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Awesome, Greta. Can't wait to read the next installment. By the way, thanks for turning me onto Jessica's video. I posted a link on my blog yesterday.



I guess I was an atheist since I was 4. Even then, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy stretched my credulity (despite the payoff for believers), and when my mother finally admitted they were 'just pretend,' Santa was the next to fall. After that, it was pretty obvious that God fell into that same category. I spent the next 54 years wondering why others don't see this too.


Great post, GC. You're making me so nostalgic for my college days with lines like this:

that the joint we mysteriously found in our apartment had been placed there by some sort of friendly spirit. (As opposed to, say, rolled by us or one of our friends, and then forgotten about.)

Greta Christina

You wanna know the really funny part of that story, Zadfrack? My boyfriend at the time and I had this thing about pre-rolling our joints and marking them with little dots depending on which batch of weed they'd come from. The mystery joint that we found was marked with a blue dot... but because we couldn't remember marking any of our joints with blue dots (just black, red, and blank), we concluded, not that we'd marked a joint with a blue dot and then forgotten about it, but that the friendly spirit that had left us the joint was also a playful trickster spirit who was messing with our minds.


As Joan Didion said about something completely different, "Was anyone ever so young?" (Or so stoned.)

nina hartley

Great stuff so far, Greta! Religion was never spoken of much at my house, but all three of my siblings, as well as my parents, have chosen religious lifestyles. I'm the lone atheist in my immediate family, I think.

I distinctly recall a moment in second grade when i just KNEW that there was no god, that it was a story. I don't know where it came from, as my parents didn't say there was no god.

Even later in life, when I experienced an opening of my heart that, even as it was happening, I recognized as the sensation/moment/realization that believers label "being saved," or "feeling Jesus' love,' or "feeling the presence of god." I knew then that the capacity for belief is a hardwired thing that our brain does; that the experience of trancendence is physiolgoy at work. When these sensations (that I got to via sex and the body) are present, our forebrains automaticaly label them (since labeling things is what forebrains DO), and we use the language of our early training. Since I had no god training, I had no god language to attach to the experience to "give' it meaning. So, I was able just to be grateful that I was able to let another person touch me deeply and move me emotionally.

I'm a deeper person, spiritually, now than I was then, but I still believe that man created god and not the other way around.


I've had the "transcendence" experience that Nina speaks of many times. The first times were when I was young in the Mormon church, and I just knew that the feeling was the Holy Ghost confirming my testimony. But then I had those feelings again in other churches, and in Pagan rituals, and listening to music, and sitting above the salt flats of Death Valley.

That's how I've come to my atheism... by realizing that these exalted feelings that people label as religious or spiritual and that "prove" to them the truth of their beliefs must be physiological since they can be brought on by many catalysts. These days, I prefer running, meditation, and music. I get the same heady sensations of bliss and connectedness without labels, doctrines, and dogma.


I really love what both Nina and Beth have to say about the internal experience of transcendence and the multitude of real life experiences capable of acting as its catalyst. I've had it myself, many times, starting at the age of 16, staring into the glowing blue Los Angeles sky at dusk.

I had concluded in childhood, not long after I learned to read, that both the similarities and differences between mythologies, Judaic, Greek, Norse and others, suggested that all mythologies were simply stories people made up. That night in 1985, when the sky glowed, and I felt gratitude for its simple beauty, available to anyone with a moment to look up and enjoy it, was the first time I ever found myself believing in God.

Today, I have to acknowledge that of course that experience of transcendence is a physiological event, taking place in the human brain. And yet, a little voice inside says, "Well doesn't that prove..."

Nothing. It means nothing about anything, and yet, I still feel grateful. It really doesn't matter much to whom or to what I feel grateful. But I do believe it is better to feel grateful than to take it for granted.

"Take it for granted." What the heck does that mean anyway?

Rev. Cawley

Great, you said, "That's how I've come to my atheism... by realizing that these exalted feelings that people label as religious or spiritual and that "prove" to them the truth of their beliefs must be physiological since they can be brought on by many catalysts."

Question: What if there is a God is moving in your heart through these many catalysts you speak of? God is not limited to Mormon religious services or "religious" music or events! In the United Methodist (Wesleyan) tradition, we say that there are many "means of grace" by which we experience the transcendence of God.

Maybe God's way of reaching you specifically is not through "religious" resources but through running, meditation, and music? Maybe? Possibly?

Remember, you can believe in the existence of God without labels, doctrines, and dogma.

(Just some transcendent thoughts.)



You're arguing for an inclusive definition of "God", but not defining it clearly enough to say whether you're stretching it to include Greta's world view or not, but let me assume that your definition requires some semblance of self-awareness, consciousness, or will. Greta's writing indicates that she doesn't believe in that, so...

Answer: Then Greta's wrong. And I'm wrong. And lots of people are wrong. And that makes not the slightest difference at all.

Today, it is not possible to distinguish the world we live in from a world without a God. There is no observable situation in which the existence of God causes the slightest effect on its outcome.

Thus, assuming that there is no God is simply more intellectually economical that assuming that there is one who chooses not to affect the progression of the world in any perceptible way.

When it becomes possible to distinguish the world we live in from a world without a God, then it will matter. Until then, the answer to your "what if" is "absolutely nothing."

Greta Christina

Welcome to the blog, Rev. Cawley! It's nice to see you here, and I hope you come back. After my last experience debating a theist (the guy who insisted not only that hell was definitive truth but that genocide and the infanticide of one's enemies were morally defensible), it's nice having a theist here I can debate with who doesn't make me want to run screaming into the night.

Just to clarify, though: I don't, in fact, think that exalted or transcendent experiences "must be physiological since they can be brought on by many catalysts."

What I think is that physiological/ natural explanations of these experiences are *the most likely* explanations -- far more likely than religious or spiritual ones. I think Julia Sweeney said it really well in her performance piece "Letting Go of God": "The world behaves exactly as you expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural."

Why I think that is a long topic, one I've talked about elsewhere and I don't have room to get into in a comment. But the very short answer is:

a) There's no evidence supporting the God hypothesis other than Scripture or people's personal experiences, neither of which is very good evidence.

b) Given what we do know about the world, the God hypothesis is an extraordinary claim... and I think extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (certainly more extraordinary than Scripture or personal experience).

c) When you look at the history of the world, you see an exceptionally consistent pattern of natural explanations of phenomena replacing supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times... and supernatural explanations replacing natural ones exactly never. Given this pattern, it's reasonable to assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably natural unless we have some very compelling evidence suggesting otherwise.

Again, it's not that I think the supernatural or spiritual has been definitively disproven -- it's that I think that it's very, very unlikely.

And I also agree with Eclectic's point. While I find the liberal, ecumenical God to be far more morally sound than the rigid conservative one, I also think he's been defined virtually out of existence -- he's so abstract and so non-interventionist that he's indistinguishable from there not being any God at all.

Hope that clears things up a little about where I'm coming from. I'll have more on some of your other comments when it's not one in the morning. :-)

Thank you Greta Christina for responding to my post...even at 1 a.m.

I was thinking about what you said, "There's no evidence supporting the God hypothesis other than Scripture or people's personal experiences, neither of which is very good evidence."

I'm not sharing all of this in order to persuade you towards my beliefs. I just want to 1.) share why I believe what I believe, and 2.) I just wanted to ask a question...

But isn't the evidence all around us? Every building has a builder. Nobody asks for proof that the builder exists! Every painting has a painter. Nobody asks for proof that the painter exists! Every car has a car maker. Nobody asks for proof that the car maker exists! Every design has a designer. Every archetectural design has an archetect. Nobody asks for proof that the archetect exists! So when we look at the vast, complex, intricate design of the universe, even if evolution is true, isn't it reasonable to assume that there is an Infinite Designer and Creator?

To me, science explains the universe to us, but religion responds to the questions of why: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying,"Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble."

As you may know, the eye has 40,000,000 nerve endings, the focusing muscles move an estimated 100,000 times a day, and the retina contains 137,000,000 light sensitive cells. Charles Darwin is quoted as saying, "To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

I suspect that some persons become athiests because they got "burned" (metaphorically) by organized religion, or they prayed that God would heal a sick loved one, and the miracle didn't happen, or the athiest just wants to live life on their own terms, and not be told how to live. I understand and have wrestled with ALL of these, believe me.

Ultimately I believe in God because 1.) the historical evidence for many Biblical stories, including Jesus. 2.) I've seen too many so-called coincidences in my life (meeting my wife, birth of my child, my own birth wasn't something that was "suppose" to happen medically speaking).

In the words of author Bernie Siegel M.D., "Coincidence is just God's way of remaining anonymous."

I understand that you have a wife. You and your wife obviously fell in love and made a commitment to one another. There's two ways of looking at that: 1.) God worked "behind the scenes" to bring you two together through a series of events. 2.) The two of you met by chance and happened to fall in love.

Whichever belief that you choose says more about you than about your belief system. My belief and worldview says more about ME than it does about that specific belief and worldview. I believe that we see life the way we want to see life.

Anyway, thank you for staying up until 1: 00 a.m. to respond to my last post. I laughed out loud when you said that it's nice having a theist here I can debate with who doesn't make me want to run screaming into the night. I have to deal with my 19 month old daughter who literally screams into the night. Ha, ha, ha!



"1.) God worked "behind the scenes" to bring you two together through a series of events." Yes, it can now be admitted: I am God. In all have nothing to say. No, wait, there was something I wanted to say about evolution: "As you may know, the eye has 40,000,000 nerve endings, the focusing muscles move an estimated 100,000 times a day, and the retina contains 137,000,000 light sensitive cells." It doesn't seem at all "absurd in the highest degree" that this is the result of natural selection. The people with fewer nerve endings and light sensitive cells in their eyes were probably mediocre hunter-gatherers and got killed more easily. The ones with more survived to reproduce. However, if the human eye was designed, the design is quite flawed. Why make the eye so very good, without making it perfect?

Greta Christina

What Rebecca said. Not about her being God, but about evolution.

I strongly urge you to read "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins. It's the best explanation of evolution I've ever read. And it completely demolishes the idea that a creator is the best explanation for the intricacy and complexity and vastness of life. What Darwin was saying was that evolution SEEMS absurd (to the 19th-century mind, at any rate)... and yet it's the explanation that's best supported by the evidence. (And as Rebecca pointed out, the myriad flaws in the "design" are far more easily explained by evolution than by a perfect designer.)

As to why Ingrid and I are together... there is a third option, other than pure chance and God's design. And that's a combination of chance and our own efforts. (I'd go into more detail about that, but it'd take too long, and anyway it would sound too smug.)

But I do think that chance plays a huge role in our of our lives... and that what seems like patterns and design and intent often turns out, on more careful analysis, to simply be some of the weirder ways that randomness plays out.

(For more on that topic, you might want to read my piece "A Lattice of Coincidence." It's a response to a belief in telepathy and other paranormal phenemena, but it also applies to God.)

Greta Christina

Oops. Forgot the link. "A Lattice of Coincidence" is at:

Rev. Cawley

Below is an excerpt from Outreach magazine, "Lee Strobel on Outreach," September/October 2007. I think you'll find it interesting regarding athiesm, and the reasearch regarding the historical Jesus...

"She was brought up Catholic, but by the age of 18 had abandoned her belief in God. She married a fervent atheist and became one of the most-read authors in America, penning a succession of stories about vampires and witches—unaware at the time that these books reflected her quest for meaning in a world without God.

Anne Rice, author of Interview With a Vampire (Ballantine), spent 30 years as an atheist. Then during periods of depression, she began studying the Bible.

Her faith rekindled in 2002, when she gave herself “utterly to the task of trying to understand Jesus himself and how Christianity emerged.” And that’s when she discovered something very curious.

An inveterate researcher, Rice prides herself on the accuracy of the historical world she creates for her novels. To prepare for writing about Jesus, she spent two years delving into the New Testament era, which included reading books written by skeptical historians.

“I expected to discover that their arguments would be frighteningly strong, and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud,” she writes in the afterward to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf). Surprisingly, the opposite occurred. “What gradually became clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments—arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance—lacked coherence,” she notes.

The arguments about Jesus Himself were full of conjecture. “Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions,” writes Rice. “Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.”

For years, skeptical historians have captivated the public with flashy new theories about Jesus. They present Him as the non-miraculous Jesus; the mythical Jesus who’s still in His grave; a Jesus who imparts wisdom but who is not the savior of the world.
But Rice found the impotent Jesus of doubting professors to be based on “some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’ve ever read.”

In the end, she became
“disillusioned with the skeptics and with the flimsy evidence for their conclusions.” Instead, she discovered that the writings of other highly credentialed (Christian) scholars—Richard Bauckham, Craig Blomberg, N. T. Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson, D. A. Carson, Larry Hurtado and others—were more than enough to establish the early dating and first-person witness of the Gospels."

Lee Strobel, a former athiest, has a new book for open-minded skeptics or seekers, The Case for the Real Jesus (Zondervan). To dialogue with Lee about this column, contact him at [email protected] or

Thank you for reading!


Rev. Cawley

I said this in an earlier post. I would love an athiest's response...

Every building has a builder. Nobody asks for proof that the builder exists! Every painting has a painter. Nobody asks for proof that the painter exists! Every car has a car maker. Nobody asks for proof that the car maker exists! Every design has a designer. Every archetectural design has an archetect. Nobody asks for proof that the archetect exists! So when we look at the vast, complex, intricate design of the universe, even if evolution is true, isn't it reasonable to assume that there is an Infinite Designer and Creator?

Athiests, what do you think?


Greta Christina

"I would love an athiest's response..."

We've responded. Rebecca and I have both responded. As has Richard Dawkins, and P.Z. Myers, and Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog, and every other atheist/ non-believer I've ever know.

The response: Evolution is a completely satisfying answer to the question of the intricacy and complexity and vastness of life. And a perfect divine creator, whether he created life all at once or just helped evolution along, is a completely unsatisfying answer to the vast assortment of quirks and flaws in what is supposedly a perfect design.

I strongly urge you to read "The Blind Watchmaker" if you're going to continue to make this argument, as it discusses this exact question in great and clear detail. This argument is not just extremely weak; it's absolutely guaranteed to get atheists to stop taking you seriously.


It seems to me that the "everything has a creator" argument goes like this: Everything human-made has a human creator. There are a lot of human-made things and they all have human creators. So far we're fine. No problem. But then the argument says: Therefore everything not human-made must have a not-human creator. The logic is flawed. Even if there weren't a TON of evidence of evolution, the logic would still be flawed.

Greta Christina

Thank you, Rebecca. That's a really good point.

There's another logical flaw in this argument, which goes like this: If the world and the universe are so vast and perfect and marvelous that they had to have been designed, not just come into being by natural forces... then who designed God? Isn't God also supposedly vast and perfect and marvelous? How could he just have come into being without having been designed?

And if you're going to argue that God just always existed... why can't you argue that the universe just always existed, too?

The God hypothesis doesn't answer the problem. It only begs the question.

Nurse Ingrid

When I was five years old, I asked my fundamentalist grandfather, "If God made everything, then who made God?" And he patted me on the head and said, "Oh, he always was." And even at five I found this answer entirely unsatisfactory. In fact, it may have been the first time it occurred to me that adults might not know everything.

As Greta said, positing an omnipotent god who created the universe doesn't answer the question at all -- it just moves it up one level. "Who designed the designer?" as Dawkins puts it. And personally, I have no trouble at all with believing that the Universe is In fact, I rather like the idea.

John B. Hodges

Regarding the "historical Jesus" and the evidence of the Gospels. I once searched the four gospels collecting Jesus' ethical teachings, i.e. everything he says for his followers to DO. I later went back and did the same for everything he reportedly says about how to be "saved". See my essay at

I noticed that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar to each other, and the Gospel of John is very different. There are a lot of quotations that are repeated, in whole or in part or with small variation, in more than one of the first three gospels. The Gospel of John has no quotations in common with the others. Each of the first three describe Jesus on many occasions as "casting out demons", to cure the ailments caused by demon possession; in John he never does this. In each of the first three, Jesus warns of Hell and eternal punishment; in John he makes no mention of either. If all you had read was John, you could think that there was no Hell, that unbelievers will simply die. Each of the first three has an apocalyptic chapter, where Jesus warns of the coming tribulations, followed by Judgement Day. In each of the first three he says "This generation shall not pass away till all these things take place." In Mark 9 he says "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power." He seems to think Judgement Day will come SOON: in Matthew 10 he says "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes." It is striking that there is no apocalyptic chapter in John. I have read that scholars generally agree that Mark was the first Gospel written; Matthew and Luke were based partly on Mark and partly on other material; and John was the last one written, no earlier than 100 A.D... so John was actually written after that generation HAD passed away. I suspect that John was written by church leaders to subtract inconvenient material from the story. The apocalypse that had not come was an embarrassment, so they did an Apocalypsectomy. The ethical teachings of Jesus were very challenging, and most of them made sense only if the world was ending soon, so the authors of John deleted most of them. They made him speak much less of doing and much more of believing. They also took out the parts about hellfire and demon-caused illnesses. They made a much easier and more widely appealing gospel. But I don't think it much resembles what the historical Jesus may have taught.


My pointless two cents:

I grew up in China, in a very atheistic society, and up until the age of 10 did not know that there were people out there who seriously believed in religious/supernatural things, because I was always taught that they were just myths that people used to believe before more correct explanations were found. After my family moved to New Zealand, there was a period of time when I tried very hard to be Christian, but that didn't work out due to the lack of promised miracles and my natural/nurtured curiosity (I've always been fascinated with scientific discoveries, ever since I was old enough to read, and I read a LOT).

After that, there was a number of years where I sort of believed in the things you outlined here, although I wasn't so sure about plants having souls. I believed in reading tarot cards as a way to tell the future, thought often about reincarnation, fate, the unity of a world-soul etc.

And then, at the age of about 16, I played Final Fantasy 7, which is set in a fictional universe that works just about exactly as you described in this post, with the constant recycling and growth of spiritual energy (which compose the "Lifestream") in the planet (named "Gaia"). And... after I played the game, and thought about the mythology it presented for a bit, I turned around and looked hard at reality (and did some research on the evidence) and thought: "Er, no, that doesn't fit at all. Reality isn't like in the game, so I was wrong..." It was hard to give up that kind of wishfulness for magic and spiritual guidance, but I managed it, eventually, because I find it very hard to lie to myself for long periods of time.

It just goes to show, sometimes popular entertainment can inspire great things. :D


Jesus loves you with all his heart. Even if it is breaking for you, he'll never stop loving you.


Jesus should go to therapy! This unhealthy stalking people who does not return his obsessive "love" is really not healthy! Before you know it he will shoot a president or something to impress Jodie Foster!


You know, it really annoys me to think of the many people who mislead others into thinking that baptism is necessary to go to heaven. It never says that in the Bible. Jesus specifically said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man may come unto the Father but by me." I haven't been baptized, but I'm a Christian. People may be baptized, but that doesn't mean they are believers.

And, if you were a believer, you can't "stop" being a Christian. There's no take-backs.

So, one of two things is going on here:
One- You're still a believer, but have drifted from God
Two- You were never a believer.

Personally, I think it is the second.


Oddly enough, Zachary, you're actually right, in a skewed sort of way. You seem to be taking it as read that "believer" = "Christian", and Greta has said in various places that she was never a believer in Christianity.
Coincidence, however, doesn't save you from the bare bald fact that many atheists *are* former Christians. Their belief was just as solid as yours, and whether you want to believe it or not, it is possible to stop believing in the truth of Christianity.

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