And That’s a Fact, Jack.

Back when years began with nineteen instead of twenty, my head was topped with slightly thin, dark-brown hair with hints of gray near the temples. I had the look and was living through a time known as midlife.

I was treated well — an “expert” in my field. While I enjoyed it, I often felt that expectations of me pushed the limits of my knowledge and capabilities. As in baseball, I won some and lost some. Thinking back, I now realize that I was dealing with a minor form of imposter syndrome.

Eventually, I got comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” That helped, as did, “I don’t care” and “I was wrong.” I am cautious with those last two. Not caring may be offensive. Admitting error requires sufficient contrary evidence. To this day, I do not need to know how the Cosmos came into being. I’d like to know. But regardless of how it happened, it is what it is.

Back then, I carried a blue, loose-leaf binder notebook. I inserted humorous quotes and sarcastic cartoons into the outside front cover. One serious insert I wrote proclaimed, “I have not decided everything yet. If you quote me, I may have changed my mind.”

That was my way of declaring that I was still figuring things out: learning. While I had a few firm opinions, I was a true believer of nothing.

I learned to be careful sharing my thoughts and to couch my reasons. I tried to be clear about what I think versus proclaiming what fact is. I still do that.

Since college, I’ve been a fan of Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer. I don’t think I “got it” until the last five or ten years. While I want to take a clear side for moral reasons, I also do not want to become blinded to truth and reality. I wasn’t neutral, but I wanted as much rational, logical certainty about my own beliefs as I could muster. I was naïve to think most others felt the same. Thankfully, many people are reasonable and rational, even if not as many as I’d like.

I began to realize that people I knew were masquerading as intelligent, open-minded, caring souls, but were disguised true believers. I should have known. I was often disappointed.

I like M. Lamar Keene’s expression for what causes people to believe things proven to be false: the true believer syndrome.

He asked, “What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable. (sic) How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it’s exposed in the bright light of day (sic) he still clings to it — indeed, clings to it all the harder?”

While Keene and Hoffer were each referring to different types of true believers, they are clearly related phenomena, although not as unusual as I used to think. Today we find them deeply involved in religion and politics. Are they dangerous?

I prefer being a skeptic to the mental chains of a true believer. If I must have a syndrome, I choose imposter.


Essay: Why So Negative?


I forget what she was talking about, but when I brought up reality, she said I should not be so negative. In her thinking, reality was bad. It was negative, and anyone who talked about it was likewise. In her defense, her life with a non-supportive alcoholic who eventually drank himself to death was certainly a negative reality. We were not discussing any specific topic, but even the term was a turnoff for her.

When I think about what she said, which basically shut me up, I always get philosophical and default to the line from Hamlet: “Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. Well, then it isn’t one to you, since nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.” I can’t say the line applies in every case. But sometimes it is precisely what we think about some reality that defines it for us.

I agree that reality is relative. And what isn’t? The thin line between one’s perception of reality and imagined non-reality, such as dream-based events, is the conscious choice between what is and what isn’t. But does any of that mean the one is negative and the other not? Is either reality or non-reality truth? Imagination is real. If one hears voices, the voices are really heard in the brain even if the source of a voice is either unknown or assumed.

I also agree with my friend who saw my broaching of reality as negative or dark for her, even if not for me. Much of reality sucks. Her experience was not mine. We make the best of life if we can make anything. But some might say the reality is that we can move on and find another, conceivably better, life.

Time and reality are relative to the individual. While the reality of the passage of time should be the same for each of us, that is seldom the case. Memories of the same event differ between individual witnesses. Experiencing current events is the same. When I walk out of a building and it is raining, I’m usually delighted. Then I hear others complaining about the nasty weather. It’s the same reality: a rainy day.

My response is to ask, what is non-reality? Why do I insist that it is necessary and okay to deal with what is real? Either it is what it is, or it’s not. Depending on the individual, the same real (or even imagined) event may be seen as either good or bad. The truth should be reality, but black or white is too often gray. So then, even truth becomes relative and based on outlook and experience.

If we see reality as negative, does that mean we conversely see non-reality as positive? And what of truth? If truth is negative, is untruth then positive? Maybe some think so.

How’s That?

“Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theatre, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me.” ― Lynne Kelly

It seems that for some, if not most, being a thinking conscious creature is not enough. I have no idea what anyone thinks, let alone most. I try to accept what others say they think at face value, but even that is often filtered information, which is probably just as well. I don’t want to have this discussion with any believers (an event also shunned by Kelly), but I do want to highlight my personal experience because it was something I did not expect.

In the Lynne Kelly quote, reality is depicted as cold and dull by the believer or god-worshiper point of view. My experience was the reverse. One day everything was possible because god did it. Eh! Yay god and all that, but I also felt like saying, So what? If god is so omni-amazing-everything, what’s the big deal? Surely a god can do better than this. Right?

After I’d cleared all the god stuff from my world view and how I envisioned or saw the universe, everything became wonderous and amazing, just the opposite of what Oprah Winfrey thinks about how atheists must see the world or universe. She doesn’t know, but sadly, she thinks she does. Yes. I was more in awe of magic without gods (or woo-woo), than I ever was as either a believer or seeker.

I appreciate the fact of life, existence, and my personal reality more than ever before. After standing up as atheist (which simply means god isn’t, in my case), I discovered how amazing everything is, even if it means a universe that is on its own and random. I am pleased to be me, unbeholden to any spirit, god, guardian angel, patron saint, or talk show host.

But to make a couple of points here, I have never in my many years had anyone tell me how embracing their atheism made them sad. Indeed, some miss church socialization and fellowship stuff. I get that. I never missed it, but I understand how others might feel that loss. My experience was probably due to my personal circumstances.

Second, while I accept that everyone has a dark side, most people seem wonderful to me. When I encounter some jerk on earth, I need to remember the nine or more good people I also met.

So, with a nod to Lynne Kelly: me, too. I’m not in the business of contributing to deconversions, but I would if I could. That is because my experience was better. What I can do is share my personal experience, strength, and hope through an awareness not given through any religion.

Like Dr. Phil is wont to ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” It feels just mighty fine.


Some things just are.

Essay: Thank Godless Goodness

My wife says grateful people are happy, and I want to be happy. Don’t we all? I like to think I am peachy-keen-ecstatic, perhaps with an occasional snarkastic twist. It is generally a wonderful world for me, but at times not so much. In many ways, I also think I’m fortunate to exist at all and the timing seems good.

This opinion is based mostly on my thoughts, but also on an essay by Daniel C. Dennett titled “Thank Goodness.” It’s from an anthology I’m reading, Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, by Louise M. Anthony (author and editor). Here’s a quote separately attributed to Dennett about happiness: “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Now, given this reciprocal relationship between happiness and gratitude, isn’t gratitude (called by some the least felt of all human emotions) usually toward someone? When folks say we should be grateful, I agree. But to whom? Thank you, god, for all this that and the other good things, but not for any of the bad stuff? (we need a font for sarcasm) Thank you, science and scientists, doctors, researchers, inventors of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals?

Thank goodness is supposedly a euphemistic idiom for saying thank god without saying god, for some reason. Kind of like saying dad gum it for god damn it! Yesterday, that HGTV show guy in Mississippi said dad gum. (Preacher’s kid) Did anyone complain?

Is there more to this? Can saying thank goodness be useful to folks, even those who don’t believe a god exists; or that some god, spirit, or invisible force of nature did not intentionally cause the good luck?

And if there is a god, does he, she, or it give a crap if you’re grateful or not? I’ve mentioned before about my sister praying for a job and promising to go to Mass every Sunday if she got it. Can you imagine any god reaching out to shake hands to seal the deal? Nice of her to promise to keep her Catholic duty and avoid being sent to hell, but you had to know Noreen (and many others) to navigate such hazy reasoning.

If you are a believer, you may believe that in your superior wonderfulness you can repay god’s good graces in some way. Think about that. Talk about the man who has everything! (Dennett used that cliché in his essay, too.) Noreen worked at that job until she was 80 (good grief!). What if she had stopped going to church? Would she have lost the job? If I had told her that such logic is a basis of the protestant health and wealth movement, I’d a been given a look followed by some manner of listen, baby brother, condescending big sis-splaining. I got lots of that.

But Dennett claims saying thank goodness is not only good for the skeptical crowd, it’s okay for everyone. I agree. It makes sense. Goodness is just that, with or without the god factor. People, places, and things that are good foster more goodness. Intentions and actions that make the world a better place today and, in the future, comprise goodness. We can be grateful for goodness. We can repay goodness with more goodness.

Thank goodness for music, for art, for love, for the good side of human nature. Thank goodness for clean drinking water, medical science adding healthy, good quality years; for schools and teachers. We can be grateful for trees and plant more. We can find ways to help others. Or, I suppose you can say thank God. It’s up to you, but goodness is real, and we can repay it backward, forward, or right here and now. Can you add to my thank goodness list?

Have a goodness-filled weekend, and enjoy every day, if possible.


Essay: My New Religion

I no longer have a religion, but if I did it would be Epicureanism. Heathenistic Hedonism would be a more accurate descriptive title and it sounds cool, but it might be considered a joke or some sort of oxymoronic widdlewaddle (is that a word?). “What religion are you?” “Oh, I’m a Heychie.” But some of the UUies thought of it first.

Omar Khayyam was a Muslim (so that’s a no), but given the right circumstances, perhaps I could be a philosophical Omarist. There is that sweet A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou message that so many folks like. Who does not know that line from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam? The man’s poems are all about the here and now. According to his writing, he liked women, wine, and good food. Omar’s poems are even in Hitch’s atheist anthology, The Portable Atheist. I can hear The Byrds singing Pete Seeger’s Turn, Turn, Turn.

I dig the epicurean idea that there’s a time for all things; and the ‘eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we…’ conflation seems honest enough. It’s very Epicureanesque, if you ask me. Life can be a bitch, and once you’re mort, you’re dead. So, do it now.

After entering the world of retirement, I classified myself as a leisure aficionado and pleasure seeker. Well, don’t we all pursue things that give us happiness and pleasure? Apparently, some people interpret pleasure seeking as always immoral. Many of them believe (thanks to religion) that only misery and suffering bring eternal happiness (speaking of oxymorons). Right? Admittedly, leisure and things that please us get some of us into a lot of trouble. But, there’s always pizza, beer, and rock ‘n roll music.

I am Epicurean. It’s a philosophy or way of looking at life, perhaps a bit of a world view, but it’s not a religion. There is the health and wealth wing of Christianity, but that nonsense is a whole other series of blog posts.

While the origin of Epicurean thought has it as admitting that the gods exist in a material way, it also claims that the gods don’t care about humans and we should reciprocate (as in the definition of deist). So, fuck them. It’s also not exclusively about food and drink, as modernists might define it, although those things are indeed on our pleasure lists.

Epicureans are supposed to be disciples or students of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. In the more modern sense, we are people devoted to sensual enjoyment, to living the best life we can, while we can. Perhaps the exact opposite of religious orders such as Trappist monks or Trappistine nuns, or Capuchin Franciscan friars or nuns.

Synonyms for epicureans include hedonist, sensualist, pleasure-seeker, sybarite, voluptuary, bon vivant, and bon viveur. Related words are epicure, gourmet, gastronome, connoisseur, and gourmand (see the link with chow?). I like the idea of me being a generous, life-loving epicurean (back to Omar’s quote).

Of course, there are problems with virtually any excess. Health factors such as weight gain, allergies, addictions, and waste leading to environmental damage can be consequential. I read this morning that one can even exercise too much. But those problems are about excess, not pleasure or the relief of pain. Epicureans are not opposed to common sense and we applaud evidence-based solutions to the problems of life. Yay, science. Yay, research. Yay, logic and empirical evidence. Boo, religion and other woo-woo.

I’m in good company with my pleasure seeker philosophy. Other adherents to the teachings of Epicurus included the poet Horace, whose famous statement Carpe Diem (“Seize the Day”) illustrates the philosophy quite well, in my opinion.

So, the next time someone asks you if you believe in a god (and you don’t), simply respond with, “I’m a practical Epicurean. Some of us have claimed the gods are all real. We believe in life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, the relief of pain, and enjoyment of this life, as we know it.”


Religious and Biblical Scholars: who are they and what do they do?

Have you ever read or heard this phrase? “Biblical scholars agree … (something, something).” The words may get couched with qualifiers like most or many, but virtually never are qualifications for such standing within any group of scholars, bona fides, or verifiable statistics provided. We are to accept something because someone said that most biblical scholars think so, when none of them has ever been asked. We are not told who they are, unless they are the ones doing the reporting.

That’s because there is no agreed-to standard or licensing agency for those referred to as bible scholars or experts. When you see that phrase, it is nonsense (BS is for biblical scholars). It is a fallacious appeal to authorities that may not exist. In fact, unless it is specific as to who makes the claim and is supported by factual evidence, it’s usually made up: a lie.

I find it odd that someone would have to resort to fiction to support a biblical claim.

Yet, there are such biblical experts. In fact, here is a post by one (because he says he is one) that talks about them and what they don’t do.

He says that biblical scholarship is an intellectual enterprise (okay, but usually tainted). He also claims that scholarship in the field of biblical studies is always linked with ideological, political, cultural, and religious commitments (i.e., biases). Most of these folks have a dog in the fight and his name is bias. He is fed opinion and religious dogma through indoctrination and education.

In the discussion, the scholar goes on to state that biblical scholars not only do not study the Bible, they are not theologians or historians, do not read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, are not objective intellectuals, and do not read the Bible for the church.

Taken individually, or even as an identified group such as Vatican biblical scholars, or those employed by BYU or Ouachita Baptist University, especially if named and verified, opinions can be taken with stronger academic validity than when the broader term biblical scholars (implying all) is used.

A person who has done advanced study in a unique field is a considered a scholar, but the focus may be unclear. One may be awarded a master’s degree in advanced studies, none of which includes anything biblical. My master’s level concentrations included Sociology, Public Administration/Political Science/Government, Education/Educational Systems Management (my MA)/Administration, and a boatload of advanced military stuff. I am a scholar of none, but Monday morning quarterback to all.

A person with a master’s degree in theology (maybe online) may not have taken as much Bible as another person with the same degree, yet an undergraduate from a Bible college may have taken several semester hours of required Bible courses or Bible history.

A person with a doctorate in theology may have a degree focused upon a specialty that was not the Bible, and it probably was filtered by the ideas of a specific religion or denomination. Or, at least, he or she had a view through that lens. I assume that these folks are the biblical scholars.

Generally, they are not secular. They are not without extreme bias (my opinion and experience), and may not be the authoritative experts we assume they are. And remember, everybody has an opinion, even scholars, scientists, experts, and village idiots.

Finally, to determine the opinions of biblical scholars, someone must conduct a survey of each and ask them questions (assuming bona fide credentials). To be valid, the survey questions must be structured and framed by experts so that the answers and assumed results are consistent, valid, and reliable.

So, when you see reference to biblical scholars, be skeptical of an attempt to persuade you with BS fantasy and lies. But you knew that. Right?



What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth?

I dug into the conclusion of Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up: A guide to Spirituality Without Religion, for those questions. They’re common. Religious people of all sorts use them to challenge nonbelievers because they are so esoteric and intended to flummox. There are others with the same intent. Religious folks think, no god means no meaning or purpose. Interestingly, people who do not believe in any gods see it in the opposite way, particularly regarding religion.

No one need answer such questions, but we certainly may. I personally would enjoy such a discussion with almost anyone. If my life has no meaning or purpose, just WTF have I been doing for the past six decades?

Questions like this remind me of memorizing the answers in the Baltimore Catechism during early elementary school. Two relatable questions from that book are:

Question 6: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever (sic) in heaven. (life’s meaning?)

Question 9: What must we do to save our souls?
Answer: To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart. (life’s purpose?)

Catholic grade school children had to memorize the questions and answers word for word and were given grades on the subject.

I would paraphrase a quote often inaccurately attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, Preach the gospel. When necessary use words. There is no evidence that he ever said that, but it is a good point whoever said it.

I also like a phrase that writers attempt to apply – show, don’t tell. I cannot change the world, what other people think, or undo the past. But I can (for the most part) choose my behavior and actions. I hope you understand my meaning and purpose.

For both the meaning and purpose of life, we must live into our personal meaning and each of us create our own purpose by making the one life we have something of greater value. I think we should be caring with nature and other people. We should embrace life’s natural compassion, charity, community, and contemplation. We don’t need religion or a god for that. In my opinion, they get in the way of thinking.

As nihilistic as that sounds, reality is not subjective but how we interact with it is.

Nobody knows all the answers. What’s the meaning and purpose of life? I have my thoughts … so do you. I create my purpose of life and it is to live the best life I can. If you need more than that, good luck. Questions about life’s meaning should be multiple-choice. I feel like the meanings of my life are the same as they’ve always been. It has nothing to do with any god and never has regardless of what the Catechism said.

Philosophically, there are people who make the claim that life has no purpose and is meaningless (i.e., nihilists). Yet, those people go on living for some reason. I wonder why. Maybe their purpose is to run around telling everyone else how meaningless it is. I disagree even though many inside-the-box believers insist that such claims to meaning and purpose without god and religion are pointless.

If other people need god or religion to give their life purpose or meaning, who am I to take away their crutch? I know from my experiences with reading and talking to others that admitting the truth about god and religion changes little about life’s purpose and meaning. In many cases, life becomes more meaningful within the reality of this one life and this one world, right here, right now.

And if you are up to it—-