Tue, 12 June 2018
Today, Cass Midgley and Dr. Bob Pondillo interview Alan Witmer, also known as his alter ego, Rex Jamesson on Facebook. Alan is a software designer in Lebanon, NH. He's been married 34 years to his second wife which puts him about Bob's age. He has two adult children and one 3-year-old grandchild. He and his wife enjoy motorcycling together, swing dance, and reading books together. He's an avid runner, a musician, a philosophical naturalist but not a nihilist: he believes there is awesome purpose and meaning to be found in this life. Alan grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, surrounded by Conservative Christian values, billboards, and memes. He “accepted Christ” at age 9. In his mid-20s he left the church for 5 years following the tumultuous breakup of his first marriage. But went back to faith again, and stayed the second time for almost three decades. He was happy and active in his faith. When he ventured into Christian apologetics, he unwittingly swallowed the “red pill” – his investigation led down a path of reason which, had I known where it would lead, I would never have chosen. Today, he is happily out of the faith. Although he discredits fundamentalism as an evil, immoral system that entraps and enslaves people, his own narrow escape from the illusion taught him respect and love his family and friends who remain, including his Christian wife.
We taped this conversation on May 20th, 2018. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, we offer these podcasts freely. And your support truly makes a difference. You can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge a monthly donation through Patreon. that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com.
Before we get into our talk with Alan, I want to share a little about our recent trip to Barcellona. Without talking to much about Barcellona, as amazing as it was and is a fantastic city, I want to emphasize the benefit of travelling in general. Because the truth is, that this planet has countless cool cities and amazing destinations that no one (not even Anthony Bardeau, RIP) could see them all in one lifetime. But I want to focus on the word "orientation." And especially the value of disorientation. Getting out of our homes, our home towns, our cultures, our routines can be disorienting. Travel pushes us out of our comfort zones and we're forced into disorientation. When traveling, the way you wake up is different, the expectations of the day are full of unknowns, when you're walking around, you're taking in the scenery with heightened awareness. You're woke to the new surroundings and excited and a bit scared. Thus you are present. Much more present than back home.
Orientation has to do with identifying where I am in relation to something immovable. I'm moving around, but I know where I am because I know where I am in relation to home base, ground zero, headquarters, something stationary, central and unchanging. How do we orient our North, South, East, and West compass points? In relation to the Sun--a non-moving object. Directions that are not relative to something else are 100% and absolutely arbitrary. If you ask me to “point up,” I’m going to orient myself to the ground and point away from it. If, however, I were to travel to the opposite side of the world, the “up” I was just pointing at would be the “down” in the new orientation.The same basic principle applies for ideas like the compass points. There is no scientific reason why the Northern Hemisphere is “on top,” or why London is higher than Miami, instead of the other way around. In truth, the reason is entirely political. Our current map-orientation comes from the European map makers of a few centuries ago. That orientation of the globe is the one that the entire world uses today. But it is no less true or legitimate to turn the map upside down and find yourself on it. While helpful to our existence, our sense of direction and thus our orientation are man-made constructs. Like language they are tools and symbols that help us relate to one another. Which brings me to the second word I want to highlight, "relationship." Our orientation is entirely based on where we are in relation to something else.
Before you think I'm being critical of these constructs, have you ever tried driving down the road with your head tilted 90 degrees to the right? Just by changing your orientation a little, you seriously throw off your ability to drive straight, to avoid other cars, to stay in your lane. We need order, structure and reliability in our lives just to function. These constructs save our lives every day. Disorientation may be a good exercise or even fun, but it is not a sustainable way of life. Vacations are cool because they take us out of our comfort zones AND because we get to come back to them.
I say all this in relation to our talk with Alan because he is extremely graceful towards people that need faith. Faith in God and/or the scriptures and/or the weekly community gatherings give people something with which their relationship orients their lives. Like turning my head sideways while driving scares me and in fact threatens my life, for some people, giving up God scares them and threatens their lives. I know I've inferred before that people who need faith have stunted their maturity by clinging to it, and I know that was my experience, but I'm loath to become nothing more than an inverse rendition of judgmental Christians. Alan models this. He says at one point that if his wife goes to her grave believing in Christianity, he won't think any less of her. Wow, that's something to think about.
If we're going to be yes-sayers to reality, we might do well to disorient ourselves from false stationary standards by which we measure and judge things. To stop measuring people and circumstances against a pre-existing idea of how things SHOULD go or how we want people to be, including ourselves. Remove measurements like north south east and west in relation to the sun and the presumed map of the world and let ourselves float in space. Let people be what they'll be, circumstances be what they'll be...and have the presence and heightened awareness of one on vacation, away from home out of one's comfort zone, disoriented and ready for the un-normal, the spontaneous, and the unpredictable. We live on a three-dimensional orb, not a one-dimensional plane. There's no pattern to the numerical sequence of pi. We think we understand things. We think we know how people should be? or what they should believe? People are free and we are free to leave them that way. This is the beauty of agnosticism, of humility, and of saying yes to what is.