Stephen Kahn

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Meanwhile, back at the cult shack

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm

After the Lutherans split and deliver some wood, they (and I) meet back at the church to chat, eat cookies, and drink coffee. Many of them worked for Boeing (which I have never done). Many of them served in the military, though as far as I know, none of them in combat. Most of them have more money than we do, so they travel the world (just as Craig and Sharon are visiting Greece and Turkey right now), so they chat about the places they have visited (which vary, but often involve the “Holy Land.”)

I regard them as amiable and pleasant, but I feel a bit of distance. I do not (at all) believe. I never worked at Boeing. I never served in the military (except for a tiny exposure to ROTC when I was in college). I have less money than most of them, though they are not condescending about the matter.

The area where we chat, eat cookies, and drink coffee is the church library. It contains many Bibles, many books about Christianity, books about other religious beliefs (in keeping with the Lutherans’ ecumenicism and tolerance), but no books about atheism, secular humanism, agnosticism, and the like. I could add a few books on such topics (I have a few favorites), and no one would object, but I know they would disappear.

On a couple of occasions, Craig spoke enthusiastically about a book he had read, called The Shack. He said it started out in a rather harsh way, about a man who had a bad relationship with his father, and who lost a young daughter to a murder. He said that he didn’t like to read about such grim matters, but as he read on, the man encountered some odd characters at the shack where his daughter had been murdered (during a camping trip the man took with his children). These odd characters turned out to be God (who mostly incarnated herself as a black woman), Jesus (a carpenter), and the Holy Ghost who appeared as an Asian woman.

Through his interactions with this Trinity in human form, the man became reconciled with the tragedies that had oppressed his life, and stopped blaming and hating God.

Out of curiosity, I read the book. I have known many Christians who stopped being Christians and regard conservative evangelical Christianity with some disdain. As I have never believed in it (and was not raised to believe in it), my disagreement with that religious belief does not fall into quite the same category. However, although the book was readable and held my attention, it did not convince me of the existence of God, nor did it reconcile me with the hostility I would feel if I knew God was real. I published a review of The Shack at


Water! And let’s hear it for specialists.

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

My wife called the man who had dug our well. He gave her the name of a man who specializes in well-electrical interfaces. My wife called him. This morning, reasonably early, he arrived with his daughter. After a little tinkering, he fixed the electrical connection to our well. After some sputtering (the ozone filter having a bit of a fit), water came from our tap. The End of Civilization crisis of the day is over.

The cost of the repair came to several hundred dollars, which we can ill afford, but as everything is relative, we can afford it much better than the several thousand dollars replacing the well pump would have cost, so we abstained from whining.

As we chatted with the well-electrical system specialist (who had traveled down from Oak Harbor), he cheerfully told us about his problems. Near the end of last year, his house had partially burned down. The process of rebuilding his house had turned into a nightmare. As the contractors on South Whidbey are often rather lackadaisical, I expressed surprise he had encountered similar problems in Oak Harbor – he related tales of contractors who seldom finished tasks or did them poorly, blamed him for their problems, and so on. He said, the contractors he had used had come from Seattle. I guess the moral is that things are bad all over.

I thanked him enthusiastically for his prompt arrival and successful work on fixing our problem. We paid his fee cheerfully. Civilization bounces back for another day.

The gentle, tolerant evangelicals

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I think my recent serious, but not deadly, illness, distracted me from writing about the religious cult to which I belong, Transition Lutheran Church. I participate in a peripheral way with the “wood ministry” crew that cuts, splits, and hauls wood, and sells it to people (at a very reduced cost) for heating purposes.

In the past, I communicated with conservative evangelical Christians (mostly on the Internet, but in a few cases in person). Most of the ones I encountered professed (and perhaps really did believe) that God exists, that Jesus is his son, and that with the Holy Ghost they make up some kind of magical “Trinity.” I regarded this as absurd and offensive. These conservative evangelicals were full of intolerance and hostility (while prating constantly about love), and full of condemnation of Communists (reasonable enough) and of Muslims (not so reasonable), atheists, abortion doctors, homosexuals, “liberals,” and lots of other people who don’t agree with them. After several years of participating in their discussions, I was eventually “banned.” from participation. Though I was guilty of a few intemperate remarks, mostly – as I said in a comment – “evangelical Christians like to dish it out, but they don’t much like to be on the receiving end of dishing.”

However, all humans – individually and in groups – change and evolve. When I began to participate with Trinity Lutheran, it took me a while to realize that they were indeed Christian zealots, as much obsessed with “converting me” as the evangelicals I encountered before. However, the Trinity group with much more tolerant and open-minded than the zealots at worldmagblog (a division of World Magazine, the group I had encountered before.

At Trinity, the obsession with bringing people into the flock is much purer, more ecumenical, gentler, and inclusive than the obsessions I encountered before. “You are a Jew? You are a Muslim? You are a Hindu? You are a [whatever your faith] – well, that’s fine. We all worship some aspect of the same God” seems to be the current doctrine.”

However, I am a stone cold, fanatical atheist. Most of the people who participate in the wood splitters are at least 90% of the way to religious belief, so it only takes a gentle push to push to get them that last 10%. But as I said not too long ago, at most I am .01% of the way to religious belief.

Even so, my friend and neighbor Craig (much like the sweet Karen O), takes that as a sign for optimism. He told me, one day (after I irritated my wife by telling Craig and Sharon I am an atheist), “That’s OK. We have atheists in our congregation. In fact, Pastor Jim has a special sermon he delivers at the funerals of atheists.”

Craig even took it amicably when I sardonically responded, “I suppose I appreciate the thought, but after I die, I will not be paying much attention to any sermons delivered on my behalf.”

Water! Water! But not a drop to drink

In Bad news, Humor on May 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I am slowly mending, and getting up and around a bit. However, today the electrical system that powers our pressure pump (that sends water to our plumbing after it gets up from our well) went out. We have a call in to an electrician, but as people on Whidbey tend to work on a “whatever” sort of basis, he had not called us back yet (two hours after I left a message). The “mañana” culture is charming when I indulge myself in it, but very irritating when I want someone to respond to my needs and imperatives. We have some bottled water (in case of the large earthquake that has not struck us yet), and we are going through it surprisingly quickly.

Help! I am trapped in an android artificial intelligence factory!

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2012 at 2:32 pm

After not being able to get on line (or do much of anything) since May 6, I was finally able to rejoin the world of social networking enough to post this silly comment. When I went to see my doctor about my infection, he said, “Into the hospital with you, old feller” (well not quite those words) and pretty soon with help from my wife, there I was on an entire new course of adventures. The hospital was crowded, so they put me on the same floor with people with behavior problems (not talking about me, of course). After a little room switching I found myself sharing a room with a homeless man, with more or less the same problem as me, except a lot worse. I think my infection came while taking a shower at the gym (a process I am going to swear off), his problem came from being bitten by another homeless man biting him while mugging him.


Well the story gets more complicated from there and my computer is going to reboot itself in a few seconds so I am going to publish and tell more later. Anyway, I am still alive. I think. Unless this is Heaven or Hell and I can’t tell the difference.

Will this be the day I’ll die?

In Bad news on May 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Human beings are social animals, We gather in flocks, herds, packs, and gaggles. Wolves gather in packs to hunt deer; deer gather in herds in the hope that a wolf will eat a different deer.

The Lutheran pack/flock gathers to cut, chop, and haul wood, which they donate to the poor and the elderly so they can burn it in wood stoves and fireplaces for warmth. Last Wednesday, I gathered with the plack, as I usually do, but about half way into the session I suddenly felt very weary. I could have prayed, but I went home early, and the next day when my left calf was very red, swollen, and painful, my HMO’s Advise Nurse said to get myself into the clinic, and my wife drove/ferried me to the mainland where the clinic sits. My doctor examined my calf, said, “It looks like you have a respectable infection,” and sent me to have some blood tests and prescribed some antibiotics for me. He just chose some general antibiotics; I am supposed to take some pills by the prescribed schedule; I am supposed to call his office on Monday, when the results are back, and he can decide whether to modify the prescription. He also prescribed some strong pain killers which pleasantly knocked me out last night.

As we drove back from the clinic I remembered Don McClean’s iconic song “This American Pie” and wondered if “This’ll be the day that I die.”

So you will have to tune in next week to see if I am still alive.

.01% of the way to religious belief

In Hard to tell on May 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Quite a while back, when I just began writing about cults I belong to, the lovely, intelligent, and ever hopeful of converting me KarenO wrote, “I don’t suppose any of the cults you belong to are religious in nature.”

On the contrary, Karen, my sweetie. [If you will forgive the presumptuous familiarity.] Across the street from the the Island Athletic gymnasium where I work out (yet another of the cults, yet undiscussed) stands Trinity Lutheran Church. On the readerboard each week appears an inspiring message. About a week ago, it said something to the effect of, “Skeptic? Doubter? You are welcome here.”

Of course, readerboards do not have enough space for footnotes. If there were, the footnote would say, “Assuming you are at least 80% of the way to faith.”

In my case, I am at about .01% of the way to faith. Nevertheless, I participate in this evangelical Protestant Christian cult.