Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo: Christian Edition: Name It And Claim It

So Jennifer is recuperating from the holidays and our daughter just went back to school today so writing a blog was the last thing on her mind. So I figured why not jump on here and write my own article for the Wednesday Woo series? Today I will be talking about some of the woo like beliefs that many Christians follow even if there is no biblical standard for any of these beliefs. While New Age beliefs and Fundamentalist Christianity seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of theism some of the beliefs are so similar that you would think they are one and the same.

Prosperity Doctrine

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One of the major ways that American Christianity sets itself apart from the rest of the world would be the plethora of televangelists that promote what is commonly known as “The Prosperity Gospel.” What this set of beliefs attempts to promote is the idea that god will financially bless anyone that fully puts their trust in him. Now how does one put their trust completely into the hands of god, you ask? Well by sending cash to whatever televangelist you happen to like best.

This belief is built around a scripture in the parable of the Sower:

“And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” – Mark 4:20

So basically the parable is about reaping souls for god, in other words saving lots of people from the fires of hell. However those who promote the prosperity gospel will use this verse and a few other cherry picked scriptures in an effort to give the idea that god wants to make you rich. The other scriptures that these pastors will use deal with the idea of tithing, giving a tenth of all your increase(income) to the priestly order, a practice that was stipulated in the old testament and continued by many Christian sects throughout the centuries. What they then say is that if you give 10 dollars you will receive 100 or 1000 in return and so who wouldn’t want to give a small offering if god is definitely going to return to you all of it and way more.

Well the facts are tithing is a tremendously arduous and sometimes painful process. If you have never practiced tithing, imagine having to set aside ten percent of your income, income that may be needed for food or bills, and giving it away, hoping that you will be blessed in the future. Now charity is good but tithing is in some ways nearly murder. I have known elderly women on social security who have begging for food simply so that they can pay their tithe and not fear the wrath of god if they don’t. This is one of the main reasons that when I was a minister I never taught on tithing, it’s one of the few things that I am proud of from that facet of my life.

So anyway, you give your 10 dollars and you get 100 back, everyone wins right? No because you almost never see this return and when you don’t see the blessings that the minister guaranteed who is at fault? If you said the minister, you’re wrong. The person who is always at fault is the one who gave the money to begin with. What you will hear is that the person gave with the wrong idea in mind, because if you give wanting a blessing then you will never receive that blessing, even if the minister promoted the blessing as the only reason to give.

Now imagine if you went to buy a car, you give the dealership your money and the dealership throws you out on your ass. When you ask why the dealership states that you gave your money expecting to get a car in return and so you don’t get the car. If you had only showed up and given the money with no expectations in your mind, the dealership would have blessed you with a car in return. Does that make any sense? Absolutely not, but this is the exact same mindset that the prosperity gospel promotes. Give your money because a blessing will be returned to you but be sure that you aren’t doing it expecting a blessing because if you do that you’ll end up fucked….It’s absolute bullshit.

name it

Name It And Claim It

In the same vein as the prosperity gospel is the “name it and claim it” crowd.  An offshoot of mainline Pentecostalism this group of ministers claim that your words have power and that if you claim good things you will receive good things, if you claim bad things you will receive bad things. If you think this sounds exactly like new age gobbledy gook then you would be 100% correct.

Basically, what this theology teaches is that our world is shaped by the things we think and more specifically the things we say, hence the “name it and claim it” moniker. While on the surface it might seem innocuous in reality this belief system can be incredibly dangerous. Positive thinking can help to a certain point and a healthy psychological perspective can be built around telling yourself good things that you like about yourself.

Saying “I like my smile” may bring you a simple confidence boost and help you feel better about yourself, however when you look at the opposite side of the coin things get very murky. Let’s say you go to the doctor and the doctor runs some tests only to find that you have cancer, well the “name it and claim it” crowd would tell you that if accept what the doctor says then you do have cancer and it will only get worse the longer you say things like, “I have cancer.” So what are you supposed to do? Go around saying, “I don’t have cancer,” and believing that god has healed you of your cancer. You don’t receive chemo, or surgery, or anything that would take away any amount of trust in god and you simply believe that the cancer doesn’t exist. Do you see the problem with this type of theology?

To bring this to a personal note, my great-grandmother went to a revival meeting one night and asked for prayer due to a heart issue that she had suffered with for several years. The minister prayed over her and asked her if she believed she had been healed, she said that she believed and so he told her to throw away her heart medication in a show of faith before god. The minister moved on to another revival in another town and my great grandmother, full of faith and lacking the heart medication that she desperately needed died of a heart attack. I’m sure the minister never thought of my great-grandmother again but the family lost a matriarch and a young boy got his first taste of skepticism which would stick with him and helped aid him leave the faith many years later.

Oil, Sand, and Other Such Bullshit

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I’ve laughed and joked about crystals and salt lamps in the past but Christianity has its own bullshit market filled with trinkets that will definitely get you closer to god. You can buy oil from the holy man that has been prayed over by a televangelist. You can buy sand supposedly from the path that Jesus walked which has healing properties because Jesus walked on it at some point in history. I knew a man who had a cloth that he said was dipped in the blood of Christ that he had purchased during a revival, in reality it was a cloth that had been dyed red but he earnestly believed that when he prayed with that cloth in hand that he was closer to god.

A local woman had scriptures written all over her house because it protected her from evil spirits. Really all it protected her from was visitors because there was no way that I was going into the creepy scripture coated house. She had them on her walls, in her cupboards, in every drawer and in every room, the worst thing was she had them scrawled all over the walls of her kids rooms too. I was friends with her son for a short period of time and knowing what teenage boys do with free time on their hand I can only imagine the psychological torture of having to wank it with the bible staring you straight in the face 24/7….not that he wanked 24/7 but you get the picture.

Anyway, most of the trinkets and practices that you see going around from church to church have little to no biblical backing whatsoever and they are simply done because it makes the person who owns it feel better. I’ve always found it hilarious that many people walk around with crosses draped around their neck even though the bible explicitly prohibits any sort of iconography. The Catholics get around this by simply removing that commandment from the top 10 but isn’t that just cheating?

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To finish up I’ll leave you with another personal story. We had a woman in church, an elderly woman whose husband had died many years prior. She had her husbands bible and she would say that whenever she read from that bible it was as if her husbands warmth enveloped her and she felt gods power working deep inside her…Basically god granted this bible orgasmic properties which….more power to her but not the type of thing that a teenage boy wants to think about when he’s trying to wank it in his room after church….

That’s right I told the story of my great-grandmothers death and included two wanking jokes in the same blog….yep, I’m awesome!

 

 

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #15: On Higher Consciousness

For last week’s Woo,  click here.

I had a conversation the other day with a man who maintains adamantly that consciousness can in no way stem from the human brain. His reasoning was built on the fabrications built by multiple pseudoscientists, and he was happy to name every single one of their publishings, one after the other in pursuit of my concession to his claims. He was quite disappointed, but we did end the confrontation peacefully, despite the fact that I still had so many questions, specifically regarding what he deemed as the source of consciousness, and why he felt so strongly and personally about the subject. Now I am left to my own speculation, which is quite imaginative to say the least:

Perhaps he feels consciousness arises from magical pixie dust that is spread throughout the ether.

Or maybe he thinks all energy of the universe conspires to make sure Pee Wee Herman can distinguish between himself and his own porno stash.

It’s also possible he considers conscious awareness gets its source from unicorns who emit beams of thought to us from their magical horns.

But most likely, his belief stems from a total misunderstanding of quantum physics…

But quantum physics does nothing to explain a consciousness incapacitated from brain damage. No amount of “studies” on *NEAR* death experiences produced can explain the vegetative state, nor can they negate a multitude of evidence that damage to the brain causes changes in personality.

Now while there may be many things we still have yet to know about consciousness, there is no need to fill in the gaps with wild claims. As neurology progresses, we shall learn more about our sense of self, and it will be an exciting endeavor as we peer through the marvelousness that is higher order consciousness. While speculation about these things may be fun, it can be harmful to assume that damage to a human brain cannot possibly change identity. I have known folks who suffered from head trauma, which subsequently altered their sense of self, behaviors, and ability to function at the same level before their injury. If the source of their consciousness stemmed from somewhere other than the brain, then why did the brain being damaged alter who they were? This is a worthy question to ask the New Agers who tend to separate the brain from the self.

From my perspective as a skeptic, the simplest explanation is the most likely, hence the higher functioning consciousness human beings utilize has evolved over a long period of time with genetic and environmental factors working in unison as contributors to developing the human brain. We had to be inventive and anticipate the future in order to survive, and this implies a deeper understanding of our own mortality – we realize that death is inevitable, and that can be an unsettling concept. We try to rationalize our own death in order to escape the fear attached to such an idea, as well as the pain that arises when we lose the company of those we adore. It’s the human condition to occupy the spaces of boredom, happiness, sorrow, and a deep sense of loneliness that accompanies higher order consciousness.

Assumptions regarding the perplexity of one’s self awareness and inner dialogue play leap frog with logic. While human consciousness may present itself as the end-all be-all that permeates everything, there is no way we could possibly know for sure, but nonetheless, the woo crowd takes this ball and runs with it. They claim that since observation is key to translating reality, that it *must BE* reality itself, and from this follows eternal life. The reasoning is that consciousness is energy, and energy only changes form. But of course, entropy isn’t considered as a portion of this idea, because that would be deterioration, which is a negative cherry these folks tend to avoid.

Panache

The cattle finds these sweet patches throughout New Age fields to be euphoric, but in truth is a misunderstanding of what we know of consciousness, and acts as if scientific inquiry yet touches the subject. We have discovered magnificence within the field of neuroscience. Like I said in a previous article, these folks long for the comfort of some sort of hive-mind, but have yet to question the implications or efficiency in their reasoning. Herds have immunity to being reasonable.

Example of this:
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“I am all that is real…”

Kinda doesn’t follow the whole “death of the ego” concept. The incongruities just keep piling up with the enlightened crowd, don’t they? But you can bet your bottom dollar that when faced with the problems in logic, they will add some special pleading into the mix to make these ideas work, because the aim is to believe we are more than mere animals subject to mortality. It makes us feel better to think this way, at least until the frail reality of life hits someone over the head, and we must rely on the hard-working neurologists to help them recover. I am so thankful we have medical professionals and scientists to come to our aid! To me, that is way more of a comforting thought than any nonsense the woo folks can conjure.

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

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #9: My Woo Journey

For last week’s Wednesday Woo, click here.

This week, I want to do something different and more personal. Here’s the story of my journey from woo.

I had always felt like a misfit – as if those who surrounded me on this planet did not reflect who I was deep inside. This caused a lot of anguish for me, especially after I lost my mom to liver disease nearly a decade ago. She was the only one who even slightly understood me, and even her assessments were sometimes distorted. I was all alone in the world, and desperately felt like I needed to find support and comfort. There were a few friends in my life at the time, but none of them truly seemed to understand what I was going through. They didn’t call or check on me very often, and when they did, the concern didn’t seem genuine, so it was as if I were a burden. I felt abandoned, and as though I wanted to die. There was no luster to any of the things I used to enjoy. Depression had a firm grip on me, and the only motivating emotion within option was anger; seething anger toward everyone and everything. My family felt compelled to argue with me over silly things like where mom was to be buried, and why we didn’t visit as often as they felt we should have in the past. This created a further divide; expounding upon the depression and grief I already harbored.

During these times of darkness, I ran into a lot of financial difficulty. At the time of my mom’s death, I was attending a local university in order to obtain a sociology degree. Depression did not allow me to function for quite some time after her passing, so thinking on a higher level just wasn’t an option anymore. I had a child to support, so it was time to dedicate myself to working full-time instead. Finding ample work to satisfy paying bills and providing for child care was especially tedious. There was a lot of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” kinds of tactics when it came to paying bills, and we ate a lot of ramen noodles. I ended up working at a fast food place, putting in as many hours as I possibly could. Still grieving, and in a state of isolation, despite the fact that I was in a relationship at the time, I put on a brave face, and pushed through each day. He had a wandering eye, couldn’t keep a job for more than a few months, and wasn’t really on my level intellectually. All of the financial responsibility was put on me, but at least he could babysit while I put in more and more hours. It wasn’t long until I got promoted.

One day, while I was hard at work at supervising a shift at the fast food restaurant, I saw my dead mother walk into the establishment. I knew I was hallucinating, and was really afraid, disoriented, and panicked. After having that experience, I decided that it was best to seek professional help. They diagnosed me as “bipolar” then swiftly put me on antipsychotics, which seemed to help, but also stifled some of the characteristics which I felt defined me. There had to be another solution, so I got online to research what was going on, and found some videos on YouTube describing how it wasn’t “bipolar” but an “awakening”. This shall forever be known to me as mistake number one.

My angst to find belonging, as well as my resolve to find tranquility, instigated a willingness to allow my sense of reasoning to fade, and to open my mind to anything that would make me feel better. I began watching more videos on YouTube, including Teal Swan and Spirit Science, then decided that what I need to make my life better was to find enlightenment, which was, from what I had heard, the only pathway toward the peace I required. This opened the social floodgates for me, as I joined enlightenment and esoteric groups. I found myself with lots of friends who sought the same sort of relief from the ails of life. Suffering was what brought us together, and made us question absolutely everything about the reality in which we live. We talked about astrology, tarot, astral travel, aliens and who or what controls reality constantly. Oddly enough, despite all the discussions, I was afraid to disagree with people, even if what they said was something I knew was absolutely wrong or unfounded. All that mattered was getting along, and growing my social circle so I could feel I belonged somewhere. The problem was, I still didn’t really feel like I had found my “tribe” quite yet. There was something missing. My relationship wasn’t working, and by this time, I felt confident enough to leave him, and reunited with my long-lost love, Matthew. I was so happy to be with the one person I knew would really understand me, and felt at the time that it was god/the universe who had granted me that privilege.

Being a peaceful, loving pacifist, who considered all reality to be a creation of a shared mind, I thought all opinions were equally valid. That is until I joined a Gnostics group and saw some posts about how Earth was flat, and the holocaust didn’t happen. This provoked the skeptical side of me, which led me to question the people who I was associating myself. Having been raised fundamentalist Christian, I recognized some of the same tribalistic and anti-science rhetoric from my childhood. I couldn’t help but be bothered by this, so I began researching things people said and shared online to find the truth. It took some time and effort to do this, but it was worth it to truly know if what I was told and personally believing was true. I began to say, “No, that’s not true,” more often, and it no longer bothered me if people liked my evidence or not. It wasn’t merely about appeasing people so they would stay friends with me, but rather what was moral or scientifically proven. It helped a lot that I have a Matthew, who is also a skeptic, and never was convinced by my New Age beliefs, no matter how much I tried to convince him at the time. He questioned me often during discussion, which really highlighted the flaws of my logic. I am forever grateful to him for that.

One by one, my New Age beliefs came tumbling down. After a while, I started to see some major flaws in my initial attempt to escape reality. It was difficult to avoid when I gazed into the reflection of others who believed as I did. One thing in particular made me quite angry at the belief system, was seeing a friend get outraged because someone posted a video of the Syrian gas attack. This person was only upset because it disrupted their “good vibes” that day, not at the horror or injustice of seeing children suffer by the hand of a cruel dictator. I couldn’t even begin to fathom a lack of empathy on this level. That’s when I decided the entire ideology was merely an escape from reality, and a disgusting one at that. There is absolutely no moral compass in someone who would rather deny reality, and a sense of right and wrong, for a conclusion that only makes them feel better.

While I may be a misfit, and a now a skeptic, I still have found some companionship through seeking to understand reality as opposed to escaping it. It’s a much better place, since I don’t have to pretend to agree with everything for the sake of offending others. I can finally be accepted for the contrarian being I am, and while it’s not easy, it is worth the effort. I love science, current events, social dynamics and studying the human mind. These are the subjects I find joy in discussion now, as opposed to aliens and astrology. There is so much more to learn and strive for in reality, and I don’t have to make-believe in order to find peace, happiness, or understanding.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #7: Demons and Denial

For last weeks Wednesday Woo, click here.

New Age and occult philosophy has a wide array of imaginary life forms or forces within their belief systems. From demons to faeries, egregores, and ghosts, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the realm of the unseen world. The majority explanation is these creature are directly constructed by the mind, since most things allegedly manifest through thoughts. Silly as it may sound, this notion is notorious in such “tribes” or circles of influence within the community. “Your thoughts create your reality” is a common meme within their threads:

Cayce

Which of course leads to thousands of YouTube videos about how “The Matrix” is a true depiction of how reality works.

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What I find problematic is when people think the supernatural beings in their imagination are actually real, and are in a complete state of helplessness. They become panicked, lose sleep, begin unnecessary fights, and of course, frantically spend time, money, and effort in trying to find some peace. This state of mind can cause erratic behaviors in a person, often leading to a loss of job, and cause inevitable strains on relationships. It’s really ironic yet totally disheartening to find those in search of tranquility are losing their grip on sanity and solace. Many of these folks wouldn’t normally be prone to such a paranoid state of mind, but there are some who hold a psychological/genetic disposition.

It’s tedious to direct a believer toward reason and away from these ideas, especially a psychotic one. To detach their personal identity from their premonitions of invisible forces initiates a fight or flight response. They have become a see-er, scryer, prophet, crystal child, star-seed, or a light worker who is on a mission from the divine to save the world and bring forth some sort of utopia, and now some critical thinker is asking for evidence of their claims. Their philosophies have now been reduced to absolute, dichotomous thinking, where they are the good guys fighting the negative Nancys who dare to question their wisdom and powers. The system alone is set up to label all critics as “fearful sheep” who need to “do their research” – a common conspiracy theorist response that shuts down the conversation before it even begins. If you do not hold the same idea of reality as they do, then you’re still plugged into the Matrix, and either are in desperate need of them to awaken you, or are in the grasp of an evil force. So much for the concepts of rejecting duality, and us being all one.

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Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would adopt a belief in the power of thoughts such as this, but in all honestly, I cannot emphasize any one variable as a cause for every single person. What I can assert is my own reasons for cultivation and preservation of supernatural conclusions and the beings that may dwell within. I am a pattern seeking human being  – making connections where there may be none.
In a world such as this: with all of the struggle, grief, and unfairness, it’s comforting to find some sort of explanation, especially one that makes one feel more powerful.

Ockham

But is it the idea of unseen worlds influencing our personal experience really the least complex when contrasted with innate human qualities such as pattern seeking? Is it much simpler for my mind to actually be creating all of the detail of reality, or that reality exist independently of my thoughts? There is millennia of evidence that existence was before my arrival, and I think it’s a safe bet that it shall continue on long after I have died. It’s much more complicated for everything to be a product of thoughts than it is for things to just simply be. Evidence is predicated upon predictability, testability, and reliability, therefore anything beyond this scope has the potential to be set aside until further investigation. Even if this reality were a simulation, or a product of some super, unified mind, how could I possibly test this?

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It logically follows that if human beings had the power to connect with the mystical, we would have some way of proving this, right? It would be even more sweet if they could demonstrate their powers, AND collect a prize for their efforts! Sadly, this has yet to occur.

Here’s some of the more recent prizes offered for a demonstration of paranormal abilities:

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This of course doesn’t make the paranormal to be any less lucrative of a business. There are many books, and workshops dedicated to teaching people how to wield their non-existent magical powers. I cannot tell you how much money I spent purchasing books, crystals, talismans, oils, and charms in order to alter my mind so I could manifest a better reality. Truthfully, it did give me a nice distraction from whatever was stressing me out at the time, but it did very little to help my pocketbook, nor my long-term peace of mind. I have spent many nights awake in bed fearing whatever weird presence was there. I get cranky when I’m lacking sleep, so of course, this would make matters worse. I kept thinking I saw stupid signs everywhere, which conjured up some rolled-eyes when I would mention this to others. Pretty sure that’s not what the spells were for, but I digress…

So, if the belief in the paranormal can potentially lead to financial chaos, delusional thinking, tear apart personal relationships, and disrupt your inner peace, wouldn’t you want it to at least be true? A skeptic would maintain that extraordinary evidence would be necessary for such extraordinary claims.

I wrote a short letter to my past self that kinda sums up how I feel about my old beliefs. Thank you for reading!

“Dearest Friend,

Why have you chosen to believe in whatever satisfies your imagination’s fancy? Wouldn’t it be better to occupy your mind with things that can be demonstratively true instead? You read Plato and thought life to be an illusion. Movies can be evidently differentiated, therefore while your creativity may know no bounds, your reality is indeed a subject to physical limitation. There’s no proof that those cloud angels are empirically there, however, they can shield your eyes from a harsh sun, if even for a brief period of time. There is no joy lost in living a moment that is evident, and no productivity within chasing the shadows. Demons do not truly haunt you; it’s merely a metaphor for a feelings not yet expressed. What I can know for sure, is that life as you know it shall eventually come to a close; so precious few moments left to enjoy. Is it your wish to waste them in deep paranoia of demons?

Signed,

Your Ability to Reason

P.S. You don’t have to have superpowers to be a positive influence on your world, or to be worthy of your existence. Love yourself as you truly are.”

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 5

For part 4 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

The day of my second appointment I was far less worried. The drive there still bothered me greatly as I hate long drives. We reached the office about a half an hour early and I sat down in the waiting room. Thoughts of my life passed through my mind.

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I remembered how hard childhood had been, never knowing what to say or how to take the things that others said to me. Making friends is difficult when you don’t recognize the difference between sarcasm and actual anger, or realize that you should offer comfort to someone who is sad. I remembered my teenage years, spent in part trying to do everything I could in order to be seen as “normal” and then spending the second part of those years doing everything I could to not be seen as anything close to normal.

AnarchyI remembered the first time Jennifer and I had been together, how much love I had felt for her in those early moments and how much deeper my love for her is now that weTexas have reconnected. I felt the pain of losing her go through my mind and the struggles I faced trying to put my life back together. All the times that I wanted to give up and yet still pushed forward regardless of the circumstances.

FightingI thought about my second marriage, how I had tried finding someone who was the exact opposite of Jennifer, somehow thinking that this would lead to happiness. Remembered all the pain I went through but all of the joy as well spending time with my two-step children from that marriage. Watching them grow has been one of the favorite parts of my life and it still is.

Storm cloudsI thought of my cousin, who had lived a parallel life as me. Had he been autistic? Were the struggles that he faced caused by the same source as my own battles in life? He had always seemed to be more outgoing but hearing stories from others around him, he was always distant, cold, and preferred to be alone. Would he still be here today if he had sought out the help of a psychologist instead of the dogmatic dog whistles of his cousins ministry?

autismI thought about my nephew, that small bundle of joy that had cleared the path to my own mental health and stability.  If he hadn’t existed would I ever have known the name to my own struggled? I know he has many struggles to face in life and it won’t be easy, but he is smart and loving, an absolute joy to be around, especially for the uncle who understands him so well. He is and always will be my hero.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the psychologist came and took me to a small room beside the reception area. I sat down behind a laptop computer and was explained the testing that I would be taking, a simple quiz of around 500 true/false questions. He told me that through the take home quiz and this one, he would be able to gauge exactly where on the spectrum I was.

I started taking the quiz and after about 100 questions the program crashed.  He restarted it and I had to restart from the beginning, about 100 questions in the program crashed once more. He started it up again and the same thing happened. Contacting the IT department, he found out that the virus scan software was what was crashing the program. He disabled that and asked me if I was willing to try it once more, if not I could return in two weeks and try it again.

Thinking about the trip it takes to get there, I decided to give it another shot. After about 120 questions it acted as if it was going to crash, an icon appeared on the screen and simply spun for a few seconds. I yelled at the top of my lungs, “GOD DAMN IT!” The program then went on to the next question and I realized the ass that I had just made of myself. No one came in but I’m sure the receptionist got a bit of a scare from my loud outburst.

I finished the quiz, which continued to act as if it was going to crash every 20 questions or so, and went back to the waiting room. A few minutes later the psychologist asked me to come into his office to talk just a bit more. I sat on his couch and he asked me about a couple of the answers on the quiz. I explained the answers and he then said that he thought he had enough to come up with a complete diagnosis. He told me that since I had brought him all the information about the struggles throughout my life, it had been easy to see that I had been correct. He said he was impressed by all the research that I had done before even approaching a psychiatrist and that i had made his job very easy. It would be a couple of weeks before I got my copy of his report but there would be no surprises in there for me to worry about.

I drove home happy to be done with the long trips to the psychologists office. I had been right. I have ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. All the times that I had felt different from the outside world made sense to me now. All that I had been through in childhood and life in general were now clear. I wasn’t a failed human being, I was a whole human being, just one that happens to have ASD. My brain works in a wild and wonderful way that could never truly be understood by someone who does not also have autism.  I am perfect, just the way I am.


 

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If you’ve followed me throughout my entire journey and the epilogue, thank you. It might come as a shock to know this but outside of a few people close to me, you, the readers, are some of the first people to know about my journey towards a diagnosis with autism. Thank you so much for the kindness you have shown me.

My journey away from faith is fairly well-known in my community. I still live in the same area as I did when I was a minister. Initially, I had considered moving to a more suitable area for someone who lacks a faith. In the town where I live sits a gigantic mormon church, just on the outskirts of town there is a Jehovah’s Witness Temple, as well as several other churches. My own former church is just over 5 miles away from where i currently live. Moving away might have been an easy solution for me.

However, I want people to have that uncomfortable feeling they get when they avoid me in public. I want the former members of my church to see me, happy and healthy, while a growing sickness builds within their gut. I want their cognitive dissonance to be hit as hard as possible, they need to see that I am still the same person I was, just happier, not filled with hate, living a good life in their midst. It isn’t that these things bring me joy, in fact a lot of times they hurt, but I do think they serve a purpose.

Life experience led me away from faith, finding that faith lacked everything which I had believed it to hold. No comfort was found within the pages of the bible once my eyes had been opened. No strength was found in my faith to get me through the hardships I had to face. Religion is nothing more than a vast build-up of lies. We lie to ourselves enough that one day we find we believe those lies to be true, however, in many cases it doesn’t take much to tear that wall of lies down.

I love my life now. So much wonder and joy is found in the natural world that I question why I ever sought out a supernatural one to begin with. My indoctrination though had started long before I had actually reached an age to make my own decisions for me. I was taught that the world was a deeply sinful, scary and cold place; filled with evil does waiting to bring me down to their abyss. What I have found since leaving is that life is a wonderful thing, something that we only get to experience once. Religion had mad me hate this world and wish for the next…

As Christopher Hitchens is so famous for saying, “Religion poisons everything.”

 

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #4: Quantum Woo

For last weeks Wednesday Woo, click here.

“What one man calls God, another calls the laws of physics.”

Nikola Tesla

Quantum mechanics has shown us an entirely different and counter-intuitive physical world that can be conflated into the wildest ideas by those who speculate and misconstrue its findings. There is the variety of folks who claim that it is proof of god, since its spooky action seems almost like what is described in their religious books.

Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”

This idea is even offered in quote mines from the founding fathers of this branch of physics:

Waren Heisenberg: “After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.”

Erwin Schrodinger: “This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.”

While this seems like great proof for the idea that the ancient ideas of reality have been revealed through quantum mechanics, it’s nothing more than wishful thinking. It’s true that some of the great minds who made discoveries in this field of science were familiar with the ancient texts of the vedas, as well as the bible, but this doesn’t mean their discoveries proved them. There also tends to be no real way of conveying the message of these scientific phenomena to the masses without taking a romantic and familiar approach. Granted, some of them may have followed such magical thinking, while some did not. Einstein expressed himself with the romantic antics of the spiritual, while maintaining a form of deism – which lacks a personal god.

Some of them actually seemed to have a god belief, like Werner Heisenberg, who claimed, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

There is also Erwin Schroedinger, who in the spirit of the Vedas expressed, “In itself, the insight is not new. The earliest records, to my knowledge date back some 2500 years or more… the recognition ATMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world.”

One thing that must be considered when going through all of these quotes and ideas of quantum mechanics is that not all of those who study physics are theists. Victor Stenger , a renowned particle physicist and author, is atheist, as are Sean Michael Carroll, and Lawrence Krauss. So which is it? Natural science proves god, or doesn’t it? If it truly proved the god-claim, surely all of those who gain an understanding of it would alter their belief accordingly. It just goes to show that mere quotes are not real evidence of anything. It also demonstrates that even when a scientist thinks they have proven the mystical realm, further experimenting may reveal they have not.

“So which is it? Natural science proves god, or doesn’t it?”

Since the double-slit experiment has made it into the mainstream era of spiritualism, it has been attached to the claim that the “non-duality” function of particles shows the yin-yang attributes of reality, and that the physical world is guided by consciousness because particles seem to change when observed. Some will even go so far as to say that reality simply doesn’t exist at all. Therefore, magic is real, and we are merely consciousness experiencing itself. We = god, right? Not exactly…

Experiments at the quantum level behave differently because they are being done at an atomic and subatomic level. It’s difficult to imagine such a world on our much larger scale, simply because our perspective differs. If we were 2 dimensional beings, it would be quite strange to experiment with a 3D world. Such is the same with the realm of the very small. Although, there have been experiments created that demonstrate what occurs at the quantum level for us to see.

As was demonstrated above, the actions at the quantum level do not prove that reality doesn’t exist. The moon is still revolving around the earth, even when you’re not looking.

Now to get to this “observer” phenomenon. An observer, as defined by quantum physics, differs from the layman idea of observation; much like the definition of the word “theory” differs from how we utilize it in daily life. An observer in physics is what interacts with the particles in an effort to find measurements and obtain data. Since the quantum world is much, MUCH smaller than what we are accustomed to interacting with, any measurement of it can interfere with behaviors seen. It has nothing to do with consciousness, since it can be seen occurring even without a conscious, human observer.

So how about that duality function of particles, eh? It’s rather funny, since I know a bit about duality in terms of its spiritual connotations. According to woo-woo, duality is an illusion caused by ego: the I -vs- other dynamic. In the philosophy, the “I” doesn’t exist, and all that exists is “One”.  I’m not sure how the particle-wave duality has anything to do with this other than the label “duality”. I am sure there are people who will stretch their logical faculties pretty far to make the connection, but in truth, there is none.

Why would the spiritual woo-woo and god-botherers claim that science proves consciousness is magic? For one, it fills up their community with credulous believers who will fall for any sort of claim they make. Such communities make for great sales, since word-of-mouth recommendations travel faster than the speed of any debunking. Do a quick google search for quantum healing, and you will be flooded with everything from magic jewelry to reiki. Apparently this is a very lucrative prospect. Check out the nano wand from China.

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There was a stretch of time were I believed that quantum mechanics was some sort of proof that our reality is directly connected to consciousness and god. In fact, it took me a while to come out of this ideology. It wasn’t until I became open-minded to being wrong about these notions that I found the truth: I was being lied to. I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker – posting the Werner Heisenberg quote about finding god at the bottom of the glass of science over and over again. It was not fun to set aside my ideas about reality, but once I discovered I was wrong, and opened myself up to new evidence, I found much relief and wonder in the truth. I began watching a youtube channel called “Martymer81” where I found a skeptic who truly challenged my thoughts on this subject. I started researching things he said, and reading books from credited physicists like Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking. Come to find out, I was dead wrong when it came to this subject. I had abused physics, used it, and conflated it all because I wanted to find comfort in a reality that seemed confusing, cold, and too rational. But since then, I have discovered the rational world to be one of curiosity as opposed to coldness. There’s so much more to find in science, and to close the door on that for a belief in woo or god is the ultimate closed-minded prospect. If all explanations point to the divine, then what is left to be curious about?

Here’s Martymer81’s take on quantum physics abuse. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.