Essay: Shit Happens

  1. My mother said, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
  2. My wife looked at my adult son and said, “Everything happens for a reason.”
  3. The minister looked into the eyes of the congregation and said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”

I forget the exact contexts and situations.

To my mom I would say, “You did nothing to deserve cancer; no one does.” While there may be reasons someone gets cancer, it is not punishment for being not good enough or for being bad. However, it is no joke that a lot of people think like this because of religion.

To my wife I say that most things have a cause and effect. Many things happen due to natural causes, environments, and special situations. Some things are random and have disastrous outcomes. Shit happens.

When someone is fired from (or not selected for) a job, and they later get a much better job, that is good fortune probably assisted by the fact that the person is well qualified for both jobs and it is fortunate that they snagged the better one. The opposite also happens. While such a comforting phrase may bring minor, temporary solace; it is not true that everything happens for a (supernatural) reason. A spiritual being causing a temporary problem to bring about a happier or sadder outcome fails any common-sense test.

To the minister I say that coincidence may not mean exactly what you think it means. According to one (MW) dictionary it relates to coinciding of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have a connection. Better words might be random, arbitrary, pointless, haphazard, or desultory.

Whether one believes in a god or not, and regardless of the influence of any god, those words exist because things and happenings can be random, pointless, and desultory.

I recall reading a poem in Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions by the late Father Benedict Groeschel. The poem of unknown authorship is titled “The Weaving.” The last of three, eight-line stanzas goes,

At last, when life is ended,
With Him I shall abide,
Then I may view the pattern
Upon the upper side;
Then I shall know the reason
Why pain with joy entwined,
Was woven in the fabric
Of life that God designed.

While the poem is beautiful and weaving as a metaphor for a life designed by a god is useful, it also points to the unknown reason for the suffering in life. It implies that we will find no reason until after death, and then only if we are in heaven with the deity who will, presumably, make it all clear. In other words, it makes no sense.

I prefer this outlook from the song “The Sad Café” by the Eagles.

***
Now I look at the years gone by,
And wonder at the powers that be.
I don’t know why fortune smiles on some
And lets the rest go free
***

Shit happens. It’s not our fault. Blame it on whatever imaginary entity you choose. That may be the only reason you ever find.

© Bill Reynolds 1/10/2019

Look both ways for the reasons in life, but don’t accept not knowing—wonder.
Mind the gaps, they are real, but may be overcome with knowledge.

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.

Essay: When and What Day is it?

Writers are story tellers and researchers who dig up things after getting lost running down rabbit holes. Mix in some historian, astronomer, anthropologist, math stuff, superstition, and observation of nature and mankind, and we charge into where only rabbits need to go.

My rabbit hole excursion involved time and our (USA/European) calendar. I’ve written about this before – Christmas in August, for example. So, I did some lookin’ stuff up.

Our clock time is based on a 24-hour day, determined by one 360-degree axial rotation of the planet. Calendar time is determined by the full orbit of the earth around the sun which takes 365.256 days. The spinning and orbiting do not come out even, so we have that .256 of a day to deal with. Thus, leap year and February 29th. But there is also the problem of the .006. If you don’t compensate for that, over time, things get off. It has happened.

What gets off? Easter. We had to get a grip on Easter. The solution was a new calendar. Can you imagine?

Computing the exact date of Easter is called computus. Obtaining an accurate calendar was one time when science, or observed reality, served the needs of religion. The Church needed to fix this. So, they did. And with the help of more than one mad scientist.

No shit folks. They feckin’ lost Easta and had to hire a guy to find it!

From first being questioned in 325 AD at Nicaea, it took more than 1,200 years to fix – hundreds more to get the Greeks and Turks on board.

Most of the world now uses the Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory VIII. It eventually replaced the Julian calendar due to the timing error. That six thousandths of a day made a big mess. But even with all of that, since Eastern Orthodox and Protestants were suspicious of everything the Roman Catholic Church did, it took hundreds of years for the Gregorian calendar to be adopted. The Pope’s authority was limited.

To bring on the new calendar in 1582, and to get dates properly aligned, 4 October was followed by 15 October, thus jumping 11 days. For approximately 500 years the world had two calendars (really it was more) due to religious mistrust within Christianity.

 

It took almost 200 years (1752) before England made the leap and adjusted from 2 September to the 14th. Historical rumor claims there were riots in London. The last European countries to officially adopt the ‘new’ calendar were Greece and Turkey in the 1920s.

I counted 34 different calendars in use world-wide this year (2018 or MMXVIII). I learned that horology is the name for the scientific study by horologists of time and the making of time pieces/clocks. I could not find an equivalent for calendar experts.

Time (Earth’s rotation on its axis) and calendar, (Earth’s orbit of the Sun) are closely tied, but the sources of measurement are literally astronomically different. We have time zones and an international date line, but we have no such logical place to start or stop measurement of a year.

Lunar phases come into play and there are lunar calendars. The Church had to deal with them, because of Easter. I know the moon is a big deal (especially when full), but I am writing a one-day blog, not a book. Back to my point.

When does each year begin? Whenever we say it does. Tradition and Greg’s calendar say we begin each year on January first. Why? Who says so? A long-dead Pope?

Another confusion issue with the Gregorian calendar is that it was adopted proleptic, meaning that dates prior to its 1582 inception were extrapolated back in time. For a long time, dual calendar dating was common. Born on 5 October 1254? Not so fast. All that work for a good, accurate calendar.

So, what day it is may depend not only on what religion you are, but also on what sect or denomination of the religion you are, what culture you belong to, and what calendar you are using.

I am thinking of the words in the song by Chicago, with a similar title, “Does anybody really know what time it is…” Do we care what day it is? Yes.

Currently, a new year begins when we are about a week into the northern hemisphere winter. Nothing really ends or begins after 1 January, just some ‘back to’ stuff like school or work, the grind, the salt mines. It’s depressing.

The new year should begin the day after Labor Day, in early September. It just makes more sense. The first Tuesday after the first Monday (Labor Day) would be when the year begins with a four-day weekend. Just move Auld Lang Syne and all the other new year’s traditions back a few months. Football would be just beginning instead of ending. Summer would be almost done, instead of the beginnings of winter.

Fall is already the holiday season. It’s when school begins and life changes. What mo’ betta’ way to bring in the New Year?

Get rid of Columbus Day (or whatever you call it, apparently, he was a dick anyway) and make Halloween a day-off – a real holiday. Pass a law that every normal person must costume up and wear a mask. Instead of trick-or-treating, kids must sing songs for money or candy. Make the day after Halloween even more spooky. Maybe graveyard parties? Bring back Decoration Day but make it Night. Cool!

Vet’s Day is good, but can we move Thanksgiving to something other than a Thursday? If we go with Friday, we can have Black Saturday, Purple Sunday (or Advent day one), and Cyber Monday, as is.

Pass a law that every kid with a birthday in December must have a party (and a good one) in June or July. Require gifts for the first 6 years. Align all the other holidays with Christmas and Yule and make the celebrations 12 days long. Light candles. Or move Christmas to August, as I’ve previously suggested. Think of it. All those f**king Christmas decorations gone by Labor Day (another law).

After New Year’s Day, add Saint Patrick’s Day as a day-off federal holiday and call it Green Day. Require everyone to wear green, drink beer, and eat corned beef and cabbage. Have a similar day for every other immigrant ethnic group there is. If an Indigenous People’s Day is needed. I suggest May first. Wait. What day was Custer’s Last Stand? Make it late June and make Juneteenth a holiday, too.

End the school year on or before June first. Make summer work vacations 20 days long. Require everyone to travel and to spend money with friends and family and to have fun for two weeks. The other six days are for trip prep and recovery. It would be an economic stimulus of the happy kind.

We determine how this goes. We, the people, make the decisions. Pass a law making it illegal for elected government officials not to do what we want. Add a law that jails them if they do not do the things they promised to do while campaigning. Include all presidents. Demand a new government agency to determine and ensure that everyone has life (health), liberty (freedom to choose), and happiness (even if they must go to the dentist sometimes).

But first, let’s fix the damn calendar. Remember, Labor Day is the last day of the year and the following day begins the new year, no matter the date. It would dress up one Tuesday of the year for someone and she’d get all sorts of Happy New Year wishes. A lot could change, until the following Tuesday.

Have a good time. Does anyone know what day or time it is? Does anyone really care?

Look both ways regardless of the days or what culture says.
It is only 2018 if we say it is,
and there have been calendar gaps for as long as
this mote of dust has hung on a sunbeam.

The most inclusive happy holiday song ever. A fun watch, if yer up to it.

Essay: Grace Before Rant (and why I care)

So many things about other people are none of my business. It is not the same with everyone because my relationship with each person is different. It begins with me, then my immediate family (in my case), then my friends, professional relationships, then people who want something from me like money or my vote. It may include strangers with whom I share driving on roads, rooms (the sign said ‘employees must wash hands’), grocery stores, air, or transportation systems.

Ambivalence, freedom, and self-preservation

If the man sitting across from me on the bus wants to pray, I don’t care. If he puts down a prayer rug that blocks my exit, I do care. If he jumps up and yells something that sounds like god is great in Arabic, I care a lot about his intention. As the behavior of others moves closer to interfering in my life, the more what is not my business is made to be. Not by me. I begin to care.

Pray, pay, and obey

When I lived at home with my parents, I was the youngest child in an Irish Catholic family. For nine years (1950s), I attended a Catholic elementary school (K-8), as did my older siblings. I was taught all traditional things catholic kids were supposed to learn. I memorized the Catechism. I learned about the religion as it was taught to us, about the saints, and some bible history for eight of those nine years. We had to pray. We had to go to confession and to Mass. We had no choice, but I also recall none of us resisting. We saw it as normal.

Millions of children around the world grew up in similar circumstances (and some have spent a lifetime recovering). It was brain washing, of sorts. We prefer to call it religious education and indoctrination, to be more politically correct.

We prayed to start each school day. We memorized new prayers as part of the curriculum, some in Latin if you were gunna be an altar boy. There were no altar girls then (now both sexes are altar servers), but the Latin has been scrapped in most cases. Before and after recess, we prayed. Before lunch, we prayed Grace Before Meals. When we returned after lunch, we stood next to our desks and prayed the Grace After Meals. Before we left for the day, we prayed. We were expected to pray at home.

When old enough, every Friday, or the day before a Holy Day of Obligation, we went to confession as part of the school day. More prayers; and the assigned penance was to say more prayers (five Hail Mary’s, five Our Father’s, and an Act Of Contrition). Think about that for a minute: prayer as punishment? We did that in anticipation of receiving Holy Communion (the body and blood of Christ) at Mass. You’d have thought we were Trappist monks in training (they pray seven times a day).

Reciprocal respect (do your thing)

I am not going to repeat what I’ve said about prayer (mine or other’s) in past posts. But I want to express a concern (PC for pointed rant). I only know what a few other non-believers do in these circumstances, but I want to briefly whine over how I feel about it.

Maybe I’m being picky or over-simplistic about this, but I strongly believe that no gods exist or ever have. Consequently, communication with something non-existent is pointless, if not weird. I do not include mediation, talking with others (including animals), or talking to self in the same way because in each of those situations, the self or other being exists and meditative relaxation is probably healthy. I have talked to my pets my entire life and in many cases I am sure there was some degree and form of understanding me and what my intention was, even if the language was not understood. They never talked back (at least not in a language like English).

My wife (not atheist) and I occasionally have meals with religious friends (Evangelical Protestant, Lutheran of some kind, Catholic of Roman blend, whatever). In most cases, it goes like this. We meet up, we talk, we sit, read menus, we talk more, order drinks, talk more, order food, they talk even more, and then the food comes. That’s usually when the religious people decide to pray.

Now, if we can pray at religious school before we go home or down stairs for lunch; couldn’t they get the prayer part done a lot sooner? Furthermore, praying, especially while holding hands with convinced atheist, is not a social experience. It is a religious one.

Sometimes, they do pray early. If you go to their home for an outdoor barbeque or buffet style meal, they pray in one of those large group things. Usually, the protestants, and often Catholics, still want to hold hands, bow heads, close eyes, and mumble incoherently. Anyway, I will usually hold hands and watch as someone mumbles a long thanksgiving kind of prayer, often as the food cools. Early prayer is possible.

Truth is, these are my wife’s friends much more than mine (she and they may disagree). If I do not feign cooperation, it could affect her relationship with her friends. I don’t want to do that.

In most of these situations I feel awkward (and maybe a bit hypocritical) because of my beliefs. If they did not pray, or would pray on their own, it would be fine. The problems come with the showing off. That’s when I feel like I am socially being made (as in forced) part of the prayer, prayer group, or blessing process. Maybe I should say something like,

“You go on ahead and pray. I don’t do that. I’ll wait, but if you take too long, I’ll start without you. I’m here to interact with you socially and to eat. Not to pray.”

But I won’t do that.

Is my conclusion equally valid?

While I’m willing to speak openly about my atheism with almost anyone (there are limits), I don’t want to cause problems. I’m often demonstrative when arguing or debating religion (or anything). That’s not good.

Moreover, I don’t want to be the cause of my wife’s friends shunning her or pretending out of sympathy. I don’t care what they think about me. (I’m atheist, I know what many think). But there is irony in that. I do care how the world treats my family, especially when I may be the reason for it. (Your father, grandfather, husband, friend, what-evah).

What do you think?

If you have an opinion or experience with this, I would like to hear it. If you pray, how do you feel about a non-believer excusing themselves or feigning participation? If you are not a believer, how do you handle such situations? Please comment, even if it is that you don’t care either way.

If you watch this show, you know that they seldom hold hands: Catholic.

Bill Reynolds, 5/11/2018

Look both ways when crossing to the other side.
Mind the gap of our differences.

Essay: God do what?

While I say I don’t pray, I kind of do – accidentally. A believer might consider my praying to be blasphemy, but so is embracing atheism or agnosticism. As with so many words, blasphemy is only a thing if god exists (like sin), and it is only bad if you happen to believe in god (Satanists not withstanding).
No god = no blasphemy, no sin, no hell – make sense?

I have a few old habits and knee jerk reactions I’ve tried to shed without success. Two phrases I use too often are God damnit! and God bless you. In both cases, I am apparently invoking the supernatural to my wishes. But since intent matters, in the case of god damning, few of us mean it. In the blessing case, it is an old version of universal well-wishing when people coughed or sneezed. It goes back to the bubonic plague days in Europe. How well did that work?

Since I speak fluent profanity, I don’t blurt out the damning one very often. I’ve always been more of an f- or s-word guy. Yet, if someone near me sneezes, I usually have god blessed them before their next breath or sneeze. I’ve been doing that most of my life. When I don’t say something, I feel like an ass. I need to use gesundheit or one of the other secular phrases from around the world, of which there are many. This sounds like fun.

‘Thank you for covering your mouth and I wish you good health. Live long and prosper.’ (Vulcan Salute)

I used to pray often and for many people, but I didn’t pray for everything. I didn’t pray for rain to start or stop, or for any other change to the weather. I never prayed for bad events, personal wealth, or my own health. I don’t know why, but all that seems in bad taste. Likewise, I would never have prayed for anything bad to happen to any other person, unless you count the god-damning of nouns.

I carried a notebook where I kept notes of who to pray for and why. Seriously. People would ask me to pray for them or for some other person. If I didn’t write it down, I’d forget. Weekly, I would go late at night to a chapel room at our church for what is called perpetual adoration, and there I’d pray in the actual presence of the body and blood of JC (Holy Eucharist). That’s why it was there.

God was literally several feet away in a gold sunburst thingy called a monstrance, behind a tiny piece of glass, in the ‘actual’ form of the body and blood of Christ. He and I were alone most of the time. If what the Church proffered was true, I prayed a lot of folks straight to heaven – big IF. That was then. I still carry a notebook, but not for the same reason.

I’ve often prayed for dead people. That is customary for Catholics. Most Catholic parishes have a Book of the Dead which contains the names of the deceased loved ones we prayed for on All Souls Day (November 1st). It’s called praying for the ‘repose of the soul of’ the people we assumed might be in Purgatory; not in heaven yet. That’s how they say it. The repose part was to get them to heaven. A good thing, right? Just an odd way to say it.

Yep. Praying for other people, especially dead ones, was my favorite. Most of my other praying was reading (often aloud) from prayer books; prayers of adoration, love, or general holy stuff. I had my favorites and I still like what some prayers say. Like this poem by Mary Oliver:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

— From “The summer day”;
New and Selected Poems 1992

I am sure that many protestants thought the real presence deal was bull shit. Maybe they were envious. The last time I prayed and was serious about it was about nine years ago.

When people say they will pray for me, I am unsure how to gratefully and gracefully decline the offer. I was diagnosed with cancer. People unaware of my atheism would offer to pray for me. If I requested a pass, they ignored me. So, I just said thank you and moved on.

Some who know of my unbelief would offer to pray, but then would backtrack. I would thank them and explain I understood the intent. I used to pray. I know why people do it.

 Lori Arnold’s (McFarlane) memoir, The Last Petal Falling, talks of her experience regarding prayer. That helped me realize I should be more diligent to replace prayer with action, honest love, or the offer, how can I help?

I usually don’t care what others do. Read a book, contemplate their navel, drink scotch, listen to disco music, meditate, or pray. I think one of those is wasted time, but that’s for others to decide. It’s not my business. Even if others pray for me. It’s okay. If that’s their thing, have at it. However, there is one well-intended prayer I would adamantly decline, if asked.

I hope no one wastes their time praying that god forces me, or any atheist, back to religion. It’s hard to explain, but that’s insulting. It is asking their god to take away my free will. If someone believes in god, I accept that as their belief and I’m ok with that opinion. May they cheerfully return the acceptance.

This kind of ‘praying’ usually involves more famous atheists. For whatever reason and given all the dumb-shit stuff there is wrong in the world to pray for, or all the people who are in need, especially the children; why so many people find it necessary to pray that an atheist will come to the opposite conclusion is mind boggling. I understand why some may wish and hope for change for loved ones. But it is still wrong.

One of the most prayer-group-prayed-for persons in US history was the late Christopher Hitchens. He was a famous writer and atheist of celebrity status who often debated with religious people. These people needed to find something better to do with their time than to pray for atheists (agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) to stop believing as we do. It is insulting and demeaning. I will personally never recant my atheism. Never. Ok, if god physically shows up, I will. But not due to prayers.

How would a believer feel if atheists prayed for them to apostatize? What if we asked their god to turn them into atheists? How would that sit? Admittedly, a believer would see it as a damning petition. In a way, when people pray for us to recant, it’s the same thing; that we’re damned to hell simply for what we think.

I have a right to believe what I think truth to be. It’s unnecessary for anyone to respect what I believe (or don’t), but at least in quid pro quo fashion, one should give the nod to my right to believe it. Praying to take away that right, or doing so in the practice of one’s religion, is an attempt to take away an inalienable freedom: my right to think.

Some religious folks have the piety to keep their religion to themselves, but too many don’t. In many cases, that would be against their religion. If they must do something, they should follow the many religious who do something useful. If one knocks on my door, I may ask them to read my tract and come over to my way of thinking. Many do.

Look both ways and allow others the dignity to do the same.
Think. It’s free and helpful if you don’t over do.
Mind the gaps.

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.