. ago at Baylor (yes, he will always be bart to me). His dorm was right next to mine. I met him because he lived in the same hall as my boyfriend at that time. My roommate had a thing for him, but he had a girlfriend & showed her no interest. I have so many things I could say here, and I don't know how far to go. So many of you have the wrong idea about Bart. You don't know him but you judge him & throw stones. The TV shows that claim Bart to be happy & normal are wrong. Everyone who knew him knew he was a man carrying a lot of weight on him. When he wrote he was a man drowning, that seems very accurate. My mistake and that of many others is that we thought he was strong enough to save himself. He was so many people. We used to joke about which Bart would show up at gatherings. He could be so funny, but also so sarcastic or terribly crruel when someone made fun of someone weak or different. He could just blend in with the background. This was most common! We all know he was a complicated man with his demons very present. A group of us went to the lake outside of Waco to hang out. This was maybe the 1st month of class. The area we parked on was a cliff over the lake. You couldn't see the water, only hear it. It was like 60ft down. some of the guys were joking about jumping. Everyone was trying to work up the courage to do it! Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone run from behind us and throw himself over the edge. It was Bart. While we were all just talking, he removed his clothes to jump. We hadn't even noticed. We were all freaked out. We were calling to him looking over the edge. Then we heard the quiet laughter. He had climbed up and all the guys were saying how cool it was. my boyfriend asked if he had a death wish. Bart paused a second and said, "It's not that simple". All of us failed him as a friend and wish we could go back and let him know he wasn't alone. One thing I know is the state won't kill Bart! I'm sure he has a plan and if it doesn't work, he will kill himself. Wait and see. He would see it as a form of self defense! I'm so sorry Bart. I'll always remember what you did for Molly. Be well. Don't pay attention to these evil people.
Lindsey

bill said...

I find Thomas's writing incredible. And considering the circumstances, I would say we are witnessing a miracle.

From my humble point of view:

These are just a few of the miracles of this story:

Your Dad is alive-he has forgiven you (Can you feel how God has entered your life with this one miracle alone?) Think of the work your Dad has done-the lives he has affected.-miracle.

You have the emotional and intellectual ability to create in a world that stomps it out of most (I would be curled in a ball waiting for my day).-miracle

Your gift of communicating-miracle.

Taking care of those who hurt and suffer-those that are weak in body and mind-miracle.

YOU surviving-miracle!

If you want to somehow attribute these miracles to an affect by a human; I will tell you God loves you still. He has passed his love through your Dad to you. That is enough!

God is with you every step of the way.


Thank you for your writings.

Insurer1999 said...

Good news:

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today recommended that Gov. Rick Perry commute the death sentence of Robert Lee Thompson, sentenced to die for a 1996 Houston convenience store robbery-murder, to life in prison. . .


Thompson, 34, who was convicted under Texas' law of parties, is scheduled to be executed Thursday.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6727421.html

Insurer1999 said...

FYI - I am an attorney (civil unfortunately, not criminal) but am happy to field any questions. I worked in 2001-03 for David Dow's innocence project and met Dominique Green (executed 2004) on DR.

valhalladad said...

Fully agree with 'bill'. I found this blog after reading the 'Willingham' story in the 'New Yorker' magazine, and decided to look around. Glad I found it and am enjoying the style, philosophy and psychology of the subjects he examines.
Having found myself employed as one in a grey dominated world due to the economy, a more likely fan is unimaginable. Never-the-less, here I am and a fan I'll remain. Keep that 'obsession' T, and fear not, you've passed the test here.

Doctari said...

I have read every word that Thomas has writtin, I enjoy them and look forward to them. I have begun to wonder how I will feel when the execute him. Today when I see a name in the paper its just a name, but it seems I know him now, I wonder if it will hurt.