Hi everybody! I hope you’re all doing good. My camp was great! My dad said he told you about the possessed apples that were chasing me. It was weird.

We helped some of our neighbors move this weekend and I wrote about it. I call this story “Ghost of a House”.

My neighbors that lived across the street are moving away and we helped them. Their names are Heather and Sean. They were always very nice. They have a dog named “Foo” and a cat named “Gilbert”. The dog was orange and had a black tongue. I used to help walk the dog. I’m going to miss doing that. Nobody saw Gilbert too much.

Now I wonder who is going to move in. I hope they are nice too. But to me, it won’t be the same because whenever I look at the house, they are the people I’m going to see.

Good-bye and good luck. I’m going to miss you all very much!

Thank you for being my neighbor.

I’ll try and write about camp next time. Bye!

The recent string of "What I Believe (or don't believe)" GTKY daylogs has inspired me, for better or for worse. If anything, writing out my own beliefs in a (hopefully) coherent manner will help me to understand myself.

In my 24 years, I have gone from indoctrinated Christian to Rabid Atheist to, most recently, sort of an existential agnostic perspective. I was raised Christian, and as a child generally attended one church or another (I recall going to Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian churches while growing up). It made sense that I believed in the Christian God as a child; this was the only perspective I was exposed to. It seemed preposterous to me that anyone could NOT share my belief; after all, wasn't it obvious? The first religion I was exposed to other than Christianity was Judaism (I had Jewish classmates in elementary school) and my first impression of Judaism was rather South Park-esque: "Cool, you guys get presents for EIGHT DAYS!" It didn't really occur to me until I was about 12 that if Christianity was "correct", that meant Judaism was lacking something. I was fed lots of "Christ is the only way to the Father" doctrine, and once I realized that this notion excluded a lot of decent, honorable people, it began to make me uneasy.

In third grade I was a Creationist. I remember arguing with my friend Amanda (the first atheist I ever knew) about creation versus evolution. Our exchange went something like this:

Anne (me): You believe in God, right?

Amanda: No, I think we came from monkeys!

Anne: But the Bible says we came from Adam and Eve!

Amanda: Yeah, but they've found fossils and stuff that support the theory of evolution.

Anne: Then why aren't all the monkeys in zoos turning into humans?

Amanda: Not ALL of the monkeys evolved, dummy.

Anne: Oh. Well, if you don't believe in God, aren't you afraid of going to...H-E-L-L?

Amanda: No...I think that when we die it's just nothing.

Anne: Well I'd rather be safe than sorry!

Looking back at this exchange between two eight-year-old girls, I cringe at my responses. Not only was I a young Creationist, I invoked Pascal's Wager! Amanda, unlike me, had not been indoctrinated. I prayed for her soul after this conversation, thinking that she was very unfortunate not to have Jesus in her life.

In about sixth grade, the critical aspect of my brain began to develop. I had identified a phenomenon inconsistent with my worldview: lots of good, friendly people who were not Christians. I also realized that there were people in the world in remote areas who would go through their entire lives without ever hearing of Christianity or its associated God. The idea that these people might end up being eternally tormented simply because they were not born into the "right" region of the world was abhorrent to me, and still is. When I asked adults what would befall these individuals after death, I was given the stock response: "Jesus is the only way into Heaven." Naturally, I found this unsatisfying. I was no better than some child on a distant island or in the middle of a desert. Why should I deserve some blissful eternity, due to mere accident of birth?

I continued to call myself a Christian until about eighth grade. At that point I realized that there was an entire world of knowledge, theory, and culture out there that I had never even considered before. I also vowed that I would be willing to spend an eternity in Hell, for the sake of those who never had the chance to hear about the "right" religion. I also figured that if it turned out there was a God, he would forgive me for my doubts and questions, rather than punish me for using my brain! After this point, I wasn't quite an atheist...I don't know what I was, but I was no longer a Christian. I hid this fact from my family, knowing that they would be upset with me. My "rabid atheist" phase did not actually begin until my junior year of high school, when I discovered via the Internet that there were entire communities of nonbelievers, and a wealth of literature that theorized how a Universe and planets with life may have come about without a conscious creator.

As is common in high school students, I began to notice hypocrisy everywhere; the ridiculousness of such things as "Holy" wars, Crusades, and Inquisitions really hit home. Everyone, I realized, thought that THEIR religion was correct! Every religion seemed to have little pamphlets explaining how all other faiths were somehow wrong. I felt like all the information I got about religion was being filtered and colored by human ambitions and biases. I have read most of the King James Bible (I skimmed over the genealogy listings, but I read most of the narrative parts), and while I agree that it is a magnificent book with great value, I think it is a very human book.

The Bible tells of a God who changes his rules, a God who makes mistakes. This God experiences anger and jealousy and is far more human than many adherents would like to admit. The Old Testament lists pages and pages of rules regarding cleanliness vs. uncleanliness, as well as dietary restrictions and regulations for proper sacrifice. This information is vital for cultural anthropology, but I have never heard of anyone who follows the Old Testament to the letter. Christians I've talked to say that the animal sacrifices, etc., are no longer required because of Jesus's sacrifice of himself. It is simply too difficult for me to take the leap of faith that the Gospels are entirely accurate; they were written a long, long time ago, and basically are asking me to take their word for something that happened. I have a very, very hard time believing a fantastic account simply on someone's say-so.

Over the years I've gotten such advice as,

"Just open your heart to Jesus, He will show you the way if you are willing to listen."

"You just need to keep reading the Bible and eventually it will speak to you".

"You really ought to be more appreciative of what Jesus did for you, He loves you and died for you and you are just throwing away this wonderful gift of eternal life!"

"Satan is using your God-given abilities in science and reason to deceive you into believing there is no God."

While I appreciate the concern people have shown me, advice such as this rings hollow. I will continue to read Bible passages from time to time, and I am certainly open to the possibility of anything that might be true! I do not, however, want to fall into the trap of believing something simply because I wish it were so. Eternal life sounds wonderful, but do I deserve an eternity of bliss? I think not! It would be nice, but I don't think anyone really knows what happens after death, so I'm not going to spend this existence dwelling on something that may or may not happen afterwards. I'm going to try to live as long and as deeply as possible, and enter unbiased into the unknown.

It is only in the past three years or so that my position has softened. I no longer feel angry at religion, rather, I understand it is a necessary aspect of human nature. Whether it reflects a supernatural source or something at the core of our humanity that we are trying to understand, I cannot tell. But it definitely fills a need, and for some people, it is all that sustains them through dark times. Religion cannot explain everything, but neither can 20th- century science. I do not think we have learned all there is to know about the Universe, and I think it is very likely we will make discoveries as a species that will floor us with awe at the majesty of nature. When I was 20 years old I had sort of an existential shock, and I haven't been the same since. The Universe is an extremely weird place, with complexity operating on every scale. We don't even know why anything exists at all, let alone sentient life! We have yet to figure out the exact mechanism of consciousness. We don't fully understand the nature of time. We program our minds with words and symbols from birth onward, so everything we experience passes through a filter, a dynamic framework established by previous generations and ever-growing with our individual experiences.

It seems that from an objective perspective, life is simply a means of energy transfer and conversion. There is something self-perpetuating within us that is deeply ingrained into our most primitive selves. We share this need to survive and reproduce with every other living organism. It is perhaps the most profound drive in the Universe. Most of us do not want to die, despite the various belief systems which promise us eternal life. Most of us end up reproducing. While we're here, what are we going to do with ourselves? Our large, complex brains may have evolved simply to give us an edge in self- preservation and the ability to stay alive long enough to reproduce and raise our children. But an unanticipated side effect of our braininess is that we do not like to be bored. We aren't satisfied to just eat, sleep, reproduce, and die. We need diversions, we need significance. Just being alive is not enough, at least not for most people. Religious faith serves this function for some, but what of the rest of us?

For me, life is about discovery and enjoyment. I know I will never know all the secrets of the Universe, but I try and follow the latest advances in science, despite the fact that I never took any mathematics beyond differential equations and calculus. I like reading about past societies and possible future societies. I play with technology. I try to get as many perspectives as possible on difficult issues. As for the enjoyment of life, there are games and friends and conversations and food! Sometimes chocolate alone is reason enough to live, in my opinion.

When it comes down to it, we need to make our own meaning. This is the essence of the existential perspective. Without consciousness to shape our experience, our existence would be very routine and mechanical; we would be no different from our genes themselves, or from cells who unknowingly divide and divide and divide.

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