Stephen Kahn

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


  1. Very interesting comments. It is difficult being on the outside of a group. I am just wondering what DO you have in common with these people? Maybe there are more similarities then you think? I am reading a book that you might also want to review. It is called, “The Book of Ernest” by Ernest Clement. This a non-fiction book on spirituality and mankind’s place in the universe written from the author’s own experiences over a period of 15 years. He includes some humor and perspectives on American politics. Maybe it’s “spirituality” that you have in common with those folks?

  2. Robyn, thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I take some pride in not deleting any comments besides spam. While the word “spam” is very subjective, I try to interpret the word in the most generous and tolerant sense. Usually, the most compelling aspect of spam (as far as identification) is the utter irrelevance to the web site where placed.

    I would not quite define your comment in the same way, but it gets awfully close. Perhaps it should be called “sparm?” That is, your comment seems to reflect a willful misreading of everything I have said in my blog.

    My wife decided she was an atheist when she was about 15 years old, a year before she met me. I decided I was an atheist when I was 10 years old; I do not every remember thinking otherwise. My wife has at times said, “I am not religious, but I am spiritual.” The word “spiritual” deeply irritates me; I find it more offensive than “religious.” (My wife and I remain married even though we deeply disagree on many matters of substance and style.)

    I am 68 years old. As my blog narrates, I have been seriously (though not deathly) ill. I have not been “close” to death, but my mortality has been highlighted for me by my recent experiences. The older I get, the more sure I am that the universe is accidental; that there is no external meaning and purpose to life than that we arbitrarily assign to it.

    You directed me to the blog of Ernest Clement. I read some of his blog. I am sure he is a pleasant and earnest fellow, but what I read of his blog strikes me as the most absurd nonsense, much in the same line as the book I just read and reviewed, THE SHACK. The basic message of both is: the world is full of cruelty and suffering. Somehow the existence of suffering indicates God’s love and mercy.

    No it doesn’t. It indicates that if God existed, which He almost certainly does not, he would be a monster, the monster described in religious books such as the Hebrew Bible, The Christian Bible, and the Islamic Koran, as a loving God.

    I will quote a bit of Clement’s blog, which strikes me as demonstrating this willful blindness and denial quite eloquently and nonsensically.

    Recently I was reading a novel by Jane Smiley, Private Life, that made reference to the massacre known as the Rape of Nanking, which took place in 1937, when the Japanese invaded China and committed atrocities against the civilian population of that city. For my purpose now it does not matter what the actual facts are, or to accuse the Japanese, or to commiserate with the suffering of the Chinese. It is enough to be reminded of the many occasions where we do not treat our fellow mortal ascenders lovingly.
    Around our world we have more instances of horrific suffering than we care to recall. How do we understand this? It is time we shed light on this darkness. There is a divine lesson for us all. It is clear to me that, although we may not remember making a choice, everyone one is here by their own volition. We are created with free will, and our life is not an imposition. None of us are compelled to be here. God is not inflicting us with this suffering. It is evident we are doing this to ourselves. So why do so many of us mortal ascenders volunteer for such tragic and unhappy experience?

    I don’t have space (or patience) to explicate how deeply nonsensical those last two paragraphs are. I doubt that you have patience or interest enough to read an excellent book the demonstrates (clearly to me, at least) that:

    1) We have no free will.
    2) What we consider “good” or “altruistic” behavior is product of human evolution, and is the “default” of most human beings. It has nothing to do with the mythical creature called “God.”
    3) A few people (most typically described as “sociopaths” or “psychopaths.” lack the “moral” restrictions most people operate on.
    4) More commonly, people who act badly in large groups are operating on incorrect information. For example, the Nazis (generally regarded as the “gold standard” of evil behavior) loved their children, loved their families, loved their animals, etc. They redefined people such as Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, etc. as no longer human.

    The name of the book is The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. As I said, I doubt you will read it, so I won’t bother listing any more information. You can look it up on your own, but somehow I doubt you will even check back to see my reply, so why waste my time?

  3. I am really sorry that you read “The Shack.” I often feel the same way at church, that I do not understand the people, the way the talk or think, or the books they read. I believe that God created the world for the same reason that people have children, and that good and evil exist because love must always be a choice, and never forced. I hope you continuing to feel better.

  4. Waxing, I guess you are bravely reading all my comments. I am glad I read THE SHACK.. It is a serious attempt to reconcile the difficult issues all human beings face, and the dilemmas and confusion that those who turn to religious faith as the answer must deal with. It just doesn’t work for me. Obviously, it works for many people, and as far as I can see by looking at the author’s web site, they are not intolerant or cruel people. We all soldier on through life as best we can, and we are all trying to create better answers to life’s persistent dilemmas.

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