Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sheldon Cooper

Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Sherry M. Peyton for her wonderful interview! I very much enjoyed reading your answers and I thank you for sharing with us Sherry!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon is an Agnostic and I know you'll enjoy his interview as well!

Here Is Sheldon Cooper's Introduction:

I go by Sheldon Cooper online, (and yes, the name does come from the character on the show The Big Bang Theory), I’m a warehouse clerk from Granite City, Illinois, a St. Louis suburb. I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family, and I myself was a Christian fundamentalist until nearly 4 years ago. I am an agnostic now, but I have only “come out” to 5 people in my life so far, and  to keep my cover, I still attend church. On my blog, Ramblings of Sheldon, I talk candidly about my past, and my life and beliefs now, as well as my struggles with mental illness. I have depression, and I strongly suspect that I may be a high functioning autistic.

1) What religion do you practice? 
I don’t consider atheism/agnosticism a religion, but for the sake of this interview, I’ll respond to questions as though it is, I understand that most people interviewed probably are religious, and questions were written with that in mind.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting? 
I came to the conclusion of agnosticism after quite a bit of questioning and doubting nearly 4 years ago at the age of 21. It was a long and hard process, I had doubled down on the Christian fundamentalism that was my passion and the only faith I knew in response to ignorance and bigotry about mental illness from my mother. I had just returned from a prominent Southern Baptist university that I had spent a year in as a political science major/Biblical Studies minor after a complete nervous breakdown due to depression and anxiety (I even had some extreme panic attacks).
She said it was nothing but the result of “guilt”, and “not having a right relationship with God”, unfortunately, at the time, I believed her, and I started diving back into my faith with a zeal I had never known before, intensely studying the Bible, diving into theology and the beliefs of popular ministers in the Southern Baptist circles I was in, like John Piper.
Ironically, this was the beginning of the end for my Christian beliefs. I had read the Bible through and through, but I felt like I was reading it for the first time as I finally saw just how cruel and barbaric the Bible truly is. I started becoming disgusted with what I was reading, and with the Christian concept of god. How could a god who was supposedly a loving caring, creator as I had been taught all my life command the Jewish people to carry out the acts of genocide that they committed in the Old Testament? Why would he send someone to hell just for not believing in him? These questions and many more factors lead me to believe that even if this god existed, he was not worthy of my worship, I would rather live my life to the best of my ability, and go to hell for it if it existed, than worship such a monster. At first I toyed with the idea for a few months that I might become a deist, but eventually I began to realize I was an agnostic.

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)?  What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
Well, within the atheist world there are actually more differences in opinion and schools of thought than you might think. First, there are the three major divisions of belief, you have atheists, agnostics, and the much smaller, and less known group, the Ignostics.
Atheists of course, believe that there is no god, and there is not even a slight chance that one exists, agnostics leave open a slight possibility that there may be a god, but challenge believers to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is one, and Ignostics believe that the very concept of a god is too hard to define.
Then, beyond that, you have divisions when it comes to political philosophy, gender issues, and how to react to religion.
In politics, most in the atheist community are on the left side of the spectrum somewhere, there are socialists, progressives, libertarians, and even anarchists. There is also a very small group on the right wing who consider themselves conservative atheists, a good example of them is the writer Cephus of the blog Bitchspot
On gender issues, you have extremist feminists like the bloggers at Freethought Blogs, moderate feminists like Laci Green, and even some people who have their criticisms of feminism like TJ Kirk
There are also three major divisions when it comes to how to react to religion, and it’s role in society. You have the anti-theists, who feel that all religion is harmful, it should have no role in society, and they wouldn’t mind if it ceased to exist altogether. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum is the accommodationists  (some of them use this term with pride, some shy away from it, because it can be considered an insult in the atheist community), who see religion in a more positive light, and want to build connections between the religious and non-religious.
There are also those who are in between the anti-theists and the accommodationists, people like me who do believe that religion can be extremely harmful in it’s more fundamentalist forms, and want religious extremism out of politics and society, but tolerate, and even sometimes get along quite well with more liberal/moderate religious people. I don’t agree with them, and I don’t understand them sometimes, but I get along quite well with Wiccans and liberal Christians.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ?  Why did you choose this degree of observance?
See the major divisions in the atheist community above that I talked about. When it comes to reaction to religion, like I said, I’m opposed to harmful religious extremism, but don’t mind liberal/moderate religious people. I do hope that the US becomes a society, and develops a government that is more secular, neutral to religion, and guided by proven facts instead of belief.
On gender issues, I think feminism does have it’s good side, and can be a force for good, but has become rather extreme lately, and has started to ignore some gender issues that it should be paying attention to.
Politically, I’m somewhere between a progressive and a libertarian. Too economically moderate to be either, but I tend to agree with the libertarians more on foreign policy/war, civil liberties, etc.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion?  For example:  what happens when a person dies?  Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept) 
There is no heaven or hell, but honestly, sometimes I wish there was. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to know that some of the worst murderers, terrorists, and dictators in history or even people that have abused you in your lifetime will get what’s coming to them in the next life?
Wouldn’t it be great if the good people in this world who received quite a bit of undue suffering finally received the peace and happiness they deserved in Heaven?
It all sounds nice, and I think this yearning for final justice is what attracts many people to religion, but then I come back to reality, and look at the suffering in this world, much of which happens to people who didn’t deserve it, and think that even if there was a god and an afterlife, a god that isn’t just in this life isn’t likely to be just in the afterlife either.
I think the belief that there is no heaven or hell is a more fulfilling belief in the end, because I don’t believe in an afterlife anymore, I feel like I want to do more to make the world a better place, and speak out against injustices. I think it’s also made me more open minded, and forgiving of people, because this world is all we have, we should do are best to make it a better place for everyone.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?  
Now I believe that there is no heaven, but during my Christian days, I would have said that only Christians who had asked God to forgive them of their sins, and accepted the essential basic doctrines of Christianity, like the subsitionary atonement of Jesus’ death/resurrection would make it into Heaven. I’m not proud of that, but that is indeed what I believed, like other fundamentalists.
I do find the concept of Christian univeralism to be rather interesting (the belief that all people, Christian or not are going to Heaven because of God’s forgivness), because it is so dramatically different than the doctrines I grew up with, and because I honestly wonder how they reconcile that with the Bible. Maybe I should ask my good blogging friend Lana Hope about that.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?  
I think agnosticism is a good fit for me because I have always wanted to question, to know more about this world, and the atheist community welcomes that kind of seeking, of always wanting to know more, and learn more. Fundamentalism in any religion feels that questioning is OK, only up to a certain point, certain topics and beliefs are off limits to question, because they are just simply true because either God supposedly said it, or your faith believes it, and that settles it. That limits questioning and debate to a large extent.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them? 
Well, of course, there are no holy days in atheism. ;)
I celebrate the typical holidays that are widely celebrated in the US, and I don’t mind the  typical get togethers and feasts associated with them, but I have found that some of them have become rather hollow, and have no real meaning to me. Some, because of their religious origins, like Christmas and Easter, even though Christmas has become more and more of a secular holiday in recent decades in the US. Maybe it’s because my family always stressed the religious meanings of those days (“remember the real reason for the season”), and I tend to associate them too much with the Christian fundamentalism of my past. Maybe my feelings will change in time.
I have noticed that the 4th of July has also become hollow to me, mostly because many people associate patriotism with support of the government system as a whole, and I have quite a few issues with the two party system, and have become rather anti-war in recent years. 

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?  
A few years back, I became good friends with a family that ran a music store in my community, the father was into Native American spirituality, the wife and daughter weree Wiccan, and the son, whom I met later was agnostic.
It was quite an experience meeting the mother and father, because I had always been taught that Wiccans/neo-pagans were “Satanists”. A lot of misconceptions melted away after getting to know them, and I began to see a lot of beauty in the simplicity, and open mindedness/tolerance inherent in Wicca and native beliefs. They really were a great family.
Unfortunately, I have drifted apart from them due both to their store closing last year, and the fact that I am in the middle of rebuilding a foreclosure house I bought in order to move out and separate myself from my abusive mother. Once I get settled into that house, I’m going to try and get in contact with them again.
Online, I’m good friends with some great liberal Christians, both on Google’s social network, Google +, and through blogging. 

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I would, if given the opportunity; it would be rather interesting, especially the holidays of Judaism and Islam, it would help me to understand other faiths and their traditions.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?  
Sharia law is cruel and barbaric and has no place in the modern world, period. As for burqas, I don’t believe that in the vast majority of cases, Islamic women wear them or their own choice and volition, even if they live in Western nations. Even if they don’t face violent retribution for not wearing it, they still live in fear of rejection by their family and the Islamic culture around them, and the shaming that would come with that. 

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
They weren’t allowed to hold clerical positions in any Christian church that I was in during my Christian days, including the church that I am "undercover" in. The only Christian group that I am a part of that even comes close is the Assembly of God denomination, which leaves that up to individual congregations, the Assembly of God church I was in didn’t allow female pastors, but did allow for female board members in the church.
In the atheist movement, there are no “clergy” or formal leadership, and all non-believers/skeptics are welcome, regardless of gender, orientation, etc.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel? 
As I said in question 12, atheism is a very accepting movement. Atheism didn’t used to have anything resembling churches until very recently, some people have started "atheist churches" not to poke fun at religion, or to try and turn atheism into something resembling a religion, but to act as a gathering place, and to provide a sense of community that many people experience in religion. I could see how this could appeal to many people, especially the ex-religious like me. If one started here in the St. Louis area, I would definitely be interested in checking it out.

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion,  gay marriage, etc?
Going from Christian fundamentalism to agnosticism greatly changed my view on social issues completely. I began to realize that many of my former political beliefs, such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage are completely rooted in religion, and once that era of my life closed, it all crumbled. Now I am pro-choice (but feel that wider and more affordable availability to birth control is preferable to abortion), and I fully support the gay rights movement, and I’m proud to say that.

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?  
Honestly, I don’t feel that I would be able to handle the stress of having children, at least not until later in life, and I want to experience life more before becoming a parent, if I ever do become one. If I did have a child, and they grew up and wanted to be something other than an atheist, well, that’s their choice. I wouldn’t have objections unless they become a religious fundamentalist, and/or join a dangerous cult. I’m not of the mindset that one’s children, especially when they become young adults, shouldn't have no rights, which is the way I was treated. That’s a toxic mentality to have in a family.

16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell? 
I don’t believe hell exists, so that’s kind of irrelevant……

17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not? 
There’s many people who are vocal atheists, and since the movement is not formally organized, there’s no official spokespeople for our movement, and there’s not very many people that in the public would recognize as coming close to filling that role, the closest person to that role would probably be Richard Dawkins, whom I have a lot of respect for.
The only person who comes to mind that at some point claimed to be atheist, but clearly wasn’t, by their beliefs and actions was the cult leader Jim Jones, though as the blogger Hemant Metha (aka the Friendly Atheist) once said he was a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a ball of f***ing insanity". At times he claimed to be an atheist, but never discouraged his followers from their ideas of him being a prophet type figure, or even divine, and he believed in reincarnation.
I don’t mind disagreements with fellow atheists, and unless someone claims to be atheist, and yet believes in an afterlife (like Jones did), or believes in a god, then I wouldn’t say that they aren’t a “true” atheist. (That would be rather absurd for someone to claim to be an atheist, and yet believe in a god, wouldn’t it?).
I will say that one segment of the atheist movement that I absolutely can’t stand, and feel is toxic to the atheist movement is the Freethought Blogs/Atheism + crowd. They are as dogmatic, spiteful, and close minded about their opinions as fundamentalists, and have been rather vicious to their opponents, accusing people of rape without investigating the claims or proving themouting and doxing an anonymous blogger they disagreed with, and saying that people who defend due process when others are accused of sexual misconduct may be abusers themselves. I can’t stand them, I will not link to them, and I will not link to blogs that either have a good deal of links to Freethought Blogs, or sing their praises.

18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain. 
No, neither as a Christian, or now as an agnostic, perhaps in the second case, it’s because I’m not living openly as an agnostic yet.

19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?  
No, I feel atheism/agnosticism actually gives more value and meaning to a life, because as I said earlier, this life is all we have, so we should enjoy it, live it out, and strive to help others, there are no second chances, no extra lives, no afterlife, so make the most out of it.
I do feel however that the Christian fundamentalism of my past is denigrating to all of humanity, especially the Neo-Calvinism of people like John Piper.
Fundamentalism in general is built on the premise that we are worthless, contemptible sinners that can’t achieve holiness or the forgiveness of god, but god decided to sacrifice his son Jesus so that we could be forgiven anyway. One verse that I often quoted in this regard was Isaiah 64:6, all of our righteousness (our attempts to become holy and win god’s favor), is as filthy rags, unacceptable to god. As one meme once put it, it’s “the idea that you are so awful that you made god kill himself”.
 That’s a rather depressing and degrading way to look at humanity, and it only goes from bad to worse when you get deeper into Calvinism, into what is known as the Neo-Calvinist movement, which is popular in some Baptist circles today, and among some famous ministers like John Piper. In this infamous video (only watch it if you can stomach it), John Piper explains why he felt it was OK for God to order acts of genocide in the Old Testament:
“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children any time he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everyone who dies, dies because God wills them to die.”
“God rules and governs everything, so everything he does is just, right and good. God owes us nothing.”
Does that sicken you to listen to and read like it does to me?

20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?  
I have depression, so nothing gives me peace of mind, lol. Well, my medication helps with that quite a bit, I’m not as restless as I used to be, and my mind doesn’t constantly race, and have conflicting thoughts bouncing around like lottery balls inside my head.
Cymbalta is about the only thing that has brought me close to some sort of peace in life.

21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not? 
No, I definitely don’t, but I would like for someone to try and show me the proof that they have been reincarnated, that would be fun. I find it interesting when people claim that they have been reincarnated that they don’t have many of the memories associated with that past life, for instance, someone who thinks that there were a Roman solider in their past life, but can’t speak the form of Latin spoken at that time.
In my Christian past, I would have simply quoted Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgement”.


  1. I find this blog very interesting. I follow Sheldon's ramblings and I will be sure to read a few more of these posts.

    BTW Sheldon you are right I believe that most people are drawn to religion for the after5life where they will get treated right. Everyone craves justice and equality, I just wish it would happen more on Earth.

  2. Thanks, Debra, for the interview :)

    You are right, Christian, it's only one of the attractions of religion, but at some level, it's a big draw.