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.

Song Lyric Sunday – Laughing

 

Jim selected the Song Lyric Sunday theme of laugh.

I almost took a pass today because it’s that kind of day for me. But, I browsed my iPhone playlist and selected Losing My Religion by R.E.M. Fucking perfect!

This is a song about a pissy (as in arrogantly argumentative) mood, which is where I am this Sunday morning. The mood will pass, but this song is a classic rock-whiner. I love it! I might not normally pick alternative rock, but this tune means a lot to me.

I prefer the official (old MTV) video best. Since it has no lyrics displayed, I’ve pasted them below. The hook is in the refrain lyrics:

“I thought that I heard you laughing//I thought that I heard you sing//I think I thought I saw you try”

Losing My Religion
R.E.M.

Oh, life is bigger
It’s bigger
Than you and you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
Try, cry
Why try?
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

Songwriters: Bill Berry / Michael Stipe / Mike Mills / Peter Buck
Losing My Religion lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

Look both ways and be still my heart at the sound of mandolin and flute.
Mind the gaps, or ‘but that was just a dream, try, cry, why try?
That was just a dream, just a dream’ or maybe
a dream within a dream.

Note: I get it, but it would be cool if there was a flute.

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.

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: 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.