Monday, August 30, 2010

Atheist, Obviously-by Julian Baggini

This is an essay by Julian Baggini. He is the author of numerous books about philosophy written for a general audience. He is the co-founder and editor of The Philosopher's Magazine. He frequently writes for newspapers and magazines such as the Gurdian, the New Statesman and the Financial Times, and often speaks of BBC radio.

This is a great essay that combines Baggini's personal story with clear, objective thoughts.

Atheist, Obviously-by Julian Baggini

Although I can’t say I was enveloped in a flash of darkness on the road back from Damascus, there was a pivotal moment in my move from belief to unbelief which I remember very vividly indeed. Although in some ways it was a very particular, personal experience, in others I think it reflects something about why I’m an atheist, and why I’m the kind of atheist that I am.

As a child, I took belief in God for granted. I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household, but it certainly wasn’t an atheist one. In any case, I was sent to a Catholic primary school, which gently indoctrinated us all day long. We paraded into morning assembly with out hands clasped in front of us, ready for prayer, and every meal started and finished with grace.

What strikes me most, looking back, is how little our elders seemed to care whether we understood what we were doing. We must have said the Hail Mary and Lord’s Prayer every day, yet phrases like “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus” and “Hallowed be thy name” made absolutely no sense at all. Does Mary have a womb – whatever that is – called Jesus, and what is a womb anyway? Is God called Howard?

More seriously, perhaps, we were encouraged to lie by ending each lunch with the prayer “Thank you God for a lovely dinner.” I can see why we should have been encouraged to be thankful for our food, but it was rarely lovely, and pedants would insist it was never dinner.
At the time, however, all this worked to create the desired sense that of course God existed and, of course, Catholicism was the only way to him. When I went to secondary school, however, religion was suddenly much less important. Most of my classmates were Protestants, and seemed to be as godless as somehow I had come to imagine they would be. Still, I thought that God did exist, and, if he did, this must matter a great deal, so almost privately, I continued to take my religion seriously. I even voluntarily got confirmed a Catholic, although I didn’t keep up my churchgoing.

Then I started going to a Methodist youth club and, through that, to the church. The congregation was a fairly bookish, liberal lot. I’m not sure how many of them realized, however, that the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs was quite evangelical. Its main annual event was the London weekend, were thousands of kids from all over the country would sleep on church hall floors and attend concerts, a rally, and a Sunday worship at the Royal Albert Hall.

The worship was always an emotional event. Thousands of teenagers singing “Jesus is the answer” in such an impressive space packed a punch, as did the testimonies of people who had been lost and miserable in various ways, before Christ came into their lives and made them the happy people we saw before us. The services even had a “come on down” moment, a staple of evangelical rallies, where those who felt moved to pledge their lives to Christ could come to the front and have a little prayer with a volunteer.

I never really bought into the excesses of the evangelical approach. At ecumenical services, for example, my friend and I would always laugh at the “hand raisers,” who would close their eyes and lift their palms heavenward every time the Baptist church’s Christian rock band led them in song. Nevertheless, I must have taken on a few of the core ideas, namely that you can have a personal relationship with Christ and that your emotions are some kind of indicator of the reality of the Holy Spirit.
I had been to a few of these weekends, but by the time of the last one before I went to university, my faith had already started to recede. It wasn’t that I thought God didn’t exist, but that I couldn’t buy into all the specifics of Christianity, or any other religion. I was in the “There’s probably something but it’s not the Christian God” phase.

I wasn’t ready to give up yet, though. As I had learned over the years, faith regularly flags and is tested. Doubts are an opportunity to make your faith even stronger, not a reason to give it up. So it was that I headed off to the London in the hope that I might be a belief booster.

However, no sooner had we arrived than I started throwing up. A lot. The Saturday was pretty much a write-off. Come Sunday, however, I was feeling a little better, but still not entirely convinced I had heaved my last. So instead of sitting with everyone else, I got to take part in the worship from the first aid area, which was, ironically it would turn out, somewhere up in the gods. So there I was, not feeling 100 percent, observing more than participating in the worship, detached, not involved, It was a revelation.

Suddenly, the central fact about the worship became blindingly, transparently obvious. The Holy Spirit was not at work at all: this was all people’s doing. You could see how the emotion was built up, reaching a crescendo at the key point where people were asked to commit or renew their commitment to Christ. To call it mass hysteria may be a little over the top, but not much.

Although I’m sure that some evangelists are con artists, this is certainly not how I saw the M AYC. I believe that the organizers genuinely thought that all they were doing was creating the right environment for the Holy Spirit to do its work. (In the same way, some “psychics” use cold-reading techniques to dupe their hapless victims, while others come sincerely to use what are essentially the same techniques and are so impressed by the results that they really believe they have special powers.)

My detailed study of John’s Gospel for my A-levels had already made it pretty clear that the Bible was the work of men, not God. The London weekend helped convince me that the same was true of every other aspect of my religion too. A mental switch had been flipped: God was made man, more fully than Christianity understood.

What I think is of more than just autobiographical interest is that once this cognitive corner is turned, it doesn’t take long before the human-made nature of religion becomes not just something one believes to be true, but something that is obviously true. This obviousness, however, is problematic. If it is indeed obvious, why did I ever believe otherwise? Why do intelligent people continue to believe? And isn’t the category of the obvious dangerously subjective in the first place?

Intelligent believers and nonbelievers alike do not generally say things like “It’s obvious,” except to people who share their basic commitments. It is as though we understand that this is an intellectually disreputable way of talking, like referring to common sense. Yet there is a kind of dishonesty in this, because many people do indeed find core elements of their faith, or lack of it, obvious. I’d go further and suggest that the obvious is usually what is most powerful in determining what fundamental beliefs people have about God and spirituality. Academics in particular maintain the illusion that, on the contrary, things like the complex details of the latest revision of the ontological argument might actually matter when it comes to determining whether or not God exists. If they did, we might see more regular changes of mind. As it is, philosophers of religion seem to be at least as consistent in their fundamental commitments as anyone else.

But if the same thing can seem obviously true to one person, and obviously false to someone else, isn’t that reason enough to discard obviousness as an unhelpful category? I don’t think so, because the way in which belief is obvious is very different from the way in which nonbelief is.

Let me illustrate this with something the Christian and physicist Russell Stannard once said in an interview with my colleague Jeremy Stangroom. Stannard was being asked about how one could ever get evidence that prayer established contact with God. “I think that what you have to realize,” he said, “is that when you are talking to a religious person, they feel that they have such strong internal evidence. It’s like Jung said, I don’t have to believe in God, I know that God exists – that is how I feel.”

Up until that point Stannard had been talking quite dispassionately about evidence for belief in God, as though he were a hypothesis to be confirmed by a scientific method. This comment, however, revealed that that this was in a way a fa├žade, because the believer needs no third party verifiable evidence at all: inner conviction suffices.

I think this is typical of the kind of obviousness of belief. It is obvious because it feels or seems obvious, and no one other than the believer is required to verify its obviousness. Another example I have sometimes quoted is the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan, who said: “No one in their right mind can look in the stars and the eternal blackness everywhere and deny the spirituality of the experience, nor the existence of s Supreme Being.” It is an appeal to the obvious, but without any evidential back-up. It is like saying, “If you felt what I felt you’d find it obvious too.”

The obviousness of belief that religion is a human construct is quite different. Here, one is not relying on a subjective feeling at all, but on the overwhelming evidence which is available to all. The sociology, history, and psychology of religions all point to their human rather than their divine origin. What makes this obvious is the overwhelming weight of evidence that points to this interpretation, rather than one which ascribes a divine cause.

The same is true of other obvious tenets of atheism. That we are biological organisms whose being and consciousness depends on a functioning body and brain is obvious because the evidence is clear and overwhelming, not because we feel it must be true.

Hence the obviousness that belief and nonbelief do not cancel each other out, leaving obviousness as an irrelevant factor. Rather, we can see that there are at least two kinds of obviousness, and belief tends to rest on the unreliable kind, nonbelief on the reliable kind. That much should be, well, obvious.

That certainly seems to capture the important shift in perspective I made at the Albert Hall. What I observed was a hall full of people all trusting their feelings when, if they would just once take an objective view of what was going on, they would see that what caused those feelings was not what it seemed.

The obviousness of atheism’s basic truths, however, also causes problems. If you think religion is obviously false, it makes it hard to understand sympathetically why often intelligent people still believe in it. As a result, improbably error theories are often proposed, such as the idea that believers are victims of some kind of mental virus.

In fact, many religious people know full well that a lot of what they do is the result of human, rather than divine, ingenuity. They may also reckon it silly to think of a god in heaven to whom souls float up after death. But take away what is obviously false about religion and you are not left with nothing. It is not obvious that human beings should abandon the search for transcendence in some form, or should recognize no higher moral authority than themselves. It is not obvious that one should orientate one’s life toward the finite rather than toward the eternal. Nor is it obvious that religions do not provide a good framework within which to live, irrespective of the literal truth of their metaphysical frameworks.

It might be objected that talking in these abstract terms about what religion can do is an evasion, because such non-literal understandings of what faith means are restricted to a liberal, intellectual elite. The vast majority of believers hold creeds literally which are obviously false.

I think this is probably true, but there are other less obvious facts which complicate the picture. First, our capacity to recognize the obvious depends on the wider framework of beliefs we hold. I wasn’t a stupid teenager, but I had become used to seeing the world against a background of belief in God, and the disconfirming evidence was not made apparent to me. It is not enough to show people “obvious” truths if everything else they believe tells them there are no such things.

Second, it is not clear that what people say they believe is actually most important for the fact that they do believe. There are plenty of fundamentalists who really do believe every word of the Bible to be true, for example. But a very large number of practicing Christians, at least, are unsure as to what precisely they do believe concerning Christ and God. Even those who would agree that Jesus is the son of God, for example, often admit a high degree of uncertainty as to what that really means.

It’s easy to scoff and say that such people are just confused. For instance, a large number of people seem genuinely to believe the reassuring but incoherent idea that all religions are equally valid routes to the divine. But such doctrinal vagueness is only terminal if doctrinal coherence is a precondition of living a religious life. I cannot see how this strong condition can be demanded. What matters a great deal to theologians and atheologians need not be of central concern to the ordinary worshiper.

What makes people live religiously may not be obvious, even to themselves. And if that is the case, it should not surprise us that people do not immediately give up religion when we show that many of the beliefs they are supposed to hold are obviously false.

Personally, I find myself in a state of some ambivalence when it comes to the obviousness of atheism. On the one hand, I find myself frequently dismayed to hear people maintaining what seem to me obviously silly views about God, his books, and his prophets. But, on the other, I find myself equally frustrated by some of my atheist colleagues, who seem unable to understand that there is much to religion which is not obviously false or valueless.

Remembering my own de-conversion helps me to manage this tension. It reminds me that if I could have believed relatively late in life, then I needn’t think others who continue to believe even later are necessarily stupid. It also reminds me that what is most obvious to me is not that there is nothing to religion at all, but that no religion or text is the product of the divine. And hence it also reminds me that, although what is obvious may in many ways be most central to what I fundamentally believe, understanding what is obvious to others, and what makes them believe what they do, is often a very complex matter indeed.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Humility: Surrender or Transformation?


Humility is a virtue I have always valued as it was preached to me throughout my youth and into my adulthood. As I have grown up and rejected so many of my previous religious beliefs it is significant to find that I value humility as greatly as I ever have but what has changed is the type of humility I value.

The simplest way to describe the humility I sought in my youth is that I tried to place my own will beneath the will of God. I tried to be ready to submit to the Lord at all times and hopefully with an eager willingness. I desired to always say, “Not my will but yours be done.” I would call this a humility of surrender. But now I describe humility as being willing to place my own will beneath the evidence that has been laid before me. Now I desire to be ready to alter my own views at all times in conjuncture with well-reasoned facts. Let me now say, “Not my ideas but proof be found.” I call this a humility of transformation.

The Christian must always be ready to do as she is directed but never willing to change (forsake) her beliefs. She must hold strong to her faith no matter the evidence against it. I, on the other hand, am now free to do as I believe is best but must always be willing to change my position in the face of new evidence.

I can honestly say that the humility to transform my mind is the virtue I hope to maintain my entire life rather than the humility to surrender my mind and do as I am told. And in truth, despite my continual efforts to faithfully (mindlessly) submit, it is this humility of transformation that has led me to where I am today.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cherry-Picking Sacred Texts: An Obvious Double Standard

I recently had a Facebook conversation with a few friends that began based upon a conflict now occurring in New York concerning whether or not a mosque should be allowed to be constructed near ground zero. The conversation went on for a couple of days and ran in many different directions most of which dealt with trying to determine the actual facts about the issue and then arguing over the political and moral ideas surrounding the issue. I was by far the weakest and most ill-equipped for the conversation. American political issues are always of interest to me and like so many I have my own opinions but I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of the subject in all its subtleties is limited in large part because of my ignorance of the daily developments in current events. But the issues that always perk me up the most are any that bump into religion or philosophy in any way. This issue of course ran into the issue of religion due to the fact that it was a mosque that American Muslims were trying to build and all the issues and problems surrounding Islam as a whole in the United States.

Now it seems like every time I have some sort of conversation that runs into Islam in anyway it is not long before the Quran begins to be quoted in an attempt to demonstrate the moral or ethical shortcomings of Islam or to prove it to be inherently warlike in nature. And I never fail to be the one to speak up against my friends (or whoever) cautioning them in their attempt to prove or disprove something about Islam based upon cherry-picking from the Quran or from isolated historical examples. Cherry-picking is a tool that merely proves what one already believes. The whole is never examined rather small chunks are picked, which display exactly, or so they think, what the picker is trying to prove. When seen for what it is cherry-picking merely exposes the pickers for what they are, ignorant and or lazy.

When looking at Islam most of my Christian friends begin any study or examination of it assuming that it is false, which makes any of their conclusions problematic from the start. But what is good is that they look at Islam from outside of the system of Islam itself and try to use evidence and reason to make their judgments. It should be noted that while I do believe all people should be considered equal in value by no means should all opinions be regarded as equal in value and since most of the people I discuss Islam with study so little of it’s beliefs, scriptures and history their opinions and judgments are all but worthless in any serious effort to understand Islam but still I believe they rely more on their reason to judge Islam and that is good. They examine the evidence, no matter how little of it they actually bother to look at, and then they make their judgment. But then once Christianity is brought into the conversation everything changes. The method and tools they used to examine Islam (reason and evidence) get thrown out the window and new methods and tools are adopted (faith and mystery) all of which are designed to protect and maintain the belief that is already assumed at the beginning. Christianity is not examined from outside of the system rather it is only looked at through the rose colored glasses of a believer. Science and reason are used only in so much as they help defend the faith and are quickly abandoned and even attacked when they become problematic to the pre-held beliefs that are trying to be affirmed. Any attempt to cherry-pick bible verses or use singular historical examines is quickly pounced upon as not fair. It is explained that one cannot judge the whole of Christianity based upon single verses in scripture or disprove it based upon historical examples because humans are sinners and we must understand that people often do not live the way a true Christian is supposed to live.

What is encouraging is that the idiocy of cherry-picking and limited study has become obvious to the picker even if it is only because it is now being used against the religion of the picker herself. But what is truly frustrating is seeing how the picker uses two completely different systems to judge a religion that is not her own and one that is her own. She looks from the outside and relies on reason and demands evidence when examining a different religion but then suddenly changes and jumps inside and relies on faith and mystery to protect her from ever actually examining her own religion.

Now cherry-picking from any sacred scriptures or religion’s history is a poor way to prove a point. The fact of the matter is that no Abrahamic religion does everything its scriptures tell them to do or believes everything their scriptures say to believe due to the simple fact that their scriptures contradict themselves over and over again. The reason these religions have theologians and philosophers are because their systems are in constant need of maintenance due to their complex (contradictory) set of beliefs and traditions. The Quran like the bible has not been static in its meaning rather what it means and how it has been understood has changed throughout history based upon the context it was in and who was reading and extrapolating meaning from it. Both Christians and Muslims always create a canon within a canon meaning when they read the bible or Quran there are verses that come to be held in higher regard which are then used to understand and interpret other and often very unpleasant verses and commands.

I want to share some writing of Mark Twain. First just because I love Mark Twain’s writing on religion. He is insightful, witty and forceful. I believe he offers some wonderful thoughts on the evolutionary nature of biblical interpretation and displays what I mean by a canon within a canon. Further he shows not only how the Church continues to change and adapt their understanding of what the scriptures mean but also that they change and adapt only after society has changed. Truly the Church changes far too slowly and only when forced to and I believe these observations could be made of Islam too, though of course the specific examples Twain uses can not be applied to Islam. Any emphasis made in the text is my own. Twain writes,

The Christian Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes. For eighteen hundred years these changes were slight—scarcely noticeable. The practice was allopathic—allopathic in its rudest and crudest form. The dull and ignorant physician day and night, and all the days and all the nights, drenched his patient with vast and hideous doses of the most repulsive drugs to be found in the store’s stock; he bled him, cupped him, purged him, puked him, salivated him, never gave his system a chance to rally, nor nature a chance to help. He kept him religion sick for eighteen centuries, and allowed him not a well day during all that time. The stock in the store was made up of about equal portions of baleful and debilitation poisons, and healing and comforting medicines; but the practice of the time confined the physician to the use of the former; by consequence, he could only damage his patient, and that is what he did.

Not until far within our century was any considerable change in the practice introduced…The patient fell to doctoring himself, and the physician’s practice began to fall off. He modified his method to get back his trade. He did it gradually, reluctantly; and never yielded more at a time than the pressure compelled, At first he relinquished the daily does of hell and damnation, and administered it every other day only; next he allowed another day to pass; then another and presently another; when he had restricted it at last to Sundays, and imagined that now there would surely be a truce, the homeopath arrived on the field and made him abandon hell and damnation altogether, and administered Christ’s love, and comfort, and charity and compassion in its stead. These had been in the drug store all the time, gold labeled and conspicuous among the long shelf loads of repulsive purges and vomits and poisons, and so the practice was to blame that they had remained unused, not the pharmacy. To the ecclesiastical physician of fifty years ago, his predecessor for eighteen centuries was a quack; to the ecclesiastical physician of today, his predecessor of fifty years ago was a quack. To the every-man-his-own-ecclesiastical-doctor of—when?—what will the ecclesiastical physician of today be?...

The methods of the priest and the parson have been very curious; their history very entertaining. In all the ages the Roman Church has owned slave, bought and sold slaves, authorized and encouraged her children to trade in them. Long after some Christian peoples had freed their slaves the Church still held on to hers. If any could know, to absolute certainty, that all this was right, and according to God’s will and desire, surely it was she, since she was God’s specially appointed representative in the earth and sole authorized and infallible expounder of his Bible. There were the texts; there was no mistaking their meaning; she was right, she was doing in this thing what the Bible had mapped out for her to do. So unassailable was her position that in all the centuries she had no word to say against human slavery. Yet now at last, in our immediate day, we hear a Pope saying slave trading is wrong, and we see him sending and expedition to Africa to stop it. The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession—and take the credit of the correction. As she will presently do in this instance

Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one—the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession—at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.

Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch—the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it had persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from the statute book, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand.

There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

The Quran clearly has no shortage of texts commanding evil and legislating horrors that no modern person would support and the modern Christian is often aware and quite excited to point these out. Yet the bible also has no shortage of texts commanding evil and legislating horrors that no modern person would support but the modern Christian is all but blind to these texts and ignorant of how they have been understood and used throughout history. As Twain notes the texts will always remain the same but people will continue to change and with them so too will what the bible “actually” means change. People will continue to find ways to get their god off the hook for the evils done in his name and the texts that supposedly bear his authorship when the simple fact is that if their god exists no one is more to blame for evil than himself. If one is capable of stopping evil from happening and does not stop it one is responsible for the evil that happens and even more so if that person or being is the one who commanded the evil to be done in the first place.

So as usual I’m sure I will be seen as defending Islam, which in a way I am but not in the way that I believe it is usually perceived. When most hear me warn them not to judge Islam based on isolated verses or singular historical examples they see that as me trying to show them that Islam is as valid and good as Christianity but my warnings to my friends are not meant to show them that Islam is as “good” as they perceive Christianity to be but rather to show them that Christianity is as “bad” as they perceive Islam to be. Both worship the same god, though many would dispute that, and the evil they see in the god of Islam is an evil they seem happily blind to in their own version of that same god. So as time goes on I truly hope that more people will stop cherry-picking from other faith's sacred texts and histories but rather put in the time and effort to study that which they seek to judge and more importantly I hope more people will be brave enough to examine and judge their own faith by the same standards they examine and judge other faiths, now that would be truly wonderful.

I will add on a side note that both the Quran and Bible deserve to be read and enjoyed. One cannot even begin to understand the history, philosophy, politics or really any significant aspect of the West without solid exposure to these texts. I think English often does not do the Quran justice but it is a beautiful piece of writing despite many of the unpleasant messages it supports and don’t be fooled it supports ideas of justice and fairness that were well ahead of its time and superior to many texts of the bible.

I had a great conversation concerning this piece. Check it out

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Perfect Week-Angelina's Visit

For the last week my friend Angelina Ray has been visiting me here in Korea. I know Angelina from my time at Fuller Theological Seminary. I worked for her as her assistant. She was an academic advisor for the school of psychology. That was about three years ago and she has since become my best friend. Her visit was a source of great fun and enjoyment.

Over the week we went and explored many different places. Her first night here we had dinner with my co-teacher Choi. Choi took us to a restaurant called Dino Meat. The restaurant was basically just a buffet of meat. Each table had its own grill or hibachi and you go up to a display area (looks like the butcher’s section of a grocery store) and you just pick out whatever meat you want. They hand it to you and you go and cook it on your grill and you just keep going back up to the front as often as you want to grab more meat of all varying types. Choi ate so much and I tried to keep up but I got to the point where I just gave up. Angelina only had a little. She never eats that much and in particular plain meat is not something that is overly exciting or pleasing to her palate.

I really felt bad that this was her first food experience in Korea but I really had no idea where Choi was going to take us so we just went where we were taken. But we made it through dinner and then Choi dropped us off at Lake Park where I took Angelina over to the large fountain to show her the fountain show. Every night at the fountain there is a musical show where the fountain “performs” using various types of water towers and sprays along with various colors and music. It makes for a very fun time for the eyes.

The next day we went down to Hogdae, which is where Dos Tacos is and met up with a friend of Angelina’s who lives here. His name is Romyl and they are friends from high school. Romyl has been here for a year and so was very familiar with the city. He was more than happy to meet us for lunch and yes by my design to go to Dos Tacos with us. Romyl is a great guy and I was so glad I got to meet him. I am hoping to be able to spend more time with him in the future.

That night we went over to Seo’s house for dinner. Seo is one of the other English teachers at my school and her son is Jong Woo, who I’ve become friends with and have written about before. Dinner was good but we ended up having our lunch with Romyl fairly late and dinner came a bit too soon so our appetites were not really at their peak. I stuffed most of my meal down. It was good consisting mostly of noodle dishes but Angelina was not able to eat very much. She liked what she had but due to the amount she ate everyone kept asking her if the food was okay or why she didn’t like the food? Angelina had to just keep explaining that she thought the food was good but she was simply full. After dinner Jong Woo ran into his room and came back with a Korean board game. I admit I was not overly excited about learning and playing a new game. Part of the reason was that Angelina and I had talked about going to the movies after dinner to see Inception. But we stayed and played the game. Learning new games is never easy but it is especially hard when you are being instructed by a 10 year old who only knows some English. The game is fairly simple and Angelina picked it up very quickly. Sadly I did not. I really only got the hang of it after the second game at which time we stopped. I lost both games. The game does not end after one person wins rather the game continues until everyone is done, kind of like a race, and I was last both times. And yes I got a little frustrated at times even though I was only playing with Angelina, Jong Woo and his sister who is only 7. Angelina thought it was funny so at least there’s that. After we left we went down to the movie theater but decided not to go to the movie instead we just walked around and I showed her the main entertainment area in Ilsan called LaFesta. As we were walking around we ran into my friends Andrea and Ashlea so Angelina got to meet both of them. We set up some plans to get lunch later in the week but those plans later fell through and we were never able to get another time set up so Angelina never really got to spend any time with them but at least they met.

On Wednesday Angelina and I had lunch with my friend Lucas. Lucas took us to a restaurant that served bulgogi, which is a very popular Korean food. It is marinated and grilled beef kind of like barbecue in fact many just call it Korean barbecue. Anyway the food was good and Lucas and Angelina got to visit, which made me happy.

After lunch I wanted to take Angelina back to Lake Park so she could see it during the day. Based on where the restaurant was I was pretty sure we weren’t too far away from the park. In fact I was fairly confident we were directly north of the park. As we traveled the path through a park that really was a small mountain I led with a lot of doubt and fear but we eventually we ended up right where we wanted to be at Lake Park. So while the park was directly south of the restaurant like I thought it was not as close as I had guessed. The walk just to get to Lake Park from the restaurant took about 45 minutes and it was terribly hot that day. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t wet by the time we got to the park and once there all I wanted to do was walk around the park for her to see. In all our walking adventure to and around the park ended up consuming about five hours. That night we went to the movies and saw Inception. The movie was fine but nothing I would consider amazing which is what both Angelina and I had heard about the movie. But I’m not very picky about movies and we had a good time.

Thursday was a day of shopping. First we went to one of the larger shopping districts in the city called Myeong-dong. This part of the city is filled with many types of stores, which include a lot of the major retail stores from the US and from other countries. During our time there it was actually me who ended up buying things. I walked away with three new shirts, which were all on sale at my favorite store here called UniQlo. We then jumped on the train and headed to a more touristy area called Anguk where Angelina was able to shop for present for all the friends and family she had promised gifts to. I had never been there so it was an exploratory adventure for both of us. The markets there were great. There were tables and stores everywhere covered with products that were great for souvenirs. By the time we got home we had been out for around seven hours. We were both so tired that we decided we were going to spend Friday inside and just watch some movies and hang out.

So on Friday we woke up with no particular plan but within an hour we decided to go ahead and go out again. We went back to Anguk so Angelina could grab a few more presents but while we were there this time we also went to Changdeokgung Palace. The palace was huge, It’s an entire compounded filled with buildings of various sizes and gardens and other sites. We explored for a while and then headed back to the train.

I then took Angelina to Itaewon, which is the part of Seoul where the most foreigners congregate. You can think of it being like Korea Town in Los Angeles or China Town in San Francisco. So in Iteawon there are a lot of Western stores and restaurants. We went to a Mexican restaurant, which was pretty good. We also did some shopping. Angelina found some purses that were apparently a great deal here. She bought five purses for what she said was less then just one of those purses would have been in the US, of course I would have never known. I also took her to the English book store in that area that I kind of like. It’s not huge but I still like it. They have new and used books and they can order any book you want from back in the US. Now Angelina had just brought me six books to me from home so I really had no need for another book anytime soon but I couldn’t help myself and bought a book from the used section that was fairly cheap. So now I just have to read all of them.

Saturday ended up being what we had intended for Friday to be. It was a day of nothing. We watched DVDs and talked most of the day. Nothing exciting to report but it was one of my favorite days.

Sunday was another kind of slow day. The main task of the day was to figure out how we were going to get Angelina to the airport. No one was able to take us so we were going to use the bus system. Now Seoul has a great transportation system but like all things it is fairly useless if you don’t know how to use it. I had talked to Choi (my co-teacher) and did research online and we figured out what we thought was the best way to get to the airport. But I was not willing to wait until Monday to make sure everything we thought was true actually was true. So we did a dry run taking the bus from by my apartment down to where the bus for the airport came. As simple as that sounds it really took quite a while to find the exact place the bus came and to confirm that it was the bus we wanted. It is called a limousine bus and serves a great way to get to the airport with limited stops and with all your luggage.

Then today we got up and basically took off for the airport. The trip went perfectly. The only annoyance was that it was raining when we were going from my apartment to the place where we would catch the bus to the airport. We got to the airport almost 3 hours before Angelina needed to go through security so we had lunch and just soaked up our last remaining minutes together. I had spent all week trying, and basically succeeding, to not think about this moment but there was no getting around it now. And before I knew it she was gone.

The past month was one where I saw very few people and spent most of my nights and weekends alone. This did not cause me to be sad or anything like that rather that was simply the way it was and I didn’t think too much about it. But it is funny to see how your view of things changes when you get to be with a friend 24/7 for a week. No time felt wasted when I was spending it with Angelina. It didn’t feel like I wasn’t accomplishing something more important or that I should be doing something else rather it was both exhilarating and relaxing. It was exciting to have someone to talk to constantly, to share thoughts with and point out and laugh about things that are odd to us here in Korea. And it was relaxing to just be content with whatever happened each day because it happened with a friend. It was much easier to allow our “plans” to remain tentative and not stress out (for the most part) about how we were going to get from one place to another. This really was a great week and I am so thankful that Angelina came over here to visit. It reminded me of all the things I love about home. I have two more days off before school starts so hopefully it will give me a little time to readjust to the single man’s life here, which probably just means two days of lying in bed and weeping into my pillows. You are already greatly missed Angelina.