November 12, 2007

Immaculate Memories

Posted in art, atheism, history, philosophy of religion, politics, psychology of religion, scripture, theodicy at 2:24 pm by Jerry

Yesterday, while others were on they’re way home from church, Becky and I had our version of church moments as we listened to a CBC radio program honoring all those who have fought for our country. While driving on the highway with a Tim Hortons coffee in hand, we heard spoken word and song expressed in what we thought to be a deeply spiritual form.

I love the principle behind Remembrance Day – don’t forget the heroes who fought another’s desire to silence your voice, some of them dying while fighting to maintain our democratic freedoms. And don’t forget what went wrong to require such an unfortunate sacrifice. To me, Remembrance Day teaches us an example of what to do and what not to do. To me, remembrance is about learning who we are and who we want to be.

But sometimes, there is this crazy notion that we should want to forget the problems of the past. Even when forgiveness has been found, and reconciliation is on its way, it still isn’t enough – we should want to forget any trouble that ever existed. We should want to make attempts to turn back the clock before everything went wrong in order to achieve a child-like innocence of bad choices and unfortunate mistakes – while maintaining/seeking wisdom. You’ll find this contradictory notion taught from the Christian Bible in churches:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 (NASB)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 1Corinthians 14:20 (NASB)

For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. Romans 16:19 (NASB)

These verses are more examples to me of irrational thinking. How can you be wise and ignorant of evil at the same time? It’s not possible. And no matter how hard we pursue nostalgic ignorance, our world is not such that we can reverse experiences of it. Not until we die will we lose, along with our life, memories (attainable or not) of the evil that resides with the good. But, of course, Christians believe in the afterlife which adds an incommensurable dimension to reality.

I don’t struggle so much over whether the afterlife exists than what Christians are hoping to gain from it…

[A Virgin, a Child, and a Lamb – along with the Dove, these ultimate symbols of innocence are most predominantly found in Christianity.]

Lately I’ve been describing to others what I, as an atheist, imagined to be a most ethical heaven. Interestingly enough, my responses from those people so far are that they consider my Heaven to be their Hell. This is because I said I’d like to think of heaven as the best learning environment for everyone to develop a healthy, mature, moral mind of their own (with God’s help if they wanted).

This moral mind of our own would mean that heavenly justice would involve more truthful rememberings, and therefore, a more truthful self-awareness of what are the wrongs we’re responsible for committing (intentionally and unintentionally). It would mean finding the feeling of shame in our expression of the word “my” when it precedes the feeling of guilt in our expression of the words “own hurtful actions”.

We can make people/criminals feel guilty for doing wrong in-the-eyes-of-another, but we can’t make people/criminals feel shame. Shame starts from within us. And it’s a means of personal change initiated by oneself. And the change can only be for the better when it’s understood (through increased skills to empathize with our victims) that disappearing will not benefit those we’ve hurt. Nothing can erase the damage done. But the best compensation for our victims is gaining healthier relationships. And the best way for victims to receive justice is to help the wrong-doer find their own true shame.

For some reason, those I’ve talked to would rather have the traditional Hell described in their scriptures than the heaven I’ve described above. Their kind of Hell inflicts “justice” on those who don’t love Jesus more than their own family.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. – Matthew 10:37-39 (NASB)

Yes, these people should definitely be banished into some kind place for torturous punishment, adding to whatever hurt they (like all of us) have already done to themselves (feel the sarcasm here). How does this make any sense? And Christians have told me they are able to live with this idea because in heaven…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

In essence, their conscience will be exchanged for a life of purity, while next door…

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8 (NASB)

To me, the pursuit of immaculate memories is a denial of significant markers in our lives that help define who we are and how we’ve come to be who we are. To me, identity is more than just the existential present us, it is also the essential us that has remained throughout our journey. I will not give up my memories of the trials we’ve overcome, nor the memories of our sacrifices to overcome them. Our personal histories are not renewable, they cannot be redeemed. Its unrealistic to make amends for the memory of past sins, nor atone for them.

Falsifying our personal history by censuring it is a crime. History should reveal the world of the adult along with the world of the child, memories of the good, and bad, in all.



  1. Shannon said,

    I do agree with much of what you say about not pretending the past didn’t happen but I don’t know if I agree that the biblical passages you quoted are necessarily contradictory. I could be wrong, but I think it is possible to be innocent of evil and yet wise about it. I don’t interpret those passages to be directing ignorance which is different than innocence. You can know about “evil” (the Christian interpretation of that word is definitely open to debate) and be wise about it without participating in it. To me, it would be the involvement in whatever evil activity that would take away one’s innocence. Children can know things without becoming destroyed by it or becoming evil themselves. When we went to the Remembrance Day service yesterday we told our daughter why we were going. We talked about war. We talked about murder. I don’t try to keep her ignorant. But I certainly do try to keep her as innocent as I can without compromising her safety, whether physical or psychological. Does that make sense?

  2. k said,

    I’d like to know what defines good and evil in a atheistic world. If you don’t believe in a god, then what defines good, evil, and moral?

  3. Jerry said,

    Hey Shannon! Good to hear from you.

    Yes, what you say makes perfect sense. I discovered when I read NT greek lexicons there were seven words that could be translated as “innocence”, some of them could be interpreted as innocent of evil acts and others as an untainted/immaculate innocence. The one used in the Matthew and Romans verses I quoted above is the word “Akeraios”.

    Akeraios =
    1. unmixed, pure as in wines or metals
    2. of the mind, without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think “wisdom” requires discernment or judgment. So, to discern or judge, in my eyes, means to recognize the good from the bad.

    Nice to hear from you,

  4. Jerry said,

    Oh K,

    I can only speak on behalf of myself, but I don’t think I stray too far from other atheists’ understanding of the epistemology of morality when I say that the political systems of the day try to define what are the national moral laws. And therefore, the necessity of a democratic world is imperative. Because, only in a global democratic system we’ll find the most extensive representation of humanity’s understanding of morality through the eyes of all individual voices – which is my understanding of the origins of morality.

    Of course, there will always be contradictory ideologies expressed by individuals, but through critical dialogue and analysis, some kind of agreement can be found to protect everyone, equally, from the unhealthier aspects of another’s beliefs.


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