A Mother’s Warning

Last Friday morning my Mormon mother called me with a warning, “be careful this weekend.” I was a little taken aback so I asked for clarification. “I was painting out back and had an impression. You were involved.” I acknowledged hearing her warning and–annoyed–ended the call abruptly.

This was not the first bit of “personal revelation” my mother has directed toward me, but it was the first in a very long time. I had almost forgotten that this was a habit of hers. Growing up, mom had impressions from the “still small voice” all the time. In fact, to a casual observer the voice probably seemed large and loud.

Mom had a bumpy road toward family prophetess though. When I was around eight years old, she scraped her leg really bad on the concrete decking surrounding the swimming pool. The “Holy Ghost” had whispered to her not to go outside, and she heeded the warning until she noticed that a planter on the other side of the pool was turned the wrong way. She slipped out the back door, corrected the planter, and while backing up to admire her work, fell backwards into the pool dragging one of her legs across the sharp little rocks embedded into the concrete.

Later that day, she commented that when you fail to listen to “His” promptings the Lord steps aside letting you face the consequences of your actions. I was mesmerized, and over the next decade, I would witness her sharing premonitions about black ice, ladders, river trips, and anything else that would be of mild concern for a typical mother.

Her prophesying probably seems fairly innocent, and my rudely getting off the phone probably seems, well… rude. But her phone call on Friday stirred up old emotions, and I feel like it was violation of the unspoken terms of our almost fifteen-year truce on the topics of faith and religion. I let her tell me about the goings-on at church, and she never ever asks me when I’m going to return to the gospel (or any other crap like that). I keep details about my life to a minimum. Everything works great!

I don’t know if I have any answers about how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t even think I’m asking any questions. My f’ed up relationship with my mother (and father for that matter) is what it is. I guess what intrigues me the most about her warning and the overall effect it had on my weekend is that I did change my behavior. I was more careful. It clearly wasn’t for the reason she had hoped——that I would start trusting her faith.

I just didn’t want to die in a car accident and leave her feeling like she was right.

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…

One Busy Little Non-Believer

Oy!  School, a new job, other writing… I've had a lot on my plate the last few weeks, and this poor little website has suffered horrible neglect because of it. I'm sorry, little website. Please forgive me.

Here is your non-believer musing for the day (or week or month- we'll have to see how well I end up doing in the near future): 

The god of the Old Testament of the Bible (this is the god that the Christians and the Jews can agree on), on multiple occasions had to destroy entire cities-full, countries-full and on one occasion a planet-full of people (except for one or two in each instance).  He (yes, that god is male) did this ostensibly because everyone in those cities, countries, and, that one time, everyone on the planet, was wicked.  

The obvious question then becomes: If the god of the Old Testament is omnipotent, why wouldn't he have made people in such a way that he never had to destroy them. What kind of a creator makes a group of creatures in such a way that he will have to destroy them later because they're not up to his own standards? Honestly- wouldn't a perfect being be able to at least hit a 50/50 balance of good and wicked? Is there any way to look at the stories of the O.T. god without seeing him as at very least flawed?  

Reflections On Christmas

Now that the season's over, and I've had some time to process it all, I thought I'd take a look back at Christmas.

The first thing that must be said is that Christmas is utterly unavoidable. I don't care how little you care about some guy who may or may not have been born in a manger two thousand years ago- if you live in the United States, you're going to spend the last two months (or more) of every year surrounded by Christmas. 

 Christmas at the mall. AAAAAAAAAA!

Most of us grew up with Christmas. Dozens of little rituals and traditions (most of which having little or nothing to do with Jesus) which are so integral to our culture, that we wouldn't know what December is without them.  And I gotta admit- many of them are nice.

I like the idea that we all are supposed to give.  I dig on the lights hung up everywhere, too.  It's a pleasant way to ward off the gloom of long winter nights.  I like cookies, and the smell of pine, and getting days off from work or school to spend with loved ones. Hell- for most of the folks I know, it's the only time when they can feel comfortable getting together and singing. I like singing.

As a matter of fact, the only bit I really don't care for is the Jesus nonsense. That damned birth story makes less sense every time I hear it.  It's stupid. That all there is to it!

This year's "huh?" moment: Wise men from the East follow a star which they saw in the East and end up West of where they began? And how do you follow a star to a specific location? Was this star hovering two hundred feet over Bethlehem?  'Cause stars don't really do that. They hover light-years over everything, which means that, while one could lead you, say, North, it wouldn't be able to guide you to Winnipeg (not that anybody would want to go to Winnipeg- I was just grabbing at a random Northerly city…).


 From a conservative website-

who's being intolerant, again?

One thing that's really starting to grate on me is the new Christmas tradition of Fox "News" type pundits whipping their lunatic fan-base into a frothy lather over a supposed war we non-Christians are waging against Christmas. You know what, Bill O'Limbaugh? Fuck you.

First- it's obvious to anyone who uses any portion of their brain that no such war exists, this is just another tactic to keep the cowering masses scared and angry; and second- if there were to be a war, Christmas fired the first shots years ago!

The fact is that it doesn't matter how much you love your holiday- NOBODY likes to have someone else's religious nonsense shoved in their faces year after year!  I don't care how warm and cuddly you feel on Christmas, it's your holiday- not mine. Don't look all sad and dejected if I tell you I don't celebrate it, just enjoy life's diversity and leave me the hell alone!  I don't try to make you celebrate my holidays, do I? Honestly! I mean, obviously I don't have holidays… but you get my point. How much would these hypocrites HATE IT if Ramadan shit took over their stores for two months out of the year?  We would, I promise you, never hear the end of it!

Frankly, all this bullshit kind of makes the thought of actually declaring war on Christmas appealing. I'd almost be tempted to do it if A) it didn't require actual effort on my part, and B) I had any idea whatsoever what a war on Christmas even means in any kind of practical terms.

I think I'll just stick with a war on Wheat Thins. That's an enemy I know how to defeat.

A Peek Behind the Curtain…

I recently had a remarkable conversation with one of the most brilliant minds I know (and I know some really smart people).  I had commented to him that even though I don't believe in a god, I had to admit that my life had been full of almost shocking serendipity.  I don't remember the source (buddhism? hinduism? Enter the Dragon?), but I've heard the sentiment that when the student is ready, the master appears.  I know that in my life, when I was ready for a new kind of wisdom or when I was prepared to take my life to the next level, someone or something always seemed to magically fall into my lap.  It's an amazing phenomenon, and I've never had any explanation for it.

There have been a few believers in my life who have been more than a little irked at my willingness to acknowledge this series of events, and my seeming unwillingness to give credence to the notion that these gifts come from a god.  The truth is that I've played with a lot of ideas as to where these fortuitous events come from.  Is there some benevolent force in the universe that is guiding my life? Am I connecting to some cosmic energy for good? Do I just have a high mediclorian count? Or… gasp… could it possibly be that… gulp… there actually is a god?

In all that exploration, I had never come across an answer that was the least bit satisfying, or had any ring of truth at all. Then I discussed it with my friend.

"I don't know what it is," I confided "but whenever I really need something to go well for me, or whenever I'm ready for a lesson, the perfect person magically shows up to teach me. It's way too frequent an occurence for it to be coincidence!"

 The Universal Smorgasbord

His response was perfect. "It's not magic. It's not coincidence, either. There's no great force pushing these good things to you. What you're not seeing is that this world is just enormously abundant.  The reason that help seems to always show up the moment you're ready for it has nothing to do with any mystical guidance. It's simply that all that help you could ever need and much, much more than you will ever use is already there. All around you."

I can't tell you how much I adore those moments when my understanding of the universe is suddenly and unexpectedly broadened. Of course it's all there already! As auntie Mame said, "Life is a smorgasbord and most poor suckers are starving to death." It's remarkable how simple and easy it all really is. There's no need for superstitions or magic- there's already plenty of good to go around.

Of course, nobody's going to try to help someone who wouldn't be able to receive that help, or if they do, that person won't be able to accept the help, because they aren't ready. But as soon as someone makes themself open to new learning, or ready to make a big change, they'll find that everything they need to make it happen is already right at their fingertips.