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.

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Well, the language police are at it again.  This time, a little boy in New Jersey was denied a birthday cake when the ShopRite supermarket from which his mother ordered his cake refused to put his name on the cake.  The boy’s full legal name just happens to be Adolph Hitler Campbell.

Yeah, that’s a pretty fucked up name for a kid, especially when you consider the names of his siblings:  JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell.   You just can’t make this shit up!

Their lame-brained parents aren’t really racist, they say.  They don’t care if their kids hang out with blacks or other races.  They just thought it would be cool to name their kids uniquely.  I mean, who the hell else would dare to name their kid after the world’s most infamous Jew killer?

A spokesperson for ShopRite said that they “reserve the right not to print anything on the cake that we deem to be inappropriate.  We considered this inappropriate.”

The Campbells were able to get their cake at a nearby Wal-Mart, who, in light of all this press, are now questioning their policies about cake decorating.  They may soon instate a similar policy to ShopRite, which, basically, amounts to “if we or someone else might find it offensive, we won’t do it.”

Now, hold on here.  As strange as many might think it is to name your kids in such a way, there is no reason in the world why they shouldn’t be able to, and there is also no reason why they can’t go into a store and have their kid’s name put on a birthday cake.  Once again, this is about language, plain and simple.  Some people are just a little freaked out by certain words and, apparently, names.  (Remember all the neo-cons who just had to repeatedly remind everyone of Obama’s middle name?)  What is it, exactly, that is “inappropriate” about this kid’s name?  I mean, really?  OK, he has the same name as the guy who masterminded the murder of millions of Jews.  I suppose that is unfortunate, depending on your politics, but does that mean that somehow Little Hitler is guilty of some crime by association?  I mean, do all the Mark Chapmans of the world go around plotting assassinations because they happen to share the name of the wacko who killed John Lennon?   Of course not.

But, of course, there is the argument that a private business can refuse service on any grounds to any person for any reason (within the law, of course).  Point taken, fine – but my whole point is about the uptightedness of these business owners, and of people in general.  Let’s stop worrying about words, and worry more about intentions.  This family just wanted a cake with their kid’s name on it.   I don’t know about you, but I am holding out hope that I still live in a free country.  So, instead of having these knee-jerk, emotional reactions, can’t we all just agree to be civilized adults and leave language alone??

The Battle of Oak Hill.

November 22, 2008

What did I tell you?  This kind of thing is popping up everywhere, sparking all sorts of debate on both sides.  In Standish, Maine, the owner of a one Oak Hill General Store had a sign out front of his store, taking bets on when people might think Obama will be assassinated.

OK, is this guy despicable?  Probably.  Is he just trying to make a quick buck?  Of course.  Does he think he’s funny?  Sure.  Now.. does he have the 1st amendment right to post such a sign on his private property?  Well, now, there’s the rub.

The Standish town councilors and Maine’s Governor John Baldacci have, predictably, condemned the action, saying that “Maine will not tolerate this type of hateful…” blah blah blah.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I think this guy is a little twisted in the head.  But the sign was on his private property.  If he had hung up a sign that said “George Bush should go get fucked”, do you think, in this current political climate, that anyone would bat an eye?  (Well, sure, the religious folks would get all flustered at the F-bomb, which is their own problem.  Those type of prudish shrews will always be with us.)

Do I think clearly racist remarks are OK?  No, personally, I don’t, meaning that I don’t philosophically agree with them.  But… I believe this guy has a right to express his clearly sick sense of humor.  Could it be seen as a threat towards the president-elect?  Perhaps.  But here we are, swimming around in all of this very gray area and, now that we have elected an African-American president, the waters are going to keep getting murkier where all of these “hate speech” and “freedom of speech” issues are concerned.

I guess the ultimate question is: at what point does speech – the utterance of syllables from the throat and mouth – become something truly harmful?  Something that can incite very real violence?  Would someone who hadn’t wanted to assassinate Obama be inspired to then do so by a sign outside of a convenience store in rural Maine with the hopes of settling some bet?  What truly inspires such criminal acts?

I realize that these are not easy questions – but they are very necessary ones.  Y’all have anything that might resemble an answer?

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.

I’m sure you’ve seen this bumper sticker:

“SMILE!  YOUR MOTHER CHOSE LIFE!”

I saw it again the other day, on a mini-van which was also sporting one of those “Support Our Troops” ribbon magnets (of course it was!), and it finally hit me why that bumper sticker offends me so.

It’s not just that I can infer that the driver of this van is a pro-life nut, which means they are probably a religious nut (and that all presents a whole slate of issues that I can easily poke through with reason and intellect) –  it’s that the logic of the sticker’s message is entirely flawed.

I understand, emotionally, that this message is supposed to make me feel grateful toward and indebted to my mother for not aborting me when I was in her womb.  I am supposed to think, “Oh yeah, that’s right – if my mother had had an abortion, I wouldn’t have this great life and I wouldn’t get to… etc. etc.”.  The message of the sticker is supposed to elicit a feeling of loss – how I wouldn’t have gotten to experience my life if my mother had chosen differently.

But this, my friends, is entirely my point.

Just think about it intellectually – if you had never been born at all, you wouldn’t have this sense of loss.  You wouldn’t have anything!  No consciousness, no brain, no memories – nothing.  So, you wouldn’t even have any comprehension of what you were missing out on.  So, if your mother hadn’t “chosen life”, you wouldn’t even know the difference!  Death of the ego!  Isn’t that what all the Buddhists are always clamoring about?  Well, there you have it!  Ponder that puzzle for a while!  You didn’t ask to be born (unless you believe the rantings of some of the New Age wackos).  Your mother simply chose to be a mother, for whatever reason – because her religion and/or family demanded it, to keep her man, to have a little baby to love and cuddle, to simply do what her mother did – whatever the reason.  And contrary to the charge delivered by the 5th Commandment, honor and respect of one’s parents should not be automatic, as George Carlin once said – rather, “it should be earned.  It should be based on the parents’ performance.”  Some people, like in Nepal, for instance, sell their daughters into the sex slavery trade of Calcutta’s red-light district.  I’m quite sure these girls are not smiling about the fact that their mothers “chose life” while some guy named Habib is shelling out rupees so he can rape them.

So, lady in the minivan – quite frankly, you can go fuck yourself, because my mother chose to be a mother.  Period.  End of story.  And so here I am, left to sort this all out for myself – as we all are – and ponder the oblivion from which I sprang forth, and which awaits me when my carcass finally gives out.

Bailout rant, part 2

October 7, 2008

OK, OK… so I don’t understand this whole bailout thing academically, so perhaps my criticism of it is unfounded.

However – I think I understand it morally, and it just ain’t sittin’ right with me.

Perhaps I don’t understand what all the ramifications are of the bailout – whether we really need it or not, what would happen without it, etc. etc.  Would there really be another Great Depression?  Would people – heaven forbid  – have to start actually conserving a bit?  As in doing things like combining errands in order to reduce fuel consumption, or turning off the fucking lights when you leave the room, or turning down the thermostat at night, or baking bread from scratch rather than buying it in the store?  (Heh, these are things I’m already doing.  Go figure.)

Or am I being too simplistic here?  Are people losing their shirts and their life savings because of all this mess with the banks?  Did that man in California wipe out his whole family because of economics?  Or did he just have a screw loose in his head?

A part of me wants to see society, as we know it, come to a screeching halt.  I’m not sure why, but I think it’s more just a desire for some general shaking up of things.  Call me crazy, but I think we Americans, as much as we bloggers (and others) like to bitch about our country, we do have it pretty easy.  We’ve got our cable TV and our iPods and our box scores and our porn and our processed foods and we just don’t want to have to sacrifice a damned thing for the next guy.  “Do unto others before they do unto you, but wave the flag and put a magnetic yellow ribbon on your SUV and eat an animal that you shot with your own gun, or I’ll call you a socialist hippie bastard.”

But, Christ – $700,000,000,000 – look at all those zeroes – that’s a whole bunch of money to be tossing around.   OUR money.  Money for which many of us worked our asses off, so that these fat-cat banks can sell off their bad loans to the government.  Too many people are living above their means; they’ve bought into the “American dream of home ownership”, and now they don’t really “have” anything except for a mountain of debt they can never hope to dig themselves out of.  How dreamy is that?

Even though a majority of Americans didn’t want this bailout, here we are, staring down the barrel of 7 tenths of a trillion dollars worth of saving the fat cats from their greed-fueled, dim-witted lending practices. Oh, but the government will swoop down and save us.  That’s what the Democraps all want us to believe, right?  Government will help us (even when we don’t want the help).  And the Repugs, they don’t like all the government interference.  But isn’t it all of their resistance to oversight and rallying for deregulation that got us into this mess?

I need some direction here.  I feel like just saying “fuck it” and moving to Canada.  Hell, I live in Maine, which is so close it should be part of Canada anyhow.  Cessation from the Union, ah, now that’s another can of worms.

No confidence = no vote.

October 4, 2008

I think it’s official, folks – none of the bastards are getting my vote this fall. 

I can’t believe that these fuckers who are supposed to be REPRESENTING us – the 75% of us who categorically rejected this bailout in polls – actually pushed this bailout bill through in record time.  My blood pressure has been sky-high all day long.  It’s clear to me now that it doesn’t or won’t matter a damn WHO is elected – because, no matter who it is – Democrap or Repug – they will do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, whatever the mighty dollar and the lobby of this interest or that instructs them to do – and all of it will be over the backs of us poor working class stiffs.  No matter who is president, there will be bullshit wars, bullshit deficits, bullshit shortages in money for things that matter the most – healthcare, education, etc. etc.  Obama is a good talker, but that’s ALL he is.  He would’ve gotten my vote if I’d decided that the whole “democratic” system was even worthy of my participation.  But I can’t vote for anyone who, for example, urged support of this 700 billion dollar fleecing of Main St., and who also categorically opposes things like gay marriage.  I would expect as much from a neo-con like McCain, but Obama?  What is it about blacks and gays?  Why can’t they commiserate and share in each others’ struggles?   Does he really believe that marriage is for people with different private parts, or is he just saying that because many people think that, too, and he’s just looking for votes?  Either way, it’s despicable, and he doesn’t deserve my vote.  Whatever.  I’m done.  I’ve had it.  Actually, I probably WILL show up to vote – but it will be to check off the empty boxes and write NONE OF THE ABOVE in huge block letters (as big as the little golf pencil will allow, anyway). 

I apologize that this is not the most coherent of my posts – but I had to get this out of me in one fell swoop with no editing, or I wasn’t going to get it out at all.   I want to hear from others out there who are as fed up as me.    I think WE are the ones who will make a difference – not these assholes who are begging for our precious votes.