Poetry: Unbelief

The greatest sin of unbelief

They tried my soul –
and found it guilty
of the greatest sin,
its unbelief.

There it is
for all to see, the bad is there
all about me, can’t you see?
not rape nor torture or the harm
of murder
none of that is my sin.

I killed no gods or goats
all souls still running free
to come and go,
but my only sin – no god
shall I ever know.

How do I dare
to declare
my mind be free,
and so bare. is it not right there?
show me any god,
then might shall I to care.

Condemn my soul,
if you must. but look at me
and you will I trust
see all I can be,
is humanly free.

The day I die and somewhere lie,
you’ll accuse me as others cry,
not of being bad nor good,
but unlike you,
I just did not believe to be true,
my unbelief in god now flows
through as all my being goes.

©Bill Reynolds   1/28/2019

Look both ways. Mind the gaps.

Poetry: Benching

Benching

I’ve been benched
watching
and thinking –
but mostly resting,
feeling sore and angry
because I do know the score.

Sit down and shut up,
sit on your hands
she said.
Be a good little nobody.
When the tyrant teases,
take it like a man.

Fuck that. I am what I am
if that is not pleasing to you,
eat me, ass hole sick breath.
I dunno why I’m here but
not to please you is for sure.
Not one damn bit sorry am I.

I benched myself, to rest,
to think and to talk, to look
and to waive my wave or
give the nod, an atheist’s blessings
be upon you and your dreams.
The pains and gains piss on the bench,
and the next and next after that.

Feel the pain in my body, my mind and my core
I’m benched — out of the game. On my ass.
Sitting here watching dogs and deer,
wondering when this all will pass.
Sympathy and anger, it’s all the same to me.
On the bench is where, I can always
be – or is this all that I now can be?

Now you can tell me, to get off my ass
to make the pain come on back, to stretch,
and move, to walk and run and to see and feel.
Benching is good and it feels so bad.
Move over dip shit, this is my bench,
My time to cry, my time to rest

on the old man’s bench.

© Bill Reynolds 1/14/2019

Look both ways and know where the respites hide.
Mind the gaps. Broken slivers can hurt.

Merrier Christmas to and from those who do not believe in any gods

 

There are other religions besides Christian. They do not believe Jesus was associated with any god in the same way most Europeans and people of the Americas do.

For most of my long life I have claimed to be a believer in god; specifically, I was Christian. I was a cradle Catholic who went to church, as obligated, every Christmas and Easter regardless of the state of my other church participation. The full story is too long, but I ran the extremes from almost nothing (referred to as ‘practical atheism’) to daily religious immersion and leadership.

From a religious participation point of view, for a time I took Advent and Easter more seriously than I did Christmas. From a cultural Catholic/Christian point of view, Christmas was the biggest deal, followed by Thanksgiving. But now I am an American citizen and atheist.

What does it matter? Well, it should not. My family has celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas for many years. I’m not sure if any of my relatives or friends identify as atheist. But we are a family and those two holidays are all about family to me. For some reason, Thanksgiving seems to be the bigger deal these days. It’s a tradition.

When we moved back to Texas last year, our daughter-in-law said she was pleased because there would be more family stuff during celebration times. My wife decorates our home for most holidays, but not as much as in the past, and we don’t put out any religious items like a nativity scene or other art objects commemorating the birth or death of Jesus.

Around this time each year, I want to clarify my views about Christmas. I have many good memories of Christmas and the holiday season. I enjoy Christmas music for a while, but eventually I need eleven months to recover. I have some on my play list. In fact, religious music is fine. Some of it is great. I love the calm of Gregorian chant. I have written about music and other similar religious things in the past. Just because I don’t do that any longer does not mean that I want it to stop, that I am repulsed, or object. It is fine.

There is one chance in 365 that a male Jewish baby was born on December 25, roughly 2,000 years ago, who was then crucified and rose from the dead. If there was such a man, his date of birth is unknown. Also, in Christendom, celebrating this day as the birth of Christ is relatively new. Some Christian groups still do not celebrate. So, for most of my life Christmas has been kind of a wink-wink religious holiday. But it is a fun time from a secular point of view.

I wish a Merry Christmas to people on the 25th. If someone wishes me a Merry Christmas on some other day, I return the greeting and good wishes. While I prefer the inclusiveness of Happy Holidays, I don’t care what greeting people choose. I doubt if most atheists care, despite all the BS clamoring about wars on Christmas and some objections to verbal acknowledgements. It is not as big a deal as “In God We Trust” or forced prayer.

So, while I admittedly celebrate a secular holiday at Christmas, I do not object to people of any religion or social group celebrating their holidays, if I am not forced to participate or inconvenienced by them. Many of us, non-believers, believers, and everyone in between can do this and appreciate each other. It is the holiday season. If you think me a hypocrite, that’s your choice

I wish you a Happy Christmas Eve, a festive yuletide season, and a wonderful week highlighted with a Merry Christmas tomorrow.

There may not be any gods, but that should not stop us from enjoying life, friends, and family whenever we can.

Bill

Look both ways to see other points of view.
Mind the gaps. They’re everywhere.

An allegory of conclusion

The Man in the Room

I don’t recall exactly when I learned a man was in the room. I’m sure someone told me.

For years, I watched as other people behaved as if they knew he was there. This was serious business. People (called martyrs) died because of this man. As a child, I never doubted what I was told about the man in the room. I not only believed he was there, I also knew a lot about him. He was old with a long gray beard, but handsome. He was quite distinguished and grandfatherly.

The man in the room was more important than anyone, even more than the President or the Pope. The President, and especially the Pope, also believed there was a man in the room. The Pope even had secrets that the man had entrusted to him. The man in the room was even more important than I was, or my parents, or any king.

Everything was about this man.

People wanted me to devote my life to the man in the room. We gave up things and made sacrifices either for him or to him. We did good things, like give money and stuff to the poor and needy because the man in the room wanted us to. The more we showed that we cared about the man, the better we were treated by our teachers, preachers, and parents.

The man in the room made the rules for everybody. He picked special adults and told them what the rules were for all of us. Everyone I knew agreed that there was a man in the room, and he was in charge forever. He was super powerful. He could do anything. He was in total control of everything. He could be invisible and even bring dead people to life.

He had always existed and always would.

Eventually, I learned that the man in the room made everything; even me, and you, and the Pope. I learned that he made me for a reason. I was to love and serve him and to do his will outside of the room. Everyone was. Even people who didn’t know it were supposed to serve him. That was my first world view, my purpose for being, but I didn’t fully realize it.

People would talk to the man in the room. Sometimes, they would ask for something. I was taught how to talk to him. I did this for a long time, but the man never talked back to me. Apparently, he only talked to certain people using his thoughts. That made sense. I sometimes asked the man for things. I was told he was always watching me, so I assumed that was why he never gave me anything I requested.

I knew people went into the room to see the man. One day, I decided to follow some people, hoping to see him. When I opened the door and stepped in, I saw no one, not even the people I had followed. It was an empty room and there was no man or any person to be seen. I wondered why I had seen no one else and why he apparently left the room as I entered. I had been assured that he always remained in the room.

I decided to find out why I had seen no one, especially not the man I was searching for. Since everyone was so positive about the man, I was sure that I had made some mistake.

After leaving the room by the only door, I decided to ask my mother why I had not seen the man. Mom got nervous and seemed upset. She told me to ask my father. I did. That was a mistake. Dad became angry and sent me to my room. He told me that next time he might beat some sense into me.

I decided to try a more neutral person.

I asked one of my teachers who I could trust if there was a reason that I couldn’t see the man. I could see her irritation, but she kindly explained to me that if I could not see the man, it meant that I did not believe strongly enough. I needed to have more faith. If I believed strongly enough, I would see the man.

As I asked others and I talked with friends, I realized that some people did not see the man either. A few of them never went into the room, or they denied any room existed. But they never told me that there was not a man to be seen. Most others told me that they did see the man. I was told that those of us who did not see the man were at fault. The issue was our lack of faith. And my lack of faith was evidenced by the fact that I asked too many questions and talked about it.

I thought the problem was clearly with me. I could see the room, but never saw the man. Others did. I needed more faith. I simply had to try harder.

If others could see him, why not me?

Years passed. I lived my life and almost forgot about the man. However, the man in the room issue never went away. I noticed that people began to assume I could see the man, just as they claimed. I stopped talking about him as though I could not see him. In a way, I lied by pretending.

For a while, I returned to the room often. I decided to ask a ‘man in the room’ expert if there was reason for my failure and if there was anything I could do. Again, the blindness was my doing. If I would believe more, I would see him. That still made sense to me.

I wondered how to have more faith.

Since I was certain that there was a man in the room, that it was my lack of faith that prevented me from seeing him, I decided to take even more drastic action.

I became a man in the room fanatic. I joined organizations. I took all the classes and attended all the learning groups I could find. My expertise allowed me to teach classes to both children and adults regarding the man in the room and the things they should do to be better followers. Eventually, I became a man in the room leader in a large and important relevant group.

I held firmly to the belief that there was a man in that room. Finally, one day I saw the room again. No one could have done more than I to be a true-blue follower, believer, and expert. I had not seen the room in years, but then one day there it was.

That was my moment, my time, my life-long goal of seeing the man was to be that day.

I proudly opened the door and triumphantly marched into the room, and there sitting in the chair in the corner was me as a child.

The child looked up and said, “I have been sitting here your entire life. I wanted nothing more than to meet the man in the room. For over 50 years, I have waited and searched, while you have worked and prayed and believed. But, look around. There is no man in this room and there never has been. I have gone to other rooms with the same discovery.”

I felt broken and deceived. I had wasted so much of my life hoping to see a man who never existed. Again, I walked out through the only door. When I looked back, the room was gone. I thought, and I wondered, and read and studied all the possibilities. I felt myself changing. I began to say negative things to people regarding what may be in the room.

I had lived most of my life with almost constant thought about the man in the room. Over many months I slowly became a person who openly expressed doubts.

Then one day a friend asked if I still believed that there was a man in the room.

I looked at my friend and said, “For more years than you have been on the earth I have searched for the man in the room. I did more than enough. I have decided that I was deceived. After a lifetime of trying to find a man, it is my conclusion that he does not exist and never has. The man is a myth and has always been.” I was relieved to know that I had finally found a truth that escapes so many.

One day, someone asked, “What is the point of you saying that there is no man in the room?”

I responded, “There is no room, only one told in stories. There is no man, invisible or otherwise. Too much life is wasted over nothing. Either there is man, or there isn’t. Faith is irrelevant. Belief does not make it so anymore than failure to believe makes it not so. It is reality based upon evidence.”

Another man overheard that comment. He approached me and said that I may not make such a statement if I have no proof that there is no man in the room. He said that I was asserting a fact that I could not prove. He wanted me to say that I believed that there is no man in the room.

I objected by claiming that I was asked a question (what is the point?) to which I provided my best answer. I postulated nothing. My answer to the question is not an affirmation that there is a man, but a admission that there is no evidence that there ever was a man in the room. Since he was not in the room when I looked, that was all the proof I needed. The fact that others believe there is a man in the room because someone told them has no bearing on reality. It only supports what they already believe.

My conclusion is different than their belief. No one ever told me that there was not a man, only that there was. When I tried to find the man, or to ask why I could not see him, no one said he was not there. They only told me that my inability to find him was my fault. I no longer believe what people told me. But since I did everything I could, and I did what they told me I must do, and I still did not find any evidence of the man, I concluded he does not exist.

One of the things that helped me with my conclusion is the story, and the resulting idiom, of The Emperor Has No Clothes. I should have known from the beginning that there was no man to see because I could not see him. That should have ended it. But I did not want to accept that people were telling me the same lies they had been told.

Almost everyone I knew insisted that I was wrong. When I realized that the Emperor was naked, I knew why I wanted there to be a man in the room. I wanted there to be a man, and I wanted him to be as I was told he was. I wanted to be like most people. I’m not.

Now, I know the truth. I need no proof of what does not exist.

©Bill Reynolds, 11/12/2018

Look both ways. Look again, and again, and ….
Mind the gaps dearly, they may hide truth.


The Emperor Believed.

(pingback: https://grabaspine.wordpress.com/)

 

Essay: Ya’ Know What?

My morning means coffee. As I listen to the Keurig groan to push water through that little plastic cup, I ponder the cosmos. Then, I’m off to my room where, with the help of Lappy the laptop, I investigate the inworld of cyberspace and contemplate the secrets of the vast physical universe. I wouldn’t want to have some cosmic detail wrong.

I sit at my desk and prowl through blogs and respond to comments before flipping to Facebook. After typing a few comments, and some likes or loves, I click to email. And behold: there is the prompt for this week’s essay.

Galileo was put on trial and spent the last years of his life in prison for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun. We think we have a pretty good idea of how the universe works now, but what if we don’t? What if we’re wrong? What if…??

(Good grief!)

Galileo was on house arrest and ordered to deny the heliocentric heresy, which he did before recanting his denial. The sun-center working of the solar system had been around, but the question for him was whether he agreed with it. This was during the reign of Pope Urban the 8th and when the phrase, don’t piss off the pope became popular. It was bad for Galileo. It was worse for others. In the 400 years since, there has been no Urban the 9th.

The rest of the prompt is figuring out the universe and what if we are (or I am) wrong. The universe is one of my favorite topics and being wrong is something with which I am quite familiar. Just ask my wife or kids. The last part asks, what if?

I like to quote phrases that make me feel smart when they affirm what I have supposed. This phrase is credited to Zen:

‘If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.’

Galileo and Pope Urban lived under the same sun and stars within the same solar system. One was right, and one was powerful. But another phrase is might makes right. It did in this case, but not in the long run.

The universe did whatever it did without the help or knowledge of either man. To navigate by celestial means, one assumes that the sun, moon, stars, and planets move across the sky. To the observer, that is what appears to happen, but things are not as they appear.

If we’re wrong, nothing changes. For now, we know what we know, and we look for more answers or corrections.

In time, we’ll correct our errors. Learning is endless, and science has gaps everywhere. Even if we had the cosmos accurately mapped out and understood all the chaos, the potential for more knowledge exceeds the spatial vastness of the universe itself.

And as for the we part; some of ‘we’ think the earth is flat, some of ‘we’ believe some of us are alien creatures; some of ‘we’ deny lunar landings. Too many ‘we’ think Hubble telescope scenes and Voyager photos are fake. Far too many of ‘we’ think science is nonsense, and that it was all created by one supreme deity. Regardless of the signs and clear evidence, some of us will always go the wrong way.

What if is the wrong question. Let’s try what if not? Consider some possibilities.

First, try to imagine this world without science. It is easier to envision a world without humans or any intelligent life. Now, with a twist of the cranium, imagine what John Lennon suggested.

Imagine a world without religion. It’s easier than it was to extract science and learning from history. We’ll always have both, but now we can ask the what if question.

For over 65 years, no one asked me to explain the universe or how it came to be. People were willing to explain it to me in terms of what they thought. Then, a few years ago, about the time I started mumbling the word atheist with personal pronouns, I was suddenly cast into the academic role of Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson all rolled into one. I was charged with explaining not only how the universe works, but how it came to be. I was also challenged to explain the source of all life on earth, the details of evolution, and to fill-in any scientific gaps. Perhaps the inquisitors thought I would be enlightened.

I not only don’t have all the answers to such questions, I don’t need to have them. Nor do you. None of the seven billion people alive today, nor any of the 100-billion who have ever lived had all the answers or needed to know them.

If the question is what if we are wrong; the answer is of course we are. We do not have all the right answers and that is exactly what all the excitement should be about. Are we willing to learn? It’s why we are here: to always wonder. As Galileo said,

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

***Bill Reynolds***

As you wander, look both ways.
Remember to look up.
Mind the gaps. As you learn, fill in where you can.

Un-shunned, But Out

Several people suggested that my experience with religion may have moved me to embrace atheism. I don’t deny the experience. But, religion was not responsible for my conclusion that no gods exist.

I was born not knowing. Somebody told me there was a god and I trusted they knew what they were talking about. As a child, I ‘believed’ in god because I believed who told me. For shorter periods of time I also believed in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. I was also convinced monsters existed even though no one told me they did. I never saw a god, Santa, or the tooth fairy. I was sure I saw the monsters, and some lived under my bed.

I was initially told that all these entities existed except for the monsters, but they were the only ones I reacted to and lost sleep over.

I was emphatically told by my parents that there were no monsters and no ghosts. I was agnostic about the ghosts, having seen Casper cartoons. But no monsters? Bull shit! I knew what I saw was real! I began to have doubts about parental honesty.

Eventually, I unwillingly figured out the deal with Santa and the tooth fairy. I also gave up on the monsters, or perhaps they tired of me. Maybe the tooth fairy turned them into dust bunnies.

I figured out the god thingy last, around age fourteen. I was never dumb enough to tell anyone, even friends, that I no longer was buying the eternal life package. My father was the type of Irish-Catholic coal miner who would have attempted to pound belief into me. Besides, the religion thing worked to my social advantage. I often wonder how many of us practice religion for some social advantage or for financial gain, but don’t buy it either.

When my Catholic parish learned that I was an active participant in the protestant Episcopal church down the street, it pissed them off. That pleased me. If I could in some way return the ‘love,’ my parish seemed to have toward me, I was all for that.

Not so much with my parents, who were more upset. Those poor folks had a real shit-head difficult lad to raise, so church was the least of their concerns. Yet, I heard my mother say, “It may not be Catholic, but at least he has a religion.” I did not. But, if she was accepting, I wasn’t going to change it.

The church down the street was a playground of youthful debauchery. I was one of several Catholic teens (boys and girls) who participated in their youth group. My motivation for participation was likely untoward and had nothing to do with religion or god. That was then.

Now, my overall philosophy is a moving target that even I find difficult to corral and define. So, I stole this idea of a three-legged stool from somewhere. One of the legs of the stool is god, which is why the damn thing keeps falling over. Any god or gods get to share one leg and no more. The leg is there, but it’s symbolic. You could call it atheism, but not exactly.

Religion, which I define as the rules regarding humans dealing with gods, is the second leg of the stool. Religion and god relate but are not the same. The religion leg casts an unfavorable shadow upon the god leg. As splintered and twisted as it is, religion exists.

While the non-existence of god is almost a neutral, unemotional, changeable conclusion that came to me from thoughts; my vehement enmity toward all religion, especially the known ‘organized’ faiths, is unwavering and continues to grow as I age and reflect upon what I see and know. If god were to appear before me right now and provide enough proof to roll any skeptic, I would morph to belief in a New York minute, but I would continue to detest religion.

This is where my atheism gets confused with my religious experience. My bitter feelings about religion stem from experience and knowledge. While I am accepting of religious folks and I extend kindness to most believers (and they to me), what they believe I tolerate but don’t respect.

Religious mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with whether any gods exist. Yet, I remain open to the tiniest of possibilities that something may change my mind. However, throughout history, nothing has ever happened to any human that would convince me otherwise.

What most people seem to believe about god and how to relate or interact with that god is manmade. However, religion has a lot to do with how people act toward each other. Call it morality. Theoretically, that should be good. Historically and practically, it has been otherwise.

The third leg is my spiritual philosophy, which is influenced by the other two legs (no-gods exist, and bad religion). The three legs support the seat, which is my overall philosophy (of life, my world view, reason for…whatever). The analogy isn’t perfect but it works for now.

In a debate Rev Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens once struggled to find disagreement because Sharpton kept trying to debate the existence of god (which he admitted he couldn’t prove) while Hitch pointed to problems with scripture, evil, and religion (Hitch admitted he couldn’t prove the non-existence of god). Two separate topics that influence the third philosophical leg of my metaphorical stool.

Atheism is not a religion, a belief system, a philosophy, or anything other than an acceptance of one’s opinion that god might not exist, or probably doesn’t. Atheists have divergent views as do most human groups. Some atheists are nihilist. Most are not. A few atheists go to church. Most do not. Some atheists make room for unscientific things in their opinions and how they live. Others claim that such opinions are not those of true atheists.

It can be confusing. But can’t the same be said of believers? Since I was a child, I was told that TV preachers were nonsense. I still think so. Many believers agree with me. Many believers reject the idea of a virgin birth, others call that heresy. I could go on about divergent religious beliefs, even within a specific religion such as Roman Catholic, Shiite Muslim, or Mahayana Buddhist. Dare I add Southern Baptist or Mormon? But that’s not my point.

While many atheists say that reading scripture will lead to disbelief, I contend that not believing in god is a rational decision not based on religion, dogma, or scripture, even though any of that will support atheism once the no-gods conclusion is reached.

While I claim to be rationally atheist for logical reasons, I think I’m also intrinsically incapable of believing in god without very concrete proof. No religion or religious person; priest, pedophile, or persecutor drove me away from believing in god. I tried to believe. I just couldn’t. Now, I openly don’t. I’m as pleased with that as believers are who foresee their blissful eternity simply because they believe and nothing more. I’m okay with that.

Look both ways in life. Learn from the past. Plan for the future.
Mind the gaps for denial and confusion.

Poetic Recovery

I am atheist. I groan when I read, “as an atheist” before people make a statement. Well, guess what? I owe lots of apologies because….

As an atheist, I have been asked how we handle life when it sucks: sick kids (or grands), lost jobs, death of friends and loved ones, financial trouble, or any disaster. They rightfully ask, “How do you get through those tough times when even heavy-duty doubters pray for relief?” We do manage without god. Not only are there atheists in fox holes, some of us have died there.

I’m dealing with a cancer diagnoses and some of my doctors ask me how I feel about it. “Well, Doc, this is one time I wish you were wrong. Now, let’s do this.” I want action, science, and medicine; not prayers.

Here’s what I got for ya. Franky, baby! I love the song; both the music and lyrics of That’s Life, by Frank Sinatra. Some say, this too shall pass, but the song puts that theory on another emotional level, and I love it. I hope you do too.

Here are the lyrics. Below them, I also posted a youtube video with music, singing, and the words. Now, let’s get back up, brush ourselves off, and have a wonderful July.

That’s Life

That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June

I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) that’s life
And I can’t deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shakin’ come here this July
I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die

My, my

Songwriters: Vernon Duke / E. Y. Harburg

That’s Life lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Music Sales Corporation, Shapiro Bernstein & Co. Inc., BMG Rights Management

Look both ways for life’s ups and downs. Mind the gaps, as silly as it sounds.