Friday, September 12, 2014

"So what do you think (about religion)?"

I think people don't know nearly as much as we think we do. But people have a deep desire to know and understand. And instead of having that desire drive us to investigate, question, and seek, we convince ourselves that we already know the answers. We comfort ourselves by believing we already know. We lie to ourselves so easily. And, having bought into the lie, we fear and resent anything that could challenge our beliefs. That fear is what elevates our beliefs to "holy" doctrine, and raises the act of believing itself to the status of "righteousness." This is why wars have been fought and blood shed for the sake of the same religions that command us to "love our neighbor."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where I Was on 9 September 2001

I was living in a very small town with my then-wife, working as the preaching minister at a very small church, making three very long drives every week to finish my undergrad work at the Bible college. I was watching the news that morning, drinking coffee. I went into the kitchen for a second cup, and when I returned to the sofa I saw the image of a burning building on the screen. A few minutes of reporters trying to process what just happened while scrambling to get info to the viewers passed me by before I realized what had happened. The image was played over and over. Voices on the television were speculating. Questions were raised. Thoughts and prayers were expressed. Our suspicions were confirmed less than 20 minutes later as a second plane crashed into the second tower.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I Did The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Like so many others, I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now that it's gone viral, discussion about the practicality or efficacy of the Ice Bucket Challenge has become equally ubiquitous. I don't want to debate so much as simply explain why I did it.

I didn't do it because I felt pressured. If you don't want to pour a bucket of ice water on your head, then don't. Your integrity or compassion or worth as a person isn't determined by whether you accept someone else's methods. Lots of people already give to charities, so their doing the ALS challenge wouldn't make much sense, unless they just wanted to help raise awareness or donate to the cause once. Being pressured to do the challenge is the same as those silly Facebook posts that try to manipulate you into sharing it: "Share if you really care. I bet 99% of you won't." "Share if you love Jesus. Keep scrolling if you worship Satan."

I didn't refuse to do it* because I try to not be a pretentious ass. I don't think I'm "too good" to do something that's popular. The world doesn't need charity hipsters.

(* Intentional double negative. I'm a grammar hipster.)

I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because I accepted the challenge I was given. It's for a good cause, and I felt it was right for me to show my support and raise awareness. Pouring a bucket of ice water on my head isn't going to change much, so I included a link for those who wanted to donate. Why do the challenge if you're not going to donate and/or at least share the information letting people know where they can send money?

Whether you decide to do the challenge or not, may the buckets of water serve as a reminder that we are all part of the global community, and we should be helping others when and how we are able.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Carpe Diem

Robin Williams' death hit me hard last night; partially due to the fact that Robin Williams has been a household name for me and so many others my entire life; partially because he was such a powerful personality that losing him is like watching one of the brightest stars in the night sky burn out; but mostly because of how much his passing has spurred so much talk of depression and suicide on the Internet. I've wrestled with both. I still struggle with depression. I had a personal revelation this year: my hobbies are my escape from my pain. I play Magic: the Gathering because I can get lost in such an enormous game with such an expansive story. I blog to deal with my thoughts and feelings while paradoxically escaping the thoughts and feelings that hurt most. It makes sense, though: I can focus so much attention on X that I can ignore Y. These days, my internal struggles are usually only bad at night, before bed, when I have nothing left on which to focus, and I'm too tired to keep up my defenses. I suffer from frequent nightmares. I always have. It's not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night screaming. But I know there are those who deal with far worse. My guess is that Robin Williams was one of those people. Sometimes the demons are too strong.

My hope is that Robin's death helps eliminate the stigma of mental illness, and people will be moved by compassion and empathy to support and love those around them. Life is so very short. Light a match and hold it in your hand, and the flame either gets extinguished too soon or it burns too long and the pain of the fire forces you to let it go. Either way, the match only burns for a moment, and then the light goes out. But a single match can start a fire that can burn down a forest. So burn as bright as you can. Leave the world with something worth remembering. Be someone worth remembering.

The pain is real. The demons are out there. No one should have to face the nightmares alone.

Robin Williams [July 21, 1951 - August 11, 2014]

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hiatus

I'm taking time off blogging for a while. I have a list of items that need my attention, life-things that need taken care of, and goals that need to be met, so I'm going to be off the grid for some time. I just need to go do this life thing that I'm so fortunate to have.


I'll be back, and when I return, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about.

- Bud

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Righteous Belief

Many religious people think that holding a correct belief is being morally correct, and believing something that's wrong is not just factually incorrect, but morally wrong. This "righteous belief" attitude is why we see the dichotomy between the "righteous" and the "wicked," with the primary distinction between the two being that the "righteous" have the correct faith or belief, whereas the "wicked" do not. This simplistic black-and-white distinction leads to elitism, the casting of judgment upon those who think differently, and battle lines drawn.

I've written about this a few times. I bring it up now because I've seen examples of this same attitude repeatedly on the Internet, although not exclusively within the realm of religion. The first time I really noticed it from people outside of a religious context was when the short-lived "Atheism Plus" movement started. A lot of people used the "A+" label as a litmus test for one's character, such that, if you're not an "A+" person, you're no good. Many of them even said so explicitly. I have no desire to criticize Atheism Plus. That ship's already sailed for the most part. It caught fire, caused controversy, and now resides in a small, quiet corner of cyberland. Honestly, I have no problem with A+. I just had a problem with the elitism fueled ironically by a movement supposedly dedicated to being more welcoming of people. I don't blame Atheism Plus per se. The movement focuses on the right things. I just think a lot of well-meaning people associated with it developed the "righteous belief" attitude, which led to battle lines drawn unnecessarily. Likewise, several folks on the other side of the A+ fence did the same thing.

Related to A+, I've seen the "righteous belief" attitude run rampant in online feminism. Of course, sometimes lines need to be drawn. Fox News talking heads and repeat offenders need to be called out. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about people who are on the same team, who either 1) make a mistake, or 2) have a difference of opinion, and are vilified and demonized because of it. That happened to me a while back with "Mr. Manboobz," a blogger about whom I knew nothing. I'd never heard of the guy until he posted a link to one of my blog posts and called me a "non-feminist." I took issue with that, naturally, considering how important an issue it is for me. He drew his battle line, and his followers parroted his actions and attitude. I became the enemy, because I held a difference of opinion on a particular topic (and to drag up another point of contention in the atheist community's recent past): "Elevatorgate." Attempts to communicate with the Manboobz group led to name-calling and belittling. I was the enemy. The "righteous" had to cast out the "wicked."

The Internet is a breeding ground for herd mentality and groupthink. And since we're all just virtual representations on the Internet, we can forget that we're all real people, with complexities and histories, and it's easy to turn other people online into two-dimensional characters in our minds. And we live in an age in which one wrong word or a misunderstanding can lead to outrage poured out across all social media. Sometimes - many times - the outrage is justified. Sometimes, it's just outrage for the sake of being outraged at something. Before we speak out against something we see online, or reblog or share an image or link, we should investigate, do our homework, find out the truth. You know, actually be a skeptic. Maybe my one encounter with Mr. Manboobz would've gone differently had he bothered to do a little work. Maybe I could have learned something from him. Maybe he had nothing to teach me. I don't know. What I know is that, because I have imperfect human emotions, my single encounter with him soured me, and I've never gone back to his blog. What I also know is two people on the same side of a very important issue ended up as enemies, and that's a shame.

I'm a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man. I used to be a Christian, and I grew up in a traditional nuclear family with parents who loved their children and took good care of them. I was well-meaning, but mostly ignorant about the plight of those who aren't white, heterosexual, male, cisgendered, in the majority religion, able-bodied, or socially well-off. It took me a long time to realize what "privilege" even meant, and even longer to understand that I had it, and how it affected my outlook on life. Even when I started this blog, I was just starting to learn. I'm still learning. All I ask of people is to give me the opportunity to continue to learn. I might make a mistake, and my privilege might show. Talk to me about it. Don't make me the enemy.

I bring up these old topics because I realize that these events (among other related issues happening at the time) were what deterred me from engaging more with the "skeptic community" online. I saw neither skepticism nor community. I saw the same damn thing that I left behind when I walked away from religion: elitism, judgmentalism, and that same old "righteous belief" attitude. Now I see it elsewhere, and I'm struck with the truth that it must be a natural human reaction that, when left unchecked, spreads like a virus. The only cure is skepticism: not just using the "skeptic" label, but living out what it means to be a skeptic.

Looking back on older articles I've written, I realize that, were I to write some of them today, they would be different, either in tone or emphasis, if not in ideology altogether. Isn't that how it should be? If what I wrote four years ago were exactly the same as what I write today, have I grown at all? That's not to say nothing should stay the same. There are key virtues to which I adhere today just as strongly as I did five, ten, fifteen years ago. But, hopefully, my thinking is more nuanced and refined now. At the very least, my thinking should be less ignorant. If I can't be wise, I can at least strive to be not foolish.