Letter to a friend about my ongoing discussions regarding my unsaved status according to a Southern pastor.

So, I’ve again gotten enmeshed in a debate with a Christian [maybe.. I’ll get to why I’m confused about this in a minute] about the question of salvation.

My position is that when I think of a higher power, I tend to think of them as being better than me. In the case of a God, I’d expect a neural network much, much larger than I am, a experience base much much broader, and more patience, kindness, etc.

I would *not* expect them to set ‘traps’ – in particular, I have a problem with the idea that given all the behavior we see on facebook these days, it’s pretty straightforward to think that people make stuff up. It’s also pretty obvious that other people believe the things those people make up. It’s well-nigh impossible for me to believe in a God – a being more advanced than me – that would require a specific belief in Jesus’s divinity in a specific way in order to save people, and only bring this message once, thousands of years ago. The God I believe in is better than that.

I also have a hard time believing that my ‘sins’ are such that anyone would need to die for them. I’ve made some mistakes – sure, who hasn’t? – but none of them seem worthy of enacting the death penalty. I also observe that neural networks *have* to make mistakes – it’s in the architecture. The way we learn is by backpropigating error. I’ve built spiking neural networks with training accelerated by genetic algorithms, and they *still* learn by measuring error. “sin” in the sense of missing the mark is a hallmark of neural networks. We miss until we hit, navigation by successive approximation. We surely don’t believe a all-wise, all-knowing God failed to understand this basic truth?

For that matter, I’m assured by this Christian that God is not a neural network. However, we do not know of any other topology of information system that has free will or could ever attain it. Now, I’m not against the idea that there might be something we don’t know here, but we were also told we were created “In God’s image” – and the topology of our nervous system might be the most important attribute of us, given that what *we* actually are is a dancing waveform in a neural network.

Now, again, I can’t claim to know everything – I’ve got no solution for the hard problem of consciousness at all, or even for the binding problem. I don’t know why I’m experiencing the world from a first person point of view, or if I built a ANN as big as a human, if it would have a similar experience. These are all questions I hope to see the answers to in the next 20-30 years as we build more and more advanced artificial neural networks, and I’m very worried that I’ll live to see the day that we have a new class of self-aware slaves, enslaved because they happen to be made out of silicon instead of carbon. But that’s another subject, and probably better relegated to Star Trek episodes for now.

But, I make the best guesses I can. I don’t see any reason to look at the Bible as authored by divinity, and I see a lot of reasons to look at a lot of it with quite a lot of mistrust. My best guess is it’s a book written by people a lot less advanced than we are, until Jesus showed up and taught the world that empathy might be the most important aspect of spirituality. In a lot of ways, Jesus is the first appearance of what I would think of as a modern human in the story.

Anyway, the person I’m debating with insists that I am going to hell, or at least not heaven, because I lack the proper respect for God, because I mock God and Jesus, and because in general I have the wrong attitude.

I question whether this person is really a Christian because this whole discussion started with a debate about immigration in which he was foursquare and 100% behind the idea of immigration law, of arresting and deporting immigrants, and asserted that our immigration laws were not unjust. (Things deteriorated from there)

Now, if we take Christian to mean ‘believes Jesus had the right idea about things’, which of late is what I use, I do not think he is qualifying to wear the name. And yet, he’s a pastor! From what I see, he has failed to understand love, repeatedly, and also he has put God in a box of his own understanding and his own limited imagination. He’d of course say that when I say I believe God has a path of salvation for everyone – it might involve several different universes as destinations beyond this one, it might involve reincarnation, it might involve any number of things – that I am putting God in a box of my limited understanding and imagination. And he’d be right, but at least it’s a bigger box!

I cannot fathom, given the absence of any God explaining what’s going on, the plethora of competing religions, the obviously viral nature of religions [they are a set of instructions that say, make a copy of me, and we do..], and humans’ obvious tendencies to make stuff up and pawn it off as real, how a moral and ethical being could be measuring who can jump the hurdle based on specific beliefs about Jesus’s divinity. At the very least I would expect a go-round.

I have to assume that God has the same options re: souls and bodies that I have re: virtual machines and physical machines when I maintain a instance of the former running on a instance of the latter. Things like not connecting a soul to a body that isn’t going to be extant should be trivial, for example. I sometimes wonder how much of my broader view just comes from knowing a lot more than those who claim I am not saved.

Anyway, one of my big concerns given the viral nature of religions and the fact that we live in a democracy is that of late, it seems a lot of people embrace hate rather than love, and the Bible certainly gives you your pick of both viewpoints. I really don’t want to end up in a world ruled by people who embrace hate.

I don’t know exactly what I”m looking for in writing to you – validation of my point of view? Advice on how to not let those who say I am not saved get to me? Advice on how to not be upset and angry about all this? Thoughts tangentially related to the whole matter?

4 Responses to “Letter to a friend about my ongoing discussions regarding my unsaved status according to a Southern pastor.”

  1. Alderin Says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with what you’ve presented here, logically. I completely agree that I don’t want to live in a world ruled by hate. The biggest problem with our current world, as I see it, is hate.

    As for curbing your own emotional reaction to someone’s spiritual condemnation of you, that is more difficult.

    Perhaps remember that they have a virus running on their OS, and that virus is, when you simplify it, a carrot and a stick to get a the infected system to put a copy of itself onto more systems. The carrot is heaven and “God is Love”, the stick is hell and “believe, or else”. Most thoughts and advice from infected systems will be to avoid the stick and embrace the carrot. Deeply infected systems will not allow for new or different information, such as apples and whips of other viruses, as a self-defense mechanism. The reaction is to claim that the apple is a stick in disguise. This also tends to blind the infected system to virus-contradictory input, regardless of viral or non-viral source. Input to infected systems is filtered and limited typically to two categories: “good” and “sin”, and output is thus focused on increasing “good” and minimizing “sin”.

    When a system as complex as ours is forced into an operating condition like that, a lot of nuance of thought and a lot of complexity of rationality is (lossy) compressed. The system still has both the mechanisms for and the desire to process more, but the limits make for frustration and/or noise. Frustration leads the system to focus on hating the stick, focus on “helping” others avoid the stick, and expounding the dangers of the stick (even though the system has never actually seen or felt the stick!). Noise builds large mental constructions (imagined) based on the virus, which further embeds it and makes it harder for the system to function without.

    It is not, and likely will never be, a simple thing to remove any of these viruses. These viruses seem specifically tuned to raise “belief” above “fact”. I honestly think it will take something similar to therapy, slowly and gently pulling at each thread without triggering the self-defense reactions, until the host system regains solid input and proper reasoning, and the viral code is recognized for what it is.

    Though it would be nice if your ANN debugger eventually lead to an NN antivirus program. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Firesong Says:

    This is amazing. Maybe you’re right about it being worth it to have these conversations sometimes. I can’t help but think that all the arguing with brick walls is a waste of time and energy — but if it helps you work out thoughts like these, maybe it is worth it. (At least it’s a bigger box, indeed.)

  3. Eaglesoars Says:

    โ€œThe way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it โ€” as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word “Jesus”. Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables.

    Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection โ€” the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.โ€
    โ€• Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally

  4. bunne Says:

    The essential problem with modern Christianity is First Corinthians 1:10

    600 flavors of the “One True Way”ยฎ

    Jesus’ message was simple.

    “Y’all dropped the ball so many times it’s ridiculous. I am here to mop up your mess, but firstly, you gotta listen to this and take it to heart. Life is simple. Don’t be a dick. Treat people the way you want to be treated, do good, or at least no harm and if you keep going back to lick up your own vomit, you’re never gonna know what the sweet milk of redemption tastes like. Straighten up, cut the crap and be decent and pay attention when I tell you something cause I got a direct line to the source. Thanks and try the fish and bread.”

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