Poem: Holy Knickknacks, Batman

Also posted on pluviolover.com.

Got my Indian Buddha statue
the next day
after some Catholic Answers lecture guy
told us it was a mortal sin to have one.
First Commandment (Catholic version), no less.

My graven image now sits with my Dragon Chalice,
lion statue, and cowboy with horse bronze art,
family photos, among other things.
He’s been lotus sitting around my house,
mostly in my room, for more than 20 years.
The best years of my life
have been with Siddhartha.

My family has concurred many demons.
I’ve beaten cancer (for now), completed 15 marathons,
written hundreds of poems, cheated death
and heart disease (also temporarily),
lost twenty pounds (several times),
and today I mark 75 years since I squeezed
through Mom’s birth canal. Sorry, Mom.

My mother claimed I was a contrarian.
Dad said I was only half-Irish and my sibs
considered me a spoiled brat (that’s still true).
The (younger then I) lecturer from the diocesan chancery
died two years afterwards.
Wrong statue or just superstition, I guess.


Nones and Don’ts

I read a post on Patheos.com regarding the “collapse” of Christianity in the USA. The statistics and argument are based on opinion research. It wouldn’t surprise me if more people are jumping from or ignoring the Christian bandwagon. Evangelical PR has been abysmal. Now the US Catholic Bishops are making fools of themselves (again) over Biden taking communion.

According to the research and claims of the piece, millennials are largely responsible for the significant downturn in churchgoers and New Testament thumpers. I don’t know if it plays into this, but separation of church and state is always an issue and calls for such freedom may also be growing. It’s funny how we can say that separate church and state trope and we hear, “Freedom of Religion.” (Congress shall make no laws…, etc. Why do they only see half of that?)

When I came out with my own atheism, I learned that for some statistical purposes, I was and am a none. When asked which religion I am/practice/prefer/want to be part of, I have marked “none,” when that option was available.

When hospital staff called me a few years ago to ask if I wanted to change none, I told the lady to “keep those people away from me.” I may have I hurt her feelings, but she asked. Neither atheism nor agnosticism are religions. Rightfully, they are not usually on the religious preference forms. But guess what?

Now I can change that. I discovered the following options are now listed by my hospital under the personal information category of religion: “Agnostic, Atheist, Declined, None, Other, and Unknown.” That last one is a head scratcher. Do they not know?

If I change my answer to Atheist, it will be listed that under “religion” on my personal information. It is not a religion. I’m staying with none for now. But I’m thinking about changing it.

I saw few new religious movements (NRMs) or new age religious beliefs listed. I also read that many main line Christians hold such new age beliefs. Interesting. That is probably woo-woo in the eyes of organized religion leadership, but many folks go for it.

The article on the decline of practicing US Christians and the survey introduced me to a new category: the Don’ts. These are people who don’t know, don’t care, or don’t believe god exists. They just don’t. I don’t.

I now have a new statistical category to join (hear my sarcastic laugh). I recognize two of the subcategories (don’t know and don’t believe), but I chuckled at the don’t care group. I’ve never considered them. I might be a Don’t in all three subcategories. Sort of like that old joke about nuns (as in the religious orders), “Ain’t had none, don’t want none, ain’t gunna get none” (or something like that).

I have a suggestion for a new category: the whatever’s. Just for teenagers.


End of the Line?

I realize that being an atheist means disbelief in any god and (arguably) nothing more. I agree. However, just as with believing in some god or other relates to religious practices, not believing likewise calls for answers to questions regarding that non-belief, at least to oneself if to no one else.

This is especially true if a change such as deconversion was involved. Answers may take any form from I don’t know to hypothetical suppositions, or even well-supported theories. It can get murky, but that seems to excite those who think they see the light.

For example, I don’t know what happens after someone dies. Neither do you. For now, barring evidence to the contrary, I assume death means you’re gone. Body, mind, and spirit: kaput. All other possibilities and claims are unsupported hypotheses of approximately equal value. The continuation of the human spirit might be so, but there is no evidence for that.

While not all believers resort to threats of punishment to be carried out after people stop living, such as Purgatory or Hell, a great many do. I realize that many believers manage to focus on life, “right here, right now.” I say that and believe it. I can meet them there.

Yet, just as with the existence of any god, afterlife of any kind, spiritual as with a “soul,” in some unknown form of consciousness, or even physically as in reincarnation, not one of the seven billion or so people alive today can be certain of anything concerning death other than it is not quite the same life as it was. Even the concepts of human resurrection with the second coming, or rapture do not promise a redo. Die and you’re done—not alone. Just finished with living.

My mother was a lifelong Roman Catholic. I recall her, while lucid but dying, lying on her death bed, after I asked if she wanted me to fetch a (Catholic) priest, saying to me, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” She died without receiving last rights. Yikes, Mom! Why didn’t you tell me?

Afterlife is crucial to all Christianity. The biggest Holy Day in any Christian’s liturgical year should be Easter: The Resurrection of Christ. Life after death (not Christmas).

As the sign in my neighbor’s yard says, “He is risen.” The largest single religion on Earth, and the evidence for its rationale has been an unnecessary nothing for two-thousand years. The neighbor’s sign is not very convincing. But the beat goes on. Salvation is unnecessary if you cease to exist. Unless…


Shorty: Skeptical Evangelicals

That headline got me to reading about that huge homogeneous group of American citizens and why they had little faith in science.

The definition of oxymoron is “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.” Okay. Maybe the idea that the deeply religious can be skeptical of things other than their god is not so incongruous. But in a way, this is a clear lack of faith: in science, in government, and in this case, big pharma (and who likes them?).

It sounds to me like these thumpers want Jesus to ensure they win the lottery without buying a ticket (gambling’s a sin, ya know).

They want god to protect them from the COVID-19 virus and variants without taking the shot. While there are certainly anti-vaxxers who are Christian of one brand or another, nothing in Christianity specifically forbids taking injections to use the human body’s natural defenses to prevent the spread of disease. While some may interpret it that way, or shoehorn in some weird, twisted interpretation, the shots are working and saving lives. THANK YOU, JESUS!

I might have bought the “let’s wait and see if it kills everyone else first” strategy for a while. But we have passed all that. All they are doing is giving atheists like me ammo to gun down religion as evil and dangerous.

I’ve been criticized before for my bizarre thinking about masks and medicine, about religion and gods, about baseball and apple pie. But here is what I think: if you don’t get the shot, you either have a good reason, or you are a dumb shit who cares little about human life. If you also refuse to wear a mask, you either have an excellent reason, or you’re an asshole who…. I can’t say it.

None of my bitching will convince anyone to do right. But it feels good to me.


Is Forgive & Forget Biblical?

I agree. Forgiveness is a good thing for one’s emotional health. But I see no reason to even consider forgetting, much less figuring out how one would literally and intentionally forget something hurtful enough to merit such consideration.

Most of us seem to agree that getting over something or letting go is good. Yet, it still seems to me that if we can manage to forgive, forgetting is unnecessary. “I probably should forgive you, but I forget what for.” When forgiveness means moving on with one’s life, that’s a good thing.

In a discussion recently, I was told that the Bible says to forgive and forget. I know scripture says a lot of things, but forgiveness seems like a New Testament trope for being more loving. At least that is implied. Examples that seem to demand forgiveness include Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 12:14-15 and 2 John 1:8.

Not that your average American Christian is up to that since real forgiveness and love are not exactly low hanging fruit these days.

I suppose the old because the Bible tells me so is good enough for many devout Christians, but what about the rest of us? Being hurt by someone can be a lifelong mental or physical burden. Revenge may be sweet, but it seldom solves the problem or reconciles damaged relationships.

The perpetrator may be contrite and ask for forgiveness. He or she may even attempt some form of amends. But what if they don’t? The prayer goes, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….” Here again, while I see no reason to make such a deal with any god, I still find forgiveness and reconciliation to be good things given the right circumstances.

How we define forgiveness makes a big difference. What it is and what it isn’t can help with finding happier days. I don’t think forgiveness means forgetting. It also does not mean that no harm was done or that what the guilty person did is now okay. Of course, it’s not.

It means we can stop fretting and walking around angry, plotting our revenge, or finding ways to fix it. Forgiveness means we try to move toward the issue no longer being a burden on us, no matter what the Bible says.

I’ve found that time helps me to work through a process of forgiveness. It is not an event like the flipping of a light switch. Trust is another issue. I’m not sure what the bible says about that and I don’t care.


Essay: Is it just me?

I thought I had been open about my skepticism and conclusions regarding the unlikely existence of any gods. I openly declared my atheism not many years ago. It felt great and I was happy to be freely expressing my honest opinion, one I’d held for years prior to admitting, “Yes. I am an atheist.” My doubts became my story.

After I let people with access to my Facebook posts know I did not believe in god, I noticed that some things changed. I also discovered that while some folks decided not to continue initiating communication with me, they would respond. Okay, that’s fine. I expected believers to take a step back or just end any relationship we had. As far as I can tell, no one chose the latter. The limited reaction was less than expected.

Then, last week I announced my pending hospital incarceration following a significant medical procedure. I’m home now and fine. I also knew their thoughts, prayers, and healing energy would be offered. Also, fine. One person said she would pray and didn’t care what I thought of it. I clicked like for her comment and I said, thank you. Not a problem. I am an atheist, not an ass hole.

One man said he would be thinking about me, but that he was “not much of a church goer” (i.e., excuse me if I do not offer to pray for you), but he wished me good luck. As I typed my response, I noticed that I was reluctant to tell him that “this atheist” appreciated his kind words, concern, and would rather he not  pray for me. I realized my reluctance to tell him I am atheist. Why is that? It’s not a secret. I thought I wanted people to know.

I am not in any closet. Yet, I stopped to consider the consequences of telling the truth. Others would see it. Others would judge.

Last week “someone” posted here that I was a fool for not believing in god, that I would meet god face-to-face, but it would then be too late. We all know what he or she (“someone” is how WP listed the name) was implying by too late.

Some people are fond of informing me that I shall burn for an eternity in Hell because I choose not to believe what I seem unable to believe. I need to keep in mind that the antipathy of many believers toward atheists (and vice-versa) is seeded with fear. But either I am out, open, and honest, or I am not.

It’s not only me, is it?


Essay: On Praying

You can read about atheists being offended by prayer. Most of what I’ve seen was written by religious interpreters who seem to know what we think and what our motivations are. In my opinion, few skeptics find praying offensive. Anyone who comes from a religious background has probably prayed. I think it’s a waste of time. However, prayer can be troublesome.

Does It Even Make Sense?

I used to pray often. As a practicing Catholic, I was expected to pray to god’s three persons and dead people. I prayed to various saints who are dead souls in Heaven, and for those not there yet, but who are in Purgatory.

I’ve asked for things or prayed as a form of worship or self-punishment, called penance assigned by a priest after confession. I prayed for “the repose of the soul(s)” without knowing exactly what the hell that meant or why I was praying for it. I prayed without a logical thought as to exactly what I was praying for. Most often, I simply prayed to pray or because others were.

You may ask, so what? Is praying harmful? Did it do any good? Was it beneficial to me or to someone else? Was time spent in any form of prayer wasted and silly?

Ironically, I thought everything happened because a spiritual consciousness caused it. I assumed I was praying to a god responsible for everything that happened: a god who knew everything, was everywhere, and had everyone’s best interest in mind.

Yet, prayer was a crutch for me. Even today, I can hear my mind thinking, “Please don’t let this be happening…” Who or what is that plea addressed to? A god or the universe? Is prayer a habit?

“Everything happens for a reason.” That mild form of predestination doctrine is what many people say, most often regarding some undesirable event. Of course, no reason is ever given and one is seldom discovered except in some shoehorning effort to make it fit religiously.

Before I accepted my own atheism, although I prayed, I thought it was kind of dumb. However, since so many of us seemed to do it and thought it worked (all evidence to the contrary), I prayed hard and long. I gave blessings, I prayed over graves of loved ones, I prayed for sick people, for friends and enemies, and sometimes for things other people asked me to pray for, like for them or rain. Whatever I needed to do to persuade the eternal supreme entity to do differently, I gladly did. I carried a pocket notebook of things and people I wanted to pray about so I would not forget.

I no longer pray because I’m almost certain there are no gods, no saints, no spirits who care, or any receivers of my message. Additionally, if I did believe in any of that or thought it was likely, I would still not pray because it accomplishes nothing.

Do I care if other people pray?

Usually, I don’t. Sometimes I do. Prayers and praying can be annoying, especially when staged for living witnesses to see and thereby to be affected or persuaded. Prayer is especially annoying when my cooperation and/or participation is in some way socially expected.

On its own, prayer seems innocuous enough. However, even the bible (new testament) decries staged, showoff, holier than thou praying (Matthew 6:1-34). Must I wait to eat while someone prays? Why? May I talk while they talk to a god? May I take a drink of my beer? If I don’t want to hold someone’s hand while they pray, am I being rude? The act of praying does not make someone special or privileged. But it is fine if one assumes so. Just leave me out of it.

I consider people’s praying as I do when they do yoga or meditate. I consider most yoga and meditation beneficial to the person doing them. I am neither offended nor distracted by it. I simply don’t care. I don’t expect them to interrupt my evening, disturb my meal, or want to hold any of my body parts while they contemplate existence or do a downward facing dog. I’ve never heard of someone blocking an emergency exit while chanting a mantra or standing on one foot.

No one has ever said to me, “I’ll meditate for you.” And while no yoga pose has been entered for my recovery, I did appreciate when friends and family said they would be sending me healing energy and good vibes. Their sincere concern helped me feel better, and perhaps to recover. I’ve told friends that I would be thinking of them during their surgery and I hoped they would have a speedy recovery. “Get well soon.” Praying is not person to person. It invokes the will of spirits and that’s woo-woo.

When people say they will pray for me, I request, “Please don’t.” I’m not offended if they do. I just take a pass on prayers.

While I’m unconcerned with how people spend their time trying to change some god’s mind, I think it’s silly. Their intention may be good, but why can’t they accept that I reject all prayers?

What is the bigger picture?

Another problem is the package deal. Prayer is not an isolated independent action done by one person to the benefit of another. Except for children and people manipulated into it, no one is forced to pray. If nothing else changed and everyone just stopped praying, would some deity get pissed off?

Many believers think so (all evidence, etc.). It’s not so much that prayer is part of a belief in god and a person’s relationship with some god. Prayer is distinctly tied to a religion and often to a specific denomination.

On the other hand, when people have asked me to pray for them (or for rain in one case), I sometimes will. They seldom ask, but I do see or hear the occasional request. While I don’t believe in their (or any) god, that does not mean I don’t care enough about them to offer up a prayerful blurb or two. I consider saying or thinking “God help you” as praying. I am also willing to yoga up the cat pose or contemplate a nirvanic eternity, if someone were to ask me (no one has).

The problem I see with praying is the package or the bigger picture. When organized religion, personal religious beliefs, or cult-like attachments influence people, it is more than simply praying. If someone prays for me to believe in god, is it acceptable for me to pray or to wish that they stop believing in god?

Must I adapt my behavior to the praying behavior of others (holding hands, being quiet, closing my eyes)?  Does your right to practice your religion (freedom of religion) trump my right not to (freedom from religion)? If I decline an offer to pray for me, have I offended them simply because I think differently? If it is my opinion that people who pray are wasting their time, sometimes mine, and offering an opinion different than mine, is it acceptable for me to say so?

The prayer playing field is not level. It’s sloped in favor of those who pray even by some who don’t. What harm does it do? In most cases it threatens my freedom from religion. It is often staged “look at me” behavior and begs for someone to be easily offended.


A Gentleman Is

If you don’t want to know…

A quip often attributed to Oscar Wilde is, “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.” Similar observations and opinions of male gentlemanly behavior abound. But it’s unlikely that Wilde was the origin of the phrase. I doubt if anyone, lady, or gentleman, is immune from doing unintended emotional harm with poorly chosen words.

I am not talking about political correctness (PC). That’s where I must ask a person’s racial or sexual background and preferences, and how he or she personally wishes me to speak to avoid offense. I prefer euphemism to PC because it covers more language. A euphemism is a word or phrase substituted for another considered to be a more agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. Such as, he passed on instead of died, darn for damn, shite for shit, and more.

I have been (politically) corrected for using terms such as dark-skinned, women and children, oriental, he, big, mick, short, holy roller, and a long list of others.

Disliked verses Offended

There is a difference between being offended by something and not liking it. While I dislike what offends me. I’m not offended by everything I dislike. For example, I know that some people assume that I will spend eternity suffering in Hell simply because I extricated myself from my religion and embraced my atheistic conclusions regarding gods. That is what their religious teaching tells them to think and feel about someone like me.

I am not offended simply because someone thinks that, but I don’t like it. However, religion is known to do a lot of mental and physical damage, and families are torn apart by it. I am offended that religious people would force their beliefs on me or on other believers who do not share their concept of god, holiness, or history.

On the other hand, if one of them says that I deserve to burn in Hell, or that they hope I do, I could take mild offense. When I am stereotyped by people who know nothing of me, or have been told lies about me, I take some offense. When people do things that would harm me mentally or physically, I feel more offended (most often happens while driving).

What Did I say?

Things I’ve done or said that offended others include swearing. I’ve rocked some emotional boats when I’ve made suggestions to improve virtually anything, or when I’ve told people their music was too loud, but never when I requested it louder.

I have also upset some people by saying I see no reason to apologize for being wrong, provided that no harm was caused by my error to another person. I regret being wrong (I wish I was always right), but I will not ask for pardon unless I’ve harmed someone.

I agree that thoughtful sensitivity on my part is good regarding race, physical or mental condition, sex or sexual preference. I willingly tolerate virtually any harmless religion. When the Mormon lads called me to the door to preach at me, were they offended when I told them I was a Roman Catholic and that I could never believe what they did? They didn’t seem to be, I’m sure they heard worse.

Must We Agree?

Enter other beliefs in deities (gods) and associated religions, economic and social thoughts (communism, capitalism, gay rights), politics, school preferences, sporting events, and love triangles. Ok, maybe not the last one.

If I say I do not believe any god exists, many people who believe feel offended. While my opinion may imply that they are wasting their time, spreading lies, and misleading children; it’s unavoidable because of what the underlying gist of my belief says about theirs. It’s a built-in conflict. I’m not sure if offense is taken because I said it out loud, or because I think it.

If I refuse to partake in the religious observances of others, such as praying or sitting quietly while they do, not shopping or working on Sunday, standing while someone reads (Tora or Gospel), or otherwise exhibiting my own rejection of a belief in god, it will commonly be considered rude and likely offensive. I do not always refuse for that reason, but I think I should. My opinion is equally valid.

Please Don’t Kill Me.

If I draw a stick figure, no one cares. If I claim it’s a likeness of the founder of Islam, millions are offended. Some may even take their feelings to the level of murder.

Sometimes I say hurtful things when I did not intend to demean or cause others to feel offended. Most often, this is in the from of poorly thought out humor or comments. My filter sometimes bombs. I apologize for being thoughtless or ignorant. Fortunately, it seldom happens.

I don’t always apologize. Sometimes I’m not sorry. If I said or did nothing offensive, or if I did intentionally insult someone (it happens, again—driving), I’m rarely remorseful. I recall a Ricky Gervais meme that said, “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.”

Indeed, one may offend another merely by violating an individual’s sense of what is proper or fitting. If, by not accepting that any god exists, I offend someone, that’s on them. But I understand why they may not like what I said.

Did He Mean That?

When George H. W. Bush made the following official statement to a member of the press, it was intentionally offensive. “No, I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.” He never recanted or apologized.

The next time someone talks to me about rude atheists, I may ask for an explanation of this.

What agnostics are not

According to the Merriam-Webster.com on-line Dictionary, the word agnostic shares part of its history with words such as prognosticate and prognosis, words which have something to do with knowledge or knowing.

The word atheist shares roots with words such as theology and theism, which have to do with god or gods, not knowledge thereof. There is a difference.

Being an agnostic is not, as many assume, halfway between being a believer or a nonbeliever. One has to do with knowledge, or the ability of humans to have knowing, while the other identifies a proclaimed conclusion regarding the existence of a god. Halfway could be either unconvinced atheists or unconvinced believers. I’ve probably fit both unconvinced categories at different times of my life.

According to me (I made this up), there are three types of agnostics. First are all the people who say they are agnostic. Second are all the people who do not believe in any gods but cannot prove that none exist (atheists). The third group are those who do believe in any number of gods (usually one), but likewise cannot prove the existence of even one god.

If you add groups one, two, and three; that equals everybody. Therefore, claiming to be agnostic is akin to staking a claim to be one of everyone (sarcastic eye roll). In the end, we’re all agnostic.

I don’t care if god talks to any of us, shoots lightning into our brains, or saves one of us from a hungry wolf (apologies to Duran Duran), we don’t know if such events are true and no one knows if god exists. We simply choose to claim such a belief, usually because that is what someone taught us.

We were not born with that belief. We may want there to be a god. Okay. It may make us feel good to think god exists. Also, fine. We may claim faith. Wonderful. But none of us knows. Not one person.

In my opinion, people who claim to be agnostic are essentially atheist because they do not hold to the belief or conclusion that a god exists. Knowing or not knowing is immaterial to belief. Either we believe in god, or we don’t.

We may have doubts. Maybe we want to believe but can’t. Maybe we have some other rationale for our position. All good. Someone may say they believe in god and be lying. That’s fine by me. But staking a claim to middle ground by hiding behind the claim of agnosticism seems disingenuous, in my (not so) humble opinion.

If we say we are agnostic, as we all should because we don’t know, that takes us back to why people believe: faith and preference, not knowledge.

That’s just how it works. It should be clear, but it’s not. I think it’s fair to ask someone why they do or do not believe in a god. If the answer sounds like I am agnostic, then I must assume they do not believe, unless they say otherwise.



Fun video:

Skepticism Seems Weird

I like to think of myself as a simple skeptic in that while I am disposed to skepticism regarding gods, most religious principles, and anyone trying to sell me something (are those last two redundant?), I try to not make too much of it.

I’m prone to read the fine print. One could call me a disbeliever, doubter, questioner, or unbeliever. I say simple because I have no deep philosophical basis for my doubts. To me, skepticism is partly common sense, reasonable caution, and experientially learned discernment. I admit that it gets touchy with religion, but that’s not my fault. Doubting and questioning some things are normal to me.

Conversely, I want to trust people. I prefer to take what people say at face value (except politicians and preachers). I like the little phrase, without trust, there is no us. I assume most people are trusting and generally trustworthy. However, I still request evidence when someone makes claims for which my support, acceptance, or belief is solicited.

As far as supernatural stuff goes, if anything requires my belief beforehand for it to become true, or for it to work, I judge such things with an idiomatic jaundiced eye. The same goes for a lot of health and wealth stuff that I consider quackery, schemes, and scams.

I’m an advocate of traditional medicine. Yet, I don’t accept everything my doctors tell me. I often ask, based on what research do you make that claim? My doctors are not always right, and I think they know it.

So, if skepticism is so normal, why do I say it seems weird?

I have a friend who seems to be skeptical of everything, with one glaring exception. When I suggested he use a fact-checking website like Snopes to verify the accuracy of things, he asked how I knew I could trust them. That discussion lasted a while, but I never convinced him of anything. That was weird.

I continue to be astonished that so many of us insist there is an invisible man in the sky but seem incapable of accepting many things for which there is ample empirical evidence.

Maybe it’s just another conspiracy.