Friday, December 7, 2007

Old vs. New

There is a pervasive attitude throughout the Orthodox churches, older=better. Indeed, comparative theology, for a Copt, is rooted in the idea that the Coptic Church and her sister churches have remained unchanged since before the schism with Rome. I imagine comparative theology for a Catholic is equally self-serving. This is an important concept because the world is changing and the church is not (which is, unfortunately, a point of universal pride among Copts). Moreover the church cannot. In a culture where older=better, progression isn't difficult, it is impossible.

I have been to many Coptic weddings (in fact, I don't think I've ever been to a non-Coptic wedding) and something peculiar strikes me about them. When we hear St. Paul telling us that about a woman's place in the marriage (more here), everyone laughs. In 2007 most people know that equality is essential to a good relationship, one partner dominating the other is not tenable in today's society. My problem here is twofold, 1) Copts have to learn that by experience (with the exception of very meek wives for whom it is a tenable situation) and 2) it's still in the wedding program! A Coptic couple who disagreed with Paul's advice would best do so in private. To question the readings at they're own wedding? Sacrilege!

What silliness. What does it matter? The only answer is, because that is what we've always done.

The Coptic church celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. Why? Because the Church never upgraded to the new calender (the one I reference when I say things like, 7th of January) that was developed about 426 years ago. Why? Because that it would be different from what we've always done.


I find freedom in atheism. Freedom from ancient conventions that remain conventions simply because they are ancient. And I have the freedom to progress. I can change my mind because the only rubric I hold for my behavior is that it be moral, honest, and when possible, evidence based. For example, instead of mining Coptic morality to justify my strong belief in the value of stem cell research (it doesn't work), I can make up my own mind. My morality can evolve, and that is the most essential progression of all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

Of the many inconsistencies in religion, there were a few that caught my attention early on. I think of them as stepping stones along the path to reason and skepticism. I would like to explore one of them now. During countless sermons, Sunday school lectures, and readings of the Bible, I was taught that homosexuality was a terrible sin. I accepted this without question for a long time. At some point I applied the same dispassionate logic to this idea as I do to any concept. It goes something like this:

1. Sexual orientation is not a matter of conscious choice
2. Homosexual orientation is sinful according to the bible

1. God is all-knowing (We'll call this the god hypothesis)

Thus one of the following must be true:
1. God exists
1a. The bible doesn't represent god's feelings on the matter, or
1b. God is a real jerk
or, more likely:
2. god does not exist

Now, I wasn't so supremely brainwashed that I imagined anything along the lines of the "all gay people want to convert your young and eat babies" type of nonsense. I am embarrassed to admit that I was a little taken aback that the GLBT folks I met were just like me in pretty much every way. And that embarrassment was instantaneous. Up to that point I thought I was a pretty liberal guy, it was shocking to me that I would have such a ridiculous notion in my mind. Well, maybe I was a little brainwashed.

Great comic

Cectic is one of my favorite webcomics. Here's a great entry about a recent news story. It begs the question, can you commit heresy against a religion if you're not a member? And just how much damage can one teddy bear do? I think I'll get to that in a later post....

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Waste of Human Life

Doctors in training are taught to respect the beliefs of those we treat. But when you are on the wards, this is more difficult than it sounds. A recent story in the news has really got me fuming. Here we have a 14 year old kid, with a terrible yet treatable disease, refusing a series of blood transfusions that would have saved his life because he is a Jehovah's Witness. Why?? What kind of faith allows a child to martyr himself? How can you consider blood sacred, more sacred even than life itself? Does his family and its religious advisers think that God is on a cloud somewhere, glad that a 14 year old kid has committed judicially sanctioned suicide-by-cancer? Do they think that God would have punished them if he had decided that he wanted to live instead? The traditional ethical position (which is mentioned in the article as well) is that no one can withhold consent for lifesaving treatment of a minor on the basis of religion. It gets complicated (again as mentioned in the article) because in this case, saving his life would have involved a series of transfusions. Ethical principles that are clear in an emergency often get hazy in the long term. Also, they seem to be treating him as a "mature minor," an ethical/legal concept that allows us to dispense condoms, and treat for STDs and substance abuse in teens without parental consent or notification. Who knows what kind of man this boy could have grown up to be. It saddens me to think that such a young life has been snuffed out for nothing.

First Post

This blog is kind of like a birthing. It is the first exposure of a closet atheist. All of my life I have been a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The predominant Christian minority in Egypt. I was an extremely active member until just before I began college. I'd often struggled with my faith but I accepted that it was true. This began to change once I saw that the people who were "sinners" weren't, on the whole, any less moral than my friends were at home. But they sure were more honest. Then something happened. You see, I was a born scientist. I had conceived of the scientific method before I knew it had a name. It led me to a degree in zoology and a path to medical school. All my life I had a wall in my mind between my religion and my science. Like I said, something happened. The wall came down. As I applied basic scientific principles to religion, it seemed unfathomable that I had ever believed it at all. This wasn't the first time the Wall had been breached. As a devout Sunday School student I read voraciously of the history of my Church. Even something as seemingly solid as history was full of holes. At the time I was able to apply what I would later learn was called doublethink to the situation. It melted away into a warm, blissful ignorance. Speaking of which, Orwell's 1984 and Dawkins' The God Delusion were just two of the books which helped me come to this initially difficult decision. It was initially difficult because I found great shame and fear in my first steps into atheism. In fact, I sometimes feel them still. Nonetheless, as my eyes were opened wider, it became shamefully self-evident that this is the correct path for me. Doubtless, of the small number of you reading this blog, many will call me a coward for hiding behind the internet's anonymity. Alas, it is not safe in the real world for a self professed Coptic Atheist.