Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stephen Law-Could It Be Pretty Obvious There's No God?

This is an essay written by Stephen Law that I read in a collection of essays that dealt with different issues (philosophy, meaning, morality, evil) but which all revolved around the existence or non-existence of God.

This was one of the ones that stuck out to me just for its sheer creativity. Law deals with the problem of evil and examines various theodicies and then argues for the idea that God is all evil (he does not believe that) in order to show how similar it is to the argument that God is all good and that the same theodicies (defenses) that can be made for an all good God can be reversed and used just as well for an all evil God. I am sure most who read it will dismiss it quickly as ridiculous but hopefully it just makes them stop and think or if nothing else have a quick laugh because while these are serious topics they are also topics that require a sense of humor.

Could It Be Pretty Obvious There’s No God? By Stephen Law

Let us say: “Either God is or he is not.” But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. (Blaise Pascal)

Like Pascal, many theists believe reason cannot determine whether or not God exists. Indeed, many suppose that, because God, if he exists, transcends physical reality, it is in principle impossible for us to determine whether God exists simply by observing it. Science, and empirical observation more generally, can provide, at best, a few clues. They cannot settle the question beyond reasonable doubt.

I reject that view. It seems to me that, by observing the world around us, we can answer the question of whether God exists. In fact, I’m going to suggest it’s pretty obvious there’s no God.

That last claim may surprise even some atheists. How could it be pretty obvious there’s no God? Surely this is a tortuously difficult and complex question over which the greatest minds have pondered for millennia, without ever reaching any real consensus. How, then, can the answer be pretty obvious?

Yet I think it is pretty obvious. I’ll sketch a case for that conclusion here.

To begin, let’s clarify which God we are talking about. The Judeo-Christian god is the God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He is, according to religious orthodoxy, all-powerful, all-knowing, and, perhaps most importantly, maximally good-as good as it’s possible to be. Indeed, we’re told that God loves us as if we were his children.

Those who consider belief in this particular deity at least not unreasonable will typically point to a range of arguments to support their belief. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” they may ask. “God explains the existence of the universe, And God’s existence, being necessary, requires no further explanation. So you see?-God provides the only remotely satisfactory answer to this question.”

Or they may run a fine-tuning type argument, like so: “Only a very particular set of laws and initial conditions can create a universe capable of producing conscious beings such as ourselves. What is the probability of the universe having just these features by chance? Astronomically low. Far more likely, then, that some sort of cosmic intelligence deliberately designed the universe that way. That intelligence is God.”

These arguments, the theist will usually concede, may not constitute proofs-but they do show that belief in God has at least got something going for it, rationally speaking.

Trouble is, these arguments are very weak. The most they establish, if anything, is that the universe has some sort of creator or designer. It is, as it stands, a huge further, unwarranted leap to the conclusion that this creator-designer is all-powerful and maximally good. These arguments, as they stand, no more support that conclusion than they support the conclusion that the creator-designer is, say, maximally evil (which they don’t support at all).

Things get worse. Not only do many (if not all) of the most popular arguments for the existence of God fail to provide much reason to suppose this particular, Judeo-Christian, God exists, there appears to be very powerful evidence against that hypothesis. I am thinking of course, of the “problem of evil” (“evil” in this context, covers both pain and suffering, and also morally bad behavior-such as killing, stealing, and so on). In fact, there are two problems of evil-the logical problem, and the evidential problem.

The Logical Problem of Evil

God, if he exists, is all-powerful and maximally good. But the existence of such a being is surely logically incompatible with the existence of evil. An all-powerful being could prevent evil existing. Being maximally good, he would not want evil to exist. As evil exists, it follows, logically, that the Judeo-Christian god does not.

Notice that the amount of evil the world contains is not relevant here. The argument is that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the existence of any evil at all.

The logical problem can perhaps be dealt with by suggesting that God would want to create a maximally good world-a world as good as it is possible for a world to be. And a maximally good world might contain some evil. Why? Because that evil is the price paid for some greater good-a good outweighing the evil. Such a maximally good world would be even better than a world containing no evil.

So, for example, a Christian might claim that free will is a very great good. True, given free will, we then sometimes choose to do bad things. But the good of free will outweighs the badness of those bad things we do, which is why God would still create such a world.

The Evidential Problem of Evil

As I say, the logical problem is that of explaining why an all-powerful maximally good God would allow any evil at all. Perhaps it can be solved. The evidential problem, by contrast, is that of explaining why this God would allow quite so much evil into his creation. Even if we acknowledge that an omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely benevolent being might create a world with at least some evil in it, surely there would be no reason for him to create a world containing such extraordinary quantities of pain and suffering?

We can sharpen the problem by noting that God will presumably not allow gratuitous suffering. There must be a good reason for every last ounce of it. But when we consider the enormous quantities of suffering the world contains-including the hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering that occurred before we humans made an appearance (including the literally unimaginable horror caused by mass-extinction events, the second to last of which wiped 95 percent of all species from the face of the Earth)-doesn’t it quickly become apparent that it cannot all be accounted for in this way?

So, while the logical problem of evil can perhaps be dealt with, the evidential problem looks, to me, like a very serious threat to the rationality of theism. It seems that, not only do most of the popular arguments for the existence of God fail to provide much support to the hypothesis that there’s an all-powerful maximally good God, there is also very powerful evidence against the hypothesis. Far from being a “not unreasonable” thing to believe, then, it’s beginning to look like belief in the Judeo-Christian God is very unreasonable indeed.

How do theists respond to the challenge posed by the evidential problem of evil? Often, by constructing theodicies-theistic explanations for the amount of evil that exists. Many such explanations have been developed. Here are three popular examples.

Free-will Theodicy

Free-will may be invoked to deal not just with the logical problem of evil, but also with the evidential problem. Here’s a simple example. God gave us free will. Free will is a great good. It also allows for certain important goods, such as our ability to do good of our own free will. True, God could compel us always to be good, but then we would be mere puppet beings, and so not morally responsible or praise-worthy for our good actions. Good done of our own volition is a far greater good. True, as a result of our having free will we sometimes do wrong-we steal, kill, and start wars, for example. But these evils are more than outweighed by the goods that free will allows.

Character-building Theodicy

This is, to borrow theologian John Hick’s phrase, a “vale of soul making.” God could have made a heaven-like world for us to inhabit. He chose not to, because he wants to give us the opportunity to grow and develop into the kind of noble and virtuous beings he wants us to be. That kind of growth requires a struggle. No pain, no gain. Many people, having come through a terrible disease, say that, while their ordeal was terrible, they don’t regret having been through it. For it gave them the opportunity to learn about what is really important, to develop morally and spiritually. By causing us pain and suffering, God gives us the invaluable opportunity to grow and develop both morally and spiritually.

The laws of nature Theodicy

Effective human action requires the world to behave in a regular way (for example, I am able deliberately to light this fire by striking my match only because there are laws that determine that, under such circumstances, fire will result from the striking of a match). That there be laws of nature is a prerequisite of our having the ability both to act on our natural environment and to interact with each other within it. These abilities allow for great goods. They give us the opportunity to act in a morally virtuous way. True, such a law-governed world inevitably produces some evils. For instance, the kind of laws and initial conditions that produce stable land masses on which we can survive and evolve also produce tectonic shifts that result in earthquakes and tsunamis. Still, the evil caused by earthquakes and tsunamis is more than outweighed by the goods these same laws allow. We might think it possible to design a world that, as a result of be governed by different laws and/or initial conditions, contains a far greater ratio of good to evil (that contains stable land masses but no earthquakes, for example), but, due to consequences we have failed to foresee (perhaps the absence of earthquakes is at the cost of some even worse kind of global catastrophe), such worlds will, in reality, always be worse than the actual world.

Of course, all three theodicies outlined above have weakness. Take the free-will theodicy: it fails to explain so called natural evils-such as the pain and suffering caused by natural disasters. The character-building theodicy also raises such questions as: why hundreds of millions of years of animal suffer? Did their characters need building too?

Still, many of the faithful, while admitting that the evidential problem of evil is not easily solved, may suggest that such moves, taken together, at least do much to reduce the scale of the evidential problem. Enough, at least, to make belief in God not unreasonable after all. The may also, as a parting shot, play the mystery card.

The mystery card

This really is the best of all possible worlds. Ultimately, the fact that God would allow such horror does make sense. It’s just that, being mere humans, we can’t see how. Remember, we are dealing here with the mind of God-an infinitely powerful and wise being whose plan is likely to be inscrutable to us. Show a little humility! If there is a God, and this is all part of his divine plan, it’s hardly surprising we can’t make much sense of it all, is it? So the fact that we can’t make much sense of it is poor evidence that there is no God.

I now come to the central aim of this little essay, which is to explain why I find these kinds of response to the evidential problem of evil woefully inadequate. Indeed, I believe it remains pretty obvious there’s no such God. I’ll explain why by means of an analogy.

The Evil God Hypothesis and the Problem of Good

Suppose that there is no all-powerful maximally good God. There is, instead, an all-powerful maximally evil God. His depravity knows no limits, his cruelty no bounds. Call this the evil God hypothesis.

Suppose I believe in such a being. How reasonable is my belief? Surely, very unreasonable indeed.

But why? After all, as they stand, the two popular arguments for the existence of God we examined earlier, provide, as we saw, just as much support for the evil God hypothesis as they do the standard good God hypothesis. As these arguments are widely supposed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims to provide significant rational support to their belief, shouldn’t they acknowledge that, as they stand, they provide much the same level of support to the evil God hypothesis.

But of course, hardly anyone believes the evil God hypothesis. It’s immediately dismissed by almost everyone as, not just not reasonable, but as downright unreasonable. It’s pretty obvious there’s no such being. But why?

Well, isn’t there overwhelming evidence against the evil God hypothesis-the evidence provided by the enormous amounts of good that exist in the world? Perhaps an evil God would allow some good into his creation for the sake of greater evils, but would he allow quite so much? Why does he allow love, laughter, and rainbows, which give us so much pleasure? Why would an evil God allow us children to love, who love us unconditionally in return? Evil God hates love! And why would an evil God allow us to help each other and relieve each others’ suffering? That’s the last thing an evil God would do, surely?

Perceptive readers will have noticed that this objection to belief in an evil God mirrors the problem of evil. If you believe in an all-powerful maximally good God, you face the problem of explaining why there is quite so much evil. If you believe in an all-powerful maximally evil God, you face the problem of explaining why there’s so much good. We might call the latter problem the problem of good.

Despite the fact that the evil God hypothesis is about as well supported by many of the most popular arguments for the existence of God as the good God hypothesis, almost everyone immediately dismisses it as silly and absurd. And rightly so. Why? Because of the overwhelming empirical evidence against it provided by the problem of good.

But now consider these moves that might be made to deal with the problem of good.

Reverse Theodicies

Reverse free-will theodicy

Why would an evil God allow us selflessly to help each other and reduce suffering? Well, evil God gave us free will. Free will allows for certain important evils, such as the ability to do evil of our own free will. True, God could have simply compelled us always to do evil, but then we would be mere puppet beings, and so not morally responsible or blameworthy for our evil actions. For true moral depravity, we must freely choose to do wrong. That’s why evil God gave us free will. It allows for the very great evil of moral depravity. True, as a result of being given free will we sometimes choose to do good things-such as help each other and reduce suffering. But these goods are more than outweighed by the evil free will brings.

In addition, free will allows for certain important forms of psychological suffering. True, God could have just tortured us for all eternity with a red-hot poker, but how much more satisfying and evil to mess with our minds. By giving us free will and also weak and selfish natures, evil God can ensure that we suffer the agony of temptation. And then, when we succumb, we feel the torture of guilt. We can only suffer these deeper, psychological forms of anguish if we are given (or are give the illusion of) free will.

Character-destroying theodicy

Hick was mistaken: this is a vale, not of soul-making, but of soul-destruction. Evil god wants us to suffer, do evil and despair.

Why, then, does an evil god create natural beauty? To provide some contrast. To make what is ugly seem even more so. If everything were uniformly, maximally ugly, we wouldn’t be tormented by the ugliness half as much as if it were peppered with some beauty.

The need for contrast to maximize suffering also explains why evil god bestows upon a few people lavish lifestyles and success. Their great fortune is designed to make the suffering of the rest of us even more acute. Who can rest content knowing that they have so much more, that they are undeserving, and that no matter how hard we might strive, we will never achieve what they have. Remember, too, that even those lucky few are not really happy.

Why does evil God allow us to have beautiful children to love and who loves us unconditionally in return? Because we will worry endlessly about them. Only a parent knows the depths of anguish and suffering that having children brings.

Why does an evil god give us beautiful, healthy young bodies? Because we know that our health and vitality will be short-lived, that we will either die young or else wither and become incontinent, arthritic, and repulsive. By giving us something wonderful for a moment, and then gradually pulling it away, an evil god can make us suffer even more than if we had never had it in the first place.

Reverse laws of nature theodicy

Effective and purposeful action requires the world to behave in a regular way. That there be laws of nature is a prerequisite of our having the ability to both act on our natural environment and interact with each other within it. These abilities allow for great evils. For example, they give us the opportunity to act in morally depraved ways-by killing and torturing each other. By giving us these abilities, evil god also allows us to experience certain important psychological forms of suffering such as frustration-we cannot try, and become frustrated through repeated failure, unless we are first given the opportunity to act. True, such a law-governed world inevitably produces some goods. For example, in giving us the ability to act within a physical environment, evil god gave us the ability to avoid that which causes us pain and seek out that which gives us pleasure. Still, such goods are more than outweighed by the evils these laws allow. We might think it possible to design a world that, as a result of being governed by different laws and/or initial conditions, contains a far greater ratio of evil to good (that contains far more physical pain and far less pleasure, for example), but, due to consequences we have failed to foresee (perhaps the greater suffering will result in us being far more charitable, sympathetic, and generally good towards others), such worlds will, in reality, always be better than the actual world.

Of course if these reverse theodicies fail to convince, then I can always play the mystery card.

The Mystery Card

This really is the worst of all possible worlds. Ultimately, the fact that an evil God would allow love, laughter, and rainbows does make perfect sense. It’s just that, being mere humans, we can’t see how. Remember, we are dealing here with the mind of God-a being of infinite power and guile. Show a little humility! If there is an evil God, and this is all part of his divine plan, it’s hardly surprising we can’t make much sense of it all, is it? So the fact that we can’t make much sense of it is not good evidence that there’s no evil God.

Many other (if not all) standard theodicies can be similarly reversed. Should we conclude, then, that we were mistaken? Should we suppose that belief in an evil God is, despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, not unreasonable after all?

Of course not. The evil God hypothesis remains pretty obviously false. The fact that we can gerrymander such explanations for what looks to be overwhelming evidence against the evil God hypothesis doesn’t show that there isn’t overwhelming evidence against the hypothesis, or that the evil God hypothesis is not, indeed, a very silly thing to believe.

Ditto, I suggest, the good God hypothesis. The good God hypothesis, far from being something it’s impossible for reason to determine the truth or falsity of, is, in fact, straightforwardly empirically falsified. It is, to anyone with eyes to see, pretty obviously false (the real mystery, I think, is why so many fail to see this).

Perhaps the universe has a creator. Perhaps there is some sort of intelligence behind it. But, even if there is, we can be very sure it’s not the evil God, can’t we? So why can’t we be equally sure it’s not the good God? We may not know what or who did create the universe, if anything. We can still be pretty sure who didn’t.

Of course, those who believe the good God hypothesis will no doubt now try to establish some asymmetry between the good and evil God hypotheses. There are some asymmetries, in fact. But I cannot see that any of them tilt the scale of reasonableness significantly in the direction of the good God hypothesis. Which is why I don’t believe it. Seems to me the good God hypothesis, like the evil God hypothesis, is pretty obviously false.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Orientation

I just got home from an orientation program for native English teachers who were new to the public school system. All of us are called GEPIK teachers, which simply means Gyeonggi English Program in Korea. Gyeonggi is a province that contains many different cities. There were roughly two hundred English teachers at this orientation program. I found out I had to go to this orientation program last week. At first I did not think too much of it since I had been to another orientation meeting, which lasted about three hours followed by dinner. But as Seo talked about it more I quickly realized that this orientation was going to multiple days somewhere far away from Ilsan. We were being sent to some sort of conference center roughly two hours away from where I live. Despite the fact that I was not going to have to go to school for three days I was by no means excited about this little trip. Besides simply losing the freedom of my nights I just hate sleeping or trying to sleep away from home; home being wherever I happen to live at the time. I have certain habits that help me sleep you could even call them rituals. First is typically just the process of writing about my day or jotting down notes on a book I am reading. Second I usually shower in the evening, which just never seems to happen when you are staying somewhere else. Third I need to play one game of mahjong while listening to music. And lastly and most important is the simple fact that I always fall asleep with some sort of noise, usually a DVD or music, playing. One of the major downsides to my incessant contemplation is that the thoughts do not stop when I lie down to sleep. Often they only increase or perhaps more accurately they just become easier to hear as I quiet myself and everything around me. Whether it is continuing to think about the book I happen to be reading at the time, pondering various new ways to improve my school plans for the next day or just worrying about how difficult it is for me to sleep away from my apartment I just cannot seem to quiet my mind when the time comes to try and sleep.

My weekend was mild and simple. I did not go out and do anything with anyone. On Saturday I wanted to do some shopping and exploring. So I just took off down a street near my house that runs south through Ilsan though I was not sure exactly where I was going to end up. After about 15 minutes I came to an overpass that crossed over the train tracks and I could see a train station off to my left. At the time I thought it was the station I always use but I found out later in the day when I stumbled upon that station again from a different direction that it was actually Ilsan station, which is one stop closer to Seoul then my stop. I thought about jumping on the train and just going into Seoul to look around but decided I wanted to see more of what was around me within walking distance so I just kept going forward. After about 30 or 40 minutes I came upon the main shopping and dining areas of Ilsan called Westerdom and La Festa. When I saw this I knew where I was. This was the area I had come to for my birthday dinner as well as lunch with Tony and Chelsea. The great part about this was it is a good place for shopping, at least for certain things.

The first place I went was a large department store. Inside it was similar to a large Macy’s. As I looked around I discovered that the one thing I could not buy was some personal space. But it was not because of how many customers there were but because of how many employees there were hovering around me. Any time I entered a section of clothes someone would approach me and even if they did not speak to me they would just stand right by me. Now at home I am used to the fact that when you are shopping the employees are watching you both to see if you need help and to make sure you do not steal anything but they can do it while also giving you some room to shop. But here the employees never stood further then one rack away from me. So if I looked through a row of pants one of them would be standing on the other side of the rack. They did not pretend like they were doing anything else they just stared at me watching me shop. As I walked through section after section it felt like the employees kept getting closer. At one point I was at large wall of hats and I bent down to look at some of them near the floor and I swear I soon felt a hot breath upon my neck and turned to find an employee just standing there over me looking down at me. This guy did speak to me and asked if he could help me. I said no thank you I was just looking. He said okay but he did not move. He just stood there with his arms crossed and yes continued to stare at me. I mean what did he think he could do try the hats on for me? More than anything though I wanted to encourage him to try breathing with his mouth close because hot breath combined with light sprays of saliva are just not fun when it’s not someone you enjoy being close to. Half the time I found that I was just pretending to shop to keep anyone from trying to help me. I would throw my head down and look through whatever rack of clothes was in front of me. At one point when I was moving to a new section I did this and found myself looking through a rack of lovely spring dresses. But it worked and the employee while she moved far to close, stopped short and did not say anything. Needless to say I was never able to get comfortable in there. After I got outside I wandered all over the shopping district and then decided to head back towards home. There were more shops up there I wanted to check out. I took a different way back and even though there were a few times I thought I had become lost everything worked out. After all my shopping I ended up buying a new pair of shoes and some white undershirts. In all I walked for a little over seven hours (I never stopped to eat I just walked and shopped, which includes walking as well). By the time I got home my legs and feet were upset with me. I had walked somewhere between 15 and 20 miles. The rest of the weekend was spent just resting, reading and mentally preparing for a trip I did not want to go on.

Monday morning I had to get up early. Besides getting ready and packing I had to make my way down to one of the train stations that was not that close to me. Actually because of Saturday I knew I probably could have walked there in about 45 minutes if I walked quickly. But I had a suitcase and had no desire to walk that far so I did not. I went to my normal train station. The problem with my train station and the one I need to get to is that they are not on the same line. I would have to take my train to a transfer point and change trains. So even though the location of the train station I need to get to is almost directly south of me my train does not go that way but rather runs parallel with the other line until a ways east towards Seoul. So after going well past the place I needed to get to I had to change trains and head right back towards where I had been except that it was further south. It was actually at the shopping area I had been at on Saturday. Now every time I had meet anyone at a train station I had not failed to be less than 20 minutes early so I decided that today I could wait a little longer than I normally would before I headed off and I thought I had planned it well. I got to the station just in time to see the train I needed pulling away. That meant I would have to wait 10 or 15 minutes. The trains do not come as often on my line as they do on the lines closer to the city. As I saw the train leave I had 40 minutes to get to my destination. I knew that it took 30 minutes to get to that station from my station assuming I did not miss the transfer train. I did not jump straight to panic mode that would come later but I was definitely worried that I was not going to be at the meeting place on time. And this was not just meeting some of my friends to hang out there was a chartered bus waiting for us to take everyone to the conference center. I had even been given directions about what to do if I missed the bus, which of course I did not look at closely because I’m never late. My 40 minutes turned into 30 when the first train pulled up and at that point my concern and increased past the nervous stage. When we got to the transfer station I moved as fast as I could towards the new line. It is a bit of a walk from my line to the second line so I was not confident that I would make it there in time and there were just tons of people all scrabbling towards the same spot. When I got up to the new track I just kept looking back at my watch as my 30 minutes had turned into 13 minutes, then 12, then 11 and finally with 10 minutes to go the train pulled in. I had to make it three stops so even though I knew 10 minutes was probably enough I also knew I was not quite positive where I was suppose find the bus. They had told me exit one. So I bolted off the train and up the stairs but could not see anyone or anything so I ran over to exit 2 and raced up the stairs. I did not see any kind of crowd but saw a large bus and walked towards it as quickly as I could without running. Sure enough that was the right bus. One of the coordinators, Victoria was there and confirmed who I was. She said I was the last one there so we could go now. She did not say it with a harsh or annoyed tone but those words stung me and I felt so embarrassed. Being late is bad enough but to find out I was the last person was mortifying. So as I entered the bus I kept my head down and tried to find some sort of empty seat not to close to anyone. I ended up near the back where everyone had their own side of the bus (two seats per side, so four seats in a row) I quickly pulled out my I-pod and started untangling my headphones so I could escape into my own little world and clam down from the fun combination of angst and shame that was swirling around inside my head. But before I was able to get my headphones on I was tapped on the shoulder and asked by the guy behind me if I wanted to play a game. I kind of shrugged and said okay.

His name is Jesse. Jesse had collected some other people to play and then pulled out a game called Catch Phrase. I had played before so I knew what to do. Jesse explained and demonstrated the game to those who had never seen it. It is very similar to Taboo except there are no taboo words you can get buzzed on. Basically you have this electronic device shaped like a circle. It displays a word or phrase and you have to get your team to guess the word or phrase. You cannot use abbreviations, rhyming words, first letter is, or any part of the word or phrase displayed. Everyone sits in a circle or whatever shape conforms to your surroundings and every other person is on your team. So the two people sitting next to you on your right and on your left are not on your team rather they are on the other team. So when your team guesses correctly you pass the device to the person next to you, which is a person on the other team. As you are trying to get your team to guess the word or phrase the same device that displays what you are describing to your team also beeps. As you play the beeping sound increasing in speed to the point where it rings out like an alarm and stops. Whoever is holding the device when it goes off gives a point to the opposite team the first teams to 7 wins. Basically you are trying to get people to guess as fast as they can so you do not get stuck with the device when it goes off. It is a lot easier than it sounds. Throughout the course of the conference this game would be the source of much enjoyment and bonding.

During the bus ride I meet Andrea, Ashlea, Jesse, Chris and Kyle. I had met Ashlea before. After the previous evening orientation we were at the same table for dinner. Thanks to Catch Phrase the bus ride went fairly quickly. The ride took somewhere between one and a half to two hours. We were told as we got on the bus that there would only be one stop and that stop would not be until we were about 10 minutes from the conference center. I was fairly nervous when I heard that due to the fact that I tend to use the restroom quite often in part because of the large amount of fluid I drink but also out of sheer anxiety. I honestly think half the times I go to the bathroom in a day are simply due to the fact that I am worried I won’t have a chance to go when I really need to. During the trip there was an issue with needing to pee but it was not my issue but rather it was Jesse’s. As it got more and more difficult for him to hold it we all began discussing his actual options. He had an empty water bottle so that explains itself. We were also in the back of the bus and there were small windows which one could, in theory, stick it out and go for it. And of course there was the option of going up to Victoria and asking her to have the bus stop before it was supposed to. Like Jesse I did not think any of the options were very good. In the end he decided the shame of asking the bus to stop and allowing everyone on the bus to know what he had to do was less than the shame of going somewhere unorthodox with only a few people knowing about it. When Jesse went to Victoria he found her asleep, which only made his decision all the harder. But he finally woke her up and explained his need to her. The bus soon pulled over to the side of the road and Jesse was allowed out and tried to move behind a bush and go as fast as he could. When he got back on he told us that Victoria was not particularly pleased with having been awoken for his bathroom break. After another 15 or 20 minutes Jesse started laughing a bit nervously and then admitted he still needed to go. I laughed half thinking he was joking but he was not. He said that he had been in such a rush when he was outside of the bus that he had not really finished. Despite the humor of the situation I could not help but identify with his problem as it is one I have often found myself in. In fact during this whole ordeal I found myself needing to go more and more it was as if I was having sympathy pains for my new friend. By the time we pulled into the rest stop both Jesse and I headed straight for the bathroom and I believe we both took all the time we needed, I know I did.

As we had been told it only took about 10 minutes to get to our final destination after leaving the rest stop. We pulled into a large property that contained 3 or 4 big buildings, which resembled a dormitory and it was encircled by hills. There was also a large soccer field that was surrounded by various obstacle course pieces such as a rock wall, zip line, a wire web and more. After we filed off the bus we grabbed our stuff and headed into the lobby of the largest building. There were two lines one for boys and one for girls. When we got to the front of the line we were checked in and handed keys to our rooms. I ended up being roommates with Jesse so that was nice. We were a little late so we did not have time to do anything except throw our bags into our room and head off to the auditorium for the opening ceremonies. In the auditorium we were introduced to several of the important leaders of the GEPIK program and then were shown a traditional Korean dance and music show called Pungmul but I looked online to find out more about it. So Pungmul is a Korean folk music tradition that includes drumming, dancing, and singing. Most performances are outside, with tens of players, all in constant motion. Pungmul is rooted in the dure (collective labor) farming culture. It was originally played as part of farm work, on rural holidays, at other village community-building events, and in shamanistic rituals. Today it has expanded in meaning and is also used in political protest and as a performing art form.

Drumming is the central element of pungmul. Each group is led by a kkwaenggwari (small handheld gong) player, and includes at least one person playing janggu (hourglass drum), buk (barrel drum), and jing (gong). Wind instruments (t'aepyongso, also known as hojeok, senap, or nalari, and nabal) sometimes play along with the drummers. Following the drummers are dancers, who often play the sogo (a tiny drum that makes almost no sound) and tend to have more elaborate—even acrobatic—choreography. Finally, japsaek (actors) dressed as caricatures of traditional village roles wander around to engage spectators, blurring the boundary between performers and audience. Minyo (folksongs) and chants are sometimes included in pungmul, and audience members enthusiastically sing and dance along. Most minyo are set to drum beats in one of a few jangdan (rhythmic patterns) that are common to pungmul, sanjo, p'ansori, and other traditional Korean musical genres.
Pungmul performers wear a variety of colorful costumes. A flowery version of the Buddhist kkokkal is the most common head-dress. Advanced performers sometimes wear sangmo, which are hats with long ribbon attached to them that players can spin and flip in intricate patterns by moving their heads.

In our performance there was a woman on the stage began playing a wind instrument and then five men entered from behind us all playing the various percussion instruments and a gong and were dressed in traditional Korean clothing (bright colors), which included the hats with long ribbons (sangmo), the length of their bodies, attached to a point on top. As the men played their instruments they moved their heads and bodies in such a way as to make the ribbons twirl around themselves. It really was quite fun to watch. I can't seem to insert a link but here is the web address to a YouTube video that shows a show very similar to what we watched.

We were then sent to the cafeteria for lunch. Lunch was fine, nothing great but not bad. That would be my basic grading of all the meals we had on this trip. After lunch we were sent off to various classes in groups that had been designated by the program leaders. The groups were based upon geography so that all the teachers in certain cities were placed together. Basically everyone who had been on our bus was in my small group. All three days included various lectures covering topics such as English curriculum in Korea the past, present and future; tips for being an effective teacher; co-teacher discussions; and various cultural presentations. The first day amounted to 5 hours of classes, 8 hours for the second day and about 3 hours, which included a fare well ceremony on the last day. And while I could say a great many things about the various ideas and suggestions I heard I think I will pass on that. Like most school settings there were some lectures or more accurately some lecturers that I enjoyed and some that I did not. I think one of the main things I learned was that an engaged teacher creates an engaging atmosphere in which to learn. In many ways I was shown that interest is one of the most important parts of teaching and it takes an interested teacher to create and interesting class. Just as I could tell when some of the lecturers were not enjoying being there so too I imagine my kids can tell the days I wish I was not at school. So more than anything I walked away with the desire to make my classes more fun. In the end I have realized that I am working with elementary school kids and very few of them are going to walk away from my class writing amazing journals or speaking with an kind of fluency but if I can help make them enjoy their time in my class then maybe, just maybe they will find the desire to study English more and become better at it as they continue through their schooling. More than anything this first month has been about learning where my expectations should be both for my kids and for myself and so far I have expected far too much from my kids and far too little from myself.

As for the social times allowed during this orientation most of them were spent playing Catch Phrase, ping-pong and just talking. The connivance store did sell beer so most of the teachers bought beer for the evening and enjoyed some drinks while we all hung out. I had been told before that people can be more entertaining when there is drinking involved and I have discovered that is true; I really am more amusing when other people are drinking.

But by far the worst part of the weekend came on the last night we were there and they had an obligatory “party” that they called “Let’s Rock and Roll.” The name itself had caused me concern the whole day plus I just could not understand why they would have a social event that was mandatory as if it were one of the classes. When we entered the auditorium there were nine huge circles of chairs. As people came in they just started sitting down in the circles with their group of friends. As our group sat down we had by far the smallest circle with only about half of the seats filled while other groups were grabbing more chairs in order to expand theirs. Soon a Korean man ran on stage and started yelling with great excitement asking if we were ready to have fun. I admit I did not respond.

First the man gave each of our groups a letter. We were group D. The man then began trying to explain what we were going to do. One of the main things I have noticed about cross cultural communication is that repetition cannot be avoided I mean you just cannot avoid repetition or prevent yourself from repeating the repetitious repeatings you seek repeatedly to avoid …okay I’ll stop. Each and every activity he had us do came with simple directions that must have been said three or four times with little variation in wording. Most of us could sense that there was going to be some sort of dancing involved but the first thing we were told to do was to all turn to our right and begin massaging the back of the person in front of us. That put me behind a girl named Samantha who I had just met earlier at dinner. Needless to say I did not feel I had arrived at the point where I was comfortable massaging her back. I could see that I was not the only one uncomfortable as many of the people in my group, particularly Andrea and Ashlea, exchanged glances with me that were a mixture of puzzlement, annoyance and laughter. As I lightly touched Samantha’s back just trying to laugh at the oddity of the demand we were then told to switch and massage the person to our left. We did this switching back and forth a few times and then the man explained to us that he would count off and when he said “now,” really it was some word I cannot remember, we were supposed to poke the person we were facing on both of their sides. All I could think was, “are you kidding me? Are you really asking me to play a type of game where I am supposed to poke people in their side?” The man pointed out that this would be a great game to play with your kids and that fact alone made me confident that there was no reason for us to be doing it. But as I could not bring myself to simply get up and walk to the back of the room I hesitantly began participating in the massage pokey game. At first no one seemed anymore interested then I did and every time the man said “now” we would only pretend to poke the person in front of us. But as the game was coming to a close and the man said “now” for the last time Samantha jabbed me in both of my sides and I crumpled up and fell onto the floor as my chair, which had wheels, shot away from me towards one of the other circles. I could feel my face quickly redden as embarrassment filled me. I got up as fast as I could as those in the circle laughed and I could not help but look at them and begin to laugh too in part because it confirmed my astonishment at the fact that I was being required to do this and in part to make it seem like I was not embarrassed.

The next game was just as awkward as the first but this was due more to the implications of the game rather than the game itself. First we had to get a partner and it was supposed to be someone of the opposite gender, Samantha was my partner. You each had to make a circle with your thumb and pointer finger (the okay sign) with your left hand and then place the pointer finger of your right hand into the hole created by your partner’s left hand. Basically you found yourself placing your finger in your partner’s hole while they did the same to you and the entire room was filled with laughter in the shared understanding of the connotations of the actions we were now performing. The idea of this game was that when the man said “now,” again I do not remember the real word he shouted, you were supposed to try and grab your partner’s finger with your left hand and get your right finger out of your partner’s hole. We were of course informed of how this would be another great game for the kids. And while I could not believe we were doing this I really had to laugh both at the inference of the game and the fact that we were told we should be in boy girl pairs to begin with.

Finally it came to the time we had all been dreading the dance competition. They turned on various songs and shouted various styles or commands that the entire group was supposed to do and during this whole time, including the other games, the man on stage just randomly gave out points to each team and told us that the team with the most points at the end would win a prize. In essence I was told to prance around in order to be awarded arbitrary points for an unknown prize. One of the things that truly did surprise me was seeing how many people in the different groups really got into it and actually wanted those points. Competition really seems to get some people going even if it is only to win coffee mugs by dancing like a monkey. No one in my group was into this and it was painfully obvious as we were never awarded any points except when the man would just give points to one whole side of the room or just pick certain letters without having ever actually looked at what was happening in the circles. Each group was then asked to elect, more like sacrifice, one of its members to go up on stage and dance for the right to win 500 points! Woohoo! No one in our group wanted to go but eventually one of our members went up more I think out of confusion then out of genuine desire. I told him he did not have to go up there because no one would notice if no one from our group went up there but he went anyway. As the DANCE OFF occurred some of the people went all out shaking their bodies anyway they could, taking off their clothes and rubbing up against whoever happened to be the closest to them. Our group leader did none of those things and most of the time he looked like he was just marching around the stage randomly throwing out his arms every now and then. As one may have guessed we did not win the dance off so we did not earn 500 points, shucks. By this point I was watching the clock more than anything on stage as we were scheduled to be there only for an hour and I could not wait to get out of there. But the man on stage was not as aware of the time as I was and we ended up forfeiting another 20 minutes of our lives to this most painful of events. Finally it was over and yes team D came out with the fewest points of all the teams and in an odd way I was quite proud of that.

The rest of the night was spent playing Catch Phrase and just getting to know one another better. We ended up hanging out past 2am. After two or three hours of sleep Jesse and I got up, showered and got breakfast. After breakfast there was one final group meeting and a closing ceremony. Then we all moved to our buses though not before I went to the bathroom three times, just in case. The trip home passed quickly as we talked and played. I was quite aware that I had made some good new friends that I was looking forward to hanging out with a bunch more in the future. I arrived home just before 3pm and within half an hour I had fallen asleep watching some episodes of 30 Rock. All in all it was a pretty good week. It was actually only three days but it sure felt like it should be Friday on that bus ride home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taking a Stand

Last weekend was another good one. Friday afternoon I made arrangements to meet some of my friends the next day near Seoul. The plan was to grab lunch and then go to what is called the Cherry Blossoms Festival. As you might be able to guess by the name it is an event where you get to see Cherry Blossom trees. As far as lunch goes Chelsea was in the mood for Mexican and had heard of a good place that she wanted to try out. It is called Dos Tacos but she had me at Mexican. The next day I took the trains down to the designated station and waited as people from the group started to filter in. Before we left I found out that no one actually knew where Dos Tacos was so they had just decided to go to On the Boarder. I admit I was curious about the other place but I was certainly not complaining about getting to go to On the Boarder. I had one of their burritos and of course a coke. But as we waited for our lunches the table went through 5 or 6 bowls of chips and several bowls of salsa. I really never stopped eating the chips and going after the salsa.

During lunch Chelsea told us that the Cherry Blossom festival had been cancelled or more accurately it had been put on hold until a later time. Many of us were sad but I was ready to do whatever the group wanted to. The problem was we had eight people sitting there and most of us were too timid to actually give suggestions and the ones who had suggestions were quickly shot down by someone at the table. For a minute it seemed like going to a movie would be the final decision. Many of us wanted to see Clash of the Titans. I liked that idea but I had also made plans with Jong Woo to see it the next day. But I did not want to be the reason everyone else did not go so I thought I would just watch it twice. But someone else was just fine being the person who kept everyone from going. He had seen the movie already and did not like it that much apparently he did not feel like there was enough “clashing.” We must have sat there for at least 15 minutes just batting around ideas and then someone said they were going to meet a friend at a baseball game and we were all welcome to come. I admit I was not too psyched about the idea but everyone seemed to go for it or at least accepted it as the best option that had been given. So we headed over to the baseball stadium. It took around 45 minutes to get there and when we came up the train station was swamped with people.

Now after having Mexican food for lunch, drinking four cokes and going on a 45 minute train ride I had need to go to the restroom. I found the closest bathroom in the station. The first stall I looked into was just a hole in the ground. Imagine a urinal lying flat on the ground even the part you flush sticks out like a urinals, which means that it is sticking strait up into the air. You just squat and go for it. I had seen these in multiple bathrooms here but there were always “normal” stalls with toilets so I assumed there would be one here too. But as I looked each and every stall was just another horizontal urinal. I really did not know what to do I just could not really imagine trying to squat while supporting my own weight. But it became quickly apparent to me that I did not have much of a choice. Once I tried to get into position I also found out that not only was it difficult to hold yourself up but you had to figure out a way to position yourself so you did not just go into your pants. First I tried pushing against the walls of the stall to take some of the weight but the walls were to far apart. Then I tried grabbing the flusher and almost fell backwards into the less then clean opening. Really I can only guess what I must have looked like trying to push my butt backwards far enough to avoid an unfortunate clothing stain while having my legs spread far enough apart so as to not be standing in the hole and maintain my balance to prevent smacking my head on the wonderfully placed flushing device; funny to think about horrible to experience. Finally it was over and I ran back to the group.

The stadium was right next to the train station so there was no long walk involved, which was nice since I had been standing for the entire 45 minute train ride. The ticket lines were quite long and like so many Korean lines completely jumbled with seemingly little organization until right at the front. Now we had to wait for Shenae’s friend. Once her friend got there we grabbed our tickets and tried to figure out how to get into the stadium. Apparently it is not as easy as going inside and walking around in the big circle until you find you section. Rather everyone had to enter specific entrances based upon their sections. It took us four tries to find the right door. The game started during our long search for the way inside. Needless to say after waiting in line four times to enter a stadium only to be sent to a different entrance was rather annoying and some of us were losing our interest in being there. Now our tickets were in the cheaper section of the stadium in the outfield and as we came up into the stadium I began asking were our seats were. I was told that there was no assigned seating in this part of the stadium. Rather like a movie theater in America it is simply first come first serve. We began walking up and down staircase after staircase each of which had people sitting on them looking for any available seats. During this process I looked behind me and Tony was gone. I asked what happened to Tony and one of the other guys Andrew told me he had reached his limit and went home. I laughed partially to hide the fact that I would like to follow right after him. After at least another 10 minutes we gave up and just stood at the top of the upper deck behind all the seats. Even here there were lots of people all cramming forward to see the field. We were behind 2 or 3 rows of people just standing in front of us. I truly did not care about the game at all and was ready to call it quits but everyone else seemed content to stay so I quelled my annoyance and just hung out. I end up chatting with Shenae and Chelsea more than watching the game. Now it was the bottom of the second inning by the time we got to the place where we ended up watching the game from and it was already 2 to nothing. That was kind of amazing to me since the game had not even started when we first tried to get into the stadium. I could not help but wonder if we really going to stay there for the entire game I mean this is baseball we are talking about.

During the fifth inning Andrew and Bobby decided to leave. I was going to leave with them but I had been enjoying my conversations with Shenae and Chelsea so I just stayed. We ended up staying at the baseball stadium until the bottom of the eighth. We then decided to leave mostly because we wanted to get out of the stadium and onto a train before everyone in the stadium was fighting to get out. In all we had been standing there for 2 and a half hours not including the 45 minute train ride to get there, my bathroom stretch and the entire failed journey to find a seat. Let’s just say my feet hurt. But we got out and onto the train fairly quickly. There were only four members of the original eight left and one new person Shenae’s friend Sean. It was around 8:30pm by now and I was pretty much ready to call it a night. I shared my intent to head home and of course the others desired to go out and wanted me to come. Shenae was the most adamant. Shenae and I had only first met at lunch but I already liked her. Like me she was a history major and she seemed genuinely curious about my religious studies. She wants to go to grad school and focus on African American studies. As the train got close to the stop where everyone was getting off to go to a bar I was pretty sure I was not going. I told them I was tired and wanted to head home, in part because I knew it was going to take over an hour to get home. They all kept telling me to come and as the train doors open Sean, who I still did not really know, grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the door telling me to come. I finally just gave up and went, in part because I really do like spending time with these guys, or I should say girls.

We ended up at some type of small Korean bar. Its specialties are mixed soju drinks. Soju is the main alcoholic drink here in Korea. It is a clear liquid, like vodka. I have never had any. Some of the native English speakers like it and some really do not. The group ordered some drinks. The way it worked was they picked a flavor in this case strawberry mango and the servers brought out a pitcher of strawberry mango soju for everyone to share. Soon they were playing all sorts of drinking games. I of course did not know any and I did not participate but just hung out and talked. In my effort to be a little more adventurous I did end up taking a shot of the drink. It basically tasted like an odd strawberry mango juice. Not bad but certainly nothing I would pay for. I finally was ready to call it a night and told everyone I was going to take off. This time they all let me go without much of a fight. I ended up leaving just after 10:30pm. The ride home was long but I enjoyed it because I have a large number of lectures on philosophy that I can listen to on my I-pod. I ended up getting home right at midnight. It was a fun day. The only problem was as I laid down to sleep I had to set the alarm for far too early because Jong Woo and his family were coming by in the morning so we could go see Clash of the Titans but that is a different story.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Worth the Costco

I have to mention something important I have forgotten to write about. I got a Costco membership. A couple of Sundays ago, the Sunday after I got to see the hockey game, I found out where the Costco was and how to get there. It is very close to one of the train lines. So I went. The process of getting into the store itself was kind of difficult as the store was just stuffed with people who all wanted something urgently. I finally figured out where the membership desk was and discovered there was a very long line or more accurately there was a very large blob of people who all wanted a new card. They were all cramming forward towards the cash registers with the people at front fighting to grab whatever cashier became available next. It truly was a terrifying scene for me to watch knowing that I too would have to take that arduous voyage to the front of the line battling whatever monsters I may come across. Luckily after about 10 minutes of looking around I found the membership applications without needing to wait in line or talk to anybody but I struggled to fill it in as it was mostly in Korean. When I put in all the information I had the application looked fairly barren. There were far more blank spaces than space that I had filled in. But I waited in the line or you could say I waded through the line and got to the register. The cashier knew what I wanted, looked at my application and said a number which I figured was the price but as I handed her my debit card she said no. I looked at her as she said a few things in Korean. I figured out that what she meant was they did not take that specific card here. She then pointed over near the entrance towards where there was an ATM. I went and got out some money, far more than I really wanted because I figured that if they did not take my debit card to pay for my membership they probably would not take it for buying anything from the store. I waited again and actually ended up with the same cashier. She smiled and quickly typed in all my information and then pointed me towards the end of the counter. I had to move down and wait again so that I could have my picture taken for my card. After a bit everything was finished and I was handed a brand new Costco card. I went inside and slowly walked around both floors just finding out where everything was. I was by myself and using the trains to get home so I could not buy too much but I was able to buy some bread, meat and cheese for sandwiches. I also took the time to go to the food court and have a couple slices of their pizza. It was very good; superior to the Mr. Pizza I had had with Ben and Jinnah. Even better I was able to get a fountain soda there which not only had free refills but had the machines out front so that you could get your own refills. A month ago that would have seemed just like the normal way of things but now it was a rare luxury that I could not help but overindulge. I had 6 or 7 cups (20 oz) of coke and yes I soon got a stomach ache and cramps as I walked to the train and then all the way home. Was it worth it? It sure felt like it at the time. But overall I would have to say yes it was worth the cost…co.

Later that week Choi took me back to Costco with his car so I could buy some soda. I ended up buying four packs of canned Dr Pepper (30 12oz cans in each) and one case of bottled Coke (30 17oz bottles). So I ended up with 120 cans and 30 bottles and spent almost 80 dollars. Choi just laughed at me and I could not help but laugh a little too. In theory it should last me two months but just having the much it will likely go a little quicker than that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Having finished Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions” I must once again reflect upon my continued search for the divine, the other. Every time I open a book and study even a little portion of what another religious tradition has to say about the Truth I am usually left more confused than when I began. In some ways I hate this fact but as it continues to happen I have come to appreciate the inferences that can be drawn from such a result. First it implies that there really is something out there to know beyond what we can see and touch. Second it illustrates a shared human experience over the history of this planet, the struggle over questions of meaning and purpose. And third, though by no means last, it shows that ultimately no one really knows what awaits us after death no matter how much they feel their religion has shown them.

My study of various religions has convinced me of two things first is that I cannot see any one religious tradition as being superior to another. Where one religion has failed another succeeds and often the crimes of one religion have been righted by that of another and so on. Does this mean that one religion is not ultimately superior to the others? I do not know though I doubt it and as I said before I do not think anyone else knows either. Those most convinced of the superiority of their own religion are often those clueless to the beliefs and histories of the others. But while I can see no one religion as superior to the others the second thing I have found in my studies is that all religions are not “basically the same.” Even the differences among varying groups housed within the same tradition should be seen for what they are, differences. Now the similarities between the various religions are important and worth noting. The basic ethics such as found in the 10 commandments and some version of the Golden Rule can be found in almost all religions but the differences are real and should not be swept over in a desire for unity. This is hard for me because above all else I desire peace and sometimes it feels like the easiest way for that to be achieved is just by convincing everyone that we are all the same creating some kind of super religion. But any kind of peace built upon the falsified foundation of sameness is bound to fail. For just as the geography of the earth is vast and varied so too are the great religions of the planet and how you build a solid foundation on a field is not same as how you build one upon a mountain or in a marsh. Rather it seems true peace can only be built upon genuine understanding. In Smith’s book he notes that understanding leads to love and it is the love for each and every person, which all the major religions affirm that is needed for peace. Smith is quick to observe that understand and love maintain a reciprocal relationship for just as understanding leads to love so too does love lead to understanding. They need and feed one another.

My study of religion, as well as philosophy has also allowed me to acknowledge and even appreciate mystery. For while all religions claim to have certain answers to various questions most of them maintain the belief that there are things we simply cannot know. Even as science unlocks more and more doors for us we often find only more and more questions. I love how Smith speaks of mystery. He says, “Reality is steeped in ineluctable mystery; we are born in mystery, we live in mystery, and we die in mystery.” And he is clear about what he means by mystery saying, “A mystery is that special kind of problem which for the human mind has no solution; the more we understand it, the more we become aware of additional factors relating to it that we do not understand. In mysteries what we know, and our realization of what we do not know, proceed together; the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder. It is like the quantum world, where the more we understand its formalism, the stranger that world becomes.” (389) Similarly for me the more I study different religions the stranger both the divine and the world becomes because as one begins to see these from more than one angle one cannot but be dumbfounded both by that which is above us (divine/other) and that which is us (human).

I was born into and raised in an evangelical Protestant Christian home. From a very young age I picked up the bible and have not put it down since. As I have grown up I have learned about the many layers that make up the Christian religion both in the present and in the past. I have spent more of my time, effort, money and life on the study of Christianity then upon any other thing I did or could have done. Through this one of the things that I have learned is that Christianity is an amazingly rich and magnificent religion of which I am proud to come from. But as I dug through the layers of Christian theology and history I had to admit, partially in frustration and disappointment that no matter how much time or effort I spent in study there was just no way I could ever learn about all of it in my lifetime. In Christianity’s short existence it has grown into a mountain that cannot be climbed in the short span of a single life. So if I cannot hope to learn all there is to know about Christianity before I die there surely is no way I can learn everything about all the religions of the world before my breath gives out still I will continue. In many ways for that reason alone I understand why so many people who commit themselves to a religion never learn about the beliefs of any other. For once you have found a source of meaning in your own life how can you do anything but pour yourself into it completely. In my time at seminary I spent almost three years pouring myself into the study of ancient languages, biblical commentaries, historical treatises, ethical issues and philosophy. This time exposed me to many problems and issues that face the Christian religion that are not found among the devotional literature of the typical evangelical bookstore. And while I am thankful for those experiences as I look back one thing above all else left me disappointed and that is that nowhere in my study was it every required that I crack open a book and study about another religion. (Judaism being the one exception due Christianity’s complete dependence upon it) Some of these classes (World Religions, Islam, etc) did exist and I took them but they were always among my smallest classes containing no more than 10 to 12 students one of them amounting to only 4 students. So the one thing that could make love and understanding among different religions possible is the one thing that was not required or even encouraged by all my religious training and that is learning about the other, from the other. So even as I understand people’s desire to devote themselves wholly to one thing what happens when that one thing blinds us from all else and prevents us from the chance for something better?

Huston Smith ends his amazing book with the simplest idea; listen. He notes, as I alluded to above that when one religion claims us the first thing we do is listen to it. I went to church, read the bible and devotional literature and prayed for 14 years all so I could hear and understand God and those wiser than I about how I should live. But then I began to listen to other voices and my world could not help but change. Truly if we are to understand others; we must listen to them. The world is too small to ignore those different than ourselves. I sit here in Korea more aware than ever about how easy it is to associate what is foreign or unknown with that which is evil, bad or wrong. The only way to prevent such reactions is through mutual listening because that which is unknown will always remain as such unless we decide to learn about it. As science speeds along shrinking the world and creating more and more ways for us to connect with one another how will we use those connections? Will we use them only to speak or will we also use them to listen? Seminary taught me how to speak to others about Christianity’s spiritual wisdom but it failed to teach me how to listen to the wisdom of other religions.

I grew up being taught that it is better to give than to receive. If one passes by those who are hungry to pray at church of what value is your prayer? Similarly if one speaks to others about one’s own religion with your ears plugged how valuable are your words? For in the world of thought and wisdom truly it is better to receive (listen) than to give (speak). Smith says, “We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to depersonalize another than to speak without also listening.” (390) That is one of the simplest and best things I have learned from the study of other religions, at the end of the day I should just shut up and listen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You'll Always Remember Your First Time

The old stories continue and in an effort to catch up fun details will likely slip through the cracks but that is okay.

On Saturday, April 3rd I got up fairly early in order to go hiking. I had received an invitation on Facebook from Tony about going to Bukhansan which is a mountain near Seoul. The name literal means “North Mountain.” Tony is one of the guys I met last weekend on my birthday. He is very outgoing and very easy to like.

I left earlier then I needed to, as usual and headed to the station everyone was supposed to meet at. At this point I had no idea who was coming on this hike. When I confirmed that I was going to go on Facebook there was one other person who said they might come and all the other responses were negative. My ride was fairly relaxing for two reasons. First I have just become comfortable with the train, I know where the stops are, how to transfer and how to use my transportation card. Second this was the first trip I was taking in which I possessed a cell phone. That meant of course that no matter what happened I could always get a hold of Tony to figure out what went wrong. My previous adventures all depended on a more tedious type of planning that demanded all details to be worked out and known in advance before I ever left my apartment and I just had to hope it worked out.

I arrived at the designated meeting place about half an hour early so I just hung out. During my time sitting there I saw many people flowing through the train station in hiking gear clearly ready for action. In fact most of the people I saw looked as if they had just stepped out of a North Face ad or worked for Columbia. I felt like I was sitting in a REI store and I began to wonder if I had under estimated what type of hiking we were going to be doing. I was just wearing a basic jacket, a pair of khakis and some tennis shoes. This was one of the few times I did not bring my backpack because I did not think I needed it for anything. But doubt crept in as I found myself surrounded by a sea of backpacks all stuffed with various items like water bottles, extra layers, food, walking sticks and even a few flash lights. I was fairly sure I did not need one of those.

Once it was 10:30 I gave Tony a quick text and found out he was going to be there in about 10 minutes. While I waited a girl came over to me and I immediately recognized her but did not know her name. She asked if I was waiting for Tony and I said yes. Her name was Chelsea. She had been at the restaurant the week before on my birthday but her and I never actually met. So we hung out in the sun waiting for Tony. Chelsea was born in Korea but was adopted and grew up in Kentucky. I believe she has two brothers one is also Korean and one is Chinese both who were also adopted, all that to say Chelsea is American. She went to the University of Kentucky where she studied linguistics. She knows Spanish and French and some Korean. She said she actually does not know Korean very well yet. In a way it is even more difficult for her not knowing Korean then it is for me. Because of how she looks it is assumed she speaks Korean fluently whereas due to the way I look I have no expectations placed on me. In fact if I say anything in Korean, even just hello I am often greeted with a face of cheerful surprise.

When Tony showed up we exchanged our hellos and then headed towards a bus stop. It turns out that the trail head was not exactly near the train station so you needed to take a bus there. As we approached the stop there was a huge line of people waiting for the same bus as us. We saw a bus pull up, fill up and take off having barely put a dent in the mass of people ahead of us. So we decided to grab a taxi despite the extra cost. The taxi driver was insane or at least drove as such so we were moving along quite quickly but it still took us almost 15 minutes to get to the trail head. I’m glad we did not wait for the bus. There were some small shops at the base of the mountain so before we headed up I bought a small bottle of water seeing that I was the only one of us who was not wearing a backpack and had not come with either water or food. I then bought some Kimbop, which is a traditional Korean food that is taken on picnics or hikes probably in part to the fact that it is so easy to carry. It is very similar to a simple California role.

As we began the journey up the trail was just packed with people. I really do not believe I have ever been hiking among such a large sea of people. I guess I should be used to that by now but I was surprised. So a lot of the energy used in the early potion of the hike was spent trying to get around other hikers of various ages walking at various speeds. During the entire hike there was one lady in particular who we passed four times. This was due to the fact that during the hike we stopped multiple times to look at various prayer areas and ritual sites as well as just wondering off the path a little to get a better view of what was around us. But each time we began hiking again we would invariability run into this woman, actually this couple who found a way to take up the entire path and walk just fast enough that it was extremely difficult to jump around her on wider parts of the path. She was older probably in her 60s, wore a hot pink jump suit and walked with her head down at a seemingly never changing pace.

At the top of the mountain was a large gate with a large wall extending from it on both sides. The wall ran all along the ridge of the mountain with some breaks and worn down areas. I believe it was built sometime in the early 1700s but I might be wrong about that. Whenever it was it was a while ago. So we sat down and ate our Kimbop and enjoyed the view. We could see the entire city from where we were, which meant looking in a complete circle for the city surrounded the entire mountain stretching out in all directions. As we got ready to leave we decided to climb down the other side of the mountain instead of going back the way we came. We figured that we would end up somewhere by another train station and it was in the general direction that we ultimately wanted to go. We were headed toward a place in Seoul called Itaewon, which is where a large portion of the foreigners live. And due to that it meant it was a place with a lot of Western food and bars. Tony knew of a Canadian style bar which played hockey games. Tony is Canadian and loves hockey and he knew I loved it too. There was just no way I was going to miss out on a chance to see some hockey.

The trip down was extremely long, much further than the climb up the other side had been. We actually had to stop a few more times than on the way up just to rest. Chelsea also wanted to take some pictures. And sure enough as we pulled to the side of the trail to rest a minute an old lady in a bright pink jump suit moved past us. I could not believe it. We all laughed and enjoyed the fact that slow and steady really does win the race, way to go tortoise. My shins were killing me by the time we finally reached the bottom. We came out in a small town filled with a mixture of large luxurious homes and small, older cabin like homes along with several shops and stores. We found a taxi and headed off to the closest train station. It was not very far from where we were and it was closer to our final destination then if we had gone back the other way. In all we hiked for about 4 hours and covered almost 11 kilometers (6.8 miles).

The train ride was a bit long but it was simple. We just sat and chatted while we headed for the bar called the Rocky Mountain Bar (ah memories of home). As we came out of the train and into the station at Itaewon within 5 minutes I saw more foreigners (non-Koreans) than I had the entire month I have been here. The bar was close so that was nice. It was fairly small and designed to look like a mountain lodge with Canadian flags and hockey stuff decorating the walls. When we walked in they were playing a game between Montreal and Philadelphia. I was instantly happy to be seeing what I was seeing despite having no care about the two teams playing. We sat down at a table with two of Tony’s friends who had been waiting for us, Andrew and Dennis (not sure I got that name right). They are both Canadian as well so within minutes hockey was being talked about by everyone at the table except Chelsea. Let’s just say hockey was not really of great interest to her. I was sitting next to her so I tried to jump out of the hockey conversation and talk with her about other stuff. It kind of worked but every now and then I heard something that I just had to comment on.

The bar had normal bar food; chicken wings, pizza, quesadillas and the like. I grabbed myself a chicken quesadilla and a diet coke. After I drained my diet coke within seconds I discovered that there were not free refills. I was not super excited by that especially since my coke was almost as expensive as the beer everyone else was drinking. As we sat there the game turned off suddenly in the middle of the second period. I was confused but they said that they were going to start another game from the beginning. All these games had already been played and we were just watching them taped but of course none of us knew the scores so it did not matter. The new game that popped up was between the Colorado Avs and Calgary Flames. I could not believe it. Tony laughed and told the other guys that the Avs were my team. They looked at me and reminded me how important this game was. If the Flames won they would pull into a tie with us for the 8th and final playoff spot. I told them I was aware of that fact. Part of me was super excited that I was going to get to see the Avs of all teams but then part of me was not sure I wanted these people to see me during an important Avs game. I joked with them, warning them about my overzealous aggression and they told me I did not have to explain myself as they felt the same way for their teams.

As the game started a few more of our friends showed up, Cheena and Andrew (a different Andrew). This worked out well because Cheena provided someone else who did not care about hockey for Chelsea to talk to as I became engrossed in the game. It was like watching playoff hockey. The game was rough and filled with play in the middle of the ice as both teams focused mostly on strong defense. So there was not a lot of scoring or even scoring chances. We were actually at the bar for the entire game so I got to witness the Avs lose again, this was their fourth loss in a row, and to a team that was now in a great position to kick us out of the playoffs. I was not overly happy but the guys were nice about it and began talking about all the horrible spots their teams were in. Tony is an Edmonton Oilers fan and reminded me how badly they were doing. And they all affirmed that the Avs were having a great season considering what was expected from them. They were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this year. I said I knew that and that I should be happy but once your team gets your hopes up it is hard not to except more from them. But I actually got over it pretty quickly and once again just enjoyed talking to everyone.

Now during this time I had ordered one more coke to have with my quesadilla. But as everyone around me was drinking beer I could not help but wonder what it was like. In fact this was something I had been thinking about since my night out on my birthday. My pattern of not drinking is simply that, a pattern. I have no moral or ethical qualms with it I just do not do it. Now no one there was worried about it or sought to pressure me in any way but I admit I was curious about how the beer tasted. Tony told me that if I wanted some I could go for it. The table just had large pitchers in the middle. So I grabbed a glass and filled it maybe a quarter of the way full. I let it sit in front of me for at least 10 minutes without touching it. Chelsea noticed at one point asking me if I was actually going to have some. I joke with her that I honestly did not know. I felt like I was doing something wrong at least in the sense I could not decide if this was a part of myself I wanted to change. I think I was worried first that I would actually like it and two that I was only doing this to fit in and I hated that idea. But in truth that is exactly why I was doing this. I wanted to be a part of the group. It actually is similar to how I have tried to be with the food here and Korean culture in general. I have tried to just go with the flow and experience new things. If I was in the US I do not think the “temptation” would have been as strong.

So I finally went for it and took my first sip. As I actually expected I was not overly excited by the taste. At first I thought it was horrible but then just let it sit and realized it was okay but still probably not my thing. Chelsea laughed and said it is something I have to develop a taste for and after 10 or 11 I would probably love it. I laughed wondering why anyone would do that. But even as I thought that it reminded me of my conversion to diet coke. It took months for me to begin to like diet coke but after I did it was my favorite drink. During that long process there were people who asked why I was doing it why not just stop drinking it? I did not have a great answer except that I like soda or at least the kind I used to have. Anyway it made me a little more understanding of the idea of developing a taste for something. So during the course of the third period I took occasional sips until it my fourth of a cup was gone. While it was not suddenly great I did find it was a little better each time. Perhaps more than anything it was just nice to have it in front of me so I could say cheers with everyone else anytime someone wanted to. When Tony noticed my glass was empty he asked if I wanted more. I told him that I thought I had had a little too much and was not sure I could drive tonight. They laughed at me of course and then Chelsea grabbed a pitcher and put some more in my cup, again about a fourth of a cup. Again I just let it sit there. Now I don’t know if it is just because I have this need to always be drinking what is in front of me or that I was actually starting to like it but I did drink it and a little faster than the previous one. Now one of things I started to notice that I did not expect was that it made me warm inside not cold despite the drink being cold itself. It created this warming sensation in my stomach that actually warmed up my entire body and I cannot lie, I liked that. So as the night progressed I had a bit more and a bit more until I had what amount to one glass of beer. Now I know that is not very much but I could feel something maybe you could call it a small buzz but nothing major happened. After I had my drink I discovered, it was not bad and I had not suddenly sacrificed who I was as a person in the process. It truly was nice to feel like I was a part of the group in some way and I like just how slowly I could drink beer. I pretty much took two hours to drink what amounted to one beer. At this time I still have no desire to convert and make beer my favorite drink but I admit I will probably have more at different times just to fit in. Wow even writing that is weird, part of me is screaming at myself for how terrible that makes me I should never submit to the group rather I should remain an individual, different and standing up for what I believe in. But the other part of me realizes there isn't anything I believe in that is affect by drinking and at times it is not only okay but good to be a part of a group and have fellowship, if I can call it that, with others.

By 10pm everyone in the group was ready to go but of course part of the group was simply ready to go somewhere else. At first I thought I could go along with that but even as we walked outside I could feel that my legs had tightened up and I was just tired. The next bar they picked was chosen because it was playing a soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea back in England. Now this bar was packed, it was like being on a subway. There really was nowhere to sit or stand where we were not in the way of the servers trying to get to each table. Tony and I both decided to get out and wait outside. We chatted for a while and then Chelsea and Cheena came out and we all decided to head home. They were all as tired as I was and Cheena had actually been sick early in the week and so was ready to call it night. By the time we got to the train, rode it to our various stations (mine was the furthest away) and had walked home I found myself walking into my apartment right at midnight. So Saturday was over. It was a great day, probably the most fun day overall that I have had since I got here.

No Safety Net

Okay so I’m getting behind. The past few days have been quite busy, mostly in a good way. So much has happened that I am not really sure how far back I am going to go. For my own sake I believe I will merely go back to Thursday night, April 1st. On Thursday I had a fairly simple day because all my classes had been cancelled. A lot of the day was spent going to the bank and trying to figure out all my online banking options. Even with the help of one of the other English teacher’s and the bank’s service agent I was not able to transfer money from my account here to my account back in the US. It was a frustrating process in that it took almost two hours and four phone calls to the bank to ultimately gain nothing. Besides that I worked on lesson planning for Friday. On Fridays I have my 4th grade advanced class and the class for the teachers. After the day was over I headed home. After being home for less than half an hour I got a call from Choi and he told me that he would not be at school the next day so I was going to have to do all our classes by myself. My initial reaction was a nervous acceptance followed by a fair level of irritation. Without the internet at home it is very difficult to do strong lesson planning on short notice. While we do have our textbook we never rely solely upon it and often we have learning games or activities that Choi either picks himself or we talk about in the morning before class. So my irritation came from the simple fact that I would not be able to get a lot done at home now and I had just had a wide open day that would have easily allowed me to be ready to teach alone. But I did what I could at home and just got up very early and headed off to school.

I got to school almost two hours before school started. I had come up with some ideas to go along with the lesson plan but I used the internet to grab some more ideas. The part of lesson planning that is truly difficult to do on short notice is finding and preparing all the materials you will need. Many ideas sound great but you can only do the ones that will work with the materials in your hands. This week I have been trying to encourage the kids to work on their dialogue journals. Their journals are an optional assignment so many kids do not do them. I have been trying to show them how helpful they are in learning English as well as trying to take away some of their fear in doing them by giving them tips on how to make writing easier. One thing I started doing is writing my own journal and sharing it with them. I’ll tell a simple story about something I did and allow them to have a copy of it. This has allowed me to show them the types of things they can write about (the journals do not have be about wonderful or exciting things but can simply be about the best dinner you had that week) and teach them about the different tenses in English (past, present, future). Many of the kids only know how to write in the present tense or if they do use the other tenses they mix them up or just use all of them at different points in their stories. I have tried to show them that “most” of the time when you are writing in your journal you will be using the past tense because most often you are writing about things you did in the past. So on Friday I continued with that pattern the only difference was I stretched it a bit longer than I had done in the other classes that week by giving them a short handout to practice the past tense. Once the classes started my concern about being alone was overcome for the most part. It was funny to see that after I explained to each class that the Korean teacher would not be there that day a certain fear crossed their faces because they knew as well as I did that it was not going to be as easy as it has been for us to understand one another. I have been here long enough to know who the more advanced students are in each class so while I explained things I also used them to make sure that the other kids understood what was going on. The most difficult part of being alone was dealing with the issue of discipline. One of the great advantages of being the native English speaker and having a co-teacher is that the co-teacher tends to be the one who deals with most of the discipline issues. So while the kids are starting to understand my expectations it became clear quickly that they were going to see just how much they could get away with while the Korean teacher was not there. In each class I was quick to remind everyone of the classroom rules but they are kids so of course there were numerous instances of them fooling around, hitting one another and just not listening. I had to raise my voice multiple times to get the kids to listen to me as well as make an example of a few kids who kept disregarding the rules. Some of the kids are quite sneaking. They speak English quite well and loved showing off their skills but then when they were caught doing something wrong they suddenly pretend to have no idea what I was saying. Thankfully that had happened to me enough times before Friday that I was not conned by any of the kids that day. The classes were difficult but moved by much faster than normal and so the day passed on fairly quickly.

My last class of the day was for the teachers and this week we focused on the topic of food. We talked about American meals and restaurants and contrasting them with Korean ones. One of the most interesting parts about American restaurants to them is the idea of tipping. In Korea there are no tips for servers at restaurants or for delivery or for anything and they find it quite odd that we give tips. It did not take long for me to realize how difficult it would be for someone who had never left a tip to know how to when placed in an American restaurant. They wanted to know why we left tips and how much they were supposed to be and the answer I kept falling back on was, “it depends.” While in theory tips are supposed to be a reward for good service I had to explain to them that they are pretty much just an understood part of the price of the meal. Even really bad servers get tips they are just usually smaller than that of a good server. That was so bizarre to them. I then had to try and explain the concept of cheap and generous to them as they kept asking me for the exact amount they were supposed to tip a server. Beyond that I had to explain sales taxes to them. There are no sales taxes in Korea. The price you see is the price you pay, mostly. So as I showed them examples of menus from the USA and they saw how much more food cost in America I also had to remind them that the prices they were looking at did not include the tax or the tip. I then explained to them how amazed I have been since arriving here to see how much less expensive food is here then back in America. It was a fun class. The class with the teachers always goes to fast. I stuck around and talked with a few people for a while but then headed home and got to enjoy a nice relaxing evening.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


April 4, 2010

Since coming to Korea I have been reading about Buddhism and most recently I have been trying to find and read sayings of the Buddha himself. Since then I have been very antsy to write about what I have found and yet I am also very hesitant as I realize I have barely touched the surface of this great and amazing tradition. In truth I only have my gut reactions to share based on limited reading. So I write both eagerly and cautiously.

I have studied Buddhism before in a few classes so when I opened some new books about Buddhism I was not beginning from scratch. But most of what I knew or at least remembered from these classes was historical. I knew the rough sketch of the Buddha’s (Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas) life and a little about the spread of Buddhism but that was about all. I could not have told you anything significant about what Buddha taught except a few of the big concepts like the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path but of course I could not have told you what those actually were. And even after a few weeks of reading I still mix them up and forget them but what has changed is that I feel like I have experienced something I never had before. I have experienced an encounter with the Buddha. Even as I write that I am not sure what I mean by it. I did not have some spiritual epiphany or out of body experience. The clouds did not part nor did an angel speak to me. But in a small way I did hear a voice. Not in my head but simply on the pages in front of me as I read the words of Buddha. Now whether the words I read were ever actually spoken by the Buddha or not I have no idea. I have spent years studying the Gospels and have seen them examined from every angle to determine what was genuinely said by Jesus verses the author’s creative license and like most things people do not agree. I know that similar studies exist concerning the historical life of the Buddha and trying to determine what he actually taught verses what later believers simply added. But those issues do not concern me here because when I read these words I was affected. I knew I was hearing the words of someone who was different, who was special. I can honestly say it reminded me of many of my experiences with the Gospels.. When I read what Jesus said I knew I was reading the words of someone who was different, who was special. One of the books I have been reading is called “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith and much of what I write here comes from exposure to that text and the sources it relies on. (I do recommend it to anyone. It gives you the meat of a textbook with the artistry of a story) In it Smith says,

How many people have provoked this question-not “Who are you?” with respect to name, origin, or ancestry, but “What are you? What order of being do you belong to? What species do you represent?” Not Caesar, certainly. Not Napoleon, or even Socrates. Only two: Jesus and Buddha. When the people carried their puzzlement to the Buddha himself, the answer he gave provided an identity for his entire message.
“Are you a god?” they asked. “No.” “An Angel?” “No” “A saint?” “No.” “Then what are you?”
Buddha answered, “I am awake.” (Hudson Smith p.82)

In my reading I have been shown that so many things common to all religions such as authority, speculation, rituals and tradition all seem to be completely absent in the teachings of Buddha. Buddha preached a religion devoid of authority, which instantly caught my attention. For like Christ with the Sadducees and Pharisees he was preaching against a group, the Brahmins, who held a monopolistic grip on religious authority and teachings and sought to make it accessible to all. But unlike Christ Buddha does not replace one religious authority with another instead he challenges individuals not to passively accept what the religious authorities are telling them and instead to do their own religious seeking.

“Do not accept what you hear by report, do not accept tradition, do not accept a statement because it is found in our books, nor because it is in accord with your belief, nor because it is the saying of your teacher. Be lamps unto yourselves. Those who, either now or after I am dead, shall rely upon themselves only and not look for assistance to anyone besides themselves, it is they who shall reach the topmost height.” (Smith, 94-quoted from E.A. Burtt’s The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, 1955)

I was both comforted and stung by these words. I love that every time Buddha had the chance to accept the faith of others and place himself above them he did not do it. Instead he placed the burden of enlightenment back upon the individual, on those who would seek it. But it was also painful to hear because of the responsibility it places upon the individual to work out their own salvation. That idea goes against almost everything I was taught as a Christian. We can do nothing on our own and are completely at the mercy of one greater than ourselves to rescue us if it is his will. But Buddha says, “Here is a path to the end of suffering. Tread it.” And every individual must tread this path him or herself. Buddha tells his follower not to pray to him after he is gone for he will be gone. “Buddhas only point the way. Work out your salvation with diligence.” (Smith 97-quoted from Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism, 1951)

Another odd thing about Buddha’s teachings that were difficult for me was that they were solely pragmatic. Buddha did not deal with metaphysical speculation or any philosophical issues beyond, these are the problems of life and here are the solutions. Buddha did not deal with the universe and humanity’s place in it but rather ignores the universe and deals with where we are here and now. Buddha teaches that humanity’s problem is suffering and his teachings were meant to be tools to solve this problem and if they did not do that than they were worthless and should be abandoned. He compared his teachings to rafts, which help people cross to the other side of a river but once at the other shore they are of no further use. So while amazing this was hard for me in that I love speculation. I love the kind of questions, which not only cannot be answered but are probably of no use even if they can be answered. Yet again I loved Buddha’s continued selflessness and his unwillingness to see his ideas as anything more than tools to be discarded once they had served their purpose. And of supreme importance Buddha’s teachings are egalitarian to the core, similar to Jesus’. He is adamant that women are as capable as men in reaching enlightenment and he constantly rejects the caste system of Hinduism and its assumptions about Brahmin spiritual superiority.

Another difficulty that has arisen from my encounter of Buddha is once again being faced with the question of, “what value does reason hold if any?” While Buddha clearly does not believe reason is the tool needed for achieving enlightenment he does seem to understand its power and gives it a place within his worldview. So I appreciated that but it remained difficult for me because reason has been of great value to me, especially recently so reading the words of Buddha similar to reading the words of Christ were difficult in that they were an assault on my “faith” in reason. As I have read various sayings of Buddha and examined Buddhism I have found myself doubting everything I have written and come to believe in the past year. I have been left examining my confident or at least loud declarations for or against various beliefs. I could not help but feel once again that there must be more to us than merely our flesh or at least I could not help but hope there was. Still my reason remains. It cannot do everything, that I know but even those who view reason as unhelpful or even dangerous must see that reason matters. Even if reason does not contain the power to convince one of the truth it clearly has the power to reject other people’s truth claims. Smith says, “Until reason is satisfied, an individual cannot proceed in any direction wholeheartedly.” (106) and I agree. On the most basic level this can be seen at the very beginning of every person’s religious or spiritual journey. You have to decide what life’s problem is before you can determine any solution and the way people do that is with their heads. Buddha says the problem is suffering, Christ says the problem is sin. My faith in God at age 12 came only after my mind had decided there was a problem (sin) and that Christ was the solution. The core of apologetics is getting people to see there is a problem. You need to use reason to awaken their minds in order that they ultimately choose your faith with their heart. In this sense the mind always precedes the heart. Only after the mind sees a problem in its heart can the heart make up its mind. But doubt remains.

So here I sit wanting to write more and more but not sure I should. Buddha has caused me to doubt myself in a new way and for that I am thankful but also scared. Buddha has reminded me of my past and my wonder in the teachings of Christ. And Buddha has encouraged me to not give up the search for truth. I am not Buddhist and I know very little about Buddha but I do feel I know this much, he was awake.

*perhaps it is fitting that I wrote this on Easter the day that Christians say Jesus once again was "awake"