Apologies (accepted) & Napkins (used well)


Greetings Russell and Friends,

Much of my reading and writing this week has been in the comments concerning my last post on God’s goodness or lack thereof.  That is a new and exciting way to interact with our new friends – – something that we’ve seen modeled on several of their blogs.  Much of the content in these blogs is in the comments.  So we’re slowly addressing your reasons for doubt and unfolding the map to your intellect and heart.  I find your mind to be fascinating, likely because it is very different from mine.  I also find it fascinating when you and your wife J (aka CC) write each other from the same room.  Fascinating, and completely valid.  She said the following after you apologized for the length of your comments.

Your napkin drawing (that happened on paper, but same idea) was far more effective. Even if you has said the same thing in many thousands of words, I think fatigue would have prevented me (and perhaps others) from getting it. Are there readers who skip your comments altogether because of the length (knowing that they don’t have time in the Subway line)? You have so much to offer that I don’t want it to be missed for that reason.

I need to accept your apology and resist my impulse to reassure you that apologies are never needed.  That impulse does not honor the reality of friendship.  When I apologize I would rather have that apology accepted than deferred.  Why do I accept your apology?  Because I recently found myself in a Subway line trying to engage the blog content and I couldn’t attend to your very good comment, primarily because of length.  I read and scrolled, scrolled and read, gave up, then ordered a six-inch wheat black forest ham toasted with pepper jack cheese, green peppers, red onions, black olives, banana peppers, spicy mustard and a little bit of sriracha sauce.  I woke at four this morning intending to read every single one of your comments.  I’m actually a slow, plodding reader – – speed reading is anathema to me.  And I did, but it took two hours to do so thoughtfully.  Smaller bites and clarifying questions is good advice from your bride.

What about napkins?  That is a favorite strategy of ours when we meet for breakfast.  Back of the envelope analogies fail because the only envelopes I seem to have contain junk mail and I rarely have them at breakfast.  Likewise, we have never eaten together at a restaurant with cloth napkins.  I’m not saying that we couldn’t write on those napkins, just that it could get a little strange or tense.  In the napkin above I’ve illustrated a general taxonomy which may or may not be correct.  The horizontal axis represents a way of thinking – – like you or me.  The vertical axis represents a skeptical or theistic belief.  I’ve taken the liberty of asserting that you think the most like you and I think the most like me.  We serve as paradigmatic members of the quadrants:  you the Russell-like skeptic, me the Pascal-like theist.  Then I’ve assigned several of our more active writers to the quadrants as I see them.  I chose Madalyn for my way of thinking, albeit with very different beliefs, primarily because I find her writing style very easy to read.  I chose Howie for your way of thinking because when he first came by I thought you had adopted another pseudonym.  And so forth – – it’s a bit like picking teams for dodgeball.  It would be better for people to assign themselves – – then I could redraw the napkin, although I did find the creative effort to be draining.

Why a tangential discussion about napkins?  Because I’ve taken so many tangents this week trying to see how we see things differently.  Did you know that Bertrand Russell was an opponent of coherentism as an epistemic strategy?  I did not.  Did you know that Soren Kierkegaard requires too many special characters in the correct spelling of his name to be my favorite philosopher?  That was a joke (although true).  He’s not my favorite philosopher because I don’t have one yet.  Kierkegaard valued the subjective in his understanding of truth.  I didn’t know that, but I’ve encountered him before in many readings and it is probably time to go to the source.  My tangential responses to your comments and your linearity help me to learn and also to respect that I many not ever be able to reply to you in kind.  I understand your objections, I just don’t process the world that way.  And that is okay.  I’ll do my best.  Let’s have breakfast this week.

For our friends — which napkin quadrant would you place yourself in?  Any takers for the lonely square?  If you are one of the 8-in-ink and consider yourself misdrawn I am prepared to revise.



photo credit:  the napkin on the table, Pascal, my own work Creative Commons share and share alike


  1. I am placed correctly 🙂

    I love this post.

    I also love Subway’s creamy sriracha, which you recommended to me in a Subway line many months ago. I ask for so much of it that they look at me like I’m crazy and ask if I’ve ever tried it before. So thanks for the rec!

    The blank space is telling. Can we find a theist who thinks like Russell does? Does one exist?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Life would be so much easier if I could subscribe to just one of your boxes with any degree of confidence. From my perspective, my modes of thought and of approaching a given subject are difficult to define; perhaps not so from that of an outside observer. Perhaps they’re simply so incoherent as to obviate the need for classification. I’m not sure they’ve ever really gotten me anywhere besides farther into the fog. (I’m also not sure this bothers me.) In my mind, I am Quixote, with nothing but windmills intercepting my intellectual (if that’s the right word) charge.

    Can I be the axis?

    Side-note: Every time I ask for the sriracha sauce at Subway they try to give me the southwest. What’s up with that…? :0)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh my gosh, Vance—ME TOO!! I have to be on guard (not reading a long comment from Russell) so I can stop them when they almost invariably pick up Southwest Chipotle! Am I mispronouncing Sriracha?! (I assure you I am not, although I’ve been told I say it “cute,” whatever that means).

      The axis. Brilliant. I was wondering where you would put yourself, because I couldn’t imagine you in a box—your solution is elegant and didn’t require that extra columns or rows be added. Maybe I’m actually the horizontal line in the middle of the Pascal column? I know for sure I’m in the Pascal column.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I haven’t had a problem with Subway confusing my sauces, but allow me to suggest a possibility. When I go to Thai restaurants, I ask for whatever level is right below the spiciest available. I almost always get mild and have to ask for a side of chopped chilies to dump in. I think sometimes people just don’t believe you can handle the hot.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Exactly, Madalyn—on a five-star scale, I always want level four. I have to assure them and say “I’m serious—four stars. I’ve had it fifty times.” The new Thai place downtown in the city I just moved to is throwing me off—they only have four levels.

            The servers of spicy foods and the people who hold different beliefs from ours at times fail to recognize that we all experience and interpret things differently. It’s important that they don’t try to put us in a box we don’t belong in. In one napkin drawing I’m in a box with the labels “thinks like Pascal” and “skeptic.” In another napkin drawing I could be in a box with the labels “orders spicy food” and “can actually handle the heat.”

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Madalyn, yesterday I had the very strong desire to text you about my Thai food experience. Let’s just say that pride goes before the fall…and before the perspiration and the hiccups and the swollen lips. I don’t know what my go-to Thai restaurant did differently this time, but I think they might have read this comment thread and decided to show me which square on the napkin I really belong in.

                Liked by 1 person

        2. See-rah-tcha, with the emphasis on the second syllable. That’s right, right? Even if it’s not perfect, I don’t think it’s so laughable that it’s “cute.”


  3. I’m not sure I fit on the napkin. Certainly I’mnot a theist, but a skeptic is one who withholds judgment until the evidence comes in, promising to follow where it goes when and if it comes in. I put myself in a new category where I don’t perform the act of withholding or promising anything, I simply try to understand what is there. I don’t try to understand, for example, abiogenesis, because even if the evidence was there it would probably be contaminated by the existing biosphere. Instead, I start with life as a given and try to understand how it can become diverse over time, and in the course of that understanding I don’t see a divine hand. And of course theists denigrate this approach, going, “Wow, you have more faith than I do!”. But they’re not asking the same questions I am. We’re like two ships approaching and passing each other in the night, on auto-pilot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Welcome back. Just as you don’t speak for all atheists, I can’t speak for all theists. But I don’t denigrate your approach. Every now and then our ships will flash the signal lights.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An interesting exercise, Pascal. I think you’ve probably pegged me correctly though I am curious about all the criteria. 🙂
    Russell’s posts and comments tend to be so complete that I speed read, perhaps missing things from time to time. I generally agree with him and find that clicking the ‘Like’ button is adequate for me. Your posts spur me to comment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An exercise indeed. It was (is) part of the process of understanding how to like, respect, and understand someone who is wired very differently from me. I completely oversimplified Russell’s journey because I didn’t comprehend how his mind worked.


  5. Ah, very brilliant Pascal! You knew a light post could do us some good. I enjoyed the subtle humor here. I didn’t catch this one at first: “I’ve taken the liberty of asserting that you think the most like you and I think the most like me.”

    I see the napkin filled not with 4 boxes but filled with an infinite amount of points that we could fit in. But I still enjoy the categorization because my brain works that way too. Russell, Nate and I undoubtedly belong in the same region, and I’m sure they would both agree. It’s no surprise that all three of us work in computer related fields.

    I’ve also wondered if Russell and J write each other from the same room. My wife and I always get a kick out of having online conversations with each other when we’re in the same room. I can’t do it for long without giving up and saying “ok, this is just too bizarre”. 😉

    Thanks for the link to my blog!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We write often from the same room, and most recently from the same table. We don’t interrupt each other that way, and I’m far more articulate on a keyboard or with a pen. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

        1. That’s an ironic mistake, considering what I was saying!

          Ok, that made me laugh J, and laughter is always good. 🙂 I actually understood exactly what you meant in your original comment but maybe because of background knowledge.

          Speaking of mistakes in writing, I hope my grammar errors don’t bother you and Pascal too much (like squeaky chalk on a chalkboard). It’s been so long since I’ve studied grammar and there’s a mistake in my comment above that’s glaring at me right now. 😉 I’m sure there are many more I don’t even recognize.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Grammar mistakes really get to me when I’m reading something that has supposedly been written by a professional writer, edited by a professional editor, then published—especially if I had to pay to read it. My expectations are high in those cases, and grammatical errors cause me to question the scholarship of the writer.

            When I read a blog belonging to someone who is not a professional writer, it doesn’t bother me in the same way. And when I read the words of a friend like you, I care so much about understanding your heart that I barely notice things like punctuation and apostrophes.

            If that really bothered me, I’m not sure I could be married to Russell 😉

            I also think that there’s a time and a place for grammar, and that some writers produce their most excellent work when they defy its laws.

            One more thought—autocorrect has ruined us. I just had to manually delete the apostrophe it automatically placed in the word “its.”

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Not only does it not bother me, but I seldom notice. The brain’s autocorrect is an amazing thing, which is why it is so difficult to proof one’s own work. Russell and I cheat and revise our mistakes when we find them later 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hey Pascal – I’m glad to hear it doesn’t bother you. I know you are both grammar experts. I go back and fix my grammatical errors on my blog as well. 🙂


  6. Nice post, Pascal.

    I definitely think I’m in the correct square. 🙂 I agree with Howie, of course, since my first thought was that this is really a continuum. We (Howie, Nate, Russell, etc.) weak agnostic, weak atheist possibilians do tend to think alike (not trying to say you guys all hold these exact views).

    I’d love to pursue where you (or anyone else) think the difference actually is between our ways of processing the world. Notice I didn’t try to answer that question with 5 long possibilities like I normally would, but instead stuck to 5 sentences as J encouraged me to. 🙂

    Looking forward to breakfast!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Pascal!

        Okay, I couldn’t put this in my first comment (five sentences) but I wanted to mention that I have some reservations about the term skeptic when discussing a difference in our manner of thinking. Once your eyebrows come back down I’d like to just say that, I openly confess to being “skeptical” about the Bible’s trustworthiness, but I don’t consider myself any more skeptical than you on any other topic (nor do I consider anyone who isn’t in the “skeptic” row of you grid to be any more gullible in general, etc.). Also, if you google skeptic, I don’t fully align with either definition – though I generally find the term helpful to represent my stance on the specific issues for which I’d prefer to be cautious before committing to a belief (as you would).

        I think your grid is great for the point your making, but I just mention this because I’ve often seen “skeptic” vs “theist/non-skeptic/etc.” used to point out a different way of thinking that sometimes doesn’t actually apply outside of the topic in question. 🙂

        In some of those cases, the differences are due to some people either being aware of different evidences (and favoring different methods of interpreting that evidence) than others, or some people being more or less willing than others to let desire play a major part in influencing their beliefs one way or another about the specific topic in question (e.g. religions they do and don’t believe, differing political views, sports teams, etc.). Basically, it’s sometimes less about “general skeptic world-view that’s causing the doubts” and more about a “skeptic attitude as a consequence of experience for the given topic.” 🙂

        See you in a few hours!


        1. I definitely should have held your comments to a word limit, not a sentence limit. You are getting lost in your own Pauline structure and losing count. As Howie very appropriately pointed out around our table as you play poker…THIS IS SIX SENTENCES (and would be many, many more if you were using punctuation appropriately).

          But I’ll let this one slide ;). I really appreciate the shorter posts and comments!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Haha, sorry! That was late at night and I got lost in my own “wall of text.” If you want to revise the challenge to a word count I’m up for it. I’ll work on my meta-physical haiku! 🙂


  7. I’m not sure why this just popped in my head, and maybe someone else mentioned it, but Russell, Nate and I all used to fit in the bottom right box at some point in our lives.


    1. I disagree, Howie, as far as Russell is concerned. While he thought this way overall, he didn’t apply his logical thought process to his faith. He made an exception; he was inconsistent. Once he brought all areas of his life into his natural thought process (and stopped the “special pleading”), he found that belief in the God of the Bible was logically incoherent.

      I’m not saying this is true for you or Nate, but I know Russell well enough to speak confidently for him on this. There was a time when he couldn’t even fit into the “thinks like Russell” column (with regard to faith).


      1. That’s strange that he didn’t think like Russell. 😉 But I understand what you mean. My first year as a Christian I really did think it all logically fit, and then fought with it at increasing levels for 4 years after that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “Once he brought all areas of his life into his natural thought process (and stopped the “special pleading”), he found that belief in the God of the Bible was logically incoherent.”

        This is an interesting comment. I’ve often noticed this dynamic in conversations with my brother-in-law, who despite being in possession of both an analytical mind and a PhD, seems to throw a railroad switch anytime he speaks from a place of faith. To an extent, I think this is inevitable: they are two levels of “knowledge” in some ways. From my perspective, in which all truth must stand on veracity rather than provenance (in other words, I don’t feel I can give the Bible or the words of a sermon a pass just because it is the Bible or based on the Bible), all subjects bear the same burden of proof. It is an epistemic divide that is almost impossible to bridge, and–I think–the main source of discursive breakdown between “believers” and “non-believers.” We think we’re having the same conversation, when in reality we’re engaging in simultaneous conflictive monologue. (Patent pending, again…) :0)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Vance, I continue to be so enthralled with your writing that I seriously think I might read your book. Although a book about Butler, MO sounds like the most boring thing I could ever read, I’m starting to think I might not be able to avoid it—and that I might even be nicely surprised, simply because you wrote it and I care about what you care about.

          That said, if you write a book about ANY other topic, I would probably read it first. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Veracity and truth have the same root word, no? The question is this – – how do we know? Two logical people find two different things – – one incoherence, another mystery. Is it the introversion/extroversion spectrum? Is it high/low reactivity? Can you tell that I’m reading Susan Cain’s Quiet and really like it? I’d love to meet your brother-in-law because I feel you could describe me the same way. In professional and financial situations, one part of my thinking and knowing is engaged. In love and faith, another.

          A man has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. William James

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Same root, yes. Which means my comment should be so painfully obvious as to go without saying. BUT…I was raised on one assumption (many assumptions, but this one governs them all–the One Ring, if you will): Truth (capital T Truth) is a function of sourcing, and cannot be known if the source is chosen poorly. No one comes to the Father, and all that. Which is why I was never encouraged to, and was in fact discouraged from, really exploring what other religious philosophies had to offer. I didn’t need it, see, because I had the Truth, all wrapped up in the 66 books of the New and Old Testaments, and anything outside of that was, literally, a lie of the devil.

            I have come to understand, later in the game than I like to admit, that truth is not truth because of where one finds it. Truth is truth because it is true, no matter where you find it. And untruth works the same way. I cannot accept the goodness of an abhorrent passage just because it comes from the Bible, any more than I can dismiss the goodness of a wonderful passage just because it comes from elsewhere.

            Perhaps truth and veracity aren’t the best terms to work off of. There are truths in the Bible, although their being in the Bible isn’t why they are true. This brings us back to your “usefulness” idea: these things, incorporated into our lives, assist us in being better human beings, and shouldn’t be dismissed just because they’re in the Bible. We don’t–or we shouldn’t–dismiss Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on democracy just because there were slaves at Monticello. He is, historically speaking, an imperfect teacher of wisdom. So is the Bible. And the Gita. And everything else.

            As for two logical people reaching different conclusions, that is a point well made and well taken. Andy (my BIL) and I each spent a long time realizing the intelligence of the other. Once we did, the conversation progressed swimmingly. His faith, the railroad switch in his head/heart, inspires him to lead an upstanding, principled life, as my lack of railroad switch inspires me to do in my turn. We are essentially living the same experience, while walking separate paths. So, even when the switch is flipped and we’re talking at cross-purposes, I can see a good man living his life in the best way he knows how. And why would I fault him for that? Or you, or anyone else?

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Hello, my friend. I don’t want to be unclear here and my point is easy to miss. I can substitute mystery in place of incoherence and I do it regularly for the Bible. I can not bring my mind to substitute mystery in place of direct and clear contradiction, and this is what I’ve been struggling to express. Perhaps I’ll draw on paper at breakfast and you can show me a way out on this conundrum. 🙂

            Gentleness and respect,



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s