Spot the Douglas Adams quote (or ‘I find it really difficult to come up with post titles’).

For some reason, this post from February 2014 has been getting a lot of hits lately. No idea why it’s being read again, but I thought I’d repost it anyway.

I had a conversation with someone the other day in which I was completely wrong.

Which is, and I realise that I run the risk of sounding like a bit of a wanker here, quite unusual. That’s not because I am wise and all knowing and a total pantomath but more because I very very rarely argue fervently on position unless I am totally certain that I’m right.

The conversation was about faith*, in a general sense and I swore absolutely blind that atheists don’t just think that there are no God/ gods but are actually materialists too, and that being an atheist means that you have no truck with the soul/ghosts/NDEs or any of that woo-woo type stuff.

The person I was speaking to apparently found this very illuminating and, convinced by my earnest explanation, decided that I must be totally right. So imagine my surprise and embarrassment when later in the day I picked up a book and discovered that atheism and materialism are not synonymous.

I know that when I decided that there wasn’t a god and became an atheist, I absolutely became a materialist as well. I realised that if I was going to reject the fantasy of God then I was also going to also abandon the belief in all the accouterments that I felt went along with it; souls, ghosts, ESP, reincarnation and the like. From what I remember I thought it was bloody obvious that the rejection of one would involve the rejection, domino like, of all the rest.

In fact I clearly remember thinking ‘Well if God doesn’t exist then neither do ghosts! Now I can go to graveyards at night!’. I can see why I made that assumption. It makes sense to me that if you are going to reject God due to claims of rationality and a lack of scientific proof then surely it does make more sense for all atheists to be materialists. But hey, I’m no poster child for rationality, I’ve just decided that the weight of evidence falls in favour of reincarnation.

So I’m a little surprised now to realise that I was actually wrong and that an atheist can still believe in say, reincarnation. Actually it turns out that a close friends of mine does take this position- she believes in reincarnation and the power of prayer but not God. So technically she is an atheist. But she believes in the soul.

Hmmmm.

So anyway I had to ring my friend and admit that I’d been totally wrong and he said that he’d been re-thinking reality in light of my very convinced sounding claims and I thanked him for thinking so highly of my apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate claims and there was laughter all round.

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Of course when it all boils down, it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you label yourself. Just that^.

*(not my faith of course because that’s something that I just don’t discuss with people because a) no ones interested and… no, that’s it. I don’t know anyone in real life who likes to talk about faith. Hence; blog

The Story of a Tattoo ( Or How I learned about Agape, and also, ironically, how to tell people to piss off), Part One.

I want to weave a bit of a story today, about unconditional love and self worth and trusting your own path. But also about tattoos and people calling me a skanky whore and getting the courage to tell people to get stuffed if they treat me badly. So I think that covers all the bases, yes?

There have been a few pivotal things that determined my decision to become a Christian. Some I’ve talked about. Others are a bit too ephemeral and private to share. And some just wouldn’t make sense to other people.

But the Important Moment that I’m referring to today happened in a dream. I know, I know. Ugh. But given that I am 80% sure that I have experienced genuine premonitions in dreams, I chose to trust this experience as legitimate. If you rolled you eyes at the very mention, then you will really really dislike this post. And possibly me, due to the fact that you will find it cringeably awkward . You’ve been warned.

To summarize, I felt the total and complete unconditional love that God has for me.

That old thing, hey?

Trying to capture exactly what it was like is impossible, of course. But I knew that God saw all of me… and loved me despite it. But not even ‘despite it’, because there’s judgement in that, and there was no judgement, there was just utter and complete agape.

So of course I woke up in tears, because how else do you deal with that? It was wonderful and huge and everything but it was also a bit terrible and heartbreaking because there was also the realisation that I had never, and would never feel anything like that on earth.

So, me being me, I couldnt just appreciate something for what it was, I had also to mourn it for what it wasn’t. Luckily this little tantrum on my part was short lived. As I’ve said before, I dream a lot. I’m used to my dreams. This was not a normal dream. Even the dreams that were, in hindsight, premonitions, felt like a normal dream at the time.

But this didn’t. And it wasn’t.

I can still remember the aura of what happened; the memory of it, if you like. But as for recapturing the actual feelings? Nope. I don’t think it’s even possible to do that. All the love that I have to give goes to my children, but even then it is just grey compared to what was lavished on me. Recreating that, or re-remembering it just isn’t possible. Well, not humanly possible.

But I believe that what I felt was real, and also impossible to describe, although I have tried to. And I think that I’ve done such a sub-par job of telling it that I’d really like to just delete it and give up. But I also think that its important to try to describe indescribable things.

Because sometimes words are all we have, even if inadequate, and we are a race of story tellers, after all. So we just have to do our best.

Next up; I decide to create a visible symbol of God’s promise to me, and get called a skanky whore in the process. I’m almost completely sure that I’ll be able to make a lovely deep connection between agape, my friends comments and my not-perfect-but-understandable-given-the-circumstances behavior. If not, then I will have just needlessly talked about myself for two blog posts. Fingers crossed, hey.

 

 

I believe?

“I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)

I think about these words from Mark a lot.

I believe. But please help my unbelief. Followed shortly by, ‘Where are you God, and what use are you to me anyway?

I know that’s its my smallest, most ego driven self saying this, but sometimes that willful toddler of a self is the most real thing that there is, you know?

Because the times that we are at our most expansive and embracing, seeing everything and more with a beautiful clarity are wonderful, but few and far between.
Why is it that when you really feel that you need God the most; comfort and reassurance or just a smidge of diving reassurance, he seems so far away? And you find yourself saying ‘What is the use of you anyway?

And when you find yourself sitting in church thinking What the fuck am I doing here? I don’t belong here’

And you wonder why don’t people talk more about doubt and unbelief. Am I the only one, you think, or are people scared that faith is like a 3D picture that will fragment from a picture of God and disperse into so many palm trees and you’ll be stuck with coconuts. Or that if you confess that you are struggling then you’ll lose your place on the cool believers table and you’re even more suspect that you were when you were an atheist.

And I think (ok, enough of the third person, we all know it’s all about me) What is the damn point of believing in God if the hard times as a believer are exactly the same as the hard times when you’re not a believer? If the hard times without God are the exact same as the hard times with God then where’s the pay off? What’s in it for me?

Ah, the ego. I’m pretty attached to mine.

But maybe (and this is just coming to me as I write this, because blogging is just a cheap form of therapy after all, and the quasi-anonymous internet is the best place for soul-baring, after all, and what else is there to do at 2am anyway?) the hard times with God seem just the same as the hard times without God because there is never really a time without God.

There is no with or without,
No black or white,
No worthy or unworthy

and it’s our dualistic thinking, our insistence on focussing on how we should feel and what things would look like if we were happy or fulfilled or peaceful that is the real problem. And God is just sitting out there/ within there going, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have to ask you to sort this one out for yourself. But I’ll be right here there whole time. You’ll see’

I believe. Help my unbelief.

For now we see through a glass, darkly.

I still expect to have all the answers, don’t I?

So many shoulds.

I believe; help my unbelief, doesn’t have to be the hopeless concession that I’ve tended to see it as. It’s actually beautiful. We’re human. We do our best. It’s not always that amazing. Or transcendent. Or loving. But as long as we get back up and give it another go tomorrow,

We’ll get there eventually.

What does baptism really mean?

First of all, I’m going to talk about baptism for a while, and then I’m going to ask for your opinion. So this will be one of those posts that needs other people’s feedback to make it complete.

Just so you know.

And I think that this might be a little bit self indulgent, so if that makes you roll your eyes and go ‘first world problems’, then head on over to these great Countess of Grantham gifs and I’ll see you next post.

So, I’ve been thinking about baptism lately. And I’ve been thinking that it’s something I would probably like to do. And what it means.

Is baptism mainly about belonging? About belonging to the faith, tracing back to the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. And about belonging to a church.

But a church that isn’t, in its most pure sense, a building. Church is a people. A disparate and eclectic and imperfect and wonderful people trying to bring about their best version of heaven on earth, while also trying to navigate their own lives, and other peoples lives, and the tricky bit where everything intersects and what do we say, and how do we say it and what happens then?

People are fantastic. I know that I joke that I’m a bit of a misanthrope, but I’m really not. I love people. I like to be challenged and to connect and to question and be questioned, and to spend time with the energy and the ideas and the stimulation of others.

But what I don’t like is to be exposed. And I don’t like the walls to go down too far. Because you can connect with people deeply, and forge friendships and make a pretty good go of life without opening up yourself too much.

I know that some people would say that you can’t, but you can.

But I don’t really think that you can say, in front of a group of people;

I repent of my sins…

I turn to Christ…

I commit myself to God…

Without pretty much exposing yourself completely. Don’t you think?

I’ve read that it’s an ‘outward sign’ of an expression of faith, which immediately puts my back up. Outward sign? What, for other people? An expression of faith for other people to accept?

Or maybe it’s much more than that. It’s about God and I. But I thought God and I were doing pretty well. Will getting baptised cause me to be anything in God that I am not already?

I suppose I’m a bit confused at what it’s all about.

Because it will take a bit of interior realigning for me to get there. Which I can do, of course, but it would take some work.  But doing something just because it’s what people ‘do’ when they are a christian isn’t something that I can connect with on an authentic level.

So what is it all about? Do you think it’s necessary? What does baptism mean to you?

Lenten Aspirations and Really Deep Faith.

I found this list today, recommending several books that would be good for reading and reflection during Lent (well it advocates reading and discussing them but reading and engaging in a robust inner dialogue is just as good, right?).

I love Lent. It’s all about preparation and possibilities and refining. My previous Lenten practise of Veganism is now my normal, so I’ll have to branch out a bit this year. Maybe fasting? I did a three day fast last year and things got a bit profound, actually, in the ‘Whooa, I’m not blogging about this’ kind of way.

I particularly like the look of Sabbath as Resistance; Saying No the the Culture of Now. But the reviews on Amazon seem to indicate that I’ll be stirred to resist multi-tasking and consumerism and I’m not sure whether I want to be challenged in that way right now. Which I know is the whole point but I would like my comfort zone stretched on my own terms, thank you very much (yes, yes. I know).

A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience and The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith look interesting too, although they seem to be of the ‘faith is hard, embrace your doubts, it’s fine, questioning is good’ variety, which I’m a bit ambivalent about to be honest because doubt and I are fine. We’re good. I don’t need to be patted and told it’s OK, because doubt is one of my things.

Which brings me to this quote that I saw yesterday from Flannery O’Conner;
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

I wonder how much faith actually costs most people? I wonder if you are not being challenged and stretched then you’re not doing it properly? And I don’t mean ‘cost’ such as people giggling uncomfortably when they discover that you’re a Christian, or assuming that you’re slightly dim. I mean really going deep. Like this.

Shermer the Splitter

Well, not quite, but a vague Monty Python allusion is always a nice start, don’t you think

This article is interesting. A bit ambiguous; I don’t quite know what’s going on with it, and I can’t seem to find any commentary. Michael Shermer was part of my holy trinity (Shermer, Dawkins and Harris, thanks for asking) back in the day and I have a pile of Skeptic magazines upstairs that are still good if I need to rebut a homoeopath or anti-vaccer.

But is he saying that this was a paranormal experience? In the past he has explained occurrences away with the precise ‘billions of things mean that a coincidence will happen’ explanation that he seems to dismiss in the article. I’m annoyed by the fact that he admits that he would dismiss it out of hand if it had been someone else. YES, WE KNOW. It’s always the skeptics arrogantly telling people that they didn’t have the experience in the way that they think they did because, well, science and the dominant paradigm and all that. But ‘shook my skepticism to its core’. Really? or hyperbole? I’m expecting him to reveal it as a social experiment or similar next week.

The comments aren’t particularly glowing, are they? Skeptics are such poor losers. Much arrogance, many rudeness. It reminds me of when Anthony Flew came out as a Deist in the 2000s. Of course he had to be suffering mental decline, didn’t he? No possibility that his lifetime quest of following where the evidence leads could direct him to belief.

God I sound cranky tonight. I must go and carry some water.

On filler posts and phoning it in.

I’m lucky to have great feedback from my readers. So far never nasty, and if it’s vaguely critical then it’s always constructive (of course even constructive criticism puts me into a decline but that’s my problem to deal with). One thing that I’ve been told several times is that people like this blog because I don’t write ‘filler posts’ and I completely get this. Those of us who are blog lovers can spot a post that has been constructed purely to fulfil a posting target a mile away and I’d rather leave this space quietly percolating for a while than write one.

But then I start to wonder whether my idea of a filler post is different from other peoples and whether my thoughtful musing is another person’s half assed unsubscribe- trigger. And then I wonder (because I wonder a lot, you know) because I’ve essentially blogged only about faith (apparently very honestly; ‘bravely honest’ as I’ve been told which of course puts me in mind of Sir Humphrey Appleby and ‘courageous decisions’) then I’m slightly nervous that if I move off tangentially at times and write about parenting or mental health or my feelings about ereaders (autocorrect just changed that to ‘dreaded’. That’s portentous) or lawnmowers, then the posts might be seen as fillers. Hopefully there’s a difference between a post where I’m just phoning it in and one where I’m heartfelt ( but not earnest because ugh) but maybe not totally in keeping with the title of this blog. So if I do…veer, as it was, them stay with me. I can bring it all back to spirituality if I have to though, in a ‘Thank you god for making this lawn mower work despite the odds, I’m so blessed’ or ‘My ereader stopped working just as I was looking up Matthew 6:13, it was Satan’* because that wouldn’t be contrived or awkward at all. Every one would really dig it if I went it that direction, right?

* funny thing, I had no idea what Matthew 6:13 was I just wrote down the first random thing that came into my head. On looking it up, little freaky.

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Not expired!

Well how about that? I’ve been getting emails from WordPress for a while now telling me that if I didn’t renew my blah blah by blah blah then my website would disappear. And I didn’t really think I could justify the expense given that I barely post so I decide to leave it to see what would happen. And I’m still here!

‘Not paying bills in order to see what happens’ rarely ends this well, I find.

Some things may have disappeared given it’s free wordpress now but it’s nice to see it is still here when I need it.

Guest post- The problem of Evil

I’m excited to present the first guest post here on The Aspirational Agnostic. Jess blogs over at Jesshubbard2014.wordpress.com, and this post includes a quote from one of the best scenes ever from one of the best TV shows ever, so it’s all win here as far as I’m concerned!

 

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No. It does not at all imo. But it is taking me some pretty crazy mental gymnastics to explain why not. I had this way out there thought the other day. I know it’s out there. So I’ll have trouble explaining it.

I don’t have a perfect grasp on what god is. Which doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is a concept people refer to as ‘the problem of evil’.

That means:

How do we reconcile a good, loving, omnipotent god with pain and suffering? This is the single biggest hurdle Christianity in particular has yet to leap. No one’s told me anything close to a decent answer.

So here is what I’ve heard, in short.

1.  Evil has its place. It teaches us good things. True, up to a point.

2.  We wouldn’t know joy absent pain. It’s the classic explanation.

3.  Evil is plain old karma. We earn it. Now that really pisses me off.

4.  We are mere humans. And our little brains could not possibly comprehend God’s master plan. It includes evil. Who are WE to question it? This pisses me off slightly less. I am still uber pissed.

Here’s why none of those answers works for me.

1.  Most of what I’ve learned in life comes from pain. I would not trade my experiences. But guess what – I’m not some kid in Syria.

Catch my drift?

2.  This is a tidy, pat, sneaky little response. It works for the small stuff, like hey, I really appreciate the sunshine because it rained 4 days straight. And people in L.A. probably take sunny for granted.

Great. Try telling that tiny kid in Syria he’s actually super lucky because someday his lungs are going to love not inhaling sarin. Well now. He’s already dead. What is far worse for me, he suffered first.

3.  Are you kidding me? Same problem. Karma works for the small things. What goes around usually comes around. More like always.

Are you seriously telling me all those little children in third world countries we see on Save The Children somehow earned that pain.

It’s impossible to deserve that degree of suffering. You’d have to be Hitler many lifetimes over. There was only one of him. Do the math.

4.  If you accept there’s a god, it’s a safe bet he gave us brains on purpose. If we were not supposed to question things because he didn’t want us to he likely wouldn’t have given us the means to do it. Not to ‘blaspheme’. Whatever that means. But please don’t give me that line about original sin and how us humans ate from a tree of knowledge.

Nice touch blaming Eve by the way.

Also a safe bet this god we believe in who’s way smart would not have made life so confusing that it begs these types of questions.

Part of why number four ticks me off huge is that it is so obviously self-serving from the perspective of institutionalized religions.

Prep yourself for some majorly annoyed cynicism.

Make us feel small so we’ll lose faith in our own ability to find the answers? That’s a pretty damn smart way to keep us coming to church.

Let’s get spoon fed scraps of half-baked consolation from human beings who are no better and (my goodness, hopefully) no worse than the rest of us. Let’s continue to kneel at our man-made altars we’ve built from money in our collection coffers. Which should have been going elsewhere. Like Syria. Let’s use it to pay our deacon his salary?

Great use of resources there, y’all. I’m sure god is totally falling-all-over-himself THRILLED to see us throwing that money at wealthy men who don’t need it to give us answers we should find ourselves.

Excuse me. I think there’s something in the bible about a golden calf.

Relevant quote, and a nod to eastern religion. All religions basically say the same thing at the core – that god is love and that we are too:

When there is no attachment and no spontaneous loving service to the Lord, and one is engaged in the service of the Lord simply out of obedience to the order of the spiritual master [priests, rabbis, imams, gurus] or in pursuance of the scriptures [bibles, torahs, qurans, vedas], such obligatory service is called ‘vaidhi-bhakti’.

– Srila Gurudeva. I’m not a fan of complicated names. But whatever.

I’ve noticed eastern spiritual leaders tend to be far more scrupulous about warning their ‘followers’ against putting them personally on a pedestal and making other humans false gods. Major respect points.

Anyway, I’ll quit dodging. So here’s my half-baked theory.

What if it’s not real?

That’s not an assertion. It’s not even my belief. It’s basically a prayer. For me this is the only thing that makes things like Syria make sense.

I bet survivors of the holocaust are really gonna love me for this one.

Ahem – are you telling me I didn’t suffer? I mean. Like. The holocaust didn’t happen? Really, Jess. Like we haven’t heard THAT one before.

I get it. Maybe it’s not cool to even throw this out there, but I believe in exploring everything. I don’t believe in deciding not to consider an idea just because it very well might be offensive or even dead wrong.

Bear with me please.

All we can be sure of is our own experiences. I know what feels real for me. I don’t know what feels real for you unless you tell me. Even then I’m just taking your word for it. I do not have the slightest clue.

What I do know is that my life, up to this point, has been very hard.

Very hard. I wished I was dead for most of it. It was really that bad.

But it was unequivocally tolerable. I got through all of that pain and I came out stronger. My point is I can reconcile my experience of pain with a good loving god who might be trying to teach me a few things.

I can’t reconcile the love I feel – for me it couldn’t be any more real – with the holocaust. Syria. Torture. Slavery. The pain that breaks us instead of making us at all stronger. This is called senseless suffering.

If you believe what your eyes and ears tell you – there is no getting around the fact that there is an unacceptable amount of senseless suffering in this world. And a good god just would not allow it. And any kind of all-powerful, omnipotent god could make it way better.

You simply cannot explain that away by claiming we brought it all on ourselves. Ok. I might have earned my pain. But you are not going to tell me those other people did. No one could EVER earn a holocaust.

So – what if it’s not real?

A god that was powerful enough to create us is powerful enough to manipulate our reality, to alter our perceptions. He could make us see, and hear, and touch, and feel, and smell any number of experiences that seem very real to us, but maybe exist only in our minds.

Think something along the lines of The Matrix. Except a loving being who cares about us is mostly calling the shots instead of aliens.

If you believe god was powerful enough to create us he is certainly powerful enough to do something like hypothetically pull our souls from our bodies before we endure something like a tragic car crash after which a human ends up dead, but suffers senselessly before it.

That god could make us think other people’s senseless suffering is really happening. We can’t know it is happening for sure if it is not happening to us. And when someone else is in that car it’s flat not.

Trust me. I know this sounds like the worst kind of bury-your-head-in-the-sand, shut-your-eyes-so-it’s-not-real, ivory-tower, insanely- hyper-idealistic wishful thinking. That is not how I want it to sound.

I am just saying otherwise none of this makes any sense to me at all.

So I’m not saying it’s not real. I’m saying it better not be. Please. God.

I am saying:

Dear God. Whatever you are. Please tell me that none of this is real?

 

So here’s an interchange from The West Wing. It’s my fave TV series.

  • Religion is popular CMOA fodder for President Bartlet. Being a devout Catholic, he doesn’t have patience for Strawman Political religious forces. His smackdown to a Dr. Laura-like radio talk show host about her condemnation of homosexuality – using numerous quotes from the Bible and a rather large faux pas she made (‘When the President stands nobody sits’) – works pretty well.
  • (After being distracted from his prepared speech by seeing her in the crowd at a talk radio reception):
  • Jacobs: Ph.D.
  • Bartlet: In Psychology? … Theology? … Social work?
  • Bartlet: I’m asking, because on your show people call in for advice and you go by the name Dr. Jacobs. Am I correct? So I didn’t know if maybe your listeners were a bit confused by that, and assumed you had advanced training in psychology theology or health care.
  • Jacobs: I don’t believe they are confused. No sir.
  • Bartlet: Good. I like your show. I especially like how you call homosexuality an ‘abomination’.
  • Jacobs: I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.
  • Bartlet: Yes, it does. Leviticus.
  • Jacobs: 18:22.
  • .
  • Bartlet: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? (Pause) While you’re thinking about that, can I ask you another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important, because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side. Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads. Think about those questions, would you? One last thing. While you may be mistaking this event for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in my White House – when the president stands, nobody sits.

How is that for some serious smack down. Maybe learn those by heart and use ’em next time you’re talking to a close-minded fool.

Sunday 4am.

This morning, I sat outside at 4 am and everything was completely, almost mystically still. Absolutely quiet; surreally so. I expected to see Daliesque clocks hanging off the gumtrees in the moonlight. No wind, just a curiously light night time word, filled with stars and quiet.

Some times, some moments, it’s difficult to find the profound and the spiritual.

this was not one of those times.

************

I had been inexplicably thinking of the Poet Kevin Hart all night, so on coming inside I pulled out one his books and found this, which is kind of perfect right now.

 

Prayer

Master of light, my God,

Before whom starts tremble

And fall into themselves,

 

Who glows within each thing

Beyond reach of language

And deeper than silence,

 

Who passes through the dark

That draws us towards death

And makes it one with you,

 

Whose light is everywhere

Wherein I stand and see

My shadow disappear.

 

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