I’ve been silent too long.

September 20, 2012

Well, faithful readers… I’m back.

It’s been too long.  There is too much bullshit going on that needs to be addressed.  I’ve been remiss in doing my part, as Hitch put it, to destroy the enemies of civilization.

Stay tuned for more vitriol, more reason — and, I hope, more pursuit of truth, wherever that path may lead me.

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Am I close-minded?

January 17, 2009

Am I being close-minded when I say that things like:

“There is no god.”

“Homeopathy is bullshit.”

“There is no such thing as reincarnation.”

I could go on, but you get the picture, right?

There was a time when I would’ve believed and sometimes did believe in any number of these and other similar, fantastical things.  What has made me so cynical, so doubtful of everything?

Years ago, I saw an interview on TV of Billy Bob Thornton, and, while I’m not a huge fan of his, he did say something that really stuck with me.  He said, “It is arrogant to say that something isn’t true simply because you don’t believe it.”  That statement has been like a koan for me all these years, and I think of it sometimes when I ponder the growth of my skepticism.

I really want to believe that anything is possible – that, for example, a woman performing Reiki can put her hands on someone dying of cancer and the patient is spontaneously healed.  (I do not, however, as is sometimes the claims of the religiously devout about atheists, yearn to believe in a god – I have no desire to live my life under the rule of a sadistic, absent, yet supposedly all-powerful and benevolent father figure “in heaven”, or what Christopher Hitchens humorously calls “a celestial North Korea”.)  It is a beautiful thought and many of us have heard of such spontaneous healings – but these are all anecdotal accounts and are hardly a good basis for any kind of proof.  Once again, my intellect, and my constant and insatiable desire to know what is actually true, will not afford me the faith that is required to completely believe in those accounts.  Of course, I really cannot rule out any possibility, but I also cannot fully embrace every “low probability event” as an indication of a likely trend, either.

In other words, I need proof, dammit!

But yes, haven’t all of us had experiences that we cannot explain?  I, for example, once had an out-of-body experience for which I have no reasonable explanation.  I was completely lucid, sober, not under the influence of any drugs, stimulants or any other physical stresses, such as lack of sleep, food, or water.   I can recall exactly where I was, the feeling of floating in the room, looking down at my body.  It was a bit alarming, but, once I got over the initial shock of it, the experience was also very peaceful and dream-like.  I was actually watching myself doing things as I was doing them.  Whenever I have spoken about this to others who are, for lack of better terms, “New Age-y”, they say things like, “Oh well, it was your soul yearning to be momentarily free of your physical body” or things of that nature.  They say these things so unabashedly, believing them so completely, that I sometimes – only sometimes, mind you – wish I had the ability to engage in that sort of willful abandon of my critical thought.

However, given that all my searching leads me back to the mind, the intellect, reason, logic, and critical thought, these tools obviously have their limits (at least at this point in the evolution of our species).  For instance, no one really knows, empirically, what atomic particles are made of.  (String theory, anyone?)  No one really knows the answer to my friend Marde‘s favorite question:  Why is there something rather than nothing?  No one really knows why – the larger why – bad things happen to good people.  Perhaps faith in the unseen is necessary for those who would otherwise lose themselves too easily in the idea of oblivion, or of the seemingly random nature of what is surely the miracle – yes, I said miracle – of our existence.

So where does all this mental meandering and search for meaning leave me on a daily basis?  Sometimes it leaves me breathless, when the search is frustrating.  Sometimes depressed, when the search seems fruitless or even pointless.  Sometimes overjoyed, when I reflect on the sheer luck of the draw that I should be existing at this moment on this amazing planet, for all of its and my flaws.

But most often, it leaves me with this belief, which I know I’ve written here before, but it is worth repeating:

I would rather know the cold, hard, unequivocal truth of something than be comforted by something that is false.

Is truly anything possible?

November 13, 2008

I take part, when my schedule allows, in a metaphysical discussion group that meets regularly in my neck of the woods.  I enjoy these meetings, because it gives me a glimpse into the beliefs of other people – namely, people who believe in things like past lives, UFOs, “cosmic shifts”, little green men, and so on.  As you would expect, I cast my doubt around – which usually runs into resistance, but there are others (including this really funny, slightly rude guy named Dave who looks and sounds a little like Denis Leary) who share my doubts.

At the last meeting that I attended, we were speaking about things being pre-destined vs. free will.  Some people at the meeting expressed their belief that, for instance, meeting up with certain people with whom they make strong connections is no accident – that such occurrences are  predestined; I believe that things that happen in my life occur completely at random, that there is no fixed plan for me.  Others, who believe in past lives, think that we have a “soul contract” to which we agree when we enter this life from a former life.   When I begin to apply reason and logic and start questioning these theories (which, without proof, is all they are), as expected, I get all kinds of grief.  Not hostility, just some healthy bantering.  But, someone even suggested to me that I am the one who is close-minded, not open to the possibilities, that I am shutting down and not hearing people out.

Now, hold on here.  The very reason I show up to these meetings is to keep my mind open to possibilities, to hear people out.  But my mind, my intellect, my reason, thus far, tell me that things like past lives and “I talk to dead people” are all bullshit.

Here’s an example from my own life – when I was young, my father bought my mother this beautiful clock.  Westminster chimes, wind it up, the whole works.   At some point, the clock started acting up – not keeping time, not working properly.  My folks took it to a shop, they fixed it, but within weeks it was acting up again.  My father was a pretty handy guy, so he somehow figured out a trick to keep the clock running, which worked for years.  The trick only needed to be employed a few times a year to keep the clock going.  He even tried to teach me and my mother his little “trick”, but I could never pull it off.  To my knowledge, neither could my mother.

Shortly after father died, the clock stopped working and never would start again, no matter how much my mother worked at it.  For years, my mom and I believed that it was my father’s way of telling us he was still around.  This, of course, was a comforting belief to hold.  It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, after my mother died, that it struck me that the reason that the clock stopped working when he died was because he was the only one who knew how to fix the damned thing!  When he died, the knowledge of the clock died with him.

As I was telling this story to the metaphysical folks, I could see their eyes lighting up.  They were thinking, “See?  People do live on after death!”  But when I got to my realization, the light went out.

I guess I’m just someone who has a hard time taking things on faith.   Seeing is believing for me, not the other way around.  I can emotionally believe something, but I call that wishful thinking.  But, once again – I don’t rule out the improbable.  I’m just saying I haven’t seen it with my own eyes.  Certainly, I’ve had experiences that I can’t explain – yet.   But I’m just not ready to assign a quick, metaphysical answer to them.  I am, in this way, keeping my mind open to what the real answer is – an answer arrived at through thoughtful consideration, inquiry and logic, not jumping to the first emotionally satisfying “conclusion”.

A lot of people think that a world without some cosmic, metaphysical connection is depressing.  Well, all I have to say is, I would rather know, without any doubt, the cold hard truth than be comforted by something that is false.

All bark, no bite.

June 5, 2008

In an effort to keep my (anonymous) name in good standing, I would like to simply point out that, although I attack the evils of religion (and there are many) with great gusto, I don’t want you to think for one moment that I am some heartless bastard, as some folks have all too happily pointed out to me.

On the contrary! Here are some rather touchy-feely, hippy-dippy things that I really love (and some links to boot!): piano music, poetry, flowers, art, vegan cuisine, Rocky Mountain National Park, wide open spaces – oh my friends, I could go on and on! (There are also lots of darker things I enjoy, as well – perhaps we’ll save those for another post.)

It’s not uncommon for us atheists to withstand these types of character attacks from Christians. Aren’t these the same people who claim to follow the words of Jesus, who said things like “turn the other cheek” and all that Sermon on the Mount stuff? I mean, what is with these people? It’s either “eye for an eye” ultra-vindictiveness or it’s “love thy neighbor as thyself” ultra-compassion. Sounds like some sort of collective bi-polar disorder. Don’t they have medications for that?

Anyway, to make it short and simple, I want you all to know that I really am a nice person who doesn’t eat barbecued babies for breakfast or knock over Nativity scenes at Christmas time or marry off teenage girls to old pervos.

Carry on!

Dead as a doornail.

June 1, 2008

I want to share with you faithful readers a quote that I read this morning (I regretfully don’t know the author at the time of this writing):

“Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.”

It is, of course, an inevitability that each one of us humans will die. True to form, religion has always sought to fill in the void that is left behind by the passing of someone close to us, with its hollow benedictions and quick, ready-to-use answers for everything revolving around what most regard as the mystery that is death.

Personally, I don’t find much mystery about it – I agree with Mark Twain, who believed that when he died, he would go back to being the way he was for millions of years before he was born, which, as he put it, didn’t cause him the least bit of inconvenience.

But I can certainly understand why people are so uncomfortable with death. Believe me – I’m not exactly gleeful about the idea of my life, as I know it, coming to an end. I have lost people who are very close to me, and I still miss them very much, and wish that they were still here among the living. And although I have heard many convincing tales of visitations from beyond the grave, I tend to think that it’s a very convoluted and misguided form of wishful thinking that accounts for these types of “testimonials”. I don’t rule it out entirely as a metaphysical possibility – but to my mind (flawed as it might be) it seems highly unlikely.

Religion focuses so much on death and the afterlife, about how glorious and wonderful it will be when we are all in heaven with our god. So, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t all these religious zombies be happy when they hear that one of their own is ill and close to death? Why bother comforting that person, or even praying for their recovery? After all, shouldn’t they be jumping for joy, and even sending along well-wishes to be delivered to other long-departed souls? Isn’t that what the struggle is all about in the religious world view – the long-awaited reward of the afterlife?

The author of the quote that inspired this post must realize this fundamental truth – that religion is merely a product of the human mind, created to fill in the blanks where we are wont to shrug our shoulders and give up any further amount of scientific inquiry and logic into those matters that we don’t fully comprehend or understand.

Religious people think that atheists have no regard for human life; they think, how could we, since we don’t believe in the Almighty? I think it’s rather the opposite – since, as an atheist, I believe there is no after-life – no plush rooms filled with olives and virgins and angels strumming harps all day long – then the atheist world view is much more reverent towards life and realizes how truly rare and precious and fragile it is. In other words, we’ve got one shot, people – make the best of it.

The question I pose today is this: Is monogamy unnatural?

I know what some of you are thinking – “Cheap cop-out!” – but I think this question begs some serious discourse here.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, religion has tried quite fervently throughout recorded human history to stifle and otherwise control the sexual instinct in human mammals. (Quite unsuccessfully, I might add.) And, despite all evidence to the contrary, there are still pockets of the population who believe that some higher power – which also created everything from solar systems to microbes and everything in between – actually has an unshakable moral and ethical opinion about the sexual goings-on between consenting adults. (Of course, even the term “adult” is arbitrary – does one’s 18th birthday celebration somehow cast, spell-like, an ability over said celebrant to “act like a grown-up”? But that’s another matter for another time.)

What I want to address here is the very natural and, dare I say, uncontrollable sexual attraction that humans are wont to feel for those fellow humans who “turn their crank”, so to speak. Not one person can convince me that they have never wanted to wander from their current partner – no matter how much they might love that partner. Why does sex have to be about love? Religion has insidiously attached shame to the feeling of arousal for arousal’s sake, making all things sexual seem dangerous, sinful and to be avoided at all costs except for those times when breeding another human into the world seems like the appropriate thing to do (or you or your spouse were too lazy to make a stop at the pharmacy).

The statistics that suggest that over half of married men cheat on their wives should come as no surprise to anyone. The bible-thumpers would have us believe that this is a sign of a declining civilization and that the end times are near. Ahem, excuse me – Jesus isn’t coming back to tell you not to ball the babysitter, so don’t worry about it. I think the institutions of marriage and committed relationships as we currently understand them carry with them an expectation of sexual fidelity that I think is unreasonable and, in many cases, unattainable.

Sexual monogamy is the unspoken agreement that, when broken, completely breaks the deal for a lot of couples. I say, why not wake up and face the facts? We might be intelligent, reasoning people – but we are still animals. Animals with instincts. Should we let something as frivolous as a roll in the hay destroy a marriage? What is marriage, anyway? Why did you marry your spouse – so that you could control their every move and impulse? Alfred Kinsey was on to something – bring all things sexual into the light, and express them – or hell, let’s just look at ’em, for Chrissake, and not let some external sense of morality guide our actions. Rather, let’s use our ability for critical thought and civil discourse to work out, for ourselves and with our loved ones, what works for us and what doesn’t.

One stop shopping.

May 15, 2008

This is organized religion in a nutshell – a man (most often) wearing a shapeless costume (kinda like a judge, now that I think of it) standing in front of a group of people and telling them, “OK, folks.  Put your money down, and in exchange for it, I’ll tell you what to think and when to think it.”

It really is that simple, when you boil it right down.  Religion is one big business, my friend.  Just follow the money and watch it get swallowed up and disappear into the ether called “your charitable tax-deductible donation”.

More later.  I promise.