Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A question for atheists: Love

For many years, long before I started this blog, I have been itching to ask questions of atheists. I've been able to do that here over the past few months, and I've learned a lot.

I can assure you, I do not mean to be adversarial. My questions come from a place of complete confusion about how the atheist works through these heady philosophical questions. As I've said before, it makes no sense to me. So, I am looking for an answer that can end my confusion, or even ease it a bit.

I do not mean to disparage any person by asking the question. Atheists, please take this question at face value. If you feel the urge to question my motives, you might want to wait for the next post. Skip this one.

I hope that caveat suffices, and that some nice atheist will come to the Bubble and answer in good faith, giving me the benefit of the doubt. :)

Here is the question:


Dear atheists,

You love your friends, your family, your spouse, your children. I'm sure you would even die for your loved ones if necessary. What, ultimately, is the meaning of love?

If I were an atheist, I know what I would answer. But I want to know from you. I chose my words very carefully. Thanks for being as specific as possible.



PS: If you are going to comment as "anonymous," please give yourself a pseudonym so that we can keep the responses straight.

129 comments:

  1. Interesting question, Leila! I'm interested in hearing the answers!

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  2. "What, ultimately, is the meaning of love?"

    To me, love is a human emotion and doesn't have a 'meaning', any more than other human emotions like euphoria or anger or curiosity or whatever. They're emotions that human experience.

    Don't make any assumptions about how I might regard or value love (or any other emotion) just because I don't consider it to have an ultimate meaning. I don't think e.g. "beauty" has an ultimate meaning either, but that doesn't prevent me from using the term regarding my opinion on what's beautiful or what isn't beautiful -- I just recognize it as a subjective evaluation.

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  3. Brian, this makes sense to me! Thank you! You are saying that love does not have any ultimate meaning. That is what I would have said if I were an atheist. Love is ultimately meaningless. Do you find that most atheists think this?

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  4. Although I agree with Brian that love is entirely subjective and does not have an ultimate meaning (i.e. an absolute meaning common to everyone), I wouldn't go so far as to say that love is entirely meaningless.

    Just as I painted the walls of my master bedroom blue because it is my favorite color and makes me happy, I am married to my husband because he makes me happy as well. Something that brings joy to people and makes their lives better couldn't be meaningless, at least not to them. It matters. It affects the choices they make and the course of their life.


    I am confused as well. And I want to preface this question with the same caveat you prefaced yours with -- I am truly curious what the other side thinks -- do Catholics believe that love is more meaningful to them than to atheists?


    -Let's call me Anonymous #1

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  5. Thanks, Anonymous #1!

    I do understand that for atheists, love is meaningful "in the moment" so to speak, or "for this lifetime" because it makes life better. But it's not transcendent in anyway, or meaningful ultimately. So, it's the equivalent of a happy feeling, would you say? I'm not being snarky, I promise. But would that be correct? Love to an atheist is chemical reactions in a brain that was randomly created and has the basic effect of making us feel good? Tell me if I have it right. Also, if love is something we do or choose because it makes us feel joy, what do we do when "love" makes us hurt and feel pain?

    Great question about Catholics and what love is. I truly would need to do a whole post on that. For a very short answer I would start by saying that for Catholics (Christians), love is not a "what" but a "Who". Love is a Person -- Jesus Christ. Our acts of love here on earth reflect and look toward the Love that is eternal. So, our love here doesn't end, but gets more powerful, more meaningful and more beautiful after death.

    To put it in simple terms, the more we truly love (i.e., offer ourselves as a gift for the other), the closer to God we become. And our love for our family members and friends does not end with anyone's death. It continues into eternity. So, love is not primarily a "feeling", it is transcendent, it is personal, and it is eternal.

    Love is also the reason that God is three Persons (a Trinity) and not one... but that is a post for another day. :)

    I guess I would summarize: To an atheist, love has no ultimate meaning, and it ends for the person at his death. For a Catholic, love is eternal and transcendent, becoming more meaningful, more powerful, and more joyful after death (if the person is in Heaven). So, it's ultimately very meaningful.

    "And now there remain faith, hope, and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love".

    Let me know if I misrepresented your belief. Thanks!

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  6. It's funny Leila, because I agree with almost everything you said about love to an atheist, but I interpret it completely differently.

    If your definition of an "ultimate" meaning means transcending life, then no, I can't say that love has an "ultimate" meaning to an atheist. But, I feel like love could be almost MORE meaningful to us during this lifetime, because it's all we have. When we've died, that's it, so the feelings and emotions that we've experienced while living are all the more important.

    I absolutely would equate love to "chemical reactions in a brain that was randomly created and has the basic effect of making us feel good." However, I'm sorry if you misunderstood my stance on whether love is chosen. Although I choose to be married to my husband because he makes me happy, I don't think that I chose to love him. I think my love for him is one of those crazy chemical reactions, and not something that I picked for myself. I would say that love is something you "have" for someone, not something you "do" or "choose."

    I also don't think that "love" could possibly cause you pain. Maybe not having your love reciprocated (sadness, loneliness), loving someone abusive (physical hurt), having the person you love love someone else (jealousy), but not the pure feeling of love itself, which is why people so often love a person who is completely wrong for them. When these negative emotions also accompany the love you feel for someone, you have to extricate yourself from the situation and hope that your feelings of love will go away.

    I'm quite happy I stumbled upon this blog, because I always have been curious about this kind of thing. I look forward to reading more posts from you and gaining some perspective.

    -Anon #1

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  7. I think everyone defines love differently for themselves. I can see Brian's point, and don't necessarily disagree with him, but I myself wouldn't say that love has no "meaning". I think it's a matter of semantics at this point.

    I certainly love my husband, my son, my family, my friends, and I would even say that I have a love for society - although it is a different kind of love than the love I have for my family.

    I *certainly* wouldn't say that I'll stop loving my mother and/or father after they die! To say that implies that I will have forgotten about them. Since my grandparents have died, I'll talk about them instead. Certainly a number of us grandchildren get together and remember the quirks of my grandpa, and remember him fondly. Perhaps we aren't showing "him" love at that point, but we still carry love inside us for the person he was.

    To think that love stops at death seems very odd to me - as if we have no real emotions, and we can turn them off at a moment's notice.

    Perhaps I can say this - love is more about how I feel and act, rather than about the other person. The love is in me, and it doesn't go away because the other person has.

    I remind my husband and myself of this a lot, the little aphorism "Children need love most when they deserve it the least." I apply the same to my husband, even if I don't overtly say it to him. My husband makes me happy, of course, and I'm glad to be around him, but when he doesn't make me happy, I still love him - that's in me, that's my decision, I own it, and I act based on that.

    The first time I joined Peace Corps, I remember reading a lot about whether or not humans can be truly altruistic - which seems to me a similar conversation. I can remember asking my (much younger and questioning) self, if God isn't making me be altruistic, why am I so compelled to help others?

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  8. Mai, sorry to be unclear: I meant that love ends when you die. So, it's ultimately meaningless. I do understand that you still love as long as you are alive, and you love those who have died before you.

    More soon for both you and anonymous #1. Thanks!

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  9. Anon #1: This is interesting and I appreciate your clarity! So, if you believe love is not a choice or something that you "do" (rather, it's something that you "feel"), then it's involuntary, right?

    If love is a feeling (chemical reaction), then what is the response of an atheist when that involuntary feeling goes away (let's say you stop feeling that for your spouse, your parents, your child)? What do you have left then, if it's not love?

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  10. Oh - that somehow after my grandpa died, he still loved me? Yes, then I agree according to this definition, love is meaningless.

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  11. Also, because you equate "love" with an emotion that makes you feel good, then I understand what you mean when you say "love" doesn't ever hurt (how could it?).

    However, what is that "thing" that compels a mom to throw herself in front of a train to save her child? What does an atheist call that?

    Thanks!

    I really want to continue (and I have some questions for Mai!), but I will be gone much of the day... ack!! I'll be back whenever I can....

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  12. One more thought: So, when you tell your child, "Mommy loves you so much" are you really saying, "Mommy gets a good feeling because of you"? And if so, then what is love of a mother for a child? Because those good feelings ("love") aren't always there, to say the least.... Sometimes their is only angst, pain and despair (esp. if the child grows to do very terrible things). So, does the mother no longer love the child?

    Thanks!

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  13. What or who are we willing do die for? Love is the most painful thing out there. It hurts a lot and it will bring down the scales that blind the eyes and you will, with a pure and loving heart see that God is love and that love has to exist in a relationship. Of course we see this in the trinitarian god..love has to give away and to receive. Are not a product of love? Of our parents and of God? Love has to give away and even die to be love. I have learned this the hard way. My heart wants to be Christian but the scales have to be painfullly peeled away and I must learn to love. Daily pain...

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  14. Mai, I'm interested in your answer to the question you posed to yourself:

    Why are you compelled to help others?

    Also, are you saying that, in your mind, love is both an act of the will and an emotion?

    For you, can love be painful?

    Thanks!

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  15. Mai, you agree that love is ultimately meaningless, so would you say life was also ultimately meaningless?

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  16. To put it quite simply, no longer loving your spouse is, to me, one of the few valid reasons for getting divorced (I know that for many Catholics this is not an option). When the love is gone from a marriage, all that's left might be feelings like "comfort" and "safety" (and possibly even more negative emotions--"anger," "annoyance," etc.). Marriage is a special relationship between two people who mutually love each other, and it is unlike any other relationship that two people can share. I think that the feeling of "love" is what sets marriage apart from any sort of close friendship you might have with someone else, so once it is gone, there is no longer any point in staying with that person. (This is not to say two friends cannot "love" each other, but it is certainly a different kind of love; one that I would probably argue is less strong)

    The idea of no longer feeling love for your children, however, is completely different. You are biologically programmed to love your children, just as they are programmed to love you. This is a different kind of love than the love you feel for your spouse, and one that I think is much stronger. No matter how often or how much my son may cause me to be angry, frustrated, or any other negative emotion, the feeling of love for him has never once left me. While it might be confusing to have conflicting feelings at once (i.e. I'm angry at my son and want to punish him, but I don't want him to be sad), it is very possible to experience many different feelings at the same time. Love is one that I feel for him all the time and one that affects all of my actions, and I expect to feel love for him throughout the rest of my life, no matter what circumstances.

    To answer your question about the train (and I will preface this by saying I'm finding it hard to put my thoughts about this into words), I think part of loving someone (a result of those emotions) is wanting the best for that person, wanting them to be happy, wanting them to feel no pain, wanting to shield them from harm, etc. Incidents such as the train one you're referring to show just how strong the emotion of love can be--wanting to keep her child alive will actually supersede the mother's own need to survive. And even on a smaller scale, parents make sacrifices for their children every day in order to keep them happy, thriving, etc. I think this is a result of having "love" for them.

    Sorry for such a long post!

    -Anon #1

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  17. "Mai, you agree that love is ultimately meaningless, so would you say life was also ultimately meaningless?"

    The question was specifically if there was love after someone dies. As in, their "soul" continues to love someone. Since I don't believe in a "soul", then love after death is meaningless.

    Certainly I don't think that love during my lifetime is meaningless, as I said at the beginning of my first post. I don't think that life itself is meaningless, either. Really, I'm glad we are having this conversation. I imagine you there imagining us atheists sitting in a gray room staring at a blank wall, with a life devoid of meaning.

    Let's think about some of the things that I find meaningful:
    - helping others, no matter if they are related to me or not
    - making society better (in ways that I define as "better")
    - loving my husband and son, sharing life with my husband and nurturing my son to have a happy, productive life
    - loving my family and friends, spending time with them and helping them when I can
    - enjoying my time here on earth doing all of the above
    - building my own internal strength to get through times that are not enjoyable and are indeed painful

    I find that I can do all of those things, and find the "meaning" to continue living, without some imaginary being in the sky telling me I have to do this, or even "providing me the strength" to do so.

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  18. Love is universal, Leila. The love you feel for your children is the same love I feel for mine. When I say, "Mommy loves you so much" I do not mean "you give me a good chemical reaction, you make mommy feel good." I mean "you are an amazing and special person whose well-being I put above my own on a daily basis. I am fascinated by you, I am protective of you, you are so very precious to me."

    And about meaning/meaninglessness of love. Atheists don't believe we are all waiting for something better after we die. We believe this is it. The kingdom is now. We have been given this amazing gift of life that shouldn't even exist for this short(ish) amount of time. Love is EVERYTHING. Love makes life worth living. Love is what keeps this whole amazing orchestra of atoms and experiences afloat and spinning.

    The only difference is you believe love is something from God and will pay off after you die. The atheist believes love is (a multitude of things from chemistry to whatever, because each one believes something different) all we have here and now. Maybe that is why Atheists don't spend so much time worrying about what God wants/thinks? They just don't believe anything is waiting for them after death to magnify or judge their experience.

    So meaningless? no. It means everything. It is the sum of life (much like another commenter posted.)

    Anon#2

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  19. Mai and Anon, thanks! I have much to ask later, but first, I want to make sure you know that I do not think you enjoy your kids less than I do, or love your families less, or sit looking at a wall in a gray room, depressed. I hope that is not how it came off. I believe all humans are "the same" in the sense that human nature doesn't change.

    More in a bit....

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  20. I don't have anything to say, really, other than this is a very interesting conversation! Thank you, Leila, for posing this question! And thank you to everyone who has commented so far!

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  21. I am also enjoying reading these posts. Such an interesting question, such subjective answers. Yes, it does feel good to love and to be loved. Knowing that you are loved empowers you to try harder, do better, and love others.
    Andie

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  22. "Mai, you agree that love is ultimately meaningless, so would you say life was also ultimately meaningless?"

    This question has given me something else to say regarding whether or not love is meaningless. While my love for the people in my life will literally be meaningless once I have died (as it is only my emotion, and only I can feel it), I do think there are tangible, meaningful results of the love we shared (i.e. our son and any children we might have, our future grandchildren, etc.).
    And the idea that my life is meaningless simply because once I'm dead, I'm dead, well...I don't think that's the case at all! I hope that by the time I die I will have left behind some kind of legacy. Whether that be from raising hard-working and caring children, doing charity work, or even something as simple as being a good friend to somebody who needed me, I know that the memory of me will still be with people after I die and that the future generations descending from me will live on, and that gives enough meaning to my life, at least for me.

    -Anon #1

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  23. Anon #1, I totally understand, and that makes sense. However, I used the word "ultimately" very deliberately. That is what I am getting at. Ultimately, ultimately nothing in this life (not love, not children, not friendship) is worth anything if it's all random and finite, and there is no God or higher meaning. Would you agree?

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  24. I would absolutely agree that nothing in my life will mean anything in a million years...in a billion years...an eternity from now, which is (correct me if I'm wrong) what I think you mean by the word ultimately.

    But for people who don't believe that there is anything after death, doesn't "ultimately" have an entirely different meaning? For me to believe that my life has been ultimately meaningful, I must only think that it has been meaningful during my time here on earth, and maybe in time immediately following (when my loved ones are still living). What happens an eternity from now doesn't matter to me whatsoever; I'll be long gone; and wouldn't factor into my belief as to whether or not my life was, as you say, "ultimately meaningful."

    -Anon #1

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  25. Anon, I get what you are saying. For you, "ultimate" means up till the end of the world, in a sense. Your life and love will have meaning up until then, and then... nothing.

    So, since we never had a design or purpose anyway (we are random chemicals), even the meaningful relationships, love, etc. on earth are not lasting. They are here and gone and in the end... nothing. As if none of it ever happened. Correct? I can see that it's good and comforting to have good feelings (love, friendship) on earth, but what does it mean to an atheist, other than a good feeling? (If the only mechanism behind my child or husband saying "I love you" is that their randomly-made brain is firing off chemicals made by chance, then is love inherently special or personal?) I am still not understanding fully. (It's not important for the conversation that I completely understand, but I'd like to.)

    You said: "The kingdom is now. We have been given this amazing gift of life that shouldn't even exist for this short(ish) amount of time. Love is EVERYTHING. Love makes life worth living."

    Questions:

    1) What kingdom? (We Christians believe that the Kingdom is now, too.)
    2) If life is a "gift," who is the giver?
    3) "Love is everything"... It's a chemical reaction in the brain (if I understand right), so it's a "feeling". That feeling makes life worth living, if I'm reading you right. What of people who don't have anyone who loves them? Or who only feel pain on this earth and no love? What is valuable (if anything) about their lives?

    You don't have to answer all that. But the last question I hope you will respond to).

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  26. Anon, I am going to keep going with my random questions, but feel free to answer only what you have time for. I know it's a lot.

    You said that if you stop loving your husband you should divorce (By "love" it's a certain "feeling" that makes you happy. And I'm guessing it's connected to sexual attraction since it is different, from what you said, to any other type of love.) So, when the feelings go, the marriage is over. I have been married twenty years to a wonderful man. The feelings come and go, as in any (every) marriage. I can't help but wonder what marriage could survive the conditions you placed on it, and I wonder where that leaves children?

    You said that love for children is different, due to biological programming. What of adopted children and parents? What of those children who are abused, neglected and mistreated? I daresay there are women who feel much more "love" for a man than their own offspring. (Here I am thinking of the ubiquitous headlines: Mother's Boyfriend Kills Baby

    You said that a mother's love for her child is about being fascinated, delighted, protective. But why not look at any human being (unique, precious) and have those thoughts? I'm thinking here specifically of a husband. Can't a wife look at a husband with those eyes, too? Isn't it a choice, to find the delight, the fascination, to want to protect?

    Sorry, stream of consciousness going on.... someone stop me, ha ha!

    One last clarifying thought from the Catholic side: We definitely believe that every single moment of this life matters. Each moment is of the utmost importance (I guess you could say "ultimate" importance, ha!). My husband (formerly agnostic) used to think Christians cared way too much about Heaven and not much about earth. Then, when he became a Christian, his whole idea was flipped on its head. He now cares more about his life on this earth than he ever did before. He actually marvels at how erroneous his previous suppositions were.

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  27. And to clarify that last part: My husband also cares more about others, too. Not just his own life.

    Also, I don't know why I can't remember to close parentheses in the comments!!! Ack!

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  28. Mai, I am glad we are having this conversation, too. You said:

    Certainly I don't think that love during my lifetime is meaningless, as I said at the beginning of my first post. I don't think that life itself is meaningless, either. Really, I'm glad we are having this conversation. I imagine you there imagining us atheists sitting in a gray room staring at a blank wall, with a life devoid of meaning.

    I know you believe your life is meaningful (and it is!). I have no doubt that your life is full of meaning. For you, it's subjectively full of meaning (since there is no ultimate, transcendent or eternal meaning), but I would say that your life is objectively meaningful. (There we are with the objective vs. subjective again! ;))

    You might say your life is meaningful and valuable because of what you feel, what you experience, whom you love, how you serve and help others, the things you contribute, your talents, etc. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

    But I would say your life derives meaning and value from the very fact that you exist.

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  29. Mai said:

    Let's think about some of the things that I find meaningful:
    - helping others, no matter if they are related to me or not
    - making society better (in ways that I define as "better")
    - loving my husband and son, sharing life with my husband and nurturing my son to have a happy, productive life
    - loving my family and friends, spending time with them and helping them when I can
    - enjoying my time here on earth doing all of the above
    - building my own internal strength to get through times that are not enjoyable and are indeed painful

    I find that I can do all of those things, and find the "meaning" to continue living, without some imaginary being in the sky telling me I have to do this, or even "providing me the strength" to do so.


    Yes, you can do all of those things, but why do you do all of those things?

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  30. I hope I'm not jumping in and confusing things...this is a fascinating discussion.

    Recently I had the time to think about the love I have for my children. It occurred to me that they are such an amazing mix of my husband and myself. Also, that they have such unique personalities and gifts and talents. These traits make me feel warm and fuzzy. But truly, what I truly love is not any of that. I couldn't put my finger on it but it occurred to me that what I loved about my children is the one thing that did not come from my husband or me....I love their souls. The true essence of who and what they are.

    - Just a Thought

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  31. I'd just like to say that this is one of the few bubble discussions in which I'm actually understanding the "other side". Not agreeing of course-as a Catholic and believer in eternity-but I get where you (Mai and all the Anons) are coming from. Thanks for clarifying this for me! I believe I undertand atheists a little better now.

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  32. I think Leila makes some assumptions about life without God that we secular humanists do not make. There are a number of re-statements by her, along the lines of:

    "Love to an atheist is chemical reactions in a brain that was randomly created and has the basic effect of making us feel good?"

    "So, when you tell your child, "Mommy loves you so much" are you really saying, "Mommy gets a good feeling because of you""

    "ultimately nothing in this life (not love, not children, not friendship) is worth anything if it's all random and finite, and there is no God or higher meaning"

    "So, since we never had a design or purpose anyway (we are random chemicals)"

    We/I do explain things in terms of evolutionary science, but "random" is a word applied to evolution that I think is mistaken by people who believe in God.

    Love (and helping others) didn't evolve "randomly" in our brains - it is something that is hardwired into us. Certainly there were random mutations in peoples' brains, some people loved their offspring, some did not. The ones who did love tended to have offspring that survived - and THAT is not random - that's called natural selection, which is the exact opposite of random. So let's keep that clear -
    the development of our moral brain is not a random act. We have a moral brain because that is the absolute best way to keep on living and making more of us.

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  33. Let's talk about why I love and am altruistic now. I would argue against the statements of the type "I love my offspring because it makes me feel good". We have moral brains, and our brains were developed to show empathy for others, whether or not it makes us feel good - sometimes these are hard decisions and in fact make us feel not so good. I think every mother can attest, in the early days of a new baby, caring for the baby definitely did NOT make me "feel good" - I wanted to SLEEP! If I only did things that make me "feel good", then I would have slept through feedings and neglected that child. Putting that feeling into words is a little harder - this is a BABY who needs someone to feed it, and by the way this is MY baby, and it's my job right now to feed it, so get out of this bed! This would be true for my baby or an adopted baby - and even for a neighbor's baby that I see being abused or neglected (if nobody else around is doing the job of caring for that baby, then it becomes my job).

    Similarly, when I thought about joining Peace Corps, certainly the thought crossed my mind that I'm just being altruistic because it makes me feel good - but I discarded that pretty quickly, even before I left. No paycheck to speak of, no running water, no electricity, students who (at times) hated me - that didn't make me feel good, but I still wanted to help them learn math (and not acquire HIV), because it was the right thing to do.

    So I think the short answer to the question, *WHY* do I do thing things on my list that make my life meaningful? Because I was born that way. (Cue the discussion on nature vs nurture ...) And my mom was born that way too, and so was her mom. Et cetera.

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  34. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 5, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    Leila, I think you have confused myself (Anon #1) and another commenter (Anon #2), and while I can certainly answer the questions you posed relating to my previous posts, I will let Anon #2 answer the other parts if she chooses to do so. Also, from now on I will use a more distinctive pseudonym to avoid further confusion. Hello, I'm Mrs. M.

    First of all, Kaitlin I am really glad you said that, because I have been trying particularly hard to explain my beliefs in a way such that the Bubble might understand where I'm coming from. Obviously I don't think that I will change your beliefs (just as I don't think you believe you could change mine), but I really do want to help you guys understand us.

    Alright, back to the discussion at hand. "So, since we never had a design or purpose anyway (we are random chemicals), even the meaningful relationships, love, etc. on earth are not lasting. They are here and gone and in the end... nothing." Absolutely.

    "I can see that it's good and comforting to have good feelings (love, friendship) on earth, but what does it mean to an atheist, other than a good feeling?"
    Part of being an atheist is discovering/deciding/accepting the fact that there is no "higher meaning." What happens on earth is what happens, and then that is all. Hopefully in my lifetime the good feelings will outweigh the bad ones, and the impact that I've had in people's lives will be meaningful to them in the years to come, but that's it. Again, I will say it: I don't believe there is a "meaning" in the same sense that you would say your feelings have "meaning" to the overall scheme of eternity. I guess what it boils down to is that I don't believe my feelings need to have a "higher meaning" in order for them to be "meaningful."

    "Is love inherently special or personal?"
    Of course it is! I don't just walk past any man on the street and fall in love with him do I? Just because love is (probably) just a series of random chemical reactions in my brain, that doesn't mean that I have the ability to fall in love with just anyone. You just can't choose who you love. You can do things that will strengthen your love (or really I could also say that keep your love from fading), like getting to know one another, being kind to one another, making sacrifices that make the other happy, etc., but I really don't believe that you can simply "choose" to fall in love with someone. I truly don't.

    I will continue in my next comment.

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  35. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 5, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    "The feelings come and go, as in any (every) marriage. I can't help but wonder what marriage could survive the conditions you placed on it, and I wonder where that leaves children?"
    Although I have not been married for quite as long as you (eight years), I still feel confident enough to say that during the years of my marriage, I have not stopped loving my husband. Even when I am angry with him, when he frustrates me, when we get into fights about silly (and sometimes not so silly) things, I have always continued to have a feeling of love for him. Humans are certainly capable of feeling more than one thing at once, so while love might not always be the emotion that comes out on top (I think this is what you mean when you described the feelings coming and going?), I have always continued to love my husband. If, in the future, there is ever a time when I stop loving my husband, or he stops loving me, that is the time to no longer be in a relationship. A marriage is built on love. While things like trust, communication, and respect are what keep a marriage functioning, the love is what makes it a marriage, and not just two very compatible roommates sharing a life together. What marriage can survive these "conditions"? One that is built to last. I hope mine will be one of these. Where does that leave the children? Well I can only speak for myself, but I know that I want my children to be in loving marriages when they're older, and the way to set a good example for them is to only remain in a relationship where that love exists. Do you believe that there is some higher meaning to the ebb and flow of love in a relationship? Is God the one that keeps you together?

    "You said that love for children is different, due to biological programming. What of adopted children and parents? What of those children who are abused, neglected and mistreated? I daresay there are women who feel much more "love" for a man than their own offspring."
    It is biological. Loving a child that you grew in your womb is biologically programmed. Adoption, however, proves that love is, indeed, a very special emotion. Your body's biological desire to care for its offspring is so strong, that it will grow to love a child that is placed in your care. Of course, there are times when this bonding is difficult and might take a bit longer than you expected (a lot of times the parents feel like they and the child just don't "fit"), but animals are programmed to have a desire to protect beings which need help and nurturing; and with time, the love and the bond begins to form. There is a reason why it is often easier for parents to become strongly bonded to an adopted infant quicker than to an adopted teenager...the infant needs their help more than the teenager does! The many many cases of animals adopting offspring that aren't there own, or even not their own species, show that these special emotions of love are not unique or "special" to humans, they are simply a product of biology.
    You might say that this disproves the idea that love is a series of "random" emotions because you are growing to love a specific child that someone has placed with you.. But as I stated earlier, the love for a child is more biological than "random" (as I believe the love for my husband might have originally been), and you would grow to love any (random) child placed with you due to a biological desire to care for your young. To me, it has no higher meaning than that.

    "What of those children who are abused, neglected and mistreated? I daresay there are women who feel much more "love" for a man than their own offspring."
    I think that we can all agree that this is not the norm. And my reason for why these happen? Sometimes biology screws up. Sometimes the chemicals don't fire the way they're supposed to. Most cases like these would involve a mental illness of some sort anyway (depression, bipolar disorder, anger issues). What is your explanation for this?

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  36. Hi Leila!
    Biologically speaking, the meaning of love is to reproduce and then protect offspring. Physically speaking, love is a chemical produced in the human brain. (I don't pretend to be an expert on the physical aspect, that's really all I know about it.)

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  37. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 5, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    Thanks Sally, that differentiation would have helped me very much when writing my last comment.

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  38. Sorry I am always coming back in short spurts... But briefly, to clarify for Mai: When I say "random" I had in mind the origin of things. So, we and the earth and the universe were not part of any plan, design or meaning. It all began randomly, with no purpose, no thought, nothing. Things have "evolved" to have a temporal (and temporary) order, but that's not planned, it just happened. You and I are were not created for any purpose or meaning, ultimately, nor were were created for love and by Love. That is what I mean by "random" chemicals. That's how it started, and that's how it will end.

    Mrs. M... sorry I got you confused with another Anon! I will start with your last question. My explanation for abused, neglected and mistreated children is: sin. Sin is that ugly predisposition we all have, and we are all drawn to (concupiscence).

    If what I call "evil" is a "biological screw up" to you, then are you saying that people cannot help themselves? Isn't it unjust to put people in jail (or even put a child in time-out) for something they cannot help and is a result of some screwy evolutionary miscue? That seems cruel. And how do you teach your children that people who abuse their children or murder or rape are just victims (for lack of a better word) of their faulty biology and bad chemical reactions?

    (You can see my Friday blog fast has been modified, ha ha! It was too much to try to catch up on Saturdays. Not good for the family.)

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  39. Biologically speaking, the meaning of love is to reproduce and then protect offspring. Physically speaking, love is a chemical produced in the human brain.

    Sally, thank you for this! It's so interesting, because we had just had a conversation with Paul Rimmer (a believer) who said that he saw no inherent connection between sex and procreation. Catholics would disagree, in the strongest terms. It seems like atheists do see the inherent connection between sex (prompted by feelings of love) and procreation. Am I right about that? If so, I think that speaks to the truth of what we call Natural Law (not to be confused with "laws of nature"). Essentially, an atheist can see the truths of Natural Law just as much as anyone else (including Christians).

    Fascinating! Thanks.

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  40. To clarify again: Sin is a choice, an act of the will. Sometimes mental illness or other factors will make a person less culpable for his or her actions. But Catholics believe that sin is a choice we make.

    Also, I think it is correct to say that Catholics believe that the meaning of sex is love between spouses, and the purpose of sex is procreation.

    Someone correct me if I am messing up there....

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  41. A bit off topic, but does anyone know the blogger "Love Came Down"? I am worried about her. She had a very troubling last post and all her comments are turned off. Just wondering if anyone knows how to reach her?

    http://yourlovecamedown.blogspot.com/2010/11/anger-vileness-incredible-pain.html

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  42. I still disagree with Leila's interpretation of "random" - for us to have developed a moral brain was not random at all. It was this development of a moral brain that gave rise to religion and the concept of a God. However, I think this is not worth debating any more. Leila needs to believe that life came from a higher source, I do not.

    Mrs M said it much better: "I guess what it boils down to is that I don't believe my feelings need to have a "higher meaning" in order for them to be "meaningful.""

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  43. Mai, I understand that you think there is order in the process of evolution. I am asking about origins. Was there an original design for this universe, or for us? Or was it (were we, was life) the result of randomness and chance? Again, origins.

    And while you think (as I do) that day to day life and love has meaning, you don't believe there is any eternal (or what I call "ultimate") meaning. It all goes "poof" one day and no one will care then, right? And, any meaning in life now is meaning that we give it (subjective). I think that's your position; correct me if wrong.

    Thanks! And I understand if you think we have reached a point of clarity and it's time to move on. I hope the Anons will still comment on what I asked of them.

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  44. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 5, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Over these last couple of days, I've started to notice a trend. The theists in the group are looking to find what the "absolute truths" are for atheists. For Catholics, you have these in the form of natural law, yes? (Again, always correct me if I'm wrong. I am not at all an expert on church teachings.) While I've been answering your questions, I can tell that you just trying to figure out (quite innocently, I think) what are the set of guidelines that atheists have set up for themselves that govern their actions? What, to an atheist, separates right from wrong? What, to an atheist, makes something meaningful or not meaningful?
    I don't think that I am necessarily speaking for all atheists, but at least for myself, I don't believe there is a set of guidelines. Many of my judgments about what is right and what is wrong is subjective. I will admit that. I can't effectively "draw a line in the sand" for you and show you which things are okay, and which are not (like natural law does for Catholics).
    As much as I think we can discuss these issues (and although I have already learned a lot from the answers people have given), I don't think we could ever reach a point of total clarity, because for me it would be impossible to see how morality can be so black and white, and for you it would be impossible to understand how I can see the world of morality in such varying shades of gray.

    I believe there are things that are right. Among these: loving your spouse, raising your child to be the best he can be, helping those who are less fortunate, showing respect, being grateful.

    I also believe there are things that are wrong. This is where the gray scale comes in.
    If someone lies to serve their own interests and it hurts another person? Wrong.
    If someone lies to protect another person, but it goes badly and the other person gets hurt anyway? Less wrong.
    If I lie to my husband and tell him that I'm going to the grocery store when really I'm picking up his surprise birthday present? Not wrong at all.
    All lies, some are wrong, some are not. At least in my mind.
    If someone really dislikes another person and decides to kill them in cold blood? Wrong.
    If someone kills an intruder to his home in self defense? Less wrong.
    A soldier killing an enemy soldier while at war? As much as I'd like for this to NEVER have to happen, I don't think he's wrong at all.
    All involve one man killing another. To me, some killings are heinous crimes that deserve a serious punishment, while others are, for lack of a better word, "less wrong."

    I know this might sound confusing, but maybe some clarity for you can come in knowing that in my mind, there might not be a "right" answer to the questions you have posed. I certainly know what I believe (and obviously I think it is correct, or I wouldn't believe it!), and my beliefs are just as solidified in my mind as I imagine yours are.

    Sorry if this seems like I have gone off on a tangent (I might have a little bit:/), but I think this whole comment began when I began to think about whether or not people are responsible for their actions if all of our feelings are determined by random chemical reactions in the brain. In short, I believe that yes, people should still be held accountable for their own decisions.

    I don't know that I have the energy to explain exactly the specifics of my belief on this matter right now, and as it doesn't particularly relate to the original topic, I don't think I will worry about that too much. Maybe I'll save it for another time (if you were to write a whole post on it, perhaps).

    I think with this, I am going to step away; I've made all the points I think I can make about the topic "What is love?" so while I will continue to keep an eye on the comments, I won't necessarily respond again unless I see something that I really need to address.

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  45. Mrs. M, I appreciate this! You've been amazing!

    With this particular post, I was only intending to find out if love has any higher, transcendent, ultimate meaning for atheists (which I figured it can't since everything will go "poof" one day and nothing will be left and no one will care), but I wanted to hear how you would describe it. I wasn't looking for how you determine morality, per se.

    However, we discussed a lot of what you just mentioned in some previous posts (that you may or may not have seen). My issue (or confusion) on those posts isn't so much on whether or not you believe in a right or a wrong (I assume practically everyone on earth does believe in some form of right or wrong), but what your source for determining "right and wrong" is.

    For an atheist, I think it has to be subjective, and "truth" is determined by the individual. For a Catholic, truth is truth no matter if we believe it, understand it, find it, like it, or not. Truth would exist even if we did not. Truth comes from outside of us.

    So, in general, atheists believe in "subjective truth" and Catholics believe in "objective truth."

    Here are the posts if you are interested in that discussion:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/pilate-said-to-him-what-is-truth.html

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/we-dont-make-determinations-about-who.html

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/just-because-i-dont-like-your-ideas.html

    The first one is the most pertinent, I think, and I still don't believe I have gotten an answer to my last question about truth vs. opinion.

    Thanks so much for engaging in this dialogue!

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  46. Mrs. M - We did go through this, on a few posts in the last few weeks. This business of deciding each individual action on its own looks like a slippery slope for people who believe that God tells them how to behave. From what I've seen, once you say that individuals decide things, Catholics jump right to, "Well, then if everyone can decide things on their own, we'll have pandemonium!" I've been arguing against that leap for a while ...

    It is very similar to Leila's comment today of "Isn't it unjust to put people in jail (or even put a child in time-out) for something they cannot help and is a result of some screwy evolutionary miscue?" That's a big leap that in my opinion is unwarranted.

    Even though we can describe how people may have an evolutionary miscue, or how neglect helped create poor decision making capabilities in a person, this doesn't mean that society in general will allow a "bad egg" to continue being bad to society. I think the advantage of knowing why this happened does lead to better rehabilitation - but if rehabilitation is not possible, then punishment is the only option. Societies have been punishing for ages, with or without a god's blessing for punishing someone.

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  47. Mai, yes, I think punishment and justice are innate in humanity. We (atheists and Catholics) just think they are innate for different reasons. We all have an innate sense of justice, but we put the source as God and you don't. I hope that makes sense.

    Also, as to the "pandemonium" question: I don't know if I ever got an answer to the "you wouldn't raise your kids that way" issue. I know you wouldn't tell your child that he can decide for himself what the rules are, but I want to press you as to why. Why wouldn't you let a child make up his or her own rules? (I won't because of the chaos that would ensue... I shudder to imagine!)

    God doesn't "tell us how to behave" because He's a dictator or puppet master; He reveals what we need to know about our nature and our actions because He's a loving Father who knows what is best for us and wants our eternal happiness. We certainly can feel free to choose another course of action. This dynamic is played out (in imperfect ways) in earthly parent/child relationships.

    I guess in all of these discussions, I am having trouble seeing the meaning in things that are ultimately meaningless. I understand that you believe your lives to be meaningful to the extent that you love and live and feel happy and enjoy relationships, etc. But what of those who don't have joy in life? Or who only suffer and die, and feel no love from anyone? I am still trying to learn if atheists think their lives are valuable, too? And if so, why?

    Other questions, maybe for another time, because I am needing a break on this... If I could steal a television or a car from a very wealthy man or big business and no one would ever find out or be damaged by it, then why couldn't I do that in an atheistic worldview? It's only one example, but you get my point. Why be good? It makes no sense at all to me if we are just going to go "poof" one day anyway and no one will care.

    (Of course, I believe you were created by a loving God and made in his image, which is why I believe you strive to be good, but obviously you don't accept that premise.)

    Again, maybe that is a post for another day...

    Thanks!

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  48. I'm going to jump in here with a little comment...

    I don't see how it is a big leap to question how society can punish someone for something that is outside of their control.

    If a person acts unjustly toward someone else as a result of biological miscues that they have no control over, why are they held responsible? If it was their free choice to act the way they did, regardless of biology, then yes, they are culpable for their actions. But if it is only due to their biology, I can't see how it is just that they be punished for it.

    I don't see how this question is a leap. I understand your explanation of society not allowing a bad egg to continue to harm it; I agree that society has the right to defend itself and the common good. However, the question remains: Why is it ok to punish someone for something they had no control over?

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  49. Complicated Life asks, "Why is it ok to punish someone for something they had no control over?"

    In my original comment on this, I said "if rehabilitation is not possible, then punishment is the only option". People who kill by reason of insanity certainly could be deemed to have no control over their actions, and we don't punish them. But we still don't let them continue - by putting them in a hospital or something like this.

    And for Leila's question about why we don't let our children decide for themselves what is right and wrong. I use this phrase a lot, mostly in jest to protect myself against being an overprotective mother - make sure eventually my son can stand on his own. I see my goal as a parent to raise a productive member of society. I have to teach him rules to be able to function on his own in society, without me around to protect him.

    Not only does this idea make me stand back and let him try things out for himself (gradually), but it also is a useful explanation here. If I don't correct him when he "decides" that taking candy from someone else is wrong, he'll keep going with that, and take a TV from a richer man, and then get put in prison, etc etc, and he's no longer a productive member of society - and probably not happy, either.

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  50. Hi Leila! Yup, I'm "that" Matt in Seattle :-)
    I'm getting to this thread pretty late. To me it seems Leila's core question here is really:

    * Why are things (love, honesty, good works) meaningful if we don't live forever?

    Other really interesting questions in the thread include:

    * Why are things meaningful if everything comes from "randomness"?

    * How do you decide what's good/bad without God telling you?

    * Are people (e.g., criminals) in control of their moral decisions?

    I hope you break them out into separate threads, because each is interesting.

    As for mortality and meaning, let me pose this: the last time you went, say, to an amusement park with your family, did the experience become meaningless when you came home? Or if you ever had a Summer romance when you were a teenager, did it become meaningless when it ended and you went back to school?

    You might answer that they stay meaningful because we remember them, much as we'd remember this life from the afterlife. All right, try this. As parents, every week we have amazing, touching moments with our kids. Now, can you name every such moment from six months ago? Unless you're a fanatical diary keeper, no, you can't do that any more than I can. Does that mean the great moments we're having with our kids *this* week are meaningless, because we're likely to forget 90% of them six months from now? I don't think you'd call them meaningless. And if you would, I think we're just looking at a semantic distinction without importance.

    Whether or not there's a God, let's suppose there's no afterlife; this is it. So what? Go ahead and live your life as you see fit. What's the alternative, to sit and mope? Once my kid cried because "this playdate's going to be over in an hour." I said, "you're wasting time when you could be having fun."

    Now let's suppose there *is* an afterlife. And everyone lives for eternity, either in heaven or hell. If anything is "meaningless", I think it's living for eternity. It would become an insane level of torture. Did you happen to catch that recent series, "Battlestar Galactica"? In it there are these thinking, feeling robots created, called Cylons. They are practically immortal, because when their bodies die their experiences get wirelessly downloaded back to headquarters, where a new robot body is produced, and their memories are implanted.

    A civil war erupts among the Cylons, because some of them absolutely hate their endless life. Without being able to die, without having risk of loss, their lives feel meaningless to them. (By the way, I don't view it as a humanist/atheist show; it was actually too heavy on the faith thing for my taste.) A rough analogy might be that money is nearly meaningless to a Paris Hilton, because she has so much she never has to a) work for it or b) make choices about it.

    Cheers,
    Matt

    p.s. - Please spin off "randomness & meaning", or "how is something good or bad without God" as a new discussion :-) I'd love to participate.

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  51. Hi Matt. I love the questions you pose! I know they were to Leila-but I'd like to answer too.

    My first reaction to whether or not those little moments with our kids are "meaningless" if we forget them in six months is "of course not!" And I'm sure you agree. However, I think our reasons for why those moments are important would differ. I think I would ultimately argue that those moment were "meaningful" in the sense that they allowed me and/or my children to grow closer to God. They allowed my heart to be opened and softened as a mother's heart often is and taught me a little tiny something about God's fatherly love for me. They taught my children about what it feels like to be loved, what it feels like to be special to their mom. Much in the same way-what it feels like to be special to God. They increased the love and security in our relationship-ultimately leading us to be able to better express the love of God to each other and learn more about this love of God.

    Those moments, no matter how tiny, draw our hearts closer to the love that God has for us. That's why I would place "meaning" in those moments-not just because of the memory.

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  52. Matt, so happy to have you here!! Guys, that's my college roommate's husband! Love that family!

    Okay, I will take your last point first. I need to leave in a minute, so I promise to be back.

    As to what Heaven is (living for eternity) and if it is "meaningless"... only in the view you present. In reality, if we were literally made for Heaven, then finally getting "home" would never be meaningless. It would be the meaning of everything.

    Think if you were far away from your one true love for a thousand years. You would long, yearn, hope, desire that reunion of hearts, that all-encompassing love (did I mention that your lover is also the most beautiful, most perfect, most kind, most glorious lover of all, who only has eyes for you?) And then imagine that you finally get to become one with that true love, the one who fulfills every desire and need you've ever had, and not only that, but you would never exhaust the joy, peace, fun and truth that is the essence of your love. And you would become more yourself than you ever were with your beloved. In fact, you were transformed in all the greatest ways. Would you really call that meaningless? Or, "an insane level of torture"? If so, bring on the torture!

    PS: Heaven is infinitely more amazing than I described. I am finite.

    More soon....

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  53. Kaitlin wrote: "...those moment were "meaningful" in the sense that they allowed me and/or my children to grow closer to God. "

    I understand that, but that would be true whether or not there's an afterlife. Suppose God exists but has decided not to provide an afterlife. If I understand what Leila's saying, helping your children grow closer to God would be meaningless in that case, because eventually we all go poof.

    One way out of that would be to say "yes, but God will remember us forever". That may give meaning to God, but not to _our_ lives, by the terms above. It's similar to a common reason for good works; that people in the future will benefit from the good we do now. Maybe they'll remember us for it, and even if they don't, we feel good about acting as we think is right.

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  54. Matt, point taken on that. But we Catholics are coming from a place of, "There is a God, there is an afterlife, and Heaven is our true home." So, that was a given for Kaitlin (and the Catholics here).

    We believe our souls are immortal, and whether or not we land in heaven or hell, we don't cease to exist.

    Now, I will say that even if God exists but there is no afterlife for humans (which I don't believe, but for sake of argument...), then our life still would have meaning if God planned us for whatever purpose He desired. Just like a painting I create could have meaning to me even after it is gone.

    But atheists don't believe in a God, or in anything that lasts. It all goes poof and ultimately no one cares. Right?

    More in a bit because I love something you said in your first comment, Matt.... (suspense!)

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  55. Mai, you said, "if rehabilitation is not possible, then punishment is the only option".

    For whom is rehabilitation not possible? For only the mentally insane? I think most people in prison are not insane. Should they be there?

    Also, I agree with you as to why we raise our children as we do. Because by the blood, sweat and tears of teaching them the right way to go in life, and the right values, we ultimately want them to be happy. That is how Christians see God. He has "rules" because he knows what will lead to our happiness.

    But what if your son actually finds that he enjoys petty theft? And he's clever enough not to get caught? Or, maybe he likes some other activity that society says is criminal (due to conventions)? What can you say to tell him that he must not do that? What if he tells you it makes him happy? Will you still say it's "wrong" for him to steal?

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  56. Matt, you said:

    let's suppose there's no afterlife; this is it. So what? Go ahead and live your life as you see fit. What's the alternative, to sit and mope? Once my kid cried because "this playdate's going to be over in an hour." I said, "you're wasting time when you could be having fun."

    Now, this makes sense to me! It is something I can wrap my brain around, and it's exactly how I would approach things if I were an atheist! Thank you, thank you. This is logical.

    As far as the "meaningful memories" scenario... that works to a point, because of course it's meaningful to you (having a good memory is like having a good feeling). But when everything goes poof, and when no one is left to care, then it is meaningless. No ultimate meaning. That's all I'm saying.

    I guess I will sum up how I see it like this:

    An atheist finds meaning in his life based on the acts, feelings, experiences of life. Mostly, good feelings and pleasure are the things that make life worth living, no?

    A Christian finds meaning in his life based on the fact that God loves and created him, no matter how wretched and ugly and painful his life on earth may be. Meaning is objective, not emotion-based.

    If you disagree with what I think you think gives meaning to an atheist's life, from an atheist's perspective, tell me. If there is objective meaning in an individual's life from your perspective (other than memories-based, feelings-based, pleasure-based, or even legacy-based [since legacies end when it all goes poof]), then let me know.

    No one has yet answered my question: But what of those who don't have joy in life? Or who only suffer and die, and feel no love from anyone? I am still trying to learn if atheists think their lives are valuable, too? And if so, why?

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  57. Leila wrote: "An atheist finds meaning in his life based on the acts, feelings, experiences of life. Mostly, good feelings and pleasure are the things that make life worth living, no?"

    Like other atheists I know, I'm not a hedonist, and "pleasure" isn't my goal. "Happiness" is a better word, but it has too many meanings. If I do some unpleasant task because I feel it's the right thing to do, it might give me a "good feeling" without giving me "happiness". But I don't mean the kind of "good feeling" I get from eating ice cream. I mean the good feeling a Christian experiences when *they* do an unpleasant task they feel is the right thing to do.

    What makes life worth living for me are pretty much the same things that make life worth living for you. Loving my family. Caring about the world (politics, compassion, helping others). Learning new and interesting things. Trying to "make a dent in the universe" and leave things a little better than they were.

    You say you don't get that, because I think everything I've touched will go poof one day. But that's what *makes* it valuable. Outer space is incredibly huge, empty, dark, and lonely. We're terribly lucky to be on this blue-green dot. Of all the trillions of possible people that might have been conceived, we were lucky enough to catch that break. So instead of being depressed that we only have 80 years or so, we should feel incredibly, incredibly lucky to have 80 years when life is so rare in the universe. That's the point of my analogy to the kid's one-hour playdate.

    It's also why, to answer your other question, I think people who are unloved and without joy have valuable lives. Life is rare and precious, and intelligent life even more so.

    -Matt

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  58. Leila wrote: "A Christian finds meaning in his life based on the fact that God loves and created him, ... Meaning is objective, not emotion-based."

    I don't think that's any more objective than how I find meaning. You find meaning because you like thinking of God loving you. Your sense of meaning is only justified by your feelings, as you say mine is.

    Is it more "objective" just because you think you'll be immortal? If I think 1+1=2, and you think 3+3=6, your opinion isn't more objective than mine just because you live forever and I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

    (Let's throw another curve. God is inscrutable, and he has his ways that we will never understand. So suppose after a billion years of everyone enjoying heaven, God says "Sorry folks, but I've decided to just end it. End heaven, end the whole universe, and end myself. Don't think I can do that? I can do anything. Bye now." So then nothing at all exists, and your life has become meaningless. It was all for nothing. In the truly ultimate long term, even God was meaningless, because he willed himself out of existence. How would you reconcile that? I don't think that would happen, but I think the scenario indicates that "ultimate" is itself a sort of meaningless standard.)

    I digress, sorry. Back to human motivations. Something that's true is true whether or not people are around to acknowledge it, right? If an asteroid killed all life on Earth, 1+1 would still equal 2. So while I don't expect any *people* to remember my name a billion years from now, I can create meaning in my life by doing things that *remain true* forever.

    For example, if I jump in a river to save someone, it will always be true that I did the right thing. It gives me a sense of meaning to know that it will always be true, even if nobody else ever knows about it.

    As another example, in the future, when I die, my children can tell my grandchildren "Grandpa's love for you is true forever". Meaning, it will always be true that I loved my grandchildren. It might not be as comforting as "Grandpa is looking down on you from heaven", but it's undeniably true. And it remains true even if no people are alive in a billion years.

    A truth-based legacy never goes poof. And all our moral decisions leave truth-based legacies, for good or for bad.

    I'd also list things we create, perform, invent, and discover as truth-based legacies, for as Keats said, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever".

    -Matt

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  59. What if my child said he liked petty thievery and figured out a way to not get caught? Would I still tell him it is wrong to do this?

    Leila, I like to think my morals are based on more than just "Don't do it because society doesn't like it" or even "Don't do it because you'll get caught". We all know my morals are definitely not based on "Don't do it because God tells us not to." I'm talking about empathy here.

    Since I just started raising my child, I've been thinking a lot about this. I'd like him to have the same values as his dad and I have, which is ... do something because it is the right thing to do, not because you will get rewarded or punished (either here or in the afterlife).

    There are some tactics for this. One simple example is good grades. I disagree with parents who pay kids money for good grades - it seems to create an expectation that they will only get good grades if they are immediately rewarded. Rather, encourage kids to work hard just because it is the right thing to do.

    Also, encourage your kids in the right way - recent studies have shown that, with two groups of kids who take a test, the teachers told one group that they did so well because they were "smart". THe second group they told they did so well because they "worked hard". Almost without fail, on the next test, the kids who were told they were smart did worse, and the kids who were told they worked hard continued to work hard and did better. It is better to encourage kids to like to work hard, than to reward them with "You're smart".

    So about petty thievery, although the immediate goal is that they won't steal when they are adults, the ultimate goal is to teach empathy - how would you feel if someone stole something from you? This goal will easily translate into learning other, less criminal social graces such as treating others with basic respect.

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  60. Matt, here's why I am frustrated. I think we are talking past each other. I completely understand why you think your life is worth living, and how you get pleasure/happiness, etc. I get that.

    But then you say this:

    I don't think that's any more objective than how I find meaning. You find meaning because you like thinking of God loving you. Your sense of meaning is only justified by your feelings, as you say mine is.

    And when you say that, I know you don't understand what I mean. I don't find meaning because I like thinking of God as loving me. In fact, the meaning of my life has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with either my feelings or what I think of God. That is where I think we are at an impasse.

    I am not valuable because I like to think of God loving me, I am valuable because God loves me, whether I know it or not. Do you see what a distinction that is?

    For example, even if I were an atheist who also was a depressive who had never had a happy moment in his life, OR even if I were a tiny child who was abandoned and left to starve out in the fields with no love felt and no "luck" in this green dot we call earth, my life would still have meaning, because God believes me to be valuable and gives it meaning. My value is inherent, not dependent on my feelings about my life, or any kind of happiness I do or do not feel.

    I hope I am making sense.

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  61. Matt, 1+1 = 2 is objectively true no matter what, and it will be true for eternity but only if there is an eternity. If everything goes poof, then no one will care or know if 1 + 1 ever equalled 2. It will be irrelevant and meaningless then. So, ultimately, it doesn't matter. I agree that it matters temporally, but not ultimately.

    And, a thing of beauty cannot be a joy forever if there is no "forever." Right?

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  62. Mai, I am sorry for being frustrated, but again, you are missing my point. I don't mean to be impatient or press you, but I totally "get" what you are saying and it doesn't really answer my question. Let me try this:

    Who are you to tell your child that something is right or wrong if there is no objective standard for right and wrong? What if your child is talented enough to find a way to steal and cheat without getting caught and is perfectly happy with living life that way? What if he decides he wants to torture stray cats out in the woods for fun? What if he decides that he likes or feels fulfilled by lying to people?

    I can see where an atheist (who doesn't believe in objective truth) could say, "I don't like that you do that, I don't believe it's a good thing for you" but I don't see how you could say, "This is wrong and you cannot do this."

    Your philosophy is violated if you start telling someone else what is right and wrong, no? There is no inviolable moral law in your worldview, so in all honesty, you would have to tell your child that your morality is just your opinion.

    Which brings me back to: What is the difference between truth and opinion?

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  63. And Matt, if you say that the suffering, starving, unloved child shivering alone, dying in the cold with no one to comfort him is "lucky" to catch a bit of this wonderful thing called life, I am mind-boggled. I would say that scenario is is cruel and unthinkable, and I would say that that child would have been better off never having been born than to suffer so terribly and know only pain and loneliness.

    Unless there is a loving God.

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  64. And, Matt, you know I say that in love and friendship! :) I don't really think you do believe that such a child would be "lucky" to have had life. Right?

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  65. Matt, I apologize! I screwed up. You read this from me:

    "A Christian finds meaning in his life based on the fact that God loves and created him"

    I should have been more careful and said,

    "A Christian's life has meaning based on the fact that God loves and created him."

    In other words, there is no "feeling" or subjectivity to it.

    Huge distinction and I am so sorry! That was a huge mistake in wording!!!

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  66. Matt, you proposed the following, if God decided to call it quits:

    "In the truly ultimate long term, even God was meaningless, because he willed himself out of existence."

    This can't be a valid argument. God cannot will himself out of existence. Not because he isn't "all powerful" but because it's nonsense. As in, literally, non-sense.

    Here's why: God cannot be who He is not. He cannot "go" against his nature. God doesn't have existence, He isExistence. In the same way, He does not have goodness, He is Goodness. He does not possess truth, He is Truth. He does not give love, He is Love. Et cetera.

    So existence Himself cannot "will himself" out of existence. It's nonsense. Just like "Can God sin?" The very nature of God is sinlessness. He cannot be what He is not. It is, literally, nonsense. And God is not the author of nonsense.

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  67. Mrs. M, a thought keeps coming back to me.

    You stated that once the feeling of love is gone between spouses, that's a valid reason to divorce.

    This implies that love is about what you get. Once you don't get that anymore (a feeling of love) then you move on. To me, that sounds like "using" someone to get a feeling. In other words, it's not about wanting or loving the person, but rather about wanting a certain feeling (which one particular person may give you now, but eventually that may stop and you would move on to find someone else who can make you feel that feeling).

    For a Catholic, love is always about giving, not getting. It's about the other, not self. We call it "self-donation" (John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a great resource).

    Maybe that is a fundamental distinction between our two views of love? If I am mischaracterizing your position, please straighten me out.

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  68. Re: "Who are you to tell your child that something is right or wrong if there is no objective standard for right and wrong?" and "Your philosophy is violated if you start telling someone else what is right and wrong, no?"

    Leila, I have to give you this - you are consistent. Although some people would say that my statements are falling on deaf ears. Actually, I am on the fence on that issue (whether to label you "consistent" or "deaf").

    Apparently me becoming petulant and saying (like I did in the last post about homosexuality), "How can you say that I can't tell others what is right and wrong when I've been spending the last few weeks saying just the opposite?" is not working.

    I thought about this today, and the only way I can explain it is that

    a) Leila is an orthodox Catholic
    b) The Pope tells Leila that people who are atheists are moral relativists
    c) Therefore, Leila believes atheists are moral relativists

    And nothing, absolutely nothing, not even this silly farce of a "trying to understand liberals" idea on her blog, will change her mind. Because the Pope says so.

    This is one of the reasons why I find religion poisonous.

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  69. Mai, I'm not sure if I'm consistent, deaf, or just confused.

    Let me phrase things more simply, for me, not you:

    You that you think some truths are universal. In other words, you think that some things are always wrong, such as rape. Therefore, I will not classify Mai as a moral relativist.

    So, my question still remains: What is the source of that truth? If you say the source is your own mind, i.e., what you have thought about and come to believe (which is what you have said), then I must ask you again: What is the difference between truth and opinion?

    And again: What is the difference between truth and opinion?

    I will be completely satisfied (and we will have reached a point of clarity, not agreement) if you simply answer that one question.

    Maybe you think they are synonymous... fine. Maybe you don't... fine. But, could you please answer? Then I will have some understanding of exactly what you are talking about when you speak of truth vs. when you give an opinion.

    (BTW, there are millions of folks who believe in objective truth but do not follow the Pope in any way, shape, or form.)

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  70. *You said that you think some truths are universal. (sorry, typo)

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  71. Let me try this, Mai, because I can see where I was using general statements about atheists not believing in objective truth. You have told me you are not a moral relativist, and you believe in objective truth. I do not want to misrepresent you, so I apologize if I did.

    I still wonder about the "source" of the truth you hold. And I wonder about what the difference is between truth and opinion, in your mind.

    And, I wonder how you can teach a child that something is right or wrong when you also tell him there is no higher authority than his own mind? If you say to him one day, "It is objectively morally wrong to rape" why isn't he free to disagree with you, if he has concluded otherwise? If the highest source is someone's mind (no matter how educated the mind), then what right do you have to tell someone else (who also has a mind) that their contrary opinion is wrong?

    Again, maybe I am just totally confused about what you are saying. But I am really trying to get to the bottom of things. What is your source for what you know to be true? And if it's your brain, then how does that trump someone else's brain?

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  72. This is me, just thinking out loud:

    If an atheist believes in objective truth, then the "source" for that truth, it would seem to me, would have to be Natural Law.

    I am not an expert on Natural Law, or atheism, or anything, really, but that would make sense to me.

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  73. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 7, 2010 at 9:43 AM

    If a woman stops loving her husband, she should divorce him. Every person deserves to be married to someone who has love for them; it's as simple as that.

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  74. Mrs. M, same for a man? If a man wants to divorce a woman against her wishes, leaving her with several children to care for alone, then he should do so? Thanks for clarifying.

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  75. Mrs. M (formerly Anon #1)November 7, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    Yes, a man should divorce his wife if he stops loving her. It's exactly the same--sorry for not saying both sides.

    Should he leave her with several children to care for on her own? No, obviously not. He's still their parent.

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  76. I understand why one would draw the conclusion to divorce if love is simply based on feelings and those feelings go away from one party. But then I have to wonder: why marry in the first place? If there is no commitment, if it is as easy as "I don't have [the feeling of] love for you anymore so I will leave," I don't understand why one would bother with marriage at all.

    All I can say is that it is unfortunate for the children. And I should know, since I grew up with a single mother. One might argue that it's better for the child to see the parent follow their feelings and try to seek out the next "love." But the fact is, children want their parents to love each another, not just be true to "the feeling of love." Believe me, it is an impoverished childhood when your parents don't love each other and you know they don't.

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  77. CL, thank you for that perspective. That was my thought, too. You put it well. I don't understand why one would bother with marriage, either, unless it's just a quaint convention from the past that appeals to sentiment.

    Traditionally, marriage is/was specifically about life-long commitment in order to make sure that the children of the union would be cared for in a stable home with a mother and father. The culture has redefined marriage to mean something fundamentally different now. As always, the children are the ones who must suffer so that the adults can be "happy."

    No-fault divorce is one of the most devastating things to happen to children in this nation.

    I know one person close to me who was left by the husband when he didn't feel "love" for the woman anymore. He felt "love" with the mistress, then the next mistress. The family and children were left in shambles and the hurt is without description. Even the state gov't. here requires divorcing parties to watch a video and take a class to deal with the heartbreak that will be caused for the children of divorce (and that does not go away). It just makes me so sad.

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  78. Mrs. M.,

    If you could address this point, I truly am interested:

    You stated that once the feeling of love is gone between spouses, that's a valid reason to divorce.

    This implies that love is about what you get. Once you don't get that anymore (a feeling of love) then you move on. To me, that sounds like "using" someone to get a feeling. In other words, it's not about wanting or loving the person, but rather about wanting a certain feeling (which one particular person may give you now, but eventually that may stop and you would move on to find someone else who can make you feel that feeling).

    For a Catholic, love is always about giving, not getting. It's about the other, not self. We call it "self-donation" (John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a great resource).

    Maybe that is a fundamental distinction between our two views of love? If I am mischaracterizing your position, please straighten me out.

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  79. Leila wrote: "Matt, 1+1 = 2 is objectively true no matter what, and it will be true for eternity but *only if there is an eternity*. "

    Wow :-) I didn't see that coming from you, the Leila who values objective truth so highly. You're really saying that 1+1=2 is, "ultimately", subjective (dependent on someone, even God, seeing it). To me 1=1=2 is the ultimate in objectivity, and your statement makes your philosophy the most subjective I've ever heard :-)

    > "If everything goes poof, then no one will care or know if 1 + 1 ever equalled 2."

    Right.

    > "It will be irrelevant and meaningless then."

    There will be nobody to whom it still matters, but it will still be *true*!

    Whether it's true is separate from whether the idea is *important* to anyone. There are all kinds of true statements I could make about what the bugs in my yard are doing right now, but they are of no interest to me, and are meaningless to me. The statements are still true, though. Things that *are* important to me, like doing the right thing, create truth legacies ("this happened") that exist forever, like 1+1=2.


    Leila wrote: "I am not valuable because *I like to think* of God loving me, I am valuable *because* God loves me, whether I know it or not."

    Leila, you have inconsistent standards of logic and proof in this discussion. First you set up a standard where an atheist's values are meaningless unless they are shown to be eternal. And if there's a chance their logic is wrong, then the values are still "ultimately" meaningless. That's an incredibly high bar to set.

    But then you claim to "know" things about God that you cannot prove. You "know" (in your heart at least) that a god loves you, but you cannot prove it logically. I know you'll start if I let you, but don't go there :-) You can make your case, and I can bring up mistranslations, editing errors, dependence on faith, etc., and we can go back and forth. But even on your best day you'll never make an absolutely airtight, 100% proof that God exists and loves you (If you could, there'd be no need for faith, and there'd be no atheists). And without that 100%, you fall into the same "ultimately meaningless" situation you see atheists in. Cheers,

    -Matt

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  80. Leila wrote: " ... God doesn't *have* existence, He *is* existence. ... He cannot be what he is not."

    That's lucky for you, eh? Now you still have meaning :-)

    It's another inconsistency in your standards, as I see it. If I press you on heaven, and ask how we could possibly be happy there, nonstop and eternally, you'll tell me it's something that we humans can't understand or explain; only God understands how heaven works. But then you try to get out of my thought experiment by claiming to know what God is and what he can and can't do. With your "ultimate" standard (that life is meaningless without an eternal subject who sees/remembers your life), you need 100% confidence that God won't change his mind. For you to presume that confidence, to claim you know the mind of God with 100% certainty, well, with respect, it's mind-boggling (I owe you a nickel for using that phrase). In some Christian sects it would be a heresy. In Judaism it would be bad form and hubris.

    If God to us is far greater than we are to ants, it's silly to make such firm claims about what God can or can't do. After all, in the Old Testament, Yahweh has many regrets. He changes his mind often. *That* is part of his nature, too, according to the Bible. Nothing says he can't change his mind again. You wrote: "God is not the author of nonsense." "Nonsense" means it doesn't make sense to us. You have no "ultimate" idea of what makes sense to God, nor what will suit him in the distant future. We are ants compared to him, no? A kid can decide (with some pangs of loss, perhaps) to throw out his ant farm, and put them out of his mind, and those ants will have no comprehension of why their world is ending.

    But to back up again to your criteria for moral meaning, I think it actually trivializes real moral courage. If the saints and the martyrs showed great moral courage, they still did it with the conviction that there's a good chance they'd get a reward of eternal happiness (somehow) in heaven. That's really not that courageous, is it? It's like the courage of a suicide bomber who thinks he'll end up in heaven with his own cohort of virgins. Real courage would be someone who, like some saints and martyrs, is tortured and commanded to give up her beliefs, and refuses to do so, even though she expects no possibility of reward after death. That's a life with real meaning. Your version of meaningfulness, which requires eternal life, seems narrow and, pardon me, even childish, compared to that. With Love,

    -Matt

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  81. Ah, Matt. You know I love you. Let's start simply and briefly (I am a simple woman).

    First:

    I never claimed to even come close to knowing the mind of God. We will spend eternity reveling in each new nuance of His Truth, and Who He is.

    So, you gotta take that back.

    Second:

    There is no 100% proof I can give that God exists. That would, as you have stated, take away the need for faith.

    So, you gotta take that back.

    Third:

    While I cannot have 100% proof that God exists, there is evidence enough to make it more reasonable than unreasonable to believe that He does. (I use the same threshold of "beyond a reasonable doubt" to conclude that the Revolutionary War happened, since there is no one left alive who was there and there are no videotape playbacks.

    So, you gotta take that back.

    Fourth:

    Mistranslations and editing errors? You must have me confused with a sola scriptura Protestant. My Church exists with or without a Bible.

    So, you gotta take that back.


    More in a minute....

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  82. Fifth:

    I said: "Matt, 1+1 = 2 is objectively true no matter what, and it will be true for eternity but *only if there is an eternity*.

    You responded: "You're really saying that 1+1=2 is, "ultimately", subjective (dependent on someone, even God, seeing it)."

    No, Matt. Something can't be true for eternity if there is no eternity. Now, could it be objectively true for now, on earth, until the earth and everyone in it goes poof? Yes, it can. It is objectively true that water is made up of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. It is objectively true that I my heat and brain will stop working one day and I will die. It is objectively true that 1+1=2. There are many, many things which are objectively true in the temporal realm. We both believe that. But there is nothing that is eternally true if there is no eternity.

    So, you gotta take that back.

    More coming....


    (And oh how I hate that I always forget to close my parentheses! Like in the last comment, ugh!)

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  83. Sixth:

    You said that part of the nature of God is to change His mind. He sure could. That doesn't mean He can change Who He is.

    I can change my mind a thousand times, but I can't change myself into a cat. I am not likea human, I am a human. God does not have existence, He is existence (and all those other things I said He is).

    So, you gotta take that back.

    Seventh:

    Those who truly love God would die for Him whether or not they were rewarded with Heaven. The reason they desire Heaven is to be with their Beloved. But perfect love would die for the other, with no benefit for himself. Yet how beautiful that God stands ready to welcome His children into His own Heart. (Could one expect less from Love Himself?)

    So, you gotta take that back.

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  84. Matt, do you agree with Mrs. M. that someone should divorce a spouse when the feeling of love is gone? (I promise I won't tell Catherine!!) I'm guessing you don't agree with Mrs. M, but I don't want to presume.

    Also, if you could address this:

    "Matt, if you say that the suffering, starving, unloved child shivering alone, dying in the cold with no one to comfort him is "lucky" to catch a bit of this wonderful thing called life, I am mind-boggled. I would say that scenario is is cruel and unthinkable, and I would say that that child would have been better off never having been born than to suffer so terribly and know only pain and loneliness.

    Unless there is a loving God."

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  85. "I would say that that child would have been better off never having been born than to suffer so terribly and know only pain and loneliness.

    Unless there is a loving God."

    What you just said should clarify for you exactly why a lot of atheists support abortion.

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  86. Leila,
    Thanks for clearing a lot of that up! I do owe you some takebacks...

    [Condensing}
    "First: I never claimed to even come close to knowing the mind of God...
    Second: There is no 100% proof I can give that God exists.
    Third: [I believe "beyond a resonable doubt" that God exists]

    So you gotta take that back."

    Okay, I'll happily take those three back. Yay!

    But I remain confused why, with admitting all that, you still place such stock in eternity.


    "Fourth: Mistranslations and editing errors? You must have me confused with a sola scriptura Protestant. My Church exists with or without a Bible.
    So, you gotta take that back."

    Mmmmm, nope, sorry :-) I'm not professing Sola Scriptura, or even supremacy of scripture over other sources (sacred tradition, episcopacy). I'm just saying that whichever of such sources you look to a s the basis for your arguments/proofs of God, Jesus, and the Catholic traditions, they all have evidentiary and logical problems. I'd be happy join you on a new thread about it.

    Part II in a second,
    -Matt

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  87. "Fifth: ... Something can't be true for eternity if there is no eternity.
    So, you gotta take that back."

    Well, I'm surprising myself here, but I'll agree to take that back. I feel confident that 1+1=2 is still true "after" the end of time and all existence, but our feeble minds have trouble dealing with both eternity and the lack of eternity, so I'm willing to say I have trouble defending that.

    However, I *do* maintain that 1+1=2 will remain true for billions of years after I die. So will the various "truth legacies" I leave through my actions. Maybe in 10 billion years everything goes poof including those truths, but frankly, 10 billion years is good enough for me to consider those actions meaningful. Hard to explain, perhaps, but that's how it feels.


    "Sixth: I can't change myself into a cat. I am not like a human, I am a human. God does not have existence, He is existence...
    So, you gotta take that back."

    Nope, I've got to leave that one on your plate, Leila. What does it even mean to say he is "existence"? It sounds like handwaving. He is everything that currently exists or could exist? He is the idea of things existing? Whatever interpretation of your words I come up with, I still see it possible for him to decide to end it tomorrow. If it's really a sensible concept to you, I'd like to understand what it means. If it's something that only God can understand, then I consider it tautologous, like his alleged qualities of goodness.

    Q: Is God really good if he does XYZ?
    A: Yes, because God is That Which Can Only Do Good.
    Q: What if God wanted to stop existing?
    A: He can't, because God is That Which Must Always Exist.

    "Seventh: Those who truly love God would die for Him whether or not they were rewarded with Heaven.
    So, you gotta take that back."

    I do owe you a takeback for my phrasing there, sorry. I shouldn't have just said the courage of the saints and martyrs was "like the courage of a suicide bomber". I'll presume the saints and martyrs were victims and not perpetrators, and should have said their courage was "somewhat like that of a suicide bomber in one particular way...". I'll grant that the saints and martyrs acted primarily out of good intentions rather than future happiness. But I do maintain that the carrot of eternal happiness certainly takes a lot of the sting out of death. In peace,

    -Matt

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  88. Leila wrote: ""Matt, if you say that the suffering, starving, unloved child shivering alone, dying in the cold with no one to comfort him is "lucky" to catch a bit of this wonderful thing called life, I am mind-boggled. ...Unless there is a loving God."

    In my opinion it's very unlikely there's a loving God who will scoop up that hypothetical baby as he dies and place him in eternal bliss in heaven. You think there is such a God, and that makes your system more moral because someone is soothing the child. I think it's a delusion, and a terrible disservice to that child.

    When I said "we are lucky", I was talking about people who, despite problems in their life, have a sliver of stability and leisure in which to consider questions of ethics, religion, and philosophy. My point was that this great majority of people don't need to waste time worrying about eternity.

    Please re-read my comment: "[W]e were lucky enough to catch that break. So instead of being depressed that we only have 80 years or so, we should feel incredibly, incredibly lucky to have 80 years when life is so rare in the universe. That's the point of my analogy to the kid's one-hour playdate."

    The hypothetical freezing baby might be more analogous to my allowing my kid a one-second playdate. If I did that, he'd have a valid right to complain.

    It's nice to think that God will scoop up and comfort all the saddest cases. But if that's your point, you need to open up a thread on theodicy, because I've got a looooong list of points to make there :-)

    -Matt

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  89. Hey Matt, cheers, I'm new here. I just wanted to comment on the 1+1=2 comment. That is also handwaving. Numbers are abstractions, ideas, and the symbols represent values that we have in our minds. 1+1=2 is only true because we all agree that the values of 1 and 2 are what we've decided they are. The crazy part is, that when you use reason to understand the concept of 1 and 2, you also realize that there are infinite numbers inbetween 1 and 2 as well. Love is also an abstract concept with many different things to symbolize it.

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  90. p.s. - I wrote: > a delusion

    Please allow me to change that to "wishful thinking".

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  91. Matt, the fact that I was able to convince you to take back five points means I can die happy! ;)

    Actually, it really speaks to your integrity in this dialogue, and I thank you for that.

    I would love to address the rest of what you left on the table, but I might want to make those into posts of their own. So, I will alert you (via Catherine) when those come. (Unless the mood hits me and I decide to do it in these comments at 1:00am.)

    Thank you for introducing me to a new word (theodicy), and also, I don't mind if you use the word "deluded" to describe theists or aspects of theism. You are probably not surprised that I may have used that same word, on occasion, to describe atheism or its adherents. :)

    Friends can take it, no?

    Blessings!

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  93. Paul, would that be similar to saying that there is no necessary connection between eyeballs and sight? Because we can disconnect the two, correct?

    I would say that the meaning of sex is love (spiritual union), but the purpose of sex is babies. One certainly can have no children and still have deeply meaningful sex (spiritual union). But to willfully separate the meaning from the purpose is to diminish the act itself.

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  94. I do not know any human who can see without eyeballs. However, if such a technological development were realized, then the necessary connection could conceivably be severed.

    It is true that some organisms can "see" (process light) without eyeballs. And blind animals have eyeballs and they don't see.

    So, in the way I use the terms, there is a necessary connection for most animals, but not for all organisms.

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  95. #1, who cares? #2, leave this for psychologists #3, what's more important than love is the values it typically encompasses: loyalty, intimacy, communication, dedication, etc. etc. ALL THESE VALUES can be had without religion bastardizing, hypocrizing, and prozelytizing this world.

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  96. centerofthought, I am going to take a guess and say that you are not religious. ;)

    You talk of values, but I'm just curious what you think about virtues?

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  97. What, ultimately, is the meaning of love?

    I'm sure my answer is a mix of some of the comments above. Love does not have a universal meaning, however it does have a very strong personal meaning within the person feeling it. It other words, I may love my wife, but my neighbor may find her annoying (just b/c I love doesn't mean others share it).

    Love is ultimately the highest measure of value. I value my wife; her humor, her sensitivity, her intelligence, etc...(you get the picture). If I value my wife's existance more than I would value my being alone with her dead, then I'd give my life to save hers.

    'Love' is tossed around way too casually today as many would like to transform it into some form of alms you had vagrants.

    Don't have time... dinner's done, but I think you get the point.

    v/r
    John

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  98. @Leila. Well, your question may be off topic since Love is certainly not a virtue. However, I believe one picks what ideals they hold most dear in their life ("values") and attempts to follow them ("integrity") and uses them to help decide right from wrong ("virtue"). For example, I subscribe to these values: Accountability, Acceptance, Communication, Courage, Generosity, Happiness, Honesty, Loyalty, Patience, Reasoning, Responsibility, Trust. And some Others: Kindness, Openness, Humility, Perseverance, Inquiry. Given that I hold these values dear, use them as guideposts for daily decisions and the right choices in my life, why would I need any kind of dogma?

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  99. centerofthought,

    Actually, charity (Love) is the highest virtue. (Faith, hope, love)

    How do you "pick" which ideals you hold dear? Where did you come up with those ideals?

    Do you always make the right choices, or have you ever made wrong choices?

    Also, these "values" you have chosen -- are they special to you for any particular reason? Do they make you happy (I see that happiness is a value you hold dear)? If they make you happy, is that the criteria? Did someone teach you these values, or did you come up with them on your own?

    Maybe those values are your dogma? Don't you need those values to live a good life and choose right from wrong? That is what my "dogma" does for me....

    Just thinking out loud. Help me out.

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  100. John, before I go further, help me out:

    Are you saying that you love your wife based on how she makes you feel?

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  101. Mrs. M,

    I am still so interested in this question. Can you tell me your thoughts? Here's what I asked you earlier:

    You stated that once the feeling of love is gone between spouses, that's a valid reason to divorce.

    This implies that love is about what you get. Once you don't get that anymore (a feeling of love) then you move on. To me, that sounds like "using" someone to get a feeling. In other words, it's not about wanting or loving the person, but rather about wanting a certain feeling (which one particular person may give you now, but eventually that may stop and you would move on to find someone else who can make you feel that feeling).

    For a Catholic, love is always about giving, not getting. It's about the other, not self. We call it "self-donation" (John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a great resource).

    Maybe that is a fundamental distinction between our two views of love? If I am mischaracterizing your position, please straighten me out.

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  102. Sorry, Leila! Didn't even see this.

    To clarify, yes, love is a feeling I get. But my stance about people divorcing if they no longer love each other stems more from the following:
    -I act selflessly (respect him, honor him, generally treat him right) to make my husband happy, because I love him
    -I, selfishly, want my husband to love me (so that he will respect me, honor me, and generally treat me right)
    -he deserves the same (a wife who loves him, and performs the selfless acts for him)

    That's why I will divorce my husband if I stop loving him, and why I hope he will have the decency to divorce me if he stops loving me. He deserves someone who is going to perform those selfless acts for him, and so do I.

    I know you don't agree, but hopefully I wasn't too confusing.

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  103. Mrs. M, I appreciate the clear and honest response. But here is the thing that just doesn't sit right with me: The essence (and the cultural purpose) of the institution of marriage is permanency. Marriage, as a societal institution for millennia, was to assure stability for the children born of the union, and to protect the woman from abandonment by the man.

    So, even in a secular sense, you are turning the traditional understanding of marriage on its head. You are saying that there is no lasting commitment or permanence to marriage, and therefore it loses any distinction it had from any type of temporary union (i.e., living together with no commitment or marriage certificate).

    Sooooo many women (and men, but let's talk women) have had this scenario play out, to devastating effect: "Honey, I am so sorry I don't love you anymore. I think you are great, but I am leaving you because you deserve the best. You deserve someone who can really love you. So, let's tell the kids and then I'm going to take off with Bambi who's waiting in the car for me. I know how grateful you are that I am so considerate to set you free to find someone who loves you. You're welcome!"

    Now, I have seen this happen with my own eyes, more than once. The woman is left flat, devastated beyond words, and the children never get over it. Their whole lives are defined by their father leaving the family.

    That is exactly the kind of thing that marriage was designed to combat. It exists in society so that men cannot do what you describe.

    Of course, marriage as a hallmark of stability was shot all to hell with the acceptance of no-fault divorce (ensuring that the innocent party who wants to keep the family whole gets totally screwed).

    Anyway, let me get back on track. For our point of clarity, then.... love for you is feelings-based, and is contingent on what someone can give you (i.e., a good feeling). Love for Christians is an act of the will, and is about what you can give to someone else (regardless of what you get in return).

    And, if you could tell me the difference between being married and simply living together, I'd appreciate it.

    Thanks for hanging in there with me!

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  104. When I married my husband, I was doing so because I loved him at the time, and predicted based on our relationship that I would continue to love him until the day I die. However, I never entered into my marriage with the assumption that we would be together forever. My husband and I made a commitment to love each other and work as hard as we can to make our marriage work, but I am not under any delusions that we will be together until we die. I certainly hope we will be because I love him very much, but I would never say with certainty that it will be so.

    Marriage, to me, is just another higher level of commitment, one that tells everyone you encounter that you are a couple, and that you love each other very much. Combining bank accounts, receiving tax breaks, sharing the same last name.
    (of course, that's not to say it was solely an intellectual decision; I remember it being very romantic and exciting to be marrying the man of my dreams)

    Again, I'm well aware that my beliefs about marriage are in the minority, but these are beliefs that my husband and I share. This is what we have decided marriage means to us, and how we will assess our marriage as the future comes.


    In case I don't get a chance to check back until after the holiday, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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  105. Mrs. M, thank you! That actually makes sense to me now. I see that your vision of marriage is quite non-traditional. Do you (will you) tell your children that you and daddy are only staying together until one of you falls out of love? Or, do you keep that part of it quiet so that they don't have undue anxiety? I hope you don't take that to be a snarky question, because I am asking sincerely, out of true curiosity.

    May you and yours also have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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  106. Yes, it is quite nontraditional. I'm well aware that if either my husband or I was more spontaneous or less practical, that this view of marriage would not work. I think oftentimes people think they have fallen out of love with someone just because they have fallen in lust with someone else, or because they are feeling like their life is less exciting than it used to be. I am quite confident, however, that I can trust my husband to honestly evaluate his feelings, and not just up and decide to leave me on a whim.

    My son is only nine months old, so I have to be honest and say we haven't thought that far ahead. My initial thought, though, is to start off by simply reassuring him that his father and I love him very much, and also love each other very much, but leave it at that. Then, we'll give him more and more information as he gets older (hopefully never more information than he can handle). I would like to give him (what I think is) realistic information about love and marriage, but again, my husband and I will have to discuss this when the time comes.


    Also, I just wanted to say that I generally don't take your questions (at least not the ones directed toward me) to be snarky, so don't feel like you need to clarify :)

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  107. I think my post got deleted...

    I don't have time to respond again at the moment, so I hope you were still able to read it somehow.

    If not, let me know, and I'll try to re-write it from the start. Shouldn't be too difficult.

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  108. Mrs. M, thank you! And I got your comment out of the spam folder. I have no idea why it's been doing that lately!!

    Thanks for the reassurance that you understand that I am not being snarky to you.... It allows us to actually talk and exchange ideas and I appreciate that!

    My son is nine months old, too! :)

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  109. I have a bit of a random question about Catholic teaching, and I think this would be the right post to comment on to ask it:

    What is the Catholic Church's view on remarrying after one spouse has passed away?

    I'm fairly certain this is okay (not from any formal knowledge of the subject, just from what I've witnessed in the world), but I don't really understand how that works if marriage is eternal for you and not just a union during your lifetime on this earth.

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  110. Mrs. M, thank you for letting me clarify that!!

    Marriage only lasts "till death do us part".... so it's not eternal. In fact, Jesus is clear that there is not marriages or marrying in Heaven. There is a whole post I could write on that (and I think I will!).

    Marriages are only "in effect" until one of the spouses dies. Then the surviving spouse is free to remarry.


    Thank you!

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  111. So the notion of "meeting your spouse again in heaven" is comforting, but not entirely true?

    Do you believe you will meet them again, you just won't be married?

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  112. And if you believe your love for your husband transcends life (is eternal, as you mentioned WAY earlier in this comment sequence), is that solely because you believe your love for your husband brings you closer to God?

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  113. Mrs. M, such great questions! I need a whole post to answer! But in a nutshell, the union of a married couple is simply a foreshadowing of the union we will all have in Heaven. So, there will be a closer relationship there than here. Marriage will be unnecessary. But there is more to it... Baby crying, gotta pick up kids... Thanks for the great post idea!!

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  114. Love is an emotion as Brian said upthread. There are at least dozen different kinds of love: romantic love, compassion, patriotism, brotherly love, agape, etc, etc.. associated with hormonal changes, physiologic changes, rapid heart rate, deep emotion, glad feelings, sad feelings, satisfaction, anxiety. Not under voluntary control necessarily. Love changes from day to day and year to year. You might feel differently about your spouse or your kid today than you did 5 yrs ago. It' not static.

    I suppose one type of love can be directed toward a man who lived 2000 yrs ago, or a supernatural being, or a fictional character, why not? Some don't have that kind of love, or at least don't recognize it as more important than the love they feel toward those things they can see and feel. Like I said, not under voluntary control necessarily.

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  115. Tony, yes, emotions change all the time. That is why love is not emotion-based. Surely there are emotions attached to love (which fluctuate and are involuntary), but Christians believe that love is an act of the will. To love someone means that you always want what is best for them. That you will put them ahead of yourself. To Christians, we look at a Crucifix and we see what Love looks like. It's not always pretty, but the only love that is "real" love is not based on a passing emotion.

    It's true that the Christian understanding of love is very different from today's cultural view.

    By the way, I would agree (and the Church would agree) that there are different kinds of love, for sure. But to love is always a willful act.

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  116. Tony, to follow up, based on my original question, What is the ultimate meaning of love, then? Is it meaningful in some deeper way than just a chemical reaction in the brain?

    Mrs. M was very honest when she said (in regards to her marriage) that for her, love is a feeling she gets from her husband. And as soon as she stops getting that feeling, she will leave him. They have both agreed on this. So, for her, love is something you get from someone (a good feeling) and not something you "give". What do you think?

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  117. Can love be something you get and not necessarily give. Yes, it can be. The word "love" has taken on a zillion connotations in modern English usage. I realize that your point is that "Love" ultimately comes from a supernatural being. Some don't see it that way.

    You've also characterized love as a "good feeling"... well sometimes love can be unhealthy, as in the case of an abused paramour who has an attachment that cannot be shaken.

    Love is a zillion things, some emotional, some not; some good, some not; some life-affirming, some not. The discussion becomes weary after a while unless you narrow down the type of love you want to discuss.

    For the record, here's the Pope's teaching on re-marriage for Mrs M to review; to characterize divorce and re-marriage as "okay" with the Church is an overstatement. And notice how Pope Benedict doesn't even mention "love"; maybe marriage has little to do with love?

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  118. Tony, Mrs. M is an atheist, not a Catholic, so she doesn't care what the Pope has to say about marriage. Her view of love is feelings-based and not the Catholic view at all.

    Pope Benedict did not mention love because the question he was asked in the interview was a technical one. It wasn't about the deeper meanings of marriage. If you have ever read JPII's Theology of the Body, you would be inundated by love. :)

    I agree that society uses the word "love" for any number of emotions. An abusive relationship is not "love" actually. Love is always about willing the good of the other. Abuse is not willing the good of the other.

    If the thing you call "love" is not good, not life-affirming, then it is not, in fact, love.

    Some have said that Love is synonymous with sacrifice. It's an "offering" of oneself to the other. That can be eros (romantic) love or other levels of love, up to agape. But it's always about giving oneself for the other.

    That is the Christian view.

    One last thing: Love doesn't "come from" God; God and Love are the same. God is Love. Whatever is pure love down here is simply a reflection of the Trinity.

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  119. Ummm.... "gibberish"? That's all you've got?

    Tony, just wow.

    Thanks for the reasoned dialogue. Sadly short-lived on your end.

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  120. But Tony, I do have to thank you because you have inspired me to write a post on the Christian meaning of love -- compared to which, your understanding of "love" is gibberish.

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  121. "I do understand what love is,and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. Love is not self denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment, or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely
    given by a healthy, unafraid human being."
    ~Dan Barker
    Love is a human emotion. Love cannot be attributed to a book or a deity. Atheists have different concepts of love, just as Christians and other religions do. This is exactly how I feel as an Atheist.

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  122. Hilda, this is perhaps the most twisted understanding of Christianity that I have ever read. I don't think anything can top that distortion. Wow.

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