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Major Threat to Religion? Clergy People Turning Atheist

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Postby event_horizon » Mon Jun 11, 2012 7:25 pm

A burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe -- clergy members. Could non-believing clergy change how we see religion?

June 10, 2012 | What happens when a clergy person -- a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam -- realizes he doesn't believe in God?

And what happens when he says it out loud? What happens when they find each other; when they support each other in coping with their crises, when they help each other with resources and job counseling and other practical assistance? What happens when they encourage each other to come out?

Could this affect more than just these clergy people and their followers? Could it change how society as a whole thinks and feels about religion?

That's what the Clergy Project is finding out. In recent months and years, atheists have been all over the news. But over the last few weeks, a burst of media attention has been focused on atheists of an unexpected stripe: clergy members. And in particular, attention is going to the Clergy Project, an online meeting place and support group that exists specifically for these unexpected additions to the ranks of the godless.

The project was inspired by the 2010 pilot study by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, "Preachers Who Are Not Believers" (PDF), which exposed and explored the surprisingly common phenomenon of non-believing clergy. The need to give these people support -- and if possible, an exit strategy -- was immediately recognized in the atheist community, and starter funding for the Clergy Project was quickly provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Founded in March of 2011 with 52 members, the Clergy Project currently has over 270 members -- and since recent news stories about it began appearing, in outlets from MSNBC to NPR to the Religious News Service to CNN, applications to join have been going up at an even more dramatic rate.

The cascade of news stories began when Methodist minister Teresa MacBain came to the American Atheists convention following last March's Reason Rally -- and made a dramatic unscheduled appearance at the podium, to announce that she was an atheist. "Being in a group of people with whom I could share openly without fear of persecution gave me the courage to come out," she told me. "The opportunity to stand before the crowd, come out as an atheist and share about the Clergy Project was too good to pass up. I was at the end of my rope and I knew it. It was now or never for me. As I walked up on that stage, I felt fear like no other."

MacBain had been questioning her faith since her early teens, when she came across contradictions in the Bible. "I went to my dad for answers," she said. "He simply shared that God's ways are so much higher than our ways that we can not understand everything in the Bible. Our response should be faith, not doubting. He then told me that doubting was a sin. I left that day and suppressed those questions. This practice followed me for decades."

But eventually, the questions became too much. She let go of her Biblical literalism, which at first helped resolve her doubts about Biblical contradictions -- but this soon made room for other questions to press on her. "Things such as theodicy [the problem of suffering and evil], the question of hell, God's omnipotence yet lack of intervention in heinous events, the historicity of Jesus... all these bubbled to the surface and demanded to be answered," she said. "My work to answer these questions began with the thought that as I discovered the truth, it would create a stronger faith and give me comforting answers to those in my church who were dealing with the same issues. Instead, the truth I found led me away from faith."

This experience is common among members of the Clergy Project. Clergy people, almost by definition, are people who take their faith seriously. They tend to think about religion carefully. They often (although not always) study their religion carefully. Unlike many believers, they actually read the Bible, or Torah, or Koran, or whatever the sacred text of their religion is. They think hard about questions that more casual believers are willing to let slide. After all -- that's their job.

But as many atheists will tell you, thinking carefully about religion is exactly what led them to abandon it. When you ask atheists, "What made you become an atheist?" reading the Bible is one of the highest items on the list. And when I asked Jerry DeWitt -- Recovering From Religion executive director, Clergy Project graduate and new-member screener for CP -- what kinds of ideas and experiences most commonly lead clergy members to question and eventually leave their faith, he answered simply, "Religion's inability to answer for or relieve human suffering."

Lawrence Hunter shares this experience. A former associate minister in the Black Pentecostal denomination Church of God in Christ, he says that a bad marriage "allowed me to see how life really was instead of the fairy tale versions that are espoused every Sunday... questions about good and evil, the Bible, marriage, suffering, tithes, church corruption and hell filled my mind. I realized that I needed to expand my understanding."

He adds that the failures of religion to meet basic human needs -- and the failures of church leaders to live up to the moral standards they demanded of their flock -- contributed to his questioning. "As a preacher," he says, "I could see that prayers weren't healing people, despite preaching on wealth the only people getting rich were the pastor. I could see that many, many people were mentally disturbed and a host of problems. Not to mention the scandals and adultery. This caused me to look deeper and really find out the true essence of my faith and why the holy spirit wasn't active like it supposedly was back in the Bible days. The rest is history."

And Catherine Dunphy, one of the original 52 members of the Clergy Project, agrees. "I was always curious about the Bible," she told me, "and read it, despite the fact that the church and its priests say, 'Don't bother.' In it I found ridiculous stories that only furthered my confusion." Dunphy, a former Catholic, also had her faith shaken by the widespread child rape scandals in the Catholic Church -- and by the Church's inexplicable response to them. "The bishop of my diocese, an ***hole named Colin Campbell, issued a statement saying that the victims were responsible since they kept going back to the predatory priests!"

But for Dunphy, the final nail in the coffin of her faith was realizing that highly trained religious authorities didn't have any better reasons for their beliefs than anyone else. "I remember how frustrated I would become in class," she said, "given that it didn't appear to me that my profs had any more authority than I did!... I came to realize that we were all complicit in making this stuff up as we go."

For many people, questioning and eventually abandoning religion can involve deep emotional and psychological struggles. Atheists commonly say that they do feel relief, even liberation, when they finally relinquish the cognitive dissonance that religion requires, but the process is often difficult. This is often even more pronounced in clergy people... who, again, tend to take religion more seriously than the average believer-in-the-street.

But for clergy people, this internal struggle is only the beginning. For clergy people, losing religion doesn't just mean asking questions like, "How do I accept the permanence of death?" and "What is my place in the universe?" It means asking the question, "How am I going to pay the rent?" For most clergy members, coming out as atheist means the automatic loss of their livelihood. But staying closeted about their atheism means living a lie. As MacBain said, "Once I realized my faith was gone, I began looking for a way out. My conscience nagged at me continually but I felt that the needs of my family required that I work my way out slowly. I took a temporary job (causing me to work 80 hour weeks) in order to pay some bills off which would make the transition easier. As the weeks passed, the turmoil increased exponentially."

And clergy members who leave their faith aren't just faced with losing their livelihoods. They're likely to lose the stature and respect that religious leaders are so commonly given. And while anyone coming out as atheist can be targeted with hostility and bigotry, the venom can get dialed up to eleven when it's a member of the clergy. When Teresa MacBain came home from the American Atheists convention, "The church leadership changed the locks of the church and it took me almost two months to collect my belongings. My email server, mail box and voicemails were filled daily with veiled threats, hateful pronouncements of my impending doom and downright nasty messages. One gentleman stated that he couldn't wait till he stood in heaven and looked down at me in hell while the flesh burned off my body!"

This is exactly why the Clergy Project was founded. In this confidential online community, members can freely discuss the challenges they face in leaving ministry and establishing a new life. This involves emotional and psychological support, of course -- help wrestling with ethical and philosophical issues that often come with becoming atheist, advice on coming out as atheist to family and friends, and so on. But it can also involve practical advice and support: members can share ideas on finding a way out of the ministry and looking for new careers, and can share resources that newcomers to atheism may not be aware of.

Right now, the Clergy Project is primarily a peer support group. But the organization is working to expand its scope, to provide more tangible assistance that atheist clergy people so desperately need. They're preparing now to launch a group of resources that includes re-employment preparation -- resume prep, interviewing techniques, recruiting firms that will work with members to provide leads -- as well as secular counseling, working with the Therapist Project to offer services of secular counselors who are donating their time to Clergy Project members. And they're planning -- soon, they hope -- to provide job training, short-term loans, and temporary housing for atheist clergy members who want to leave.

But they may have their work cut out for them. Nobody knows for sure how many clergy members are secretly atheists (or are secretly on the fence, with serious doubts about their religion). But almost everyone I've spoken with in Clergy Project strongly suspects that the numbers are high -- higher than anyone would expect. MacBain says, "It is definitely more common than anyone thinks." DeWitt agrees: "My experience says it's very common. Over 25 years of ministry I witnessed very few examples of anything other than ministers living 'normal' lives regardless of their supernatural claims. They have to see the disconnect." And Dunphy concurs: "Before I discovered the LaScola Study I thought I was some sort of oddity. I mean, who goes into theology and comes out an atheist? It looks like a lot of people."

The surge of interest in the Clergy Project would seem to bear this out. Since Teresa MacBain outed herself at the American Atheists convention in March, 77 new members have joined the project -- and as of this writing, there are 86 more applicants awaiting interviews. As MacBain says, "This seems to indicate that there are hundreds, if not thousands, who are trapped in the pulpit."

So what does this all mean? Why does this matter, not just to the atheist clergy themselves, but to anyone who cares about religion?

It matters because, if clergy members start publicly abandoning religion, the whole house of cards could collapse.

For most believers, religion isn't something they think about very carefully. Most believers stay with whatever religion they were brought up with as children. Most believers are just trying to get on with their day-to-day lives, and if difficult or complicated questions about their faith occur to them, they often assume that their religious leaders know the answers... the way we assume that pilots know how to keep airplanes in the sky. As Lawrence Hunter said, many believers "are simply unable or unwilling to do the work to read and research their beliefs and other aspects of their lives. It's easier to be told who to believe, vote for and buy from, etc. Religion is the balm that soothes difficult questions."

But if religious authorities start acknowledging that they don't know, either? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they have the exact same questions, and haven't found any good answers? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they've just been making it up as they go along? If religious authorities begin to abandon the tacit agreement among themselves that these questions and doubts should be kept among themselves, and should not be shared with their followers? If religious authorities start saying, out loud, that the best answer they've found to these questions is, "God doesn't exist"? If religious authorities start publicly abandoning their religion? And if they start doing this in significant numbers?

It's going to be much, much harder for ordinary believers to hang on to their beliefs.

I was in the audience at the American Atheists convention when Teresa MacBain came out. It was one of the most dramatic, most powerful moments I've experienced. There aren't that many people in the world who have that much courage, that much integrity, that much fierce passion for the truth. There aren't that many people in the world who are willing to risk losing their families, their communities, their stature, the emotional and philosophical foundation of their lives, even their very livelihood... because they prioritize the truth over their personal well-being.

These people are an inspiration. Regardless of what you think of religion or atheism, they are an inspiration. And there is clearly a place in our society for them. Listen to Lawrence Hunter: "If I were a pastor, who had complete control over my church, I would take the title of 'church' [and change it] to 'community center.' I wouldn't preach from the bible, I would quote from numerous sources of literature and wisdom. As an African American I would focus on neighborhood issues, such as poverty, lack of education and a host of other ills. Gone would be silly rituals of baptism and communion. There's so much that churches can and should do to help their communities, but choose to ignore them."

There is clearly a place in our society for these people. And the Clergy Project is trying to create it.

http://www.alternet.org/belief/155798/b ... age=entire
I don't believe what I believe because it's what I desire to believe. I believe what I believe because it's what logic and reason cause me to believe. All I want is to live with the truth -- nothing more, nothing less.
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Postby greeney2 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:26 am

People leave the clergy everyday, its nothing new. Atheists also convert to Christianity, including well known atheists, as in the case of Madyln Murrys son, who was on Huckebee Sunday night. He told quite a story about his real life with his Atheist Mother, family disfunction, and his abusive Mother. I'm sure you know all about her court battles, and being murdered at the hands of another atheist, with 2 others. I had never herd of her, but the court battle rang a bell she did by puting the son up as the agrieved party to school prayer. When the son converted to Christianity, Ol Mom chastized him and disowned him forever, and even told him growing up "I wish abortion was legal when I carried you".

When this is the eulogy of your life, Atheism doesn't sound so wonderful, and her son on Huckebee spoke as an inspriation too from the darkness to the light.
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Postby orangetom1999 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 10:54 am

Watching and reading this thread as well as the thread..

Atheism to defeat religion by 2038?


For they both have a common thread running underneath them...quietly ..silently not to be seen or noticed by most peoples.

Thanks,
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Postby at1with0 » Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:25 am

When your paradigm is destroyed, it's no fun.
"it is easy to grow crazy"
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Postby qmark » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:18 pm

First, I thought it was an interesting article and not very surprising at all. One doesn’t have to go any further than to look and see what is being taught to the average Joe Christian today to know that our seminaries and Christian colleges must be filled with unbelieving teachers and professors. If the apostles were to show up today their rebuke would be quite harsh. I did however find this quote amusing.

. . . and since recent news stories about it began appearing, in outlets from MSNBC to NPR to the Religious News Service to CNN, applications to join have been going up at an even more dramatic rate.


I notice that it is the politically left organizations that are, in essence, reporting on the death of religion. What makes this so humorous is the fact that politics holds the answer for everything for these people and politics itself is a religion. Whether they realize it or not, they are trying to replace one religion with another.

Could this affect more than just these clergy people and their followers? Could it change how society as a whole thinks and feels about religion?


It won’t make one iota of a difference. People, in general, prefer sin over holiness, and anything that puts the spotlight on their sin they resent, mainly religion. What the clergy says or does is secondary to the religion they represent.

Clergy people, almost by definition, are people who take their faith seriously. They tend to think about religion carefully. They often (although not always) study their religion carefully. Unlike many believers, they actually read the Bible, or Torah, or Koran, or whatever the sacred text of their religion is. They think hard about questions that more casual believers are willing to let slide.


Unfortunately, this is true on a couple of levels. First, it is true that many believers do not read their Bibles and do not think about hard questions, or anything else for that matter. Secondly, the clergy does tend to think about religion carefully, and that is partially the problem. They think about religion and not about knowing God. Jesus didn’t come here to start a religion, He came to restore a relationship.

But as many atheists will tell you, thinking carefully about religion is exactly what led them to abandon it. When you ask atheists, "What made you become an atheist?" reading the Bible is one of the highest items on the list.


This is the biggest joke of all. Every supposed contradiction in the Bible has an answer. The question is, does one want to accept the Biblical response? In most cases, one is not interested in the Biblical response. The reason for this is simple. People are more comfortable in their sin.

Lawrence Hunter shares this experience. A former associate minister in the Black Pentecostal denomination Church of God in Christ, he says that a bad marriage "allowed me to see how life really was instead of the fairy tale versions that are espoused every Sunday...


I could go a few different ways with this. I suspect he didn’t want to put in the work to make it a good one. Regardless, if he thought bad marriages didn’t exist, then I submit he was living in a fairy tale world.


He adds that the failures of religion to meet basic human needs -- and the failures of church leaders to live up to the moral standards they demanded of their flock -- contributed to his questioning. "As a preacher," he says, "I could see that prayers weren't healing people, despite preaching on wealth the only people getting rich were the pastor. I could see that many, many people were mentally disturbed and a host of problems. Not to mention the scandals and adultery. This caused me to look deeper and really find out the true essence of my faith and why the holy spirit wasn't active like it supposedly was back in the Bible days."


Really? Is his faith based on the actions of people? If this is so, I have to wonder about his initial faith to begin with.

But for Dunphy, the final nail in the coffin of her faith was realizing that highly trained religious authorities didn't have any better reasons for their beliefs than anyone else.


A highly trained religious authority does not automatically equate to a believer. An unbeliever has no reasons to believe.

My email server, mail box and voicemails were filled daily with veiled threats, hateful pronouncements of my impending doom and downright nasty messages. One gentleman stated that he couldn't wait till he stood in heaven and looked down at me in hell while the flesh burned off my body!"


Any self professing believer, making statements like that, needs to examine their own fruit.

So what does this all mean? Why does this matter, not just to the atheist clergy themselves, but to anyone who cares about religion?


It would only matter to the true Christian in that it provides more fuel to an already unbelieving world. However, as history draws to a close, this is to be expected. Let’s not forget the “great apostasy.”

It matters because, if clergy members start publicly abandoning religion, the whole house of cards could collapse.


A house of cards built on religion may collapse, but a house built on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ will endure.

But if religious authorities start acknowledging that they don't know, either? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they have the exact same questions, and haven't found any good answers? If religious authorities start acknowledging that they've just been making it up as they go along? If religious authorities begin to abandon the tacit agreement among themselves that these questions and doubts should be kept among themselves, and should not be shared with their followers? If religious authorities start saying, out loud, that the best answer they've found to these questions is, "God doesn't exist"? If religious authorities start publicly abandoning their religion? And if they start doing this in significant numbers?

It's going to be much, much harder for ordinary believers to hang on to their beliefs.


It will only be hard for those who have nothing to hang their beliefs on to begin with. If you truly know God exists, then nothing will change your mind. If you truly don’t know if God exists, then you are already a member of the unbelieving group.

These people are an inspiration. Regardless of what you think of religion or atheism, they are an inspiration. And there is clearly a place in our society for them. Listen to Lawrence Hunter: "If I were a pastor, who had complete control over my church, I would take the title of 'church' [and change it] to 'community center.' I wouldn't preach from the bible, I would quote from numerous sources of literature and wisdom. As an African American I would focus on neighborhood issues, such as poverty, lack of education and a host of other ills. Gone would be silly rituals of baptism and communion. There's so much that churches can and should do to help their communities, but choose to ignore them."


This paragraph could have been written by Jim Wallis. Larry needs to relax, many so-called churches are already doing this . . . unfortunately.
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Postby greeney2 » Wed Jun 13, 2012 11:15 pm

qmark wrote:This is the biggest joke of all. Every supposed contradiction in the Bible has an answer. The question is, does one want to accept the Biblical response? In most cases, one is not interested in the Biblical response. The reason for this is simple. People are more comfortable in their sin.


On the other thread, I was chastized for derailing, but I touched on this as the movement by anti-religion and atheist groups, was more about changing the public twards all their unaccepted social issues and behaviors. The religions all have objections to issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, gay marriage, and adultry which also covers a multitude of other issues. The movement against religions is indeed a militant attack by the far left, and groups like gay rights and atheist groups, that seek to take these issues to court in the name of discrimination, while they are intolerant of religous freedom, in the process. They want to force these issues down everyones throats, and blackmail our polititions into backing them, or engage in character assasinations. All one has to do is think of these issues, and how these groups have branded polititions, like GWB and Sarah Palin, anyone considered from the Christian right. They have already forced Obama to abandon his own relgious beliefs, embrace gay marriage, and the floodgates of Hollywood fundraisers are now in full swing. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is being BBQed for sticking to his Morman beliefs. These oranizations branded all the citizens of several states as being "Homophobic" and Hateful, for voting for defining marriage a between a man and woman, and they ruined the life of Miss America for mearly saying such, tricked by Perez Hilton. It is many social issues that religions do not condone, so the solution is to slauder religions, at every opportunity, like making every Catholic Priest a pedifile, calling religous following of scripture hatefull.

You are right Qmark, people are more comfortable in their sins, and rather than see them, the attack those who say what it is.
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Postby orangetom1999 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:16 am

qmark,

I notice that it is the politically left organizations that are, in essence, reporting on the death of religion. What makes this so humorous is the fact that politics holds the answer for everything for these people and politics itself is a religion. Whether they realize it or not, they are trying to replace one religion with another.


Agree and notice the same thing. The left in this country is carefully hidden and concealed..not only on the left but within the right as well. Hidden carefully from most under the banner of logic and reason...gnosticism. Wise men running things by their will...demigods. Substituting their faith for the Faith of the Believers. This is a substitution scheme.
Agree..this is a religion and the left organizations through politics is pushing another religion and another faith another god. Very glad here to know someone else gets it. There are so few out here who do get it while being overtaken by the substitution. Public school is also carrying on this substitution scheme...as they are financed by the body politic who are backed up by the MSM and other organizations.

One religion with another...yes.. a substitution scheme.

This is also called....I will be like the most high I will sit also in the mount of the congregation in sides of the north


Greeny2

On the other thread, I was chastized for derailing, but I touched on this as the movement by anti-religion and atheist groups, was more about changing the public twards all their unaccepted social issues and behaviors. The religions all have objections to issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, gay marriage, and adultry which also covers a multitude of other issues. The movement against religions is indeed a militant attack by the far left, and groups like gay rights and atheist groups, that seek to take these issues to court in the name of discrimination, while they are intolerant of religous freedom, in the process. They want to force these issues down everyones throats, and blackmail our polititions into backing them, or engage in character assasinations. All one has to do is think of these issues, and how these groups have branded polititions, like GWB and Sarah Palin, anyone considered from the Christian right. They have already forced Obama to abandon his own relgious beliefs, embrace gay marriage, and the floodgates of Hollywood fundraisers are now in full swing. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is being BBQed for sticking to his Morman beliefs. These oranizations branded all the citizens of several states as being "Homophobic" and Hateful, for voting against defining marriage a between a man and woman, and they ruined the life of Miss America for mearing saying such. It is many social issues that religions do not condone, so the solution is to slauder religions, at every opportunity, like making every Catholic Priest a pedifile.

You are right Qmark, people are more comfortable in their sins, and rather than see them, the attack those who say what it is.greeney2



Agree with what you posted here. Also with 'qmark. People are indeed comfortable in their sins. Sins have even become fashionable.

If you notice one thing about all these cause celebs..is that they are all of the flesh. They must needs drag all into the flesh. Back to Ishmael...and away from the line of Issac. To make the children of the bondwoman heir with the children of the free woman.

They are attempting in all these threads to pave the way for the inheritance of Ishmael. To kick Issac and his seed to the curb. The best they have is the numbers game...in the flesh. And the body politic has inserted itself into this ancient struggle. This also tells you the name of the god of the body politic...all of them...both parties. For even the so called conservatives are not teaching the people to think their way through this man made mine field...meaning they are part of the deception and lie.

Nothing new in this approach...nothing new under the sun here.


Also ..clergy have been lying and deceiving people for centuries. Many of them teaching another god and another christ.

Even the Hebrew leadership and priesthood were privily substituting the traditions of men over the Law of Moses as if it was the Law of Moses when it was no such thing. This is not new..nor original.
In the end for their transgressions and sins..the Hebrews lost the land..they lost everything and those who survived were spread around the world.

We are told to check up on our ministers...to be sure they are teaching the whole council of God...not just the pieces they like...the sugary sweet parts. For we are the Salt of the Earth..not the sugar.

Many ministers are wolves in sheep's clothing. And most of the congregation are not able to tell the difference.
Bible college does not automatically a good minister make.




Thanks for yours and qmark's posts.

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Postby event_horizon » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:40 am

*yawn*

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Bottom line is that anyone who reads the Bible thoroughly does not really want to be involved with it, because there are just way too many appalling/ridiculous things in it. Things like this, for example:

2 Kings 2:23-24
"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys."

The "Biblical God" kills kids for being kids. This is so stupid it's beyond words. Does one even need to go any further after reading this? :lol: :oops:
I don't believe what I believe because it's what I desire to believe. I believe what I believe because it's what logic and reason cause me to believe. All I want is to live with the truth -- nothing more, nothing less.
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Postby orangetom1999 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:53 am

Sorry Event Horizon,

We are not doing any better today. No matter what they try to claim about Evolution.

We have kids killing kids...kids killing Adults, Adults killing kids..in and out of the womb.

That is not a good testimony to the upward reach of mankind. Nor to logic and reason.

Humans and human reasoning are not the greatest thing since sliced bread.


Also....if the best some can do is claim boredom....I would say check their tolerance levels.

If they cannot survive boredom outside of that kind of illogic and reason..they need to recheck their thinking patterns.

Boredom is not the crux of what is happening out here. Nor is it conducive to thinking.

Thanks,
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Postby at1with0 » Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:04 am

EH's point went a good ten feet over OTs head, me thinks.
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