Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reclaiming Halloween

Well, the above is a picture of my crew at work and me. A great crew it is - one of the best it has been my pleasure to lead. We accomplish much as a team and accomplish it with panache. We had fun today on our job in celebration of Halloween. Left to right there are Devin, Josh, Kathy, the old "Ref" yours truly, Lori, Kristi, and Brandon. Some of the other workers kidded me that, with my team, I should wear that outfit everyday!
I go to bed very early because I arise so early, so it will be impossible for to partake of more Halloween festivities. Maybe next year when it falls on Friday again I can take in a party of go trick-or-treating.
Did I ever tell you that I was twelve years old before I went trick or treating for the first time? Among members of the Church of God that thing was generally frowned upon (at least back when I was a child; I really can't say how they view the matter now).
My parents weren't so nutty, religiously speaking, that they thought it was such a big deal. But when you are members of a certain community, you tend to follow along and not make waves. Yes, we believed in a literal devil and had an interesting demonology as part of our overall theology. But we were separated from "the world" and just didn't partake of such "questionable" amusements, especially if they had bad connotations. (Although all of my family loved horror movies from way back.)
However, after my parents split up and the church excommunicated them because of it, things were different. My mom bought costumes for me and my little brother for the first time and we were allowed to go out trick-or-treating with our friends.
I was a skeleton that first time. Scary! And back then we always waited until dark before we went out. Those were simpler times, and safer, too, overall, I believe. We stayed in our own neighborhood and knew most of the folks we visited. 
But when I think back, we were allowed to watch all the Halloween specials on television. And when our school put on Halloween plays or had Halloween-themed activities, my parents had no objection whatsoever to our participating. I even recall Mom always making sure she had candy on hand for the neighborhood kids - which I was allowed to pass out even when I didn't "officially" participate. 

Now that I'm older I enjoy the folklore and pagan history of the holiday. Paganism has a certain earthy appeal to me. Just wait until next year!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is It Just Me?

Senator Ted Cruz has been all over the news in recent weeks. That's him on the left. On the right is the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Right from the start when I saw Cruz on television I was reminded of McCarthy - visually, I mean.  
I'm not going to get all political here. I'm fairly disgusted with the matter, and the recent government shutdown debacle only underscored all the repulsiveness I feel. So I'm not really making a political statement. Not really. Then again, deeper down maybe I do see more than visual resemblance.

I'm getting perhaps a bit less ideological the older I get. But I still have a great distaste for self-serving grandstanding, especially among public servants.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kissing The Devil's Butt

The news is so often so depressing I have to ignore it. Then there are those times when something I read or hear just cracks me up. I'm certain the story I'm about to write about was far from funny at the time for those poor folks involved - but this is goofy. Perhaps the offender was on drugs or alcohol or maybe he is mentally ill.
At any rate, a deluded soul was in a convenience store in nearby Dalton, Georgia arguing about the merits of the Christian religion when he accused one of the patrons of loving Satan and kissing the devil's butt. Deluded Soul (hereafter referred to as DS) was yelling and carrying on. Another patron suggested DS wasn't acting very Christianly, whereupon he turned his rage upon that patron and even spat on a child. DS then witnessed to the child about Christianity. And then as if to emphasize it all, DS dropped his pants and walked bare-bottomed out into the parking lot.
Now DS was on a roll ranting not only about devil worshippers but also homosexuals, illegal immigrants, and "Tennessee trash" (as a certain class of persons). He was eventually apprehended by police at a Walmart.
You can read the entire article about this man's escapades by clicking this link. There is even a color picture of the smiling man's mugshot. Among the charges DS faces are two counts of battery and two counts of disorderly conduct.
Well, as I suggested, maybe this guy is mentally ill. If so this is sad and I hope he gets the help he needs. On the other hand, I suspect he was either drunk or on drugs. In which case I think he needs to get real and start walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. You would be surprised - or then again, maybe you wouldn't - how many drunks and drug addicts I know who, condemned by their own conscience, get into a frenzy and rail on and on about the very things they find themselves mired in.   
Being a former Christian myself, I know a little about how all that is supposed to work. And this isn't it! In fact, I'm not interested in hearing about anyone's religion that doesn't make one a better person, especially in regard to how one treats his/her fellow humans.

In my humble opinion, being a jerk is metaphorically kissing the devil's butt and loving Satan. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another Local Flap With The Freedom From Religious Foundation

Most emphatically I am not a Theocrat. I believe in a practical separation of church and state. But I'm also something of an accomodationist when it comes to religion - just as so many of our nation's founders were and its 44 presidents have been.
The atheist movement has become more and more vocal in recent decades - which I think is fine, by the way - and have brought attention to several church/state issues that needed to be addressed. Mandatory prayer in public, taxpayer funded schools, is a good example. However, it seems to me that sometimes these folks get a little nit-picky.
Here is a story near my home that is developing:
Our local media has given much coverage recently to a local pastor who was invited to speak at a 9/11 memorial service that was being held at a local high school. Check out one example of the coverage here.
Someone complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and within weeks foundation attorney Andrew Seidel became involved:
Essentially preaching a sermon to the children you know he quoted Luke 13:4 and the power of prayer, Jesus's response to 9/11, there's not much grey area here there's clearly a religious message and it's at a school sponsored event, therefore unconstitutional.
Church sponsored, but not mandatory as part of the curriculum, by the way.
As for whether or not this was a sermon (or merely a sarcastic characterization) I really can't say. Another report (see here) informs us that Pastor Alan Stewart mentioned "one bible verse and the word "God" six times" according to a transcript. I haven't access to that transcript and wasn't there so I really can't say a lot.
The Bible verse, quoting Jesus, was evidently Luke 13:4:
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
That seems to me to be more of a philosophical than a purely religious text; but, to quote Attorney Seidel again, "Pastors only speak about religious issues for the most part" - which seems to make about as much sense as saying that attorneys only speak about legal issues for the most part.
What troubles me about these oft-repeated brouhahas is this: if teachers and students can't so much as mention God or religious concepts in the course of the education process, what makes it appropriate for our nation's legislatures and presidents to do this?
Okay, all this is boggy ground. And in response to this latest flap the school system has begun a retraining effort to hopefully avoid needless conflicts in the future. The FFF seems satisfied with that response. So now everybody is happy - except those who feel their right to free speech is being compromised.

I have e-mailed Pastor Stewart in an effort to get a transcript of what he actually said. I'll revisit this again if I am able to get that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happy With Religion

At selected locations in the US the Living Without Religion Organization has put up billboards with the following message:
If people follow the link on the billboard they will be taken to a simple statement of Secular Humanism. I'm not sure anyone - believer or unbeliever - could doubt that millions do live without belief in God or religion. 
On the other hand, it could truly be said that millions more than that live happily with religion. I'm quite sure the majority of believers would suggest one might be happier with religion - but that is a matter of opinion.
In looking over the statement in defense of Secular Humanism - most of which as an agnostic believer I embrace - there are a few of their points that stuck out to me.
There was this:
We see each other through humanist eyes—as fellow human beings—as cousins—equal in dignity and deserving of compassion and respect.    
I agree wholeheartedly with that. However, I'm not sure why that should be taken as more than an ipse dixit statement. I see no slam-dunk reason to regard all humans as "equal in dignity" apart from belief in a Creator who made humans either in His image or perhaps as the highest expression of his work. For example, skeptic James Randi's recent comments concerning so-called Social Darwinism
But in general, I think that Darwinism, survival of the fittest, should be allowed to act itself out. As long as it doesn’t interfere with me and other sensible, rational people who could be affected by it. Innocent people, in other words.
may be offensive to the sentiments of most of us, but is it illogical?
Then there is the following point at the aforementioned link:
We accept that our lives will end, but we find hope and take great joy in knowing that life keeps going.
Again I find no fault with that sentiment. But again I wonder why that follows, why it would be a general rule that anyone should take "great joy" in the mere fact that life goes on. Wouldn't it be just as logical that, if our lives are limited to this sphere of existence, one should attempt to grab all the pleasure this life has to offer, up to and including what Rand called "the virtue of selfishness"?
As regards the matter of survival of death, I am again agnostic (but hopeful!). But I find the concept makes some sense within a framework of belief in God. Perhaps the way our second president, John Adams, put it in a letter to fellow former president Thomas Jefferson:
If there was nothing beyond mortal life, you might be ashamed of your Maker, and compare him to a little Girl amusing herself, her Brothers and Sisters by blowing Bubbles in Soap Sudds.
Therefore, I could not personally rise to the level of the Secular Humanist, who according to their statement of outlook says:
We do not fear the unknown but rather take courage from the wondrous discoveries that have already been made.
Like most of us I do have a bit of fear of the unknown. That isn't an unnatural thing, and I wonder how many Humanists proudly say that but still secretly harbor their apprehensiveness.
For me a simple belief in a Cosmic Mind brings me hope and thus more happiness than mere nonbelief could. I think that is true of the millions more who are happy because of their belief.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

"In My World Nobody Gets Hurt"

I met her back in my college days. We became friends. Good friends. After a while we became a little more. She was part of my life for the better part of eight years, often living with me. She had very serious mental issues which stemmed from childhood sexual abuse administered by her "Christian" father. He was also sexually and mentally abusing his other two daughters and infant son.
Just as my faith was on the wane because I was slowly working my way through the more troubling aspects of belief in the Bible, this woman stepped into my life and introduced me to the world of childhood sexual abuse. Her stories, which she told me as catharsis, presented me with a real perspective of the problem of evil.
She had been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, the same as I. Her grandmother, with whom she had a less than untroubled relationship - became the primary custodial caregiver for my friend after her parents divorced when she came out about the abuse. She and her siblings had been removed from their home for a time and placed in a children's home. Her father was prosecuted but not found guilty. He left town for a while. The mother forever blamed my friend for "seducing" her husband and destroying her marriage. She also had troubled relations with her siblings, for she had endured the brunt of the abuse; her baby brother, fortunately, was so young he had no recollections of abuse.
After all this my friend was of course bitter. She was questioning why God never answered her childhood prayers. Yet she was still a religious seeker. I went to church with her many times, even in my faithless state. I tried to be supportive. She wanted answers and I couldn't help wondering about that myself. In that same troubled mind of hers were both faith and fury. She questioned hard her grandmother about whether her repeated rapes and humiliations at her father's hand were part of "God's plan," which her grandmother constantly referenced. "No," her grandmother replied, "but I see God's hand in it." The old "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" thing, I suppose. Obviously I was not the one to help her find her way back to faith. I had lost my way also, and my friend's story only strengthened my conviction about leaving my childhood faith.
She showed me her childhood Bible. In the pages at the back were several inscriptions her father made when he visited his children in the home. It made me sick. His religious drivel mixed in with alleged concern for his family nauseated me. In one he had actually written that my friend should pray for God to restore their family. Unreal! What kind of sicko was this guy, I wondered. (Later I found out he was a petty criminal and drug abuser as well as a pedophile.) And up until the time he was exposed, he was also a regular churchgoer with his family.
I stood by my friend through years of counseling, institutionalization, drug therapies and even two suicide attempts. In the last of those I had to actually break into the house she was renting in order to get to her. She had left a suicide message on my answering machine which I got when I got off work.
Along the way I discovered she had a love for doll houses and miniature furnishings. I indulged her by purchasing one for her and helping her construct it. I helped as she carpeted it and bought and constructed furniture for it. She spent hours "playing" with her doll house, which really seemed to be therapeutic for her. She constantly rearranged the furniture, bought new furniture, remodeled, recarpeted, repainted her doll house repeatedly. It all hit home for me one night as she was working on her doll house and she suddenly looked up at me and said: "In my world nobody gets hurt." She was trying to build a model of something that was missing in her life. 
I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it really doesn't. Sensing that I needed to get away from this horrible situation, I began to ease myself out of her picture. Abusers tend to become abusers and she was mentally abusive. Very much so. That was bad. But I also began to feel I was becoming affected myself as I stood by her through the long years of attempted mental rehabilitation. After eight years she was no closer to healing than she had been when I met her. Worse, she had become addicted to drugs - both to the prescriptions that were part of her treatment, but also street drugs which her "friends" plied her with. We drifted apart and at last I could breathe again.
I unexpectedly heard from her a couple of years backs after more than a decade and a half of non-contact. She looked me up in the phone book and called because part of a twelve step program she was going through was to reach out to people she had hurt and ask for forgiveness. No problem there. I understood that the person I had known was a troubled, sick soul. We talked several times and she even asked about coming to visit me (she had moved back to her home state of Alabama).  I declined the invitation. She was still on drugs (at least of the mind-numbing, speech slurring variety of prescriptions), still unable to hold down a job, still involved in bad relationships - but, she told me, she had worked out her spiritual problems and had been accepted into a group which practiced Native American spirituality. Oh, and she still loved doll houses and reminisced about the one we had built together.
Her attempts to find her inner "lost child" have not been successful that I can tell. The world she tried so hard to create, where "nobody gets hurt," never materialized and, as I sadly found out, anyone who gets too close her does get hurt. Her grandmother is now dead, her mother is still distant (but perhaps not quite as distant) her siblings are still somewhat condescending towards her. Her psychosis is still a constant problem, but at least she has apparently gained some understanding of her condition. But I have healed from my painful experiences with her and find no desire to go back.
What lingers with me to this day is the way I will never be able to reconcile the God of the Bible with the real world of superfluous evil. One really has to hide his head in order to accept that - at least that is the way it seems to me. A God who would "plan" something along the lines of what my friend went through is not a God I could worship. Any religion that teaches that such evil is necessary for the greater good is also a religion I have no interest in.
However, what I do find very much worthwhile is the effort to build a world where nobody gets hurt. For me that is the ultimate goal of spirituality.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Crucible Of Doubt

I can't recall how old I was when I first encountered the powerful novel The Brother Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, with its probing analysis of the problem of evil. The problem of evil has always been of great interest for me. If there is anything that makes belief in God difficult, it is the effort to reconcile the enormous amount of evil, seemingly pointless at times, with a creation by God. I don't know where the problem is more impressively laid out in all its perplexing ugliness than in Dostoevsky's novel. Yet Dostoevsky was a believer in God:
It is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him," he said. "My hosanna has come forth through the crucible of doubt.
No spiritual thinker, no theologian, no philosopher of religion worth her salt can ignore the problem of evil in the Cosmos. Still, despite the difficulty, belief thrives. As much as evil tests my own ability to believe, I cannot shake the feeling that universe is not an accident. I find myself compelled to believe in the Logos, or Divine Mind behind the cosmos. And it has taken me a long time to arrive there. I would add that I rest there uncomfortably mainly because of the enormous amount of suffering in the world. In other words, I stop short of shouting hosannas*, even though my faith has been refined in the crucible of doubt.
I hate pat answers. I hate glib answers that gloss over deeper difficulties. For what my opinion may be worth to others, I don't think there is a fully satisfying answer to the problem of evil. At least I will say I have never found one that satisfied me fully, even though I have searched high and low. That is why, perhaps, so many refer to it as a mystery.
It's not as if I haven't considered the alternative: suffering exists because there is no God or Divine Mind, no meaning, no purpose. I respect those who feel compelled to believe that. But for me it leaves the mystery of existence. If love, beauty, and good did not exist in such abundance, perhaps I could rest there instead. Alas, I'm no better able to grasp meaninglessness than I am nothingness. 
My faith is in all senses a humble one. Further, it is not an untroubled one.

* Neither am I confessing faith in Christ

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Secular Version Of The Golden Rule

My favorite infidel has always been - hands down! - the great orator Robert G. Ingersoll. When I got old enough to lift the ban that had always been on me as a child against reading infidel literature, the first of those kinds of books I read were Paine's The Age of Reason and The Lectures of Robert Ingersoll. Both of these books had a great impact on my thinking and still do to this day.
But always, I found, the words of Ingersoll stirred my heart. He was a critic of revealed religion, to be sure. Yet his speeches and writings also contain such a lofty humanism that, for me, a study of them is something of a spiritual experience.  
I have always been a big believer in following the Golden Rule of treating people the same way I would like to be treated. Robert Ingersoll appealed to that ethic when he said:
Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.
Now that about covers everything, in my opinion. You demand the freedom to think and act according to your own best judgment and conscience. Extend that same right to your fellow sojourners.

And if that were consistently done, the world would be a much nicer placer. Yet we talk and talk and talk while all the inhumanity continues. Such is our sad world.