Satanic Sundays

Satanic Sunday #4: Dungeons and Dragons

To read last weeks Satanic Sunday post, click here.

If there was one thing that was considered the ultimate in satanic practices during the 1980’s, it would be cat sacrifice, the second would be Dungeons and Dragons. This benign role-playing game was blamed for all of the evils of society at one point or another. The main issue with the game was that it would change your children from the fine, upstanding, christian kids they were into evil, hate filled warlocks and witches in a single session. That’s only one point that was made though, allow me to explain some of the other stuff here now.

Dungeons and Dragons Creates Witches and Warlocks

Mage.jpgFirst and foremost, as mentioned above was the belief that anyone engaged in this game would be instantly converted into Satan’s ministry, taking the role of a witch or a warlock.  Parents who never took the time to read anything about the game believed that you were actually learning spells that could be used in day-to-day life. If that were the case I would cast a firewall spell anytime I see someone who I don’t want to talk to on the street. This stems from a couple of places, one Christians believe in magic, both good and bad, and secondly they believe Satan likes to use magic to lure kids, like a creepy dude in a van might use candy.  Never once have I ever played D&D while thinking, boy this spell of revelation sure would help me find my keys….or maybe I have…I’m a nerd.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Make Your Kids Commit Suicide

This was based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence of a single parent, whose child had committed suicide and had happened to be a D&D player. The media picked up on this and produced a 60 Minutes special based entirely on this anecdotal evidence.

This belief expanded to the point that in many Christian churches it was taught that there were groups of D&D players who would commit suicide or murder a player who died within the game. I had numerous friends who played the game at the time and found this hysteria to be rather silly, not having a single friend who had ever committed suicide or been killed for dying in the game.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Turn Your Sons Gay

Unicorn.jpgSo freedom in character selection and creation is a big deal with Dungeons and Dragons. You can play as a Barbarian, a mage, a rogue, an ogre, a gnome, etc…you can also play as a member of the opposite sex. This caused huge uproar in the christian community, finding out that some of their children might be fantasizing about being a member of the opposite sex. This was Satan’s way of turning all of our children into homosexuals!

In reality, the ability to play as the opposite sex generally just turns into a laugh fest with a bunch of immature teenagers acting out the silliest of activities. “I hit the skeleton with muh boobs” kind of stuff.  Now I’m not saying that some kids, who are already gay or trans-gendered, don’t express those feelings through the safety of the game, which I think is healthy for them to do, but the idea that dungeons and dragons was creating an army of homosexuals was by far one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard…except for the next item.

Dungeons and Dragons Will Give Your Kids AIDS

AidsThis goes hand in hand with the item above. Since Dungeons and Dragons was supposedly turning your children gay, and at the time AIDS was considered a gay disease, it was only a matter of time before someone made the above claim. I was even told that AIDS was a curse caused by using the magic within the game, that god curses those who practice magic with homosexuality and AIDS. So there you have it, eliminate Dungeons and Dragons and then imagine the amount of money our government can save on AIDS medication. This item should show just how far grasping people in this community go to explain matters of science through the magical powers of their deity, it’s bad for you…

The Truth About Dungeons and Dragons

FuelTruthfully, these things really did worry me as a child and I didn’t play the game until I was much older. When I did begin playing, I found a fun environment, a great use of my imagination, and way more laughs than you could ever imagine. Dungeons and Dragons allows those who maybe have issues with self-esteem and confidence, though not always the case, to experience what it is like to be a hero, to be a powerful person, to escape the bullshit of everyday life for a few hours with friends who won’t judge them for who they are. The biggest issue with dungeons and dragons might be the sugar you consume due to the large amounts of Mountain Dew I have drunk during my time playing the game or the hours of sleep I have lost due to long sessions lasting well into the night. Dungeons and Dragons is a fun game that many people enjoy, it is no more harmful that Fantasy Football and can be a great escape from the hardships that life might throw at you from time to time.

Strange Questions · Uncategorized

Strange Questions #1: If You Don’t Believe In God, Do You Believe In Anything?

han.pngToday, I decided to start a new series on some of the strange questions you hear as an open atheist. The above question seems to come up a lot in debates and I don’t think it ever gets less annoying. The idea that belief in god is a requirement for belief in anything is sketchy at best, but it is also incredibly illogical. Think of it in another context…”If you don’t believe Star Wars is the greatest movie series in history, do you believe in anything?

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in god. It is not a counter belief that there isn’t a god as many apologists would have you believe. Does it require belief to say, I don’t believe I can fly? If you say it does, then is the act of being unemployed actually a job in itself? People who try to say that lack of belief requires belief are only doing so in an attempt to make it out that Atheism is a religion unto itself. It’s dishonest and what’s leprechaunsmore, if you ask them if they require a belief in the lack of fairies, unicorns, or leprechaun’s? They will tell you that these things are illogical and require no belief. If they don’t do that then they will say any stance requires belief and will drag you down their slippery slope to absolute nothingness.

 

However, let’s talk about what I, as a single person who is an atheist, believes in?

I believe in survival, and by survival I include those qualities that we as humans need in order to survive. These things include but are not limited to: Love, Friendship, Dignity, and Respect; without which life will lack a certain zest that most of us need to embrace it at its fullest.

Love

Love may or may not be a series of chemicals released while you are around certain people, its evolutionary aid may simply be to ensure that genes are passed down from generation to generation but it’s effects rise above and beyond the genes.  Love is a beautiful thing that you can witness in many corners of nature from protective mothers, monogamous species, and care given to those in your particular grouping. Human love though has taken this to another level, and is something we all yearn for in one way or another.

Friendship

Friendship may or may not simply be a response to an evolutionary need to stick together and defend one another from attack but it has also risen above and beyond its genetic reasoning. We find those that we share common interests with, form a camaraderie that can take us through some of the roughest patches in life. Friendship can be shared with many or few, it can be helped by the one you love or by many others.

Dignity

Dignity probably has no evolutionary basis that I can think of but it is in our shared genetic makeup that we can see that we are all truly created equal. Every single one of us is a mix of our mother and our fathers genes and thus a truly unique human being deserving the ability to make their way in society as best as they can. When humans work together towards the dignity of humankind, we see what we can truly become if we strive together and stop bickering about petty differences in belief and location.

Respect

Respect has the evolutionary advantage that it allows you to also be treated with respect. If you don’t like people treating you like a dick, it’s probably a good idea not to treat others like a dick. It is no wonder to me that one of the shared traits of many faiths is a form of the golden rule, in other words, “Do to other people as you would like done to yourself.” However as we have progressed as a species our ideas have gotten better and perhaps a better rule today is to treat others as they would want to be treated. In this we can all share a mutual respect for one another.

Some atheists throw out the believe word altogether, feeling it is far too connected to faith. Instead they use the term, trust. So instead of saying…I believe in the goodness of man, they will say…I trust in the goodness of man. I too have used this tactic when in a debate where someone says that belief requires something outside of yourself and unsure in nature to depend on.

These are just a few of the things that I believe or trust in outside of faith. Simply put, Atheism is the lack of belief in a god. What you believe in outside of that is completely up to the person. There are atheists, like myself that lack belief in anything supernatural at all, and atheists who believe in ghosts, spirits, and even some form of an after life. There are liberal atheists and conservative atheists, there are logical atheists and completely illogical atheists, there are atheists that are open and direct with their lack of belief and there are atheists that are closeted and even some that stand behind pulpits every Sunday.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 27

For part 26 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” – The Enchiridion of Epictetus

As I read through the paperwork the officer had handed me, I fell deeper and deeper into depression. She accused me of being both physically and mentally abusive, claimed that I was mentally ill, and said that I would definitely be a harm to the children if allowed to interact with them. I decided that I would fight this and went to the courthouse prepared to give my side of the story.

“I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom…”

The day of the hearing arrived and I stood as the judge came in to take his place. We all sat and the first thing out of the Judge’s mouth was, “I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom. We can either sit here and discuss this til we are blue in the face or I can simply grant it and we can be done with this situation for the next year.” I realized no argument I could make would change the judges mind, and she was there crying and acting as if I was crazy. When the judge asked me my opinion, I simply said, if that meant a year of no contact with her, I would be more than happy to agree.

I drove home with deep feelings of despair and foreboding. How was I going to survive an entire year without any contact with the kids that had become such a crucial part of my life? I was crushed and sobbed much of the next few days. My life at home was bad but only because I was in such a deep depression. The love of my life felt the brunt of it and didn’t feel as if I wanted her there. Sadly our relationship almost ended in those first couple of days after the restraining order went into effect. In such a sad state, I considered putting things on hold and told my love about it. She burst into tears and told me I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted and fast. The second I saw the pain in her eyes, I knew I never wanted to see that pain again and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life bringing joy to those eyes.

StoicismHowever, getting out of a depression is not an easy matter, it isn’t like turning a light switch on and off and I had to find my own way out of it. Luckily, my love, had an idea that might just help me. She had been a psychology major in college and had studied philosophy as well, knowing my love of philosophy, she encouraged me to look into some of the Stoic writers of the early first and second centuries AD. It was exactly what I had been looking for. For those that don’t know, modern CBT therapy is based on Stoic ideas.

Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics (Epictetus, Seneca, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius) taught that some things are within our control and others are not. That’s a very basic explanation of their philosophy but it is enough to get the general idea across. Those things that are within our control should be the things we dwell upon and deal with, those things outside of our control are things that we shouldn’t spend much time, energy, or thinking on. I read several of the classics as well as modern stoic works written by non-believers.(Stoicism was not based on a belief in god and so it fits well with the atheist mindset) I found within these works that you can love someone who does not currently love you back and still be fine.

I knew I had a year that I couldn’t see those kids and the thought had crushed me, but being able to see them was completely outside of my control. Being able to love them, even though I wasn’t able to see them was still fully within my control. I also had a deep love for the woman I was with and a growing love for her daughter as well. I decided that for the next year I would dwell, not on what I couldn’t do, but only upon those things that I could do. It took some time but my depression began to gradually subside.

Over time, my happiness and tranquility increased to a point that I was able to beat my depression and move forward with my life.  The fact that god and faith played no role in overcoming this depression made the results twice as satisfying. Not only was I just living life but I was truly enjoying the life I was living.

One day I checked the mail and got notice that the final hearing for my divorce was coming up.  Also in the mail that day was a letter stating that I owed some $10,000 dollars in back child support for the daughter of Jennifer. Confused, I contacted child support services and asked them why they felt I owed this. Come to find out, since Jennifer had her daughter while we were still technically married, the state of Iowa considered her my legal daughter. When I explained that they were living at my residence and that I was back in a relationship with her mother, they told me I owed nothing and that I could put in a request to have her status as my legal daughter removed. They said if I did nothing, she would still be considered my legal daughter.

I thought about it for only a minute or two before deciding that I would give her the final say in what occurred. Jennifer agreed and when she got home from school that day we sat her down and talked it over with her. She instantly said that she always had wanted a “real” dad and was really happy to find out that I was her real dad. That settled it, she is my daughter and always will be. I love her so much and she acts so much like me it’s hilarious.

Anyway, the day of the final hearing arrived and the judge signed the decree, I was now divorced once again. I felt a deep sense of relief having that period of my life over with. I still missed the kids a great deal but was fully capable of loving them without being able to see them. We went home and I went to work where my coworkers had bought me a cake to celebrate the end of my divorce proceedings. All in all it was a great day.

Deadbeat

We spent the next year just enjoying being around each other. We learned a lot about one another and our relationship continued to deepen. My faith had been removed but I still claimed a deistic/agnostic style of belief, claiming that either god doesn’t exist or he created everything and then took off to avoid child support payments to his newly created beings. I did however begin to read some scientific journals, things that would have been considered taboo while I was in the faith, and found great enjoyment in learning about topics like physics, the big bang, and evolution. Life was good but I still wasn’t ready to call myself an atheist just yet.

 

To continue on to part 28, click here.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #4: All About You!

For last weeks Something Different Saturday, click here.

Today’s post is going to be all about you, the reader. First off, I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to read my blog. You have absolutely no idea how good that makes me feel and how happy I am each day to reply to your comments, whether that is here, on Twitter, Facebook, or through e-mail. Every day you remind me why writing my story is worth it and hopefully it will help others who are going through the same type of situations as I once was. Thank you!

Thanks.jpg

Secondly, we will be coming to the end of the “Journey” posts very soon. It’s been a wild ride going back through my memories and putting them down for you to read. This hasn’t always been easy, the amount of stuff that has come up over the last few weeks that I had suppressed or thought I had forgotten has been immense. Reliving some of these stories has been incredibly painful but I feel better for having gotten them out into the open. Thank you for the kindness and love you have shown me through these rough moments that I have shared.

idea.pngThird, just because the “Journey” posts will be ending does not mean that this blog is soon to be over. I have many ideas running through my mind for future series and entries. Some of those ideas are listed below:

  1. A Pentecostal Atheist Bible Study: Showing you exactly how I was taught to interpret passages and scriptures during my upbringing. (This will definitely be humorous and scary at times)
  2. A guide to the different types of Christians you might meet and what arguments work best for each.
  3. Extra-biblical Teachings: Things that I was taught to believe even though they had absolutely no biblical backing. Conspiracy theories run rampant throughout the Pentecostal faith.
  4. Crazy Christians: Entries describing some of the stranger folks that I have met throughout my life and time in the ministry who believed in very strange things outside the normal bounds of regular Christianity and Pentecostalism. (Snake Handlers, Poison Drinkers, Poo Eaters, etc…)
  5. A personal blog describing aspects of my life not touched upon by the “Journey” posts as of yet. I’ve left out quite a bit that I didn’t feel was crucial to my journey and think you might find some of that just as interesting.

These are just some of the ideas that I have had over the last few weeks.

Fourth, I want this blog to be about you. What type of things would you find interesting to read about? Are there some aspects about faith or my life that you haven’t understood and wish I would expand upon those thoughts?

Free Thinker.jpg

Lastly, Free-Thought Friday is your opportunity to have your voice heard. If you are interested in writing a guest entry, let me know. Either message me through here, Facebook, or Twitter and tell me you’re interested. I’ve enjoyed all the submissions I have received so far and love to share your stories.

Once again, thank you! You all have made writing this blog worth it. I cannot possibly thank you enough.

THANKS!

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 26

For part 25 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to write those first few words to my ex-wife. For nearly a decade, I had told myself time and again how much I hated her, how every thought of her made me angry and sad. Even though all of those feelings had been a sham and a protective covering for the hurt I truly felt, I was sure that she hated me and would never message me back. I spent hours debating whether or not I should even message her, but I did it and immediately felt foolish for the corny way I initiated contact.

She responded, “HEY!”

That went way better than I expected it to go, now was time for me to attempt a conversation with her, but I had absolutely no idea what to say.  I asked her how she was and if she had heard about my second marriage breaking down, surprisingly she had. My ex had contacted her and asked her for help in getting back with me, which is a really weird thing to ask someone. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and then I told her how sorry I was for how distant I had become during our marriage, I accepted my role in our divorce and told her I no longer felt any ill will towards her.

“I accepted my role in our divorce and told her i no longer felt any ill will towards her.”

She was shocked by the apology but acted cordial and let me know that she had forgiven me years before. We were both young and had both made mistakes. She then apologized to me for giving up on our marriage so quickly and for not being as understanding as she felt she should have been. In the end of our first conversation we agreed that we were mature and old enough to be friends.

I went to work after that and my mind kept wandering back to the beautiful redhead that had once sang to me on a rooftop so many years before. Talking to her again online had brought back all of those feelings that had been lost to me for so long. When I got home, I hoped on-line and saw that she too was on-line. We talked for a couple of hours and then she said she had a question for me…

“Do you still have feelings for me?”

My answer was an immediate, “no.” We talked for a few more minutes and were getting ready to end the conversation when my mind burst into action. “I lied,” I said “I have never stopped having feelings for you, losing you was the most painful thing that I have ever gone through but I still love you and always will.” Her response was, “I still have feelings for you too.”

Now this might seem a bit silly, but do you know the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch hears the Who’s down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes? That’s the absolute best way of describing what seeing her type those words did to me.  I literally jumped in the air and did a little dance in my friends living room. Never once did i think that I might have another shot with the woman of my dreams but this was it.

Thus began another series of late night talks like we had shared almost a decade earlier. Talking to her made me feel like a teenager again and every conversation left me wanting more. For nearly a month we continued these talks and eventually we decided that she should move to Iowa. Only a couple of issues, I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van that I feared wouldn’t make the journey to Texas and back.

“…I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van…”

Her life in Texas was stagnant, her mother had passed away and so she had no real family connections in Texas anymore. She had a daughter who was performing horribly in school due to the large class sizes and lack of one on one attention. She believed that the smaller class sizes would be good for her and so she decided to ask her if she would be interested in the move. One night she told her daughter about me, about Iowa, and about the new school she could attend. She was excited but demanded that she get to talk to me before any decision was made.

Our conversation was the moment my heart grew its fourth size. She had a sweet voice and demeanor, was absolutely in love with the movie Frozen, and insisted that I listen to her sing, “Let It Go.” We chatted for a bit, discussed our mutual love of video games, learned much more than I ever needed to know about “My Little Pony,” and she told me she couldn’t wait to meet me. I hung up the phone happy with how well that conversation had gone.

Almost instantly I found an apartment, I took my van to the shop and had about a grand in repairs done to it. I asked the mechanic if the van would make the trip and his words were, “If it would float, i’d drive it to Hawaii. It’s not going to give you any problems.” Everything was going so well and I thought they would continue to go well…

(Ron Howard Arrested Development Voiceover) “…they did not continue to go well…

It turns out that my wife at the time had hacked my e-mail account. She quickly learned that I planned to make a long trip, knew I had recently moved into an apartment, put two and two together and realized what was going on. She called me fuming. “If you get back with her you will never see the kids again!” I told her that we were separated and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life. She repeated the threat once again and I told her, “Do that and eventually the kids are going to hate you for it. In time they will realize what actually occurred and you will regret it.” She hung up on me.

About 20 minutes later she arrived at my apartment. She pushed her way in and quickly grabbed every picture of the kids that I had in my possession, or so she thought, I had in my binder an envelope filled with pictures that I had grabbed shortly after moving out. She broke several frames and I told her she needed to leave or I was going to call the cops. She left and went straight to the van and began kicking at the tires and beating on the windows. I ran outside and screamed that I had called the cops, I hadn’t, but that they would be there soon so she had better leave. She swung at me with a handful of junk mail, cutting my nose with one of the edges. I told her to leave and she finally did.

Later she called me and made the kids get on the phone and tell me how much they hated me. I could hear the pain in their voices as she goaded them to say these mean things. I told them both I loved them dearly and hoped they would understand one day. She then took the phone back and told me that I wasn’t allowed to see the kids again and that if I tried she would get a restraining order against me.  I laughed and said if anyone needs a restraining order, it would be me against her but that the whole idea was preposterous…

A few days later I hit the road and was on my way to Texas. I drove straight through the night, only stopping long enough for gas and to grab a couple of snack foods, nuts and beef sticks.  I reached Dallas by dawn and realized that my trip was nearly over, just three short hours to go. As the miles past, my excitement continued to grow. I pulled in to her driveway at around 11, gave her a quick kiss, loaded the van and we were back on the road before noon.

Only with my luck could we hit a blizzard in the middle of Texas, but that’s exactly what happened. We made it halfway through Oklahoma before we had to stop for the night. We were snowed in for nearly 3 days and what was worse, the nuts and slim jims had not done me any favors. I spent those three days in excruciating stomach cramps and pain, turns out I’m slightly allergic to nuts. Who knew? Nothing says love than being able to sit in a room where feet away the guy you love is shitting his guts out for three days.

When we finally reached Iowa, I thought things were going to calm down for a bit. We spent the next couple of days just enjoying being in each others company. We signed her daughter up for school and spent some quiet time alone. These days passed by so quickly that it was soon time for me to return to work. I hated having to leave her, but money had to be made and so I went back to work expecting a long and boring day.

Long and boring it was not, a couple of hours into my shift a police officer entered the premises. Speaking to the boss he asked if I was working. I stood up and said I was the one he was looking for. He walked across the room, handed me a stack of papers, and said “You’ve been served with a restraining order, you are to not come into contact in any way with your wife or her two kids.”

My brain checked out and I give my boss props for not sending me home. I sat in silence, feeling as if I had lost two of the most important parts of my life forever. Nothing, not even the feelings of losing my faith or my first marriage breaking down, had ever hit me with such deep depression and horror as hearing those words come out of that officers mouth. I was, once again, dead inside.

To continue on to part 27, click here.

 

Freethought Friday

Free-thought Friday #2: I Was Always An Atheist

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.


Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his story and I think you will find it very interesting!


 

First, a definition. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods.

So.

I was born an atheist. When you’re a week old, you don’t believe in anything, except milk and poop. Then I was eight days old, my parents decided that I wasn’t quite as perfect as delivered, so they got a mohel to make a small snip. No-one consulted me about this, although if I had been asked, my response would have been either “milk” or “poop”.

0-5
Age 0 to 5 – my interests became more diverse. I had bricks, and stacking cups, and a thing you pushed things into whereat they came out the other end, and books. I’m told that I was starting to read at an age that I frankly don’t believe, mothers always exaggerate. But I do remember my first day at school, I was about 5, and I came home very disappointed. “All they did was play with water”, I said, although actually they were also doing “A is for apple”. Except I was reading books by then, and wasn’t even interested in “Janet and John”.

Age 5 to 10. As I grew up, no-one gave me any good reason to believe in any god. I enjoyed reading a *lot*, the local public library was within walking distance, I persuaded the librarian to let me borrow ten books per week, and I was doing well at school. There was some sort of “assembly” in the morning, and I do remember “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”, which is a great song, but the next line is “The Lord God made them all”, and I classified that along with Santa Claus, because I already had read about evolution, and that was so obviously the right answer.

ChederAt the age of 9 or 10, I had to go to Cheder. Because my mother told me I had to. At Cheder, I learned two things. A) how to read hebrew, and B) how long I could hold my breath. Hebrew is really difficult – it isn’t just a new language (and I found out later with French,  Latin and Russian that I’m really rubbish at languages) and it isn’t just that the pages are back to front and the writing from right to left. It’s also that the letters aren’t the A-Z that I already knew, and the worst thing is that the vowels are left out and you have to guess what they are from just the consonants. Holding your breath, however, is really easy. The clock in the Cheder had a second-hand, and in order to alleviate the excruciating boredom, I practiced breath-holding.

The purpose of Cheder was to prepare me for my barmitzvah, an ordeal that every jewish boy has to go through as a rite of manhood at the age of 12 or so. It’s a bit like being given a spear and being told to go out and kill a lion, except that you’re given a passage in hebrew, and you have to stand up in front of dozens of relatives and dozens of complete strangers, and not only read it, you have to *sing* it using the prescribed notes, which are, of course, not like the sort of music I was learning when learning piano – oh no, it was little marks amongst the hebrew that told you what pitches and lengths to sing. I would have preferred the spear and the lion. The only good thing about Cheder was that you got unlimited bread and strawberry jam beforehand.

I got through my barmitzvah unscathed. Because I got one-on-one tutelage, and more practice than I’ve ever used for anything else. Not completely unscathed; it was many years before I was willing to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of myself.

So now I was a mensch. When a minyan was needed (you need ten men for some prayer services) I could be one of them! But even better – I didn’t have to go to Cheder any more, and that was a real benefit; no longer was I in any danger of death by non-breathing. Also, I was in charge of the decision of whether to attend synagogue or not. I chose not.

The school I went to was all boys in gender, mixed in religion. Half jewish, half christian. Because of that, it would have been difficult for them to ram any kind of religion down us, but we still has a daily assembly, and I learned to ask for “forgive us our trespasses” which, at the time, I thought referred to that time in autumn when we would creep onto a field that we weren’t supposed to in search of conkers. No-one explained this stuff to me. The whole of that prayer just sounded like nonsense; even the words I understood were being used in a way that sounded daft. “For thine is the kingdom”? What does that actually mean? It was just words, and meaningless. But we had to mumble them, although no-one explained to me why.

The school I was at was the Grocer’s Company school (which I have to say was the best grammar school in the area, later called the Hackney Downs School, which isn’t nearly as elegant). The motto was “God grant grace” and the school hymn was also  “God grant grace” This was completely wasted on me, because no-one ever explained to me the meaning of “grace” in this context. To me, grace was the opposite of clumsy, and the hymn was all about not tripping over your own feet. And the tune was a dreadful dirge.

It was at this school that I first learned the terms “jew boy” and “yid”, which (judging from the tone of voice they were used) were supposed to be insults. But there were far greater insults, such as “cap crawler” (one who wears his school hat in conformity with the rules) and “swot”. I was, of course, all four. I also learned that although I was wretched at French and pants at Art, I left everyone else behind at maths, which turned out to be useful later.

Grocers was an all-boys school. That didn’t seem to be a drawback until I turned 15 or so, at which point the total absence of half the world’s population became an issue. So I joined Habonim. That’s a jewish youth movement whose objective is to get to to do Aliyah – emigrate to Israel. I had no interest in Aliyah, but a growing interest in that other half. And there they were.

British Bulldog

Religion in Habonim is of very minor importance. Dancing, a lot more so. and mixed games such as British Bulldog, all of which gave boys an opportunity to clutch at girls, and vice versa.  There were also summer camps, also mixed, and winter activities. But included in all this, was a certain amount of what I would call cultural awareness, and it was there that I first found out about the holocaust. No-one had told me about this before, at school we were up to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the syllabus ending in 1832. It’s impossible for me to describe the impact that this had on me. Thinking about it still makes me cry, and although I’ve read lots of books about the second world war, I try to avoid books about the holocaust. Except “Maus“, which I’d recommend.

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My grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the century in response to the pogroms there (and no-one had told me about those, either, and “Fiddler on the roof” also makes me cry). They came from the part of Russia that became Poland, and if they hadn’t emigrated, then 40 years later they would have been murdered by the Nazis, along with any children and grandchildren. And, of course, if they’d converted to christianity (which almost certainly they wouldn’t have) that wouldn’t have saved them – the Nazis didn’t care about your religion, only your blood.

So between the ages of 15 and 17, I felt more jewish than I ever had, but not religious. I didn’t go to synagogue (except for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals), I didn’t pray, if you’d asked me I’d have said I was agnostic, but that was because I didn’t know the definition of atheist – I was actually an atheist.

If I had believed in god at the age of 15 (which I didn’t), then finding out about the holocaust would certainly have changed that. Some people say that you can’t prove the non-existence of something, but actually you can. If you specify the thing in question (for example, a full-size elephant in my room) then I can prove the non-existence of that (I leave the proof to the reader, it’s pretty simple). And I knew about this sort of proof from maths; you can prove the non-existence of a largest prime number, or that you cannot express the square root of two as a ratio of two numbers. I would very quickly have come to a strong belief in the non-existence of the god of the jews.

So I went up to university at 17 as an atheist to read maths, and soon discovered that I was the Only Jew in the College (if there were others, they were keeping a very low profile). There was Habonim in Cambridge, which was just as well because in student numbers, there were about 20 males for each female. In maths, more like 200. But in Habonim, five girls and two boys, which is small in numbers, but favourable in ratio, especially as there was already one couple paired off. But I’m not going to talk about my early sex life …

As the Only Jew in the College, I found that there were people who thought that I hadn’t heard the Good News, and that if only someone told me, I’d eagerly accept Jesus into my Heart and become one of God’s Army. This is something I hadn’t encountered before, and I was unpracticed at dealing with it. I fear that I was unable to sufficiently conceal my mirth at some of the approaches, which is not as well-mannered as I should have been.

My worst misdemeanor was when a good friend of mine, who went by the handle of Li(3) of 1 (that’s a mathematical joke) persuaded me to go to chapel, on the grounds that I’ve never been, and how do I know I wouldn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it, which is an argument that was also used on my to get me to start smoking (I didn’t) and drinking beer (I did, and still do, occasionally). So I went with him to chapel, and maybe the fact that he called it “chapel” tells you which brand of christianity it was, but I never found out, and we went through a service that was every bit as boring as Cheder, and worse, because there was no clock with a second-hand that I could use to practise holding my breath.holding your breath

I shall pass over the incident when I was asked to eat human flesh and drink human blood and refused on the grounds that cannibalism was against my atheistic principles, even if it’s symbolically, and skip to the part where Li(3) of 1 introduced me to the vicar (or priest, or minister, or whatever he was) with “This is my friend, he’s, he’s, er, er, he’s a, um, he’s of the Hebrew persuasion” at which I said, loudly enough for everyone in the chapel to hear, “No I’m not, I’m a jew”.

I wasn’t invited back.

Elliot 503

I graduated, and there was a ceremony, and people prayed, and since I’d worked hard for that certificate I wasn’t going to make a nuisance about that, and I got a job where they had an Elliott 503 computer, which I fell in love with, and I’ve been messing around with computers or the 50 years thereafter, and it turns out that if you like playing with the best toy ever invented, people chuck money at you, which is nice.

So for 60-odd years, I was an atheist, and thought nothing of it. I mean, it really is nothing, like “not playing football” or “liking brussel sprouts”. I don’t like football, but if someone else want to play, why should I care? And if someone else dislikes brussle sprouts, it’s no skin off my nose. But then I was rummaging around Youtube, looking for yet another production of the Mikado, when I came across Christopher Hitchens, which led to Matt Dillahunty, and I discovered that for some people living in some countries, atheism is indeed a thing. Because in some countries, religion gets rammed down your throat whether you want it or not. Some people don’t accept that other people’s sex lives are none of your business as long as it’s adult consensual.

I still go to synagogue for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funeral, but I’ve found that if I take a book with me and read quietly about such subjects as the “War of the Spanish Succession” while everyone else is either praying or pretending to pray, no-one seems to mind. Just don’t read a book that makes you laugh out loud. At Pesach, I go to the seder at my sister’s house (she does a great pesach meal with chicken soup, chopped liver followed by various Sephardi dishes (we’re Ashkenazi, she married a Sephardi and now mostly cooks in that style) and because there’s two seder nights, the other is at my sister-in-law (more chicken soup, chopped liver and then various Ashkenazi dishes). Because they both know how much I like chicken soup and chopped liver. And at the seder, it’schopped liver.jpg laid down that you should ask questions about the exodus from Egypt, and boy, do I have some good questions each year. So if you want to, you could say that I’m gastronomically Ashkenazi Jewish.

 

 

When my kids were small, we did Santa Claus and the reindeer each year, and I actually do not care that some Christians think that they have a monopoly on Christmas, nor do I care that this maybe comes from a Druid festival or maybe from the Roman Saturnalia. And one of them was the Christmas Elf, who oversees the Distribution of Presents on Christmas Day, although I suspect that we might be the only family that had our own Elf. And I’m still willing to be Santa for grandchildren, because I think it’s important for kids to learn that grown-ups lie about invisible people

Although in restrospect, I realise that religion has affected me, and not just the holocaust – I mean affected me personally. There was a thing in England called the Lord’s Day Observance Society which led to legislation about what I could and could not do on a Sunday. And their idea was that the only thing I should do on Sunday, is going to church, which in my case wasn’t going to happen. These days, the LDOS is pretty much a dead duck, and Sundays are full of activities.

But also the House of Lords (a total unelected anachonism in itself) includes 26 “Lords Spiritual” (bishops), which means that the cold dead hand of religion is infecting my government, although given the almost complete lack of power of the HoL, that isn’t as bad as it might have been and nowhere near as bad as it is in the USA. Oh, and one of the Lords Spritual is a jew. These jews get in everywhere. But no Roman Catholics, because ever since Henry VIII, they’ve been persona non grata in the higher reaches of government.

I read with great dismay, the stories of people (mostly American) who have been inculcated with religion and who have considerable difficulty getting free of it, of the nightmares that some of them still have about an imaginary hell. About how the people they thought loved them, turned out to love their imaginary friend so much more that they’d turn their back on the newly declared atheist. About how people in one of the many religions of peace turned out to be anything but peaceful when push came to shove. About how even though the religion preaches charity, the devotees practise malevolence. About how faith is preached as an ideal instead of as the polite word for gullibility.

And I can only thank god that I am truly blessed because I am, and always was, an atheist.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 25

For part 24 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Even as a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me … and no one showed up.” – Rodney Dangerfield

I don’t know what I was expecting when I told her I wanted a divorce but the response was a lackluster “OK.” We sat down and talked things over, deciding that we could do thing amicably and quickly. We even shared a laugh about how awful our whole marriage had been. The era of amiability wouldn’t last very long.

About a week later, I came home to find her crying her eyes out and laying on the floor. The kids weren’t home and so I asked her what was the matter. She informed me that she didn’t want a divorce and was sorry for the hell she had put me through over the years. She asked me if we could give it one more chance, and I informed her that I was done, the time for chances was over and I wanted out. She went on to spend the rest of the night bawling on the floor.

Fighting

Little did I know, but she had earlier encouraged a mutual friend to date me, when the friend said that she would be interested, my ex went ape-shit. So in reality it wasn’t that she had been crying because of wanting to stay together, but she wanted no one else to want me and so her display was an effort to keep me locked away from the rest of the world.  Her dramatics reached a point that I thought she was going to hurt herself or the kids and so I encouraged her to seek medical help. She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance. I told her I would think about it but in reality my mind was made up and nothing was going to keep me in this wreck of a marriage.

“She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance.”

Prior to going to the doctor to seek medical help she went to the bathroom and shaved herself bald. I tried stopping her but she locked the door and finished the job. We then drove to the hospital in complete silence. Upon reaching the hospital she once again went into theatrics and the doctor called a local psyche ward and encouraged her to stay a few days. Once again she agreed but only if I would promise to think about staying with her. Seeing her driven away, even though she had hurt me greatly over the years, made me feel like a monster. I was absolutely sickened by myself and decided that I would actually think over the matter for the next couple of days.

The one thing that made me question whether or not I should give her another chance were the kids. They were hurt, as children are during a separation, and felt to blame for the way things had happened. I felt awful to see them in so much pain but knew that eventually they would understand whatever decision I ultimately made.  I love those kids with all my heart and they have brought to me, more pride and joy than I ever could have deserved over the years. I still cherish every moment I get to speak with them.

Two days later, the stay had originally been scheduled for a week, she called me on the phone and asked if I could come visit. The facility was nearly 100 miles away and I literally had no gas. I told her there was absolutely no way I could make the trip. She screamed at me over the phone that a real man would get there one way or another, she then hung up the phone. A few minutes later a nurse at the facility called me on the phone and told me that she had checked herself out and that I needed to get there to give her a ride home. I ended up borrowing a few bucks from a friend in order to make the trip.

When I arrived at the facility, she was flipping out and angry. She looked at me with so much hatred that I knew there was no way I was going to give this another chance. We walked out of the facility, I drove to a convenience store and bought myself a pack of cigarettes. This was the first pack I had bought in nearly 10 years but I knew that in order to survive that drive, I was going to need them. The trip home was excruciating, her screaming into my ear for most of the trip about one thing or another.

marlboro

When we got home, the screaming continued for a couple of hours and she eventually decided that she was going to take a nap. I sat down and enjoyed a couple of moments of peace, knowing at any moment the bedroom door would open and she would be back at it.  I was correct as a little over 15 minutes later she was back in my face swearing at me for more than an hour. The kids had been at a friend’s house and when they came home suddenly, she stopped screaming and went back into the bedroom for several hours.

At the time, I was taking Ambien due to my severe insomnia, so around 10pm, after the kids were fast asleep, I took my pill and went to bed. A few moments later she tore into me again about everything she had said earlier. If you have ever taken Ambien before, when it hits, it hits. I told her I needed to go to sleep, and tried as best as I could to do just that. This is the end of what I remember of the night…

From what I have gathered, shortly after attempting to fall asleep, she had once again began screaming and poured a glass of sweet tea all over me. For those that don’t know, I hate being sticky. I’m told that I must have left shortly after that because I showed up at one friends house and spoke to them in garbled sentences for a little over an hour, dripping wet from the sweet tea. After that, I’m told, I drove to another friends house, told them I had been thrown out and that I needed a place to stay for a bit. This was the friend I spoke about in an earlier post, the atheist friend from high school. He said I could stay as long as I needed to and allowed me to crash on his couch.

Downey

That is what I have been told happened that night because the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange house, in a strange room, filled with strange things that I had no recollection of. I seriously feared that I had broken into someones house, the feeling was not a good one. I also could not understand why the hell I was so god damned sticky. As I began to gather my bearings I realized that I had been in this house before, and that it was a safe place for me to be. Shortly after my friend walked into the room and informed me of what had occurred the night before.

This would be my living arrangement for the next month as I sorted everything out. If it hadn’t been for the few friends I had made just prior to leaving the ministry, I don’t know what I would have done. During that month, the only way I was allowed to see the children was if I agreed to have sex with my ex. This went on a couple of times before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut things off completely. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t see the kids anymore but at the same time I had broken free from a horrible situation. I was both liberated and crushed.

Towards the end of my month stay, I decided to go through my past and seek out people who I might have hurt, both prior to becoming a minister and as a minister. I found that shortly after leaving the ministry and after getting thrown out of my house, all of the anger and hatred from the years passed began to melt away. I realized that in many of the relationships I had throughout the past, I had been at fault for much of what had gone on and wanted to personally atone for those issues.

This was a stark contrast to my time in the faith when I would atone through asking forgiveness and not actually seek to fix the broken and burnt bridges I had caused. The first person I knew I would seek out was the beautiful redheaded girl who had hurt me almost a decade earlier. We had divorced and the pain from that relationship had eventually driven me into the arms of faith and now out I could see much clearer exactly what had happened. I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request, she accepted it almost immediately.

I sat there for what seemed like forever and eventually typed out these words…

“Hey, you look like a girl I used to know.”

To continue on to part 26, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 24

For part 23 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

““How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” – Jeremiah 8:8 ESV

My marriage was a wreck, my schooling was going well, and my ministry was still decent but I was definitely not happy. The more I learned in my studies the less of the bible made sense. I took a world civilization course and found that there were thriving civilizations, pretty much the world over, by the time that any of the biblical stories were to have taken place. For fun, and yes…I’m odd, I took a geology course and found that there is absolutely no evidence for a biblical flood. Philosophy taught me that good people could be found outside the walls of faith. My worldview was beginning to crumble and my mind would back to the thoughts about my cousin’s suicide, a topic that I tried to avoid because of how it made me feel about my faith.

Around this time another book of Plato’s fell into my hands. It was “Apology,” which speaks of the trial and death of Socrates. Within its pages, the ruling class brings charges against Socrates for corrupting the youth with his teachings. Socrates, then lays out exactly why he wasn’t wrong to speak on the subjects that he did and goes on to explain why he feels like he is being wrongly accused. The trial ends and Socrates is sentenced to death, his followers attempt to steal him away to safety but he stands firm and drinks the poison given to him, knowing that it does more harm to those who accused him, to kill an innocent man, than to drink the poison and end his own life.

The man who had become the epitome of goodness had ended his own life by drinking the poison given to him. He could have run and hid but instead he met his fate with dignity. I remember thinking, does that mean that Socrates is in hell? Now I realize that there is debate on whether Socrates was an actual person but that really didn’t matter to me, what did was the idea that a god would send anyone as good as Socrates to hell was not a good god. Could it even be called a god?

For several months I had attempted to preach in a way that was acceptable to me. That meant basically throwing out the bible, outside of a starter scripture for the sermon, and then speaking on what I had learned through my studies and through reading philosophy. I began to realize that the people in the seats weren’t even actually listening to the words coming out of my mouth. If I raised my voice, I would get a spattering of “amens” regardless of what I was talking about. If I stomped my feet, I’d get a “Hallelujah,” shouted from someone in the congregation. I found that I could literally talk about anything and still the same responses would be heard from the congregation.

So one Sunday, I went to church and began my sermon with no scripture. In its place I read:

“Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.”

If you are a fan of philosophy and have read the works of Plato, you will be able to tell that the line I just wrote is from Plato’s apology. I then preached a sermon surrounding the idea of a good man being torn apart by those who would seek to have him silenced. Never once did I mention god, not once did I refer to the bible or Jesus.  I still received the same “amen’s” and “hallelujah.” Afterwards, only one of the people in the congregation said anything about the quality of the sermon, and this person said they had never heard a sermon that was so good.

After that I continued to preach mostly philosophy, using quotes that I found interesting from Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, etc… Never once did anyone try to get me back on biblical topics and yet still the same responses from my congregation. This worked well for a while, yet I still felt horrificly empty inside. My life was a mess and around this point I started having health issues.

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One morning I woke up to get out of bed and found that my legs were completely numb. After about 30 minutes I managed to get out of bed and some of the feeling returned to my legs. Walking became increasingly hard and I was forced to purchase a cane in order to get around. The doctors that I visited were completely stumped on what was causing my sudden health issues. They ran countless tests and outside of some arthritis in my back, nothing else could be found that was wrong with me. For me, the fact that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me was worse than if they had found something seriously wrong.

Due to my health issues, my mental state deteriorated even more. I no longer cared about anything, I would arrive at services without having given a single thought to what I was going to speak on, though did it really matter? No one was actually paying attention to what I was saying anyway. During one sermon, I had a bit of a breakdown, at least that is what I believe it was, because halfway through my sermon, I stopped talking and just stared blankly out at the congregation. Five minutes must have passed when I finally came to, and instead of continuing speaking, I instead went into a diatribe about all the reasons why I believe Star Trek is better in quality to Star Wars…I actually did get talked to after this sermon, though it was by a young boy in the church who completely disagreed with my assertions.

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One Sunday morning, I stood around after the service and sat down in the front pew. With everyone gone, I finally found the courage to ask what had been on the tip of my tongue for so long…”Are you real, god?” I began shaking profusely, crying my eyes out, and begging for god to show himself to me and prove his existence. I beat at my chest and screamed at the top of my lungs. I knelt down and pleaded, “God, if you are real, now is the time to show me, I’m at the end of my rope, if you don’t make yourself real to me again, I may end my own life.” My prayers were not answered, no miraculous appearing was to be had, and after a while, I picked myself up and walked out the door.

“Are you real, god?”

Later that day I confided in two people about my doubts. The first was my wife at the time. I told her that I no longer believed the bible was true and that I was questioning if god was real as well. Not long after this would I find out how bad the decision to confide in my wife had been.

The second person, was another minister. He informed me that everyone went through periods of doubt like I did and that it was completely normal. He said the key was to fake your faith until your faith becomes real to you again. That’s basically what I had been doing and it made me feel disgusting. Hearing him speak those words though did something to me, it confirmed to me that other ministers didn’t believe in god and were faking it. How many ministers in my past had been faking it, all while telling us how we are less than perfect without god and that we need to believe without question? I was sick both physically and mentally and I knew that something had to change.

A month went by and still I had no answers, the bible no longer made any sense, my faith made no sense, my life made no sense, and my heart was empty. I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart and I would start to do something and completely lose focus after a few moment. My life was absolute hell. Something had to change and if god didn’t show himself to me, I would take matters into my own hands.

“I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart…”

I spent most of the next week in prayer, once again asking god to reveal himself to me. I would say:

It’s Monday morning god, you have 6 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Wednesday morning god, you have 4 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Friday night god, you have 1 day to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Sunday morning god and I’m sitting in church, you have 10 minutes to reveal yourself to me.

When no revelation occurred, I walked up to the pulpit, gave a heartfelt message about lost love and how we all know the feeling of being lost, I finished my sermon by saying that I was lost. I blamed my health issues and told the church that I needed some time off to collect my thoughts and hopefully get better physically.

I went home that day with an immense feeling of freedom. I walked into my home and I sat down on my bed and began reading some Plato. My wife was out of the house and I believed she was having another affair which would soon be confirmed. When she arrived home, she found me sitting there reading my book. It was close to time for Sunday night services and she asked me if I would be going to church soon. I looked at her straight in the eye, I said:

“No, I’m not going to church tonight or possibly ever again. I want a divorce.”

To continue on to part 25, click here.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #3: Astrology

For last weeks Wednesday Woo, Click here.

“The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” — Karl Popper

If you’ve ever been on social media, there’s no doubt you’ve come across astrological personality memes, articles regarding planetary influence or some form of vague horoscope. Most of the claims are rather general and often harmless, but others have a tendency to show an ugly bias that is based on one’s personal experience with certain signs as opposed to actual statistics. Every assumption can be made about certain sun signs or planetary aspects, including a person’s taste in entertainment, whether or not they are prone to accidents, how much they talk, or even crazy things that arouse suspicion, such as: “Geminis are more likely to lie and to cheat on you.” Holy shit! For real? I guess I’d better steer clear of those lyin’, cheatin’ Geminis, right? But wait, there’s a “study” that came out recently that ranked Sagittarius as the most likely to cheat on their partners. Then again, here’s another “study” that says Sagittarius is least likely to cheat. What is going on here? Why aren’t these astrologers coming to the same conclusions?

“Holy shit! For real? I guess I’d better steer clear of those lyin’, cheatin’ Geminis, right?”

While astrology is really popular, and can be quite amusing as entertainment, one cannot help but wonder about their true value. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s a valid way of thinking. Is astrology truly a reliable form of science, or is it a pseudoscience? This is often one of many questions poised to astrologers, and it seems to really be a thorn in the side of their profession. Astrologers have big claims about the predictive nature of their methods, as well as what a natal chart can reveal about an individual’s personal nature. These claims, of course, are unfalsifiable, which plants a big, red flag in the astrologer’s corner. Real science provides conditions where a claim can be proven false (falsifiable), whereas astrologers leave absolutely no room for this, and instead, only seek confirmation of their claims while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. There’s no peer review, nor any evidence that planets and stars impact personal aspects of our lives. This is not how science works, but it is exactly what one would expect from pseudoscience. As Carl Sagan asserted, “Extraordinary claims requite extraordinary evidence.” So, where is the evidence?

There is no scientific basis for the notion of far away planets or constellations have any intimate influence on human lives in the way astrology claims. Many astrologers will use gravity to argue their position, since the tides are affected by the moon’s pull, and our bodies mostly consist of water. They don’t take into account that the moon’s gravitational influence only includes open bodies of water, not the enclosed water within our bodies. Astrologers will also assert that technology, communication, travel and contractual obligations are not a good idea during mercury retrograde, but they do not seem to offer a real reason other than folklore. Is this a gravitational phenomenon as well? That to me is doubtful, since Mercury retrograde is mostly an optical illusion. Despite there being no evidence to believe that retrogrades and moon phases have anything to to with our lives, these myths are still believed so fervently that every few months you will see all kind of crazy memes and articles shared about retrogrades and super moons. A new shift occurs just as soon as people get over the last, and most believers attribute them to planetary activity. One thing I always found strange personally, was that astrology does not take into account the gravitational pull of airplanes passing over those who live next to airports, or the massive ships in which those on the coasts are exposed. If gravity is truly the most influential aspect of a person’s natal chart, why aren’t the flight patterns included, or even traffic of nearby cars? These would actually have more of a gravitational impact on a person than any of the planets outside of our own.

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When the validity of astrology has actually been tested, their predictions and assessments work at a rate no better than chance. Like I said before, the astrologers can’t seem to even agree on interpretation of charts they studied. If it were a truly accurate and predictive source of understanding reality, surely there would be no personal bias involved. But it turns out, it’s mostly based on intuitive feelings (*cough* cold reading *cough*) the chart reader has when gazing upon the chart positions and its many aspects. Despite this lack of evidence, astrologers all over the world still maintain they are providing a useful service, oftentimes charging lots of money in order to provide answers to people who are desperate to find romance, riches, or good fortune. The situation is really bad in India, where not only are they charged for astrological services, but also duped into buying gemstones to alter their fortune; sometimes even urged to change their names and location.

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One again, confirmation bias rules supreme in the world of woo, and since astrology is so deeply connected to various lore, I would be surprised if belief in it vanished into the dark ages from which they came. The desire to assign anthropomorphic features to stellar objects seems to bring a mystifying allure that is difficult to overcome. I cannot say that it has been completely useless in our development to take such interests in the stars and planets, for it has paved the way for astronomy and physics. What I can express is the desire to know the truth about our reality, and in order to do this, I must find credible data and evidence to justify things I believe. I used to believe in astrology, so much so I dedicated large portions of my day to study natal charts and their progression. After a long standing faith in this idea, I finally decided to take apply critical analysis, and it did not hold up to scrutiny once I began thinking with more skepticism, and definitely fell apart once I understood the scientific concept of falsifiability. The conclusion I came to: astrology is a historically outdated and empirically wrong form of pseudoscience that holds no justification for belief.

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My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 23

For part 22 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.” -Voltaire “Candide”

The thing about “Candide” isn’t so much that it is a work of philosophy, or that it changed my outlook on life but that I saw, so very much myself in the title character, that it shook me to the core. if you haven’t read this title, I will try not to spoil it too much, but I must describe a bit to put you into my mindset. The title character of the story starts life in a perfect environment and it being taught the philosophy of optimism. From this point Candide falls in love, loses his love, searches the earth for his love, and in the end gets to be with his love but not in the way he saw it happening. Throughout the chapters, Candide is forced to see that the world is not an optimistic place and that his whole worldview from the beginning had been completely wrong.

From this book I saw the story of my life.  I too had started out thinking that I knew everything I would need to know in order to get through life. Thinking I understood how the world worked, through the eyes of my faith, had led me down a path that had left me empty and lost.  I even saw that I was in the place of the title character at the end of the story, after going through what life had thrown at me, being controlled by numerous outside sources, and in the end settling for a life of solitude where I could fake that I was happy in the right moments. Needless to say, this was not a particularly good feeling.

Upon returning the book to my professor, I asked him if he had any other suggestions. He recommended me to grab some of the works of Plato and start reading through them. My ex had owned Plato’s “Republic,” and had left it when she moved out. It had sat on my shelf for many years gathering dust.  So that night I pulled it down and started reading.  While I have always considered myself an avid reader, I will admit that at times I had to stop and restart huge sections of the book in order to take it all in. The book confused me a great deal and in all honesty made me angry from time to time.

Why did the book make me angry? Being raised in the Pentecostal church I had been told from my earliest days that the church was the source of justice, morality, and goodness; this book challenged those ideas greatly. Within its pages I found a great man, who set for himself one goal, to understand whatever topic he is speaking about to the very fullest. In time, Socrates would come to replace Christ in my mind. Where Christ gave shallow, sweet sounding answers that in reality meant nothing, Socrates, would hit a topic so hard that by the end you couldn’t help but be in awe of his amazing reasoning capability.

I began to devour everything that I could by Plato and each time I felt further from the faith of my birth and closer to some great truth that was yet to be found.  My daily life had once included many hours studying the bible and yet now I found as my eyes wandered through its pages, no sense of morality that I couldn’t find a better example of in the works of philosophy. My struggle with the bible was becoming a great hindrance to my sermons. Writing sermons had been one of my favorite parts of the ministry for a long time but now when I sought scriptures in the bible, it was as if a veil had been lifted and all I saw was moral discrepancy.

For every passage that speaks of love another will speak of fear. Scriptures dealing with justice will ultimately wind their way into stories of genocide and mass murder. The god of the old testament is cruel, impatient, unloving, jealous and for lack of a better word, evil. The god of the new testament seems a bit better but then his “son” brings in the idea of Hell, a place of eternal punishment for all those who might question “the celestial dictator,” as Christopher Hitchens would call him.  A book that had become so central to my life for all these years was now like reading through the ramblings of a serial killer, and so my sermons began to speak less and less on scripture and more about various aspects of life with a simple scripture to start them out.

I did however preach at least one more hate filled sermon and I speak of it now as a man who regrets it deeply. Growing up I had always been taught that homosexuality was a horrible sin and while my beliefs on this matter were beginning to change, my childhood indoctrination was not yet ready to admit defeat. So one Sunday I preached on the topic of homosexuality in the worst of terms, it was the last time I ever mentioned the topic in a sermon but I still hurt from the pain it caused.

Another one of my cousins had been attending my services and was sitting in during this sermon. I would later find out about the inner struggle he was facing and that my sermon had kept him in the closet for several years longer than he should have had to wait. I love my cousin and today he is in a relationship with a wonderful guy who loves him dearly, I am happy for them but I will forever regret the pain that I caused him as he sat through that sermon.

Outside of that sermon, I was finding that less and less of the bible even made sense. It might be strange to hear but I did truly believe that a serpent talked to Eve, that a donkey spoke to its master, that a flood did cover the entire globe, that a man had been swallowed by a great fish and survived, as well as that Moses had led several million people through the desert without leaving so much as a trace of evidence. These were things that I had accepted for so many years that I never found the need to question them, that is until I began using the Socratic method on everything I read.

Outside of church and school I had recently reconnected with a friend from High School. He is a jovial sort of man who you just can’t help but smile and laugh when you are around him. We had fallen out of contact when I had moved to Texas but I learned upon our reconnecting that he too had been through a struggle of faith, having been in a local cult for 7 years, he was now an atheist. His cousin who had also left the cult at the same time became my friend as well and it was strange to me how much I enjoyed being around them. By all accounts, at least in my mind, these men were godless sinners on the way to hell, yet I found a friendship with the two of them that I had never really experienced in the church. They weren’t friends with me because of what I believed but because of who I was and that was a situation I hadn’t experienced since the early days of my first marriage.

Life was becoming less and less recognizable to what it had once been. I began to question everything about my faith. What I could reason as being likely I still preached on, what I couldn’t I threw out. I had gone from a staunch Pentecostal full of anger and contempt for anyone outside the church and had now become an almost liberal pastor who talked more about social justice and reform than I did about the life and teachings of Christ. I still considered myself a Christian but at the same time it was becoming harder and harder for me to tell you what a Christian was supposed to be.

To continue on to part 24, click here.