The Deterioration Of Belief


In the wake of my most recent tragedy–the death of the love of my life–I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning words as to what his death means and what I should take from it.

Only a few hours after I learned of his death, the new wife of his oldest friend told me that they had been talking with Male about coming over to god in his last few months. “He is with Jesus now.” Not only is that fabricated bullshit, but I found it incredibly tactless to say that to me at the time. Actually, I would find that annoying at any time.

Male didn’t believe in anything. He didn’t believe in god, destiny, fate, reincarnation, aliens, astrology or any of the other things people believe in. He believed that we are born into this chaotic world, make of it what we will, and then we die. We don’t move on to a higher plane of existence. We don’t go to heaven or hell. We don’t come back as ghosts or spirits. We live, we die, that’s it.

I share his beliefs, but he was even more ardent about it than me. I am open to possibility. I’ve always said that if a god came down with a thunderbolt and somehow proved without a doubt that it was factually a god, I’d believe. Faced with irrefutable, empirical data, it would be folly not to, but unless that day arrives, I don’t believe in anything. I can’t; not after everything I’ve been through.

I was raised in a religious family. We were Presbyterian, or as I call it, lazy man’s Catholicism. Presbyterians essentially believe in the tenets of Catholicism, but with much less animation. We only stand up to sing. There’s no genuflection or kneeling, which makes it that much more difficult to stay awake in church.

From practically the time I was born, I went to church every Sunday. I hated it from day one. I don’t remember ever really having faith, but when I was seven years old, I tried to believe. I prayed and prayed that someone would stop the pedophile from coming into my room every night. Not only did it not stop, but it escalated when the monster moved into our house. For a year or more, he lived just down the hall. He’d come collect me at night, tie me up, gag me and rape me. I was seven years old.

I prayed. I uselessly prayed to a god I didn’t really believe in that someone would save me. No one did–not my family and not god. Eventually, the pedophile left on his own. He was never prosecuted.

That was the last time I ever prayed, though I was still forced to go to church every Sunday until I became a teenager and adamantly refused to go except on holidays.

When I was in my twenties, I met a monster who physically abused and psychologically tormented me for eight years. He very nearly killed me. I called the police and tried to get him arrested. Due to the ridiculous laws of man, which included stupid things like jurisdiction and statute of limitations, he was never prosecuted. He was never even arrested for attempted murder. He is free and clear now and forever since all the warrants have expired. There is nothing I can do. There is no justice.

After all of that, I decided that, since the laws of man had failed me so abysmally, that the laws of the physics would surely come through. I tried to apply Newtonian laws to humanity. To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts. In essence, karma’s a bitch. You can’t put evil out into the world without receiving it in return.

Newton’s Laws of Man, as I imprudently called them, gave me solace for a time. I forced myself to believe that both the pedophile and the attempted murderer would get their comeuppance one day. It never happened. They’re still out there as free as the day they left my life. I stopped forcing myself to believe in karma, not that I really believed it anyway. It was just something I needed to get through it.

I don’t believe in anything now. I have no faith–not in god and certainly not in man. I don’t believe in karma, god, fairness, a plan, or even that there’s any sort of meaning to our existence at all. There is no justice in this world, neither from man nor god.

I have no faith. I don’t want any. It’s proved entirely useless to me in the past as it has only set up unrealistic expectations.

I’m sure some of you who have faith think that my non-belief is scary. How could you possibly live in a world believing that there’s nothing but unfairness and chaos? Well, to be honest, my friends, having zero belief is liberating. It means that there are no expectations and no limits. It means that my hopes of justice and fairness won’t be dashed, because I don’t believe in them in the first place. It means I have free will, and with it, complete power over and responsibility for my actions. I am free in a way that believers never will be.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t question. I always question as yesterday’s post proves. I believe in the scientific method to life. Hypothesis, test, theory, test. Test, test, test. Nothing is set in stone. I am open to possibility, but that doesn’t mean that what consoles you will console me. It doesn’t. Hearing that Male is with Jesus or that there’s a purpose to his life and death, quite frankly, does nothing but irritate me, because he would entirely disagree.

At times like this, people intentionally or unintentionally force their beliefs on others as a well-meaning–but honestly, disrespectful–way to comfort. Trite phrases are dragged out again and again. “It’s god’s will.” “He’s in a better place.” “He’s watching over you.” Yadda yadda yadda. While I appreciate the intention of support in applying meaning to Male’s death, I don’t need it and I don’t want it. I don’t believe it. Neither would he.

The Nuts & Bolts Of My Atheism


I’m an atheist. Did you know that? Does it matter? I have some links on my sidebar, but that’s as much promotion as I’ve ever done.

Let’s get this straight up front, I would never try to convince anyone that atheism is right, because I don’t have any proof that it is. I do not proselytize. I won’t talk you out of religion, call it stupid or laugh at it. I’ve stood up for Muslims in several posts about terrorism. I respect your views, whatever they are. I don’t talk about atheism, because there’s not much point. I don’t want to start an argument. I don’t want to offend anyone. I would rather discuss our similarities than our differences. Everyone has their own beliefs and that’s cool.

I am talking about it today because I read Rarasaur’s post Testimony Of A Theist. In it, she wrote a list of “things that atheists could do without:”

  • Blessing their sneezes
  • Telling them that God has a plan (or variations thereof)
  • Telling them that their dead loved ones are with angels
  • Calling them agnostic
  • Requiring them to pledge their allegiance to their country “under God”
  • The Religious Assumption (“Everyone is religious in some way or the other.”)
  • Requiring them to sing along to religious songs or take religious breaks
  • Assuming that they don’t know scripture
  • Assuming that their morals are more flexible than those of religious people
  • The expression “A lack of faith”

I would like to address the things on Rara’s list, because not everyone’s experience is the same. My views are different than yours, even if we believe the same things.

Blessing their sneezes

I say “bless you” when someone sneezes, though I usually drop the “god” part. Sometimes, I say “gesundheit” because it means “health” in German. I wrote a post about that here. Blessing sneezes is just part of polite society.

I also say, “thank god,” because what else are you supposed to say? Thank nothing? There’s no good replacement for it. And on the other end, I also use the word “hell.” There’s no succinct substitute for the concept of hell either.

And while we’re at it, I don’t capitalize the word “god” because that makes it a proper noun like a name. Since I don’t believe in god, I don’t capitalize it. God is a concept to me, not an entity. It is a concept like photosynthesis or hell; I’ve never seen either in person, but I understand the concept.

I hope using those words doesn’t offend any theists out there, but they’re such a part of lexicon that there’s really no easy substitute for them.

Telling them that God has a plan (or variations thereof)

You’re welcome to tell me anything you like, but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree. Telling me that god has a plan for me is like telling a Buddhist that the Christian god has a plan for them. It doesn’t make any sense because their beliefs are different.

Telling them that their dead loved ones are with angels

Again, telling me that my loved ones are with angels is like telling a Buddhist that. It’s a nice sentiment, and if it makes you feel better to say it, it won’t offend me.

Calling them agnostic

I used to be agnostic. I always said that if a god came down with a thunderbolt and provable data that it was, in fact, a god, I’d believe. And that is still true. If there were tangible proof of the existence of god–not faith, but proof–I would believe. The older I get though, the harder it is to keep the faith that some proof might appear. I’ve lost faith in the idea that god could potentially be a provable entity, so I’ve migrated from agnostic to atheist.

I call myself atheist, non-theist, non-believer, irreligious. Any of those, even agnostic, are fine, but I prefer you call me Goldfish. As my grandmother used to say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Wise words.

Requiring them to pledge their allegiance to their country “under God”

If “under god” was always in the United States Pledge Of Allegiance, it wouldn’t bother me, but that’s not the case. It was only added in 1954 in response to the “red scare,” a.k.a. communism. It hasn’t even been there 60 years.

The same goes for adding “in god we trust” to money. It was only added in 1957.

No "In God We Trust" on the left.

It wasn’t there originally and it doesn’t belong there now. The United States has a firm wall between church and state, via the First Amendment to the Constitution. Adding god to money and the Pledge of Allegiance violates the law.

The Religious Assumption (“Everyone is religious in some way or the other.”)

You can make all the assumptions about me you’d like. I’m used to people thinking of me erroneously. I honestly do not care one lick what the public thinks of me. I would hope that you’d get to know me before assuming anything though.

This one in private life doesn’t affect me, but it does bother me when it’s the government assuming it, because it is clearly not true.

Requiring them to sing along to religious songs or take religious breaks

Almost everything on this list doesn’t bother me if it’s personal, but it would get my goat if I was required to do that at work or in a public building.

If I’m in a church, I will pretend. I’ve always pretended. A friend of mine’s mother died a couple of years ago and the funeral was held in a Catholic church. I did not go up and take communion, because I think it’s an insult to theists for an atheist to do that in their house, but I stood up when required, I sat down, I sang along with everyone else. When I’m on your turf, I will do everything in my power not to disrespect your beliefs.

Assuming that they don’t know scripture

A lot of irreligious people know the scriptures inside and out. They can quote you a Bible verse in a heartbeat. I am not one of those people. I know the Bible about as well as I know the telephone book. I used to read it in Sunday School as a kid, but all of that knowledge has been lost. I haven’t bothered to re-read it, because I don’t like arguing about religion and it doesn’t pertain to my life. I just don’t quote from it. Simple.

Assuming that their morals are more flexible than those of religious people

I once got drawn into an argument on the internet about religion. I don’t do that anymore because it’s disrespectful and pointless. In this argument, I was told I had no moral compass because I’m irreligious. My morals go about willy-nilly spinning from bad to evil and I couldn’t possibly know right from wrong.

That is a bunch of crap. Atheists have sound ethics and morals just like the religious. I have never committed a crime. I have never even been arrested. Since the age of fifteen, I’ve had a job and paid taxes. I give money and time to charities. Before I was anemic, I donated blood. I hold doors, and say please and thank you. I have manners. I am considerate. I tip well. I live in a neat and tidy house that looks similar to every house on the block. I don’t blast music at all hours. I don’t worship the devil. I don’t go around telling people they’re going to hell. I am an upstanding citizen, yet I don’t have any faith.

The expression “A lack of faith”

I have a lack of faith in religion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. I have faith in the laws of physics, thermodynamics, gravity. I have faith in science. I believe that science will make the world better. Science cures diseases. Science allowed men to go to the moon and back. Science has given us what little understanding we have of our universe and our own brains. Science rules and I very much believe in it.

I don’t remember ever having any faith to lose. I don’t think I ever believed in god. It’s alright with me if you want to say I have a lack of faith in religion, but a total lack of faith is just not true.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone with this post; that was not my intent. My goal was that maybe we could understand each other a little better. No matter what we believe, we are all humans of earth and we are not that different. Humans should be considerate of each other, no matter what they believe. I believe that adults are ultimately responsible for their own actions, and as such, we are all responsible for making the world a better place.

Big primate Homo sapiens thumbs up!

On Luck

"with pink ovals, orange duckies, green toast, purple bunnies, blue bananas and rainbow half donuts!"

Do you believe in luck?

Nope. I believe humans make their own luck. If you work hard and long enough, you can attain your dream… Sorry, it was hard to keep a straight face while saying that. It’s pretty funny, you have to admit. As if the world was fair and anyone could achieve their dream in this fucked up, messy business called life. Bwa ha ha.

It is true that hard work does go a long way towards a better life. You have a better chance of succeeding if, for example, you leave your house rather than staying home in bed (unless your goal is to stay in bed forever), but a better life is far from guaranteed even if you do get out of bed in the morning. Time was, nothing was guaranteed in life except death and taxes, but nowadays only death is inevitable. Ask General Electric how much they paid in taxes in 2010. That would be a big, fat goose egg, nada, not one red cent. Paying taxes is only for the poor, silly.

Do I believe in luck, destiny, fate, magic, jinxes, lucky charms or any of the other rot that people sink their hopes and dreams into? Nope. Not one bit. If a rabbit foot was lucky, that rabbit would still be alive and hopping around on it. If there was anything we could do to change our “luck” in any way, all people would be doing it all the time.

All of us have probably tossed a coin into a wishing well at some point. We’ve made wishes as we blow out our birthday candles or said “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight…” I realized that Jebus and stars had similar powers to grant wishes around the same time, i.e. none. Wishing on an inanimate, amorphous plasma ball in space radiating light and heat through thermonuclear fusion made about as much sense to me as wishing on a dead guy. Neither one of them had the power to do anything regarding my life down here on earth at all.

It’s scary to think that neither we nor some invisible sky king has any power over the complete nonsensicality of the universe–to think that no one is holding the reins. I get it. I was scared when I first thought about that, too. It’s much easier and more palatable for humans to convince ourselves that picking a penny up will give us good luck. It’s nice to have someone to pin the blame on besides ourselves. It gives us the illusion of control. If I put this horseshoe over my door, if I can find a four-leaf clover, if I throw this coin in a fountain, if I can just wish upon a falling star, then things will change for me.

“with pink ovals, orange duckies, green toast, purple bunnies, blue bananas and tricolor semi-circles!”

Life is full of randomness, and most of all, unfairness. Some people are sitting pretty while others are struggling to survive from day to day. If you want to call that randomness luck, for lack of a better term, go ahead. I won’t stop you, but I do not operate under the delusion that anything I do down here on earth, e.g. appealing to some magical sky power or lighting a candle for saint whomever, will have any effect on anything. If it makes you feel better about the unfairness of it all, if it makes it seems like you have some power over chaos, then go right ahead and rub that lucky mammal foot. Personally, the only lucky charms I believe in are the breakfast cereal. They’re magically delicious!™

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Free Will

He has no idea what this means. He's jsut doing it for a banana.

Today’s question from The Daily Post:

Do you believe in free-will or is life predetermined?

What a silly question. The fact that I am able to read that question, know what it means and answer it according to my own belief system just proves to me that humans have free will.

Light-blue Soldier Crab (Mictyris longicarpus)...
That is not me. Although, that exoskeleton is pretty cool and look at all those (delicious) legs.

I don’t believe in god(s). I never have. I don’t believe in destiny, the fates, karma, astrology, the zodiac or anything else that is supposed to determine who I am and what I will do on any given day. It’s all bunk. I’m no more a Cancer because I was born on a certain day than I am a crab. I am a human being with a brain that tells me action from non-action and right from wrong (even without a ‘moral compass’ supposedly derived from religion). I’m not shackled to a system of beliefs.

Every single day, my little brain processes more information faster than every computer on the planet put together. There are a million background processes going on within me as I type this–blinking, breathing, pumping blood, digestion of the delicious cup of coffee I just had, scent, sight, hearing and interpreting the music piping through my headphones, the feel of my fingers on the keyboard and the fact that my right leg is going slightly numb since I’m sitting on it. Maybe I should stop that. It’s my choice whether I do or not.

Over the course of all the years that I’ve been alive, my brain has honed its craft. It has streamlined operations to peak efficiency. I’m rather fond of it. Not only does it control all the functions on the ship, the SS Goldfish I guess, but it allows me to think. This thinking business, while often more trouble than it’s worth, especially when trying to sleep, is what makes me me. Without my glorious little brain, I wouldn’t be who I am.

This orangutan has no idea what that thumbs up means. He’s just doing it for a banana.

Having free will is the best thing about being a human besides having thumbs. Primates like orangutans and chimpanzees can tell when one of their kin is having a bad go of it and they will often try to comfort them by picking lice out of their fur. Dogs can read our facial expressions and sense our emotions. However, humans are the only species that has second-person empathy. Not only can I tell that you are having a bad day and try to comfort you, but I am capable of putting myself in your position. I can relate to what you are going through, visualize what I would do if it happened to me and feel empathy. Humans are capable of analyzing our world in a big picture sense in a way that orangutans cannot. That ability is what separates Homo sapiens from the rest of the lifeforms on this planet. And that is what sets us atop the food chain for better or worse.

When people disregard this amazing empathetic ability of ours, when yet another corporate executive or politician fucks over millions of people in the name of profit and greed, it really pisses me off. It seems to me that people who don’t think about the consequences of their actions on the people they will effect are less evolved than the rest of us. They think like chimpanzees when they should be able to empathize.

As a human, I can use my highly developed brain to realize that I am solely responsible for my own destiny, fate or karma. Or not. I can choose whatever I want to believe in, even if I choose to believe in a total lack of free will (which is a paradoxical exercise in free will in and of itself). I can put myself in your place and share what you are feeling.

So, humans of Earth, use your empathy. Use your thumbs. Don’t be a chimp.



Why do we still say “bless you” when someone sneezes?

To me, it’s just common courtesy in the same way that I say “Thank you.” when someone holds the door open for me. You can’t leave a sneeze hanging any more than you can leave a door opener holding the door without acknowledgment of their friendly deed.

Unlike most people it seems, I actually have given thought to this custom over the course of my life. When I decided that I was an atheist, I nearly gave up the practice. I tried saying nothing when someone sneezed, but the awkward silence that followed was too much. You just have to say something, so I decided on “Gesundheit” instead. Even though it’s still a superstitious practice and I’m not all that fond of superstition, the fact that it simply means “health” in German makes it less godly. Sometimes, I’ll drop the “god” and just say “bless you.”

No one really knows why we started saying “God bless you” after a sneeze. There are variant theories; a lot of them stem from the time of the bubonic plague. 75 million people died from the plague before the days of antibiotics, so I can see how Pascal’s Wager would come into play here; it can’t possibly hurt to say “God bless you” and it might even help, so there’s no reason not to do so.

The practice has lost its original meaning over the course of time in much the same way that we no longer celebrate Halloween as an exercise to keep demons away. Most people, even the hardcore religious, no longer think that a sneeze has anything at all to do with the devil, but we still go on saying it anyway. It’s one of those things that polite society accepts as polite without having any foundation for doing so.

I’m alright with that. Even with the religious component, I still say it. I say it, not out of superstition, but because it’s the polite thing to do. I say it because this society of ours is sorely lacking in politeness these days and every little bit helps.

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Atheist Bloggers

Image by Derek Job from the OUT Campaign

It’s probably fairly obvious to anyone who glances through this site that I’m an atheist. I feel the need to clarify the word “atheist” because it has so many negative connotations attached to it that, whenever it is said, people automatically draw conclusions and go by their own definition, rather than the dictionary’s. When I say I’m an atheist, what I really mean is that, by Webster’s definition of atheism, I hold a disbelief in the existence of a deity or deities. I’m also an antitheist, meaning that I am opposed to theism and organized religion.

Over there in the right column, there are a couple of tags, such as atheism, separation of church and state, religion and Jebus that attest to the fact that I’ve whinged and moaned about the pervasiveness of religion, and the fact that it’s all up in my government. I’m not a huge fan of religion to begin with, but I especially don’t like religion in my government. There’s this First Amendment thing that’s supposed to protect us from that.

Contrary to popular belief, this country was not founded as a Christian nation. It was founded as a place where people could escape from religious tyranny and were free to practice, or not practice, any religion sans government control and intervention. The First Amendment is supposed to protect all of our beliefs and the right to express them any way we so choose within the law, yet it’s been twisted and bent out of shape. It’s been distorted from a law that protects everyone’s rights to a law that only protects the rights of the majority, which is precisely what the founding fathers of this country were trying to avoid and what they set this country up to escape from in the first place. Our brilliant constitution full of freedom of expression is crumbling, destroying all of our rights in the process.

I digress. That generally happens when I start talking about the First Amendment. The point of this post is not to go on yet another tear about the separation of church and state,  but to introduce a couple of nifty sites I found noodling about on the intertubes called The Atheist Blogroll and The OUT Campaign. I’ve never been much of a joiner, but most atheists aren’t. While I have never hidden my atheist stance, I haven’t promoted it either, but perhaps it’s time to change that. In the spirit of openness, you will now find both of those fine organizations’ links displayed in the right hand column of this blog. Also, I’ve long been a member of American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which do important legal work to uphold the separation of church and state, so I added their links as well.

We are, statistically, very much a minority. In this day and age, when we’re positively dripping with science that disproves most superstition and mythology, or at least sheds a hard light on its flaws, I find it difficult to believe that rationality is a minority stance, but statistics prove otherwise. Reasoning freethinkers barely break double digits in the sum total of the population. Although, I’m sure there are quite a few people who keep their skepticism to themselves and don’t go parading the fact that they don’t have faith.  Never having had any faith myself, I can’t quite understand their point of view, but I suppose if you live in a small farming community in the middle of nowhere USofA, then you might want to blend in as best you can. That might mean hiding your beliefs, or lack thereof, from your peers in much the same way that not all gay people openly admit that they are gay. Religious beliefs are supposed to be private anyway.

The point is, it’s nice to run across people who take a stance and openly discuss their views, unpopular though they may be, and that’s just what The Atheist Blogroll and the OUT Campaign are about. I’m proud to be counted among them. So, cheers to all those who aren’t afraid to become a target for the vocal minority of raving religious lunatics who can’t debate without circular reasoning, begging the question, straw men, “I know you are, but what am I?” type of thinking and the other varieties of fallacious arguments. Cheers to all those bloggers out there who aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted as a freethinking minority. I will be making my way through my fellow atheists’ blogs to see what you all have to say. Good luck and keep up the good work.

Glad That’s Over


I hate the holidays. I hate everything from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I already discussed it to some extent in the post The Spirit of Lazy. I’m a private, mainly antisocial person and I don’t like having obligations to be social. I never know if I’m going to want to be social until the very moment I’m to leave to go somewhere. The holidays give me no choice. I have to put on a happy face and mingle. Whenever I get an invite to an event, I almost always reply “maybe” unless a proper RSVP is required, like a wedding, and “maybe” is not an option. Maybe I will feel like being around people, maybe I’ll be in an awesome mood the day of your shindig, maybe I’ll really want to go to something and get out of the house, but I won’t know until the day actually comes. It’s nothing personal.

I hate Thanksgiving because of all the cooking I’m required to do. I don’t enjoy obligatory cooking any more than I enjoy obligatory socializing. Plus, cooking a Thanksgiving meal is really expensive. To do it right, you’re looking at over $100. However, Thanksgiving is my least hated of the holidays. The real back-stabber is Christmas.

I don’t have kids. I’m not a kid. I don’t wax nostalgic for the days of my childhood when Christmas was the best day of all. I don’t believe in god. I don’t care about Jesus. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Yet, everywhere I go, for a solid month or more, I’m assaulted by it. I can deal with the lights since they’re sort of pretty. I can deal with the attempts at including everyone – everyone being Jews and Christians – even though they totally fail. I can deal with the “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” signs as long as they aren’t on public land, but I won’t go into a whole debate about separation of church and state here. The real problem with Christmas is the music.

I can barely hear out of my right ear. I had meningitis as a baby and the worst side effect I received was a partial loss of hearing in one of my ears. I’m very, very lucky that that’s the worst of it. Besides, I don’t remember any other way of hearing. It’s all I’ve ever known. But, the partial hearing out of my right ear is almost worse than having none. My right ear has a magic, special, backwards power of not being able to hear what’s directly in front of me, i.e. a person with whom I’m having a conversation; instead, my right ear only picks up background noise. I am like a retarded superhero who can hear background noise from miles away, but can’t hear what’s right in front of my face. It’s a very special cross to bear (Jesus reference intended). So, if I’m sitting in a restaurant in the month of December, I can’t hear what the person across the table is saying, but I can hear Bing Crosby yapping about White Christmases for the nth time plain as day, while the person across from me can barely hear it at all.

The problem with Christmas music is that there’s nothing new there. The last Christmas song to make it into popular rotation was probably that Band Aid song from the 80’s, which is just as inane as the rest of them. For an entire month, wherever I go, I hear songs about drummer boys and one-horse open sleighs. When was the last time anyone you know took a ride in a one-horse open sleigh? If it’s a sleigh, that means it rides on snow. Where there is snow, there is cold, so why in hell would it be an open sleigh? Cover that buggy, dammit.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve – a time when everyone gets drunk and has unrealistic expectations of how awesome that night’s events just have to be. There’s more expectation on NYE than any other night of the year and I hate expectation. NYE is amateur hour just like St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a night when people who don’t normally drink to excess do and all the bars are full of sloppy drunks who want to hug you. At Drunk O’clock, the hour just after all the bars close, it’s not safe to be on the roads. You know what I did this NYE? Nothing. I stayed at home in my comfortable house with my comfortable furnishings playing video games. I didn’t even drink. I woke up without a hangover. It might have been the best New Year’s ever.

So, yeah, I’m glad that’s over and we can all get back to the normal business of conducting our lives and I can go back to hearing musak versions of Sade’s Smooth Operator in the stores.

Imaginary Friends

I don’t believe in ghosts just like I don’t believe in horoscopes, flying saucers, palm readings, the Boogieman, psychic predictions, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, creationism or that Elvis is still alive.

We humans have a tendency to latch onto mythology, legends and other fictional folklore to explain the unexplained. I guess we find it comforting to believe that, instead of just a storm, it’s actually a god who lives under the sea that we have somehow angered. We must sacrifice a sheep in order for calm to be restored to the ocean.

We’ve always done it. Before we had microscopes, when we still thought the Earth was flat, before we had any real concept of science, we had gods. These gods told us what to do and what not to do. They made life easier because there was someone to blame or someone to go to when things got rough.

Having someone or something to blame when things aren’t going all that well is a powerful and alluring thing. It’s scary to believe that we’re all out here on our own with no one to protect us or to mete out punishment. It’s too big of a concept for most people to think that we are all responsible for our own actions and that there really is no rhyme nor reason to the universe. It doesn’t fit with our human nature as thousands of gods from various cultures evince.

It’s even scarier for most folk to think that, when we die, that’s all there is to it, so we invented ghosts and reincarnation. I find it funny that, whenever people’s past lives are revealed, they’re usually some sort of celebrity and never just a subsistence farmer. That, to me, proves it’s all bunk. There’s just no way we could have all been Anne Boleyn or King Philip II of Spain.

But, in my own scientific way, I do believe in reincarnation in a sense. When the receptacle called a human expires, it’s only natural that it would go on to be something else. We are all made up from organic matter that at one point will be water and dirt or rock. In a sense, we do live on, but probably not as self-contained ghosts hanging out in some ether world waiting room, waiting for the next body to jump into, or hanging out down here on Earth spooking the living and pining for vengeance.

So, do I believe in ghosts? Not really. I believe in ghosts the same way I believe in the various mythology that countless civilizations have created. The great thing about science is that it’s mutable. What is fact today, might not be tomorrow. Human knowledge is ever changing and growing. Show me hard and fast, irrefutable proof and I’ll believe it, but until then, it’s just another fairy tale of imaginary friends invented by humans to make existence slightly less scary.

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Something Else

Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Would you describe yourself as spiritual, religious, or something else?

Something else… as in none of the above. I have no faith in god and little in man. I’m not a huge fan of defining myself with one-word terms, but society generally demands it.

These are some brushstroke summations that often define me: female, Caucasian, citizen, registered voter, organ donor, employed or unemployed, graphic designer, never been convicted of a felony, never served in the armed forces, no preexisting medical conditions, born in Detroit, mother’s maiden name… for security purposes, we’ll leave that one out. If I’m asked to provide a religion, I usually just put “none” as the answer. It’s a nice, simple, four-letter word.

These things are so often asked that I don’t even have to think about them, I just answer. I think a lot of people are that way with religion. When asked to fill in the blank, they just put whatever religion it is that their parents believed, whether they are practicing or not.

But, I have thought about it a great deal over the course of my life. I’ve written about it at length, too. I just wrote a post about Church the other day and another one about the formation of my non-belief in the post Semantics & Isms a few months back.

My lack of beliefs haven’t changed over time, but my attitude has. The older I get, the less tolerant of organized religion I become, particularly in government. That the wall separating church and state seems to be crumbling has me greatly worried. When public buildings are overflowing with religious sentiment and crèches, when the currency in my wallet still has “in god we trust” written on it (did you know that phrase was only added during the communist scare in the 50’s?), when my tax dollars are given to churches, well, that, to me, is a problem. It goes against the spirit of the constitution. It goes against the first amendment and that is something that shouldn’t happen. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It goes both ways. No religion shall be hindered nor placed on a higher pedestal than any other.

Say, for example, the first amendment was abolished. What if it wasn’t your religion that the government chose to propagate? What if, instead of celebrating the life and death of Jesus in public buildings, it was the life and death of Buddha or Muhammad or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? The first amendment exists so that no one is left out. You can choose to practice, or not practice, any religion your heart desires and the government cannot stop you, but the reverse is true too; it cannot financially support nor endorse a religion either.

Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I just helped a friend sort out his mother’s affairs after she died. She left no money to bury her and she couldn’t keep up the payments on her mortgage, but we found folders containing ‘thank you for your donation’ letters from various religious organizations. Even after all those donations, my friend had to pay out of pocket for the church funeral. When a religious organization convinces you that you will go to hell, or some equivalent thereof, if you don’t donate money, and you donate money irrespective of your own financial hardship, well, that seems wrong to me. She would have been better served putting that money towards her own burial or her mortgage.

In this day and age, when we are positively dripping with science, that I am a minority in my non-religious belief leaves me dumbfounded. This isn’t the Dark Ages. We know that the Earth isn’t flat and it revolves around the sun, not the other way around. We know what germs are. We know what atoms are. We have explored space. Humanity has come a long way, but we still haven’t evolved past superstition.

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I went to church yesterday for the first time since eighth grade when I attended Catholic school. It wasn’t my choice to go to a church yesterday, just like it wasn’t my choice to go in eighth grade.  Yesterday, I went to the funeral.

I’m not Catholic. I’ve never been Catholic, but I went to Catholic school for a few years. There were a few things that I had, maybe intentionally, forgotten about the Catholic church in the intervening, joyous period since I last attended. As a friend said, it’s like muscle memory; it all comes flooding back. I even remembered the words to the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer. I remembered the difference between that version and the Presbyterian version that I had to repeat at the church that my family attended. Yesterday, I didn’t speak the words out loud, but they ran through my head anyway.

I’d forgotten about how much standing up and sitting down there is involved in attending a mass.  For some reason, you stand during some songs and sit during others. There are a lot of prompts you’re supposed to know the answers to as well. Those did not come flooding back to me since, even when I was forced to attend mass during school hours every Wednesday, because I was not Catholic, I wasn’t really allowed to take part. There was one other kid besides me in my school who had the misfortune, according to them, of not being Catholic. We were segregated from the herd and placed in the almost heathen section at the back of the church.  So close to the exit, but oh, so far away.

We non-Catholics weren’t supposed to genuflect, stand up, sit down or kneel. Not being able to move at all is far worse than all that standing and sitting.  Those pews are far from comfortable. We weren’t required to say the words at the prompts except for The Lord’s Prayer. Everyone should know The Lord’s Prayer, they reasoned. We didn’t take communion. We weren’t allowed to do our homework or read a book. We sat there unable to do anything for an hour every week, just looking straight ahead with our hands folded in our laps. And to make sure that we weren’t doing anything naughty, we had a nun stationed directly behind us, boring holes in the back of our skulls with her laser eyes.

Personally, I think the reason they make you stand up so much is so that you won’t fall asleep. I fell asleep once during church and was promptly awakened by my disgruntled babysitter with a smack to the back of the head.

As I sat there yesterday on that uncomfortable seat wearing a dark suit with sweat dripping down my face in a non-air conditioned church in the height of the August heat, I had little choice but to remember my Catholic school days.  I was painfully and vividly reminded of why I never thought about them anymore. It seems to me that the church likes you to suffer for your salvation.

As hot as it was, I was expecting that all of my heathen friends and I would somehow spontaneously combust.  There were more atheists and irreligious folks in that Catholic church than they had probably ever had before.  When it came time for communion, in a church of a hundred or more people, only roughly a dozen of them went up.

The discomfort and boredom of the spectacle made me realize just how lucky I am to not have that as a part of my life anymore.  That I don’t have to waste an hour in a hot room with no ventilation listening to someone I could barely hear spewing things I don’t really care about made me realize just how glad I am that I don’t believe in god.

I remembered, at school, how happy I was when mass was over since it meant that I wouldn’t have to go back there until next Wednesday.  It meant a whole week before I had to stare blankly ahead for an hour watching backs of heads stand up, sit down, kneel, take communion, cross themselves, greet their neighbors, respond to prompts and repeat words in a monotone voice all while I was generally bored out of my mind. And, yesterday, I experienced that same sense of relief and joy as I walked out of that church and peeled off my sweat-drenched suit jacket from my sticky, tattooed arms. The difference is, this time, I knew I wouldn’t have to go back.