My name is Gary G. Anderson ( I use the middle initial here because the internet searches count at least 200 people sharing my first and last name). When I read the writings of other people on topics similar to those in this website, I want to know something about how their background may have influenced their thinking and contributed to their ideas. I thought someone coming to this website who doesn’t know me might wonder the same about me.
Born into a working class Lutheran family in Wisconsin in 1945 just as World War II was reaching its climax, I was raised a middle-of-the-road midwestern Christian. My family was active in our church as I grew up. My older brother, my two younger sisters and I were all baptized within a few weeks of birth and our family was in church every Sunday until I graduated from high school.
Of course, in our early teen-age years my brother and sisters and I attended two years of Lutheran “confirmation classes,” for an hour every Saturday morning during the school year. Of all my friends, only the Catholics and Jews received more thorough religious training. Most important, I think, I was raised to believe in a strict moral code of right and wrong, and I’ve never regretted that.
But then as a teenager, even while I was working on my God and Country award in Boy Scouts, I was beginning to question the words of the exclusionary Nicene Creed that we recited on major religious holidays. In high school I found myself among a group of intellectuals, already reading philosophy, examining other religions, and questioning authority of all sorts. One thing we all agreed on was that salvation had to be available to anyone who followed any major faith that believed in a higher power and one’s responsibility to others, rather than being exclusive to one sect or religion.
That questioning, and the beginnings of my own ideas, progressed as I studied world history and the history and philosophy of science at Princeton University while taking basic science and engineering courses in preparation for graduate work.
On the one hand, I learned that the basic precept of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” was not unique to Christianity, but rather underpinned most major religions of the world.
On the other hand, I also learned that organized religion, politics, and war had been intimately intertwined during all of recorded history, and that religious teachings were controlled and often twisted by secular leaders to justify competition for and control of very worldly resources. It seemed quite a reach to me to believe that this whole petty and nasty process, with all the people involved, could be argued to be divinely inspired.
Progressing through a technical graduate degree at Carnegie-Mellon University, and then spending two years in the army during the Viet Nam era, my appreciation for the scientific method of inquiry increased even as my skepticism regarding organized religion grew.
Out of the army and into the job world, I subsided into the sort of comfortable religious practices followed by many Americans. Beyond ritual celebration of the major holidays and family observances at weddings, christenings, and funerals, I couldn’t see the importance of regular church attendance, and certainly no moral or intellectual basis to worry about the afterlife, or proselytize for my beliefs.
My work with a well-known international technology and consulting company did give me the opportunity over 30 years to visit nearly 45 countries, working with government agencies and private companies on regional economic development projects, which necessitated developing an understanding of a variety of different cultures. As I look back on that period, I'm amazed at how much my views about people and their beliefs evolved and expanded.
Then about 11 years ago, confronted with the unexpected and sudden death of my younger sister, a wonderful woman who was dedicated to her work with cancer patients, I threw out most of the specific concepts I had been taught in my religion. Confined to a hospital bed myself for six weeks, I started developing my own beliefs, independent of much of what I had grown up with. Initially I relied only on my own experiences and knowledge, but more recently I’ve been finding other authors – writing about human history and culture, evolutionary and neurological science, and theology and philosophy – whose rational analyses now are rapidly filling in specific previously missing pieces of this cosmic puzzle.
Recently, I finally reached a stage where I wanted to write down my ideas in a disciplined manner. Having done that, I decided to seek the reactions of other people in order to challenge any loose or inconsistent thinking in my ideas. In doing this, I hope that I will be able to develop these concepts further and even that other people might get some benefit from the views that I'm sharing. Those goals led to the establishment of this website that you are now reading. I hope you’ll give me guidance to help me continue my journey of discovery by sharing your comments on the Conversations page.
Unlike many writings on the topic, this set of essays is certainly not the result of comprehensive research (or much of any research, for that matter) in belief systems. The sources of most of my views came from religious training as a child, and readings in courses in high school and college that have long since been forgotten in specific detail.
Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed reading four books in the recent past that basically encompass all the factual information I’ve relied on in developing and discussing my subjective beliefs. For anyone who wants a complete survey in just a few books of what scientists know about the world, and how the pursuit of scientific research has interacted with religion, politics, and economics, I can’t recommend these enough.
Bryson, Bill, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books, 2003.
Ferris, Timothy, The Science of Liberty; Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature, HarperCollins, 2010.
Wilson, Edward O., The Social Conquest of Earth, Liveright Publishing, New York/W. W. Norton, London, 2012.
Eagleman, David, Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain, Vintage, New York 2011
For a faith that is based so completely on one book, Christianity is on pretty shaky ground, relying on a resource that was written 100 and more years after the deaths of the authors to whom it is attributed, translated from the original language of the actual authors, then copied by hand for over 1,500 years, and finally subjected to the work of paid printers, working from less-than-ideal copies and translations of copies. A respected academic theologian has illuminated the weaknesses of the Bible as a reliable text.
Ehrman, Bart D., Misquoting Jesus. The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, HarperOne, 2005.
Many books recently have been written about personal searches for God, and the reasons individuals have become agnostics or atheists. Authors of two such books that I read are widely respected for the quality of their research, analysis, and presentation. I found the books useful foils for some of my own thinking, since they helped me articulate specific questions that I have tried to answer for myself in these essays. I’ve mentioned comments from both authors in my writing, so they deserve a footnote. However, I don’t think they would help a reader get to any positive conclusions regarding personal beliefs, so I can’t say that I’d recommend them for reading, even at their high level of quality.
Bugliosi, Vincent, Divinity of Doubt, The God Question, Vanguard Press, 2011.
Krasny, Michael, Spiritual Envy, An Agnostic’s Quest, New World Library, 2010.
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