You Know What’s Funny?

Mrrrf. [That’s a grunt. A disgruntled grunt. I put the “grunt” in disgruntled.]

 “I finally found where I belong…”

I feel like I have failed you, my reader(s). I feel like a bum of a father who left his wife, and now only comes out to see the kids every couple of months and then wonders why they don’t get more excited to see him when he does show up, and then gets discouraged and comes even less frequently, and the horrible cycle keeps spiraling until finally he’s sitting in a bar in Galveston, Texas crying softly to himself because he’s now 52, and he hasn’t seen his kids for six years, and they don’t want to see him because they think of him as the guy who abandoned them and their mother (which is, of course, not really fair, because they only have their mother’s side of the story, and she neglects to tell them that the divorce was her idea and that he was actually pretty cool about it), and the bartender won’t even come over to try to cheer him up because he does this at least once a week, and it’s getting kind of old, but he could just really use a friend…

That’s sort of how I feel. You, know… about how I haven’t been writing much here.  So… sorry.

I had an interesting conversation the other day. Or rather, I sat there while two of my friends wouldn’t let me get a word in edge-wise in a conversation.  The question at hand was whether, when looked at honestly, the Muslim faith is more homophobic/sexist than the Christian faith.

The answer to that question may seem obvious to you- it may not.  I sat there and listened to my friends battle it out, one on the side of Muslims being more horrible, the other saying it was Christians, and I realized- I really just hate religion.

This may seem obvious coming from a guy who writes an atheist-themed blog, but it shouldn’t.  First off- as I’ve stated before, atheism is not a belief system. There is no set dogma with which you can paint atheists. As a matter of fact, the only thing that all atheists can be said to share is an uncontrollable urge to swear loudly in somebody’s church.

HA! I’m kidding, of course! I’m sure the swearing in church impulse is shared by fewer than nine-thenths of atheists… No, the only common thread that all atheists share is that they don’t have a belief in a specific god. That’s it. Aside from that single lack-of-a-belief, there is nothing that groups us.  Which is why it shouldn’t seem obvious that I dislike religion.  There are plenty of atheists who like religion.  There are actually quite a few who love religion, and wish they could be a part of one.  But they can’t. Because they’re atheist. And they don’t want to be Unitarian.

My point, if I have one, is that the more I look at religion (and yes, I include your religion in this, even though you feel you have several very compelling arguments which clearly demonstrate how much better your religion is than everybody else’s), the more I see how destructive, or at very least counter-productive, religion is.

I’m not talking macro here, though I think it’s pretty easy to make the argument that religions are frequently destructive on a societal level.  I’m thinking here on a micro-scale.  Inside the individual believer.  Psychologically/intellectually.  Religion, without exception, stunts people’s growth. In several ways. In my view. Which I will tell you about. In the next paragraph. Here it is:

First, there’s a fundamental problem with thinking you have the answer to an unanswerable question.  The second you buy in to a system of belief about the way the universe works, you stop looking. And why not? If you have the answer, you no longer need to ask the question.  It’s like continuing to look for your keys after you’ve found them- doesn’t make sense.

The obvious problem with this is that your answer is not only unsupported by any evidence, but is often in direct conflict with what observable facts we do have. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it certainly places a pretty heavy burden of proof on you if you want anybody else to take you seriously. But that’s not what most religious folks think.  Most religious folks feel perfectly free to pronounce their firmly held views with impunity, and get horribly upset if anyone calls them to logical account.  More than that, though, what worries me is that they turn off their brains.  They know the truth, so they don’t have to listen to anybody else.  Anyone who thinks differently is wrong and can just be dismissed.

That brings me to my second point. Religious people are WAY too easy to manipulate. Critical thinking is a skill that must be practiced, and when you’ve turned it off for long enough (or never been trained to use it in the first place), you become very vulnerable to flawed arguments. Couple that with the fact that most religious folks point to some external figure to whom is owed deference and often even obedience.  From popes to bishops to priests to pastors to ministers to imams to rabbis to clerics– everyone in a dogmatic religion has someone that they are used to listening to as some some type of authority.

This sets up a parent-child dynamic, where congregations are asked to submit to the preaching of this authority figure, and are shunned and scolded if they stray from that. Once an adult subjugates his/her intelligence to the preaching of some other person, they’re in dangerous headspace.

Frankly, could there be a better recipe for a dupe than someone who is used to willingly submitting to the will of others, who has also allowed their reason and skepticism to atrophy? Well, other than, you know, like a bunch of robots, or a clone army, or Canadians, or whatever…

We Have Nothing To Fear…

Ok, so here’s what I’ve decided is the truest fact about human life that I know:

Each of us is defined not by our desires nor our talents nor our intelligence… we are all defined by our fears, and the degree to which we are willing and/or able to confront them.  The most successful people are not the best and the brightest, but the bravest.

It’s not about fearlessness.  I actually have very little admiration for fearlessness.  Bravery is what I admire.  The same thing, you say?  Not at all, I respond.  Bravery is when you do something even though you’re terrified.  Fearlessness is just not being afraid.

I say if it doesn’t scare you, then you needn’t be applauded for doing it. For example: I’m not at all afraid of things like jumping out of an airplane or riding rides that go really fast and twirl upside-down a lot.  I enjoy them, but I’m not afraid of them.  So it’s not a big deal if I do something like that.  My lovely girlfriend, on the other hand, is scared shitless at the prospect of jumping out of a plane, so if she ever does it, it will be a true accomplishment.

But setting silly stunts like skydiving aside, to my mind, there is no more admirable characteristic than bravery.  Bravery to face your demons. Bravery to look inward and really confront yourself.   Trying something new- putting yourself on the line.  Knowingly risking your ego, your money, your stature for something you want or believe in… that is the mark of the best kind of person.

I once was talking to one of the wisest men I know about something that I really wanted.  I had about a thousand reasons why I couldn’t realistically achieve what I was wishing for, though. After an hour of chatting, he got to the heart of the matter:  I was right– I couldn’t possibly have what I wanted.  Not because of the thousand reasons I had told him about, but just because I was too afraid to try for it. I wasn’t willing to risk that much.  I wasn’t willing to face the possibility of failure.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

That’s from Hamlet. Look around at the people in your office, or on the subway, or at Target or WalMart.  Look especially at the ones you know for a fact will never make much of themselves, the ones who make very little in the way of meaningful contributions (contributions to the company, to society, to the world).  Or look at the rich people with nothing going on behind their eyes.  The ones who have a lot of money, but still can’t seem to figure out why they’re so miserable. Maybe just look in the mirror.  I think most of us walk around sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.  Ghostly images of the people that could have been had we just sacked up and faced our fear.

That brings me to another poetic quotation, if you’ll indulge me (and really, what choice do you have?).  From Heinrich Heine’s group of poems Buch der Lieder, or Book of Songs, the poem Der Doppelgänger, which was set beautifully to music by Franz Schubert in his song cycle Schwanengesang, or “swan song”. The word doppelgänger means something like “ghostly double” or look-alike, and in this poem it refers to a man who startles the speaker on an empty street on a still night (it’s actually a poem about a lost love, but I think the over-arching message applies).  The second of the three stanzas,

Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände, vor Schmerzensgewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe –
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eig’ne Gestalt.

roughly translates to:

A man also stands there and stares at the heavens,
And wrings his hands in violent pain:
I shudder when I see his countenance-
The moon shows me my own form!

Quelle dramatique, non?  Give this poem as a gift to the angsty emo teen in your life- they’ll love you for it (or commit suicide… one or the other).

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to let only one fear control my life: the fear that I will one day be alone on a silent street and be confronted by a ghostly figure staring into the air and wringing his hands because he was too chicken shit to actually do the things that would’ve made his life worth living. Fuck that guy!  I hate that guy!


My Belief

Since atheism is not a belief, but rather the absence of a specific belief, I thought I'd share some things I do believe:

  • I believe (after much soul searching) that snakes make very poor pets.
  • I believe that innovation is always called for.
  • I believe that monkeys have huge comic potential. As do penguins.
  • I believe that a life without creativity is pathetic.
  • I believe that the people of India have given this world the best tasting food it's known. Mmmmmmmm.
  • I believe, based on my love of old-school funk/soul music, that I may have been born in the wrong era and skin color.
  • I believe that human-kind will not scratch the surface of its potential until we stop looking to external entities as our guiding forces. We'll never know what we're capable of until we stop asking imaginary magicians for help, and start figuring ourselves out.
  • I believe that it's possible (though not necessarily probable) that we've changed the Earth so much (changing the content of our atmosphere, the human population and our resource consumption, etc.) that our species will not be able to survive.  I'm really not that broken up about it though.
  • I believe George Clooney is our generation's Cary Grant.
  • I believe that, while good science has shown that after the age of 35 a person is significantly less likely to try something new, I will buck that trend.
  • I believe (very firmly) that, if I ever met Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh in a dark alley, and they all had horrible weapons which they intended to use on me, the following would happen: 1) I would take a couple of seconds to assess the situation.  2) I would be overcome by very powerful emotions. 3) I would black out. 4) I would return to consciousness completely covered in blood and bits of flesh with four dead men at my feet.  It's not that I think I'm so tough, it's just that that is the one scenario that I know for sure would send me into a River Tam frenzy. 
  • I believe in taking the world exactly as it comes. I love reality.
  • I believe in having a very strict try-anything-once policy… about almost everything.
  • I believe that, if there is such a thing as an evil person, most televangelists qualify.
  • I believe that dancing is fun, but only if you don't care what other people think.
  • I believe it would be so damned cool to be weightless!
  • I believe this post is done.