Beyond Marriage

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It’s time. We simply have to talk about this. There is a crisis in marriage of epidemic proportions. We have a problem, and there is no sign of us fixing it. There is a war on marriage, and we are all losing it. No, I’m not talking about same-sex marriage. That is a side-show distraction that steals our focus from the real issue. Make no mistake about it. With regard to the issue of gay marriage, the focus is never truly on the marriage part. It is always on the gay part. I could care less about the gay part. Marriage was in trouble long before same-sex marriage became an issue. It is two-party, heterosexual marriage that is suffering. And that is what we ultimately have to address, and what we keep avoiding.

Stated as succinctly as I can, here is the problem: We have allowed religion to define marriage for so long, that we cannot conceptualize it in any other terms. Even more problematic, the purveyors of religion have an agenda that does not align with human happiness or social realities. Put a slightly different way, we maintain marriage based on the unclear will of an iron-age god, rather than on how human beings actually work.

Statistics

Before fleshing that out any further, here are a few statistics on marriage and divorce: 95% of both men and women have been married at least once by the age of 55. That’s almost everybody. Though almost all of them promise to be together till death, around 50% part ways before reaching that milestone. Most marriage takes place between ages 25 and 35. If we are just talking 1st marriage, the divorce rate is about 50%. The divorce rate of those who go back for seconds clocks in as high as a whopping, 67%. For the true, gluttons for punishment, the third marriage ends in divorce 73% of the time.

Many stay married because of the children, but far fewer than you might think. Only 40% of failed marriages have children involved. Marriages without children die at a staggering rate of 66%. Those with children beat the average, but not by enough to declare that adding children to the mix will make for a lasting union. If you know your marriage will not produce children, you might as well retain a divorce attorney on the way to pick of the rings.

If you can wait till you get to age 35-39, you’ve got a pretty decent chance of making it. The divorce rate for that group is in the single digits when the rate for both men and women are averaged out. If you want to multiply your chances of divorce, get married between ages 20 and 24.

I need to give you one more set of data points before providing any analysis. It has to do with infidelity. At least one spouse admits to infidelity in 41% of marriages. The percentage of men who admitted to committing to infidelity in any relationship was 57%. Women were not far behind. 36% of men and women admit to having an affair with a co-worker, and about the same percentage admit to having an affair on a business trip.

The most telling stat is that 74% of men, with women not too far behind, admit that they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught. Infidelity in marriage is already rampant from both sexes. The only thing that holds us back is the fear of getting caught. It has nothing to do with a higher ethic, or religious conviction.

The Four Pillars of Marriage

For most of the developed world, marriage is easily recognizable, with a great deal of uniformity across the globe. This is a testament to how long and how thoroughly the religious establishment has defined the institution. Ironically it is an institution largely defined by men who have been denied access to it. This goes a long ways towards explaining the mess it is in, today. There are four things that make marriage so recognizable, all of which are problematic:

A Union of Two: Though the hebrew god was one of the greatest champions of polygamy the world has ever known, as depicted in the Hebrew scriptures, marriage is generally accepted as a union made up of two, and only two people. When the bible is not flogging polygamy, handmaidens, and concubines for the wealthy, it pushed an agenda of strict monogamy. But as the stats suggest, along with out own personal observations have taught us, humans are not cut out for monogamy. With or without the church’s sanction, most relationships are with multiple, sexual partners. We can continue to deny it at our peril, but it will continue to be the case.

Between a Man and a Woman: Not only have we been in denial about our propensity, even preference for multiple partners, we are also in denial about our sexual proclivities. In a society where we cannot even cop to a foot fetish, there is no way to approach honesty about attraction to persons of the same sex. Many are stuck in traditional marriages because they are hiding, or in denial about their true preference. The artificial limitation of cross-gender marriages adds to the misery and instability of marriage as a whole.

Till Death Do Us Part: Since fully half of all marriages never make it to that point, it seems ludicrous to push this unrealistic timeframe as the sole metric for success. The vast majority of marriages make it to five years. Ten is pushing it, and things really fall apart at fifteen. Why not offer a five, ten, or fifteen year contract marriage that can be renewed upon completion?

Be Fruitful and Multiply: Finally, too many still make the argument that marriage is the only institution through which procreation should occur. Nature, however, has placed no such limit on us. In a related matter, some say that procreation is the reason for the institution. This argument is used to fight gay marriage. It quickly falls when applied to the millions of heterosexual couples who cannot produce children, at least, not without bringing in a third-party.

The only reason these four items remain pillars of marriage is due to the influence of religion. Limiting marriage to two, isn’t even the bible’s default position. It is just one of the options. Monogamy was reserved for unimportant people of little means. It made perfect sense for the low-class, impoverished ravel that made up the early Christians.

The bible is rather consistent about the evils of same-sex relations. It goes so far as to demand capitol punishment for those who engage in it. Nature does nothing to forbid or restrict the practice, however, even going so fare as to make some to its orientation. The only objection is religion-based morality. It is gratifying to see that in the US the majority are now in favor of same-sex marriage. It is only a matter of time before god follows suit.

As time progresses, marriages are not lasting longer or getting more stable. The more pressure we place on marriage to be an everlasting institution, the shorter the time marriage lasts. This is actually a good thing. The only places where marriage tends to last are those where women have few rights and fewer options. They are more slaves than wives. Men have the option to cast them aside, but they have no option to leave. That means that in those societies, men can have as many partners as they wish, and treat their wives as little more than property. Where equality exists, so do short marriages.

This tells us that given the option, and all things being equal, we actually prefer short-term relationships. Ten years is about the outer limit to what we can comfortably handle. We do not mate for life. We mate for about eight years. Children give us an added incentive to hang in there a little longer than we normally would. Where did we even get the notion that it should be any other way? What god has joined together, let no man put asunder. Oh, yeah, now I remember. Religion.

Let’s face it. The only one who prioritizes procreation as a motive for sex is god, and those who claim to speak for him. I can assure you, men are almost never trying to create little versions of themselves that will, one day, grow up to compete with them. Men have sex because they like it. If sex was not fun and addictive, we would never reproduce. Reproduction is a byproduct of sex, not a purpose. If all we needed to do was reproduce, nature provides far more efficient models.

In many parts of the world, it is still taboo to have sex outside of marriage. You want to convince a young man to marry? Just deny him the right to sex until he does. Instant marriage. Is there any wonder so many young marriages end in divorce? They married because society told them they had to. They endure it for as long as they can. They seek other partnership opportunities when they can do so without getting caught. And that is the foundation of the mess we know of as marriage, and are trying so desperately to defend.

The men who oversee the religious establishment are not only restricted from marriage, but live counter to the pillars they have established. Priests do not restrict themselves to a single, sexual partner. They have no hesitation when it comes to sampling same-sex relations. Their partnerships last only as long as they need them to. And they are certainly not motivated to stray because of a desire to procreate.

In other words, they live out their sexual lives just as we do, except, without the legal strictures of marriage. I only ask that the rest of the population be given the same rights in relationships as they, themselves, enjoy, except without the hypocrisy and shame. I ask that marriage be as dead for us as it is for priests. Isn’t it time we start living out relationships as humans, rather than as empty vessels trying to live out the dictates of an indwelling spirit from another realm?

Conclusion: Beyond Religion

Marriage is a ball and chain that no longer fits us as a species, if it ever did. When half the population can’t manage it, then we can no longer pretend that it is a sacred rite: a sacrament, that cannot be altered or reconsidered. The heterosexual requirement will fall in our lifetimes, but the church still has a stranglehold over the institution. That is why we will never get beyond marriage until we finally go beyond religion.

We are already there in our behavior. It is past time we stop calling relationships, failures, that last five and ten years at a stretch. What kind of god looks at an accomplishment like that with disappointment? The only thing I regret about my last marriage is that we couldn’t have ended it when it more naturally should have. But we were both trapped in a marriage that had long since become an institution. We did not feel like we were in control of our own relationship. We suffered for that.

I call for the suffering to stop, for everyone! I am not here to defend the institution of marriage, but to destroy it! There is a war against marriage, and I am sleeping with its enemy. Understand, I have no desire to destroy loving relationships, just marriage. As it crumbles around us, I plan to rebuild it in the image of mankind, and not in the image of god: a god who never even bothered to give marriage a try.

David Johnson

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Prayer and Physics

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They say that oil and water don’t mix. But having made a few batches of peanut-butter cookies, I can assure you that they do, and quite deliciously. But some things really don’t mix. Prayer and physics are not only mutually exclusive, but are diametrically opposed. It is not like black and white coming together to form grey. It is more like dark and light. One cancels the other out. If one exists, the other cannot.

The conflict should be obvious. Physics is the set of absolute rules that order the universe. Prayer represents the rejection of absolute rules of order, in favor of a more transactional mechanic that works on demand in our favor. Any ad hoc dismissal of absolute rules negates the existence of absolute rules. Physics cannot be capricious and still be physics.

When I speak of prayer, I am including miracles, in general. The reason I do not just come right out and say it (I guess I kind of am) is that while many believers claim that the age of miracles has ceased, almost all believe in prayer. The disconnect, for them, is that they do not see prayer as a miracle. What they fail to account for is the fact that for prayer to be more than a way of talking to one’s self, at least five distinct miracles have to take place. Only cognitive dissonance allows one to separate prayer from other miracles. If a person expects his prayers to be answered, he should also have no problem expecting the lame to rise up from their wheelchairs. One miracle is not greater than the other. Prayer is the outward expression of one’s belief in miracles, and one’s rejection of the natural order.

I intend to put an end to the notion that prayer can, in any way, be complementary to physics. It isn’t! This would be clear even if we were only talking about one person praying, and only occasionally, interrupting the natural order. But we’re not. We are talking about billions of people praying at any given time. More to the point, we are talking about god answering those prayers.

It gets worse. We are talking about a god who is constantly active in the world, even without the prodding of prayer. This is a god who is constantly acting behind the scenes, to make all things work together for the good of those who love him, and presumably, not quite as good for those who don’t. In other words, god does not just interrupt the natural order on occasion, but creates his own order completely apart from what we think of as nature.

Superstition and Physics

Superstition is the belief in effects from unnatural, or unrelated causes. The effect is my run of bad luck. The unnatural or unrelated cause is that a black cat crossed my path. The effect is that I contracted leprosy. The cause is my secret sin for which I am being punished. The effect is a bank error in my favor, and I collected two-hundred dollars. The cause is that I gave a quarter to a beggar, and my generosity was multiplied. The effect is that I did not get demon-possessed today. The cause is that I crossed myself before leaving the house.

This dark-ages mentality still exists well into the current age of enlightenment. We call it superstition, but it really is ignorance of the laws of nature. It is what happens when people without science try to make sense of the universe. Once convinced that they have made sense of the universe, they can reject new knowledge that comes from scientific discovery. Those who do not wish to be considered fools will pretend to incorporate the new knowledge into their science-free worldview. Such pretense only serves to mask the raving superstition that pervades their reality.

This combination of superstition and physics allows one to pray for a magical cure that is uncoupled from the natural order, while going to a doctor for scientific remedies. It allows us to keep our options open, without fully declaring allegiance to either. If we truly believed in prayer, then there would be no reason to consult the sciences. If we believed in science, we would not devote any of our time and energy seeking magical cures. By hanging on to both, we are not showing our openness to both, but our rejection of both.

As you have already guessed, I am lumping prayer with superstition. After all, an answered prayer is the ultimate effect of an unnatural cause. My cancer went away, not because of treatment, or the bodies natural abilities, but because god suspended the course of nature to remove it from my system. Ah, but I can already hear the believer’s objection. Prayer is not superstition because it is proven, at least sometimes, to work. The cancer went away after prayer was offered on your behalf. Such coincidence, however, does not equal answered prayer. No doubt, countless grandmas have suffered broken backs after a careless grandchild stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. Even more have experienced bad luck after breaking a mirror into seven pieces. Who can say how many have died after being hexed by a practitioner of the dark arts.

Correlation does not equal cause, and does not distance prayer from superstition. If one can pray a blessing upon you, they can also pray a curse that is equally efficacious. If, through prayer, one can extend your life, they can also shorten it. Furthermore, if there are dark forces in the world able to contend with the angels of light, then those forces can also be marshaled in the service of your enemies. If your universe is ordered by powers and principalities and rulers of the air, then, for you, physics is totally obsolete. It does not matter what the laws of nature require for any given moment. If you can change the course of even one, sub-atomic particle, even for a fraction of a moment by the power of prayer, then you are living in a very different universe than the one I inhabit. For you, superstition trumps physics every time.

Creating Reality

What happens next? No, really, what is the very next thing to happen that will have some direct effect on you? Don’t know? Do you find that lack of control disturbing, frustrating, intolerable? Then you have options. Why wait for reality to happen to you when you can actively create your own? That is, effectively, what prayer is designed to do.

Will you have a safe commute to work? Who knows? Maybe you will; maybe you won’t. Getting in your car is a bit of a gamble. Prayer is a way of bending the odds in your favor. If the universe is ordered in such a way as to cause your grizzly death on the 405, then you need something that can counteract the natural order. No one is a fan of the natural order when it works against them. By praying, you can create a whole new reality for yourself where the eighteen-wheeler does not jackknife directly in your path, whisking you off into the next realm. Instead, you thwart the indifferent provision of quantum mechanics by praying, and creating a reality where you arrive safely to work after an uneventful commute.

At the end of the day, that is what the prayer of supplication is all about. We ask for things in prayer that we are not confident nature will provide. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ask for them. We ask for a safe trip because we are powerless to guarantee our own safety, and the safety of those we love. We ask for a cure because we are convinced that one is not forthcoming through natural means. Even asking that the hands of the doctor receive some sort of celestial guidance is an appeal for aid that contravenes the natural order.

That last one requires a special kind of schizophrenia. We satisfy science by submitting to a doctor’s care. But we are throwing a Hail-Mary in the direction of superstition and magic by requesting supernatural intervention. Even while deceiving ourselves into believing that we care about physics, we are actively engaged in the attempt to create our own reality that renders moot, the laws of nature.

Conclusion: Rooting for Magic

Prayer is a sham! Most people who do it really don’t believe in it. At best, they are using it to hedge their bets. That is why they move heaven and earth to try and raise the hundred-thousand dollars for the heart surgery, rather than rely, solely on prayer. That is why skydivers so painstakingly pack their parachutes. This is why deep sea divers meticulously check their hoses and oxygen levels. This is why priests wear seat-belts, and why they say a prayer before boarding a plain, and why they get a stiff drink shortly after they board. We trust physics only as far as we can control it. But we root for magic to take us the rest of the way.

We are forced to rely on physics to build the plain, but root for magic to control the currents. We rely on physics because we have no choice. All the prayer and magic in the universe cannot fly you from one place to another. Physics allows us to predict many things, but that is a far cry from guaranteeing a positive outcome. We don’t want to predict our deaths based on the progress of the disease. We want to postpone death based on whatever magic we can get our hands on. Even if we don’t believe in the magic, we still root for it in the unlikely event that it works.

Do I believe that such people are insane? Let me ask you this: If someone told you that they would rub every lamp they encountered until a genie popped out and granted them three wishes, one of which, they would use to help you in your hour of need, would you say they were insane? At the very least, you would see them as child-like, and hopelessly superstitious. So what am I to make of the person who announces that they will talk to a being from outside the universe on my behalf, and get him to suspend the laws of nature so that my physical infirmities go away?

Should I be grateful? I suppose I am, in the same way I am grateful to the homeless lunatic who tries to bless me with his magic pizza box. But really, I would rather see the lunatic on his meds, and the prayer warrior grow up, and live a life of emotional maturity. Truthfully, they both need to be on their meds. Insane may be too harsh. I believe that the one who prays is either a desperate cynic who is hedging her bets, or, at the very least, slightly bent. I do not desire the intercession of prayer from the believer anymore than I desire a Mormon to be baptized on my behalf.

If you are reading this, and inclined to pray for me, please don’t. Even if it was effective, I would not want aid from that quarter. I do not wish to live in a universe that is ordered by your whim. Do not aim that prayer gun at me for the good or ill. If I honestly thought you wielded such power, I would be afraid of you. I wouldn’t want anything to do with you. So it is a great relief to me that your prayers continue to go unanswered. I can deal with a believer with delusions of power. If any person actually wielded such power, the Einsteinian universe in which we live would suddenly, and irrevocably cease to exist. If I am to pray for anything, it will be for that to never happen.

David Johnson

One Resurrection

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There is an old saying, never argue with idiots. They will quickly drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. It strikes me that, for different reasons, arguing with people of faith is just as futile. That is because people of reason have allowed the faithers to define the perimeters of the argument and frame the terms of discussion. That is a mistake. You can never win the argument with a six-year old about monsters under the bed. The child’s imagination is greater than your knowledge of physics. You will lose every time. Faith is the adult version of a child’s imagination. And your knowledge of physics is still inadequate.

It is understandable. The weapons of war are quite unequal. It is machine gun vs. Slingshot. Faith can take on the shape of, literally, anything, while reason is constrained by the laws of logic and physical reality. Faith makes positive assertions that do not have to be proven, while science is required to prove a negative using only quantifiable data. This is the wrong fight for a person of reason. And as a person of reason, I’m not having any of it, and neither should you.

Burden of Proof

The god discussion grinds immediately to a halt once the burden of proof is reassigned. Proof is always the burden of the one making the positive assertion. If one claims that there is a god, that person needs to prove it. If he cannot conjure sufficient evidence, he should probably not be pressing the case. It is a lie to declare definitively, what one only hopes or suspects. If one definitively declares that which is nothing more than a matter of faith, then he is lying.

Before I am accused of faulty logic, I acknowledge the fact that there are many things one may definitively know, but cannot prove. An innocent man knows he was at home, alone, and sleeping at the time the murder was committed. With enough circumstantial evidence against him, he may be forced to try and convince someone of his whereabouts without sufficient evidence for the task. His lack of evidence does not at all detract from the truth of his claim.

The difference is that the innocent man is not trying to defend what he believes. He is defending what he knows to be true. He is not pretending to know things he does not. He is making a positive statement about his whereabouts at a certain time. If he presented speculation about the whereabouts of someone else at that time as a definitive statement, then he would be lying. A faith statement must always be made with a degree of uncertainty. Once a religious person acknowledges uncertainty, evangelistic endeavors must be abandoned.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is weak sauce. It offers nothing by way of proof, but, when plentiful, is often enough to keep you in the game. You were seen in the area at the time of the murder. You happen to own the same type of weapon that was used for the murder. The victim cheated you out of money in the past. And you were overheard saying that you wished he was dead. Most likely, not even this will get you convicted of anything more than poor judgment. That is because none of the evidence ties you directly to the crime. It is circumstantial, at best, and could probably apply to a lot of people.

The believer must at least be willing to produce some good, circumstantial evidence for their invisible friend. They usually talk about some emotional or internal change for the positive, a peace that passeth understanding, or the like. They present this as evidence for the working of god in their lives as if they are completely oblivious to the fact that positive emotional changes happen to unbelievers all the time. For them, the only possible explanation for peace of mind is god.

Another type of evidence is the occasional answered prayer. Believers pray for the mundane, good turn in their favor, and when it happens, they attribute it to miraculous intervention. The simple truth is there are about a thousand, naturalistic explanations for why your credit was approved, or why grandma lived to fight her cancer for another day. This sort of evidence would never even make it into court, let alone, convict god of existence. Surely, the believer can do better than that.

What I want to see are the extraordinary proofs for extraordinary claims. The bible literalist needs to be prepared to present bible-sized evidence. I don’t want to see heavily produced, televangelist stage shows. I want to see Ray Charles receive his sight, not light perception, but 20/20 vision. I want to see Joni Eareckson Tada arise from her wheelchair and run a marathon, not take a few, shuffling, lurching steps, then sink back in her chair in exhaustion.

I want to see a holy man stand on a shore, and pray to safety, a village that is only moments from being washed away by a tsunami. I want to see a miracle of biblical proportions, pick your testament, that is done before everyone’s eyes, and leaves no doubt about its supernatural origins. That is table stakes for what should pass as circumstantial evidence.

One Resurrection

It occurs to me that even a high-profile healing or calming of a storm would do little for the Christian claim, as the Christian claim is less about time, and more about eternity. No one becomes a Christian only after their eczema is cured. They secretly hope that will be a bonus, but do not hold their breath. If such miracles were the driving force behind the movement, then the absence of those miracles would have triggered the death of the movement long before any of us could have ever heard of it.

No. The one religious claim that matters, the only hope that persists, is the hope of eternal life. And since everyone dies, often in unspeakably, grizzly ways, that one hope is pinned on some sort of resurrection after death. Surprisingly, it is unclear what manner of resurrection in which Christians believe.

Bodily resurrection is the obvious choice, as that is the one clearly presented in the Christian scriptures. However, Christians talk about resurrection as if reanimation of the corpse has nothing to do with it. Just go to the average, Christian funeral, and listen for phrases like, in Heaven, dancing with King David at this very moment. I promise, you will here something like that said, either by the eulogist, or by the congregants. The problem is that such a notion flies directly in the face of resurrection theology.

Accepted theology is that the faithful dead go, immediately, to be with the Lord. Having made the trip to Heaven, the spirit lives out a life that we imagine taking place in a physical form, accept without the need for a bodily resurrection. If there is physicality in this arrangement, it is through some type of heavenly body that we gain once we get there. Surely, we must have some type of immediate physicality. How else are we supposed to be dancing with King David? But that type of physicality has absolutely nothing to do with bodily resurrection.

Biblical, resurrection theology is all about dead bodies being reassembled and reanimated. There isn’t much room in the text for some sort of spiritual, non-physical resurrection, or a continuation of consciousness without physical form. The bible even provides some helpful demonstrations of resurrections to give us some idea of what to expect.

The Centurion’s daughter, Dorcas of Joppa, Lazarus, and of course, Jesus. There are minor differences in all of these resurrections, but a definite pattern emerges. All of these people physically die. In some cases, the state of decay is implied. All of the people were physically reassembled and reanimated. In the case of Jesus, there is some debate about whether his new body was the same as the one that died, or a new kind of body that looked like the old one. There is no credible debate, however, about whether it was supposed to be a bodily resurrection.

There is also the inexplicable mention of the graves opening in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. Those graves expelled the former occupants, not as ghosts, spirits, or phantasms, but as living, breathing human beings who were able to reintegrate into the life of the city. There was no mention of them being yanked from their homes in Heaven for this occasion. This is offered as an example of the resurrection having already begun.

These are many examples of resurrection. But they are confined to the bible. In other words, they are just stories, not history. They are not even the only examples of resurrection in the bible I can think of. Based on these stories, and other teachings, Christians are convinced that they, too, will live forever, as they are faithful to the god of resurrection. The whole doctrine of judgement and the afterlife is wholly contingent on bodily resurrection.

Today, orthodox resurrection doctrine is that it is something we all experience at the second coming of Jesus. We are also to experience it, more or less, at the same time, dead in Christ being first, followed by everyone else. This is somewhat different from the biblical examples of people being resurrected on an ad hoc basis, as determined by the situation. There is also another disharmony. With the exception of Jesus, those raised in the bible, presumably, died twice, in contrast with the teaching that we are subject to die only once, then judged.

Despite the many inconsistencies, I believe there is enough there to warrant me calling for one resurrection. If god could raise the dead in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures so casually and frequently that we can hardly be bothered to remember every occasion when it happened, he could do it today.

There were more resurrections than restorations of sight and mobility. Raising the dead may be the most common miracle we read about. It is the one on which all Christian faith hangs. That is why, if one wishes to enter the insert the god of the bible into the conversation of possibilities, they need not bother with unknown tongues, or faith headings, or even turning wine into water. The only circumstantial evidence that should matter to any believer is the one that no one even bothers to fake. What we need in order to open a reasonable dialogue, is one resurrection.

We have allowed ourselves to become embroiled in a debate about a literal god, who literally performs actual miracles, as detailed in a literal reading of the bible. Yet we have allowed this debate to proceed without one shred of literal evidence for empirical scrutiny. When some try to produce that evidence, we have allowed them to get away with parlor tricks and naturally explainable experiences. This must stop! The only piece of evidence any Christian needs is the same one for the non-believer. We need one resurrection.

We need to see the ultimate claim given form. We cannot even begin to argue the existence of the god of resurrection in the absence of even one resurrection. Once we have one resurrection, we can engage the debate about the ultimate source. The stronger argument would still be that nature clearly works in ways beyond our previous knowledge. Even a resurrection would not prove a god of resurrection, but it would at least get god into the discussion. Presently, he hasn’t even submitted an application.

Conclusion

I will end this writing with a point that I make in many of my posts. It bears repeating. There is a reason my call for one resurrection falls on deaf ears. It is the same reason not even crazy people stand up in funerals and pray for the resurrection of the one being honored. It is the reason charlatans do not even bother faking resurrections the same way they stage fake heelings. We do not demand even one resurrection because when it comes right down to it, we don’t believe in resurrection, bodily or otherwise.

Even believers who take the bible literally do not expect to see even one resurrection in their lifetime, as they know such things do not happen. The most fervent charismatic who speaks in tongues and swings from chandeliers will never publicly call for a resurrection because that would identify them as nuts in a room full of nuts.

It is the same reason faith heelers do not do their work in public hospitals full of sick people, and why priests do not stand on beaches before the onrushing storm. They simply do not believe the garbage they say they do. The reason believers do not put their god to the test is not because it might make god angry, but because it would make god look foolish, perhaps even non-existent. We do not want to expose our god as a figment of our emotionally immature minds. We claim that our god can do anything except, of course, that which can be seen and examined by an unbeliever.

If you wish to engage in this debate with me, then I demand you produce, at minimum a sign that your god can do what you claim he can. For the fundamentalist Christian, I demand to see one resurrection. Frankly, you should be armed with first-hand knowledge of many, indisputable cases, but I will happily take just one. Without such evidence to back your claim, you, nor your god, need even apply for conversation with me. I will no longer debate the existence of a god that offers no signs.

David Johnson

…and the people who worship him

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Last time, I wrote about a god who wants to be worshiped. I ultimately concluded that a god who wants to be worshiped is no different that a man who wants to be worshiped. Such a god is unworthy and should be categorically dismissed. It is not quite so easy to dismiss the people who worship. I was waiting for an insight before writing the logical continuation of the piece, an insight that I believe has come, and that I am eager to pen.

Worship has nothing to do with god. It is not a matter of religion or theism. While religion might influence the form that worship takes, it does not sire the initial impulse. From start to finish, worship is a fully human endeavor. There would be worship without god, and it would take many of the same forms. There would be music and theater, ritual and pageantry, mystery and awe. There would also be the less savory aspects of worship which we will examine in short order.

I feel it is necessary to make this point very clear. Religion did not invent worship. It does not hold the patent or own the copyright to worship. The purveyors of religion simply exploit for their own purposes, the human tendency to worship. But they have no proprietary claim to it. They also exploit ignorance and superstition to their advantage. As mere human impulses, neither worship nor superstition should be elevated to the level of the sacred.

Motivations for Worship

Many mistakenly believe that the need to worship has something to do with the belief in god. This could not be further from the truth. In a general sense, everyone worships something in some way or other. But even confining the topic to religious worship, allowing for an unshakable belief in god does not get us any closer to why people worship that god. I suspect everyone reading this has faith in my existence. That, alone, does not demand your ceaseless adoration. The question I am addressing, here, is not whether there is a god, but what the motivation is for worshiping that god.

I have stated in other writings that even if you could convince me that your god exists, and that he is in fact, the god of creation, holding the keys to life and death in the palm of his hand, all of your work is still in front of you when it comes to convincing me that I need to worship him. If he grants me life and favors, I say, thank you. If I offend him, I say, sorry. If he gives me advice that seems reasonable to me, I may follow it. But the moment you tell me I have to bow down and worship him, you’re the one who’s got some splanin to do.

An act of kindness deserves gratitude. An act of terror elicits fear. But what kind of act necessitates worship? I contend that worship says little about the worshiped, and much about the worshiper. Our motivations to worship are internal, not external. We worship because of our own needs and desires, not as a response to someone else’s. God may want us to worship him, but there are many who believe in god yet do not worship. God’s desire to be worshiped has naught to do with us. Every bully wants to be worshiped. Some people cower before bullies, while others give them a fight. Likewise, we do not worship everyone we respect and adore. The decision to worship is entirely ours.

Worship as Manipulation

When I first started thinking along these lines, I developed three or four reasons why we choose to worship. As I considered it more, I decided that all of those reasons really only amounted to one: We use worship as a form of manipulation. We think so little of our gods that we believe they can be swayed by flattery. We believe that if we treat god with enough sycophantic reverence, he will be inclined to grant us favor.

Any god who will only act on your behalf if you debase yourself while extolling him, means you no good. I am appalled every time I hear someone tell me that god answered their prayer. It is usually related to how they averted some disaster related to traffic or health or finances, for either themselves or others. They are deeply convinced that the disaster would not have been averted were it not for their intercessory prayer.

My revulsion comes from the idea that their god would have done nothing to intervene if it was not for the prayer. The believer is so blinded by their own, apparent power to bend nature to their will, they fail to see the obvious, and immoral nature of the one to which they pray. They are convinced that had it not been for them, the bad thing would have happened. Why even offer a prayer to a god that would allow the bad thing to happen if his ego is not properly stroked?

So what they are really saying is that if they had not prayed, the car would have caromed out of control and taken out a family of six. Had they not prayed, the cancer would have taken grandma. If they had not prayed, the house would have been foreclosed. Their god was prepared to stand idly by and watch all these things happen unless he was properly begged. That puts prayer in its proper light, the only light in which it can truly be understood: Prayer, and by extension, worship, is an elaborate form of manipulating god so he will do our will. We say, “thy will be done” to stroke his ego, then proceed to ask for our will to be fulfilled. What a shallow god we have created.

Assigning Agency

Our propensity to worship is powered by more than the desire to bend nature to our will. It is also about averting disaster brought on by forces we cannot control. Monotheism is a very attractive option for the believer because she has fewer gods to have to manipulate. If agency is assigned to lots of different forces, then one would need to manipulate a lot of powerful forces. That’s a lot of work. What good is it to appease the sun god, while offending the god of wind? However, if one god controls everything, then we only have to get on the good side of one god.

By, assigning agency, I mean the evolutionary instinct to determine and name the cause of every effect. If the effect is a twig cracking loudly behind us, the cause might be a predator on the verge of pouncing. Being able to assign agency to that sound is the difference between life and death. The creature that ignores it and goes on about its business without a second thought will be just fine nine out of ten times. It is the tenth time that culls the herd. The paranoid creature that runs at the sound of every cracking twig tends to live a lot longer. It’s assignment of agency is wrong nine out of ten times, but it never falls prey in the event that the source is malevolent.

Humans assign agency to everything. We abhor the unknown. We would rather have a false agency than none at all. And that agent must be both intuitive and malleable. Such an intuitive and malleable agent is a prime candidate for myth. All myth is based on false agency assignment. All worship is based on false agency assignment.

People worship a sun god because they believe the sun is the causal agent for light and heat. Indeed, they are not far off the mark. Their fatal error is assigning intentionality and personality to nature. They ascribe motive where there is none. The sun has no motive. It simply is what it is and does what it does. It does not respond to your personality or motivations. It is not the motive force behind anything.

The wind does not seek out the death of your relatives in the storm, nor is it sorry. It is even wrong to say that the wind is indifferent, for indifference also requires an emotional state. The wind is not something that can care or not care. It is just the wind, and nothing more. The wind is not the agency behind the storm. The rain is not the agency behind the flood. The lightning is not the agency behind the fire. Assigning agency to the various aspects of nature is nothing more than primitive superstition that leads to a multiplicity of gods.

A refinement of that theme is that the wind is not the agent, rather, it is wielded by an agent. That step was necessary because it made agency more intuitive. We could not hope to understand the wind, but we could understand intelligent beings. We could make an appeal to an intelligent being. We could reason with it, or at least, placate it. This is something we could get our minds around.

Unfortunately, the only ones who understand the will of this agent are the ones who created or perpetuate its existence. Others must be content with faith. It becomes almost impossible to keep up with the will of many gods. Monotheism is a natural progression for those who can’t be bothered with so much work. The Judeo/Christian tradition went from many gods, to many gods subordinate to one god, to one god.

The problem with one god is that we have to make him responsible for too many things. He causes both the famine and the feast, the rain and the sun, the disease and the cure. He must account for the origins of both the good and the evil. He is the wielder of both kindness and cruelty, and offers both generosity and withholding. He is the author of everything that was, is, and is to come. His is the only sovereign will. That is a lot to place on one god. Polytheism is more sensible, but monotheism is more manageable.

Averting Disaster.

I am convinced that the main reason we even need a god is to avert the disasters life throws our way. It is not so much to get the things we want as it is to avoid the things we fear. Most of us are quite used to not getting everything we want. Life has conditioned us to settle for what we can get. We may have wanted a pony, but our childhoods were not ruined because we didn’t get one. Frankly, heaven is not much of an incentive. Most of us would settle for not spending eternity in hell.

Our prayers are full of the things we fear or seek to avoid. Take away the cancer. Help me pay the rent on time. Protect me from my enemies. Or to put it in more familiar terms, deliver us from evil. We are convinced that in order to get god to protect us, we have to worship him with all our might. We have to please and appease him with ritual and sacrifice. We have to wear the proper vestments and speak the proper language.

We have to flatter, and sing, and give money, and make pious speeches, and offer sacraments, and debase ourselves, and deny our debased selves, and… did I mention, flatter, and sing, and give money, and… You get the idea. We have to worship in order to unlock the protective power of our delivering deity. Only when we are awash in a wave of worthy worship, will he even consider our meager requests. It is like a little kid paying homage to a big kid so that he can walk home from school without being attacked by the bully. Our interactions with god are mostly to get him to fight the bully for us.

I am also struck by how transparently shallow our self-preservation really is. The prayers of which I spoke are always to deliver us, personally, from evil. Sometimes, public prayers are expanded to deliver that particular in-group. But the majority of prayer requests are about my granny, or your son, or her father, or his diagnosis. The miracles of Jesus suggests that these requests are in line with his concerns. What these requests do not include are the annihilation of cancer, blindness, deafness, and lameness. There is no overarching concern to rid the world of disease and suffering, just to eliminate our own.

Jesus walks the earth for thirty years with the power of god in the palm of his hands. He heals lepers, but does not extinguish leprosy. He gives sight to the blind, but leaves blindness in tact. He orders his followers to give to the poor, though he nor his disciples are ever seen giving to the poor, yet shrugs at the idea that the poor will always be with us. Those who worship, worship a god who is as shallow and self-centered as they are. It is not a god with universal concerns, but with tribal and individual concerns. That is how we pray. Those are our expectations. We want a god who will deliver us from evil. And quite literally, to hell with everyone else.

A Universe that Cares

Finally, we worship because we want to believe that we matter. In the end, religious adherence always comes down to narcissism. Many would suffer a paralyzing, existential crisis were they to be confronted with the truth that life, especially theirs, does not matter. They cannot tolerate the idea that the universe is unaware of their presence, and will be equally unaware of their passing. Our time on this sphere will not add or subtract a single day from the life of the nearest star. While we like to speculate about life in the universe, the universe remains indifferent about life on earth.

Our animated atoms are indistinguishable from an earthworm’s dinner, and are destined to become just that, one day. Even the ones who currently express their undying love for you will forget the look of your face. You are nothing, and will amount to nothing. And if that hurts your feelings, you will probably reach for a bible, or a bottle of Prozac. Both tend to be in ample supply in the home of the average believer.

Worship is a physical manifestation of the hope that someone out there is listening. To avert the existential crisis, we have to believe that the universe cares about us, that it can be reasoned with, and manipulated to our benefit. Worship gives us the illusion of control. If our worship is being received, then there is nothing beyond our control. We no longer need to fear the weather, and disease, and mostly, death. Worship is a desperate defiance of entropy. The world may be winding down, but at least, we have a chance of being saved. And why? Because the universe cares about us.

Conclusion

I just want to say a few words about solace. The biggest objection I get, by far, is that crusading against god is cruel to those who need to believe. Why do I want to take away someone’s solace in their time of need? But I say, if solace is the goal, then faith and worship are but deceptive means to a selfish end.

It is a curious concern to be expressed by a Christian. Believers hold the patent on denying solace of which they do not approve. Do you find solace in the arms of a lover who is not your wife? Denied! Do you find solace by acquiring material goods and chasing the dime? Denied! Do you find solace in the tip of a syringe? Denied! Religious people have no problem denying you the things that give you solace. Why the hell should we give a tinker’s damn about their solace? I can’t think of a single reason.

The solace of the religious is just as damaging to society as another person’s solitary communion with meth. The faith addict is just as guilty as the meth addict of seeking escape from the harsh realities of life. The faith addict establishes outposts on every corner they can, and seeks to lure innocent children into joining their ranks. Faith addicts keep those children from ever fully maturing. They learn to deal with death through story and myth, and never learn to face it as fully realized human beings. They live and die in a state of emotional immaturity. The course of human evolution is stunted by the work of faith dealers. To hell with their solace! Keeping billions of people emotionally immature and easily manipulated, is not a solace worthy of protection.

Understand, this is not a crusade against private beliefs. Sure, I scorn any private beliefs that happen to be stupid, but make no attempt to ban them. But your belief ceases to be private the moment you tell me about it. And the moment you attempt to sway someone to share in that belief, is the moment it ceases to be benign.

Public worship places your beliefs squarely on your public sleeves. Worshiping publicly is a way of wearing your faith like a badge. You want it to be seen and known, and even emulated. You wear a jeweled cross so that people will know something about the particular flavor of faith you have. Therefore, your faith, and the solace it represent, is fair game.

As for me, I have opted to get up from my knees and stand on my own, two feet. I have stopped worshiping because I find no force in this universe to be worthy of my worship. Nor am I aware of any force in this universe who is desirous of it. I possess only the mildest powers of manipulation with regard to my fellow man. My influence is hopelessly inadequate for manipulating the universe. Had I such power, I would hopefully use it to far greater effect than the entirety of the religious establishment has to date. Until such power is made manifest, I will confine my worship to the mundane.

David Johnson

A God Who Wants to be Worshiped

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I have wanted to write this piece for some time, and have many thoughts to share on the subject that I am not going to be able to include. Due to the demands of work at the time I am writing this, and the constraints on my time and physical health, brevity is forced upon me, not as the soul of whit, but as a malevolent taskmaster who would, if it could, stop me from writing altogether. Each word I type is an agony, all to itself. But pain cannot silence me. It can only serve to make me offer a better, and more economical choice of words.

Onward…

I have often wondered about the people who choose to worship. One would think that a lifetime of worship would provide me with some useful insight into the matter. Disappointingly, that has not proven to be the case. When I have more completely sussed out my thoughts on the matter I will share them. That, however, will have to wait for another time. This exploration is not about the people who want to worship a god, but about a god who wants to be worshiped. Four things:

An Abuse of Love

It is one thing to hope for, even expect love to be requited. Neither love, however, nor the response to it, can be compelled. One must come to that emotion by choice, and equally by choice to that emotion’s response. If you love me, then you will express it in whatever way you see appropriate and desirable. I cannot place restrictions or demands on your free gift of love.

Jesus, it seems, has a very different idea of how love should be requited. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” With this pronouncement, he leaves no room to love him by refusing to keep his commandments. First, if we are in a love relationship, then commandments from either party are out of line. If a relationship is subject to commandments, then it is not a love relationship, but something else.

Second, who are you to tell me how I should love? God, you say, then see my first point. If you insist on being in a god/servant relationship, then love has nothing to do with it. If we are in a love relationship, then not even a god can pull rank. Tying worship to love is an abuse of love.

An Abuse of Debt

If I give you a handful of loose change at just the moment you need some to feed a parking meter, what is your debt of gratitude to me? How about if I lose a little skin by climbing a tree and liberating your frightened cat? If I am a fireman, what do you owe me if I run into a burning building and save your life? Suppose I die as a result of the rescue? Now, how much would you pay?

Maybe you could light a candle for me every now and then as a remembrance of what was done for you. Perhaps you could even volunteer a donation to the station where I worked. Perhaps it could even be a recurring donation, or a trust.

Here’s a thought. What if, after everyone thought I was dead and gone, I came back, unharmed from the fire, and better than ever. My position and fortunes are even greater than when I “sacrificed” myself. Furthermore, I planned it the whole time. True, I suffered during the rescue, but I was never going to suffer long-term. I was never going to really die. The whole plan was for me to come back as your “living” savior, not be a dead martyr.

Now, suppose I demand, not a few candles on occasion, but a formal ceremony at least once a week. Forget about a donation. You own me all that you own. You do not decide how much you want to give. I decide how much you get to keep. But don’t worry; I am a generous savior. But generosity does not let you off the hook. You cannot simply thank me. Now, you must worship me.

I think that regardless of the number of people I saved, I would quickly run out of worshipers. This is especially true when they discover that I set the building on fire in the first place, only to present myself as their only hope. That is the story of the gospel. You have been saved from a sin problem that you did not create, by a person who set the whole thing up, who sacrificed nothing permanently, and for which, demands your undying gratitude and worship. That is an abuse of gratitude.

An Abuse of Power

If Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky taught us anything, is that uneven power dynamics leaves a stain on relationships. Sorry. 😉 Power dynamics is the single most important factor in any relationship. Before you can begin to diagnose the problems in a relationship, you must have a firm grasp of the power dynamics.

One can never think too highly of a love relationship between a slave owner and his slave. Some might even go as far as to call all such relationships a form of rape. I cannot disagree with this assessment. In the aforementioned relationship involving our 42nd president, we learned something, as a nation, about sexual harassment. We learned that even of both parties are consenting adults, power differential is the difference between an innocent affair and an impeachable offense.

How much power imbalance is there between us and god? It is incalculable. Yet, god treats us like lovers, and is possessive, and even jealous if our eye wanders for but a moment. He would rather we pluck out our eye than cast our gaze on something that might distract us from him.

If we refuse to maim ourselves to keep from straying, he has proven more than willing to do it for us. He exacts all manner of punishment from us that leaves us blind, deaf, cripple, and otherwise disfigured. After being abused in the name of love, we are supposed to write or recite eloquent poetry about how grateful we are that he maimed us and kept us faithful. Oh, how he loves us.

Brutal men have used the same excuses as the angry god to justify physically and emotionally abusing their wives for thousands of years. They claim the abuse is out of love, and bemoan the things their disobedient wives made them do. It seems, they are just modeling the way god treats his bride.

We are to consider ourselves his children and servants, dare I say, slaves. Yet, he regards us as his bride. How’s that for uneven power dynamics? Go ahead. Call us slaves and demand that we obey your every whim, disobeying only at our peril. But call it worship, and you are no better than the run of the mill abuser of power.

An Abuse of Fear

Credited as the wises man who ever lived, Solomon determined that the entirety of mankind is to fear god and keep his commandments. As a child, I was taught that the fear of god was not about being overtaken with trepidation, but with respect and awe. However, like love, respect and awe can never be compelled. They are offered freely when one finds something respectable and awe-inspiring.

Fear, on the otherhand, can be manipulated with ease. If I want you to fear me, I can easily create situations that cause uncertainty and terror. God is the ultimate terrorist. He demonstrates power with which no human can hope to contend. Then, he offers ultimatums, offers that we quite literally cannot refuse.

When it becomes clear that we have made a bargain that we cannot possibly keep, we are threatened with punishments that have no balance when weighed against our petty crimes. The scales of god’s justice are hopelessly rigged. Facing such a judge, only a fool could approach the bench with anything other than fear.

It is only after this paralyzing fear has lead to our complete and utter brokenness, that we have any chance of getting a favorable hearing. Only this fear-inspired brokenness can lead to the kind of sycophantic worship that is required by the god of the bible.

It is the kind of worship that puts us on our knees, prostrate, with face in the dirt. We fill our prayers with enough self-loathing to keep counselors busy for many lifetimes. We remind god that we are but wretched worms, and he is so loving and kind. We wax poetic with our gratitude for the fact that he, once again, chose not to kill us like the roaches we are.

After sufficiently extolling his personage and debasing ours, we dare to ask, beg, grovel for another crumb of bread. We must do this each day, several times a day so as not to appear presumptuous. It is a great offense of we say that we will do this thing or that without appending the sentiment with the verbal acknowledgment that we will do nothing unless it is god’s will. Anything less might make him angry. And we wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

So much of a Christian’s life is devoted to mollifying or avoiding the devastating anger of their god. Christian worship is motivated by an abuse of love, gratitude, power, and most of all, fear. A god who wants worship is a god who wants his worshipers afraid. And that is neither respectable nor awe-inspiring.

Conclusion

There is much more to be said about a god who wants to be worship. If I am the one to say it, then it will have to be in another post. But if any of you, dear readers, wish to carry these thoughts even further. Be my guest. Consider exploring why a being with so much power wants to be worshiped at all, especially by such powerless and unworthy jars of clay as ourselves. You might even ponder the question of how god’s desire to be worshiped is any different from petty, human ambition.

If circumstances do not permit me from writing a followup on the inverse: people who want to worship, then I hope that is taken up by you as well. Taking up the issue does not require a 2,000 word essay. You do these topics just as much honor by giving them deep thought, and engaging others in vigorous conversation.

My closing thought on the matter is that anyone who wants to be worshiped, god or otherwise, by wanting it, is disqualified from ever receiving it. And anyone who wants to worship has some serious soul-searching to do. I’m still searching, and when I have more insight on the matter than I do at this time, I will be sure to let you know.

David Johnson

Three Things Religion Offers that Atheism cannot Address

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I used to be one of them. I recognize Mr. Comfort’s arguments as the types of things I used to say in defense of my beliefs. I am not a stupid person, yet I accepted stupid, indefensible arguments to bolster my position. I and a friend, also a former Christian, have been struggling with the question of how we allowed ourselves to be so completely taken in by fundamentalist religion. I believe I have some insights that may help shed some light on the matter.

The first thing to understand is that religious faith is not a matter of rational belief in reasonable principles. If it was so, then all that is needed to de-convert the Christian is a reasonable, counter-argument. Once exposed to reason, the religious person would instantly abandon his faith, grateful for the enlightenment. But that is almost never what happens, because a rational belief in reasonable principles is not the cornerstone of faith.

I believe there are three things that sit at the heart of all religious belief, indeed at the heart of all metaphysical acceptance: First, there is the need to believe that life is fundamentally fair. Bad things happen to good people for a reason. We are constantly trying to find meaning in suffering and death. If we find sufficient meaning, then the suffering was not arbitrary or capricious. If things seem unfair right now, it is only because we must lack perspective. Therefore, in this life or the next, and for things to balance out, there must be a next, life ultimately is fair. Otherwise, we are without hope or help.

Second, our lives have meaning. Why are we here and what is our purpose? These are the timeless, existential questions. These questions are based on the assumption that we are here for a reason. In an ordered universe, (another assumption) everything has a purpose. Whether the result of an existential crisis or extreme narcissism, some people are compelled to believe that they matter in the grand scheme of things. For them, there is a grand scheme, and they play a vital role in it. The creative force of the universe singles them out for his love and attention. He has a special job for them. One of the greatest attractions to religion is the idea that you are singled out, and called for something special. You, among all people, really matter.

Finally, death is not the end. It only follows that if life is fair, and our lives have meaning, then three score and ten cannot contain the sum of our existence. Unlike plants and animals that are here for a moment and gone the next, we can’t die. We have a purpose. The universe loves us. It bends events around our sense of fairness and propriety. We are the pinnacle of its achievement. It gives its life for us that we might live. The very stars were invented just so we might have something nice to look at on a sleepless night. We are not just god’s gift to the universe, the universe is god’s gift to us. The idea that it could all be over after a few, brutish years of toil on this plain is laughably absurd.

And there you have it. Life is fair, at least, for us. We matter to the universe, and cannot possibly die like rats. Religion appeals to the narcissist in all of us. All metaphysical beliefs do to some degree. But religion covers all the bases like no other. When people defend religion, they are not assenting to rational beliefs of reasonable assertions. They are defending their self-image that places them at the center of the universe. Atheism is an active assault on those core beliefs. By declaring atheism, you are asserting that life is not fair, you are not special and do not matter, and your beloved dead are not dancing with King David just beyond the pearly gates. In time, you will be as dead as the grass you are standing on. That is more than a declaration of reasonable principles; that means war!

As long as a person clings to the childish belief that they are at the center of the universe, they will cling to metaphysical beliefs that place them there, regardless of how disconnected from physical reality they are. Reason is the wrong tool for changing the mind of a person who, for whatever reason, needs to be disconnected from physical reality. Determining the right tool has become a part of my life’s work. To that end, I continue to listen to, and thoroughly enjoy the show.

David Johnson