Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paul Ryan = Patrick Bateman

Pass it on.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Atheism Is Not Enough

I look forward to the day when I no longer feel as if I'm in a confederacy with people who don't believe in gods. Not believing in gods, you see is a negative trait. I feel a lessening connection to people who believe in evolution because the retreat of creationism/intelligent design is pretty much in full force now, and its destiny is clearly consigned to the realm of rejection of germ theory, belief in a flat earth, and people who think Ron Paul would make a good president. Most Christians have moved towards some synthesis of a belief in faith and religion, however problematic that may be*. It will be good when the day comes that a person's atheism is just assumed.

After I first left religion, it felt natural to look for the same kind of nourishment in the rejection of religion that I found in religion. Looking for community, spiritual sustenance, and a functioning worldview. But atheism does not provide those things in itself. Atheism is merely the absence of a belief in God, and only provides the starting point for these other nourishing things. I've seen a lot of people debating the merits and shortfalls of 'atheism plus' on the internet, but really, any worldview structure that is constructed on atheistic assumptions is 'atheism plus'. All of your politics, all of your humanism, all of your ideas about 'how it ought to be' is 'atheism plus'. Once a person becomes comfortable with their atheism, their job is to decide what their 'plus' is. I like to support atheist groups and sites, and to encourage atheists to be strong and to support each other--because we still are the most misunderstood and mistrusted minority group in the United States--but I am increasingly interested in building up my plusses.

To me, what I don't believe in is not nearly as important as what I do believe in. And what I do believe in is increasingly becoming less important to me than what I do. I am aware of areas in which I fail to behave charitably to my fellow man in my personal life. I'm aware of my tendency to hold grudges, discount the opinions of people who think differently than me (see the above statement about Ron Paul supporters) and to be selfish in the way I allocate my spare time. One of the quotations that I find myself building most of my plusses on is this quotation by Arthur Schopenhauer:
"The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not 'monsieur, sir' but 'fellow sufferer
, compagnon de misereres'. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes."
I want to be a good person. Accepting that there is no god was a step in the right direction for me, but atheism is not enough; I also have to believe in something.


*Why did god use a method of creation that looks exactly as it would be expected to look if there was no creator at all? And if he did use the violent, cruel, brainless method of evolution to arrive at mankind, what does it say about his character? He ends up looking more like the mad scientist than the loving god.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Status Updates August-September


9/12: I wonder if it bothers Mitt Romney sometimes to have to publicly pretend he's a homophobe.
.
9/12: The man in line in front of me at Speedway just bought 40 ounces of malt liquor and 20 lottery tickets. It.'s 6:30 am, I'm in Clermont County.

9/8: "The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not 'monsieur, sir' but 'fellow sufferer, compagnon de misereres'. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes." - Arthur Schopenhauer

9/5: In America, those of us not born with everything must fight for anything.

9/4: Phew! Great speeches tonight from Deval Patrick, Lily Ledbetter, and Julian Castro. And now Michelle Obama has me crying. I am sufficiently fired up.

9/4: Reading Schopenhauer to prepare my soul for re-entry into the adult world. Vacation is over.

8/28: Vacation, I am on you.

8/27: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself." - Philip Larkin

I'm going to ask my boys to read this poem out loud once they reach their thirties. If they are amused by it, I'll know I did okay. If I hand the book to them and they say, 'I don't need that, I've already got it memorized...' I'll apologize and offer to pay for their therapy sessions.

8/26: Happy anniversary, Abby! Asking you to marry me was probably one of the best impulsive decisions I've ever made. Thanks for loving me, and thanks for the babies. I like them too.

8/23: “The young teller
at the credit union
asked why so many
small checks
from universities?
Because I write
poems I said. Why
haven’t I heard
of you? Because
I write poems
I said.”
— Bob Hicok, Making it in poetry

8/23: Life! Someone send me an e-mail when they make sense out of this shit.

8/22: I love reading H.P. Lovecraft's letters to his friends. After describing how he was going to turn a dream of his into a story: "I wonder, though, if I have a right to claim authorship of things I dream? I hate to take credit, when I did not really think out the picture with my own conscious wits. Yet if I do not take credit, who’n Heaven will I give credit tuh? Coleridge claimed “Kubla Khan”, so I guess I’ll claim the thing an’ let it go at that. But believe muh, that was some dream!!" I was going to dedicate the rest of the year to reading Hellboy comic books, but I might intersperse those with Lovecraft letters.

8/17: "I would die for her...but she also wants me to do the dishes." - Hellboy, perfectly encapsulating the biggest challenge to sustaining romance.

8/15: Satan is my spirit animal.

8/15: 'Like a Prayer' by Madonna may be my favorite song ever. It has the perfect mix of hopefulness, blasphemy, sex, romance, and armchair philosophy.

8/14: Killing it is my business, and business is good.

8/13: Bracing myself for the regular Monday night bullhorn church service across the street. Be strong, my soul.

8/9: Langston can now identify Trotsky, Lenin, and Elmo by sight.

8/8: my dog is so excited to see me when I get home that he literally runs around in frantic circles of mindless ecstasy for around fifteen minutes after I first open the door. If only all relationships were so easy...I wonder if that's what christians will do when Jesus comes back.

8/6: Langston just put a bookmark in a board book he was casually flipping through and laid it right next to mine on the night stand.

8/5: Once, about a year or so ago, someone bought a few boxes of Smiley-face Busken bakery cookies and put them in the employee lounge for everyone to enjoy. Ever since that day, I walk into our lounge every day hoping to see an open box of Smiley-face Busken bakery cookies waiting for me. I know it's an unrealistic thing to expect every day, but those are really good cookies.

8/4: It always comes back to Dickens: my greatest sins are born of ignorance and need. More often than not, my sins are born from ignorance of what I really need.

8/4: "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." Seneca. I don't think I'd be able to make it through life without Epictetus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Montaigne, and Schopenhauer. I need to build a bible for myself of their maxims, essays, and aphorisms.

8/2: I need to stay in touch with people just frequently enough to avoid having to ask the question, 'so, how are you guys?' every time we talk. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Atheists Are Sinners Too

The word 'sin' is one that I believe is worth appropriating from religion. This may seem surprising, because much of many atheists' complaint against religion--next to the lack of evidence--is based on religion's establishment of a moral code based on absolute dictates believed on faith rather than worked out through reason, that brings with it the specter of hell and heaven, beliefs in vicarious redemption, and the establishment of an oppressive value system that births an unnecessary order of officials that stand between the population receiving the moral dictates and the giver of the moral dictates, i.e., the preacher class.

But 'sin' is a useful concept, because it establishes the possibility of deviating from the good, and by implication points towards the existence of an absolute good, or a working definition of good faith, or deeds and thoughts that maximally contribute to individual and social well-being, or a high point on the moral landscape; however you want to phrase it. For the sake of this conversation, it doesn't even matter if you do interpret the word in a religious fashion; 'Sin' is an infraction against this established code. It keeps us responsible, and gives us a better version of ourselves to aspire towards.

Jorge Luis Borges said, 'Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone'. Morality is not given to us from on high*, but is developed in the incubator of the individual, who takes influences from genetic predispositions, societal morays, their own reason, and evolving situations. It is reinforced by culutural and internal pressures, and is spread memetically throughout our society. Moral codes win primacy through conflict. Everyone--even the relativists--have a moral code.

Sin is with us. It is a concept that is easily recognized by the human consciousness. It is common and easy to think of 'crime' and 'sin' as interchangable, but often the two things couldn't be more different. Crimes are infractions of laws based on societal morays, which oftern also happen to be good. Sometimes, however--often, I would even say--laws are sinful, and it would be sinful not to break them.

Whatever the philosophical basis of our moral code, there are acts that we can commit that we know inherently were not right. These acts produce a feeling of guilt. I feel no guilt when I commit the crime of going 10 miles over the speed limit on the highway, nor do I feel any guilt when I drive through a four way stop when there is no other car in sight for miles and miles. Likewise, committing a crime that I feel would benefit an opressed class or disenfranchised individuals within the context of a system created to disadvantage them would also cause me no loss of sleep. When I am unjust or uncharitable towads people I have authority over, however--like my children, or my employees--I feel guilt, and the need to make amends, even though I have committed no crime. It doesn't take a judge or a police officer to point my errors out to me or to punish me when I sin; crime requires punishment, but sin comes with its own built-in penalty.

Religion is a dying thing. At least, the religion that talks about sin, and salvation, and grace, and good and evil is. Cultural and moral relativism is winning the day. At least superficially. Because even the relativist has a code of values and judgment they live by. They have just cleverly evaded the public need to declare their system in order to appear all embracing. Ask a moral relativist how they feel about The Ku Klux Klan or the third reich to test their lack of belief in moral absolutes.

I am arguing that we should salvage some of the good language from religion that points to concepts that pre-existed religion, and already resonate in the human mind and soul. Let's keep sin, and make our case in the public sphere as to which things we believe should fall under that heading, and even if those things do not achieve primacy, let's keep them in our hearts, and guard against them.

'Soul'. There is another word that I like. But that's probably another conversation.



*the response to anyone who says morality must come from god is the question: 'Is it good because God says it is, or does god say it is good because it is good? If it is good because God says it is, then morality is subjective. If God says it is good because it is good, then good is outside of God, and larger.'