Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-06-20 - Brenda von Ahsen

Author Recorded Thursday June 20th, 2019

There are 47 episodes in the Versus:Atheist series.

Recorded February 9th, 2019

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-02-09 - Greg

Recorded September 11th, 2016

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2016-09-11 - Renaud

Brenda reached out by email back in June in an attempt to see if it would be possible to have a civil and respectful conversation about religion. I enjoyed our chat and am looking forward to many more.


Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-06-20 - Brenda von Ahsen

Author Recorded July 30th, 2016

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good afternoon my name is Brenda phone Olsen and you're listening to Catholic versus atheist so tell the listeners a little bit about yourself if you would please who you are what you believe and how you came to believe what you believe my name is Brenda I am a 62 year old male to female trans woman I came to have my atheistic beliefs at some time I don't know in my late adolescence I generally believe in a scientific materialist world I don't believe in the alternatives which are various forms of pan psychism dualism idealism I don't think that those makes a lot of sense to me okay before we get too much into ideas I usually like to ask my guests about childhood the earliest memories that have anything to do with God or religion and then just sort of a sketch of what the home life was like if there was any inkling of religion in the home oh I was raised Lutheran alc Senate and I had a fairly uneventful childhood as far as religion goes I believed in religion for quite some time however I read a great deal I've always read throughout most of my life I've read a great deal and at some point in my adolescence I came to believe that atheism was the way to go I had the usual dalliance 'as with various ideas I remember reading and rand and believing in her for like about 15 minutes before before rejecting her I think you're not good adolescent if you don't believe in n R and for at least 15 minutes and you're not a very good adult if you don't reject her I was affiliated with the American atheist community for a brief period of time I subscribed to secular humanist magazines when there was such a thing as physical magazines I once went to atheist convention in Washington DC and met Madalyn Murray O'Hair and that was somewhat disillusioning because she was a very difficult person in my opinion she was very selfish and self-centred however I think about somewhat less than 50% of the people in the convention ever even left their rooms and came down to the convention floor I think there were other things going on I went to college locally in my town however I dropped out due to it being the 70s and my having a lot of gender identity issues which were very confusing caused me a lot of distress and depression and I was unable to figure myself out at that time because there were no public sources available to work these things out with and then I entered the working world and I worked for a very long time in a medical clinical situation as a paramedical type person basically an orderly transferring people to and from their therapy and things like that so what was it like coming out as an atheist what was it like coming out as transgender and if you're homosexual what was it like coming out as a homosexual I don't think I've ever been homosexual when I transitioned from male to female my identity as being heteronormative simply remained and so I was them attracted to men coming out as an atheist wasn't wasn't really a big deal because was a somewhat liberal household and as you I don't know if you know or not but the ALC is a fairly liberal denomination in the Lutheran Church coming out as trans was a big deal I became estranged from my family friends and family I lost jobs I became homeless twice I now have housing assistance here and I'm quite poor but I do manage to get by it really sucks being homeless as a trans person and you know it's very difficult did you reconcile with your parents oh yes my father and I reconciled and my mom somewhat more so my father passed away about five years ago from metastatic bone cancer but with the help of a therapist and family therapy sessions we had come to a good understanding with each other and even though my dad was difficult growing up because he had some very antiquated views of masculinity in the later years he had much softened up in his attitudes and was very accepting and we reconciled and I love my father very much and my mom and I have a good relationship and we speak by phone every week I still have a relationship with my siblings I'm the oldest of four and we have a decent relationship with all of my siblings it varies between them some is a little bit more distant than others but that's just the way it goes or any religious in any way shape or form or they all sort of secular agnostic atheist well I think my sister's religious and my two brothers I think are not although I couldn't say for sure exactly it is not something I get into with family I don't think that that's very useful to get into religious arguments with your family it is it doesn't get you anywhere yeah yeah yeah yeah for sure for sure one of the reasons I reached out to you is because I'm looking for venues to have discussions with people that are free of the strum and drawing of the discord world where there there are just dozens of people angrily arguing with each other shouting at each other and interrupting each other and I find that extremely frustrating I would rather have productive conversations so the other night I had a conversation on modern-day debates with the young Gregory a twelve-year-old boy who is a bit precocious we've debated the I think it was I'm not sure if it was really the kalam or not it was a sort of a variant of William Lane Craig argument the argument from contingency but my main objective in that conversation was simply to model normative about having a debate between two people I didn't feel comfortable being very aggressive because he's a 12 year old boy and when we reached impasses and we did a couple of times where I don't feel that he was really significantly addressing my concerns I simply changed the subject rather than try to hammer it there seems to be a culture on the Internet in particular venues of it being like a wrestling match of winning up owning other people of demolishing arguments a lot of aggressive imagery is used to describe these conversations it's not very productive and I'm more interested in having more respectful conversations with people and so I'm looking to expand this a little bit more I've been on the I don't know if you're familiar with the application called discard no it is a social app that you can install or use through a web browser and there are thousands upon thousands of servers associated with it most of them probably been having to do with gaming but there's a lot of political and philosophical people also and it's not a very healthy place in my opinion it's it's very it can be very toxic for the most part it's a waste of time because nobody ever respects anybody people over talk shout down at each other yell at each other and stuff it has uses when I there are some people that are friends of mine that I can talk to on it but other than that it's not a good use of your time and so I'm looking for more venues where I can have more interesting conversations yeah well can I suggest to you that I visited your YouTube channel there were no videos so I'm wondering why don't you start a humble little podcast like what I do I'm a complete nobody I just wanted to talk to people and now I'm talking to people it's a lot of fun yeah so the reason my youtube channel has no content is because I've been for a very long time terrified of having any content because there is a great deal of hate and negativity in this world and I just didn't want to attract that so I just used it as a personal account and not as a public thing another thing I've done for the past three years has been debating flat-earthers that's fairly interesting to me because a lot of the tactics and the strategies that people who believe the earth is flat use in order to avoid coming to face the fact that the earth is indeed not flat mirror and resemble the tactics used by other people in other in other subject areas whether it's politics or religion you see the same kinds of obfuscation goalposts moving all those other tactics and and it was interesting to me from that point of view the Flat Earth community is is extremely conservative racist anti-semitic sexist and authoritarian they believe in the literal Bible and and they's quote the Bible quite often as support of their beliefs and some of the people are outright mentally ill some of them seem to me to be cognitively impaired and then there's a fair number of people that are the trolls who feed on these people it's sort of distressing that quite a number of the people in there don't actually believe in it they're there just to make money from patriotic contributions and selling t-shirts to coffee mugs well it's a sad sad world we live in it's tragic and the Internet is a sick sick place there's a lot of really disgusting stuff that you can look up and just being a curious godless atheist I went there and I do have some images in my head that I really wish I did not have in my head but when I converted I stopped all that by the grace of God and now I just use the internet for things that are edifying and uplifting and from my Catholic perspective obviously they a lot of that has to do with religion and prayer and stuff like that so I'm not looking at porn I'm not looking at sikh violence or aberrations so i just want to let you know and let everyone listening know there is a lot a lot of good on the internet even if you're not religious you can still find the good right yes well we tend to see what we look for we tend to find what we look for right so there is both good and bad in human beings human beings can be extremely bad but they can be very good and it depends on what you look for so yeah i'm how do you see yourself in relation to the great mass of humanity who disappoints us so very much i'm not sure what you mean can you rephrase the question well just what we were talking about we both of us were in agreement that the Internet is the very dissapointing plates is dispiriting in the sense that it's not the best example of humanity if aliens came down and they said tell us about yourselves the thing is I find it like a little glimpse into the hearts and the minds of these strangers that I've never met I do believe that there is a lot of woundedness people are hurt they're hurt by family members are hurt by strangers they're hurt by unjust application of laws or unjust laws they're hurt by accidents that happen like you get in a car accident your body's in pain so there are lot of questions we can ask and this gives me a lot of compassion for everyone when I go on my youtube channel I get a lot of nasty comments and there's some people that just keep coming back every time I post something they come back and they post a lot of negative comments and my instinct is to just be hurt or whatever but I tell myself this is a human being who's taking their time their valuable time on this planet to go on to my Catholic podcast and to comment with these hateful comments there must be something behind that there must be a reason why this person is scratching at this itch time and time again that keeps scratching at that itch and they can't get the relief they want and they're not getting the answers they want they're not getting any satisfaction and I have nothing but compassion for these people of course you know I have to have a bit of a thick skin because I can't take it to hurt too much I can't lose sleep over every stranger that's out there that is troubled or disturbed or that's just being annoying for the sake of being annoying for all I know they're not wounded they're just having a good time but it certainly is a strange form of entertainment to seek out a Catholic podcast and just put nasty comments with each and every post that I make I get a lot of negativity I also get a lot of positivity so it balances out but for those who are negative I think this is a human being there they have a history they have a background they have a reason why they are the way they are and I'm curious to know them I'm curious to invite them onto my show and the ones that are most negative they never come on the show it's people like you people that are open-minded friendly loving respectful and you and I disagree on a lot of stuff but that doesn't prevent us from loving each other from respecting each other from listening to each other I know myself too well to say that I am a loving person all the time I've been told many times I should develop a thick skin the problem is it doesn't last eventually something gets to you you get like final straw and then I get very very angry and a lot of the past sort of bottling it up comes out and that's very unfortunate and I can't always do anything about one of the differences is that I'm not persecuted because of my look or my identity or my gender or my sexuality or anything like that I fit right into what people are pressuring me to be no one's rounding up the pitchforks to come and get me right other than the fact that I'm Catholic like I do have a lot of enemies because of that and I've lost friends because of that but I think your situation is a little bit more dangerous you get a lot more bigotry and hatred which really I think is less justifiable I can understand why someone would be angry at the Catholic Church I mean it makes more sense to me objectively speaking for someone to be angry at the Catholic Church because they don't understand it and they just see all the abuses and everything right it makes more sense than to come after some individual who happens to be a bit different from what they expect them to be right America has a long history of anti-catholic sentiment and is it goes back quite a ways into our history and there are quite a number of Protestants particularly of the Calvinist variety or seem to be fairly prominent at least on the Internet even though they represent a small portion of Protestantism who just feel that Catholicism is not even true Christianity what is your reaction to to what some people have called Christian mist a belief that my denomination is the one true version of Christendom and anybody else is simply not a true Christian well again I just have compassion for these people because my church teaches that we're all brothers and sisters even the atheists the Buddhists the Hindus whatever we're all brothers and sisters we're all we all are members of the same family and we all have a portion of the truth and we're all here to love them to support each other and to get closer to the truth and of course there are lines drawn in the sand you can't just do whatever you want to do and claim to be a Catholic I mean you have to qualify to be a Catholic but my Protestant brothers and sisters are Christian they just don't happen to have the fullness so whereas I have seven sacraments they only have two or maybe one or maybe zero of sacraments that they believe are sacraments and they're many many other theological and doctrinal issues that separate us but the fundamental issue for a Christian is to believe in the triune God and that Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity incarnated he suffered and died for our sins and so on and so forth it's really not that complicated so to call yourself a Christian and to exclude other Christians from Christianity yeah that's a form of bigotry and it's a form of prejudice and so I have to have compassion on these people because they're missing out there robbing themselves of a part of their humanity really so it's all about education it's all about bringing people closer together breaking down the walls breaking down the barriers breaking down the fears and I mean the fear is really what fuels all hatred I mean whether it's racism sexism or homophobia or whatever it is yeah yeah anger and those things are often masks for fear and uncertainty so when I was when I was I was raised in the Lutheran Church you know Catholicism light I was taught that the biblical literalists were guilty of idolatry of the text that they worshipped the text more than God through the text so and you you tend to agree with that that analysis yeah there's there dangers on every side for us Christians you know we can worship the structure we can worship the religion there's a there's a saying there's a famous saying in Catholicism religion is a crutch for those who lack faith so there's a sort of tendency to fall into Pharisee achill legalism rigor ISM the rules okay I got my checklist I did all my prayers I did all my things I did this I did that okay so there's a tendency for Catholics to fall into that and there's a tendency for non Catholics to fall into a in their own way because everyone has a set of doctrines everyone has a set of rules everyone has the Ten Commandments everyone has their interpretation of the scriptures and everyone can idolize absolutely anything you can take anything no matter how holy and you can idolize it and one of the Catholic teachings which is most wholesome is that everything is good there's nothing that you can point me to or you can mention to me that is evil everything is ontologically good everything has existence everything is good now there are some things that are falling away from existence like you can picture for example two apples one of them is healthy and wholesome and whole the other one's half eaten by worms and maggots and the corruption and decay so which one has more being it's the healthy whole one right and so the other one is falling away from existence so this is the Catholic philosophy when it comes to ontology everything that is is good and God ultimately is in the most supreme way so he has that highest place in terms of goodness also so this all of this to say that we can turn any good like the Bible like money like sex like power like music whatever is we can turn it into an idol a false god and we can be in grave danger you know by focusing on these Goods because that's the only thing that we have our goods there is no such thing as an evil thing for example someone one of my favorite atheists on my channel that that makes fun of me all the time he's one of the most antagonistic his name is Robert white he recently made a comment that I sometimes prolong my essays I sound like a snake but snakes are good even Satan himself is good so when we think about the picture of the Garden of Eden and we think about Satan in the form of a snake tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God Satan is good the serpents are good and one of the images of Jesus Christ actually is a serpent on a pole when people are being bitten by the snakes in the time of Moses God said to put a serpent a brass serpent on a pole and people were to gaze on it in order to be healed and this is an image or a type of Jesus Christ make no mistake about it snakes are good so are spiders so are rats and so are all the things the creepy crawlies that I'm afraid of but they're all ontological II good the only thing that's evil is the way in which we choose these Goods and this is why only humans have the capacity for morality because only they have free will to choose according to my Catholic teachings I noticed that animals do have moral behaviors well animal remember the animals are good and they have instincts which are good but we live in a fallen world and when I'm speaking to you I'm not preaching to you I'm just explaining my point of view right so from my Catholic point of view animals are good and they do have instincts which are god-given in which are good but they also live in a fallen world so we do see disease we do see death among the animals and we do see them fighting and we do see stuff that is ugly even in the animal kingdom but they don't have reason that they don't have free will if you were able to convince me that an animal any animal other than a human animal has the use of reason and free will then I would abandon Christianity that's a deal-breaker for me no I think they're capable of reasoning just not at the same level that we are able to yeah there's consultation there definitely is cogitation but they have a rational soul yet well that's why I'm counting as reasoning this cogitation so the classic example of the crow right that bends the wire to hook out a piece of food from the jar there was reasoning going on there it's cogitation that as you might say there was some kind of thoughts and possibly even beliefs that if I hug it this way I can pull this thing out of there and eat it so I would I would say that that's reasoning and it's a bit observed among the higher primates that they have senses a sense of fairness you know they don't like other members of their own group being treated differently than they are they have this sense of fairness which is it seems to me to indicate a sort of moral sense I think there's been some evidence that animals have moral intuitions for sure for sure for sure so the difference between the way that you will like I mean you could we could examine the same behavior in animals and we could agree about most of what's happening but the way that you'll see it the way that I see it ultimately will be different because what I'll be looking for is more than what is on display among these lower animals because what I'm calling Reason will always manifest in things like fine arts and music and philosophy religion and these sorts of things whereas when you see an animal solving problems or communicating you think oh this animal has the use of reason and it must have freewill and and so on and so forth but I don't see that because what I my my my definition the Catholic definition of free will and reason is is way more elevated and you would need to have these higher cultural behaviors manifesting sure I just I just think that there's probably a continuum of reasoning ability and cultural ethical and linguistic abilities from animals to humans I don't think that there this sharp delineation between us and animals we are just we're very adept at language and at cogitation and moral intuitions but we're not categorically different in my now you you consider yourself an atheist right yeah agnostic yes I think it's the term of art used today okay I usually like to ask atheists about their morality what is the philosophical basis of morality in the philosophical framework of atheism given the fact that if there's only the natural there's no supernatural and if the principle of causality is the case then there simply cannot be any free will and if there's no free will then there can't be any morality I mean I've I've said this so many times in so many conversations with atheist and I've never really had a good response have you heard me say that and if you have you got us something different to say than what you've heard the others say moral philosophy is a very difficult discipline I don't pretend to have a good grasp on it I would say that I'm a compatible list as far as freewill goes I I think that our moral and ethical beliefs are simply expressions of dislike and distaste and I don't want other people to hurt me so I would like to have an agreement with them that they will not hurt me and I will not hurt them and I think that from that a lot of moral structures have evolved a strong believer in evolution so I think that these things arose from evolutionary necessity of us living humans are not sharks we do not patrol the depths of the ocean alone for most of our lives we live in groups and living in a group you necessarily have to get along so you have to come to an agreement about rights behavior in terms of your strengths and weaknesses intellectually where would you say that you have the most reading the most thinking the most conversations isn't in the realm of ontology of histology like what where would you say your strengths and weaknesses are sort of in the landscape of ideas definitely I would say that morality is a weak spot of mine I have broad interests and then I'm confronted with the internet which is vast and deep and I tend to look at a lot of arguments against presuppositionalist and ways of dealing with that but I don't think that I would have to use those kinds of arguments with you I don't think that you're a presuppositionalist right not really although I do have to admit that I find it intriguing so I am curious about the presupposition ilysm but I don't get excited by listening to people have a heated debate or to argue or for one guy to win and the other guy to lose I'm really excited about love I'm excited about the mystery of the human being and the infinite dignity of each human being and the vulnerability of the human being those who allow themselves to be vulnerable at times and self-sacrifice if you can see that that's really touching but so I think you know by now that at the end of my interviews I do ask my guests to give the closing thought something positive something uplifting just a little message of hope so what do you think you might be able to say to anyone that's in the end it's vast nothingness and the sweet sweet release of death and eternal night and now you can give a nice positive message of hope the USSR still has 10 more nuclear reactors built exactly like the one that exploded at Chernobyl still in operation so listen you know that there are a lot of people that are struggling to find a reason to live there are a lot of people that are suicidally depressed and a lot of people are actually really at the end of the rope so they could tune in to the show and they could hear you say something that would sort of remind them of some of the reasons that they have to stick around so can you just try to sincerely find something positive to say to those people those people that are desperate please outliving your enemies is the best reward I find I'll try I'll do it out I'm gonna try I find I find tremendous solace in experiencing the immediate wonder and beauty of the world around me and simply being in the moment and being aware of everything around you and the privilege of being alive and sentient and able to have these experiences is in and of itself a great privilege whether one is a theist or not it is a privilege to be alive and aware of the world around us and that can sometimes be

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