I entered college a devout Christian and left it an atheist.

In the decade since graduation my atheism has become more profound but less vocal. Nothing that I have seen or heard or read has indicated to me that there is any sort of supernatural world, any spiritual realm, anything other than this physical world in which we live.

I have not turned my back on religion; religious belief continues to fascinate me, has shaped my life, but for myself, I do not believe.

As anyone, I am the sum of my prior experiences, the totality of all that I have heard, seen, read, and done. These experiences have — for better or worse — been filtered through the sieve of my mind until what remains is the essence of Who I Am.

But who am I?

I am a non-proselytizing atheist whose personal moral convictions are deeply rooted in both the Mormon and Mennonite faiths, those religions of my youth. My convictions are tempered by personal experience and by ideas from authors as diverse as Charles Dickens, Plato, Ursula LeGuin, John Stuart Mills, Ayn Rand, Joseph Campbell, Milan Kundera, Daniel Quinn, Kathleen Norris, Wendell Berry, ad infinitum.

I believe that one’s ultimate responsibility is to oneself and to one’s own happiness insofar as this happiness does not infringe upon the happiness of others.

Though I’m a devout atheist, I try not to be an evangelical atheist. Spiritual evangelism is a curse, a blight upon this world. Spiritual evangelism is responsible for most of the Great Evil that humankind has committed: past, present, and future. If your belief system is sound, if your god is the One True God, then others will come to know it through your actions; you needn’t foist your god upon them. Evangelism is the telemarketing of spirituality. I deplore it.

I deplore it in atheists as I deplore it in the religious.

I’m willing to share my spiritual beliefs (as I’ve done the past three days), but I’m not about to force them upon anyone, to espouse them as true for all people. I do not believe the world would be a better place if everyone were atheist. (Well…)

Spirituality is an individual thing. What is right for me may not be right for you. What is right for you is almost assuredly not right for me.

Though I am an atheist, I continue to grow spiritually. (It is perfectly possible to be spiritual without a belief in any supernatural presence.) Reading is my doorway to enlightenment, as it always has been.

Many of the books I read take religion, or spirituality, as a central theme. Why is this? Do I feel some fundamental lack in my life? Do I pine for god, for salvation?


The quest for spiritual fulfillment has been a central human experience for millennia. It is a primary theme in the book of each person’s life. Naturally this has lead to an enormous body of literature in which religious and spiritual themes are explored. How can one help but read from this pool of books? Why would one want to avoid doing so?

I just finished Moby Dick: here is a book that is deeply spiritual without being religious, a book with spiritual themes applicable to all people, no matter whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, animist, or atheist.

I enjoy reading about characters or ideas with which I disagree. To do so is often enlightening, illuminating myself and others.

I’m evolving. I keep an open mind, consider new ideas. (I see many of my friends and family cling to some idea or other and never let go — they do not grow or change. This works for them, and that’s fantastic. It does not work for me.)

Some of my best friends are Christians. Indeed, it could not be otherwise in this country, a nation in which ninety percent of the population is Christian and ninety-nine percent believe in god. I am friends with these people not because they are Christians, but because of who they are. I don’t care what a person’s religious belief is so long as they do not attempt to impose their beliefs on me.

The people I most admire are those who have undertaken an intellectual and spiritual journey and have ultimately been able to make that Kierkegaardian leap of faith, and who reveal their faith through actions rather than words. Ken Kauffman and Michael Hampton are two that I admire; they are intelligent, learned, and devout. Paul Jolstead (who, incidentally, posted a comment to yesterday’s entry as I finished this one) is making this spirtiual journey, has traded his atheism for agnosticism for spiritualism and, perhaps, religion. His journey is thoughtful and deliberate, stopping at many points to explore ideas he finds along the way. I do not know what point he will reach, but I know it will not be an arbitrary choice, but a result of reading and thought. To an extent, Andrew Cronk is also making this journey.

I try to live a life that adheres to fundamental Christian values (especially Mennonite values), yet a life that does not require a belief in god, and a life that does not focus on the little things. It seems to me that spirituality and religion should not be about the details (“thou shalt not masturbate”, “thou shalt not drink strong drinks”, “thou shalt not eat pork”, etc.), but about the Big Picture instead.

It’s possible for an atheist to be more Christian than most Christians. This seems a worthy goal.

It’s no longer important to me that I be Right, that I find the One True Way. I don’t believe there is One True Way. It’s more important that I live a happy, fulfilled life and that my actions do not interfere with the happiness of those around me.

Yesterday’s entry has engendered several thoughtful responses to this subject. It’s as good a place as any to continue the conversation.


On 27 November 2002 (12:33 PM),
Dana said:

a) “What is right for you is almost assuredly not right for me.”

b) “…this has lead to an enormous body of literature in which religious and spiritual themes are explored. How can one help but read from this pool of books? Why would one want to avoid doing so?”

Quote a) answers quote b) quite handily. An unspoken assumption of tolerance of others beliefs and actions is that just because you don’t see a reason for it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It’s wrong or not deserving of respect.

c) “I enjoy reading about characters or ideas with which I disagree. To do so is often enlightening, illuminating myself and others.”

I think this is quite interesting, JD. No matter how much you enjoy reading about characters with which you disagree, you seem to actively dislike TALKING to people with whom you disagree about topics where you don’t see eye to eye.

I wonder if you would enjoy Aegypt, by John Crowley. It’s out of print and my copy got loaned out and not returned years ago. Good book, though, and one of it’s central themes is the evolution of the World View of society as a whole. Sort of.

On 27 November 2002 (12:57 PM),
J.D. said:

Dana, I cannot follow your first point. Could you rephrase it? I understand that you think A answers B, but the verbiage of the second part of your statement loses me…

I don’t think one should avoid being exposed to a body of literature (or anything else) simply because the ideas contained therein might be unpalatable.

I chose a secular school rather than a religious school because it seemed foolish to forego the broader experience. I’ve learned that I like Chinese, Thai, Viatnamese, Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, and Lebanese foods because I’m open to new things, even I’m happy with what I already eat. Though I’m happy to sample this food, I wouldn’t want to have a steady diet of any one cuisine. “Variety is the spice of life that gives it all its flavor.”

Regarding your second point: I do at time avoid conflict, epsecially when I think it is the best interest of the relationship which is affected by the conflict.

In general, though, I believe I’m quite open to discussing controversial topics with people with whom I disagree.

I am willing to allow for give and take. I share my ideas, I listen to what the other person thinks. I may even incorporate some of what they believe into my own mindset. If the person with whom I’m having the conversation is equally open, I enjoy the conversation.

But if the person with whom I’m having the conversation is open, not willing to consider my viewpoint, is only making a show of listening to my points, I don’t enjoy the conversation. In these instances, it’s like talking to a wall.

Then again, maybe my self-perception differs from others’ perception of me…

On 27 November 2002 (01:46 PM),
Dana said:

Ah, trying to be too minimal for my own good 🙂

Your second statement ends with:

“How can one help but read from this pool of books? Why would one want to avoid doing so?.”

These questions are written in such a way as to imply that they have a specific answer. The implied answers are that people can’t help but read from this pool of books and that there isn’t a reason for wanting to avoid doing so.

Are those implied answers true? Are they universal? In my opinion, no. And I feel that the first quote I included gives the reason that those implied answers are in fact not universal answers.

To put it another way, I agree with the first quote about what’s right for one not necessarily being right for another. I disagree about there being no reason for avoiding books with religious and spiritual themes. I disagree that people can’t help but read from books on this topic.


That’s all. Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation or anything 🙂

On the second topic, I guess I’m probably bringing along baggage from some of our earlier conversations.

I don’t think I’m wrong in lumping myself into the group of friends and family who “cling to an idea” and “never change”, at least in your view.

Some (many?) of our past conversations have left one or both of us frustrated at how pig-headed and uncomprehending the other person is, even though we both see ourselves as emminently reasonable and tolerant people. We are each perceiving the other person as being the unlistening wall, while we each think of ourselves as listening reasonably to the other and comprehending their point of view.

Clearly, one or both of us is wrong on this.

The last time this happened, I spent a lot of time thinking about the circumstances and my own role in our conversation. You ended the conversation rather abruptly because you felt it was putting our friendship at risk, and that avoiding the convlict was better than having the conflict.

I felt no such risk. Your disagreement with me did not make me feel that you were less of a friend, or that I couldn’t talk to you, even if you continued not to (in my perception) get my points.

But clearly either you felt differently, or something I was doing gave you a different impression of how I was feeling.

I guess on some level I see conflict as part of life. Yes, there are times when (and certain people with whom) I desperately avoid it, but on the whole there’s no way for it to be removed entirely, and sometimes I accept and relish it.

I see you as even more conflict-avoidance prone than I am.


Also, I think you tend to argue your positions more from an emotional place than what I what I would call a logical one. You present emotionally persuasive arguments, not necessarily logical ones. Again, perhaps that’s baggage from earlier arguments we’ve had.

I dunno.

On 27 November 2002 (04:55 PM),
Paul said:


I still admire your discussion. I hope what I add will not be construed as trying to sway you or proselytizing in any way.

I knew a girl in College that took a liking to me, I have no idea why because she was very religious (conservative Protestant). We spoke about Religion often and I said that I’m not one to believe but that I wish I could. She was trying to win me over to her side (she eventually gave up on a lost cause). I tell you this because I wonder that if that “wishing” I could believe was enough of a seed that led me to where I am now.

A few years later I starting reading Tibetan Buddhist books starting with The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I collected and read a couple dozen of these and read as much as I could. In one of them it said to let the possibility of belief be an intellectual challenge to oneself, ‘it’s ok if you don’t entirely belive now, just try it out for a while’. Pretty shrewd. I went to a sitting meditation once, sitting, breathing for an hour–longest hour ever.

I even started reading about Islam (as unpolitik as that might be right now). I went to a Friday afternoon meeting and felt about as out of place as a person can be.

I credit W. Berry with getting me to realize that I have a home religion, Christianity, and that there is plenty about the heritage to learn about and honor. I wrestled long and hard about what a “native” religion is (what is native to me a Norwegian/Irish North American, why is Christianity more native than Shinto?).

Another conversation: Sitting at a Canby HS teacher BBQ, drinking beer and talking spirituality with L. Kraxberger. Finally he says, “Oh, so you’re a dilettante?” Blankly I smiled,at first proud of the title then asked, “What’s that?” He said, “Someone who only reads about things but does’t actually DO them…”


That same fact came back a few years later, I can read all I want about this stuff but it’s just an intellectual exercise until I actually do something, meaning jump in and see what it’s truly like.

One of the hardest things I’ve done is to walk in the door of the church for the first time on my own terms(that is, not because my Mom and Dad were going).

Again, thanks for your candor JD it’s given me permission to do likewise. Sorry it’s so wordy.


On 27 November 2002 (07:18 PM),
Tammy said:

JD I too admire your openness in discussing this. I just can’t help but think of Uncle Steve (your Dad) and I know that he would want me to say the things to you that I am saying. JD the reason Christians are so evangelical is because they believe that when one dies they will go to hell to burn forever if they do not except Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives. When one believes in a real hell one must be evangelistic . We do not want our loved ones to go there! I am evangelistic. I am NOT evangelistic because I am an arguementative person. I am evangelistic because I love people and cannot bear to know that they will suffer an eternity in hell. Thats the long and the short of it.
And Paul if you’re still reading this I forgot to say earlier that I commend you in your search for God! May you find His peace in your home and in your heart this season! Love to all and especially to my baby cousin JD!

On 06 December 2004 (01:01 PM),
Greg said:

JD, thanks for some honest questions. I wonder if anyone spoke to you of Jesus Christ? He claims to be God, The Word and other things. If true, what He had recorded about himself is, by definition, very important, but then maybe He was just crazy. If you read what He says carefully you will find that He could not be half right, as some are wont to say. As is famously said, He is mad, bad or God – those are the only choices. I can understand anyone who makes one of those three choices, but cannot understand how anyone can choose anything different.


I entered Willamette University in the fall of 1987 intent on becoming a Christian missionary to South America, followed by a career as a pastor in the Mennonite Church. My course selections reflected these goals.

During my first semester, I joined Young Life, a Bible study group on campus, but found the group left me unfulfilled. Its members were petty and reclusive, the group insular. It reminded me more of the Mormon youth group I had fled than of the Mennonite youth group I had embraced. Young Life did nothing to improve my esteem of fellow Christians.

Willamette was a shock to me. Or, more precisely, the myriad opinions on campus were a shock to me. Canby High School provided me a good education, but an education in an environment in which opinion was essentially uniform. Opinion on Willamette’s campus was diverse. My freshman seminar, World Views, included people with decidedly different opinions than my own. In fact, World Views would be the most influential class I took at Willamette.

World Views focused on the literature of Victorian England and the sea change that occurred in that country during the nineteenth century. It featured readings from Bernard Shaw, John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and more. These were great minds, pillars of genius. I was staggered by the intellectual heights to which these men and women aspired. I dutifully read the assignments, but rejected most of their ideas; they did not fit with my Christ-centric conception of the universe.

Still, they had a cumulative effect.

By the end of my first semester at Willamette, I was overwhelmed. In only three months I had been exposed to a broad range of ideas (feminist theory, utilitarianism, communism, evolutionary biology, etc.), ideas that had changed the course of Empire. What chance had my mind against such might? My belief system was being shaken at its very foundation.

In the final paper for World Views, I wrote: “What I say is what I feel and not what I know. I know little but I feel much. Perhaps you should not attack me with knowledge but with feelings.”

This statement is telling. It illustrates my state of mind.

For years I had been transported by a euphoric religious fervor. My beliefs made me feel good, but I had never accepted God on an intellectual level. In fact, I had staunchly refused to engage in intellectual debates regarding the existence of, or nature of, God. I kept the conversation on a strictly personal, emotional level. I felt God in my life — or so I believed — buy my mind was not ready to tackle the topic; I had not even made a Kantian “leap of faith” (nor do most Christians). Despite having read a fair number of Christian apologists, I had merely bought into a philosophy and a culture that made me feel good.

(Aside: Now that I am older (and wiser?), I have no qualms with a person who buys into a philosophy and a culture that makes that person feel good so long as this “buying in” does not interfere with my happiness. There are actually times that I wish I could buy into Chrisitanity — the community of spirit has its appeals.)

During the writing of the aforementioned final paper, I first began to doubt the validity of my own beliefs: “I worship. You worship differently. Who is right? Let’s play a game: I’ll flip a god, you call heads or tails.” It seemed to me that my belief in the God of Christianity was perhaps arbitrary, based more on geography, culture, and chance than on the truth of God’s existence.

By the end of the paper, it was clear to me that my faith was on the line: “Next semester I will take Study of Major Religious Texts. Let’s see how well my dwindling faith responds now! Let’s see some proof. I want fire from heaven. Question everything. I’m waiting.”

That’s what my first semester at Willamette taught me to do: question everything. (And this helps and hinders me to this day, fifteen years later.)

I ended the paper by describing my reaction to all that I’d learned during that semester at college: “I fall to my knees and I pray. To a God that I’m thinking of giving my two weeks notice. I don’t know if he hears.”

(Incidentally: this paper to which I keep referring was pivotal in my intellectual development, but it was surely non-standard. It was hand-written in four colors of ink, written as an internal dialogue (not a monologue) that never addressed the essay topic (which was something like: describe the roles that Mill, Marx, Darwin, and Dickens played in shaping nineteenth century intellectual development). I was too self-absorbed at this point, too consumed by my own personal transformation at the hands of these authors to completely tackle the Big Picture. Professor Loftus refused to give me a grade for the assignment.)

I started my first semester at Willamette devoted to God, ready to spend my life in his toil.

I started my second semester at Willamette questioning God, challenging him: “Prove to me that you exist.”

My focal point during that semester was Introduction to Major Religious Texts. The course was less an objective survey of major religions than it was a Christian analysis of them. Still, it was enough to push me into the corner with the agnostics.

We studied the book of Job, a book I found ludicrous. God, as portrayed in Job, is a capricious child, wagering with Satan over the faith of a righteous man. God torments Job sadistically, as if He were a boy with a magnifying class, burning the ants. Is this the God I worshipped?

We studied Gilgamesh as a “primitive” religious text, yet it seemed no more primitive than the Old Testament. We studied the Bhaagavad-Gita, but I wasn’t impressed with Krishna and the demands he placed on his worshippers. They were like the demands that Jehovah (or Yahweh, or Whoever) placed on His followers.

Every religion we studied was, in its own way, a method by which humans could cope with a seemingly meaningless existence on the Earth. (This seems obvious now, but was revelatory at the time.) I moved from the camp of the Christian Existentialists to the camp of the Existentialists.

I was not long for existentialism; the philosophy was too nihilistic for me. I did toil among the ranks of the agnostics for a time, though, and this caused my carefully planned life to crumble. My life goals were no longer valid; there aren’t many agnostic missionaries. I fumbled around for a semester or two before deciding that psychology offered my best choice for a career. (Look where that got me!)

My last three years at Willamette were a gradual progression from agnosticism to atheism. As I read more widely, as I became more frequently exposed to the principles of the scientific method (also here), essentially the more I learned, the weaker my faith became until all that was left was an understanding that not only is there no God, there are no supernatural phenomena at all. No angels, no ghosts, no spirits, no life force, nothing. There is life, and that, itself, is awesome.

Still, I longed for a purpose to this life that only religion had been able to provide me.

[… to be continued …]


On 26 November 2002 (10:04 PM),
Tammy said:

Now JD did you really expect thatI would let this one go uncommented on? Lol JD you read all those books yet I wonder, Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? If not then why make a decision on God and who He is without first reading everything he has to say? My religion class at the college shook the very foundations of what I had learned growing up. I took a different route then you tho. When that happened to me I dug deep into Gods inspired Word to discover who he really was. My faith began to buld itself once more. You know JD God does not have to prove himself to anybody. “He is God and beside Him there is none else~” The Bible speaks of those “those that are ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth”. Jesus also says that unless you become as children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. All the knowledge in the world will not bring you to Christ. Proverbs says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God”. JD the only place to find God is on your knees. Forget the books; read the Bible! And unless you have read it from Genesis to Revelation then you have not given it a fair chance. I hope the end of the story will be that you have discovered that God cannot be boxed into our little minds but that by faith we must know that he is God! “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and LEAN NOT UNTO THINE OWN UNDERSTANDING: in all thy ways acknowledge HIM and HE shall diect your path.”

On 27 November 2002 (08:33 AM),
Paul said:

I am very interested in your jouney. I too have made a similar journey but in reverse. I went (am going) from non-belief to some sort of belief I’m not able to discribe as of yet. I look forward to hearing more about yours.

One thing though. You too easily dismiss your earlier “feelings” of God. You don’t give this feeling as much credence as your intellectual
beliefs. Isn’t this the classic mind/body split that has plagued us for so long. This split is the Great Mistake of Western Thought (wow). Weren’t those feelings some sort of Faith? Most people would like to have some sort of feeling, some strive their whole life for it, some never get it. I don’t think people want some doe-eyed, pious, naive feeling but something akin to Knowing (more than just intellectual). [Again, I’ll refer you to Brother Wendell in his “Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community.” His essay about Christianity’s culpability in the spoiling of the environment begins with a examination of the creation story (Genesis again) in that mankind is not made: breath + clay = man (the split) but rather breath + clay = soul. It’s still interesting to note that the etymology (sp?) of Adam and soil are the same (adama) so Adam is made from the soil.]

As long as I’m spouting off: There are forms of Christianity that don’t ascribe to the practice of Sola Scriptura (scripture only) that Tammy espouses…

Alexandria, VA

On 27 November 2002 (10:44 AM),
Scott said:

Religion as a word points essentially, I think, to that area of human experience where in one way or another man happens upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage, a come-all-ye; where he is led to suspect the reality of splendors that he cannot name; where he senses meaning no less overwhelming because they can only be hinted at in myths and rituals, in foolish, left-handed games and cloudy novels; where in great laughter perhaps and certain silences he glimpses a destination that he can never know fully until he reaches it. To the many in the world who wistfully or scornfully would deny ever having such experiences, the answer, I suspect, is that we are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe – life is complicated enough as it is, after all, and I don’t know why the trees are angry. We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, through some horror of the twelve o’clock news, some dream, some breakfast on the first and last of all our days, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded of. Only then, unlike the saints, more pigs always than heroes, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened even though we are not sure what it was or just where we supposed to go with it, is to enter that dimension of life that religion is a word for.

On 27 November 2002 (10:57 AM),
Tammy said:

Hmmmm and what form of Christianity would that be? Do they then call themselves Christian? I too have read other books but I’m just trying to say that salvation and faith are very simple and one needs no other book, or books, other than the Bible to point them to the Truth and the Life. Truly the Bible is enough. Why should one read others interpretation of the Bible rather than the Bible itself. The problem with embracing the Bible as the inspired word of God is that it is just too simple for intellects to grasp. They think that there has to be more. They cannot grasp even the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God…” So they turn to evolution and slowly their faith erodes. And slowly they work out their own faith. They move into the “twilight zone”; that time in their lives when the Light meets darkness. From there they move to evening and then finally into the darkness itself. That is a very sad state to be in. One must hang onto faith. Without faith there really is no existence. We all have faith in something than why is it so hard to have faith in God? Curious, Tammy

On 27 November 2002 (11:00 AM),
Tammy said:

Wow Scott I like that!

On 27 November 2002 (04:11 PM),

“Do they call themselves Christians?”

Yes, they call themselves Christians. I’m not dismissing scripture at all but merely suggesting that there is more than the Bible. There is tradition, lives of the Saints, there is Communion (the Eucharist). Some groups see that the Eucharist is central theme or event that their community revolves around.

It takes quite a bit of faith to believe that it is truly the Blood and Body of Christ of which one partakes at Communion (and not Kool-aid and wonder bread).

Golly, the waters getting pretty deep around here…[the “me” of 5 years ago would be rolling on the ground laughing at the “me” of now and what I just wrote.]



When I was young, I bought wholesale into the religion of my parents, as all children do.

A child accepts all that he is taught without question. He is taught to love and obey his parents, and to trust their guidance. If his parents tell him, “It is so,” then it must be so.

Even the most fantastic stories in this way become truth to a young mind.

In my family, the truth was that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that he had discovered golden plates which revealed another testament of Jesus Christ. The truth was that Nephi and Omni and Moroni and the other prophets of the Book of Mormon were also prophets of God. The truth was that this life was but a temporal manifestation of a grand, extended spiritual existence, an existence that existed prior to physical birth, and an existence that would continue eternally after death.

The truth was also that we could not drink coffee or tea or cola; on Sundays, we did nothing but attend church (as a child, the few times that we ever went to the grocery store on the Sabbath left me feeling dirty, unclean); we had Family Home Evening on Monday nights; we never took the Lord’s Name in vain; we bore our testimonies on Fast Sunday; we attended primary, seminary, priesthood; we called adults Brother Watson and Sister Smith; we lived in an insular world.

The truth is: I was happy as a child in this church.

The truth is: I became an unhappy young adult in this church.

My parents were very open-minded with us children. I do not remember them explicitly encouraging us to read, to explore, to ask questions, but they certainly never discouraged us. My father, himself, asked many questions and was not afraid to challenge the status quo.

As a result, I nurtured a curious mind. I read. I devoured books. I mostly tried to avoid that which might pollute my thinking, but I read everything else that was available.

(I can remember resisting The Great Brain series for years because I knew it made fun of Mormons. I finally succumbed when Tamati (Tom) Hall and his brother, Alan, loaned me the books. They were good Mormons. How could The Great Brain books be bad if recommended by good Mormons?

Skip the next paragraph if you are easily offended.

Curiously, Tom and Alan were also responsible for introducing me to another very non-Mormon book: Mortal Gods. Leaving aside the title (very ironic in this case), this slim science fiction novel was corruptive because it was the first book I’d ever read that contained sexual content. The book, totally unremarkable in every other respect, was responsible for my first masturbatory experience at the age of nine or ten. This was a Big Deal. Even more so than other religions, Mormons frown upon masturbation, and go to great lengths to discourage it.

A Science Fiction Book club mailer was bound inside Mortal Gods. The books I received from joining the club inspired me to start writing my own science-fiction and fantasy stories. Fast forward twenty years to this weblog.

Finally, the Great Brain’s younger brother is called J.D. This is a large portion of the etymology of my name; The Great Brain books were popular in Canby when I was in fourth and fifth grades.

Looking back, that evening when Tom and Alan, in all ignorance, loaned me The Great Brain and Mortal Gods had a tremendous impact on my life. Who would have guessed?

(On a purely geeky note — the date this event occurred could probably be determined because I remember that a version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was being shown on television. Let’s check the Internet Movie Database. Aha! 05 November 1978 — a Sunday evening, as I suspected. Why can I remember this but not remember to pick up milk on the way home from work?) )

I’ve never really known why my parents chose to leave the Mormon church. For myself, I may have stopped going if they had not. During junior high and my freshman year in high school, I began to have serious doubts about the church, not because of its theology so much as its all-too-human flaws. People were petty. They gossiped. They stole. They lied. I told myself that no church founded on God would have members that behaved this way.

(To be fair, this behavior can be found in congregations of any religion. At the time, though, it seemed, to me, to be localized to the ward of the church to which I belonged. I took it as a sign of corruption. My adolescent mind longed for purpose, for a righteous God, but could not find it in that spiritual environment.)

We left the Mormon church and turned to Zion Mennonite, the congregation in which my father was raised.

I was fortunate that my peers at Zion were friendly; they went out of their way to include me in their activities. This, in and of itself, seemed to me a radical change from the cliquish nature of the Mormon youth. I felt wanted. I belonged.

The brand of Christianity to which Zion Mennonite adhered in the mid-80s was a marvelous blend of strict Biblical theology and modern liberalism. To be sure, the Zion philosophy would have looked positively conservative to most liberals, but the members seemed generally open to new ideas, were willing to discuss possibilities so long as they were rooted in the teachings of Christ.

Mormonism had been inculcated upon me as a child, but I bought into the Anabaptist philosophy on my own, and with my entire being. These Mennonites were pacifists; they were not evangelical; they were thoughtful and caring; they stressed love: agape and philia; some members even asked questions and discussed religion on an intellectual level. Most of all, Zion felt like home in a way that the Mormon church never did. (In truth, it still feels like home.)

For three years I devoted myself to this brand of Christianity. It was liberating.

I was active in the congregation’s Mennonite Youth Fellowship (or MYF). (Today many of my closest companions are from that MYF circle of friends.) I read Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard and other Christian existentialists. I volunteered to lead Bible studies. (My favorite was a friendship-themed Bible study that featured The Velveteen Rabbit as a supplementary text.)

At this time, three disparate aspects of my life converged: my devotion to God, the Mormon emphasis on missionary work that I learned as a child, and the 1986 film The Mission, in which a Jesuit priest attempts to convert South American natives. At the end of high school, I decided that what I wanted most, what God had called me to do, was to become a missionary to those less fortunate than myself.

When I left for college, my intention was to train to become a missionary to South America.

But something happened on the way to that place.

[… to be continued …]


On 25 November 2002 (02:43 PM),
J.D. said:

I should point out two things:

1. I harbor no ill will toward Mormons or toward Mormonism. I recognize now that the problems I had with the congregation of which I was a member might have been present in any congregation of any denomination. There are good Mormon folk and there are bad Mormon folk. And Mormonism itself is, to me, just another religion.

2. One early source of doubt stemmed from the Mormon habit of stating “I know this Church is true” while giving a testimony before the church. Testimonies themselves seem to be unique to the Mormon church. (Essentially, one bears his testimony by standing in the midst of the congregation and professing his belief in the Mormon church and doctrines.) Even as a child I wondered how I could know the church was true. What did that mean? I had received no divine revalation. I had no other churches with which to compare it. How could I know the church was true?


Chamber of Secrets Photos

As promised, here are photographs of our costumes for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We were not the only ones in costumes. One group of teenaged girls were dressed as Gryffindors. Two rebels came as hobbits, bare hairy feet at all. I’d imagine that even more people came to the earlier shows in costume.

[Note: Again, these photos are very dark on certain monitors, but look great on my PC at home and on my iBook. I’m going to have to determine what is causing this problem.]

Aimee Rose as a Cornish pixie and Joel Alexander as a surly garden gnome

Jeremy and Jennifer as the Duke and Duchess of Hubbard, one of Hogwarts’ “living” paintings

Pamela as a house elf, Mackenzie as Professor Quirrell

Kris as “Hermione transformed into a cat after drinking the polyjuice potion”, J.D. as Uncle Vernon Dursley (note moustache)

James (?) as a Weasley, Clotilde as Hedwig the owl

Joel and Jeremy, further on the road to lung cancer

Maybe we can all dress in costume for The Two Towers. I’d love to see Joel go as Gollum. I’d have to be Gandalf the Wise, of course.


On 20 November 2002 (09:26 AM),
jeff said:

Your comments section could use some kind of seperator between posts. They all kind of run together if the poster’s name is not clickable.

On 20 November 2002 (10:00 AM),
Dana said:

I think you’d be more suited to a Hobbit than Gandalf… 🙂

The reason the pictures look dark on some displays continues to be the reason I pointed you at earlier. Here’s another discussion here, at “Why Do Images Appear Darker on Some Displays?“. Of course, I doubt think you’ll pay attention this time, either 🙂

On 20 November 2002 (10:06 AM),
J.D. said:

Done, Jeff.

And, Dana, I did look at the info you posted last time. It didn’t help!

On 20 November 2002 (10:40 AM),
Dana said:

Try here, then. The problem isn’t with your pictures, it’s with the machine displaying them…

On 20 November 2002 (10:42 AM),
Strongbad said:

The Cheat wanted me to tell you that your costume is really crappy. I mean, who are you supposed to be? You look like the freakin’ guy from the Woodwright’s Shop on PBS! A really awesome costume would have been one with a cool mask, and maybe some boxing gloves, and then…

On 26 November 2002 (10:40 AM),
mart said:

how f*cking cool are you JD?!?? strongbad reads yr blogs and comments too?!?! damn that’s cool. strongbad rules!

Stupid is as Stupid Does

By Saturday afternoon it had become clear that my knee wasn’t going to be sufficiently recovered to allow me to play in today’s soccer game. I wasn’t about to let my body to give me no for an answer; I’d been looking forward to this game for seven weeks, had spent too much of the season injured.

I pulled a Brett Favre.

In the twelve hours before the game, I took ibuprofen and hydrocodone in an effort to alleviate the pain. It worked. To combat the drowsiness these two drugs produced, I consumed a large quantity of caffeine. It worked.

Before the game I warmed up tentatively. Though jumping was painful, I felt I could play the game and help the team. And I did. For fifteen minutes. Then my knee gave out and, through the barrier of drugs I had erected, came a stabbing pain.

My actions leading up this point were foolish, but to my credit I did the right thing and yielded to my body. Cheikh finished the game in the net and did a fine job. I limped around the sideline and cheered the team.

I find that I like goalkeeping now that I’ve had a taste of it. I’d like to play keeper for the FC Saints in the spring, if possible, but I cannot help the team if my body is not strong enough to resist injury. My goal this winter is to become more physically fit, not only continuing my weight loss, but also building strength in my legs.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to do something about this knee. The hydrocodone and ibuprofen have worn off and the knee is causing me a lot of pain.

I’m so stupid sometimes: I thought I was being clever by deceiving my body so that I could play, but I was only being an idiot.

I’m going to miss soccer. I’m also going to miss the post-game bridge games that Mac, Pam, Joel, and I have had the last several weeks.

Still, I’ll have more free time now.


On 12 November 2002 (07:11 PM),
Pam said:

what do you mean, miss sunday bridge games? now we have ALL day to play!

The Mummy Returns

In June, the gang went to see The Scorpion King. It was a good time: the movie was so bad that it was fun. I recently borrowed The Mummy and The Mummy Returns from Joel so that I could see the first two movies in the series.

The Mummy isn’t bad. It’s no work of art, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Despite some gaping plot holes, it’s a fun flick, the kind where one can just let go and enjoy the ride. It attempts to blend action and humor; for the most part, it succeeds. I watched it twice (once with the director’s commentary).

The sequel, on the other hand, is a festering pile of crap.

It’s the kind of movie in which the eight-year-old kid doesn’t act or speak like an eight-year-old kid, he acts and speaks like an adult. Conversely, the adult who is guarding him doesn’t act like an adult, he acts like a blooming idiot.

The Mummy Returns is the kind of movie in which two dozen bad guys with rifles cannot shoot the small boy from short range when he flees them. (Though you wish that the bad guys would nail the little bastard.)

It’s the kind of movie in which the laws of physics don’t apply. Not even the laws of physics the movie has previously established. The physical laws change on a whim, so one gives up trying to guess what is possible because everything is.

It’s the kind of movie in which mummies can not only outrun a bus, but they can also gain speed in the middle of a jump as they attempt to leap aboard.

It’s the kind of movie in which a man can run up a rising drawbridge and, while the bridge is at a thirty-degree angle, leap twenty feet across to the other side.

It’s the kind of movie in which a flimsy wooden scaffold can topple a massive stone column.

It’s the kind of movie that reuses gags from its predecessor bit-for-bit (wall of Y substance is summoned by bad buy to take out good guy’s flying vehicle; good guy topples X structures like dominoes; “I don’t know what this symbol is!”). Twice it even re-uses gags from earlier in the same movie!

It’s the kind of movie in which things happen simply because they make nice special effects.

It’s the kind of movie in which a drawn gun makes more noise than rattling chains. Swords raised in air, encountering no resistance, slink and chink like scissors.

It’s the kind of movie in which the hot-air balloon that’s been traveling at a snail’s pace for half-an-hour movie time suddenly can outfly a rushing wall of water when the plot calls for it.

It’s the kind of movie in which the editing is so poor that you give up trying to remember whether the good guy was holding his gun in his left hand or his right because you know it’ll just change hands again in a few seconds.

It’s the kind of movie in which the characters wear the same clothes for an entire week of movie time, through battle after battle, yet at the end of the film these clothes look like they’re fresh from the cleaners.

It’s the kind of movie in which the plot makes so little sense that you begin to wonder if it was tacked on as an afterthought, a clothesline on which to hang the action sequences. (It’s as if the writer and/or director (one man is both in this case) designed the set pieces first and then created a story around them.)

It’s the kind of movie that is so impressed with itself that it has slow-motion fight sequences. (I couldn’t help thinking that the movie would be that much shorter if there weren’t any slow-motion fight sequences.)

It’s the kind of movie in which the CGI bad guy at the end looks so fake that you laugh, though you’re sure that wasn’t the response the film’s creators intended. Stop-action animation would be more convincing.

It’s the kind of movie from which I can remember all of this without effort (despite my notoriously poor memory) because these are but few of the many problems.

It’s the kind of movie in which you give up trying to make sense of anything at all and just wish the damn thing would get over with — you glance at the DVD counter and think to yourself, “My God! Are there really forty-five minutes left in this?”

Some films, like The Scorpion King, are so bad that they’re fun. The Mummy Returns isn’t one of them. The Mummy Returns is so bad that it’s awful. It’s Attack of the Clones bad. It’s Devlin-Emmerich bad. And that’s damn bad.


On 08 November 2003 (05:17 AM),
dowingba said:

When I left the theater after seeing Attack of the Clones, I can only imagine it was with the same awe-struck wonder that people felt when they left the theater after first seeing the original Star Wars. I know, I know, “it’s not Star Wars.” I don’t know what makes a movie “Star Wars” or not, but the effects alone made it worth my while. And while Hayden’s acting was pretty over-the-top soap-opera-ish, I found it strangely chilling.

And Padme (I don’t care how people say it’s spelled, it’ll always be “Padme” (with an accent on the ‘e’ that I can’t make on this cursed laptop) to me) is just hot. And she miraculously hasn’t aged a day in that 10 year span between Episodes! She must be an elf, like on Lord of the Rings.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings. The Two Towers must have Tolkien rolling in his grave. The first time I saw it, while uncomfortably long (in the theater chairs), I thought it had potential. But when I saw it on video 6 months later, I absolutely loathed it.

Oh well, see you in the future.

(P.S. in 2003, the world will be reverted to a desert wasteland and 75% of humanity will perish. Good luck! Happy new year!)

Better Living Through Wireless

I was beginning to believe I’d be able to make it through the rest of the soccer season without another injury. Last week I felt 100% for the first time all season, and this past Sunday was going well, too.


Until about fifteen minutes into the second half.

FC Saints had played well, managing to hold a 1-1 tie with one of the toughest teams in the league. A striker came blazing down the left side of the field but Brice managed to kick the ball from him, sending it toward our end line. I darted out from the net and booted the ball back upfield, but my momentum carried me to the side. I planted my foot to stop and pain. My knee went *crunch* and I dropped to the ground.


There is some minor swelling in the knee, and it’s moderately painful. It’s very painful when I try to walk up or down steps and when I try to pivot. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation: these are my friends. Perhaps if I take it easy, the knee will have improved enough that I can play in the game vs. Reed on Sunday, the game I’ve been looking forward to for seven weeks.

How’s the novel coming along?

It isn’t.

I have the plot mapped in my head but I have exactly zero words written.

Better living through wireless:

  • Thursday, Kris and I went to see Spirited Away but we couldn’t find the Fox Tower theater. Also, we realized that we needed to send e-mail to Aimee. We had the iBook with us so we drove around until we found a wireless node (it didn’t take much driving) and we sent the email and we googled the theater’s address. Awesome!
  • I loaned my PC laptop to Joel, forgetting to update my fantasy football league before doing so. (The fantasy football league’s software is currently only installed on the laptop.) Sunday morning, before the soccer game, I unborrowed the laptop from Joel and drove around until I found another wireless node, and then I ftped the league database and uploaded this week’s lineups to the web site. Awesome!

Dave, in true lawyer fashion challenged me on “leeching” wireless bandwidth:

Do you know that you were using a public node? If not, don’t you think that you’re trespassing by using someone else’s property/equipment/bandwidth? After all, if I left my front door unlocked does that make it right to wander into my house and plug your computer into my switch and start surfing the net?

Food for thought, yes — and we exchanged several long emails on this topic — but not enough to make me believe that use of a publicly accessible wireless node is a Bad Thing.

Kris and I rewatched Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. It’s better than I remember it, though the ending is still too noisy and spastic.


On 05 November 2002 (09:51 AM),
mac said:

hope your knee feels better. Knees are tough to heal in my experience. Minor injuries to ligaments take long periods of time due to a lack of blood supply. Hopefully this is not the case for you and you’ll be ready to go against the “–ther —-ers” from Reed.

I don’t know if I’d like someone using my wireless access for their own personal use especially if they could access my computer files.

On 04 December 2002 (11:37 PM),
Ron Roth said:

To get to the Fox Tower Theater take I-5 to I-405, take the 6th street exit and get in the left lane and stay in it until you have to turn left. After turning left, the Fox Tower is the entire 2nd block on the right. It sits between Broadway and Park and the theater entrance is on the Park Street side of the building.

Life of Pi

I should be reading Moby Dick for book group, but I’m not. I’m reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi instead.

I had heard the book was about a boy shipwrecked on an island with a menagerie. So far it’s about a boy who a) dabbles in the three major religions and b) lives and plays in his father’s zoo in southern India.

Still, I like it.

The protagonist, Pi, is an intensely curious boy. He is surrounded by Hindus, Muslims, Christians. He even encounters atheists and agnostics:

�Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them — and then they leap.

I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted to doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

Pi cannot choose one religion. He likes them all.

He is born Hindu:

I am a Hindu because of sculptured cones of red kumkum powder and baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine of the reedy nadaswaram and the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word — faith. I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for�.

But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for. Here too I am a Hindu. The universe makes sense to me through Hindu eyes. There is Brahman, the world soul, the sustaining frame upon which is woven, warp and weft, the cloth of being, with all its decorative elements of space and time. There is Brahman nirguna, without qualities, which lies beyond understanding, beyond description, beyond approach; with our poor words we sew a suit for it — One, Truth, Unity, Absolute, Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being — and we try to make it fit, but Brahman nigura always bursts the seams. We are left speechless. But there is also Brahman saguna, with qualities, where the suit fits. New we call it Shiva, Krishna, Shakti, Ganesha; we can approach it with some understanding; we can discern certain qualities — loving, merciful, frightening — and we feel the gentle pull of relationship. Brahman saguna is Brahman made manifest to our limited senses, Brahman expressed not only in gods but in humans, animals, trees, in a handful of earth, for everything has a trace of the divine in it.

Although Pi is born Hindu, he is drawn to other religions:

I was fourteen years old — and a well-contented Hindu — when I met Jesus Christ on a holiday.

[Father Martin] served me tea and biscuits in a tea set that tinkled and rattled with every touch; he treated me like a grown-up; and he told me a story. Or rather, since Christians or so fond of capital letters, a Story.

And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine father saying to me, “Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.”

“Yes, father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.”

“Halleluhah, my son.”

“Hallelujay, father.”

What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology.

The chapter in which Pi becomes a Christian is especially well-written and it is difficult to pick any one piece to excerpt; it all flows together in a beautiful, orderly manner, representing the thought process that leads him to add Christianity to his Hindu beliefs.

After becoming a Christian, Pi also becomes a Muslim:

[The baker] was explaining to me how the bread baked on these heated pebbles when the nasal call of the muezzin wafted through the air from the mosque. I knew it was a call to prayer, but I didn’t know what it entailed. I imagined it beckoned the Muslim faithful to the mosque, much like bells summoned us Christians to church. Not so. The baker interrupted himself mid-sentence and said, “Excuse me.” He ducked into the next room for a minute and returned with a rolled-up carpet, which he unfurled on the floor of his bakery, throwing up a small storm of flour. And right there before me, in the midst of his workplace, he prayed. It was incongruous, but it was I who felt out of place. Luckily, he prayed with his eyes closed.

He stood straight. He muttered in Arabic. He brought his hands next to his ears, thumbs touching the lobes, looking as if he were straining to hear Allah replying. He bent forward. He stood straight again. He fell to his knees and brought his hands and forehead to the floor. He sat up. He fell forward again. He stood. He started the whole thing again.

Why, Islam is nothing but an easy sort of exercise, I thought. Hot-weather yoga for the Bedouins. Asanas without sweat, heaven without strain.

“What’s your religion about?” I asked.

His eyes lit up. “It is about the Beloved,” he replied.

I challenge anyone to understand Islam, its spirit, and not to love it. It is a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion.

The presence of God is the finest of rewards.


After the “Hellos” and the “Good days”, there was an awkward silence. The priest broke it when he said, with pride in his voice, “Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon.”

My parents, the pandit and the imam looked surprised.

“You must be mistaken. He’s a good Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qur’an is coming along nicely.” So said the imam.

My parents, the priest and the pandit looked incredulous.

The pandit spoke. “You’re both wrong. He’s a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darshan and performing puja.”

My parents, the imam and priest looked astounded.

“There is no mistake,” said the priest. “I know this boy. He is Piscine Molitor Patel and he’s a Christian.”

“I know him too, and I tell you he’s a Muslim,” asserted the imam.

“Nonsense!” cried the pandit. “Piscene was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu and will die a Hindu!”

The three wise men stared at each other, breathless and disbelieving.

Lord, avert their eyes from me, I whispered in my soul.

All eyes fell upon me.

So: although has not yet provided the promised shipwreck with a menagerie of animals (is “menagerie of animals” redundant?), I like it. The book is well-written, entertaining and thoughtful.


On 26 November 2003 (02:59 PM),
Icedragon said:

This is a wonderful, amazing, enlightening book. It has made me believe in God, thank you Martel, thank you Richard Parker, thank you Pi!

On 02 February 2005 (03:17 PM),
Kat said:

This book has the most amazing quotes… the insight is deeper than any mere mortal can hope to percieve. I cannot say that I loved the book, or even its plot but its message and theme are more moving than most. Read for detail for it is in these aspects that true feeling of the book is communicated.

The Lee Shore

Things you learn as an uncle:

When your nephew, in a fit of orneriness, spits all over your corn dog, the correct response is not to say, “Fuckin’ A!”


Here is my favorite chapter (so far) from Moby Dick:

The Lee Shore

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.

When on that shivering winter’s night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years’ dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet.

Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God- so better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing- straight up, leaps thy apotheosis! Good stuff!


On 02 November 2002 (03:26 PM),
Tammy said:

One time I watched the true story of Moby Dick on the history channel. It was fascinating! I probably wouldn’t have watched it but my husband wanted to see it and at that time we only had one TV so that meant I watched it too. Now I’m glad I did. After reading through your page I find the style too laborious to follow. But I do like how descriptive it is. Altho as mother of two busy kids and defender of my household I just could not find the time to read that these days. Happy reading to you tho.