Friday, October 31, 2008

Letting Go of My Judaism

For a formerly religious individual shifting toward atheism, one of the hardest processes has to be rethinking all the assumptions that we took for granted for years and sometimes decades. The list of these truisms could fill many volumes, and the Bible is certainly the source of many. From obvious ones like those contained in the Ten Commandments, to more subtle views, such as the role of women, it can take a lot of time and patience to examine each one rationally. On top of the formalized canon, we often grow up surrounded by family members, neighbors, co-congregants at church and classmates all echoing the same opinions and disguising them as fact.

Quite recently, I’ve come to see that I’m not entirely innocent of this. While I’ve been pretty diligent about rejecting the fictions fed to me during my 15 years as a Christian, I now understand that I’ve been equally blinded during the 32 years or so since my freshman year of college, when I began exploring the paternal side of my family tree – the Jewish side.

Even a year ago, I would not have thought to post a blog like this.

Here’s a quick summary of a few vestiges of faith that I have stubbornly hung onto, to one degree or another:

• Everything Israel does is absolutely right, no matter how much the world community protests and no matter how brutal it may appear to an “outsider.”
• Jews are inherently more moral than other people.
• All religious law that originated with Judaism is logical at the core, even if it’s hard to fathom in the modern age.
• All Muslims are the enemy.
• Judaism is in danger of becoming extinct and this cannot be allowed to happen.
• Anybody who voices objection to Jewish practices is either anti-Semitic or ignorant, and these two things are really synonymous.
• My Jewish father lowered himself by marrying my Gentile mother; he came from a better “bloodline.”

Is there a “chosen people?” A year ago I would have said yes. I find it encouraging to have backed away from such a notion on two fronts: As a Unitarian Universalist, I promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the goal of a world community, with peace, liberty and justice for all. And as an atheist, I find it unacceptable to endorse “chosenness.” Unless someone can prove to me that Jews, or any other group of people historically singled out as being exceptional and distinguishable from other humans, actually originated somewhere outside our planet and possess measurable, objective qualities that make them superior to others here on Earth, I will strive to reject any such notions, no matter how deeply rooted they are or how strongly rejected by what some call the “conventional wisdom.”

I’d like to try fine-tuning my previous misconceptions, based on those two principles.

• Israel has maintained something closer to a democracy than the other (Islamic) countries that surround it. However, very much like the United States, it has more recently taken its roots for granted – just because it was originally founded to protect a persecuted class of people does not always make Israel the target or the victim. Sometimes the Israeli government falsely justifies brutality and oppression purely out of fear.
• Jews are not inherently more moral than any other people. There is a strong correlation between a codified scripture and a tradition of reason and our Western democratic ideals. That gives Jews and Christians good reason to view themselves as more moral by nature, but in truth, the morality is a learned one, and the learning process itself is highly imperfect. This particular weakness in my thinking hit me just this morning, listening to the NPR report about the kosher slaughterhouse in the Midwest, whose owner, first name Shalom, is the target of a federal investigation for illegal hiring practices. My knee-jerk reaction was something like “Oh, no, a religious Jew knows better than to hire workers under unfair conditions,” and this was based entirely on all the Torah and Talmud that was spoon-fed to me during my college years. Ideas I simply absorbed as iron-bound truth. In a similar way, I was horrified and let down upon hearing of the infamous crimes committed by child abuser Joel Steinberg, and Ira Einhorn, who murdered his girlfriend and then lived as a fugitive overseas for over a decade. I also know how many people make the opposite assumption: that all Jews are fundamentally evil and greedy. In fact, the way I learned it, all non-Jews are anti-Semitic at heart! I knew a woman some years ago who declared that all Christian churches preach “blood libel” every Sunday. This was so ridiculous, I called her on it, thinking maybe I misunderstood what she had said. But she re-asserted it. That was the end of our friendship.

What we have to get straight, once and for all, is that it’s all too easy for us humans to give in to our baser impulses and act completely in our own short-sighted self-interest and think about consequences later. It doesn’t matter what religion or ethnicity our ancestors were! And we all tend to show favoritism toward those who resemble us. It’s a fallacy in our thinking that keeps us down at a primitive level, rather than allowing us to be elevated to our potential of intelligence.
• All religious law that originated with Judaism may have seemed logical at the time it was set down, but its focus was narrow and imperfect. It was used to justify behavior that was a means toward an end. It is not supernatural in origin! It is not timeless or universal. It may be interesting to study and some of it may be adaptable to our present age, but it must all be viewed with great caution and objectively assessed.
• Side note: Yes, our present system of government is based largely upon Judeo-Christian principles that came before. Some of it’s great; some of it has to go. Keep the good stuff; ignore the stupid and harmful. We can have our democracy without someone else’s theocracy.
• Not all Muslims subscribe to the theocratic, oppressive belief system that is so commonly seen on the news. Like Christians, Jews, and other religious people, they’ve been brainwashed and victimized by the entire religious mindset. All humans can be reasoned with, under the right circumstances, and no one should be condemned just because of a label.
• “Judaism,” exemplified at its best by reason, logic, intellect, study, and discourse, is only in danger of becoming extinct if these qualities are neglected and devalued! We can always honor our ancestry and reflect on its lessons, regardless of who we marry or what culture we adapt to. We have to learn to let go of ethnocentrism if we are to advance the only race that matters to our existence: The human race. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Found this article referenced on LiveJournal...

Prof. Dawkins is taking aim at Harry Potter for the same reason he takes aim at the fundies who condemn the books.

It's all magical thinking, he claims, all an encouragement to children to follow their elders' path to delusion.

Despite being a devotee of all things Potter, I have no problem with this, for a couple of reasons:

Dawkins is not taking the hard line toward the Potterverse that he has taken toward religious dogma ... in fact, this article says he's embarked upon research to check it out thoroughly and objectively.

He admits he hasn't read any of Rowling's work yet and has no fixed opinion. Quite different from this charming lady, who literally judges a book by its cover.

I see too many parallels between fundamentalist religion and some new-age doctrine. While it's nice to speculate about "energy," "vibrations" and "unseen forces" influencing our lives, it's all too easy to delude one's self by substituting one questionable mindset for another. Our society encourages this on a universal scale, and it's troubling.

There are no Potter churches; even in high school, nobody gets ostracized by saying "I'm glad other people enjoy Harry Potter, but it just isn't for me." Try doing that at your average church!

Get the facts! Know the science!

...and then enjoy some escapism without getting lost in La La Land. Click Here to Read More..

Doing my bit for the cause

This is for Reggie Finley, The Infidel Guy.

He has a MySpace page, and I've been a fan ever since he appeared on Trading Spouses (or was it Wife Swap? ... anyway, you get the idea).

Please check him out if you haven't yet, and help him out if you can!


Keep The Infidel Guy Show on the air!
Much like PBS, it's time again for fans of The Infidel Guy to help keep us on the air.
More details are available at infidelguy. com

http://www. infidelguy. com

--- John Loftus will be our guest this Thursday discussing his new book. Why I became an atheist. 10-30-2008 @ 8PM ET.

-- Thanks for all of the help guys.

-- Reggie Finley Sr Click Here to Read More..

Friday, October 24, 2008

Leftover Christian Fiction

There was a time, at the height of my religious phase, when I was an eager consumer of anything offered for sale at Christian bookstores. As a regular listener to religious radio, I got plenty of recommendations for authors of both fiction and non-fiction. One of those authors is Frank Peretti -- I've read 3-1/2 of his books. Three were penned by him; another was a collaboration. I remember most of his books only vaguely, though I'll give him a bit of credit for trying. The dyed-in-the-wool Christian reader (who hasn't had much exposure to more mainstream fare) will find him "edgy," I am sure. He follows the standard protocol of limiting the language to about a PG-level -- lots of "hecks" and "darns" and euphemisms for basically everything -- but pulls it off reasonably well without letting it become a distraction. He also has a taste for action and suspense, so you don't necessarily feel like you're being forced to sit through interminable reruns of The Andy Griffith Show or Little House on the Prairie when you pick up one of his novels.

And for the Christian reader, this is sufficient. Mild entertainment, with the payoff being the preachy message woven throughout.

The number of tomes on my shelves left over from those days can now be counted on one hand, with a digit or two to spare. I've got a couple of dusty bibles and a book called The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. I haven't picked that one up in about 7 years; one of these days I'll check it out again and most likely will come to a parting of the ways with it.

Beyond that is a Peretti novel called The Oath. Its description in Wikipedia says that it's Peretti's most acclaimed work. I can believe this, because I hung onto it and have re-read it even after giving up completely on Christianity and all religion within the last 6 years.

The basic elements of the story include a small, isolated mining town in the Pacific Northwest; various people brutally killed or vanished without a trace; corrupt cops; secrecy and distrust of outsiders, and the probable existence of a dragon.

The dragon is merely symbolic, but where Peretti goes so far off into la-la land is in his depiction of the villain at the heart of the legend. The founder of the town was a despot, a tyrant, a man of many vices. So far, so good. Since this is a Christian novel, it's no surprise that the bad guy kills an itinerant preacher and banishes anyone who may have embraced Christianity. This is because the Christians are suddenly campaigning for workers' rights and are putting a damper on the local brothel's once-thriving business.

But hold on -- the bad guy is eventually revealed as (don't be too shocked now!) an atheist, who has the gall to draw up a town charter that includes the following statements:

"...having founded and established the city...through their own resources, wisdom and resolve...
"...confident of their own capacity for good, do wish to pursue happiness, peace and contentment by whatever avenue they may choose...
"We are the masters and makers of our own destiny.
"There is no God but Reason.
"Only by Reason can Truth be established."
and the last line:
"If This Be Sin, Let Sin Be Served."

Other than the last line, these sound like my kinda people!

But of course, Mr. Peretti has other ideas. The present-day bad guy (grandson of the original one) is shown conducting a ritual, whereby he writes the names of his enemies on a slip of paper, burns it on an altar in the dark of night, and sits back with smug satisfaction as the people he named disappear, presumably devoured by an immense fire-breathing reptile.

This does not sound like something Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins would do. Unless you're a fundie who has been steeped in the fallacy that atheists are simply better-educated versions of your average mass-murdering cannibal child rapist!

This most recent read-through convinced me that The Oath will be making a swan dive into the bin on my next trip to the recycling center (which is tomorrow). Rather than impressing me as a better-than-average example of Christian fiction, it does little now other than offend and annoy me.

Trashing a book is a drastic step for me, but this is little more than slander, and I will not pass it on to some naive reader and add to the damage done by such misguided minds as Frank Peretti. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, October 23, 2008

He's Honest. You Gotta Give Him That.

Like many others in the 1990s, I thought of Alan Greenspan as some sort of financial guru. It wasn't my area, really (still isn't, probably never will be), but he was one person for whom I was willing to put aside my core liberal inclinations and go with the free-market flow. It seemed to be working, at least for me ... I had a steady job and was getting along well enough; there seemed abundant, limitless hope for the economy of the future. I had plenty of other stuff to worry about besides macroeconomics.

Well, now the macro has, um, trickled down here to us micro types; it's all falling to pieces (though, knock wood, I remain employed and expect to continue that way), and Mr. Greenspan has had to come crawling out of his peaceful retirement and eat crow up on Capitol Hill.

I don't hate the guy, or even dislike him. He's not a smug, smirking, insensitive jerkwad like Phil Gramm, who seems to think anybody who isn't mindlessly happy continuing the status quo unto infinity is merely a "whiner."

No, Alan Greenspan came clean. He said, in effect, "I was wrong." And this is how he said it:

Greenspan called this

"a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works."

I mean, dayum, that is elegant! He not only admits to being wrong about housing prices, the banking industry, the credit system and deregulation, he basically says he was wrong about EVERYTHING.

And at the age of ! 82 !, he's -- dare I say the word? -- articulate.

My family of origin had a few stock sayings. One of them was "Let's face it..."

Another was "He's honest. You gotta give him that."

I'll give it to him.

What the hell. Click Here to Read More..

Oh those backward folks in Saudi Arabia ... but wait...

Interesting little story on CNN. Made me think.

This is one of those quickie generalizations I've been known to make when I only have a couple more minutes before having to get off the computer and ready for work.


Is American TV REALLY all that much more progressive than Arab TV?

Don't our soap operas glorify the dysfunctional, codependent woman who would be diagnosed as "borderline personality" by any competent psychologist?

Don't prime time shows exalt the beautiful-but-dumb stereotype and winkingly excuse obnoxious, sexist behavior in men?

Don't female news anchors, politicians and corporate executives all feel the pressure to tone down their personalities and project a more "feminine" image?


Gotta go. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Done Deal. And Now We Wait.

Well, the loan has been approved (which means the people at Equifax are doing some serious chemicals), and I am now on the hook for about $22K.

And Wally still firmly believes that Doug is going to pay it back and that I won't have to. He won't even entertain the notion that my suspicions and distrust could be justified. He cut me off as I tried to express my misgivings -- he was downright rude. Well, all righty then. I still think Doug is a slug; that he still wants to try to ruin me financially, and that this is his twisted way of keeping a connection between us.

Yes, I suppose Doug may have told himself at some juncture that he has behaved badly during the last several years and needs to let it go and start acting like a human being again, which would mean that he intends to keep his word...

...just as there may be li'l piggies with wings out there that I've simply never had the opportunity to meet.

It will be interesting to see what happens in March of next year when the first payment is due. We will see if Wally is singing the same tune. And I guarantee, however callous it may sound, that if my prediction trumps his, he WILL hear about it. In detail. He will also be informed that any and all future monetary requests to me will be refused, for as long as it takes for ME to repay this loan. The rest of his undergraduate experience, grad school if applicable, wedding, birth(s) of child(ren), and most especially, any "inconveniences" such as speeding tickets or other similar misadventures. He gets his medical costs paid for by me, and that's it.

Of course, if those flyin' piggies happen to show up, I'll gladly go back to being his mother again. Click Here to Read More..

The Phone as a Weapon of Mass Frustration

My new favorite place to get a cheap laugh is this site; the timing is perfect, too, because they post their new stuff for the day during the hour that I'm noodling here on the PC before signing off to get ready for work.

Today's offering was a phone conversation that brought back several vivid memories of similar encounters. Two of these took place when I worked for the psychologist back 20 years or so.

Giving driving directions to the emotionally fragile is always an adventure.

Me: So, take I-75 to exit 201, then turn left at the bottom of the exit ramp.
Caller: At the bottom of the what?
Me (feeling like the idiot here for some reason): The exit ramp. You know, you get off the interstate, and there's that little road that takes you to the road you're trying to get to...
Caller: What little road? What's the name of it?
Me: Let's try this again...

A person who doesn't know what an exit ramp is should NOT be driving themselves to an appointment to take an IQ test.

Another time:
Me: Make a left turn at the light, into our parking lot. There are three office buildings. Look for the one with the big "Sports Institute" sign at the top.
Caller: The big sign that says what?
Me: "Sports Institute."
Caller: Forks Institute?
Me: No, SPORTS. You know, sports. Baseball, football, soccer, SPORTS.
Caller: It's a baseball park?
Me (thinking, not saying): You just hang on, I'm gonna run over to the nearest bar and toss back a few, and then I'll be ready to talk to you some more... Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Atheists Become Increasingly Vocal" - Article

...courtesy of the Ft. Myers FL News-Press, by way of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

Atheists become increasingly vocal

By PETER SMITH • Gannett News Service • October 21, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Alan Canon grew up in a fundamentalist household and was a Bible camp prize winner.

But his family also valued science, and he ultimately couldn't reconcile the two and became an atheist.

"For people openly to say they're atheist is similar to gay people coming out," said Canon, of Louisville, who often wears a pin with a scarlet-letter "A" to prompt conversations about atheism. "It's not popular at all for people to say they're atheist, especially in these parts."

More here Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Doing something for the world before I stagger off to bed

Similar to the "Grains of Rice Vocabulary Quiz" (see sidebar), this one is for water. Click Here to Read More..

Diagnosis: I have a personality. Sort of.

drawing personality

What does your drawing say about YOU?

The results of your analysis say:

You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much.
You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
You are creative, mentally active and industrious.
You feel morose and are prone to lethargy.

I wanted my path to swing around to the left and go BEHIND the mountain but my mouse wasn't cooperating and I didn't want to start over.

Try it. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hooray for Hilary (the other one)

Actress Hilary Duff has launched a public service advertising campaign to discourage teenagers from using expressions like "That's so gay" as putdowns.

Good for her.

I grew up in an intensely blue-collar Long Island suburb, in which the word "fag" was the forerunner of "nerd" or "geek."

I suspect a teenager's conscience can be more readily appealed to than that of any other age group. It will be interesting to see this issue gain more widespread attention. It may also continue on its course to include other types of people, such as the overweight. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hope it comes out...

I am not, nor have I ever been, a photographer. I do not yet own a digital camera (someday, maybe...). It's disposables all the way because I don't have the confidence to load film.

Occasionally, a photo will surprise me and come out really well. But usually if I make a serious attempt at photographing something, I'm born to lose.

This morning I stepped out on the front porch, getting ready to lock up and head for the car and work, and just happened to look up. The sky was a faint pink and the full moon was on its way westward. Sunsets where we live are beautiful EVERY evening, even if it's raining or snowing. But lovely sunrises are more rare, especially one like this. So I went back in the house, grabbed the Kodak disposable we picked up when we visited the Smokies on Labor Day, and snapped two versions of this interesting early-morning sky. One with the flash on, one without. Ya never know.

I'm really hoping it will come out. I want to call it "Sunrise Moon." My husband thinks I should call it "Moon Over the 'Hood."

Stay tuned; it may end up here if I get lucky. Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Turning a Corner? Stepping Off a Cliff?

I had a long conversation with Doug regarding Wally's education.

Doug, Wally and I have gone back and forth and all around for many months regarding how Wally's college is to be paid for. To be sure, I've barely a penny to spare right now. I have Wally on my health insurance, which is quite good, and send him small checks when I can. But if I were the sole source of funding, Wally could kiss college goodbye. Fortunately, Doug put money aside some time ago for Wally. The downside of this is that in applying for financial aid, Doug's finances can't be considered or Wally will get none. The application used Carl and me as parent sources because we show up as poor (which we are). Beyond the small grant that Wally got, the rest has to come from direct payments or loans. Doug decided to go the loan route, since it slows down the rate at which he has to shell out money. This I understand. However, the loan application also has to be in my name. If it goes under Doug's name, he has to forfeit the small grant.

The plan is for Doug to write the loan payment checks. However, it's my name on this loan. So that if Doug becomes unable or unwilling to continue writing checks, guess who gets hit with a loan default?

There was this concern, and also Wally's odd behavior. I'd almost be willing to bet that he's been up to something. He's asked me for my social security number a couple of times; he's gone on the school's website with me on the phone. Every time I go onto the website, I end up with a dead end. So he goes on the website, using my information, and somehow gets through. Then he tells me, OK, a 'promissory note' is going to come to you in the mail or via e-mail; just sign it and we'll be good to go. After several days he tells me "I'm not sure what I did, but I got a note from the school saying you had to sign it, not me, so you're gonna have to go on the website and do this." Sounds to me like he's been trying to make an end-run around me, get this thing signed under my name and get it going without my direct participation. This would be because of the questions and objections I've raised, making it clear that I don't trust Doug any farther than I could fling a Steinway. Wally, of course, feels like he's stuck in the middle, and I think this is how he's attempted to resolve it. However, it didn't work for him. So now it's back to me.

Coincidentally (not), Doug calls me, ostensibly to wish me a happy birthday and invites me to call him if I "want to talk about anything." So I called him; we talked; I expressed my very valid concerns about this loan thing.

Here's where we ended up: Yes, it's true that Doug could screw me over royally if he decided to stop writing checks. However, here's the nugget I got from this. Wally getting a college degree is a very high priority for Doug. Perhaps the highest. So, he says, he's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.

If he stops writing checks, yeah, it would put me in default of the loan. But it could also put an end to Wally's education. I think he's sincere about this, and I think I'm probably not completely helpless in this thing. If he tried to back out of paying this, I believe I would have some recourse. I may not be able to go after him directly, but I could put some interested parties on his trail.

More than anything, I sense that Wally is under a huge amount of strain regarding the hostility between Doug and me.

Doug said "Wally needs to get a degree." I answered "He needs to get a job." A moment later, I played the tape back to myself and decided I was voicing a lower-class mentality, and it echoed some of what I internalized -- the idea that being employed is more important than being educated. It was this mindset that led to me dropping out of college to enter the workforce because it made me feel more like an adult. During the years since our divorce, I've become aware of a class gulf of sorts between Doug and me. He's done much better money-wise and class-wise than I have. I had been fairly upwardly mobile during the time we were married, but at some point, I retreated back to my blue-collar roots (becoming an evangelical Christian was part of that). Meanwhile, I've filed Chapter 7, maxed out credit cards, and basically descended several rungs down the social ladder.

I hate to admit it more than anything, but Doug is right about that, at least. Getting the college degree is more important for Wally in the long term than being a schlub chasing a paycheck. I have been so hostile toward Doug for so long (probably going back to the days before we even moved in together), that I've adopted a "whatever Doug is in favor of, I'm completely against!" type of stance. I've long known that my relationship with Doug was like a 15-year extension on my childhood -- I moved out of my parents' house and into his, and simply continued my stubborn, short-sighted patterns. In fact, I even replicated what my parents had: Dad was into order and success. Mom was into chaos and self-sabotage.

It's one thing for me to opt for a life that's just a few millimeters above trailer-trash, but I shouldn't drag Wally down into that as well.

Long & short of it: I'll sign the goddamn promissory note and hope Doug doesn't decide to get greedy or ugly and leave me holding the bag.
Nothing beyond this point... Click Here to Read More..

Days to Remember

Atheist Jew offers an interesting New Meme: Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

1. Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?
For this question I am using the standard definition of atheist: Answering the question "do you believe in God" with a NO.

A. No, not specifically. I do know that by spring of 2007 I was writing snarky rejoinders to Mary Grabar on It got so bad she pulled the column off-line. By that time I had read Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, after seeing it advertised in Harper's Magazine, sometime in the fall of '06. Dawkins and a re-reading of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World followed shortly thereafter. Around the same time, I joined the UU church, which has been a source of joy, courage and renewal for me.

However, during preceding decades I had considered myself an atheist on and off. But back then I tended to give knee-jerk responses based on mood or mindset, without really considering what it all meant. The same held true during the 15 years I spent being religious.

2. Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

A. This was very much a gradual process, starting with my "renunciation" in 2002. I remember starting by being angry with God -- see below -- but trying to qualify it by saying I had nothing against organized religion.

3. How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?

A. Okay, now this one I can answer: the days leading up to Friday, August 9, 2002. As I've described elsewhere in this blog, I'd just come off about a month's unemployment and was working one temp job after another. Like a good li'l Christian, I was "giving thanks" when a new assignment would come, but almost as soon as the prayer went up, bam, the job was gone. This went on for a few weeks. At one point, I said "Okay, let's see what happens if I don't pray any 'pleases' or 'thank-you's.'" Sure enough, that particular assignment showed signs of turning into something permanent. Then I fell back on habit, prayed on it, and whoops, another dead end.

That particular Friday was the end of a week spent interviewing. I had a fair amount of time to think, since the temp assignment was undemanding. I'd gotten so into the habit of putting my mind on auto-pilot, just "waiting to hear from God," but for a change, I began thinking about happier times in my life. I zipped back to spring and summer of 1987 -- those were happy, optimistic times. But then I attended a Messianic service (ironically, also on a Friday), thinking it was something that might improve my life. In the ensuing 15 years, I miscarried, my parents died, my marriage went down the tubes, my finances were in turmoil, I totaled my car, got chicken pox, and experienced ups and downs in jobs and relationships. It came to me in one incredible moment of clarity: I had been much happier before I became a Christian. I may not always have made the right decisions, but they were "my" decisions -- what the fundies call "leaning on your own understanding" -- rather than waiting for the Sky Wizard to give me clues. In a fair amount of disgust, I asked myself what kind of sheep I'd turned into. I felt more excited and turned on about life than I'd felt in a long time; that evening and the weekend that followed, I couldn't think of anything else. All I could think about was the person I had been "before," and went about working to recapture that sense of myself.

I felt no particular surprise on Monday when one of the places I'd interviewed at called to tell me I had a job. Another temp assignment, but this one was long-term and it gave me the spare time I needed to fine-tune my resume; ultimately, I landed a permanent job, one of the best I ever had. It greatly enhanced my net worth and lasted until I moved to where I am now.

There have been ups and downs in my life, but that decision marked the beginning of a trend of improvement that began with my 4-year depression lifting and continuing to today. By the way, today's my 50th birthday... Yay!!

4. Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

A. Yes. But it was also anger toward myself. If not for that, I probably would have sunk back into passive mode. Calling myself a sheep somehow jolted me out of my complacency and made everything else happen. It was as though I took my ego out of mothballs and put it back on.

5. Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

A. I'll let Atheist Jew answer this one, since my POV is quite similar: My honest answer is yes, for a little while I think. But I don't believe that ghosts are possible anymore, probably because I've become more of a militant skeptic atheist type, reading lots of science stuff and all in the last 5 or 6 years.

And I'll add: I haven't totally abandoned astrology, though even at its peak, my interest was cautious and laced with solid skepticism. I enjoy looking for correlations between what's actually happening in my life and what shows on a chart. Occasionally I find them, but more often than not, I don't. The more I study REAL science, the more confident I feel in dismissing paranormal stories I hear, regardless of how sincere or credible the storyteller may seem. The closest to a "spiritual" bent in me nowadays is a fondness for Stephen King's fiction.

6. Do you want to be wrong?

A. NO. I spent 15 years being wrong. All it was is wasted time. I can't afford to squander time anymore. Being "wrong" means surrendering my own judgment, and I've belatedly come to understand how precious it is. I intend to nurture it. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I almost, sort of get this.

CNN recently had a feature story about phobias. As an example, they used this one lady who could not cope with wet wood:

"If I saw someone lick a wooden spoon, I had to turn away," says the 41-year-old massage therapist from Portland, Oregon.

"I'd break out into a sweat ... and I'd just get sick to my stomach. I could not even look at someone with a toothpick in their mouth."

It wasn't just looking at wet wood that freaked her out. It was touching it, too.

"I could not eat Popsicles to the end," [she] explains. "As soon as I got close to the end, I would give it to my kids. I would not even own wooden utensils because I could not wash them. Not even in the dishwasher because they would still be damp when they came out."

Until [she] was treated by a professional -- a process that involved gradual exposure to wet wood to "reprogram" the way she thought about it -- physical contact with wet trees, fences and the deck surrounding her hot tub was out of the question. (Instead, she would wear slippers to walk back to the house post-soak.)

OK, I can happily and confidently say that I'm not phobic about anything. True, I've never been through an earthquake, a tsunami or a tornado, and any one of those would probably leave me catatonic. I'm somewhat over-avoidant behind the wheel when it comes to making left turns when there's heavy traffic and no traffic light, and my personal "squick" is amputation. But that's far from being phobic. I can cope with all those things. Yes, even spiders. I used to be kind of freaky about arachnids, until I worked at a summer camp where the choice was adapt or go home and forfeit the $300 salary plus theoretical tips.

I'm not terribly good with high places. Not too many years ago I climbed a ladder and got myself up on top of the refrigerator, for the purpose of scraping some wallpaper that was near the ceiling. Once I got there I was suddenly overcome with a paralyzing certainty that I was going to either get stuck up there (the ladder wobbled a few inches out of reach when I hit the last step) or fall; it was about a minute or two of not being able to move, until I remembered that the sink was just beneath the edge where I was huddling and hyperventilating. Then I was okay in a hurry. I will often forget this problem and scramble all the way up to a roof or other such perch and then get the willies for a few minutes. But I'm not phobic in the sense that even thinking about high places puts me into a swoon, or that standing on an 8-inch Rubbermaid stepstool is an impossibility. So I think for me it's really more vertigo than acrophobia. And of course, it's all a matter of degree. I'm sure Phillippe Petit never got the heebie jeebies on top of a réfrigérateur.

All in all, I really don't understand phobias all that well. I will even go so far as to admit that I'm a tad on the insensitive side. I will indulge the neuroses of people I am close to, mainly in order to avoid having to listen to them go on & on about it (which they are guaranteed to do...).

I've written about my mother before, and I suppose she's the one who immunized me against taking this sort of problem too seriously.

My first exposure to Mom's catalogue of fears was at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. The three of us rode the SkyLiner across the fairgrounds and about halfway along, Mom managed to work into the conversation that she had a "fear of heights." I was only about 6, but even then, I remember thinking something along the lines of ...and what, may I ask, has this to do with me? Yes, you can say it, I was a little shit. Still am.

But then, shortly after that day, we were at home and Mom was having one of "those" evenings where she would consume mass quantities of brewed beverages, smoke about 2 packs of cigarettes, and sit at the kitchen table detailing all her sorrows while I sat on the sofa and listened to her. At that stage of my life I found Mom quite fascinating.

We got onto the subject of the SkyLiner again. I said "...and you have a fear of heights." Mom answered, "No. I'm afraid of being closed in!" That's when I learned the word claustrophobia. It was also when I learned about Mom having been enticed by an uncle, offering candy, into a chicken coop when she was quite young; he then, according to the story, locked her in there and left her alone.

All these decades later, I'm reasonably convinced that he didn't just lock her in there. I don't think she ever told me anything about how she got out. And having spent a number of years working for a psychologist whose sub-specialty was child sexual abuse, I've drawn some pretty sweeping conclusions about that incident. It makes a lot of sense in light of my mother's overall temperament and attitudes. While I often express exasperation at her emotional weakness, I do not make light of this trauma, and have often wished my great-uncle Paul had lived long enough for me to tell him off good and proper. To the tune of a hick'ry stick.

So while I didn't hear much after that from my mom about her fear of heights, I did hear a great deal throughout the ensuing years about her claustrophobia. She was almost always drinking when she talked about it, and often she'd make statements that simply made no sense, even when I was pretty young.

I once remarked how unpleasant it would be to be locked out of the house. "Oh," she said, "I don't worry about that. I worry about being locked in! That would be the most awful thing in the world!" I then proceeded to explain to my mother how utterly impossible it would be to get locked in our house. We had three doors, and every one of them locked from the inside. Then there were windows. "You could kick the screen out, Mom! It's easy!" said Little Miss Logic over here. True, the upstairs rooms would be hard to evacuate through the windows, but, as I reasoned, Mom didn't spend much time upstairs, so what was there to worry about?

Anybody remember The Gong Show? Chuck Barris was the host; it was an amateur-hour type of show, in which performers of varying degrees of talent would attempt to get through a whole minute of doing their act before a judge got sick of them and struck a huge gong. But that's not the point. Chuck Barris liked to do a silly dance during the closing credits, and for whatever reason, he often put a fedora on his head and pulled the brim all the way down over his eyes while he danced. It drove my mother nuts -- "I can't stand to watch that--it gets me all claustrophobic." There we were, enjoying this utterly innocuous TV show, and Mom had to darken the occasion with reminders of her awful childhood 50-some years before. No one was putting anything over her face; no one was locking her in a chicken coop. As was the case many times, I felt resentful of this declaration; though I didn't put it in these exact words, my feeling was "Yeah, Mom, I almost forgot, it's all about you." I never lacked sympathy for my mom's terrifying childhood experience, but I did dislike her tendency to bring it up at random times.

So by and large, people doing a show-and-tell about their phobias or freakouts don't earn a lot of sympathy from me; they tend to make me wary, wondering just how narcissistic they really are. I'm more respectful of a phobic reaction that is a surprise to both the victim and myself, especially if they haven't advertised it beforehand.

Getting back to the wet-wood lady on When I read the story, I actually understood where she was coming from. No, wet wood does not cause me any ongoing problems. But this is a case where the fear does actually make a modicum of sense, all the while seeming not to.

I know that on at least one occasion, I've run my hand over a wet timber, only to end up with a splinter. Wet wood seems wonderfully smooth and polished ... but there you go, you can still get splinters from it.

Wet wood is slippery. Very. My brother-in-law lost his footing and went sprawling on our porch the last time he visited, when it was raining. No harm or injury, but a good demonstration.

Wood is organic and porous, and so much more likely to harbor bacteria, especially when the wood is in the form of a kitchen cutting board.

I don't especially like the taste of popsicle sticks either.

So this is fairly rational, understandable stuff.

I think every phobia most likely has some pinpointable origin, even if it's buried in someone's memory. It's tricky, because two people can have the same experience at the same time, and while one of them might develop a phobia as a result, the other person will just shrug it off. I'm sure science is still a long way from figuring out the mechanics. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Read between the clouds of incense.

Pulled this off Google Reader. Couldn't resist. Deletions in brackets; additions in italics.


Pope: Millions are losing their religion and declaring God is dead

Modern culture is so [devoid of faith] coming to its senses that some people are declaring God “dead” and entire nations are [losing their identity], enjoying life to the fullest, without fear, Pope Benedict XVI warned yesterday.

The 81-year-old pontiff said that God was being pushed out of people’s lives under the “[harmful and destructive] relentless rational influence” of today’s society, especially YouTube and the bloggers.

His comments, made during a Mass at the start of a month-long synod of Roman Catholic bishops from around the world, come amid growing [concern] glee about the decline in church attendance and interest in religion in many Western nations.

Pope Benedict is particularly worried about a growing indifference to religion in Europe.
[...] His relevance is decreasing at an alarming rate.

In recent decades, the Catholic Church’s influence has seen a decline in developed countries, although it is growing in the Third World, which will be under the influence of magical thinking until it learns that IT is responsible for curing its ills, not some invisible sky-daddy.

Both the Church of Scotland and Scottish Catholic Church have seen a drop in [worshippers] suckers with open wallets in recent years – the Church of Scotland has seen [numbers] revenues fall nearly 60 per cent since 1960, and between 1994 and 2003, Mass attendances fell from 250,000 to 194,728. Earlier this year the Vatican also reported a dramatic fall in the number of Roman Catholic monks and nuns, largely due to the wide availability of internet porn and reduced airfares for travel to Indonesia.

Ronnie Convery, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, said Pope Benedict’s comments reflected the concerns religious leaders had been aware of for some time.
“What we are seeing is that our culture has changed, subtly but significantly for the better,” Mr Convery said. “Many people today, even though they wouldn’t declare themselves atheist, at least not yet, [behave as though God doesn’t exist], let their actions speak for themselves because the lure of common sense and rationality is too strong to resist. Our evolving brains simply won’t allow us to continue this deception.

“One of the main challenges of the Catholic Church is to [remind people of their Christian roots and the important role that the Church has played in the shaping of our culture] intimidate impressionable youngsters, instill them with guilt, and distract them from reality and their own considerable ability to think and reason.”

- Source: Pope: Millions are losing their religion and declaring God is dead, Lyndsay Moss, The Scotsman (Scotland, UK), Oct. 6, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Whoops, I need to tweak my codes. There is nothing else beyond this point! Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The other day I sent an e-mail to nearly everyone I know, advising them of the shenanigans in the current election cycle -- polling places being relocated without warning, voters being dropped from the registration rolls, etc.

In my neighborhood, the Urban League has been a familiar presence at our meetings, warning residents of the importance, not only of registering to vote, but of VERIFYING their registration status and polling place. Reed Braden, in his blog, provided a useful link. That's what prompted me to send my e-blast, and the responses have been rather interesting.

Many of the folks on my list do not live in a neighborhood like mine. They will send back responses such as "I've been registered to vote since I was 18, and I voted in the problem here." But not far from where I live, a friend was on the local news the day of the primaries, talking about how he had arrived at his nearby elementary school, only to be told that the polling place was now about 2 miles away. No problem for him, because he had time and wheels. But there are plenty of people near me who are quite elderly, unable to drive, depending on either public transportation or friends to get them to the polling place. They get up early, put on their best clothes, and make a day of it. When the polling place is moved somewhere else, or the friendly lady at the table "just can't seem to find" their name anywhere, it's devastating.

Another friend of mine wrote back that voters have "legal recourse" when they feel their rights have been infringed upon. All well and good, but again, when you're in your 80s and your locomotion and communication skills have deteriorated, it can be a lot of trouble to locate the right phone number to call answer the myriad questions sure to be asked.

That's the story on enrollment and polling places. BUT...

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse...

It's out there, folks. The right to vote is under attack. Be vigilant.

Whoops, I need to tweak my codes. There is nothing else beyond this point! Click Here to Read More..

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hope this doesn't disappoint anybody...

...but I will not be offering a play-by-play on last night's VP debate.

I will leave that to this guy, who has done a brilliant job time and again of summing up my impressions of this presidential race and a hell of a lot more.

My one and only comment: Joe Biden is my new crush.

Whoops, I need to tweak my codes. There is nothing else beyond this point! Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Quiet Type

"Dear Prudence" in Slate Magazine published a letter from a mother who was appalled by the huge trend of texting among teenagers. She said:

What I find amazing is how little actual real-voice conversation goes on between boys and girls. My kids tell me that often it's easier to instant message and/or text than talk to someone "live," especially if the other person is someone whom they normally would feel nervous talking to face-to-face, and in fact may not talk to at all if it weren't for the texting/instant messaging.

Prudie, of course, advised her that all new technologies create a gulf between generations during the time that society is adjusting to them.

The letter reminded me of how the Internet really has changed certain things. It goes along with my thoughts on introversion from a couple of days ago. Online communication really helps people come out of their shells.

I have a loose circle of acquaintances, most of whom live in my town, and communicate on a message forum. Now and then we get together for lunch or a party, but by and large, our social life is lived on this forum. And boy, are we an outspoken, gabby bunch. A large proportion of the members are in the broadcasting industry, so you'd expect them to be somewhat boisterous. Other members have known each other for a long time, so that when we do get together, there's a lot of loud joking & other silliness going on.

But then there's the bank teller, whose avatar is this guy from the movie "The 300":

When I heard he was going to be at one of our parties, I was curious to talk to him ... I expected him to start burning and pillaging as soon as he walked in the door. But instead, he went and stood over by the wall for nearly an hour, grinning but answering questions in monosyllables, until someone coaxed him out a bit.

In truth, the overwhelming majority of our forum members are like him. Plenty to say, very intelligent, but surprisingly shy and inarticulate in a crowd of people, when they are actually required to SPEAK. Get a keyboard in front of us, though, and all the stuff you never suspected was in our heads finds an outlet.

We have a number of law-enforcement types on our board, and for them, too, it's better than therapy. They have to toe the line with the public and their superiors, but online, under the cloak of anonymity, they can share the stuff of their waking nightmares in awesomely vivid prose.

Blogging and online social networking are amazing things, not to be underestimated. Someone asked me recently how many close friends I had. The answer, in terms of people I see and talk to on the phone regularly, came out to maybe three, not counting in-laws. But I was thinking about Beagle, CalendarGrrl, Misterpatootiehead, Shoedown, Dixalyve, Ratzo.....

Whoops, I need to tweak my codes. There is nothing else beyond this point! Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I love blogging but not at 3:39 in the frickin a.m.

My damn arthritic toe woke me up and then I couldn't get back to sleep, and I only went to bed at 11. Grr. The radio is going to come on at 6.

So anyway, here I am, might as well do something with it.

I started looking for new blogs to add (like I don't already have's gotten to the point where I'm missing some good ones and letting days go by before I can catch 'em) and decided to add Rex Stout to the "favorite books" section of my profile. I stumbled upon Nero Wolfe almost by accident last month and wish it hadn't taken me so long. Then proceeded to check out some other bloggers who listed him.

I have discovered something interesting. Most of the Stout fans have been blogging for more than a couple of years, like me. New minor pet peeve: Finding a good blog and enjoying the first couple of entries, only to discover that there are no other pages and I'll have to wait several weeks before I can settle down to a good read.

A great many of the Stout fans also run multiple blogs with multiple teams, and quite a few (perhaps not surprisingly) share my interests in other areas such as movies and music, and rely more on words than pictures to convey information.

[static while I desperately surf, looking for something else to put here...]

Aha. CNN. My trusted source for blogfodder.

Here's an article in the Oprah section about how to disconnect from people who drain you.

Lest the link die someday in the too-near future, here's an excerpt -- the part that made me nod my head:

3. Play favorites -- Your ability to connect is a resource much more precious than money, so manage it well. Make a list of everyone to whom you feel bonded, then consider what kind of return you're getting on your investment.

It may sound cold-blooded to say you must divest yourself of the relationships that give you consistent losses, but unless you do this, you'll soon run out of capital, and you'll have no connection energy left to invest in anybody. So, please, decide now to deliberately limit the time and attention you spend on "low-yield" relationships. Above all...

4. Get rid of squid -- Squid is my word for people who seem to be missing their backbones but possess myriad sucking tentacles of emotional need. Like many invertebrates, squid appear limp and squishy -- but once they get a grip on you, they're incredibly powerful. Masters at catalyzing guilt and obligation, they operate by squeezing pity from everyone they meet.

Getting a squid out of your life is never pretty. Tell them straightforwardly that you want them, yes them, to leave now, yes, now. This will be unpleasant. There will be lasting hurt feelings. Don't worry. Squid love hurt feelings. They hoard them, trading them in for pity points when they find another victim -- er, friend. Let them go, their coffers bulging.

I'm discovering this thing that I call The New Introversion. More and more, just lately it seems, I'm hearing people declare that they like being alone and would rather not talk to others that much. If they're single, they want to stay that way. All of this takes me by surprise, because I've always been an introvert, as were my parents, and we all lived under the impression that we were somehow "wrong." The story that always comes to mind was my first day of school in the 4th grade. The average class size back then was about 30. The desks in the room were arranged in pairs. The only unpaired desk was one of the older, roomier models -- it sat in the back and I headed straight for it. The teacher (who turned out to be the bane of my childhood) came by to talk to everyone; when he got to me, he observed that I was not paired with anyone and asked "Aren't you afraid you'll get lonely back there?"

This man, by the way, was lauded far and wide as being some sort of "uber-teacher." Everyone wanted to be in his class. I know he entertained fantasies of being voted Teacher of the Year or something similar, because my non-conforming, daydreaming, independent ways had him tearing his hair out. He quite honestly did not know what to do with me, and tried every trick in the book to bring me into harness -- everything from consulting a psychologist to subjecting me to months of endless ridicule. In the end, he simply demoted me off the advanced-placement track -- and then proceeded to follow me around the school, trying to determine what kind of progress I was making without his divine guidance. My mother finally called the school and told them she wanted him to leave me alone. I don't remember anything overtly sexual in his behavior, other than bear hugs, but there was certainly some sort of obsession at work there.

Yes, he seemed to genuinely think I'd be "lonely" sitting in the back of a class with 30 other kids. I can't go so far as to say he was an idiot, but without a doubt, he was an asshole.

Forty years later, it still feels liberating to say that.

But that was the first inkling I had that wanting to be physically or existentially separate from other humans was abnormal. Through the ensuing years the same message came through in different ways, up to and including the girl, whose name I have long since forgotten, who made me miss the opening number at an Eric Clapton concert in the 80s because she needed someone to accompany her to the restroom.

The mindset is a common one. The article quoted above is welcome, just for its ability to reassure the introverted reader that "no, it isn't just me." I only wish it hadn't taken so long to unhook myself from one squid in particular.

Of course, the most common variation of the "must not be alone" fallacy is the one that leads people to marry the wrong person. Plenty of people still do it, but here again, I see the beginnings of a trend whereby a newly divorced or widowed individual will say "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, finito."

I love my spouse, but this is my second marriage, and if it should ever end it will be the last. You can take that one to the bank.

4:31. I'm getting back into the bed now in a last-ditch effort to snag another hour or so of sleep. Most likely if sleep comes, it will be crammed with weird dreams. Click Here to Read More..