The Diary Of My Mind

Only Survivors Live

So tonight I got a bit of inspiration while watching “The Atheist Experience.” If you haven’t checked out that show I recommend you do so as soon as possible. Anyway, onto tonight’s article about the fact that only the survivors live.

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Let’s say a plane crash occurs and half the people in the plane die while the other half survive. The odds of being someone who lived is an even 50%, so not great odds. However if you are giving an interview after the crash, then the odds are 100% that you survived. So the survivors tale is going to spread much more quickly than if you were one of the 50% of people who didn’t make it. Surviving a traumatic event can seem otherworldly but it’s important to remember that in any situation others were not nearly as fortunate.

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To bring this to a new perspective, let’s talk about cancer. I understand it’s not a fun topic but it is something that will affect nearly everyone who reads this at some point or another. I’m sure we have all heard of people who get cancer, they get prayed for, and then they are cured of their cancer, however, many times the cure involves surgery, chemotherapy, and other medicinal routines.  Sadly though the medicinal side of this is often times negated and the cure is claimed as a miracle.

Now I’m not saying that spontaneous remissions do not occur, they do but the thing to remember is that we don’t know why spontaneous remission occurs. The other thing to remember here is that spontaneous remission occurs both inside and outside of any ideology. Sometimes the body fights back and until we have a better understanding of why this is we will just have to say we don’t know.

My problem lies in those who claim that all of the medical treatment they went through was secondary to the miracle that god performed on their body. My grandfather is a great example of this fact. About 10 years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He went through radiation and eventually had his prostate removed. Yet today, he will claim to have been healed by god of his prostate cancer…which only took having his prostate completely removed. Can’t have prostate cancer if you no longer have a prostate….right?

So the problem here is actually that he survived cancer and so his story continues to move forward. The belief in miracles is built up and many people are given false hope in regards to this problem. The story of him having his prostate removed and the year he went through radiation treatment which did nothing to stop the cancer is almost never mentioned.

So let’s say you are another person going through prostate cancer and you hear the story that my grandfather promotes. You aren’t going to hear the story of the thousands of believers who have died over the years from the disease but only those who survived. So you put all of your faith into the idea that god is going to cure you of prostate cancer. You forego cancer treatment and scoff when the doctor tells you that you need to have your prostate removed. You know in your heart of hearts that god is going to cure you because you’ve earnestly sought him and you know that the “fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” (-James 5:16) Then you die and no one ever hears of your story, yet my grandfathers false story of a miracle healing from god continues on down the line.

Only the survivors live and if you are alive today it is because you have survived. Think about it…if you hadn’t survived you would be dead. It’s simple logic and yet it leads people to believe numerous fallacies about their own life.  You of course remember all of the times that you could have died and yet didn’t, you begin to build feelings around the idea that something outside of you was protecting you from harm and yet the truth of the matter is simply that you survived and are not dead.

accident prone

My own life for example:

  • I stopped breathing as a child.
  • I’ve been in numerous car accidents.
  • I fell out of a tree as a child and landed on my head.
  • I’ve had several bad infections throughout my life.
  • I drowned and had to be resuscitated by my father at around 5 years old.
  • A car hit my bicycle while I was riding it and I survived unscathed.
  • I’ve fallen off of ladders.
  • I’ve fallen off of a roof…twice on the same day.
  • I’ve survived a fire.
  • I gotten a bad electrical shock a couple of times.

This doesn’t even touch on all of the things that has happened in my life. I’m actually pretty accident prone which is a big reason why I try my best to steer clear of any type of power tool or firearm. However all of the things that I have gone through could have and do result in death numerous times per year. Now, some might say that it’s a miracle that I am still alive, yet in reality it’s just that I seem to be pretty hard to kill. I’m alive today because I didn’t die during any of those situations or the numerous others that I didn’t mention here.

So hopefully after you’ve read this article you’ll see that miracles are promoted as miracles because the people who “experience” them promote them as miracles. Then word of mouth goes around and at times the miracle can get even larger. Information is often times left out in order to make the healing appear to be more miraculous and this can lead many to have false hope for their own miraculous healing and could lead them to forgo necessary medical procedures out of that hope.

If you are here today it is simply due to the fact that you haven’t died yet. Everyone that isn’t here today is dead or they haven’t been born yet. One day you too will die. Life is far too short to put your hope in the illogical notion of a miracle.


 

If you haven’t checked out my journey from Pentecostal Minister to Atheist, check it out here. My Journey Away From Faith: Part 1

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday: My BS Is Better Than Your BS

Good evening readers. If you haven’t guessed by the title, tonight’s article is about how a person can see straight through the illogical stance of one group and yet still fall fully into a giant vat of their own bullshit. It seems strange but someone can be incredibly logical, rational, and a well-rounded person for the most part, yet fall off the deep end in other facets of their life. So tonight we will take a look at the reasons for this phenomena.

For the most part, the reason for this is that we all like to feel as if we have a good understanding of the world around us. We live in this world, we survive as best as we can, and yet there are large portions of the world and our own bodies that we don’t understand or at least don’t have a full grasp.  Add into this that admitting you don’t know something is very hard for the majority of people and you will see why it is so easy to be blinded by your own illogical or dogmatic stances.

Let’s use myself as an example.

When I was a minister of the Christian faith I could tell you exactly why the Islamic religion was false, I could point to the illogical nature of the Mormon faith, and I could let you know with great detail the history and various fallacies of the New Age movement. However, my own faith was filled with illogical and asinine dogmatic stances. Homosexuality was wrong, why? Because god said so. Drinking was wrong, why? Because god said so. Tattoos and pork were ok, why? Because god had changed his mind on those things…. God was the same yesterday, today, and forever….yet I knew every verse of scripture where god explicitly changes his mind and does the opposite of what this supposedly timeless being had set out to do.

How is it that I could easily point out the bullshit of others and yet could not see through the muddied waters of my own former faith. Simply put, I didn’t want to. To expound on that, I didn’t want to because my own beliefs made the world a much easier place to understand and so to admit the error of my own faith would add a level of confusion to my life that I did not want. I’d like to say that there is more to it but sadly this is the case for the majority of people in the world today.

The second factor that plays into this issue is something that has been mentioned several times before on this blog, confirmation bias. It’s easy to find articles online that agree with your chosen stance, regardless of the topic. Just to prove my point here are a few idiotic ideas that I came up with on the spot and found articles in support of my idiotic idea.

Is tap water turning people gay?

Can Lemonade Cause Cancer?

North Korea Doesn’t Exist?

Now perhaps you’re going to say….but those articles don’t actually support the things that you say they support. One is an expose of a crazy person is parliament, another talks of the possible dangers of aspartame, and the last is simply a reddit thread. The point here is that it doesn’t matter if they actually support my stance or not, the point is that I can do a google search on just about anything and come up with one or two articles that agree at least in part with any stance. These are the articles that a person who wants to continue in an illogical ideology will accept and promote.

To bring this back around to me.

T-Rex

Dino Hemoglobin

When I was younger and more prone to young earth creationist ideology I loved to point out that a dinosaur fossil had been found with intact hemoglobin, proving that the earth was much younger than science proposed, You will still see this promoted today as evidence against an old earth, yet when you take a deeper look you will find that the truth of the matter is that intact hemoglobin was not found but only the remains of what would have formed hemoglobin and that the fossilization of this tissue was consistent with the time scale supported by science. The whole idea that this structure couldn’t survive millions of years was actually simply made up to support the argument made by young earth creationists.

What this should show is that the actual evidence pertained in any article is secondary to where a person wants the evidence to point.

Another great example of this is the absolute disdain for fluoride that many people promote. Fluoride is claimed to be the cause of numerous maladies, it’s said to dull the brain and make the populace docile, it is claimed to be the cause of mental issues and yet when you look at the actual evidence you will find that fluoride is relatively harmless and that the benefits far outweigh any possible negatives. For the majority of time that the human race has existed bad teeth were one of the leading causes of death. Fluoride is introduced and people stop dying from bad teeth. Life was made better by this chemical compound that a huge percentage of the world now has demonized. Here’s a link that exposes some of the myths surrounding fluoride.

I hope that you can see by these examples just how easy it is for faulty information to find its way into the psyche of those who want to find it. Now I would like to give some helpful tips in how to avoid bullshit traps in the future.

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1.) Is a doctor advising you? (Doctor Oz and your neighborhood herbalist do not count)

If the answer is no, then any information that you are receiving is to be considered suspect. I don’t care if your uncle cured his herpes with whale sperm, anecdotes are not evidence. If the answer to this question is yes then you can be reasonably certain that the information being given to you is accurate and helpful.

2.) Does the information cite its sources?

This is a big one. If the article, video, or podcast does not cite its sources then you should eliminate it from your research. However, you also want to be sure that the sources actually lead to helpful and corroborating information. If they do not then you should disregard any information given.

3.) Are the sources well-respected?

When looking at sources you want to make sure that they are actually good sources. Lets say you are looking at a paper that cites a source which proves that kale causes cancer. If the cited source is Ihatekale.com then you can be sure that the information contained is biased and should be disregarded. Medical and scientific journals are great sources of information, for regular news look for items in Reuters or the Associated Press. Scientific studies can also be a great source of information but public studies tend to be more reputable than private studies which are often paid for by the industry in question. The sugar and tobacco industry are famous for biased studies attempting to prove the health benefits of their products.

4.) Does it sound too good to be true?

The tried and true method to see through most bullshit is to ask yourself, does this sound true or do I simply want it to sound true because it sounds good to me? A recent example of this were the supposed health benefits of eating chocolate every day. The story was completely fabricated, none of the facts had been checked, but since we all like chocolate and the sound of eating chocolate every day is good to us, many people fell for it without a second thought. We wanted chocolate to be healthy and so when a supposed study was released promoting that idea we simply accepted it without a second thought.

In the end, seeing though the bullshit of others is easy, seeing through your own bullshit is not so much. However, if you follow the steps above and double-check your own ideals from time to time you can avoid some of the negative aspects of bullshit. I’m wrong at times, there are many times where I do not know the answer to a given question. It might not always feel good to say I don’t know but it feels much better than once again diving headfirst into a giant mound of bullshit.

 

 

 

Freethought Friday

Free-Thought Friday: What Atheism Means To Me: Marcia

Hello, I’m Marcia Wallace and I’m an atheist. I’m a former English teacher, lover of literature and medievalist. I’ve also been a police dispatcher and a travel agent in my life. I live in Michigan with my husband, a dog and cat who runs the house.

I won’t bore you with my story of how I came to be an atheist. It’s similar to so many others. I left Christianity searching for some truth. I explored other religions, found out none of them were true. I became an atheist. Education and critical thinking were the culprits.

What I do want to talk about is what atheism means. I say that atheism is a conclusion, not a belief. I don’t believe no gods exist, I have come to that conclusion through research and logic. It seems simple. No evidence for a god, whatever one you choose, would lead any skeptic to the same conclusion. The idea that multiple gods are worshiped throughout the world and each culture believes theirs is the true deity is evidence enough for disbelief. So why are believers so dedicated to their belief in a god?

I think believers, even those who aren’t fundamentalists, rebel at the thought that humans aren’t special. They want to think that the universe was made for the purpose of supporting human life, specifically a small group of believers in a particular god, theirs. I find this particularly arrogant and one of the worst harms of religious thought.

unique

The universe wasn’t made for us. We fit into this little corner of a huge, and mostly hostile universe because we won the evolution lottery, and that is a hard concept for deists to understand. The idea that we, as humans, are separate from this earth, from the rest of life on this planet, has led to abuse of life and the planet itself. The religious, even mildly religious, will deny humans are animals, that we are a species just like apes and butterflies. They want to believe humans are “special”.

Being separate from the rest of life, because of the mistaken belief that this planet and everything on it is put here to be ours for the taking has led us to overpopulation, drought, plague, war, pollution and climate change. We have a total arrogance when it comes to our place in this world. The religious believe that humans are not part of life, but above it because that’s what religion teaches. Religion says  we were put here to be masters of the earth, that the animals, the plants and the very rocks are human’s for the taking. It teaches that other life isn’t to be respected, but used. It teaches that humans are different from the other life on this planet, that humans are the only animals that feel, only human places count, only human life is important. That could be positive for our survival as a species, but religion further divides and deceives.

Religion teaches that only certain people, those who believe in their god, are important. They are the special ones, the chosen ones, the favored by the correct and true god and all others are false. We all know what differences in religions leads to. How many wars have been due to religious differences? Of course we call all see the absurdity of old fights in other lands about other religions, but never the absurdity in their own religious differences. Why the disconnect? Because they want to believe they are the special ones, the ones who have been given the gift of god’s favor in return for their faith and worship. Because they want to be special, separate, uncaring, unconnected, and not responsible for the treatment of this world and those in it.

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What is troubling about that thought is that believers miss the beauty of not being special. We, the human species, is part of this earth, related to every living thing on this planet. We are made from this earth, from the stuff of stars. We are part of the earth, part of life and part of the universe. How is that not amazing? If we would only think of ourselves as what we are, a human animal connected to everything on this earth, perhaps we could realize being special isn’t special. It’s a disability.

When we realize that we are a species, the human one, and we are all related, it changes the perspective. Humans are all we have, our survival and success as a species depends on helping one another, on taking the wide view and rising above religious differences. We need to understand and accept that we are part of this earth, made of the same stuff as this world, part of the amazing web of life that has evolved in this little part of the galaxy.

What is special, what needs to be protected, is life. All life is precious. We don’t know of any other life in the universe as yet. We hope that there is other life out there, but we haven’t found it. For all we know, life is rare in this mostly hostile universe and a planet such as ours is unique. We, as the human species of great ape, are a part of this haven of life, not apart from it. We have a singular opportunity to understand, respect and protect life and this living world, the only one we know of. We are special in that we, as humans, know all earthly life is connected. We know it’s a fact through our DNA research. What might be possible if we left our imaginary gods behind and instead looked to what is important, what is real, what is the basis of everything, life and the world that produced it? What if we believed in our connection to everything? What if we believed that the universe wasn’t made for us, that we were privileged to be part of it, connected to every other bit of the universe through the atoms that we’re made from, like every other thing we see, smell, touch or know of. But only we can say the words. Only humans can tell each other they are made of star stuff and know what that means.

No, we’re not special, we’re much more than that. We’re the universe learning about itself. We’re the stars expressing themselves. We’re part of the most amazing thing in the whole known universe, life. The best part is that this is not a statement of belief, but a statement of fact. Compared to what is real, religion seems so small.


Marcia Wallace is 65, retired and living with her husband and a dog and cat in Kalamazoo, MI. She is a former teacher, police dispatcher and travel agent, currently an artist. She is active in volunteer work for her neighborhood association and in an international medieval recreationist group.  She is a logical atheist, meaning atheism is a logical conclusion given the evidence or lack thereof for any deity at any time in history.

The Diary Of My Mind

Magical Thinking BS

So I thought I would jump on here and talk a little bit about something that has really been bothering me lately, magical thinking. Magical thinking is a means of elevating your own status in an effort to give a higher purpose to ones life, however, from my own experience it tends to lead people down a path to depression, sickness, and alienation from reality. In this article I’d like to touch on what magical thinking is, how it is harmful, and how one can still find purpose and joy in a life free from this style of thinking.

Magical thinking takes on many form. Many religions teach that this world in which we live is really just a proving grounds for a better life in the hereafter. Christianity also has the “Name it and claim it” crowd which teaches that if someone wants something bad enough and has faith enough, then they will ultimately be granted their want. Other forms of magical thinking include belief in “the secret,” past life fantasies, believing oneself to be an “empath,” karma, synchronicity, and many, many, others.

The key aspect of all of these beliefs is that they allow a person to believe that they are more, or superior, to the others around them. Spend any amount of time in an “enlightenment” group on Facebook and you will quickly see what I am talking about. Thousands of voices speaking about how they have reached a stage in enlightenment which only they can guide others toward. One of the funniest things you will find is that the majority of these “enlightened masters,” will claim that one must remove all aspects of ego from your life in order to reach this state,  however, what could be more egotistical than to claim that you are an enlightened master?

So why do people fall for these beliefs? As stated above, it allows a person to believe they are more than the average man or woman, and in this way they feel special. If you haven’t noticed, life can suck at times. It is in those times that we feel the worst that we are most susceptible to magical thinking. My personal conversion to Christianity came at a point when I thought that life couldn’t possibly get any worse. I could try to make my way through life or I could become a “child of god” and gain a heavenly home for myself free from all care and worry when my life ends. Simply put, it feels great to delude yourself, at least for a time, and so many are drawn into this type of thinking.

The problem in this lies with the fact that delusion can only stand if you continue feeding it. Over time, these delusions will grow and what once seemed ridiculous will now be accepted as truth. To bring my personal story back into this, my own faith grew from Christian, to minister, to healer, to prophet, to my ultimate downfall and the crushing reality of all the time wasted on these harmful ideals. Now some might say, what harm is there in allowing folks to believe whatever they want to believe?

The harm comes from the futility of these beliefs and how fragile they actually are. Many will claim that god or a force in the universe is all-powerful, can do anything, and all we have to do is remove every aspect of our humanity in order to reap the benefits of this god or universal force. When one fails to receive these gifts, it is seen as due to a lack of faith, bad karma, or that you have been too judgmental and not accepting enough of the universal will. What these feelings ultimately lead to is depression and the one thing which will pull any delusional person out of a depression is a deeper and more fantastical delusion.

In my short time in this world I have met numerous people who believe themselves to be aliens, claim to communicate with rocks, pray to unicorns, claim they can kill me with a hex, angrily condemn me for not being open to the idea of a flat earth, alien seeding, or that all the governments of the world are working together to destroy our ability to ascend to a higher plane of existence. What I have found within the depths of these beliefs is a deep sadness, a longing to find purpose where no purpose is found, a need to hide the scars of their past, and an anger for the life that they find themselves in. Find me an “enlightened master” and I will show you a human that has grasped at life for so long and felt so alienated by the world that they believed they had no choice but to delve deeply into a comforting delusion.

There is good news, though maybe not as good as some would hope. Taking off the mask of delusion that you built up for so long is not a pretty process. It involves pain, heartache, and many setbacks. Over time though you will find that life is a wondrous place filled with joys and experiences to fill a thousand lifetimes. Life will also suck at times, you’ll go through rough times and it will be up to you to bring yourself back out of it, but it is possible.

In the last several years since my deconversion, I have gone through some very rough patches. I’ve experienced depression, anxiety, fear of the unknown, and all sorts of calamities, yet I’m still here. I enjoy life and have found other ways to deal with life issues when they hit. No longer do I turn to magical thinking and a belief in something greater that will rescue me from my life, it’s all up to me now and I am doing it.

We all want to feel special and that life has some purpose yet the truth is, we are all organic matter. We are born, we live, we pass on our genes, and then we die. In order to live life to the fullest we all must find ways to add purpose and this is our greatest strength. God didn’t cure polio, a man did. The universe didn’t invent the pacemaker, we did. Literature doesn’t write itself, men and women do. Mountains are climbed, great leaps in technology and medicine are made, the chains of slavery have been broken, women attained rights, and humanity is the central character in all of these. We’ve driven animals to extinction and brought species back from the brink of that same fate. Life is what we make of it and so far humanity has done a pretty damn good job.

For thousands of years, a simple case of the stomach flu would almost surely mean death. God, the universe, and karma were completely powerless to stop the ravages that plague committed with mankind and yet we stopped it. We worked towards a goal and now the flu generally means a couple of missed days at work, some medicine, and plenty of fluids. We live in a wonderful time that our ancestors would have seen as completely magical, yet reality brought us to where we are and reality is what will take us into the future.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #14: Shamanism and Psychosis

For last week’s article, Click Here.

For this article, I wanted to discuss something a bit more serious, as well as very personal. Psychosis, if left untreated can have a negative impact on the individual, causing isolation, loss of financial stability, and self harm (including suicide).

Symptoms of psychosis and treatment: https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis

The New Age movement has a way of exalting mental illness in a way that can be problematic for those already suffering from delusions and/or paranoia. The belief system provides reinforcement of an already grandiose sense of self, and if one has psychosis or anxiety about the world, it can have significant consequences. A person with mental illness who holds the belief that they are a shaman with special powers, gives themselves the green light to simply follow their impulses, as well as anxious ideas, while disregarding any reasonable explanation. This isolates them from support of family, friends, and psychiatric help that could potentially ease their symptoms. The individual will reject any idea that there is anything wrong with their brain function as a personal attack on who they deem themselves to be. Confirmation bias is all they will allow into their consciousness, and they will seek out persons and sources who will fulfill their fantasies of being a powerful entity who sees and hears that which is not present in reality.

As you can see in the above example, the denial is quite strong in this individual diagnosed with bipolar. Unfortunately, he is not an outlier. Most folks with the same diagnosis are very uncomfortable with being told they have a mental illness, since there is a stigma attached to it (though with expanding awareness, not as much as it used to have), but also the medications they offer tend to dampen the excited, euphoric states of mania and heightened self-esteem that accompanies it. While the heightened state of mood provides a wonderful high, the lows are extremely dangerous. Yes – medications suck, but not being able to function is much worse, as is the inevitable crash that ensues after mania has ceased. Bipolar individuals are at a high risk of suicide, and are more likely to abuse drugs, which medication along with therapy can help curb significantly. The idea of gaining a diagnosis being merely a label is an absolute myth. There is so much more to diagnosis than merely slapping on a “defective” sticker – it is a way of identifying an inner struggle, and offering solutions in order to tackle the issues that arise from genetic dispositions.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004, and began taking medications as treatment. They helped somewhat with manic symptoms, such as impulsivity and racing thoughts, but the depression was much more difficult to manage, so I quit taking them in an attempt to wrap myself in the comforting high of a mood I considered better. Soon after, I left the love of my life during a state of impulsive mania – a decision I regretted for nearly a decade afterward. After moving back in with my mom, I began college and found a bit of solace in my studies. After finals that semester, depression hit me with a vengeance. I began to contemplate how much I missed my husband, and felt all alone in a world that no longer seemed to have a purpose. My mother knew about my feelings, but wasn’t very supportive at all. She assumed I was merely being histrionic when I said I wanted to die. Her lack of empathy made the situation much worse. Now there was a sinking feeling that absolutely no one cared, including the very person who gave me life. So I decided merely wishing for death and talking about it was no longer enough. I took the remainder of my Xanax prescription, and slit one of my wrists before passing out in the bathroom floor. To my dismay, I awoke at some point, though memory fails me as to what occurred for quite a few days afterward. Mom urged me to go back to the psychiatrist, and I began the meds once again.

Things got back to “normal” for a few years. I went back to school, and worked as much as I could to keep busy. After my mom’s death in 2008, my self-care went out the window, and grief took over my life for quite a few of the following years. I quit school, and tried to focus on just going to work. After discontinuing my mood stabilizers, the depression and mania I felt worsened, and it got to where I had to drag myself to my stressful job some days, then ride the wave of irritation on others. It was incredibly rough, not only because I was still grieving, but also having to deal with symptoms of a mental illness for which I denied myself treatment. In fact, I felt the only thing motivating me to continue forward was the manic states, which had me working circles around my fellow employees, and eventually I got promoted to management. When the depression hit, I would often become ill from forcing myself to work at the same pace as I did during mania, but would still press onward because I desperately needed the money.

Eventually forcing myself to deal with a stressful state of grief while working through the ups and downs of my mood took its toll on my grasp of reality. During a day of particular high stress at work, I glanced over toward the store’s entrance to see my deceased mother walk in. I knew it was a hallucination, and immediately felt the tears well up in my eyes. In my distress, I ran to the back so no one would see me so upset. It was embarrassing, especially since we were at the peak time of business, so I knew my absence was quite obvious, but at the same time, I knew my ability to wear a mask of functionality had ceased, and this was a psychotic break.

Once again, I got back on the medication, but this time, I had to take something stronger to tackle the psychosis. There were terrible side-effects: some medications turned me into a zombie, others made me confused. It was absolutely devastating and degrading to have to visit the psychiatrist as well. There had to be another way.

I got online, and I found a plethora of ideas regarding bipolar that made me question my condition. One of the ideas I ran across was presented by Phil Borges, who asserts that bipolar disorder is a spiritual awakening as opposed to a “label” of mental illness. It was an appealing idea for me, so I looked into the concept more and more. I became obsessed with the idea that my mom had REALLY visited me, and that I was being called to mysticism, so I quit my job in an effort to dedicate my life to the esoteric. I felt exactly as the guy in the above video felt – I had been misdiagnosed, and my gifts were being suppressed by medications. I was a spiritual being in a physical body, and all that mattered was my spirit, which of course was powerful enough to heal the entire planet. It was so easy to believe this, especially since it felt good during the manic cycle, but as always, the depressive side of me awaited. Regardless of how much time I wasted learning about the mystical realm, I didn’t truly feel healed. Believing in spiritual concepts only widened the gap between my extreme moods. Considering the notion of the physical world being of no consequence, when the extreme lows hit, they were lower than ever. During one depressive episode after my “awakening” I decided to take a stroll down a nearby highway and wait for a truck so I could jump in front of it. Fortunately, there was no traffic at that time.

While in the manic cycle, I was ridiculously motivated to push these beliefs onto other people, and my delusions of grandeur got much worse. Everyone who rejected my ideas were sheep, and those who agreed were the wise ones of my tribe. Conspiracy theories made the most sense, and skeptics were limited fools who simply held no creative energy. My following on social media expanded to the maximum level, and there were a multitude of folks willing to grant me my delusional mindset, and even cheer me on. This was such an intoxicating feeling, especially for someone who had once felt that absolutely no one in the world cared. I found I could induce psychosis by going into trance states, and felt I had amazing abilities to travel anywhere, even to other planets via the astral plane, as well as intuit what people were thinking.

There were moments to doubt my newfound spiritualism, though. Some of the people had notions even I had to reject. I recall getting a comment from someone who claimed he was the Christ, and that people tremble when he “would become”… whatever that meant. Even in my own madness, I knew this was a strange statement. There were others who acted questionable whom I had attracted, including people who believed bigfoot was a spiritual guardian, and that unicorns were a real thing. I began to veer toward skepticism more and more because of this. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I started noticing the consequences of folks feeling their facts, and how a lot of the stories people were sharing were fake. This made me question some of my own sources. The more real evidence I tried to find to validate my spiritual beliefs, the more I found rational arguments and evidence to the contrary.

After some time, I decided to abandon my spiritual pursuits and get back on medication. Now, I am more or less still in recovery from my partially self-inflicted psychosis, and it is very difficult to be around some of the folks I love because I see them falling into the same traps as I did – the conspiracy theories, grandiose ideas of self, a dangerous rejection of science, and the spread of ideas that cause nothing more than a sense of guilt for one’s own humanity. None of these things are healthy, especially for individuals who are already genetically prone to losing their grip on reality. Some of the folks I have known were driven to homelessness because they chose to follow these ideas and reject social norms like holding down a job, or relying on a family that loves them simply because they suggested they get psychiatric help, or they questioned their supposed shamanistic abilities.

There are many other varieties of mental illness that can be worsened by these harmful belief systems that reject science, such as OCD, schizophrenia, substance/alcohol abuse, depression, and other forms of anxiety. The denial and exaltation of these psychiatric problems runs very deep in the New Age community, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues there that can be managed with therapies and medication. The idea that we should play into the delusions of psychotic individuals only makes the problem worse, and can have a life-altering impact. So please, if you are suffering, let go of these unfounded beliefs and get professional help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide hotline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org )at 1-800-273-8255

NOTE: The above is a United States phone number. Here’s the international list: http://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines

 

This week, I have an additional contributor to Wednesday Woo. Being a nurse, she has a professional perspective, and I am very honored to have her featured. Without further ado, here’s Stephanie’s very apt addition:

TV-Nurse-Jackie

“A Nursing “Woo” Story.

I didn’t decide to be a nurse until I was in college. I was fascinated with medicine growing up but didn’t feel confident enough to pursue a medical degree. Since then, I have found a love for the nursing profession and am very fulfilled. I do not believe I would have found the same satisfaction in medicine.

Having said that, there are disappointments in nursing. One is that while nurses are generally bright individuals, the educational requirements are more rigorous than many paths, the scientific rigor required to practice is extremely variable. Remember that many nurses enter the field with as little as 1 year of vocational school training. As many as 40% of practicing nurses do not have a bachelor degree and have never taken a statistics course or research methods. I did not take these until I was 20 years into my career. I say all this to try to excuse one of the most egregious uses of “woo” within a so-called science-based profession.

Going through nursing school I learned of an alternative therapy called “therapeutic touch”. In short, a nurse trained in therapeutic touch (TT) holds his/her hands over a body part that the patient or nurse feels may be the source of discomfort. By sensing temperature differentials, the nurse is able to tell where “energies” are imbalanced and by some technique (I’m not versed in this) is able to balance the energies and heal the patient of the imbalance. I thought this was crazy when I was in nursing school because I was a good Christian and this sounded like New Age hokey. Later on I became more educated, more secular but had forgotten about TT.

Then I found an article from the late 90s of a school child who tested TT. Unsurprisingly her mother was an RN who disbelieved in TT. Her child had seen her mom watching video of the techniques and supposedly suggested a way to blindly test the practitioner’s ability to perceive energy fields. Previous experiments were not this rigorous, generally had small sample sizes, poor design and a plethora of other issues.

The 11yo helped design, recruit and perform the experiment where the practitioner, who could not see if a person’s hand was behind a curtain, had to feel the energy of the hand and report that the hand was present or absent. The results showed the practitioners had no better success than chance would give them. The parents helped the child write-up the results and they were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Granted, the AMA has on occasion had a contentious relationship with the nursing profession but the data was made available, they were quite transparent. A Cochrane review (one of the most respected reviewers of medical effectiveness evidence) has warned of the unproven nature of the treatment and that any positive effects are likely due to the positive interactions between the patient and the practitioner.

So sorry for the length of this woo story. My take home message is, even respected healthcare providers can be questioned. This technique is still widely taught in nursing schools and is part of many (if not most) of nursing textbooks. One reason I want to be a nurse researcher is to drive the profession away from unproven methods and toward proven methods of helping and healing. The more I read on nursing history and underlying theory, it is really sad how many of them integrate unproven or unprovable premises for nursing practice. The supernatural beliefs run the gamut from Christianity and other traditional religions to more modern versions like New Age spiritualism.

So please, if your healthcare provider wants to try therapies that sound strange, ask them for the supporting evidence. They might not be able to instantly present it to you but should be able to get you a couple of articles at minimum or at least some searchable key words for Google Scholar.

And that little girl, Emily Rosa, she entered the Guinness book for the youngest author of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and is now a college graduate. I have to believe her parents are so proud of her.

 

Cochrane review:

https://www.ahcmedia.com/articles/33533-therapeutic-touch-and-wound-healing

Emily Rosa’s article:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/187390

A quackwatch article by one of the co-authors exploring questions on method:

https://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/ttresponse.html

The Diary Of My Mind

An Atheist In Iowa: The Holiday Special

Deck the halls with boughs of Holly, falalalala-lala-la-la!

So I haven’t written in a long time….at least it seems like a long time…and so I was sitting here just thinking about the holidays that are soon to be upon us. I thought that it might be a good idea to offer some of the tips to other people who are new to being an atheist.

1.) Celebrate however you want

Personally I celebrate Christmas, some Atheists celebrate the Solstice, while others may choose not to celebrate at all. It’s up to you. There is no wrong way to celebrate or abstain from celebrating. In my own case, I will be listening to all the Christmas songs and carols throughout the centuries. I love reading about mythology and I see Christmas as nothing more than a big celebration of various mythologies. It’s pretend and fun so I enjoy it in all the ways one could.

2.) Not every argument is worth having

Being the atheist at a holiday dinner can be awkward at times. If you are out as I am, someone might make a snide remark about your atheism. I have found that it is not worth ruining the holiday in order to be right and so I just don’t engage when someone mentions something about faith or “the real reason for the season.” Families often times have prayers before meals and I have been asked before to give thanks. It’s easy enough to give a short statement of thanks, without ever bringing god into the picture, instead of refusing and possibly hurting a loved one.

3.) Remember that Atheism should free the mind and not chain it to a new form of dogma

I understand the anger that you might feel when you leave the faith. Most of us have gone through this and while it does get better, you might still experience it from time to time even years later. Anger has a way of setting us in our way and making us close our minds to the thoughts and ideas of those around us. During the holidays you might hear something that really pisses you off. However, take a moment to think things over before taking a huge stance against it. Atheists can actually be just as dogmatic about their lack of faith as a fundamentalist can, as strange as that may sound. So try to remember, your atheism shouldn’t define you, it should just be.

4.) Maybe lay off the drinks

Look, it’s going to be a bit awkward and tense, especially if you are out about your atheism. So what will almost certainly make matters worse? Alcohol. Listen, we’re human and I know that we think a couple of drinks will loosen things up and make it a bit more comfortable. However, a couple of drinks can also loosen the tongue and lower inhibitions. It might feel right, to the drunk you, to tell grandma about all the contradictions in the New Testament. However, sober you the next day will more than likely be making a very awkward apology call to your octogenarian grandmother.

5.) Have Fun!

Enjoy your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The holidays, when you get right down to it, are actually….as sad as it may seem….anti-suicide celebrations. Now that might seem like a strange statement bit think about it and notice how all the big holidays are during the winter months, when the days are shorter and the nights seem so much longer and colder. Holidays help break up the monotony and bring people together so that they can share the love and warmth of their fellow human beings. So enjoy yourself as much as you can. While there may not be a higher purpose, we are still all in this together.

Much love to you and yours during this holiday season. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule, or whatever else you might choose to celebrate.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo: New World Disorder

New World Disorder

One would be hard pressed to have browsed youtube for any period of time without running across the plethora of videos pertaining to the unseen, powerful reach of the so-called “Global Elite” AKA “The Illuminati” conspiracy theory. In fact, these theories have been a pop culture sensation for several generations, and is a favorite of those who have a deep-seeded need to gain an explanation for an authority responsible for their life’s issues; a scapegoat to bare the burden of all their ailments, shortcomings, and missed opportunities in life. Psychologically, it seems to be a way for adults to point the finger at a shadowy group of parents who guide and interfere with major aspects of their lives, and no worldview is immune from this way of thinking. There are lots of symptoms of this shadowy elite, including significant news events like assassinations, mass murders, elections, any scientific advancements, and world banks. It would take a lifetime to debunk them all. Instead I will focus on some of the more extreme ends of the spectrum in an attempt to offer an insight into the type of worldview the conspiracy theorist will hold.

Alex Jones

From a Christian conservative viewpoint, the NWO is an attempt to break away from the good ‘ole days when everything was considered simpler, and guided by religious institutions. That old time religion dominates their ideology, and their main fears are biblically based. “Worship is for God, not government,” thus many of their theories have to do with some deep state movement that will supposedly usher in the era of the anti-christ. Their brand of paranoia is largely an innate fear of losing their religious identity to a more global, diverse and materialistic existence that is open to scrutiny, doubt in God, and critique of their traditionally held beliefs. They are often skeptical of any new form of technology, science, and secular movements as a threat to their traditional way of life. Often times they hold bigoted ideas, and will justify xenophobia, racism, a hatred of sexual freedom, and a reluctance of education for their fear of the globalism.

Well, it’s 2017, and I still have yet to receive my microchip, but I am rather enjoying the Obama dictatorship. Oh wait… Nevermind.

On the New Age more liberal end, the NWO tries to obstruct progress, keeping everyone docile, by opposing free-thought. Ironically, this side tends to be more concerned with an appeal to nature; being skeptical of geoengineering, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations to prevent disease. They have the same kind of traditional ideology, but it claims to be less religious, and has a more “natural law” flavor to it. They tend to hold very conflicted ideas regarding tribalism, since their love for a time when folks roamed the planet like animals, foraging for their food, and disregarding modern hygiene conflicts with their wish to evolve as a species as well as their claims to inclusivity of differing cultures. Most have no idea of the hardship this would all impose. They claim society enslaves people through television, chemicals in medicine and in the water, contrails, GMOs, HAARP, and employment. Yes, being able to work for money is considered slavery because it isn’t enjoyable to the woo crowd.

COnspiracy

What both these groups have in common is misconception, a longing for a simplicity they can comprehend, and a fantasy of unbridled freedom from a society they feel is an unbearable imposition to them. They’re bored, are suffering because they feel left behind, and seeking some sort of pattern to their disfunction. The internet has provided a breeding ground for the spread of this nonsense, and anyone who is skeptical of their claims is immediately told to, “do the research.” Since science has guided the progression of our social norms in many ways, these folks also tend to be luddites – wary of any sort of technology. What I find hilarious is how the Church will say New Agers are Illuminati, but New Agers consider the Church to be Illuminati, but in reality, the Illuminati is no longer a thing.

The Bavarian Illuminati, founded in 1776 by Adam Weishapt was a movement against prejudice, superstitious beliefs, and government overreach. It challenged the catholic church, as well as its power over the public. As a result, the Bavarian Duke-Elector issued a number of edicts banning secret societies, and arrests ensued. Weishapt was eventually exiled, having been labeled a conspirator with Bavarian’s rival at the time, Austria, as well as a heathen who dared to critique the religious institutions. Of course, while there were documents found by police discussing not only the benefits of atheism, but also suicide and abortion – two very much taboo subjects for the times. The lies constructed to demonize the group were plentiful and ridiculous, but when you sprinkle a little bit of truth in them, lies become somewhat believable to those who want them to be true. Many of the conspiracy theories have survived the lengthy passage of time, including how the group planned to poison its enemies, pull the strings of power in order to gain control over the masses, and destroy the constructs of society in an effort to usher in a new world order. This was a backlash to the enlightenment era of science and philosophy, and was often a means to shut down free-thinkers by conservative religious organizations in the late 1700’s.

But this faction of the enlightened was claimed to have survived in secret, and influenced the French revolution in Augustin Barruel’s “Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism” and John Robison’s “Proofs of a Conspiracy”. Literature made its way to the United States, keeping the ideas of these religious apologists alive. For a lengthy period, it remained on the fringes, and most people would chuckle at their crazy uncle when he would strongly maintain that: “The global elite had their scientists create the AIDS virus to create a public panic to distract us from their plans – IT’S TRUE! Look it up!” But these ideas have wiggled their way to the mainstream, thanks to easier access and the potential to capitalize on credulity. Even the History Channel, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have a plethora of “documentaries” describing secret societies and the “truth” of how they dominate the world. The books by Dan Brown, like “Angels and Demons,” having been a best sellers and adapted into a movies, revived the crackpot theory of a super powerful world dominating Illuminati, that is hellbent on keeping the truth of their power a secret by any shady means possible.

Another aspect of all of this is how the theorists come from entirely different worlds views, yet aspire to be fighting the same people, who they claim are working together. I find this notion highly unlikely, since many folks, even ones on the same side, tend to fight one another, and can’t keep activities secret. There’s no way that opposing forces would be a dominating world power while keeping it under wraps. I think it is more likely that folks are taking their expanding their own ideologies and creating an enemy to reinforce their bias. Remember confirmation bias?  The conspiracy theory confirmation is also largely based on symbolism, which could mean anything the believer wishes it to mean. Don’t like a certain pop star? Illuminati. Don’t like the current Prime Minister? Illuminati…. (of course!)

gaga

 

The truth is, human beings are hard wired to seek patterns and intelligence behind circumstances in their personal lives, as well as the entire world. Sometimes we pick up on real patterns, often we get a false positive.

It’s important for us to have these processes, but also to gain an understanding of how they function in order to avoid making cognitive mistakes like conspiracy theories. These types of ideas can be very harmful to relationships, as well as instigate a feeling of paranoia. It’s simply not good for one’s mental health to take up conspiracy theory ways of thinking.

More information:

http://www.bavarianilluminati.com/2011/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/07-08/profile-adam-weishaupt-illuminati-secret-society/

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Illuminati

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories/

http://theconversation.com/why-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories-and-how-to-change-their-minds-82514