Untangling the Web of Faith

This post over at “Good and Godless” had a video that got me thinking about the nature of how faith systems are abandoned. I say faith systems because the video expressed a thought that I kind of tossed around last year on my blog. That is, faith isn’t just “one thing” that ends magically; the post author and the video narrator both referred to faith as a collection of things. Here’s the video, which describes the idea:

Each of these strands in the web is mutually supportive.
In middle school, I remember reading a horrible book about Dracula (it was a knockoff paperback lent to me by a friend) which shook my faith tremendously. All it required was reading about Dracula being baptized as the Son of Satan and the commensurate anti-narrative to make me question what if the bad guys were secretly the good guys. So many “what if” questions flooded my mind, and they weren’t going away.

Beliefs about how I should know bad from good eventually won out. The crisis was averted. I eventually ran through the details in my mind, not once assuming that maybe the whole scheme was a work of fantasy. This is important; it shows how multiple layers of beliefs worked together to ensure I stayed faithful. First, teachings from Sunday school and my parents. Second, other teachings from Confirmation class. Third, my internalized beliefs kept the whole thing running together without falling apart.

Each of the strands involves multiple beliefs.
Let’s use the example of God being love. It’s not enough to believe that God is love. One has to believe that God is love above all Biblical references to the contrary. There has to be an admission of ignorance to items one can’t reconcile. Other beliefs may come in and dissociate any hateful things about God from the “love” things. Indeed, there could even be different beliefs about what love is to create a greater narrative of a loving God.

Even those things above can be picked apart and brought into more beliefs. It’s like the mythical hydra; chop off one head and find three more ready to greet you. When dealing with a broad concept – which can seem narrow – one has to be careful of recognizing all the different beliefs which are incorporated into the mix.

If you think about it, this logically follows from the web strands supporting each other. Of course people will borrow from multiple strands and weave them together. Our minds are designed to find explanations, and faith is one place where explanations can and do run rampant. Theists who might be reading this, think of all the people you’ve met with beliefs you didn’t agree with. Those beliefs had to come from somewhere, and they had to have been adopted.

This is why getting untangled is frequently a messy experience.
When the web breaks, all kinds of things happen. Sometimes those religious beliefs were keeping things under wraps that needed to stay contained. For people who based their perceptions of reality on something, there is a lot of fear. Some people believed things too deeply, and for them, they have shame. Certain congregations dominate towns, and they control social gatherings; for those who leave those groups, they have isolation.

This is yet another reason that keeps people away from being honest with themselves and fearfully in church every Sunday. To admit it in the open is to invite disaster and ruin from people who are supposed to love their neighbors. Sometimes it’s just the fear alone which keeps people in hiding. Unfortunately, I am still too familiar with that last part.

But I do have to say that for me, when things broke and I finally was able to admit to myself that I didn’t believe, it was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off my conscience. When I was able to tell others online about my disbelief, another weight was lifted. I felt free enough from those things that I’m mostly content to be an Atheist in hiding. Part of me doesn’t know whether I should feel okay or saddened by this.

More importantly, though, is that others who read this know that you’re not alone, there’s no need to be ashamed, and there is less cause to fear than you might think. Many people are able to come out and admit that they survived losing their faith. More are able to do it every day. It’s okay, and there will always be a place for you.

Writing Prep: 3 Weeks Out

This badass badge was designed by the world-famous Fish of Gold.  She also sells amazing BASEBALL SHIRTS on Redbubble.  Go check it out!

This badass badge was designed by the world-famous Fish of Gold. She also sells amazing BASEBALL SHIRTS on Redbubble. Go check it out!

NaNoWriMo and Nano Poblano are just 3 weeks away. This post mostly concerns National Novel Writing Month (hence, NaNoWriMo, and yes, WordPress, it is a word), but first I must shamelessly plug Nano Poblano 2015. If you are interested in being a Pepper in 2015, or just want to cheer other Peppers on, go sign up on the official blog roll here. Rarasaur is organizing the roll, so it’s going to be awesome. Captain Mark Bialczak is once again going to be the emcee of things, and plenty of old and new friends are going to be participating (check out the link for further opportunities to help out with Nano Poblano).

To all returning Peppers from last year, I salute you:

Now, onto the serious business of book writing.
Still haven’t decided fully on what I want to do in November, because I’ve had an uncharacteristic surge in ideas. I say uncharacteristic because I’ve had several ideas I could take to 50,000 words and beyond. This book is going to be slightly longer than last year’s, and pre-writing ideas for the stories has not been too terribly bad of an issue.

For anyone interested, I’m using a simple spreadsheet (you can even use the free ones on Google docs, but I’m a coward using Excel). Taking that spreadsheet, I’m jotting down plot points for about 30 sessions of writing because NaNoWriMo is a 30 day challenge. Ideally, I’ll have something to write all 30 days. However, I’m also going with my goal last year of doing about 1900 words a day. This is higher than the daily average needed to succeed. What this does is give me a little flexibility in missing a day or two or five.

Another great thing about using NaNoWriMo is that the end of the book doesn’t have to be managed right now. All that matters is getting the bulk of it finished. I intend to take a week or 2 off in December, and then finish up the book by the end of the year/January 2016 at the latest. My entire goal is to get this book from draft to publishing by the end of March at the latest. February would be better. The reason for this is that I want to write another book in April or May.

Other things I’m doing to prep for November.
I’m actively trying to watch The Walking Dead catch-up marathon on AMC. It’s an acclaimed show, and so far it reminds me of a heavily plot-driven show like LOST. Its advantages over LOST is that zombies are a greater driver of necessity than just being on a weird island. So the characters are faced with more problematic decisions than just survival.

Like the spinoff show Fear the Walking Dead that premiered this year, the focus really seems to be on a conflict of humanity versus nature. I like how it asks the question of whether we’re social animals or solitary beings that need to just survive for ourselves. I’m afraid that the conflict will get tedious after a while, though. Bottom line, though, is that I’m watching decent fodder for throwing random plot twists into the mix.

Finally, the folks at NaNoWriMo have reset their site for 2015, so they’re ready for people to start preparing for this year’s antics. My goal is to finalize what I’m working on this year within the next week or two. Hopefully that will happen.

And no, I have not forgotten about publishing Business As Usual.
The artist should be finishing up stuff soon, and I can then finish the process for publishing. Going through this creative process, I realize now how people can set deadlines and not meet them. If this is the worst thing the entire process can throw at me, then it’s quite manageable. I’ve learned plenty of new things, and I’m going to work to make the process more efficient for the next book I publish.

My goal is to have this thing out on Kindle and on Amazon by the end of the month. It’s going to happen.

Better Gun Control

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Naturally, the recent shooting in Oregon and violence in other parts of the U.S. have prompted a new exchange of gun control attackers and defenders. Calling this exchange a debate would be adding to the farce, and quite frankly I think human life is more important than one’s delicate sensibilities on the matter. However, my attempt here is to point out some other things that we could be talking about rather than just getting into swearing contests over expanded magazines, gun free zones, and what the Second Amendment originally intended. Please consider, if just for a moment, some other forms of gun control which could help curb gun violence.

First, some numbers and a little perspective.
In 2013, firearm homicides accounted for approximately 3.5 homicides per 100,000 of the U.S. population (11,208 total); compare that with the total homicide rate of 5.1 per 100,000 (16,121 total). In conjunction with this, over 10 million firearms were manufactured in the U.S. in 2013 (citation here @ exhibit 1). Only just under 400,000 were exported (see id. @ exhibit 2). One can see from ATF statistics that gun vendors are way more likely to lose a gun than to have them stolen or robbed from them.

Now, there are some arguments out there that guns are needed for self-defense. Here are some statistics which shows how this assertion is not as clear as proponents make it out to be. At the least, there is evidence to show that self-defense should be a lesser worry than others when there is a gun in the house. Moreover, it also shows how the gun lobby has massaged at least one set of data in its favor.

Third, I want to point out the effectiveness of background checks in deterring gun violence. There is at least enough information in that source to indicate that effective background checks do deter guns from getting into the hands of people that might use them to harm themselves or others. Note that attempts to promote universal background checks has failed to pass in Congress, even after Sandy Hook.

The wrinkle of the Second Amendment.
International readers might wonder why headlines of mass shootings are generally followed by inaction from state and federal legislatures. Suffice it to say that the right to own a firearm has been drastically expanded in recent years. Whether this is wise or not is actually irrelevant to discussions about gun ownership in the United States. That’s how broad the right to possess firearms is in this country. I’m not kidding.

Of course, there’s a good reason for that.
Since 2006, the National Rifle Association has been mentioned in conjunction with lobbying on gun control 124 times. (Center for Responsive Politics, search term for issue of “gun control” accessed on 10/6/2015). Smith and Wesson, a gun manufacturer, was mentioned 115 times. The next highest entity, the State of California, was mentioned 16 times.

And then there’s the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which was signed into law in 2005. This gem of a law creates immunity for gun dealers and manufacturers from lawsuits for all kinds of conduct, except in some specific cases. Here is a source which lists the facts of three cases that got thrown out. They include manufacturers who let criminals walk off the floor with unstamped firearms; a gun dealer who curiously is unable to keep his guns from going missing (and later get used in a series of homicides); and even a gun manufacturer who made and marketed a gun to felons.

Even our own government doesn’t have its ass covered as well as the PLCAA covers gun dealers and manufacturers.

The point I’m making is that there should be some ways to manage firearms that doesn’t involve the usual canned exchange.
The PLCAA needs to get repealed by Congress. In order for that to happen, voters will need to actively demand from their representatives that this gets repealed. There is no reason to give manufacturers and dealers the ability to willfully ignore guns that fall into criminal hands.

Putting it another way, a frequent argument used by the proponents of gun ownership is that they wish to be as well armed as criminals. If that’s true, why not make it more difficult for criminals to get their hands on weapons? From the above perspective, it’s completely disingenuous to bemoan criminal ownership of guns if it isn’t illegal to sell to them.

And before one mentions that intentional conduct is one of the ways that manufacturers can be sued, please remember that in court, it’s about what one can prove rather than what actually happened. By giving manufacturers and dealers immunity, they don’t even have to lie except to feign ignorance. That’s it.

Beyond revoking the PLCAA, I also think that universal background checks should have been passed a long time ago. Like the immunity Act, it allows a loophole in the law which shouldn’t exist.

These aren’t exactly controversial items. No, it’s not going to cure gun violence in the United States. Yes, it will at least curb gun violence slightly and keep firearms out of the wrong hands. What is the harm of creating at least an extra hurdle that a criminal will have to jump through to obtain a weapon?

Peace and Quiet

One of the frequent charges laid at the feet of Atheists is that we’re all a bunch of smug jerks who understand little, opine about much, and are generally unhappy. It doesn’t help that a lot of the photos of Dawkins and Harris show them smirking, and Hitchens rarely smiles (perhaps less so now that he’s deceased). Then there are debate films on YouTube, podcasts, and all sort of other things published in support of the proposition that no deities exist.

Quite frankly, I’d love for there to be peace and quiet about all this stuff.
It would be great to be able to go into town and not pass church signs threatening me with damnation or destruction if I don’t pop in and hand them my wallet. Sometimes I’d just settle for not remembering all the bad times I’ve had with faith. Okay, at a minimum, I’d like for there to be times where I’d see news coming out of the Middle East that doesn’t involve violence or death. Locally, it would be great if people would stop getting so angry at the legal choices made by others.

Call this a dream that I have, a wishing for a day where people could calmly and civilly discuss their views without having to worry about whether or not a Chick tract will become involved. I’d love to wake up one day and hear about how the biggest worry anyone has is whether or not one should wear white after Labor Day. Really.

I’d like to look back on my writings about atheism and think of it as silly.
Remember that time when I complained about Presuppositional apologetics (read: arguing that the Christian deity exists because it’s okay to just assume that it exists)? It would be great to hear that it’s complete nonsense because nobody uses presupposition to “prove” his or her deity exists. I’m fairly certain – but I won’t speak for anyone else – that a lot of people would like that too.

Barring that, it is my hope that a decade, century, or even if it has to be, a millennium from now, people will look at this period of human history and just wonder what in the hell was wrong with us. No, I don’t want it to be because they’ve concocted new ways to inflict misery on each other. Rather, I want it to be because people don’t grow up in poverty, subjected to cruel and arbitrary fates because they weren’t born in a certain part of the planet, forced to accept a life that makes them miserable.

Sadly, wishing this into being hasn’t worked yet.
If I can contribute to it at all, then I’d like to try. We might not be there yet, but sometimes one has to operate under the assumption that it can be that way eventually. Otherwise, there’s no point to building anything with a lifespan longer than our own. I know it would be folly to think that whatever I do will become a permanent mark on humanity, but I do know that whatever little I do can affect others for the better.

That I don’t believe in a supreme being doesn’t negate these feelings I have. It doesn’t matter what other people believe about them. What does matter is that I try to act on them, and what matters more if other people have them and act on theirs too. Before we discount this, just take a look at the houses, towns, cities, and other great works of human beings. I can almost guarantee some of the Roman slaves who constructed aqueducts for the Empire couldn’t fathom how people would use them thousands of years later.

I just realized that I’m being an awful New Atheist.
I seem to have misplaced my misery today. My snarky attitude towards faith cannot be buggered to get into gear. Such a pity, because the last thing I want to do is make a liar out of people who don’t know me.

Even worse, I realize that some people who might read this will think that I’m just looking for an excuse to dig at one faith in particular. If anything, this is a bit of a comment about misanthropes who might think I can’t really wish people well because I don’t believe in specific things. To them, please consider the following thoughtful concern:

Today, then, I think I’m deciding that I’m not having any measurable amount of angst. Instead, I’m just going to sit back and relax, and maybe try to write another sonnet or maybe work on pre-writing my next book. On second thought, that might get me down.

It’s time for me to break out the heavy happy stuff. Have some Moby, and think about how we’re all made of stars while watching space pics:

How Can We Test That?

Lately I’ve been thinking about religion as a method of explaining the way reality works. I mean, many different religions make assertions as to what reality is. Christianity asserts that there’s at least one afterlife; Hinduism generally contains the belief in more than one deity. Buddhism asserts that reincarnation is a real thing. All of these make claims of some sort, to varying degrees, about what’s really going on in life.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a uniform way to test these claims?

Actually, we do.

Image courtesy of Slideshare.

Image courtesy of Slideshare.

We can even test competing claims.
Is HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, an artificial life form, a naturally mutated descendant of a virus that infected primates, or is it a plague sent by a deity to hurt homosexuals? Our best guess is the middle one. There’s even research using the method described on the above graphic to discount the other two claims. In other words, we’re capable of knowing some things do arise from natural methods.

This isn’t exactly controversial. Children are taught that if they don’t wash their hands, they can spread disease. Hardly anyone will claim that a common cold is the sign of the displeasure of Puppykins for not tuning into the Puppy Bowl.

Where there is controversy, there’s a double standard.
Science is a very analytic way of evaluating the world. No one has to take anyone else’s word for anything; experimentation and replication are key. I should be able to replicate an experiment and get the same results. If not, the original researcher better have a good explanation for why that happened.

We don’t treat religious explanations – or any other wild guesses for that matter – with the same level of scrutiny. Partly this might be due to efficiency. I could observe that the sun rose at a specific time this morning, and people could doubt my observation because they can’t test it themselves. Without taking a photograph with a verified time stamp, I’m out of luck trying to prove my assertion. Most of the time, though, people won’t care because the sun rising in the morning is about as controversial as paint drying.

The bigger claims, though, escape meaningful scrutiny. If I claim that the world began in 7 days, why do I get an exception for having to prove it? A lot sometimes rides on this explanation. Some people make this claim and use it to justify the existence of a supreme being that declares what kinds of things we can eat. That’s pretty freaking important if it’s true.

If we return to the above example, one of the implications of research into the origins of HIV is that we are genetically close to primates. Not just close in a location sense, but rather in the sense that we descend from a common ancestor. The implications of that, of course, involves disputing the claim that we were created separately and distinctly by a deity. So, the research (which did occur partly at the University of Alabama, in an irony of ironies) helps settle the question of whether we exist naturally or supernaturally.

Is there a good reason for the double standard?
Right now, I’d say no. If claims compete for validity, they need to be tested so people can get the best information. I’m fairly certain that if people knew that being scratched by a primate could result in a new and exotic illness that could wipe out humanity, people might not antagonize our simian cousins as much as they do. Furthermore, some claims are tantamount to turning a blind eye to reality. Demon possession, for example, hides all sorts of medical conditions which might result in death.

Of course, not all fields of knowledge contain certain death for those who are ignorant. Also, not all fields of knowledge contain competing claims. For example, I don’t have to know how the universe got here to accept the fact that I’m here right now. Other people can claim that the Earth was created by Smergie for all I care, and I really don’t have to dispute any of it.

This doesn’t create any special exceptions for religious views, though. Expanding knowledge itself is an exercise in mental discipline and fortitude. Whether I use science, philosophy, or religion to try to explain reality, I will need to realize that other fields will encroach on my explanations. I have to defend them somehow.

Ultimately, I think that this is a problem of transparency.
Religious belief is incredibly subjective. One’s persons views on the divine changes from another’s. Yes, they might have similarities, but when the conversation goes deeper, the differences get found. This is a very difficult way of transmitting reliable information to other people.

Science, on the other hand, requires an unflattering amount of openness. One must put up or shut up. If one’s methods or experiments are questionable, those questions will get asked. While it hasn’t unlocked every mystery of the universe, it does provide a systematic way of approaching questions. This, in turn, leads to greater confidence and efficiency in obtaining knowledge about the natural world.

Really, then, asking how we can test things is a good way to shed light on knowledge. The only thing lost by doing that is an incorrect idea of how the world worked.

Changing Boundaries

Yesterday I briefly mentioned how healthy boundaries weren’t encouraged by the faith structure I grew up in. It’s an important but incredibly subtle concept that infuses many different concepts with regards to toxic beliefs. One example is included in the purity myth, where young girls and boys are taught that there is inherent value in virginity. Another really good example is included in authority myths. Regardless, suppressing the ability of people to have self-determination for themselves is critical to toxic faith in that it discourages people to resist the overtures of toxic teaching.

Let’s see how this operates in a couple limited examples.

Purity myths.
One very strong conservative Christian teaching about sex is: avoid it until marriage. Outside of marriage it’s bad, because God. As an afterthought, sometimes religious instructors will offer up the existence of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, and other myths as extra reasons why teenagers should remain sexually inactive. They all exist because a deity either uses it to punish the sexually wicked, or they exist simply to confirm the existence of the divine plan.

Some people might try to argue that this is a benign practice, that it’s okay for parents and religious officials to pressure children into an irrational fear of sex to protect them. Certainly it’s within parental prerogatives to do so. But if people think that this doesn’t have a reasonable chance of going too far, consider this wonderful thing called the purity ball. They sometimes look like this, and no, this is not the creepiest picture I found:

A purity ball is a formal soiree where dads and daughters dress up to publicly pledge their purity. Dads promise to keep their daughters safe from sexually dirtying themselves, and daughters promise to not have sex until they are married off. To people who believe that purity is important – that one’s virginity is a commodity for marital relationships – this is a magical evening indeed.

As the Wikipedia article notes, though, that it’s a poor substitute for sex education. Participants are more likely to suffer problems because of their ignorance about sex. There are very real consequences for just wishing sex away. So why even bother doing it?

The answer is that purity inflates the value of religious marriage and everything else it entails. Remember, marriage is a critical institution of churches, and many Christian congregations obsess heavily over whether or not young people get married. Marriages mean that couples can be pressured to have children, and those children will be brought up in the church. Or, in short, it keeps the cycle of cradle to grave going.

Authority myths.
I call them authority myths because they are somewhat fictional depictions of ownership and control of others. Above, a purity ball also promotes the myth that fathers can control who their daughters consent to have sex with. While it might be appropriate for a dad to protect a juvenile child, it certainly isn’t appropriate when she’s 20. Even in high school, young women begin to legally have control over their bodies, and in some circumstances fathers are only legally allowed to be angry about the choices of their children.

More broadly, we see fictional authority elsewhere. Pastors have authority over their congregations, elders over regular congregation members. Parents, for all intents and purposes, own their offspring until they either reach adulthood or sometimes until they are married. Everyone must submit to the authority of their deity, lest awful circumstances result. Indeed, the model for this authority comes from this stylized and ritualized submission to the “authority” of a deity.

Despite the claim of a loving relationship, people must enslave themselves to the resurrected form of a deity. Sometimes it’s characterized as a relationship between parent and child, utilizing warm feelings for one’s parents to subvert one’s sense of self and autonomy. As noted above, parents own their children, so the concept of being dependent upon another for one’s well-being is also being reinforced.

What’s the result of all of this?

Borrowing this image from Nate, who is a wonderful person for letting me do so.

Borrowing this image from Nate, who is a wonderful person for letting me do so.

You can see from the image that some people think this authority lets them preach to people despite the wishes of others. If you go to Nate’s post where I found this, you’ll find a link to the original site. There are plenty more examples of this kind of thinking.

From my own personal experience, the goal of this kind of authority was to make it so I could not know what autonomy truly felt like. Even on my own, I felt like I should be obligated to the whims of others. I still sometimes have that artificial sense that my behavior and my own boundaries are not mine to control. Getting over this has not been easy, nor is it a task that is complete.

One last thing.
I realize now that this kind of control exerted over people is not a healthy thing. At best, it just creates a guilt complex that doesn’t even inhibit self-destructive behavior. At worst, it’s used to abuse people and keep them dependent upon the whims of those who are more religiously inclined. Control structures that subvert the ability of people to form healthy and empowered views of themselves are a great sign that a religious belief structure is harmful.

For people who might be trying to figure out if what they believe is hurting them, ask if you are made dependent upon others for approval and well-being. Do you need to go to church to be forgiven? Are other people able to arbitrarily dictate what you can do regardless of your consent? Do other people think they can control who you have a relationship with? If the answer is yes, then you might be subjected to some kind of authority structure.

It might be time to evaluate whether you should change your boundaries.

Personal Growth is Painful

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I don’t fully know why I had to start blogging over a year ago. Having just started appointments with at first a therapist and then a psychologist, I randomly decided that I needed to post my thoughts online in a place where I couldn’t take them back. Why it needed to happen this way as opposed to others is a little beyond me. Eventually, though, I saw the utility in having others take what they could from my writing.

The process has always worried me.
A little history might be in order. I used to be really into an MMORPG called World of Warcraft. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a game that one can play online, and it’s geared heavily towards building personal connections with other players. To that end, it has a chat feature, search features for finding other players, and ways to organize beyond just having an account. People can and frequently do get to know each other in personal settings, and sometimes acquaintances are made in real life.

However, this also invites the danger of trolls and other wrongdoers who just want to cause pain. I played that game for so long that it frayed my nerves to the point where I became merciless. Very often I’d take things to the point where they’d angrily log off (called rage quitting). It’s not something I’m proud of; indeed, it would result in massive conscience attacks later on. Just because someone out there wants to inflict as much pain on others as possible does not give everyone else an excuse to respond in kind. Doing so demeans the human spirit instead of exalting it.

Therefore, I know first hand there will always be people who will take what I write in a way that doesn’t even fit what I put down. Such is the inescapable reality of writing itself. Some people will insist that one meaning is meant over another. Originally, I thought that if people could draw strength from my writing, they could also use it to punish themselves or others. That latter part is a fear that my anxiety loves to play on.

Trying to grow in the face of adversity isn’t pleasant.
Sometimes I feel like I’m back online playing WoW, frustrations and all. These affect me in ways I’m not comfortable with, and for the most part I’ve been hiding the output. Just a little escaped my fingertips recently, and it’s concerned people. Really, I can’t put it all out there because I’m always afraid that I’ll get even more concerned comments/emails. This is still too common of an occurrence for me.

Despite this, I had a recent therapy appointment which focused on positive results. I voiced my concerns, and my therapist noted that I actually did manage to set healthy boundaries and stick to them. She was trying to get me to notice that I was making progress, despite how much of the opposite I felt. This was supposed to be good news.

I’m slowly, ever so slowly, coming around to that. The journey is happening while I’m kicking and screaming. Growth is painful in the extreme, but it is happening.

A specific example of what I’m talking about.
I always wanted this to be a safe space for people, but I know that it can’t always be that. I have always walked a fine line between trying to be fair and trying to maintain an atmosphere for people like me who need rational discussion. Early on, it was my aversion to healthy boundaries (which I’ll talk about later, because religion is responsible for this aversion) which prevented me from posting boundaries to promote that discussion. Very frequently I visit those boundaries and try to decide whether they are equitable and useful for the purpose I’ve intended.

So far, they are the best I can manage. Not everyone is capable of rational discussion at all times, and some people are just not capable of it period. Over the months, I’ve only had to inform a handful of people of their existence, because most of the people who visit this blog have been decent people. I don’t know what the statistical likelihood of this is, but if WoW was any indication, I should go play the lottery with my amazing luck. Chances are if you’re reading this, then you’re amazing. I mean it.

Very few people have not been able to respect the boundaries here. Examining other blogs that have rules and don’t have rules, I can say that this is a process that everyone will eventually have to go through on a long enough timeline. Some people just aren’t good fits for some places. Not everyone has personalities which will go well together.

Accepting that is difficult sometimes, and I hope I still have time to learn. I just hope I can survive the process.


If you haven’t heard by now, there was a mass shooting yesterday at Umpqua Community College in the state of Oregon. I’m not linking to anything because it’s violent news, and it tends to spread quickly on the Internet these days. Just search for “Oregon shooting,” and you’ll be pointed in the direction of hundreds of different stories already written about the event.

For reasons I’ll go into below, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the families who have suffered directly or indirectly as a result of this terrible event. I’m not going to write too much about my personal views here about guns or school violence because I don’t want to participate in sensationalizing the deaths of human beings. My greatest regret is that I do not have more than just condolences to offer these people who have suffered – and may suffer more – because of this event.

Instead of adding gasoline to this fire, I want to just remind people of some things:

Consider empathizing with all of the victims.
How would I feel if a family member was a victim in a publicized shooting? Would I want people to angrily hop out in front of a camera to use my loved one’s carcass to promote an agenda? Or would I want to grieve the loss of my loved one first? Nothing is truly lost on the Internet, so much so that we might as well be writing what we say in stone. It is for this reason that I urge people find out what kind of support the victims want before writing too many things about what happened.

All the facts aren’t known yet.
What caused the alleged perpetrator to resort to violence is going to take time. Authorities are going to have to conduct interviews, evidence needs to be gathered, and other bits of data are going to need to get documented and sorted through. The narrative takes time to conduct. Only when we can get hold of verified facts can we actually learn anything about what happened.

To that end, news outlets are competing to get information out there first, and not necessarily accurately. As with any heated issue, there are going to be accusations flying around all over the place. Loaded terms are going to get used, and we’ll be no closer to understanding what went wrong than before they were spread. Yes, it is easy to get really upset by this. It does nobody any good to get upset about facts that might not be true. Doing that is like tweeting about “gullible” not being in the dictionary.

Real people are involved.
These are not people who asked to be in the limelight. They did not ask for a storm of cameras and reporters to descend upon them. Nobody wanted the media to regurgitate their Facebook posts and Twitter feeds because of a tragedy. Let’s not pretend that these people exist to be scrutinized by an amorphous public.

And for those who want to do something
Acting without knowledge is the least effective thing one can do. Regardless of one’s political leanings or philosophical outlook, it will take time to learn what happened. Right now, the American public does nothing because we go through a generic cycle when these tragedies occur. Events happen, news reports it using inflammatory language, people get angry on social media, politicians bluster, and then the whole matter quietly goes away.

While everyone in this country might not remember, the least any one person can do is recognize that human dignity deserves more than a single blog post or tweet or Facebook post. It demands that we soberly reflect on this and then govern ourselves accordingly. Sure, this post might not change anyone’s mind, but if any change is going to happen, I have to start with myself.

One month out from National Blog Posting Month, time to start considering your Nano Poblano role



Please note, comments disabled here. Respond on the original poster’s site!

Originally posted on Mark Bialczak:

National Blog Posting Month sure is a lot of work.

But I found out last November with the little group that calls itself Nano Poblano, it also can be a lot of fun.

I went from plain old Mark to Captain Poblano during the process of meeting and greeting new friends and keeping up correspondence with old pals in a different light during the experience. Opportunity knocks again.

Graphic by Fish of Gold Graphic by Fish of Gold

Speaking of BloggyVille pals, I’ll take a cue from Sheena Not a Punk Rocker, who last year sent out a pre-emptive post asking returnees from 2013 what hat they’d like to wear for the next version of Nano Poblano.

It should make everybody’s month go more smoothly. Please take the time to answer these three polls, even if you’ve decided not to participate this year.

I’ve already got good news to share. Rara has told me she’s…

View original 247 more words

Why Not God?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This post has been a long time in coming, mostly because the answer to the question I’m asking is both simple and complicated. Simple, because the answer seems to be repeated by nature over and over again, the absence of a deity forming an echo which permeates the universe. Complicated, because the answer pours forth words like an unending avalanche. I’ll try to keep my answer as brief as possible, but please forgive me if I do not close off every avenue of investigation.

The world did not end when I earnestly doubted.
I had been taught many things in the church, like right and wrong, honesty, charity, hope, and faith. It’s not a mistake that witnessing the double standards of people who claimed the label of Christian yet would violate every good thing about it couldn’t be internalized. No, these weren’t bad Christians. They were praised as being the ideal specimens. Either I was wicked in some unseen manner, or I was trying too hard to make everything make sense.

That process is the feigned form of skepticism taught by the faith I learned. The conclusion is already known; I was just trying to get the facts to fit. This happens openly in the faith, though it is applauded as being logical and rational. One only needs to earnestly evaluate the speeches of William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias or even C. S. Lewis to see it in play.

Eventually other things beyond just obvious abnormalities spurred me into further doubt. Some of that has to do with what I learned in law school, and some of it has to do with how I grew up. Certainly my mental health played a large role. All of these things came together and helped me look at my beliefs from a neutral view. I say this because when I was finally abandoning belief in a deity, I was actually engaging in the activity quite reluctantly. To risk the scorn of family and the place where I lived is unthinkable, and I did not want to add further troubles to what I was already suffering.

Still, it had to happen. When one belief goes – the first was that God was kind after letting an entire town’s worth of infants die by the sword to fulfill a prophecy – the rest jump ship. When they jump ship, eventually I had to take stock of the empty room I’d created. Some people called it a God-shaped-hole. However, I wasn’t adrift in a sea of discontent. Quite the opposite; I’d finally found peace in a clean, well-lighted room.

The world is still spinning.
Without a god, all things are still possible. People can do right by others, or they can do only for themselves. Our existence is not troubled by competing deities looking for new souls across the face of this planet. How small do those deities need to be in order to lord over one species on one planet around one star in one galaxy in one cluster of galaxies in the tiniest speck of the entire Universe?

So what if there’s no deity out there making it all work? Gravity still functions. We will still orbit the Sun. Life goes on no matter what we believe in. Each of us still has a choice to be who we are, or to sacrifice that for something else. People who do right by others don’t need a particular deity to do those things, just like people who claim they follow a deity can do all kinds of awful things to others.

So, why not god?
Some people might say that the end to my faith represents an assurance of divine punishment. Others might think of the end of faith as an end to wonderment and awe, or even an end to inquiry about things that inspire myself. While I can’t stop people from thinking that, I can invite them to consider something else.

The end of my belief in God, other deities, and the supernatural was a beginning to a journey in a brighter world. Naturally, I could add other reasons not to believe in deities in a purely logical context. I’ve even given some of them elsewhere on this blog. Nonetheless, I think that right now it’s okay to just leave it at the simple answer, and invite people who are looking for answers to consider this simple answer in light of a big question.