About Russell

There are many things I wish I could tell you about myself. Unfortunately, the beliefs I hold come with a cost. The price is far less than many braver individuals have chosen to pay, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not ready to pay it myself. The unfortunate result of my reluctance is that I live a double life, unable to be true to myself and admit my beliefs publicly. Thus, I remain anonymous. And for the sake of my anonymity, so does my friend, Pascal.

What are these beliefs? Dear reader, I’m about to do something that I’ve never done. I find it so difficult and troubling, I’m visibly shaking as I type. Please understand, this really is hard. I’m going to make a confession that I’ve never made publicly in any way, and even though this is anonymous, it still feels like what I imagine some homosexuals might experience when they first discuss their orientation. It’s difficult for at least three reasons: 1) the difficulty of admitting it to myself, 2) the fear that my identity may one day be discovered so I may be admitting it to everyone, and 3) the fact that even my friend, Pascal, is unaware of what I’m about to say. I’m sure he suspects it, especially since I selected Russell as my pseudonym, but I’ve never admitted it. He knows of my general skepticism which is one of the reasons for our recent conversations and this blog. He recently directly asked me about my belief position. I changed the subject because we didn’t have enough time for a full answer, and really, because I wasn’t emotionally ready to admit it.

So here it is. Please understand my difficulty and try to take this with compassion. Pascal, and my fellow readers, I am an a. A. Ath. This is so very hard. I have actual tears trying to type that word. It appears I’m not ready to admit it yet. I hope to write a blog post sometime soon on why I turned away from my Christian upbringing and how I find myself here, now in tears.

Pascal, thank you for respecting my anonymity enough to hold my secret safe.

Other than my general belief position, few things are worth mentioning beyond the following:
I agree with Bertrand Russell that the “good life” is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. In this blog, as in all of life, I’m focused on knowledge, which mixed with wisdom leads to understanding, which provides the framework for better compassion. All this results in deeper love.

Why am I writing this blog?
Gentleness and respect. That’s a phrase from 1 Peter 3:15.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (NIV)

I recognize that the hope it’s speaking of is Christ, so for my position, that quote is out of context. However, I think this is exactly what’s missing today. There’s a reason that I can’t even type the word that represents my belief position. Some research suggests that to the average believer, non-believers are the most feared, distrusted, and despised group of people, about as respectable as rapists. This all stems partially from a great misunderstanding of each other’s position, which leads to a lot of burned straw men. One reason for this lack of understanding is that the mind is wired to interpret any challenge to closely held beliefs as a challenge to its model of the world, so it naturally reacts by attacking the threat. As a result, a few loud, vocal skeptics often arrogantly proclaim their seemingly dogmatic positions and rail at what they see as the arrogance and closed-mindedness of believers. Likewise, many believers do the same to skeptics. In short, I’m saddened by the vehemence with which the topic of spiritual beliefs is discussed. It is a very polarized issue that impacts real people every day. My hope is that if we can all learn to approach the issue with gentleness and respect, we can see through the hurt in people’s words, and peer into their hearts. This understanding may lead us to love one another, no matter what side of the belief fence we’re on.

When Pascal asked me about moving our faith discussions to a blog format, I wasn’t sure of the benefit. Then I realized how different our conversations are from many of those we see around us. There are not many places one can go to hear the Christian vs skeptic sides of this topic being discussed with gentleness and respect. My purpose for participating in this blog is to demonstrate how people can have this conversation with civility and love, in order to help encourage others to do the same. I know that the coming conversations with Pascal, as well as your comments, will help me understand and love all believers and fellow skeptics even more than I already do. Perhaps I’ll change my belief position a few times, and a few of you might too. Even if not, the more people treat those with opposing views with understanding, the easier it will be to admit my belief position to my own group.

If you continue to read this blog, please keep the tag-line in mind as you consider our words and the words of our commenters. Gentleness and respect.

Now, let us let down our defenses. Let us grow past the “us versus them” classifications that tear this world apart, and seek instead to learn about one another. Only then can knowledge lead to understanding, and understanding lead us to love those who disagree with us.

–Russell

18 comments

    1. Hi Howie!

      I had not heard of it until you mentioned it. Thank you very much for the reference. I looked into their site a few months ago and checked out some of their content. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you my friend!

      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I used to listen to some of their podcasts a while back, and they’ve got some good stuff. No worries at all on the delay Russell. That doesn’t bother me.

        I am however quite offended that you’ve never introduced me to your good friend Ipo. How long were you planning on waiting until introducing me? And now I only hear about him through a side conversation with someone else! Not cool man. I thought we were buds. What’s up with that?

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          1. You’re cracking me up Vance! I totally forgot about this comment I left before. I’m glad somebody got a kick out of my weird sense of humor. I hope Ipo offered that gift to you.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Nate!

      You’re a part of it. Please make yourself at home. If you have a question or thought for either of us, you can post it here, or here, or we encourage you to jump into any of the comment streams. We’ll do our best to respond in-line. I hope you have a great day!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

  1. Hi Russell/Pascal,
    I find it interesting that you claim atheism and quote scripture.
    And that you claim atheism and homosexuality yet stand behind the Biblical call to Gentleness and Respect as a ground rule for the interactions of others?

    As a Christian, I stand by not only these principles but also strive to be true to God who said them.
    We love all, and strive to love even our enemies.
    I would not consider you an enemy anymore than my two homosexual older brothers who died of Aids.
    Yet we cannot compromise our relationship with God to condone sin.
    Your desires are sexual and social in nature and therefore extremely strong. But you were not born this way. No biological markers exist though they have been sought after for decades.

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    1. I feel like I might be able to offer some clarification…as Russell’s wife I can assure you that he is not homosexual. And gentleness and respect existed and were desirable traits long before their scriptural debut.

      I do appreciate your loving attitude for all—but you won’t find gay people (or enemies) among the two authors of this blog 🙂

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        1. Hi again, Christ Centered Teaching!

          I feel like I should clarify who’s who on this blog in case some things were a little unclear at first. Forgive me if you got this already. 🙂

          Pascal is a friend who is a Christ-follower to a greater degree than I am. By that I mean that I follow many of the biblical teachings that I deem good. Pascal trusts the Bible is inspired by God and thus believes it is wholly useful/true/etc., including the claims about Christ being the son of God, salvation, etc. I do not trust the Bible that much, so I doubt such things (probably for understandable reasons if you can believe that I distrust it).

          CC (I sometimes call her J in comments) is my wife who is also Pascal’s friend and is usually somewhere in-between Pascal and me when it comes to theology. She distrusts the Bible but is (most of the time) closer to belief than I am. She has her own blog at thecounterfeitchristian.wordpress.com.

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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    2. Hello and welcome!

      I’m glad to hear we aren’t enemies. I’d love to be friends. 🙂

      As a Christian, I stand by not only these principles but also strive to be true to God who said them.

      We agree here. We each try to be true to God the best way we can. For me, that means first trying to determine which God, if any, might exist.

      I would not consider you an enemy anymore than my two homosexual older brothers who died of Aids.

      I’m very sorry to hear about your brothers.

      Yet we cannot compromise our relationship with God to condone sin.

      I completely agree. We should not let our desires keep us from worshipping whatever God we believe in (if we can find one). I also think our ability to follow a God’s rules is proportional to our belief that said God exists.

      Your desires are sexual and social in nature and therefore extremely strong.

      Can you provide clarification about that statement? If I were gay, I’m not sure that would automatically imply that my desires are sexual, social, and extremely strong.

      But you were not born this way. No biological markers exist though they have been sought after for decades.

      I strongly urge you to reconsider telling someone that they “were not born this way.” This statement is a very poignant example of argumentum ad ignorantiam and could lead to unnecessary suffering. I’m curious if you feel that the Bible forces you into the beliefs you hold about homosexual choice? You’re very welcome here even though we disagree. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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        1. Hello my new friend!

          This comment seems to imply that you believe I’m rejecting His offer of salvation through the cross. Please clarify if I’m misunderstanding you.

          Just as nobody forced Jesus Christ to die on the cross…

          I’m not convinced that “nobody forced” Jesus to die on the cross, or that he did “die on the cross,” or that he “existed” in any of the specific ways the Bible describes him.

          …God allows us to reject His offer of salvation through the cross.

          Since I’m not convinced that the offer or the offerer exists, I should be clear that I (like many nonbelievers) am definitely not rejecting any offers from God. I’m simply unable to determine the existence of the offerer or the existence of a gift that some claim is being offered.

          Let’s say I give you a bunch of evidence that my friend Ipo is real and that Ipo offered you a gift but allowed you to reject it. You used to believe the evidence about Ipo so you accepted this gift. Now, after careful examination of the evidence, you’ve concluded (against your desire) that the evidence of Ipo’s existence is outweighed by the evidence of his non-existence. Imagine yourself in that circumstance.

          Now, is it accurate to say that you’re rejecting Ipo’s gift? Or is it accurate to say that you no longer believe that Ipo is real and thus you no longer believe that there is a gift?

          How would you feel if those who still believed Ipo was real kept telling you that you were willfully rejecting his gift?

          I hope this helps us understand one another a little better. 🙂

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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  2. Thank you for being here. Most of your posts are so far beyond my understanding that I have trouble reading them. I did have a thought for both of you that I wanted to share. If as it turns out it seems to simplistic or unreasonable please know that it is offered in good faith! Here’s the short version, to save a bit of time. From what I can see you’re both on the same path. Looks like it’s working out fine. Enjoy. If that satisfies, excellent. If you’d still like the thought please read on.

    Looking at our ancestors from a modern vantage point it is very easy to discount them in some ways as primitives, while at the same time granting them transcendence in others. Modern views of ancient religions are a particularly good example of this behavior. For instance a modern person would be very likely to look at tribal shamanism as primitive. They would say that clearly spirits of the elements don’t exist. A modern person might be amazed at the intelligence it took to figure out that polarized quartz could aid in navigation. And they’d be talking about the same group of people! Can that be reconciled? Can a people be at once so naive yet so clever?

    But of course. If only because both of those things aren’t true at all times of all of the people we’re discussing. No one is a genius all day every day, and no one is a ninny all day every day. We vary. Okay so we agree that we all have off days. Let’s get to the reconciliation.

    First make a list of all the major civilizations without a religion and the impacts that they have had on human history.

    Okay that won’t take long because there are none. Obviously, religion is important in some way to civilization. Or humans. Or both.

    Look at shamanism again. It’s a very early form of religion likely arising as soon as tribal groups formed. It’s very simple. And because it is very simple we can easily see posit the value it had to the group.

    Religion was a tool to explore and order humanities experiences with each other and their environment, and pass that knowledge down to following generations. As horrifying as it sounds it is likely the first documented instances of humanity developing the scientific method. Simply put, if you make enough observations, and record those observations, you’re going to hit more than a few true facts. Can shellfish and pig make you sick when you eat them? Yes. On the one hand, now we know why, and we know how to minimize or eliminate the risk. But a few thousand years have gone by since that connection was made. Can we forgive our ancestors lake of a microbiology department and instead be thankful they made the connection in the first place? And they passed that information down through religion as religion was the tool they had to work with.

    Explore for yourselves how many times human behaviors were addressed in early religions and clearly it’s for the benefit of humans. Have kids! Have safe sex! Wash! Try to be nice! If you can’t be nice, don’t kill people that we know! Eat good food! If you were forced to sit down and compose a nuts to bolts handbook for life, I bet it wouldn’t start with “Here’s what to do when you’re feeling a little blue because your boss kicked your dog.” I bet ‘wash your hands before you eat’ would be in there though, and likely in the first chapter.

    Religion is a tool. Humanity makes tools. We are tool users. Humanity made Religion. It is an awesome tool.

    You know that voice in your head? The one that’s reading this to you? The one you think is you? It isn’t. It isn’t your voice any more than these typed words are me. It’s what you’ve made for yourself. It’s a thing you’ve programmed and taught to behave in a certain way. But it isn’t you. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? Good. Everyone does. You still do. It’s that voice in your head. If you were living in a ‘primitive’ shamanistic society you wouldn’t have that confusion. Because it is a confusion. You would have gone through a rite of passage and met your spirit guide, or totem. For the rest of your life you would have known that the voice in your head wasn’t you. You would have known that it was a thing to guide you and be a companion, but certainly not something to rule you. Even a hundred years ago, in the Catholic Church, you would have your very own saint. And that saint would talk to you. In your head. And no one would call you a fool. Because everyone did it. Because experience showed that those people that understood that the voice was a tool and used it as such, had better lives. Experience also likely showed that even if people didn’t fully understood it, and just did it, they also had better lives. That’s actually a very important consideration that even without fully understanding a person can get the same, even a greater benefit than a person that does understand. And of course the reason is that with understanding can come doubt.

    Well what was the earliest most common way for people to examine and order human experience and pass that on to other people? Religion.

    So without bringing deity worship into the equation yet, I think we can see at least the possibility that for most of human history religion was a tool to help people understand and order the world around them and themselves. And that the success of religion in this dual role is evidenced by the eventual rise of modern philosophy and the sciences.

    Thanks again for being here and providing this space for comments! Be well!

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  3. Thanks so much for being honest and sharing the experience of leaving the church. I left the church about a year ago and my whole family is Christian, so I get your struggle. Your blog with your friend is a breath of fresh air. In a world where your social group can easily decided by your religion/non-religious views, you guys provide an example of how our society needs to work!

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  4. I absolutely love the idea of this blog. I just started a blog of my own on Religion called Agnes the Optimist and look forward to reading both yours and Pascals posts. Reading your “about” section gave me much hope. I grew up in a very christian home and have recently grown away from my beliefs and am also terrified to even put a name to my beliefs or lack there of. None of my family knows of my changing beliefs because the utter thought of mentioning any of it literally makes me sick to my stomach. It is very comforting to know that there are other people out there going through the same thing as me, so thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome. 🙂

      I hope we can learn from each other. Please let me know if I can be of any help. And reach out to Pascal, too, sometime. He’s a great friend and a very understanding believer. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      —Russell

      Like

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