Friday, May 28, 2010

Atheists Don't Have No Songs

Steve Martin With The Steep Canyon Rangers:

(hat tip to the folks over at One Good Move.)

Well, I'm out of cell phone range until Tuesday. Enjoy your holiday weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jack!

My son Jack is 5 today. For his birthday, we got him a case full of Dr. Who action figures, A Ghostbusters game for the wii, and a Buzz Lightyear doll. Jack is a real go-getter, and has been a great addition to Team Troxell. We think he has a bright future with the organization. We love you, buddy!

Jack, enjoying a can of shaving cream at a recent school function:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Volunteer, Goddammit!

My sister Adrienne has a great piece over at The Refurbished Feminist about the benefits of volunteering. She talks about her own experience volunteering with a cause that she believes in, and encourages you to find your own cause to contribute to.

An excerpt:

"I've reached an inner peace which has previously been unattainable since I started working on this event. It has inspired me in all areas in my life to be a better person. Although I am still working on my road rage and occasional lapse of judgment with careless words that leave my tongue, I am beginning to see the world in a more positive light. I've heard many times that there is no better reward than giving and now I understand why. It is, by my estimation, better to give than receive. Not only do you contribute in making the world a happier, more balanced place to live, but in many cases (like mine), it can give you more self worth. In the past I had always tried to fill this constant void in my life with "love" or material gratification and have always come up empty handed in the end. I suppose the mental reward for volunteering and being an activist for something in which I feel passionate about, is that I no longer feel like a lump of uselessness anymore. It's a great feeling and aids in the relief of being so self-absorbed (which I am still working on as well). I highly recommend it!"

I agree with her 100%. I've been volunteering at Hospice of Cincinnati for over a year now, and I can tell you that not only do I feel good knowing that I am providing comfort and support to people in need, I am providing comfort and support to people in need. Even though I am not getting paid for this gig, The time and energy I invest in it is completely worth it.

It is incumbent upon us as citizens in this society to volunteer. It's our responsibility to find out what we have a capacity to do, and to do it. The fact of this responsibility can be derived from both an argument based on self interest, and altruistic humanism. The argument from self interest is that you are not safe in a world full of people who only look out for themselves and are only concerned with the bottom line. Your children are not safe in a world where your neighbors are on the verge of cannibalism. A personal philosophy of social Darwinism doesn't lead to the survival of the fittest. It leads to the survival of the cruelest and most empty. We can sustain a handful of psychopaths in our society, but not a society full of them.

The argument from altruistic humanism is simpler: humans are ends unto themselves, and a life with minimal suffering, increased pleasure, and an ability to freely explore, create, contribute, and thrive is an inherent right.

And, of course, volunteering makes you feel good. It enables you to make a meaningful contribution to something you believe in, and offers the possibility of discovering a community of like-minded doers.

So volunteer, goddammit!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Life Without Religion Requires Bravery, and I Am Not Brave

That I can’t coax myself into believing that there must be a place in my life (or after) where everything will be made plain is something that I grieve.

This is probably what I miss most about religion. Even when I was wrestling with this or that interpretation of this or that doctrine, I was able to believe that somehow, at some point, everything would be illuminated. ‘The truth will out’, is an exhilarating and sometimes terrifying saying that I like, but without the promise of ultimate revelation it seems a little bit blunted. Years of religion have made me self-absorbed. I’ll have to train myself to accept that there are mysteries beyond my comprehension, and to understand that the light may never be turned on in many rooms of the mansion of my understanding.

A life without religion is a life intended for the brave. I’m not always so sure of my bravery. I used to take solace in the idea that in the afterlife, the many confusions I’ve endured about my own motivations and the motivations of others would become clear. Because I am not inherently brave, I haven’t always spoken when I should, or explained myself where it might have been helpful. I have not always acted when action was required, because in the back of my mind, I knew that at some future date the cosmic score keeper would explain my occasionally mystifying intentions to both me, and everyone else. The cosmic score keeper would also explain the mystifying actions of others to me, and to them, and we would all be at peace, because then we would understand.

There are these dark and sticky chords inside of me—inside of us all—that need unraveling. Why do we want the things that we want? What do we actually need? Why does one thing make us feel one way, and another thing make us feel another way? If these things are to be genuinely understood, we’re going to have to do the leg work ourselves. That is an intimidating thought, because not only am I not inherently brave, I occasionally battle against laziness. There is a lot of hard work implied in a life without the benefit of having truth delivered via some self-declared authority. The up side is that even though all of the work is going to need to be done long hand, at least we have some proven tools that we can use for exploration: Science. Art. Reason.

Unfortunately for me, I’m not an expert at any of these things.

There is also the matter of living considerately. When I was religious, I would hurt other people’s feelings, or inconvenience them in small ways sometimes. Not always on purpose mind you, but things happen, you know? If the damage seemed small enough, I wouldn’t try to make any kind of amends. My attitude was ‘it will all come out in the wash’. God understood that I was okay. He knew that I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt or inconvenienced.

Now, I don’t have the assurance that ‘The Great Explainer’ will make everything okay in the post-game wrap up. Now, if I hurt someone’s feelings or inconvenience them unnecessarily, I’ve got to make things right. All by myself. I have to be more thoughtful towards my fellow beings. Without religion, people are no longer means to an end, but ends unto themselves. When I was religious, I looked for God in people. You see, the religious mind doesn’t believe that people themselves are worthwhile. The religious mind believes that any good thing you glimpse in a person is really just a reflection of God shining through. When I hurt someone, I don’t need to make amends to God. I need to make amends to the person I hurt. It was much easier for me (not inherently brave) to simply say a few prayers when I did someone wrong than it is to actually look the person that I hurt in the eyes and say ‘I’m sorry’.

A big difference.

I am not brave. I am not overly smart, or exceedingly talented. I’m not always thoughtful, or kind, or selfless. I bite my nails, and have a tendency to overeat. I worry about being received well by people that I respect, and I require loads of validation and encouragement to feel good about myself. I also suffer from a restlessness that I can’t explain.

These are facts about me that I have not looked into adequately, partially because for so long I have expected that they would fall away at some future moment of reckoning. My religion allowed me to not own them. Deep inside of me I knew there was something divine. Now I don’t know that anymore. Life used to be about bearing crosses and swallowing dogmas. Now, I realize that my personal flaws aren’t crosses so much as they are puzzles to be solved. I haven’t completely shaken the dogmatic belief that there is something holy about suffering, but I do realize that there are things that can be learned from it. For instance, strapping a cross onto a cart with wheels is far more efficient (and way less painful) than lugging the thing around on your back.

Cross posted at Kos

Monday, May 24, 2010

Only David Bowie

can be trusted to start this week off in the right way.

David Bowie, fully aware that he is David Bowie:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Raising A Girl In America

My wife is pregnant, and the prospect that the new addition to the family may be a member of the fairer sex has got me thinking.

We’ve already got two boys; Spencer the third, 8, and Jack Lewis, 4. They are compassionate, awe-full little animals whom I am deeply proud of and interested in. You don’t need to raise a child to be curious. They naturally are. A lot of parenting seems to be a matter of getting out of the way. Sometimes parenting is shrugging your shoulders along with the kids, because life can be confounding. Sometimes you offer little bits of wisdom that you’ve picked up along the way, and sometimes you slide in a little bit of your own propaganda. There’s a lot of moment-choosing in the parenting game. It builds character.

This is my experience so far raising my boys. We’re all still puppies, but we’re tightening up the system as we move along. I know I have been a different father to some degree for each of my sons. I can’t help but wonder what kind of father I’ll be for the next kid, especially if it’s a girl.

I’m intimidated by the idea. I see that people in our country (especially men; especially religious men) have a lot of opinions about how girls should come up in America. I’m bothered by this. I was pretty young when Spencer 3 was born (20), and was only 25 when Jack was born. I was still full of youthful fight and almost dared society to try to turn my sweet little boys into a bunch boy scouts or testosterone blind head cases.

I’m 29 now, and am putting down roots. Am I too institutional? Will I have the strength to tell my potential daughter not to just go along to get along? I hope so, because our society only seems to want her to be pretty. She can be smart, but not too smart. I’ve half joked that I hope she turns out lesbian, and have said that her first pair of booties would be a pair of baby sized combat boots.

I’ve never felt compelled to think too much about women’s issues. I’ve been moved by the civil rights movement, but never really the women’s rights movement. I don’t know why. I wonder if I’m not a little sexist. I’ve recently realized that I have only a handful of books by female authors in my library, and only have CD’s by two or three female musicians. I’m a subscriber to Playboy, and I listen to Howard Stern. Denny Crane and Alan Shore were my favorite characters on Boston Legal. I took a Women’s Issues class with my sister last fall, and felt a little defensive most of the way through.

On the other hand, I’m afraid my anxiety might lead me to overcompensate to sit-comish levels.

The thought that I might end up raising a girl has got me biting my nails, but then again, everything makes me bite my nails. In the end, we’ll just take it as it comes and see what happens. My sons are fine and well adjusted, and they don’t have the ‘this is for boys and that’s for girls’ attitude that so many kids get infected with.
Who knows? Parenting is a crazy business any way. It’s all impromptu. I had much more stringent plans for how things were going to be with my oldest son before he actually popped out. I suppose I’ll keep my current parenting line, which is essentially President Obama’s line on Iraq and Afghanistan: “It all depends on the conditions on the ground”.

cross posted at The Daily Kos.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Civilization

I find it illuminating to compare the kinds of thoughts I had every time I saw a man in a suit as a kid to the kinds of thoughts I have every time I see a man in a suit as an adult.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Saul Alinksy, Glenn Beck, and the Allure Of Forbidden Fruit

I have recently begun reading Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’. It’s not required reading as part of my secret initiation into the global left wing conspiracy (as Glenn Beck might have you believe). In actuality, I first heard about Alinsky from the Limbaughs and Becks of the world. It was ultimately the spooky tones and fearful respect that they spoke about Alinksy with that brought me to the book. I know their forced awe was mere play acting—a way to put the satanic force of a foreign and insidious sounding holy text behind the every move of Barack Obama—but I had a hard time resisting the bait. I’ve always been compelled to eat the forbidden fruit. It’s part of my makeup. As Jessica Rabbit might say, ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.’

Alinksy had me intrigued at the book’s dedication:

“Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins—our which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer”

And he sealed the deal early on with this wonderfully resonant statement:

“I detest and fear dogma. I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certaintly that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice. Those who enshrine the poor or Have-Nots are as guilty as other dogmatists and just as dangerous. To diminish the danger that ideology will deteriorate into dogma, and to protect the free, open, questing, and creative mind of man, as well as to allow for change, no ideology should be more specific than that of America’s founding fathers: ‘For the general welfare’.”

And it is in this true statement that the undoing of Glenn Beck and his Tea Partying acolytes can also be found. Mr. Beck has talked about ‘knowing their playbook’ and ‘using their rules against them’, and maybe he did go to the ‘Rules For Radicals’ Wikipedia page and pick out a few:

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

This one would account for Fox & talk radio’s attempts to exaggerate the number of attendees at Tea Party protests.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

An obvious must-obey for the demographic Beck & co. is working with.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

The social networking that has gone on in Tea Party circles is undeniable. A chance for otherwise regular, hard working folks who tend to lead relatively insular lives to get together with others and form communities would be hard to pass up.

And of course, there’s this:

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself.

Which is the entire platform of the puppeteers of the tea party movement.

These may be useful tactics, but I think it’s that guiding principle I stated above that makes attempts at change more solvent and honest.

And, of course, the participants in this movement aren’t ‘Have-Not’s’. For the majority of their lives, they have been the pets of the current system. They have been given just enough to keep them content and quiet. As long as they have had air conditioning, fast food, television crime dramas, and politicians willing to pay lip service to their weird social issues (while doing virtually nothing to advance them in reality), they’ve been more or less content. They are not ‘change’, although, if they looked at the situation hard and honestly enough, they might realize that they would certainly benefit from some.

cross posted at The Daily Kos

Friday, May 14, 2010

Doomed To Humanism

I often give credit to Sesame Street and my own epicurean libido for my lack of racial prejudice. Growing up in a white, lower-class, rural area in the Midwest, there were plenty of racist attitudes flying around, but when you’re receiving steady doses of ‘I’m okay you’re okay’ philosophy from Big Bird and the gang, and finding yourself deeply enamored with Lt. Uhura from the old Star Trek series, the hate is bound to lose. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Lynard Skynard will lose out to muppets and the starship enterprise every time.

The Sesame Street (and Star Trek) message of the potential of mankind and our inherent decency has always rung true with me. It has certainly rung far truer than the cynical view of mankind that is embedded in the Christianity that I grew up with, and tried desperately to reconcile with my own natural philosophical inclinations. Christianity is ugly. It tells us evil things about our nature (and not only are the things it tells us about ourselves evil, they are generally unfounded!). It says that we are born with a sin debt, that we are paying for the sins of our ancestors, that the only chance we had of redemption was God sending a man to be murdered on our behalf (explain the logic of that one to me), that anything bad we do is our fault and anything good we do is only because we allowed god to work through us. Ugly stuff. I always cringe inside when I hear someone say, ‘oh, god is good because I accomplished X.’ I want to grab the person by their lapels and shout, ‘no, god is not good. You are good. You made this happen’.

I should’ve known from the start that I was doomed to humanism. It has always been things that secular people said about Jesus that moved me. Kurt Vonnegut musing on the beatitudes is a thing to behold. If there were a writer in the Christian bible that wrote like Vonnegut, I may have had a chance at remaining a believer.


“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Eliot Rosewater, from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.

If that’s not nice, I don’t know what is. There’s nothing that nice in the bible, and Vonnegut is just a man. I find it damning that the lord of the universe didn’t even have the good sense to hire a decent ghost writer when he was putting out his self-help program.

Even the symbols that were supposed to scare me away from leaving the fold only drew me farther out of it. Satan, very frightening and tricky as he seemed to be in a more fundamentalist imagination becomes eminently more sympathetic when you think about him for just a minute on your own. Read Arthur Miller’s ‘The Creation Of The World And Other Business’ for the best interpretation of things as they must’ve gone down. In spite of all of the scary stuff I heard in church, the Satan I ended up with was more Prometheus than Loki.

Faith is about shutting off your brain and basing your life and values on stale dogmas and outmoded fairy tales. Faith is a refusal to use your…god given faculties. Faith says, ‘I will claim to believe x and behave x because I have been told to do so’. The humanism which I have been doomed to leaves me with the tools of skepticism and reason to make my conclusions with. In one sense, this is harder than making choices through faith, because I am wholly accountable for my decisions, and it is upon my own faculties that praise or blame can be pinned. In another way it is easier, because I don’t have to constantly try to rationalize away my suspicions about the soundness of this or that dictate, and I don’t have to do all of that unnecessary heavy lifting to justify downright evil shit like the doctrine of hell, original sin, or weird prohibitions about how I use my naughty bits.

Humanism is exciting. Humanism is romantic. Humanism is rational. Humanism is brave in the face of the stories of gods and hell that we are programmed to believe. It’s infinitely appealing, because--to paraphrase Terry Pratchett--we begin life as rising apes rather than falling angels. Not only that, we are more responsible for our actions. We can’t follow the line of the religious and say to ourselves and others that we were ‘merely following orders’ when we go wrong. We have empirical tools to make decisions with, and our ultimate authority is our own conscious. There’s no passing the buck to a higher power. Humanism is intimidating on some levels, but it is also freeing.

I seemed to have been destined to this conclusion. I can’t in good faith vouch for faith, but I can vouch for our potential, collectively and as individuals. I can vouch for the thought that maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for oneself and others is a simple and decent way to live, and I can see both the cold logic and the basic decency of a philosophy that considers the well being of our neighbors and our societies, and seeks to further human knowledge and understanding.

More Vonnegut:

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

DRUDGE Headline: RASMUSSEN POLL: 33% Want Kagan Confirmed, 33% Do Not, 34% Not Sure...

My response? Who gives a fuck.

Like I'm going to believe that the American people have been following the career of President Obama's most recent supreme court pick in any depth at all up until they heard some stuff about her on talk radio or the nightly news.

I'm seriously tired of seeing polling data headlined on political web sites and talked about incessantly on the radio. The majority of the American people don't know anything outside of what their chosen gurus tell them to know, and they only know it as long as it's not uncomfortable.

I long for a politician to run for office and not blab on and on about American exceptionalism. What is Right and 'The Will Of the People' are not even synonymous by a long shot. When those things intersect, it is accidental. Politicians and media figures need to stop handing out stroke jobs and roll up their sleeves. The constant pandering to target demographics is one of the ugliest things that goes on in a free market capitalist society. The constant demonization of 'the other' and the holding up of some virtuous 'we the people' by anyone who wants to go anywhere in our society is profoundly embarrassing.

Sorry for the rant, you faithful, wonderful, wise and compassionate Medicine Cabinet readers. I just had to get this off my chest, and I knew you would understand.

I hope you know that I wasn't opining you. You are--of course--infinitely better informed and much more beautiful than the sort of seedy characters I mentioned. May your opinions on even the subtlest things always be polled and admired, and your every quip garner a headline.

God bless you all.


A reader over at The Daily Kos called Thethinveil took exception to this piece in the comment section. He/she seems to agree with a sentiment expressed by another commenter that I'm "doing a disservice to everyone by taking the rasmussen poll seriously." I replied to that commenter by saying "Not only am I not taking them seriously, I'm not taking the premise that what they claim to be doing is worthwhile seriously."

to which Thethinveil said:

"It sounds like you do [take rasmussen seriously] because you go immediately to criticizing the public, as if the poll is right.

We should insure what we are doing is the right thing and the Will of the People is part of that. I agree that selective mirco-targeting of the populace is horrible, it only disrupts attempts to offer ideas that could offer real cohesion in society. But the public is never "the problem", their opinions matter because we thankfully live in a Democracy."

to which I replied:

"The pollsters are part of the problem, but so is the public. That so many people feel comfortable offering opinions about so many things that they inevitably aren't going to know anything about is bad news.

I am criticizing the public in this piece, but I'm also criticizing the notion that how the public feels about a particular supreme court pick should be considered seriously.

When the public is wrong, ill-informed, and convinced of the righteousness of their own opinion simply because they hold it, the public is the problem.

I'm glad we live in a democracy, but there are no perfect systems. The deification of popular opinion is one of the shortcomings of our particular brand of democracy."

I realize that I'm being a little bit of a crank with this piece, but I think the central thesis holds up.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elton Fever

I don't know where it came from exactly, but I haven't been able to get enough of Elton John lately. One day not too long ago an overwhelming urge to hear 'Levon' swept over me, and I ran out and bought his greatest hits. I've been listening to the double disc set nonstop ever since.

Listening to the old stuff--the stuff my dad used to listen to when I was a kid and it seemed like he was always taking me on errands to the hardware store or hobby shop (my dad was into building remote control airplanes)--has been thoroughly enjoyable. Elton John's songs from the 70's don't age. They're always either fun-fun or bittersweet-fun.

I haven't really followed him over the years, but he's written some good stuff. 'Sacrifice' is a great song. 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues' is also fun to listen to. My wife hasn't groaned when I've put him in the CD player yet, so I've still got a little while yet to get it out of my system.

Sometimes listening to a certain musician feels like taking a big drink of water. Music is the best thing that human beings have invented; It's certainly better than religion, which is another thing we've invented. Humans are good little inventors.

Here's another Elton John song that I didn't know existed that has really been satisfying to listen to. I love his change in attitude as he's gotten older, and the experience in his voice really works for him.

I'm glad he was born:

cross posted at Kos.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Baby News

My wife is pregnant, and we’re down to the dirty business of coming up with names. Because I am such a strong proponent of democracy, I’m going to open the process up and listen to opinions and take suggestions. And since I am a Democrat, I am going to ignore any of the suggestions you give that I don’t like, and go forward with what I was already going to do anyway (hey, that smarts!). Here are our selections so far.

My picks:

If it’s a girl:

Aayan (after Aayan Hirsi Ali), or Dorothy (after Dorothy Parker). Two women that I admire immensely, whose names are appealing to me for different aesthetic reasons.
Aayan is appealing because It’s unusual. We live in the Midwest, I and I expect my daughter will be able to get some cache out of such an exotic name. It’s also a very pretty name. Dorothy is appealing because it sounds like an old lady’s name, and everyone I have run it by as a possibility has cringed. For some reason I like that it’s an old lady’s name, and I’ve always enjoyed making people cringe.

Runner up:

There’s really no possibility of this, but just for shits and giggles I’ve considered telling all of my conservative family members that I’m going to name our baby ‘Hope Change Troxell’. The cringe factor on that one would be off the charts.

I think my wife and I have reached a consensus on a middle name for a girl. My wife’s middle name is Elizabeth, and we thought we’d pass that down. Men are always passing their family names down, so we thought we’d pass my wife’s name down to our third child. It also has the benefit of being a family name. So far, each of our two kids is named after an author and a family member. Either girl name would go pretty well with Elizabeth.

My wife hasn’t settled on a girl name yet.

If it’s a boy:

Harlan (after Harlan Ellison), or Henry (after no one in particular).

Harlan was my selection, Henry was my wife’s. I like both. My qualm with Henry is that we’re not naming him after an author that either of us would want to name a kid after. I like some of Henry Miller’s work, but really, do you want to name a kid after Henry Miller? I’m a fan of William James, but haven’t read any of Henry’s stuff. The best thing I think I might be able to tell Henry after he is born was that he was named after Indiana Jones.

Harlan is an awesome name, and Harlan Ellison is an awesome writer. He’s a crank, sure, but not in a way that I find offensive. We’re not sure about a middle name for a boy yet. We were thinking about Cleo, to name him after my grandfather, but my grandfather doesn’t even like that name.

A lot of people have been saying they hope we have a girl, because we’ve already got two boys. I’m happy either way, but foresee new challenges with a girl. It seems to me that men in our society like to have lots of opinions about how women should behave, and I am wary of allowing any future daughter of mine to be raised to be a princess or a housewife. I half-joke that I hope she’s a lesbian, and I have already promised a pair of teeny tiny combat boots as her first pair of shoes.

More on all of this later.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Preyed Upon By Prayer

The strong reaction over at The Daily Kos to my previous post (‘An Atheist Who Prays’), made me question whether or not I gave a clear enough picture of why I think I pray, what I think my prayer means, and whether or not I think prayer is a thing worth advocating.

Two Kossacks named Aravir and RandomActsOfReason got into a fairly long running argument about my intentions in the comment section, and I thought I might use some of their own language to clear things up a bit.

I think Aravir summed up part of my thesis nicely with this comment:

"Folks, it makes no sense, I don't even believe in a higher power, but praying seems to do something for me. Go figure."

And with the addition of this comment from Random, the summary is complete:

“we often engage in rituals out of habit, culture or upbringing, without conscious thought or rational reflection. I suggested it is possible that the need to continue to engage in traditional religious prayer might suggest a lingering doubt about doubt.”

Random also asks:

"why are you praying"? Why not do something else that evidence shows produces the desired effect? And, moreover, why are you praying using specifically religious terms - praying to "Dear Lord", etc.?"

I think I’m praying mainly because I was deeply religious at one point in my life, and prayer is kind of a behavioral atavism. I do have a doubt about doubt. I’m not a person to say ‘there is no god’, but I am someone to say that I don’t believe in God (at least in any of the notions of gods I’ve ever heard articulated).I am open to the idea of a god existing, but I’m pretty sure that my mode of contact with whatever that being might be is wholly man contrived, and something I do only because of who I’ve been in the past. I don’t expect the practice to remain with me. It’s a reflexive way to react to joy.

Random finishes up with this assertion:

“Testifying is a form of implicitly suggesting that a particular experience should be tried by others. Otherwise, there is no reason to share it in the form of a diary on a site whose mission and culture involves persuading people about their beliefs about various things.“

I don’t endorse prayer, implicitly or otherwise. I’m simply noting my experience. This is a deeply religious society, and sharing personal experiences—I have found—can be helpful to others in similar situations. My relationship with prayer and god has been a neurotic one. There’s no reason I should expect all of that to go away just because I stopped believing.

I am very glad to be free of religion, even if the voodoo has been so bred into me that I have my occasional 2 am ‘what if’ sessions.

Wholesale, I am good without god, and way better off without religion. That I still pray is a Pavlovian quirk, a body-memory reaction to joy. I don’t recommend prayer. I’m very much a ‘one hand working is worth far more than two hands praying kind of guy’. But do what you need to do. We’re weird animals, us humans, and we require a certain amount of behavioral latitude.

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Atheist Who Prays

I don’t believe in God. At least, not in any God I’ve ever read or heard about. The Gods I disbelieve in range all the way from the cranky Santa Claus that the people at Bob Jones University seem to believe in all the way up to that vacuous ‘ground of all being/god beyond god’ bullshit that Karen Armstrong is selling.

That being said, I have an admission to make.

I pray. Regularly.

Now, I’ve documented some of my tortured relationship with prayer in a piece of pseudo-fiction that can be found here. When I was a religious person, I took religion very seriously. I didn’t understand how a believing person couldn’t. I shot prayers of thanksgiving up the mail shoot all day, every day. While I was walking down the hallway. While I was driving (yikes, I know), before meals, and whenever else the celebratory urge of blessedness would hit me. Not too bad, you might think, to be so constantly aware of the good things in your life. I agree. Unfortunately, there was a dark side to my constant prayerfulness too. I was always praying for forgiveness for silly things, always fearfully rearranging the words I would use in prayer so as not to upset the deity, constantly using my conversations with the invisible man as a cudgel against myself, and a request for protection from evil forces that I believed in very much (perhaps more so than I believed in God).

Luckily, I’ve beat faith in God. I used to say ‘I lost my faith’, but that sounded like faith was something I should want to get back, or might need help searching for. ‘I’ve beat faith’ works better for me. It’s less like, ‘I’ve lost my car keys’, and more like ‘I’ve beat cancer.’ I didn’t give up religion because it was bad for me; I gave it up because I realized it didn’t make sense. That giving it up improved my overall well-being was secondary to the fact that as a person concerned with what is true, I could no longer justify espousing nonsense to myself and others.

So, my faith is gone, but my sense of blessedness is still very much present in my life. Actually, I feel even more blessed without religion. I feel a deep and profound awareness of how lucky I am to be here, how precious the people in my life are, and how duty-bound I am to try to make this world as good a place for both them and myself as I possibly can, especially since I can no longer bank on round 2 in heaven.

Giving up religion and the poisonous, self-marginalizing beliefs about innate sinfulness has opened my eyes to how much potential mankind has, and how much inherent worth each of us carries.

The love I have for my family has deepened incredibly. I have a wonderful, beautiful, smart, clever, funny, practical, sympathetic partner in my wife, and we have two gorgeous, curious, compassionate, creative little boys together, and a third baby on the way. I feel so honored to be here, and so happy to be a part of my family’s unit.

And so—probably because of the self-training I did in my religious days—I pray. I pray very conventionally, like I taught myself. ‘Dear Lord’s’ and ‘Amen’s’ included. I just feel overwhelmed with gratitude to be where I am in my life, and with the people that I am. To not offer thanks for these things would feel like the height of bad manners.

I’ve read and appreciated Dan Dennett’s ‘Thank Goodness’ essay. It’s an uplifting piece. I’ve tried to honor it’s advice, but just walking around with a sense of peace inside of me, and an awareness of good fortune and human possibility doesn’t feel like enough . I want to explode with joy if I try that for too long.

So I send prayers of thanks to my inner-cosmic mailbox, or wherever it is that prayers go. Maybe it’s paradoxical, but it’s where I’m at.

cross posted at Kos.