Alpha - Three Sessions Down

Some xkcd to start off this post:

I wonder if I am too critical. I shall explain.
I have been enjoying Alpha. The people are very nice, the food is great and I even re-connected with an old friend.
There have been three Alpha sessions so far. Number one "Christianity: Boring, Untrue, Irrelevant?", Number two "What is the Evidence for Christianity?", and Number three "Why did Jesus die?". It's been kind of interesting hearing these teachings with a different mindset. There are so many more problems than I used to let myself see. Belief is pretty powerful stuff, and I believed pretty powerfully. When I think about it, it makes me  sad. I do miss it. It almost feels like I am going through the final stages of a separation, except the other person in the relationship might never have existed. I have not yet completely given up on belief, just the more traditional Christian belief, "relationship with Jesus", that I had. If it is something you can lose, I seemed to have misplaced it and picked up some sort of naturalism. The desire to slip back into the more evangelical world view is definitely there. The only thing that stops me is I can't live or preach what I don't really believe. Belief for the sake of belief does not really appeal.
What does this have to do with being too critical? Someone at our table asked to read the notes I had been taking. She made the comment that they seemed to be mostly critical. She was concerned that in criticizing the flaws I saw, I would become bitter. The suggestion was made that I try and write down the positive. She's right, it is too easy to be critical, and I don't want to be bitter. I also don't want to give ideas and beliefs a free ride in my brain. I think the part of it is that there is so much in the Alpha videos that seems contentious to me. I know Mr Gumbel is not trying to, but it seems like he's helping decide what it is that I no longer believe, rather than introduce me to belief. It is also starting to be apparent that Alpha is geared towards Christians, or those with no history in the Christian tradition, not towards the skeptic.
My thoughts are a little all over the place, but I'll end with this. I'll try to write notes in a little more of a positive light. Can a person write critical thoughts of ideas and beliefs without being too critical?
Just to show I'm not too one sided, I am half way through Jesus is Dead by Robert Price. The books seems little all over the place and don't really like his writing style either. Maybe I am too critical. In the words of Megan, "You cynical bastard". I like to think they were said with affection...


  1. Well Scotty, that's some good self reflection. I would say that you have a tendancy to be critical ... not overly critical about everything, unless you felt you were being led by the nose perhaps. It was always tough trying to do that (not that I ever did).

    But I believe that there is great benefit to THINKING CRITICALLY, not just BEING CRITICAL. (Sorry, I'd use italics but I don't have the option with this thing.) I do my best to view every detail and circumstance and nuance and statement through a lense of critical thinking. This is not a self serving end, it's to legitimately know the truth of whatever it is I'm digesting - whereas I believe bitterness is self serving - it's an emotional means of revenge over something that you felt damaged you that will never end if you continue feeding it. Thinking critically can be coupled with loving deeply. Bitterness excludes love saying, in particular people or circumstances, that love is only second best.

    I think you can write critical thoughts. But what's your motive? What's your end goal Scotty?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Being critical gets a bad rap. And the 'being critical makes you bitter' comment gets a little tiring - it's rarely being critical that makes you bitter, but finding out you've been lied can make you very bitter (ex-scientologists seem very bitter indeed).

    Your private notes were critical - and she was worried? Focusing on the positive sounds more like an attribute of a belief meme. Beliefs that cannot stand up to criticism will only survive if its members discourage criticism. Either its members naturally adopt non-critical attributes, or the belief dies out.

    Of course, if it was the context that the positive was being ignored at the expense of the negative, there may be a point. Those that reject vaccines and modern medicine because Doctors are impatient and Pharmaceutical companies focus on profit would be an example.

    There may be nothing to be positive about. Someone's telling me all about how drug companies control the world, modern medicine doesn't work, and how homeopathy is the way to go - I'm finding it difficult to find anything positive to say for any common ground whatsoever.

    Alpha sounds like Bible study. Uncritical Bible study by the very nature of the topics - evidence of Christianity? Really? They said that with a straight face?

    It's probably a good thing nobody invites me :). I like your summaries, critical or not.



  4. I think that there is a strong possibility for some one to bring a positive attitude to thinking critically. Does disagreeing necessarily equate to negativity? I don't think so. Can politicians of different strips be friendly in spite of their fundamental differences in how they would govern. I think so, at least the civil ones can.

    I've been working on learning the fine art of being able to disagree with a smile on my face. The long term goal is to be able to completely disagree without be-littling (I have been wrong before) and without setting up an me versus them situation (aiming for a this idea versus that idea situation) so that we can talk about the ideas without either party having to feel entirely on the defensive.
    Joanna is helping me learn this! :)

    PS does it bother anyone else that this comment box doesn't let you use the arrow keys to move around? Even the home and end key don't work for me. Gah

  5. Thanks for the comments guys. Sorry about the comment box being so annoying.

    Tim - end goal would probably to know the truth of something, or at least more of it.

    Ron - Ya, I was kind of thinking the same thing. I am still trying to figure out how to say "Homeopathy is bullshit" and not make enemies.

    Jeff - I really like the idea of not having a me versus them situation. How do you do that when people, myself included, get emotionally attached to our beliefs and ideas?

  6. Man, it is a real challenge. I tend to get wrapped up in my ideas emotionally as well. The best techinques I've found so far are two a) keep smiling and being friendly and just avoid the attacking angle and b) go for a more "I'm trying to understand your point of view" angle. Not in the sense that I'm inclined to just let them talk and talk and talk, but in the sense that at the point where their position ceases to make sense (or ceases to make sense given their initial assumpmtion) a point of question or clarification could be raised. I mean, really, even the leaders at an alpha course haven't thought this stuff through from all angles.

    Occasionally, there are points that you can agree on, pointing those out helps keep the conversation constructive.