Sunday, November 22, 2009

Missing Mango

I like to update this blog regularly- at least weekly- and I usually do it on Sundays. Today, unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to. My cat, Mango, is missing. I am very worried and a bit too preoccupied to focus on anything else. As we atheists say, please keep Mango and me in your thoughts. Thank you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Musings On "Meant To Be" And Me

I take issue with the bandying about of the phrase, “meant to be.” When most people hear it, they let it sink into their brain as if it must be an absolute truth. It clearly has ties to religious thinking, and yet, like the concept of “soul mates”, it seems to have gained a new place in peoples' minds. I know people who believe in god but don't believe in “meant to be.” I know people who believe in “meant to be” but not god. I know people who believe in both, and of course, people like myself who believe in neither.

I find it very peculiar that someone who easily dismisses the concept of god or a higher power might still use the phrase, “meant to be.” How did it become its own entity?

I have my theories, one if which is that, like religion, “meant to be” is a very comfortable psychological trap. One of the reasons it irritates me so is that if one were to let it, it would incapacitate one to make important decisions. This is my take on the idea and is not meant to read as having been psychologically verified.

I constantly listen to my friends talk about their romantic relationships. Maybe one of them recently broke up with her boyfriend and is doubting her decision. He tries to tell her that they are “meant to be,” and now she is more confused than ever. Another may have been trying to no avail to schedule a first date with a particular person and has given up, deciding it must not have been “meant to be.”

When we start to enter the realm of “meant to be”, what we are really talking about is our true feelings, whether we are being completely honest with ourselves and others, and whether we think our goals are attainable. When we decide something must not have been “meant to be,” what we are really saying is that we either do not care enough about the goal, or have tried and failed. If my friend is feeling like her relationship was not “meant to be,” she is recognizing her intuitive doubts about the relationship and at the same time shirking the responsibility of having made the decision. If her ex-boyfriend is trying to tell her they were “meant to be” together, he is regretting the outcome of his efforts and his past behavior.

I find this line of thinking sad. If I thought my life was supposed to be anything other than what it was, what would be the point in trying to understand my feelings and making an effort to fulfill my dreams? Wouldn't I just let my life pass me by, hoping that life would just happen? Aren't we all urged by those older and wiser than us to go after what we want? To never settle for less than the best? Aren't we all cautioned by the image of the man stuck in a mid-life crisis because he settled for a job he didn't want, a wife he didn't love, or a mortgage he didn't want to pay? I understand we all have responsibilities, and some of these are unavoidable, but so many attribute these responsibilities to “meant to be,” and never accept that they have the power to change their lives.

There is no cosmic obstacle in my way, secretly taunting me as a I tried in vain to attain my goal. Relying on “meant to be” is an easy way out. It denies control over one's life, and what I find most disappointing, it disallows one to feel pride and a sense of success. If I want something, I work until I get it. If I didn't get it, it's because I either didn't want it enough, didn't work hard enough, or wasn't willing to do what it took (I am in no way suggesting that “doing what it takes” is always the advisable path. Sometimes, certain goals are best left not pursued. I am also not advocating an “ends justify the means” mentality. There are certainly things that we should not do in order to attain certain goals. For example, my friend may decide her goal is to take her ex-boyfriend back and live happily with him. She knows she cannot count on him to change, therefore, she must change. In order to do this and make sure they are happy as a couple, she knows she must move to a different state, leave her family, leave her job, and force herself to live in a situation in which she is personally unhappy. Though she could attain her goal by doing this, the end does not justify the means. Therefore, she must understand that all “meant to be” means in this situation is her instincts telling her to not return to her ex-boyfriend.)

To my mind, this displays the ingenuity and determination of humanity. We made this world happen. We make our lives happen. We don't give up when something stands in our way. This is simultaneously wonderful enough to inspire us to personal and societal greatness, and frightening enough to make us cower in fear of failure. That said, I remind myself as often as I can to make my life what I want it to be, to pursue what I want, and to never accept less than happiness.

Now is one of those times it would be so easy for me to believe in “meant to be.” I may have just made an absolute mess of my life. Alright, that's a bit of an overstatement. I could easily continue on without any appreciable differences. However, that's really not what I want to do. I'd like to write exactly what has happened and what I mean, but I cannot get too detailed, for fear that certain eyes will read this. Normally I would be very honest, but I have been sworn to secrecy. If anyone likes giving out free advice, please e-mail me, but I will try to say as much as I can here.

I have developed feelings for someone. There are serious obstacles in the way of us forming a relationship, but I would like to work past these obstacles. It is possible to do so, but that does not mean others might not get hurt along the way. And no, to make things clear, neither one of us is cheating on anyone else, so that's not one of the roadblocks to which I am referring.

If I was not a rationalist, I could chalk whatever happens up to “meant to be.” If things start to feel too difficult, I could write it off, say it was not “meant to be,” and move on. However, I could also turn a blind eye to the serious issues in the way and forge on, even if the consequences become too great, thinking the consequences must not matter because it is “meant to be.” I know what I want and am willing to do what it takes, but I need an objective eye of clarity which I do not possess for this situation. There is no “meant to be,” there is only what I make of my life. This is an exciting thought, and yet I dread what may be to come. Isn't life grand? Fuck my life.

Feel free to comment or message me directly, if you so please.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Stupid Religious Bumper Stickers

I saw two stupid things yesterday while driving. One was a leaf collection truck with a loose tarp as its top. The leaves flew behind it as the truck bumbled ignorantly along, creating whirlwinds of fall foliage in its wake. That was pretty stupid. I also saw a dumb, religious bumper sticker. It read, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.”

I hate bumper stickers. I don't know why people put them on their cars, because it always seems to me like one is just asking to have their car keyed. I especially hate controversial bumper stickers. Even if I agree with the message, I'd rather the driver just let me drive in peace without being bombarded with information about his or her teenager, political stance, or bowel movements.

That said, let's take a moment to revel in the particular stupidity of this bumper sticker. Let's pretend Jesus ran a carpentry business and you were an employee. He says to you, “Hey, Employee. I need you to cut me two 10 feet 2X4s, stat.” You say to him, “Alright, but first I'm going to exercise my free will by shooting you with a pneumatic nail gun.” What would a normal boss do? Call the cops, fire you, and flip you off. After you serve your jail time, would he hire you back? Hell no. But the “real Jesus” would totally take you back. Why? Because he's a pussy. He's a pussy boss. Do you want to work for a pussy boss? I know I don't. Well, I guess it might not be that bad if you can convince him to give you a lot of raises (ie. angel wings).

There are so many other red flags this bumper sticker raises for me. I can clearly imagine the smug look with which the driver applied it, fawning all over himself as he thinks, “I'm such a good Christian and I'm so damn clever!” What do you think about bumper stickers like these? What are some stupid religious bumper stickers you've seen?

Personally, I like this one:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gay Marriage: Why the responsibility is on me.

This is sick and it needs to stop. What am I talking about? The nasty, vile, infectious, bitter, hate-mongering that is spreading itself around our country in the form of anti-gay marriage legislation. I don't care if I sound like I am exaggerating, because this is honestly how I feel about it. As a group, atheists clearly skew left, but there are certainly conservative brothers and sisters among us. However, I have never encountered an atheist who does not support gay marriage. I would never go so far as to assume it is not possible or does not exist, but I think most would agree that it is highly rare.

So what's gotten me this worked up? Well, obviously the passing of Prop 1 in Maine this past Tuesday, for one. I was so thrilled as I drifted to sleep Tuesday night. As a New Jerseyan, I was disappointed by my state's election results, as well as many of the results being projected around the country. But! All would be worth it, because on Wednesday I'd wake up and Prop 1 would be a distant nightmare. I did not prepare myself for loss, because I honestly did not think it would happen. Not only had I interpreted an easy rejection of the Proposition based on early projections, I had also counted on the wonderful campaign against Prop 1 to have done the trick and on what I assumed was a majority of voters who valued compassion and equal rights for all. I was wrong. It was California and Prop 8 all over again. I guess I set myself up for disappointment when I surround myself with like-minded freethinkers and forget that the rest of the United States as a whole is not as progressive.

I spent Wednesday in dejected helplessness, planning what I'd do and how far I'd go if the same battle ever came to New Jersey. Then today I realized I needed to get my ass in gear. I saw this. I don't know what I will or can do yet, but I have to do something. We cannot let these people force their will upon us. They seem to be mounting a systemic campaign against those of us who disagree with them, and somehow they are getting the voter support behind them.

Why, as a group, do atheists resoundingly support gay marriage? Atheists are forced to look at life through clear lenses. We have no religious tints clouding our opinions, and so our views must be based on rational thought. This is not true for all of us, as nothing ever is, but surely most of us. If we oppose an idea or viewpoint, it must be for secular reasons only, and the secular argument against same-sex marriage is incredibly weak. I am not sure I've ever heard a true secularist make one. It seems to me that any such secular argument is a thinly veiled theistic tactic, and while rational on the surface, it provides very little proof or objective reasoning. When people start yammering on about the deterioration of society's structure, all I can hear is “Wah-wah, I wanna be special! I don't wanna share 'cuz I don't hafta and you can't make me!”

Well unlike the blocks in *kindergarten, there is enough marriage to go around. If you really want to support society, how about we encourage as many families as possible. If a family cannot naturally procreate, all the better, I say. The United States and the world is overburdened by humanity, and there are many children who need a good home. They do not have a single person giving them the attention they deserve at the moment, so how can two fathers or two mothers possibly hurt them? Do these people honestly believe that these children are better off in foster care than in a stable, same-sex parent home?

I do believe that more than fifty percent of United Statesians support gay marriage, but I have absolutely no proof to back me up. I have to believe this, because if I didn't, the fight might feel too overwhelming. The results rest in the hands of the moderates and undecideds. What can we do to sway them to the side of right, the side of progress, and to get really hippie on your ass, the side of peace and love? I think the first step, at least to make the process easier on ourselves, might be to realize that this may take longer than it should. If I could flip a switch and make same-sex marriage legal everywhere tomorrow, I would. All I can realistically do is start lighting fires in individual minds.

My goal right now is my sister. She is sixteen, which we all know is an interesting age. Many of us start to seriously question the ideals with which we were raised. We form our own worldviews, oftentimes very different from our parents'. My parents are right-wing, Republican, Carries Underwood and Prejean-loving, mission-trip-to-Mexico-going, fundamentalist, evangelical Christians. When I was sixteen, I became more socially liberal than I had been before, but continued to hold on to my religious indoctrination beliefs. It might have been impossible not to. It took getting out of the house and going off to college to become the fiercely liberal, lefty atheist I am now. However, I see the same wheels turning in my sister's brain as were churning in mine. How do I capitalize on this situation?

Even though my sister still stands behind the Christian notion that homosexuality is a “sin”, she seems to have a clearer understanding than my parents do on the separation of church and state. I am planting the critical thinking seeds in her mind, and she is a very intelligent teenager. The combination should produce great results, and even better ones if she waters them with good company and a rational environment. Happily, she also has gay friends who can help her along. My parents, on the other hand, are a lost cause. I have a closer relationship with my father's youngest, gay brother than he does, and I don't think he sees anything odd about that. My mother holds fast to her opposition to same-sex marriage, even with a gay nephew and brother-in-law. They are very much the “love the sinner, hate the sin,” sort of Christians. How compassionate of them.

My plan is not much of a plan, I know. I would love to do more, but I don't know what I can do other than what I am doing unless the fight comes to my neck-'o-the-woods. In some ways, we atheists are at the forefront of the issue. Atheists alone have the ability to form our opinions regardless of the whim of some sky daddy or daddies (or mommies). Now the responsibility is on us, not necessarily to disabuse our theistic friends, family, and neighbors of their silly notions, but to bring the debate into the realm of the rational. I know, I know, it's what atheists try to do everyday. But we have to keep trying, because once we get people to think critically, we can't lose.

*This is a completely off-topic story, but when I was in kindergarten, I was not too fond of sharing or playing with others. There is a story I'm reminded of often, in which I was playing with blocks alone and other kids were trying to play with me. Apparently I got so irritated, I couldn't take it anymore, and shouted, "Would you leave me the fuck alone?!" I was four. I've grown up a bit since then.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rabbit, Rabbit: The Superstitious Project

I've decided to take up a new project, and therefore I must begin by saying: rabbit, rabbit. If you know why I just invoked our furry friends twice, then you may be aware of the many odd superstitions that humans have come up with over the years. Saying, “rabbit, rabbit,” or even better, “Rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit,” upon waking at the start of each month is supposed to bring good luck for the duration of the month.

Alas, there it is; this is the solution to all of our problems. Car broke down? Stubbed your toe? Had a cold? Bought a losing lottery ticket? Well, you couldn't have been all that careful. You must not have paid proper homage to the Leporidae. The Leporids love all of us, and formed us all in THEIR (followers of the Leporidae capitalize all letters of all holy pronouns) own image, which explains our love for carrot cake. All we have to do is accept this love, and offer ourselves up to the Leporidae by chanting the sacred chant every month. Oh, and believe that King Leporid sent to us HIS son, who was sort of a king but also a prince. HIS son, Baby H. Leporid, ate all of the slices of the other kinds of cake, so that we wouldn't have to. Then HE died of a massive heart attack, but three-ish days later HE rose from the dead. Well, actually, HE sort of rolled from the dead, because of all the weight HE put on from the cake. You had to be there. But then, King Leporid sent the Holy Crane, which scooped up Baby H. Leporid and brought HIM over to Rabbit Den, where HE lived on forever. Now, if we eat any other slice of cake, we must ask forgiveness and partake of the Holy Carrot Cake. Thus, the true meaning of Thanksgiving (United Statesians being the only true followers of the Leporidae). Of course, everyone else co-opted the holiday, and brought in traditions of eating other unLeporidly cakes.

Okay, so superstitions are not that bad. Or are they? I am making a not-so-subtle point, and clearly preaching to the converted, for lack of a better phrase. It seems odd to me that religious folk make a very clear delineation in their minds between what they perceive to be frivolous foolishness, and what they deem holy and sacred. As far as I am concerned, it is just as silly to say grace over a meal as it is to avoid opening an umbrella inside. After all, there is basis for all, if not most, of the superstitions people hold- just check this out.

In actuality, I accept rote behavior due to superstition to a point. When I was a teenager, for some incredibly strange reason that I can't hope to ever remember, I felt a sense of foreboding one night while looking at a digital clock at 10:35. An hour later, I happened to glance at the clock again. I got the same feeling from 11:35, though less intense. I know, you don't have to tell me how crazy that is. Anyway, I decided then and there, mostly for fun, that I would never look at a digital clock at those times, AM or PM, again. If I did, surely something bad would happen. I very much understood that I was making up a superstition, and that nothing would truly happen. However, simultaneously my mind began building up evidence for my superstition. I would attribute bad things that had happened to the occasions I would happen to catch one of those times on the clock. Whether as a result of my “evidence” or because I wanted to develop a silly habit, for years I avoided looking at a clock at those times. To this day, I experience displeasure when I see those two combinations of numbers. What I intended to cultivate as a quirk ended up actually staining my psyche.

I believe that most of the people reading this prize their ability to think critically and tbelieve that they could never let something as silly happen to them. As I said, I accept rote repetitions of superstition to a point, the point being that they are still considered merely a quirk by the participant, have not crossed over into belief, and do not interfere with others. However, my imaginative mind managed to turn quirk into belief. I will admit that I did not sincerely believe it, but I did let if affect my opinion of a random display of numbers. Is it possible that others do the same? Is it possible that some religious folk have turned their quirks into beliefs? I honestly don't think that is the case for most, but I am interested in discovering whether there is a little bit of truth to this idea. Jesus never says grace in the King James Bible, so where does this come from? Is this a superstition that Christians follow? What about non-theists? Are there things you do that are superstitious, and do you believe in their validity? Are there things that you do that are superstitiously based, but you know they hold no validity and do them for other reasons? I have rational friends who kiss their hands and lift them to the roof of the car when they pass through yellow lights. Is there any personal validity to something like that?

As an ex-Christian, I find myself wanting to pray when I am in stressful situations. At first I was ashamed by this behavior. I thought it meant that I secretly believed in a god. I have come to accept it, however. It is a superstitious ritual that has no meaning, and as long as I accept it as meaningless, there is no harm to it. In fact, if I accept it as a means of becoming more personally attuned, then it is helpful. Now when I “pray”, I turn “Dear God,” into “Dear Self.” When I talk about personal validity, I am referring to something like this.

I am not sure exactly how this is going to work yet, but I intend to embark upon a new project. I'd like to live according to certain superstitions for an extended period of time. I'm not sure yet what my point is, other than to demonstrate the silliness of it all. The most I could hope for would be to demonstrate this to theists, and how similar it is to what they believe. Perhaps I could include a saying of grace in the project, demonstrating how silly I feel it is. I hope to explore if there are any personally or socially valid reasons for following these superstitions without belief, like my need to “pray.” I'd also like to explore the dangers of following superstitions with belief, and how close these can be to religious rituals. Please comment with your ideas, especially superstitions you think it might be interesting for me to follow. My current guidelines are:

1. I would like to follow superstitions that affect my daily life, as opposed to ones I'd only encounter during certain occasions, like weddings or funerals. I'm not against including those also, but I'd like to focus on more interfering ones.

2. Though I would like them to affect my daily life, I will not follow ones that seriously impede my ability to function normally. If they interfere with my work in any way, they will not be accepted. However, I am a writer, so it is not too difficult to work around my work. My family and social lives, on the other hand, are totally fair game.

3. They must have some sort of established and documented historical tradition to them. Nothing like my 10:35 superstition will be included.

4. I will ultimately decide on which will be followed, which won't, when I can make a legitimate and necessary exception to a followed superstition, and the length of time. I will liken this to the cherry-picking many religious folk do.

5. If any superstitions directly conflict with The Teachings of the Leporidae, they will be rejected and sentenced to life as Devil's Food Cake. Yes, that's right. Superstition as a cake. It is real, and it is terrible.

Please spread the word, especially to anyone who knows of or follows superstitions. Thanks for reading, and I'll keep everyone updated. In the meantime, rabbit, rabbit.