Poetry: How I Want It

I’ve decided.
I know what I want;
and how I want it.

My goal
has always been
to have it both ways.

I want to live forever,
but not to age;
I want loyalty
without commitment;
I want happiness
without sadness;
without losses;
all the women,
but none of the men;
I want victory
without competition;
without sleep;
without risk;
without whiskey;
acceptance without effort;
good without bad;

And love,
I just want to love
and to be loved.

Happy Friday and best weekend wishes, y’all.


An Atheist Walked into a Church

Atheists go to church for a variety of reasons, especially those of us who are former believers. We understand going to church and usually have little or no fear or discomfort about attending. We know why people practice religions.

If invited to a wedding I might go, and certainly the reception (food, drink, party) would be a must. Funerals are a drag, but if there is an Irish type afterparty, I might consider it.

The last formal funeral I attended was my sister’s. It was a Catholic Funeral Mass or Requiem Mass. I was still a practicing Catholic at the time. My other sister, who died first, had had a memorial service at the funeral home, as she had done for her husband. That sister insisted upon a graveside service for our mother when she died, presided over by a paid retired priest, so no church required.

But my father had a full Requiem Mass (demanded by his daughter) 12 years prior. I dislike funerals, wakes, memorial services, and all of that, but I attend when I feel like it is expected. Embracing atheism has not changed that, other than I have a different opinion about the soulful status of dead people.

When a former supervisor of mine died, I was still working with the guy although he was no longer my boss. I went to his memorial service in a chapel because I felt socially obligated. I also felt like a hypocrite for going. I despised the man almost from the first moment I met him, but I kept that to myself. As I walked back to my office, I felt relieved that duty was done. I would do it again, despite how I felt about him. I try not to hold grudges against the dead. That would be like playing god.

Most weddings are fun. I don’t recall when I last attended one in a church setting, but I’d go again. Maybe not in Afghanistan cuz they do terrorist bombings at weddings there, and Muslims don’t drink anyway. I am up for a good, safe wedding, secular or religious.

If I was invited to a Quinceañera, I would go to the Mass. Quinceañera is the Hispanic tradition of celebrating young girls’ coming of age near their 15th birthday. They are celebrations to embrace religious customs, the virtues of family, and social responsibility. Such cultural celebrations are fun. I never went to an associated Quinceañera Mass when I attended church because the Mass was in Spanish and the church was packed — standing room only that overflowed out the door into the parking lot. I do not expect to ever attend one for that reason, maybe the afterparty.

If I sense that someone is trying to proselytize me by inviting me to church, I would not cooperate and would certainly back away. That would be to keep the peace since I think turnabout is fair play, and I think apostasy is a healthy option for everyone. But you know how they get when we try to make it a level playing field.

If I did go to a Catholic church, I’m not sure what I would do regarding the Catholic gymnastics during Mass (sit, kneel, stand). I understand the Mass, and I know exactly what’s going on. But kneeling and standing relate specifically to prayer and honoring JC and the gospel readings. However, when people at Mass do not participate, they become conspicuous, and I am not one for any self-spotlighting. I would not want peeps to think me a Southern Baptist.

In any case, I have not been to a church service of any kind in at least eight years. But that is not so long.

A 95-year-old man I knew (Joe) was a former Catholic who got talked into going to Mass and taking communion (I would not do that). He did. He told me that he had not been in a church for about 80 years. He just wanted to see what would happen. Nothing did. He finished our chat explaining his conflict with faith and reason and why he still chose reason. Joe never said he was atheist, and I never asked, but I feel certain he was.

It’s hard to explain going to church for any reason if one is openly a non-believer, especially when one uses the atheist moniker. Some people do not attend church at all and simply identify with no religious preference. Many of those are closeted atheists. Other hidden atheists continue to attend church and feign religious practice for long periods of time. We know that happens because so many of us did.

I may attend church depending on the situation, religion, and the mutual acceptability of the groups in question. But it would be a mistake to assume that I will not attend out of arrogance and disbelief. I’m still waiting for my Pagan and Wiccan friends to invite me to one of their rituals.


Dumber than Dirt

Useless as tits on a boar hog is an idiomatic phrase, which I first heard my native Texan, country-girl wife mutter regarding a person, usually a male of the lower producing variety.

But idiom aside, why do males have nipples? I had to bandage or petroleum jelly mine, lest they bleed on my shirt when I ran long distances. Boobs and nipples make sense for feeding babies and attracting some mates, but bleeding nips are a painful nuisance. Fingernails I get; but toenails have what purpose other than something that needs cutting, painting, and poking holes in socks?

I like hair, but what’s it for? We have hats, right? And babushkas, scarves, and do-rags. Is there such a thing as a functional facial hair follicle? What is an appendix for (in a body, not a book) if we can remove it and be better off? Let’s not get into foreskin, but why trim and tuck that?

Belly buttons I understand; likewise, toes, ankles, and knees have a purpose, like lungs and teeth. Brains are good, but some are under exercised (so I’m told).

How did all this happen? Do you think a god did it? A determined and delightful deity big daddy with a deadly sense of humor? I mean, we have sex, but we also have so many foibles, fetishes, and perversions. What’s all that about?

I doubt it was a god or many, or any. Otherwise my wife would have to find some other disparaging idiom, like dumber than a box of rocks.


Quotes Attributed to Buddha

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Or, the mind is everything. What you think, you become, which are apparently fake quotes probably drafted from, whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.

I am looking at my statue of a meditating Buddha sitting on a shelf just across the room. Twenty years ago, a Catholic/Christian apologist said that if I had a statue of Buddha at home it was a serious sin. In my manner of reacting to such nonsense, I had mine within the week. I also have a meditation candle, a gift from my daughter. It has been sitting in my room for more than 20 years, usually near or around the statue of Siddhartha, which is also the title of a good novel.

Back in the 90s, I read extensively about eastern philosophy and religions such as Taoism and Buddhism as part of my spiritual growth at the time. Many are surprised to learn that I found the true living and enlightened Buddha, alive and well at a mall in San Antonio.

I approached the short chunky monkey buddha and asked him if it would be okay if I left my family and became a monk. He looked at me and started to laugh. He has been unable to stop. From that experience we now have the famous Laughing Buddha statue, which may not be a Buddha at all, but an alleged Chinese monk from 1,500 years after Siddhartha Gautama Buddha presumably hung out in what is now India.

I am not and never have been Buddhist. You may be interested to know that the singer and poet, Leonard Cohen, was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996, but he was never of any other religion than observant Jew his entire life. I’ve had friends who claimed to be Gautama followers, but Buddhists savor sobriety and too many of my tribe did not. What I think attracted many of them was much of the background philosophy and supporting New Age woo-woo. The same may have been true of Cohen.

I do not believe in karma, reincarnation or rebirth, Nirvana (other than the band), past life regression, or any other life after death credo. However, wisdom is wisdom and I hang on to what I think fits into my one life reality. I think meditation is probably healthy, greed is bad, humility will always be an elusive benefit, and the application of some eastern idioms could cure the overabundance of assholes and trolls in the neighborhood, if not the world.

Without splitting hairs and taking the we are (or attract) what we think quote at face value, it reminds me of several idioms I like: we are what we do; right here, right now; it is what it is; and if you check, maybe this fourth one, not everything has to have a point. Somethings just are, which I attribute to Judy Blume. But are we what we have thought? I’m not so sure.

This form of consciousness seems to be mixed up with the concept of free will. Are we what we think? Or what we do? Or do we even have any idea who we are? Do we have control over what we think, our thoughts, or our minds? I’ve heard thoughts euphemistically referred to as voices. What of the hours lying in bed worrying or thinking about things we try not to invite into our thoughts—things which are out of our control? Do we channel those thoughts into who we are, or is mind madness in charge of what we think?

The simple question follows, are we what we think? Or, as my Irish-Catholic father would say to me; who in the hell do you think you are? It was a strained relationship.

Indeed, over the years I have thought things to be true and sometime later decided differently. Having an open mind (if that is possible) in the long run, learning and thinking and being willing to say that we were wrong or mistaken has more to do with who we are than the ideas or thoughts themselves.

There is little doubt that our thoughts, convictions, and mind-sets affect how we see the world. Another idiom is: change your mind, change the world.

Much of the turmoil regarding such phrases for followers of Buddha and his teachings involves translation of old scripture. The messiness and confusion with translation from language, time, culture, and overall interpretation can lead to several chapters in a book.

Another problem is the insistence by some people of making shit up and then attributing it to someone famous who may have never said or wrote it. Welcome to the internet age.

I have a framed art piece on my wall. It is an image of Charles Bukowski with the words find what you love and let it kill you. I like Bukowski. I read his poetry, and I even make notes of how he turned a phrase. The problem is that old Hank apparently never said that kill you thingy nor did he write it, even as character dialogue. But still, I like it and I’ll not be tossing the art. The truth is that the association with Bukowski is false, even if I can’t prove he never said it.

Another poetic translation from Buddhist scripture on the mind is a version by Gil Fronsdal, who renders the first two verses as:

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows,
Like a never-departing shadow.

From a Buddhist perspective, thoughts constitute part of our actions, but only a part of them. What we are is indeed a combination of actions determined by thoughts and feelings. I think life is all about how we feel, but I hope for intellect before emotion in making wise choices.

Furthermore, we cannot ignore past experiences in figuring out who we are. But the primary determining, limiting, and deciding factor is from genetics: DNA. Perhaps some day we can engineer that in such a way as to control ourselves and our existence better. For now, it is what it is. It may even effect how and what we think or believe.

No. All that I have thought over the years does not determine what I am.

Let’s try one more contemporary quotation from Steven Pinker: Our minds are adapted to a world that no longer exists, prone to misunderstandings correctable only by arduous education, and condemned to perplexity about the deepest questions we can ascertain.


What is he thinking? (Updated)

Note: Thanks to Jim and Elizabeth, I learned that my header photo is not seen by all, unless they actually visit the site. I am including it here so that it will show up. I also removed the meme. ~ Bill

Credit: Old man on a bench, Santiago.jpg

The new header image I selected for Dispassionate Doubt is a photo called Old man on a bench, Santiago.jpg. It’s from Wikimedia Commons, a free media repository.

I like the picture and hope to write at least one ekphrastic poem from it. I assume others have.

I don’t use the word resonate often. But that man, his posture and expression, his clothing and surroundings, his hair and skin all combine to arouse my emotional curiosity. I want to know what he is thinking and why. I want to know his back story.

Why do I like the photo? Why do I relate?

I want to tell his story.

I am a septuagenarian who likes to sit on benches and watch life happen. I prefer earlier darker periods of mornings and the later evenings better—just before day light and just after.

I use the word ponder regularly because I enjoy my private contemplation and brooding meditation. I like to muse about life and to write my thoughts.

Look at him. What is he thinking? What do you think?


Do We Choose What We Believe?

What is human belief? What are we claiming when we claim to believe something, or to disbelieve or doubt something? Is belief a yes or no, black or white state of mind, or a maybe/maybe not (grayscale) thing?

When asked to list all the things we do (or do not) believe, can we? And do we tell the truth? Do we know the truth? How does faith factor into the discussions of belief (also what of credence, credit, and opinion)? If you want the Merriam-Webster dictionary explanation, it’s here.

I think we often tend to treat belief as a black-and-white state of mind (or habit) when what we really mean is faith. But what is faith? According to the same dictionary, belief may not imply certitude, but faith almost always does. Asking someone why they believe in a god seems to always come down to faith.

While god and religion are the favorite topics when belief and faith are discussed, they are not the best topics for two reasons. One is that they don’t really matter much. The other is that because of the perturbation or influence religion places on people’s belief or faith that god exists, or that one religion is right and others not (or less so), unbiased discussion is virtually impossible. Yet, while I am willing to have that discussion, in this piece I do not focus on god or religion, despite the intended skeptical nature of this blog site.

I read a PEW research finding that more than 75% of the people in Texas are certain (belief or faith) that a god exists. That is millions. If so, are some willing to consider another option openly and talk about it? Perhaps. But my experience would cause me to say few.


I planned to walk outdoors Wednesday morning. My online weather forecast indicated 100% chance of rain. The on-line radar supported that high probability, but it was not raining. Furthermore, we did have significant thunder and lightning associated with the rain over the previous days.

Believing it might rain, I walked indoors because the evidence I had (and trusted) gave me a high degree of certainty that being outside might not be safe. It did rain with all the light and sound effects. However, even with such a forecast, it might not have rained.

If it were a 30% probability, I would risk it because it rarely rains when probability is that low. I would have evidence which I could believe. Could I have chosen to believe that it would not rain? Maybe.

Movies and Books

Let’s try a movie: King Kong. If someone offered to pay me $10,000, plus travel and expenses, to go to the top of the Empire State Building and stand there and believe that the scene of Kong knocking down biplanes was true, I could not believe it was true. I could lie and take the money. But I could not make myself have faith and belief that it was true. Is the movie evidence?

Yet, here is proof in black and white. If I can believe whatever I choose to believe, how do I make myself believe this?

Unusual Sightings and Eye Witness Accounts

If someone said they had seen bigfoot, I would believe them, but I do not believe that the bigfoot creature exists. I don’t know what they saw. Maybe it was bigfoot, and my skepticism is asking too much. I have also seen photos of bigfoot (poor ones), but is that proof? I’ve seen photos of flying saucers too, but I don’t believe them to be real. Things we see are not always reliable (eye witnesses in court, for example, are notoriously wrong).

Other Reports of Things Happening (if it was a snake, it would have bitten me)

I like to walk on wilderness trails near where I live. I have seen few snakes, and no rattlesnakes. I have read reports of sightings and even of people being bitten on the same trails I walk. I believe enough to be watchful, and I am convinced that the stories of sightings and bites are both plausible and real. Am I choosing to believe in snakes but not bigfoot? Or is the evidence different? I have seen rattlesnakes in captivity and the wild. The only bigfoot I saw was in costume.

Why do we believe things?

This is a challenging and fun topic. My position for now is that we do not necessarily choose what we believe. We are influenced by many environmental and, perhaps, genetic factors. Even with evidence, we may not alter our beliefs. I wrote about this human phenomenon during my A to Z Challenge postings. Why do some of us never alter our beliefs despite clear evidence to the contrary? Is it choice? Or something else?

As children many of us believed things regardless of what adults told us (ghosts, monsters, etc.). At some point, most of us gave up many of those beliefs. Did we make a choice or was there insufficient evidence to continue maintaining the beliefs?

Believe whatever you like. You have that right. Everyone else has the right to disagree.