Does Abandoning Religion
One's Quest For Meaning?
I am Roxanne, and I am doing a school assignment on Religion and Nonreligion. I would be very grateful if you would help me answer my question set.
The questions are:
Why are many people abandoning traditional faiths and opting for a nonreligious perspective in life? (For example, Were you dissatisfied with your previous religions -- if you were in one? Do you disapprove of traditional religions treatment of social and ethical issues today? Do you have no interest in spirituality or religion? Do you affirm spirituality but reject beliefs in God(s)? Do you affirm spirituality accept belief in God(s) but reject religious organisations or institutions?)
To what extent can those who choose a nonreligious perspective feel satisfied with their search for meaning in life? (Do you take part in other events or activities which build your spirituality? What are these activities? what is it about them that makes you feel satisfied? What do you think your feeling of spirituality is like compared to those of religious organisations or institutions or other religions in general?)
I am desperately in need of information and would very much appreciate your help! I need to gather as many opinions on this topic as I can! If you have any way of helping me I would be very grateful!
Hopefully hear from you soon
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Roxanne Smith"
Date: February 11, 2002 10:31 AM
I must apologize up front for the fact that your questions, having been asked from the viewpoint of one who thinks theism is a valid model of reality, are, quite frankly, degrading to the ears of one who not only grew up without any theism in the background but who later examined the claims of theism just to make sure he had not missed out on something important (read: "true" or "truthful") by the absence of theism in his upbringing, and who has since done little more, as a direct result of this investigation, than continue to find more and more reasons to sing praises to his parents for the upbringing that they gave to him. (In describing the perspective from which these questions were asked, I am assuming that these were written by the instructor, and not necessarily by yourself; thus, I intend no personal attack in my harsh assessment, I wish only to critique the cultural presuppositions which underlie the professor's or course designer's questions.)
Although this picture sounds quite extreme, it is my hope that you can trust it to be my honest opinion of the difference between a religious training and a complete ignorance of the various religious claims: I found religion to be so utterly destructive to what I consider to be my essential human-ness (which I assume to be common, and not unique to myself) that one of my more earnest wishes is that I could start over and have remained as essentially ignorant of religion as my father and mother did during the course of their lives. And I say this as one who is not religious, but who is simply aware of what the more popular religious traditions hold as truth, advocate to their memberships, and teach to their young.
I hate to sound so cold about it, being quite the warm and friendly (and tolerant) person when it comes to just about everything else under the sun. However, I am, quite frankly, growing weary of constantly encountering this presupposition of the superiority of religion over its absence (not to mention its carefully reasoned rejection), particularly since the inauguration of President Bush -- and especially in the wake of the Day of Atrocity. Within hours of those attacks, I came online and predicted that we would witness unprecedented amounts and degrees of exploitation at the hands of religionists, likening this to how religionists typically act toward a family when a member dies. Within a few days of that announcement I was forced to begin compiling a lengthy list of "fulfillments" of this one prediction!
Today, I am still appalled, not that I lacked the foresight to anticipate the extent to which this has come true, but rather over the extent to which religionists have exploited this matter. You might say that, having previously had a somewhat positive and optimistic view of humanity, I feel as if my own species has let me down! One can read my initial assessments and predictions, particularly what I'd said about the tendency to exploit the bereaved following a death in the family, and one might scratch her or his head, wondering why I say this. I can only suggest that it's one thing to be able to follow the logic, but it's another thing altogether to accept, emotionally, that they are actually doing this to their fellow humans! Another might suggest that any evil pales in comparison to the terrorist acts themselves; my only response is that the evil of the terrorist acts does not stop the exploitation of those acts from itself being evil. In fact, part of the exploitation seems to involve this very distraction, as if to say, "Let us take advantage of the fact that any lesser atrocity that we might commit would certainly pale in comparison to the terrorism!"
The most recent shock comes to me upon reading that the Dr Pepper bottling company issued a commemorative soda-pop can. That they'd issue a patriotic can in the wake of the tragedy, riding the wave commercialism of the Red, White, and Blue that has resulted, is not my primary complaint. In fact, the way they pulled it off is to be commended in at least one respect: the can contains language from the original, pre-McCarthy Era Pledge of Allegiance ("...one nation, indivisible...").
Most deplorable is the fact that the bottling company is now the object of a limited boycott amongst extremist American Christians of the revisionist variety for having omitted the language of the McCarthy-Era, Cold-War revision of the Pledge ("...one nation under God, indivisible...").
Uh -- really, now!
We Americans are so blasé and accustomed to this whole thing that a "commemorative soda pop can" does not strike us as odd, much less exploitative. But now we are hearing from religious groups who are so entirely callused that the "commemorative soda pop can" is not religious enough for them that they are demanding of this private corporation that they make their gesture even more religious! I'll accept the claim that the soft drink company's gesture was made in good faith, in spite of just how tacky I find the whole business of 9/11 T-shirts, coffee mugs, pen and pencil sets, and (I noticed, when I went to the store last week) even doormats, for gaud sakes!
Why are many people abandoning traditional faiths and opting for a nonreligious perspective in life?
I can only speak for myself in that religion never meant anything to me. There was nothing there to abandon: I didn't even know that people thought Jesus was a god until I was in high school. When I rode my bike to school every day and saw the picture of a man hanging on the cross on the side of a building, I thought that these people must be truly sick to want to celebrate such brutality! What? Were they trying to guilt-trip me or something? I thought they were saying, "Look at what this man went through, and you're complaining about your little problems?
I had heard people talk about this "God" I never believed in, but I had no clue that this "God" was so angry, so despotic, that He could not stand to look upon this wicked human species until He had first poured his wrath upon Jesus Christ so that He could be appeased. It ended up being much worse than I had initially thought when I was a kid, and I was so glad that I didn't have to grow up in a home where they expected you to believe this nonsense, because I knew that I would never have been able to keep a straight face. Worse, I knew that I could never have given respect to those who most deserve and most earn respect from me: my parents! I don't know how other kids pulled it off, how they made it through their childhood in one piece. I can only talk about how it would have been for me.
"Meaning in life" just never was a question for me: I am and I'm here and I'm alive and I therefore have certain responsibilities which I must carry out if I am to continue living with any degree of comfort and to have much of a chance of staying alive. Even then, there are no promises: I could do everything right and still end up like my little brother, who never even learned how to talk!
At one point, I pondered life and saw that even if the sperm next to the one who made it had made it instead, it's very likely that the kid who came out of the womb nine months later could have been somebody else, and not me! This blew me away completely, and I still haven't settled down from this one realization! I am still awestruck -- to this very day!
Then I pondered that any number of things could have happened to either of my parents and they never would have met! Then what?
Ditto for their parents (two pairs), and their parents (four pairs), and their parents (eight pairs), and their parents (16 pairs), and their parents (32 pairs), and their parents (64 pairs), and their parents (128 pairs -- and we've only gone back to the American Revolution by this time), and their parents (256 pairs), and their parents (512 pairs), and their parents (1,024 pairs), and their parents (2,048 pairs -- and surely we've crossed over and come back upon one another by now, not quite inbreeding, but, you know), and their parents (4,096 pairs), and their parents (8,192 pairs), and their parents (16,384 pairs), and their parents (32,768 pairs, this, about the time Columbus sailed to this side of the world and flogged an indigenous woman after he had raped her -- it's in his diary: he was so proud! He cannot possibly have had a chance to ponder life itself if he'd do something like either of those things to a woman! to anybody! to an animal, for that matter!), and their parents (65,536 pairs), and their parents (131,072 pairs), and their parents (262,144 pairs), and their parents (524,288 pairs -- and still we've only counted back to about the time of the Magna Carta, the beginning of the modern re-emergence of civil government, and the round table, symbol of the re-emergence of the concept of human equality).
And to think that it blew my mind that a one-sperm difference just in my parents would have meant that whole deal is off for me? not to mention any number of things that could have gone differently just in the lives of my Parents? But just look at all these pairs, and we're not even half-way back to the time the brilliand Alexandrian scientist Hypatia was hacked to death with oyster shells by a mob of Christian monks, signalling pretty much the end of science in Christian Europe for almost ten centuries! We're only about a third of the way back to the time of the Hippocratic oath, Religious Freedom in Persia, Alexander's promotion of science, and a long list of human lights of which Ptolomy, Leucippus, Mencius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Diogenes, Pyrrho, Hero, Zhuangzi and Confucius are but a tiny but representative sample!
How many changes would it take during all this time for me never to have existed? One. This is what I pondered when I was about ten years of age (although my knowledge of history, as a reference for time, came later, throughout the years).
Never mind that if the history of the Earth were a set of volumes that could be set on a shelf that stretched from San Francisco to Los Angeles (4.5 billion years, at one thick, old-timey page per year), we have only covered about four or five inches in the 800 or so years that my genes have gone through (as many as) 1,048,575 different pairings! Can you even begin to fathom that? Can you imagine that one thing being different in any of those situations, and I might never have been? I surely would have never been!
And yet there are still over six billion humans who get to experience life today! Six billion people who get to exist! Six billion humans who get to be instead of never having existed at all! Nothing! But any changes at all, and I wouldn't get to be among them: someone else (or nobody at all) would have taken my place.
And then I realized that by the time it's all over (and by then, it already was all over for my little brother), it will be, for me, as if I had never existed in the first place. The only evidence or residue of my having existed, of having been, will be back here on Earth, among the living. I will simply not-be, just as I simply was-not before my birth -- just as I could have simply not-been had any of these things been different, not just in the 1,048,575 different pairings over the past 800 or 900 years, but the unwritable number of pairings and parthenogeneses. This is what I thought about and what tempered my awe just for existence -- not to mention all other aspects of both science and human expression that I encountered and fell in love with (I was only nine or ten at the time).
A little later, my education allowed me to go back to ponder dust from a burned out star settling on a larger chunk that has grabbed enough dust to pull off enough gravity to grab all the dust within its locality and form a solar system, one of billions of such star-systems in this galaxy, one of billions of galaxies that have existed. By then, science had learned enough to allow us to go back to ponder what appears to have been a quantum fluctuation occurring in the true vacuum of what was likely absolute nothing, and that fluctuation, being zero energy and zero mass, escaping into that true vacuum and disrupting that balance ever so slightly in the "good" direction so that there's just a tiny bit more matter than antimatter so that there can even be stars at all -- even though the entire Universe still contains zero energy (what physicist Victor Stenger calls "the ultimate free lunch": an entire Universe made out of nothing, and utilizing zero energy in the process!).
To what extent can those who choose a nonreligious perspective feel satisfied with their search for meaning in life?
You know what? I am lost! Completely lost! Completely lost!
This has nothing to do with any search for anything, it just is! Reality is so overwhelming at times that often I just cannot think any more: my mind just stops and all I can do is simply gaze upon this thing of which I am an integral part. At the same time, this thing is so vast that I am tempted to feel as if am an insignificant nothing, not even an afterthought! Then I realize that I have the only thing that's worthy of desire in the entire history of the Universe, both whence and hence: I have the opportunity to exist as a conscious, aware entity. If anything else even had the ability to desire, and if that thing were given one wish, I promise you that it would desire to have what I now have: sentience.
Ah, but I speak in riddles, because it would take awareness to even be aware of the ability to be aware. Still, I think my point is quite simple!
But here I am. And how did I get here? Ultimately, as I stated above (in so many words), the Universe is a fluke. Likewise for the existence of life on this planet, which just might be such a fluke that it is and will be the only life, ever, in the entire Universe! Thus, the desire for there to be UFOs is simply a materialistic extension of the religious search for meaning: the almost universal desire for life itself to be something other than a big accident; otherwise, when it's all over, nobody will know what we had.
But this is not limited to the cosmic scale, for I have shown that, notwithstanding the existence of the Universe and of life and even of humanity, my personal existence, contingent upon everything being just so for countless pairings of countless generations, is as much a fluke as anything could possibly be. Thus, even if we could take care of the Universe by positing a Creator, and even if we could take care of life by positing a Creator, and even if humanity exists because an Anthropic principle had humankind as its goal for creation, we still have this problem of the fact that my personal existence is so marvelously unlikely that most people feel the need for a God Who would actually micromanage the universe down to the travels and travails of individual sperm cells!
Such is the fear that this whole thing just might be one giant winning streak, a cosmic lucky shot, a bonanza in which the privelege of being allowed to exist (that one thing to be coveted above all other thnigs, as I suggested earlier) is the ultimate jackpot. The fear is that nobody is up there hedging anybody's "bet" toward "winning" a crack at life. As far as we can tell, it's all a matter of blind chance and you either get to live for a while -- or -- nothing.
Even this is too much for many to ponder. But I go further than even this, and have done so since childhood. (This might even be a case for the notion that an individual's quest for meaning could, in some cases, be only too successful!) I last saw my little brother when I was about four years old. Since then, I have been intimately aware of the fact that even if you do get a chance to live, you might not live long enough to even become aware that you've been alive! In fact, statistically (covering the entire history of humanity, of course; mortality rates are much better today), you probably didn't live long enough to know that you had a chance to know.
But let's say that you did survive gestation, birth, and even infancy. Let's say that you've reached that lucky minority of humans (who have ever lived) who will reach the age of four (when I remember kissing my little brother goodbye for what I knew, even then, would be the last time). Even then, who's to say that you are "blessed" with the opportunity to grow up in a part of the world where misery is not rampant?
Gaguing by the living conditions of the majority of humans, the phrase "Fat chance!" sounds almost like an insult! There you are, a little girl of seven, chained to a bench and forced to roll cigars all day long. Unfortunately, your cigars have been coming out a tad too tight, lately, and one got sold to a very powerful local leader, who makes a stinging public remark about the company who exploits your labors. So you're sitting there, about to begin rolling yet another cigar. But then you hear the rough sound of breathing right behind you. You know better than to turn around -- but this doesn't matter in the long run, because your awareness stops here. The club that came cracking down across the side of your head struck in just the wrong spot. The boss intended only to teach you a lesson, but what really happened was that your only opportunity, ever, to exist, just came to an end. You got a few more years than my little brother did. And from what I hear about the disease that took him away from us, your life probably involved considerably less pain than his did. Still, I cannot decide whether to rejoice that you got to exist for seven short, seemingly miserable years, or whether to cry over the fact that they weren't nearly as happy as they could have been, certainly not as happy as I think they ought to have been.
I can see why some people would want to crawl back into the "womb" of a simple, comfortable religious myth that explains everything as having a purpose (even if it doesn't have a purpose at all) and removes all these contingencies from your existence long enough for people to be able to function and get on with the task of living. Can you comfort a grieving child with your mind fully aware of what I have described in the previous several paragraphs? Many who have suspected that religion doesn't really have any answers at all still cling to it when they feel they need it. This was shown by the temporary boost in attendance at houses of worship during the the weeks that followed the Day of Atrocity, the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center.
But even those who comprised this momentary bump in church attendance remain a minority: most of us either already go and continued to go, or we already refrained and continued to refrain. I remained one of the many who was not tempted to fall to my knees, to rush to the altar, or whatever. As I walked through my neighborhood, past that church on every other corner, I deliberately reminded myself of the myths that are allegedly by or about the various ogre-gods I keep hearing about: none of them sound very comforting to me. That being the case, I might as well face the fantastic and fascinating world that my senses seem to perceive, the reality that science tries to describe! I might as well learn to deal with the emotional upheavals that sometimes come my way when I ponder the stark realities of a purely physical reality. Religion did not, will not, and cannot take away emotional upheavals, so I might as well give myself the added benefit of a clearer understanding of reality.
Even if religious myths were comforting, what is so comforting about a myth? What's so comforting about a lie? What is it about falsehood that could possibly improve any situation? This is particularly the case if I have checked out the myths and if I have pondered life and physical reality. Having done that, if I then take my fears, the trembling emptiness where feelings once vibrated with the sheer joy of life, that hollow sense of futility, and try to numb those sensations with the good stout "drink" of a comfortably myth -- especially if I have weighed these very myths and have found them wanting in every respect -- I will become all the more aware that I am only fooling myself. Worse, I become aware that I seek solace in falsehood only to find escape; that is, solely to obtain personal comfort! As a man of morality and truthfulness, this could not possibly be a source of comfort over all.
So either way, I am lost!
Once more, although in a different respect than before, religion neither relieves nor improves the emotional situation into which the stark awareness of reality brought me. Even though the awareness of reality has brought about my pain, escape from that pain cannot come through falsehood: once having seen something, I cannot go back to my previous state of not having seen it. This can only work if I had never known the truth, and if that were the case, would I have experienced the upheaval brought about by awareness of the truth?
Furthermore, had I been willing (or even able) to fall into the religion game and could be convinced of a judgement of the just and an afterlife as described by the major sects, I'd still be wondering if I was good enough, "saved" enough, or "born again" enough to be allowed, eventually, to gaze upon the face of my Creator. The religions that instill loyalty by teaching the afterlife deliberately keep you up in the air about your prospects. Of course! If your future situation was cut-and-dried, whence cometh your motive to remain loyal? why teach an afterlife for this purpose? And what would be the point of teaching about Hell, if not to instill loyalty while we are yet alive?
Therefore, since the consequences of eternity in perdition are so ultimately and utterly dire, if I had been a believer, then I couldn't help but spend all my time and energy hoping and striving not to "miss the boat" (the big boat!) for any reason! According to some, I could miss out for no reason at all! What if my fate was in the hands of the whim of St. Paul's Potter-God (Romans 9), that Cosmic Artisan to Whom the artifact dares not to inquire, "Why hast Thou made me thus?" That All-Powerful Overseeing Overlord of the New Testament, Who "hath ... mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth"?
Yes, I could have let a cabal of clergymen determine my identity, my purpose in life, thus allowing others to formulate very motives I have for every action. Otherwise, I could sit here and try to do that myself, devising my own motives and methods! I'm sure I don't need to explain to you which path I would still have taken had all things been equal! But they weren't equal: I was "blessed" (if you will) with parents who were atheists, whose parents were either atheists or "Spinoza's-god" Unitarians (Deists), whose parents were, again, either atheists, Deists and Unitarians, or Native American Half-Breeds. With a background like that, the entire concept of cultural roots is foreign and what some would call "rugged independence" is more than just a way of life: it's all I could possibly know.
The "meaning" that I give to life is not something that I have to even put into words (and I don't: I simply live out that "meaning" -- if it be proper to even call it that!). I don't have to share it with anybody. I don't have to tell anybody about it, either. And I certainly don't have to answer to anybody.
When Christians (and a handful of others, but mostly Christians) castigate me for not having any "meaning" in my life, I have a choice: I can either become angry or feel sorry for them (one choice), or I can chuckle at or ignore their foolishness (the other choice). One thing that I never, ever need to do is explain to them or justify myself before them. I cannot respect anybody who would treat me like that or say the things that Christians have said to me just on this Forum, just in the past few years. Such people (just read their words, posted verbatim in my Forum), cannot possibly have pondered what I just described to you. If they had even allowed themselves to become aware of even the questions I have asked, then I could expect them to display a profound appreciation for life -- all life -- my life. But this is not what they do when the denounce me and degrade me because I don't buy that dirty little story that we've all heard for two thousand years, because I don't want what couldn't possibly amount to even a nickel's worth of glory compared to what I had been through, what I had thought about and realized, the questions I had asked -- alone, sitting on a hillside -- all this by the time I was ten years old.
Besides, none of it is any of their business. All of it is entirely and exclusively my business. I will let on just a little of what it is like to remove the blinders or come out of the Platonic cave or whatever metaphor suits you the best. I did this because you were polite, respectful, and cordial. I also did this because I can tell, by the language you used in asking me these questions, that you couldn't possibly (currently) be in a position of understanding what it's like to have stepped out of the cave that nobody ever said even had an opening.
However, this is the reality that has been handed down to us by Nature.
I can understand why some people would want to escape having to ponder these things, but I cannot imagine myself having pondered this truth and then exchanged it for the tales of Krsna, or Amen, or Zeus, or Buddha, Jehovah, or Jesus, or Allah, or Moroni, or any of the others.
I cannot tell you anything about "spirituality" because I don't know what that is supposed to mean. To ask me about how "spirituality" affects my life or applies to my life would be like asking me how I could stand to have been rusted solid like the Tin Man was, and what I did to amuse myself for all those years, waiting for Dorothy to come by and grab the oil can! Neither is something that has ever happened to me. You are asking me to discuss, as real, things that just plain aren't real. No, the Yellow Brick Road does not have a practical or even a realistic application in my life.
This is where people usually come in and start calling me thick-headed and stubborn. Shame on them for talking about me like that, when they don't even know me!
First, if someone thinks this stuff is real, then it is their responsibility (and theirs entirely) to demonstrate to me that what they are telling me is the truth. If they cannot or will not show me, in plain terms, using the same strict standards to which scientists all over the globe gladly submit themselves, then I have every reason to conclude that they are either lying to me or that they are, themselves, deluded.
In any event, I am not allowed to live my life in peace, free from religion. I cannot because those in the majority will not let me. I let them worship and truly don't care what they do as long it doesn't harm me. But they don't return kind for kind. They are so unsure of their own faith (it seems) that they must suppress this lack of confidence by the reinforcing act of convincing others to go along with them. It doesn't feel right to be the only one in the group to be doing anything that nobody else is doing. We constantly check ourselves against others to make sure we're doing the right thing.
Because of this, I, like all others who do not belong to the evangelizing sects, fall victim to endless sales pitches, recruiting campaigns, and even subtle and overt acts of coercion! I was standing in a court room a little over 13 years ago, shackled in handcuffs and leg irons, about to experience one of the most overt forms of religious coercion ever endured by a human. I had served 179 days of a 180-day sentence for "supporting myself" during a long bout of cripplingly debilitating illness took out my ability both to hear and to walk without severe pain. I had fallen through the cracks of a woefully insufficient system of social services and ended up squatting and shoplifing to survive.
Having paid the bill in full, I was now being ordered to attend a faith-based alcohol rehabilitation program.I refused, calling myself "an atheist" for the first time in my life. (Mind you, alcohol and drugs were not the problem: I had no drug- or alcohol-related charges, much less convictions. It was all I could do to eat and stay warm during these almost two years!) I was placed back in jail, serving 24 days of a 30-day "hold" before being released by a clerical error. I spent 60 days cloistered in this building, living and breathing this religious indoctrination (although the court had wanted me to stay there for at least nine months). After that, I spent an additional 25 months in close association with the religious outfit whose loyal members owned and ran the faith-based rehabilitation center -- all this at the behest of the court. I am an American citizen, but this was not the "America" that I had learned about as a kid, reading about the Revolution and the Constitution.
I bring all this up in order to make but a single point: the time I spent being forced to associate with the religious group, being forced to undergo their indoctrination, has scarred me for life. Just last night, as I began working on this letter, I was toying with the idea of attending one of their meetings, about two blocks from where I now live. Actually, I was strongly considering it, and resisting the urge came with no small effort on my part! I could just as easily have gone, but I didn't. I recently moved to a different part of town and am very disoriented and even more lonely than that! Perhaps this might have done me some good, but why would I go there of all places? I never got along with more than a handful of people in that organization! Why? Why would I be tempted to go back? Because this religious group, like most religious groups, has perfected the techniques I have described elsewhere, techniques designed to instill loyalty and win converts, and most importantly, to "program" them to return to the group when times get tough -- as well as when things go well!
No, the religions will not let me be. They will never let me be. As Thomas Paine pointed out, some of them hound you beyond the grave (with their threats of Hell-fire)! For me, this side of the grave is ominous enough: here I am, alone, and in the privacy of a comfortable, secure, and quiet (for the moment) townhouse, and all I want to do (or so I think) is attend this religous meeting! The religions have entered my very thoughts tonight, by means of indoctrination which I endured over a dozen years ago!
It is for this reason that because of this experience, I stopped simply ignoring religion. Until then, I could get away with the occasional encounter, every so often, like a panhandler standing at the entrance to the building where I'll be working this morning. Back then, religion was a nuisance at most. Some really nice people were religious and their faith never detracted from what kinds of people they were: honest, friendly, responsible, alert, even intelligent. (Religion seems to affect only a single, detached function of intellect, allowing for otherwise exceptionally lucid individuals to fall for patently absurd religious dogma.)
But since this incident with the court, I am compelled, morally, to fight not only for Religious Liberty (particularly, Freedom from Religion) but to struggle for the dignity of irreligion, including but not limited to critizing religion when called upon to do so (such as right now, in responding to your questions).
And I apologize for having gone for the throat, so to speak, in my response to your letter: this is simply how I feel today. I have answered several similar sets of questions in the past, and all of them are listed in our FAQ section called "Gems From the Mailbag." The top section, intuitively named "Top List," lists several letters such as yours, mostly students seeking help with an assignment and asking a series of questions. Some of these even contain practically the same questions you asked! At the bottom of the "Gems" list, the items in the "Top List" are listed again in the "Expanded Index of Top List." However, the entries here include each of the questions covered in that file.
For example, the file called "Two Questions From A Youth Minister" contains two questions and each question, of course, is listed in the "Expanded" Index. However, I was dissatisfied with the wording of his second question, so I reworded that question -- twice. I did this because the question was so ambiguous that I did not want to assume I knew which meaning he gave to the question, so I answered both possibilities! In the "Expanded Index," I listed and linked both possibilities. (This change, done very recently, makes our FAQ's "Gems" section much more useful!) There's no sense in doing this work at all if the information I've produced gets buried in a folder full of numbered, unindexed files. Why bother, if people cannot make use of that information because they don't even know it's there!?
Also quite recently, I have poured over the Letters section, finding and listing twice again as many files as were listed only a few months ago. Eventually, this, too, will live among the "Gems" as one of several approaches to what some would consider the same questions that have been covered a half-dozen times already! Why? Because there are no cut-and-dried answers to this stuff, that's why! Besides, since they're all different, one of them just might contain that one clue that you were looking for but didn't know it -- that one sentence or comment that sets the picture into perspective for you or gives that one piece of the puzzle or mentions the resource that has the perspective you need.
I may not always be in a jovial mood, but nobody ever accused me of cutting corners when it comes to helping people find what they're looking for. What I give them may not be what they thought they wanted, but it is always the truth as I see it, presented to the best of my ability.
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