Name: Jan Goss
Birthplace: Willowdale (Toronto), Ontario (but was raised in Kelowna)
What type of work have you done?
My first job was picking fruit in Kelowna. I then went to College Heights (near Lacombe, near Red Deer), Alberta. I took 2 programs there (religion and electronics). During that time, I worked at grounds, janitorial, and furniture factory.
After I graduated with my electronics diploma, I worked as a technician for Sounds Around. After a little over 1 year, I lost my job when the service department was sold to another company. At that time the economy was poor, and the job market for technologists was flooded. I couldn’t find any technician job above minimum wage.
I got a job at the University of Calgary as a caretaker (janitor). At that time, I abandoned electronics. (Some people say I should have taken a minimum wage job for a few years to gain experience. I am happy with my decision, though.) I eventually became a caretaking lead hand, which is part janitorial duties and part supervision. One of the benefits of working at the U of C was that I got free tuition. So, I got the degree: Bachelor of Arts – honours in philosophy. (I may be one of the few people who got a degree merely for the enjoyment of taking courses and getting a degree.)
When I retired at the U of C I moved to Kelowna.
How would you identify yourself in terms of religion/spirituality?
I do not believe in the supernatural. But I am also interested in Christianity. I engage in Christian activities so far as I can without believing in any supernatural being (which, surprisingly, is a lot. I’m fascinated at how unimportant a supernatural being can be considering it is the foundational belief in Christianity).
What are some of your reasons for joining KASHA?
Since I do not believe in the supernatural, I want to be in the company of others who also don’t believe in the supernatural. I also want to learn more about atheism, skepticism, and secular humanism.
Are there any books or movies that have had a big impact on you?
The Bible (not surprising considering my background)
Various books by Isaac Asimov
Various books by John Shelby Spong (but especially “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism)
Various books by Marcus Borg
“With or Without God” and “Amen” by Gretta Vosper
“How the Bible Actually Works” by Peter Enns
What were some of the defining moments that led you to the point where you are now, in a religious/spiritual sense?
I grew up in the United Church, but in my teens, I became dissatisfied with it because I thought they did not take the Bible seriously enough.
I found the Seventh-Day Adventist church and became enthusiastic about it. While my theology is currently vastly different from the SDA church, I don’t resent my time in the SDA church. It helped me in several ways.
I left the church for 2 ½ reasons. First was evolution. I came to accept that evolution was true. Liberal Christians will wonder what the big deal was. For me it was a big deal. As a faithful Christian I had thought that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 was necessary for the plan of salvation to make sense, and thus it was essential for Christianity as a whole to make sense. I guess I was sincere, because that was one of the reasons, I left Christianity.
The second reason is that I could no longer accept exclusivism – the doctrine that you must accept the sacrifice of Jesus to be saved. My reason for not accepting this is complicated, but it was the second major reason I left Christianity.
The remaining reason is often called theodicy. There are 3 statements that Christians generally accept. 1- God is all powerful (omnipotent).
2- God is all loving
It is difficult (if not impossible) to argue that all three of those are true. Any two can be true, but not all three. If God is all powerful and all loving, he would not want evil (because how is that loving?), and can prevent it, so it is not possible that evil exists. God can be all powerful and evil can exist, but then he is not all loving. He can be all loving and evil can exist, but then God cannot be all powerful. It cannot be the case that all three statements are true. Yet all three are statements that traditional Christians accept. The reason that I call this a half reason rather than the third reason is that even as a conservative Christian I rejected statement 1. I did not believe that he was all powerful but that he was very powerful. I don’t even think the Hebrews could understand all powerful the way we do. When they said God was all powerful (if that is even in the Old Testament), what they really meant was that he was more powerful than they can imagine, and powerful enough to lead in their lives and nation. I believed that God was not powerful enough to give us freedom of choice without the possibility of evil. Thus, without statement 1, that argument is not a problem. However, I still felt (and still do) that Christianity is far from providing a satisfactory explanation for evil.
Another reason I have now, but didn’t have then, is that there isn’t sufficient evidence for a supernatural God. I don’t even know where to look for evidence.
So, I was an atheist. After many years (perhaps 2 decades) I looked back at my life and saw that the happiest years of my life was when I was a Christian. So, I went on a quest to see how I could get back to Christianity while still being an atheist. I was unsuccessful for several years. Eventually I started going to the United Church. They accepted me as an atheist, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I did not understand how I could be both and atheist and a Christian. About 3 years ago, I decided to write a paper on what my theology is and how it works, in hopes that I could discover what my theology is and how it works. I was successful. I discovered that I could remove the supernatural being as a foundation so long as I replaced it with another foundation. The new foundation that I use is God as a placeholder for “nature” or “how things work”. I am fascinated with how much of Christianity still stands after the replacement. It turns out that a supernatural being isn’t important for much of Christianity so long as you can replace it with a different foundation.