Valid Opinions

It seems likely that for as long as there have been humans capable of conscious thought, things have been believed and doubted. I’ve read that more than five thousand gods have been believed to exist in this or in some alternate reality. That is approximately one and a half gods for every Sunday I have been alive. I could have worshipped a new god each week.

We have attributed various natures to gods and disputed others to the point of war with each other over the same god. I know people who see the universe like a god. New age logic, but okay. Some view nature that way—godly, if not supernatural.

I do not ascribe to any form of God (MS Word insists that g must be upper case) as I understand the concept. Obviously, I practice no associated religion. I did for many years. It took me a while to shake loose of all that. For the most part, I consider all religions to be a problem on their own. But I also have concluded that there is no god (add or subtract any religion). Could I be wrong?

I do believe there are planets, solar systems (or things like that), galaxies, and a universe, or cosmos. I believe exercise is good for me. Religion is not.

Consequently, I settle for the label of atheist, but I do not particularly find that term useful for many reasons. I think I am more of a non-believer than a dis-believer. There are all kinds and levels of atheists. I am one who is willing to say there is no god. Even though that is what I think is the case, saying so serves no apparent purpose. So, I only do when I feel like causing a ruckus.

I was watching a fictional TV show were a married couple found trouble in that she is an ultra-religious Christian of the bible thumping, God’s Plan, evangelical variety, and he is not. He is more of a None, or nothing, than atheist. But I could infer he is atheist or non-believer. None of this was secret when they decided to marry. But my real-world story first.

My grandmother was (Irish) Catholic. Grandfather was (Welsh) Presbyterian (of some sort). Around the turn of the last century, when they married, such mixed religion/denomination marriages were generally forbidden by the Church to Catholics unless certain prenuptial legalities were agreed to, in writing.

While grandfather could have converted, he did not. But all children of such a union must be raised Catholic, even if the Catholic person dies. They had two children that lived. My grandmother died when my mother was about four years old, and her sister was ten (ish). Both children were raised into adulthood as practicing Catholics, even though my grandfather subsequently married a Lutheran woman, and the children of that union were raised to be life-long Lutherans. All were of some Christian denomination.

The validity of which religion was right or wrong was, to my knowledge, never an issue. In my personal experience, the non-religious person usually agrees to children being raised according to the wishes of the religious person. My wife once said someone told her the one with the strongest faith gets to decide. I could say the one most delusional. But, hey.

Yet, what struck me about the TV episode was when the religious person told the non-religious one that he did not respect the validity of her Christian beliefs. He did, but certain circumstances required discussion and decisions and she resisted (of course). The playing field was never level. At no time did he ever claim that she should reciprocate and at least accept (if not respect or agree to) his lack of religious belief. She got pregnant, but it all worked out in the end because the child died.

I confess to never having this problem other then a few people pulling back in their relationship with me when they discovered my views. I think my atheist/non-belief view is creditable and logical. I know many, if not most, people disagree with me, to which I say, of course. But do they see my opinion/conclusion in the same way they want me to see theirs?

Many, if not most, people who claim to believe in a god consider their god’s nonexistence inconceivable. Again, I say, of course. Given the rigorous demands of most religions, I get that. But they often do agree with me regarding the unbelievability of the other 4,999 gods.

Bill

 

Not So United

Years ago, I attended churches of the two most flexible Christian denominations: Episcopalian and Methodist. I was still a Catholic, just attending there. When my wife converted to be Catholic, she said, “What I like most about being Catholic is that you can be a normal person and still go to heaven.” I would paraphrase her and say the thing about being Methodist or Episcopal is that you can be or do anything and still go to heaven. I once heard that if you needed a prayer that would offend no one, ask a Methodist to write it.

It’s called the United Methodist Church (UMC). For now. But due to the sin of being nice to sinners, in this case those of different sexual preference or persuasion, rumblings of discontent are sounding.

Two things would shatter my former Roman Catholic (RC) core–female priests and openly LBGTQ+ priests. Not because it would bother me (even then), but I know Catholics, especially the clergy. Pedophiles, maybe. Ordained women will not happen.

I’ve known many controversial RC clergy: from borderline atheists, Buddhists, New Age nature worshipers, and divorced priests formerly married to nuns. Almost nothing surprises me regarding that segment of society. All were men. All will always be men. The end. While a gay man may be permitted the power to convert bread and wine to the body and blood, he would not remain so if he were openly practicing his sexual preference.

But now, apparently, the Methodist bunch have been arguing about these topics for years. Now there is a standing schism movement disuniting the Methodists. Being democratic, this is being done by vote within many Methodist congregations with the help of lawyers (of course). So much for being United, and so much for being flexible. It is called disassociation for adults, it’s called taking your ball and going home for children. To be clear, the Methodist debate is over homosexuality—same sex weddings and gay ministers.

But democratic? One mega church with 14,000 members voted. About 96% of those who voted want to leave UMC for more heterosexual security (the definition of homophobia). They want to take UMC property with them. To my knowledge, it’s not all a done deal in the UMC. But only about 3,000 of the 14K voted. That means that 11,000+, or about 83% did not vote to leave. I wonder why.

My point is that the UMC is neither united nor democratic. All 14K of that one bunch may attend any church/mosque/synagogue they wish. If the non-voting, other 80% see through the ministerial bullshit and decide that exclusion is not Christian, they may decide to exercise that right to try something else. One more time: Methodists are flexible.

Bill

 

A transgender UMC deacon speaks with Bishop from Liberia, 
Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

Hear My Confession

It pains me to admit this. I would rather not tell because some people will get the hypothetical idea that my current metaphysical and ethereal conclusions are consequences of my youthful experience, rather than of study and thought. That would be normal but wrong.

When I was two weeks old, no one asked me if I wanted to go into a church and have a strange man, a priest, pour water over my head, and make me a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Roman Catholic Church. I did not even know ‘Uncle Paddy’ who was my God Father. I don’t recall meeting him, but I may have been to his funeral. I knew my God Mother.

Five years later, I was again not asked if I wanted to start going to school. Nor was I given any choice of which school I would attend. For me, it was kindergarten at Saint John the Evangelist parochial school, which was a five-minute walk from home. Those nine months were the only days I enjoyed out of the nine years I spent there.

A few years later, I was not asked if I was up to telling one of those priests what bad things (sins) I had done and how often. But by then, I was conditioned to doing what they said and going along with the crowd. It was called Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a rite of passage for virtually all Catholic children. The second of my six Sacraments.

I was not asked if I wanted to go to Mass nor if I wanted to take Eucharist or Communion (Sacrament #3). I was not asked if I wanted to sing or pray. I was forced to memorize things and was demeaned if I did not get it right. The priests and nuns were always correct. Always.

The religious of the Church taught me that it was a sin for me to think certain thoughts or to feel certain ways (think puberty). For some things, Jesus would send me to Hell for eternity, but if I told a priest about it, and said two Our Fathers, Four Hail Marys, and a good Act of Contrition, all that I confessed was forgiven. Eventually, I made up sins because I had to go to confession and needed something to confess. It never occurred to me (maybe I didn’t care) that lying to the priest was a sin.

The idea was if you died then, you went straight to Heaven. Otherwise, the best one could hope for was Purgatory (a virtual certainty) for an unspecified (but long) time. If you either missed Mass (church) or killed twenty people (be it one or 20 mortal sins), you went to Hell. Forever. You could bargain your way to a shorter Purgatory sentence, but Hell meant God was done with you. Again, I was not given the opportunity at that time to say this is bullshit. Later, I did.

My family supported the church (nuns and priests) over me. But eventually, I became more independent and moved away from all that. I attended a public high school during the early 1960s, during the times when things changed from praying in school (the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer), bible readings (the King James Version, also Protestant), to moments of silence, then to all of that being judged unconstitutional by the SCOTUS (thank God).

None of my children objected when I had them baptized (none as infants, two Catholic, one Methodist). Only one was ever Confirmed, first as a Methodist. Later, as an adult, he was Confirmed as a Catholic. It was his choice. Today, none of my grown children attend church nor are they religiously active.

My point is this. From birth, religion and God were forced on me. I was given no choice. Even as a teen, I was forced into it for a time. I neither resent nor bemoan any of that. It’s how things were, and for many, still are. While some people might see it as child abuse (and in some cases it probably is), it simply was what it was.

However, I now strongly resent attempts to force, coerce, or to wheedle religion or any god on me or anyone else. Yet, it is a fact that many (most? all?) people would force their religious beliefs on me or others if they could.

They resent my nonbelief, my denial of any god, my contention that prayer is feckless, and my demand for hard evidence if I am to believe as they do. I likewise resent their attempts to convert or reconvert me. One guy told me on this blog that it was his job. I never heard from him again. Must have been something I said.

The difference is they can have their god as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care. Their religion is a different story. It is bad. And every day, more people are coming to see it as I do for the simple reason that neither deities nor religions make sense.

— Bill

And another skeptic is baptized. His or her day will come.

Can It Be Naught?

I forget what I read this week that put me onto this line of thinking. I read a lot of stuff that I do not understand or get. That’s fine. This whole business is crazy. One guy even told me that it was his job to get me to think like him. I am envisioning those of you who know me wanting to see him try to do that. Right?

Just to be clear, he not only wants me to be Christian; it’s with the Evangelical crowd that I must swear allegiance. On top of that, he called me a leftist for no reason. I liked the idea and told him so, but the real lefties might not agree. He wants me to be a right-wing guy. It seems I do not think like an American is supposed to think.

But when I peeked at his blog thingy, I noticed that he supports the creation of everything from nothing hypothesis. I am not sure what drug I need to take to help me comprehend nothingness. They talk about it, but how can they conceive of that? I cannot.

It is all something. We cannot portray or imagine anything but something. The movie clip from The NeverEnding Story attempts to portray the power of nothing, but it is all something. Evil is something. Absence implies something. There absolutely cannot be nothing.

In nothingness there is neither a beginning nor an end. When the Universe came to exist, nothing would cease because something existed. If there ever was a when of nothing, but there was a god or gods, then either god was nothing and still is, or god invented God.

So, all this buzz about creating everything (anything, something) from nothing makes zero sense. But at least that is something. Right?

Bill

It’s All About How We Feel

All life is full of an unbalanced distribution of pain and suffering. Few, if any of us, intentionally seek out such afflictions. Yet misery finds us. Most animals, certainly humans, avoid these troubles. Unfortunately, many find suicide to be the only recourse to end hopeless permanent misery. While virtually all cling to life, the US suicide rate is at its highest point since WWII (lowest among people of Asian and Pacific Islander groups, highest among Alaskan native people).

Pain has its place. Doctors have denied me relief medication so as not to mask symptoms. I’ve sought medical treatment due to the pain I felt, which signaled something was amiss. I’ve sought support to alleviate my emotional distress, and many of life’s lessons came in the form of pain or shock.

Often, people who become chemically addicted had been seeking pleasure, pain relief, or withdrawal mitigation provided by the substance, either medicinal or nonmedical. Much the same can be said of social addictions. People often help us to feel better.

The goal is the pursuit of feeling happy, whatever that happens to be. A problem is the lie of some drugs, especially alcohol, provide in the form of temporary relief followed by dependence. While relief is the intent, loss of control accompanied by legal transgression is often the result.

And then we have the perverse, unwise, and often injurious idiom, no pain, no gain. I much prefer, listen to your body.

But I want to mention how religion, particularly Christianity, looks upon pain and suffering.

I was religiously taught that experiencing pain and suffering was good, perhaps blessed. While my secular world never supported this acceptance theory, my elementary school teachers, who were Catholic nuns, emphasized the suffering, sacrifice, and martyrdom of saints: holiness.

The passion (read suffering) of Jesus is emphasized dramatically as being caused by human sin. Thus, much, but not all, of Christianity is enamored with pain and suffering. I won’t over-do that here. It gets deep. There must be books and books about the art and science of suffering. Some even claim that one’s suffering contributes to the quality of one’s art.

Like most Catholics, I was taught to offer it up. They could have simply said, just deal with it. But on the mystical road to God works in mysterious ways, one must make life’s pain and suffering serve a useful purpose. That’s religion. And let’s not leave out the it’s your fault, and you should feel guilty and repent. Penance. More suffering which ironically may include prayer.

Fortunately, none of the physicians working in pain management tell their patients to do that, although many cautiously allude to it. However, I have not recently checked any Catholic hospitals.

I have had discussions with my medical providers about some of my pain, and we jointly decided I should endure exercise pain and work through it as it is the best alternative to dangerous surgery. Most properly done exercise is beneficial. I agreed, but dang! I wrote a poem about it.

Still, my goals are to feel good or at least free of most pain and suffering, to remain healthy, and to live as long as reasonably possible. I ascribe to the idea that there is a long enough or too long, but we only seem to know that point when we reach or pass it.

Religions want to tell us what and how god is, and how we should feel about life, death, and god. Some seem to want it both ways. The health and wealth folks are into get mine here and now, but most Christians and Muslims seem ready to accept that heavenly gratification will happen after we die. That is when we will be truly happy and pain free—and dead. I mean cold stone dead.

Many have decided that god is all for the good, and whatever it is they chose to believe is what they want to believe because that is what makes them feel good. And that’s my point. We all want to feel good. They see the wealth and well-being of theirs juxtaposed with their own suffering as God’s will or his mysterious ways.

Be it religion or reality, it’s all about how we feel. I feel as though I am championing the obvious, but for some, this is controversial.

Bill

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.

Bill

What is Reality?

I forget the exact words of my friend’s conversation with me. It must have been after one of her trips to Austin for a Deepak Chopra thingy. At the time she was New Age and I was trying to be a practicing Roman Catholic. She did not criticize my religion, but I am sure she thought it wrong (as did evangelicals, Lutherans, and the anti-organized religion crowd, and me today). Something she said led me to a question.

I asked, What about reality? She said, don’t be negative and depressing. I was surprised by her dim view of what she considered reality. Indeed, she’d had a shitty life for the most part, being married to a hopeless misogynistic alcoholic. But my friend’s negative view of reality and her refusal to consider it still troubles me after ten years. Hers was not a unique way to see the world.

Many people deliberately shun all forms of reality. And in my opinion, the same goes for human nature and truth. That was not the only time she assumed she knew my thoughts and motives. The discussion of reality stopped.

Some years prior to that, a professional therapist looked at me and said, “We each have our own reality.” I understood her comment as a mental health professional, considering how individual psychological perspective effects behavior. While I may have bought it at the time, I was skeptical then and don’t agree with her now. Schizophrenics and hypochondriacs may think they live in their own reality, but that reality is part of the illness. It is not part of physical reality, except to them. It is not true (voices or illnesses).

What is imagined does not necessarily exist, although the discussion goes on and on. Because hallucination is a real thing does not mean what is imagined physically exists.

Apparently, reality in the sense of the real physical world is not as simple as many of us see it. However, most of us only deal with our immediate surroundings—the reality we live within. The reality we can sense.

Few of us are philosophers or physicists in the professional or technical sense. Most of us claim to have some form of belief in a god/higher power/supreme being, or some form of yaddy yadda woo-woo, whatever. That belief often goes beyond the point of I think god is real to there is a god. It’s okay to believe (own reality) whatever, but belief or faith does not make it real.

Said belief is either fun, gets one laid, or makes one superior to others. Equality is wonderful. But we seem to want to feel superior to others and to have them acknowledge our better-than-you-ness. The accoutrements of beliefs and corresponding religion make for problems which too many believers are in denial of or blind to (but not all).

In order to solidify objections, we want to engage in the demonizing of others. This is done at every level from the presidency (not just this one) and the popes and virtually all religious leadership, down to the most ordinary of people, some not even practitioners of any religion.

Reality is real stuff. Real people, places, and things. It is not an idea, not a may-or-might be, or any possibility. Reality is what is. You can see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, and hear some of it. If you either want to, or for some reason must, believe something else: fine. It’s not real.

Bill