He Makes My Heart Sing

Somali Ollie
He was a rescue cat from Petco who, along with his siblings, was abandoned on the side of the Detroit Lakes highway, so his rescuers called him Detroit Tony. I wanted him from the start, but Peggy insisted that we check-out the cats at the Greenhill shelter first. When nothing there interested her, we set out on the long drive back across town to get Tony (we renamed him Ollie). I was in fear the whole way that he would be gone, and he would have been had another couple's application been accepted. My heart not only sings but dances every time I look at that cat. To me, he's the most beautiful thing in the universe (except for Peggy, of course), and you really must click on his photo.

Peggy and I agree that two cats are enough--we wouldn't even have two had I not begged and pleaded for years--but I can't look at cats "just for fun" without finding one I want. I found my most recent love last week in the form of a long-haired and happily playful black female who was the same age (ten months) and diminutive size as Ollie and even had his eyes. Without Peggy to restrain me, I would have gotten that cat, and this troubles Peggy more than a little. I know we don't need a third cat because the two we have couldn't be more in love, and a third cat might cause jealousy, but I still wish I had that black cat. When I see a cat I want, it's as if we were intended to be together since the first millisecond of the Big Bang.

At least, I'm satisfied with just having cats, while Peggy so misses the effusive adoration of dogs that our two-pet limit would go right down the toilet if she ever came across a miniature white rescue poodle. All that such a dog would need to do would be to stare into her face with its warm little eyes while shaking its ugly little tail, and she would do everything short of kneeling before me in tears as she pleaded, "I know we agreed that two pets is enough, but..." The sad truth is that it's much harder for me to say no to Peggy than for her to say no to me. While I know that a dog would, just by nature of being a dog, come between us and our cats, I also know that if Peggy wanted a dog and didn't get it because I said no, she would never get over thinking about how wonderful her life might have been had I said yes.

Our next to last dog was a pet shop blue heeler, which I didn't want because I believed it came from a puppy mill, but right after assuring me that she would graciously honor my wishes, she said under her breath, "I WANT THAT DOG." It was the first time that her heart had opened to any dog in the years since our schnauzer, Wendy, died, so the pressure was more than I could bear. She later told me that she didn't even know she said such a thing, and I believed her, but it was those barely audible four words that made it impossible for me to say no. I don't know why she's tougher than I about saying no to her spouse. I think it might have something to do with gender, but I don't see it as having anything to do with love. Still, I really and truly and deeply wanted that black cat, and she's the reason I don't have it.

What is the difference between killing animals for fun and killing them because they taste good?


I don’t know who added the words to the photo, but it was taken in Vietnam in 2011 by Graham Lavery who left the pleading kitten to die. Among the reasons he gave was that the rights of animals should be left to human preference and convenience. Specifically: “Does rescuing it jive with the ethics and practices of the local people (it is their country after all)?”

Lavery’s explanation put me in mind of Michael Vick, a football player who got in trouble for dogfighting, also in 2011. Before realizing that his career would be over if he didn’t apologize, Vick said: “Yeah, fine, I killed the dogs. I hung them. I slammed them. I killed all of them. I lost fucking millions, all over some fucking dogs.” (He also killed dogs and other animals by drowning, hanging, electrocution, and bludgeoning with shovels.)

What most caught my attention about the Vick case wasn’t just his insatiable sadism, but that his defenders were fellow blacks who argued that his behavior should be excused, if not respected, on the grounds of cultural diversity: 

Jamie Foxx: “It’s a cultural thing... Mike probably just didn’t read his handbook on what not to do as a black star. I know that cruelty to animals is bad, but sometimes people shoot people and kill people and don’t get time.”  

Whoopi Goldberg: “He's from the South, from the Deep South ... This is part of his cultural upbringing…” (Vick isn’t from the Deep South but from coastal Virginia. I spent 36 years in the Deep South, and I was friends with many blacks, yet I never even heard of anyone holding a dog fight.)

Spike Lee: The boycott of Michael Vick’s clothing line is “…yet another example of white racism in the United States, where black people aren't allowed to get ahead.”

Steeler’s coach Michael Tomlin: “Yeah, those things that he has gone through are tough. Picking a dog up over your head and slamming it to the ground repeatedly until it takes its last breath can really take a lot out of a man.”

Others argued that once Vick apologized, the public should forgive him, but how can the human public forgive someone for crimes against the nonhuman public? A black boxer said, “it’s not like Vick killed humans” (maybe the boxer didn’t know that the abuse of black people was once justified on the basis of their “subhuman” status).

How is it that these black celebrities are blind to the fact that pathological sadism expands to include all species, including their own? Likewise, how is it that people like Graham Lavery can fail to see that the callous denial of rights to other animals is one with the callous denial of rights to humans, apathy and cruelty not being limited to only some species. 

The defenders of Lavery and Vick agree that the rights of animals should be relegated to human preference, and nearly all of the human race agrees with them. Sure, few of us torture animals for entertainment, but neither do we want to know how the animals we eat were raised and slaughtered, nor do we care to reflect upon the fact that we don’t need to eat them at all. Why is it wrong to kill animals for fun, but okay to raise them in misery in dark warehouses and then slaughter them like so many Jews in a Nazi camp simply because we like the way they taste? In considering the rights of other animals, why is it that the key consideration is that they belong to other species rather than that they share our species’ capacity to experience loneliness, sadness, terror and pain? How can we regard ourselves as either fair or compassionate if we willingly support unnecessary misery? Yet, we not only do this, we dismiss vegans and even partial vegetarians as self-righteous prigs. 

Our denial of rights to animals is one of the reasons that I hold myself and my species in contempt. I have never once gone to bed at night knowing that I spent my day doing all the good that I might have done. My friend, Jodi, is probably the only person I have ever known who even might make such a claim: http://catwomanflix.blogspot.com/, and she is consequently impoverished and despised. The only good that people receive praise for is the good they do for humans, and even these people are often hated because they shine a light upon the mean, petty, and inconsequential lives of their fellows. 

Before the concept of sin started to go out of vogue, Episcopalians used to recite the following in preparation for communion:

“We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.”

Like I, Peggy is an atheist, but we differ in that guilt has no place in her life. She labels herself a responsible hedonist, which means that she finds meaning in pleasure tempered by integrity. I’m struck by what I regard as the shallowness of hedonism, my own meaning being to think, observe, search, and examine. Peggy might well ask what good this has done me, and I have no answer except to say that we are as we are—which is probably how we have always been—and that we could not have been otherwise.

But are the values of people like Lavery or Vick also unalterable? If they are, then there is no turning away from evil. When I examine my own life, it would appear that what I am is a necessary progression from what I was, but if this is true of everyone, the Vicks of the world will always get-off on torturing animals (and people too when they can get away with it), and the Laverys will always relegate the treatment of animals to local preference rather than fairness and compassion (the result of this attitude in my own country is factory farming, as well as the annual suffering and death of millions of unwanted dogs and cats even while breeders crank out expensive and genetically inferior pedigrees). 

What bothers me most about such people is that I’m a member of the same species. When I reflect upon the Christian concept of original sin, I conclude that it is real, and that it consists of being born into a species that is so deeply flawed that there is no limit to the suffering that we willingly impose for reasons of greed and pleasure, even to the point of driving species after species into extinction, and ultimately making the earth unlivable. Such are my people, and such am I. If there is any good that comes from my reflections, it is the humility of knowing that truly evil people aren’t separated from me by kind but by degree.

A lifelong dog person reflects on having cats

First, the things I hate about having cats:
Sometimes, they won’t stay in bed with Peggy and me for our morning cuddle, but as soon as we get out, they get in.
They enjoy killing houseplants, and I have forty houseplants.
At nearly nine months of age, Ollie is still “nursing” on Brewsky, which would be bad enough even if he didn’t slurp.

The trust of a cat seems tenuous compared to the trust of a dog.

They sometimes duck and run when I try to pet them.

They roughhouse with one another, but they won’t roughhouse with me. 

Things I love about having cats:

They usually stay in bed with us while Peggy and I are having our morning cuddle. First, they bathe one another—often at the same timeand then they nap with their legs and tails entwined.

Brewsky lies on his back and stretches his legs straight out when he wants to be petted.

Brewsky has spots on his stomach, and his stripes show perfect symmetry.

Watching them roughhouse. They’re so rough that it worries Peggy, but I’ve come to trust that, despite their screams, they’re not murdering one another.

Their loud and beautiful purrs.

The sweetness of having Brewsky press his face into my side at the vet’s.

Ollie’s best feature is that his nose and mouth pooches out, and Brewsky’s best feature is his large eyes. 

Theyre self-cleaning.

They never bite or scratch people.

Brewsky likes to lie with his front legs crossed, and Ollie likes to sit with his front legs draped over the left arm of an office chair.

When we got Ollie last October, he was three months old and weighed less than three pounds. Brewsky was five years old, weighed 15-pounds, and was an indoor cat who hadn’t lived with other cats. Ignoring the book advice about gradual introductions, we put Ollie’s kennel on the kitchen floor and opened the door. He immediately ran up to Brewsky and started smelling him from bow to stern while Brewsky looked like he didn’t know whether to run away or kill a kitten. After a long moment, he performed his own odor exam, and then started bathing Ollie. Peggy and I were almost too joyous to contain ourselves because we knew that living with two cats was going to be good.

They’re happy being indoor cats because that’s all they’ve never known. (Outdoor cats are devastating to wildlife, and their lifespan is half that of indoor cats.)

Ollie is still a house-wrecking teenager, but Brewsky is so considerate that I can’t remember the last time I had a problem with him. Ah, but when he was an adolescent, he was willful, sneaky, and stubborn. He would also ambush Peggy and bite her legs hard enough to draw blood. Since we had previously been dog people, we didn’t know but what he would always be that way.

When I’m having my computer time in the morning, I pull Peggy’s chair next to mine and put my bed pillow in it so Ollie can nap beside me. The problem is that he likes to write, so he’ll get in my lap, look at the monitor (he’s a touch typist), and start writing indecipherable doggerel.

When I’m baking, Brewsky will sit and stare into my face. I know he wants a treat, but Ollie gets just as many treats as he without watching me with an expression that looks like love.
Ollie is a small cat with a comically long tail, and I love that tail. I also love looking at four pointed ears when he and Brewsky are cuddling. 

Cats, like dogs, are forgiving creatures. For example, when I step on their tails, or worse yet, their feet, they might run a few feet, but they stop to be comforted when I call them.

Last night, Peggy and I watched a National Geographic documentary about cats, and our cats took such an interest in the show that they watched much of it with us. 

I’m both saddened and touched by how much they miss me when I'm gone. Unfortunately for Peggy, this means that Ollie cries and jumps on her back. Twice, when she and I were away overnight, Brewsky knocked the same peace lily off the refrigerator.

Just as my cats miss me, I miss them. Even when we’re apart for a few hours, I look forward to them greeting me at the door when I come home. If cats were really as aloof as they’re portrayed, I wouldn’t want cats.

When something frightens Brewsky, he looks into my face for reassurance. He and I have a very strong bond, while my bond with Ollie is still growing. For example, a few days ago, Ollie jumped for a shelf, but only his front legs reached it, so as he hung there in wide-eyed desperation, I gently lifted him onto the shelf and petted him. It was partially the accumulation of such acts that bonded Brewsky to me. Dogs just naturally trust people, but it takes effort with a cat.

Ollie is still young enough that he likes to help me with handyman projects. I consider this an utter delight unless it’s a painting project.

I love listening to the sound of running feet when the cats chase one another through the house at night.

Peggy is phobic of spiders, and the cats like to kill spiders (much to Peggy’s displeasure, they also like to dismember them).

I never have to take my cats walking in the Oregon drizzle, and they would think I had lost my mind if I tried.

Ollie often makes things go bump in the night, and Peggy and I get to figure out what he “bumped” (she would put this under hates rather than loves). 

Brewsky's every emotion is written on his face. What a joy to be with a creature who's completely present and totally open!

I love it that the four of us make a happy family in which everyone is devoted to everyone else.

A spur of the moment post

I’m going to write what almost amounts to a short summary of my last post because I very much want to get my point across, although the scant response to that post suggests that some readers tire of the subject, while others simply won’t read such a long post. So…

I’ve written much of my admiration for the writer Margaret Deland (1857-1945). She was raised a hardcore Calvinist Presbyterian (a viciously cruel sect that, like my own boyhood church, I would label as child abuse), but married a Unitarian, and the two of them eventually became liberal Bostonian Episcopalians. One day during church, it came upon Margaret that she no longer believed any of the central doctrines of Christianity, and this led her to walk out of the service. Having thus discarded religion as the foundation of her life, she became obsessed with the question of how to survive in a world that contains both love and death.

This is also my challenge. Without love, I suppose I would kill myself, but with love comes such pain that I can’t see my way to survive it because I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd. Margaret means a lot to me, not because she found answers that I can accept, but because she struggled with the same question, a question that partially erases the chasm of the 140 years that have passed since she asked it.

I try very hard to understand how people can believe in God in order that I too might believe, yet I know that belief isn’t based upon verifiable evidence, and this makes it untenable for me. Just as believers sometimes suspect that I really do believe—based upon my inability to walk away from religion—I suspect that they don’t, or else they wouldn’t be forever “praying for faith,” going through “crises of faith,” and experiencing “dark nights of the soul,” terms that would seem to imply a hell-bent determination to believe that which one knows isn’t true. I cannot imagine that a person who thinks deeply can be a believer. Rather, I think it requires putting a brake upon one’s thoughts, only how can any intelligent person do so?

But don’t atheists don’t do the same thing? Just as believers set their face toward ignoring doubts about God, is it not true that atheists tend to ignore doubts about whether humanism justifies existence? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but perhaps he was wrong, and it’s the superficial life toward which we should aim. Otherwise, why would those believers and atheists who imagine themselves happier than I, tell me that my problem is that I think too much. Think too much?! Can it really be that a good life depends upon floating on the mind’s surface, because to dive into the depths is to trade light and warmth for frigidity and death? Such observations as I have been able to make would seem to suggest that it is so. But what then, does our choice come down to buying happiness at the expense of intellectual integrity?

This is where I get stumped. Namely, do we have a moral right to be shallow, if not outright dishonest, with ourselves, in the pursuit of happiness? I just know that I can’t do it. You could entice me with money, or you could beat with a rod, and I still couldn’t pull it off, yet it would be senseless for me to boast of my integrity when I’m only doing that for which I have no choice.

While it’s true that one can live a good life without God—that is, a life of kindness and caring—this doesn’t resolve the dilemma but rather accentuates the fact that love exists against a background of eternal non-existence that swallows-up both the love and the belovèd. It is therefore true that love gives limited meaning to life even while accentuating the ultimate futility of life, and of what comfort is this?

In a very deep sense, it’s true that I am religious because of my view that only religion can give a foundation to life. I was taught this from my earliest awareness, and it is, perhaps, the only part of what I was taught that I cannot abandon because while I can laugh about whether God cares about baptism by immersion, or whether women should remain silent in church, I can’t laugh about whether God represents the only eternal meaning to life, and, yes, eternity matters to me, deeply. Despite what religious people think, this is not a common sentiment among atheists, but it is who I am. While most atheists view religion as a disease to be cured, I view it as the sine qua non of life, yet I can’t embrace it, and the efforts of religious people to help me only accentuate the gulf between us.

Talks with Pauline

Grandpa and Great Grandpa, Church of Christ preachers
I’ve been blessed of late to make a new friend, Pauline, the chaplain who is teaching my class entitled “Grief, Loss, and Peace.” I never anticipate becoming friends with clergy because they’re spread too thin socially, but Pauline has shown herself open, and I have responded in kind. In what you are about to read, I only quote from her last letter in order to introduce my own thoughts, and this makes it appear that she had little to say when, in fact, she had a great deal to say, but to quote it all would double the size of this post.

PAULINE: “I wondered how God could possibly exist. After living with that question for the better part of the year, I decided that it was impossible for God NOT to exist.

ME: Perhaps you’ll agree that God’s existence isn’t something that a person can give convincing proof for, which makes belief a matter of personal experience or the acceptance of authority. As for myself, the more I thought about the same question, the less likely God’s existence seemed. First, there was the absence of evidence, and second there were the contradictions between the universe being governed by a God of love and the misery which surrounds us. Father Brent says that he never experiences God, yet he’s both devout, and attentive to living a life of love and giving. Since the only way I could believe in God would be through personal experience, I can’t understand how someone like Brent carries on.

PAULINE: That year taught me that God is playful with a sense of humor!

ME: I’m astounded by your claim that God could laugh while so many are suffering, many of them due to God’s failures. After all, God could speak to us from the sky or within our hearts in such a way that we would all know what was expected of us, but God didn’t, so even as I write, there are people who are killing and torturing other people in order to please God! Surely, a good God would want to correct this situation, and wouldn’t find laughter appropriate in the face of suffering that he caused and could easily eliminate. Being God, God could make a world in which everyone enjoyed everything that was good without anyone ever experiencing anything bad.

PAULINE: I was in a Baptist college feeling rebellious about God, and, the dorm girls elected me to be their chaplain.

ME: I’ve been a chaplain in lodges, and since I grew up with good men who were ministers, I still have a slight regard for the ministry that I don’t believe is justified by the evidence. I have a similar respect for medical doctors, although I’ve seen enough of them to know that they’re like the people in every other trade or profession in that half of them are, by definition, below average. It’s people who warrant respect, not their job descriptions, and I no longer believe that most ministers are either good people or good ministers. Still, a good minister is a blessing that is to be cherished and supported even by me, an atheist.

PAULINE: Now, I see faith as that which allows the head to accept what the heart knows.

ME: I am honored that you share this, but please understand that our views are very different and are likely to remain so. In particular, this statement makes no sense to me since those who say it so often contradict one another. If God communicates through people’s “heart,” then surely the hearts of believers would be as one.

PAULINE: And since I was 7 years old, I did indeed "know in my heart" that Jesus, that God, loved me.  Even when my intellect doubted and put God on trial.”

ME: I never knew such a thing, although I wanted to know it. My earliest memories of God are of cowering under the bed to get away from him after a fire and brimstone sermon. On one occasion, Dad and I stayed home from church and were playing checkers while a hard rain fell outside, and I became convinced that God was going to drown us for skipping church. When I was twelve, I cursed God for not revealing himself to me, became convinced that I had committed the unpardonable sin, and lived in morbid fear throughout most of my teen years. My thoughts of God were a mixture of terror and hatred, and the less I believed he existed, the more the hatred could appear. My sister, Anne, still thinks that it’s not God in whom I don’t believe, but rather the cruel and depraved God of my childhood, but this is not true because the reality I see around me leaves no room for any just and compassionate deity.

PAULINE: Now -- I firmly hold that God is love.  Pure love.  And that when this life is over, we'll discover that he loves all people so much that no one will be exiled to that place called "hell".

ME: There is no way that a deity can make up for injustice on earth except to not allow that injustice to occur. In other words, if a child is subjected to war and starvation, lives a life of hopelessness and terror, and dies at age seven from malnutrition, sarin gas, or a barrel bomb, there’s no way to make that right because it never should have happened. Yet, this is not what the Bible teaches. God allowed Satan to take everything from Job, but since God gave Job more than he originally had, justice was supposedly done, but justice would have required that Job never would have suffered. God’s view is like that of our judicial system in which if someone kills your child, the court might award you a huge financial settlement, but this isn’t justice, it’s the replacing of something of supreme value with something of far lesser value. Perhaps, you believe that suffering comes with a lesson, but if God is indeed all-powerful, he could instill us with every lesson he wants us to know, but without causing us to suffer. It’s also true that suffering doesn’t always come with a lesson, and while it can strengthen a person, it can also break and destroy him, this through no fault of his own. Christians are fond of saying that God never gives us more that we can handle, yet people blow their brains out everyday because they can no longer bear their misery; and what lesson is learned by a toddler whose short life consists of sexual torture followed by death with a blowtorch (a man in Cottage Grove was recently arrested for burning a three-year old's genitals)? How can the concept of a truly good and all-powerful God be reconciled with injustices so enormous that a person is rendered speechless upon hearing of them?

PAULINE: Even in my teen years, I felt set apart by God, for God.

ME: I just felt mad, yet I tried desperately to believe because I so wanted to replace my hatred of God with love. I prayed fervently for something, anything, that would allow me to believe. With my eyes closed, I would open my Bible and point to a verse that I hoped would constitute a message, but I so rarely hit upon a verse that  applied to me that I couldn’t trust it when one did, and so I only became more cynical. I often walked to a graveyard near my house and prayed to a large concrete statue of Jesus, but I never felt God’s presence. No matter what I did, he wasn’t there for me. Still, I preached sermonettes, and I even improvised a pulpit in my backyard, decorated it with wisteria, and preached to the neighborhood kids. I accompanied preachers on revivals to distant states; studied my Bible thoroughly; and built my social life around the church. When I got to college, I took classes in Bible and theology; visited over 50 denominations and one synagogue in my search for one that I could believe in; and went door-to-door with some Jehovah’s Witnesses who were trying to start the area’s first Kingdom Hall (my Church of Christ preacher put an end to that). Yet, after age eleven (when I read that God commanded the Israelite army to commit murder and rape), my faith was at best hovering over the toilet, and much of the time, it was desperately struggling to climb out of the toilet.

ME: On one occasion, I optimistically tried to liberate the Church of Christ by writing essays for its newsletter, but my essays weren’t printed, and when I stopped attending church at age nineteen, no one asked why I left, and people who had been my lifelong friends would glare at me without speaking when we chanced to meet. Yet, what had I done but to give up trying to believe that God gave a rip as to whether the Church of Christ used a piano, or baptized by immersion, or had weekly communion, or forbade women to speak in church? I likewise gave up the belief that God would send all of us to an eternal fiery hell if we got even the tiniest commandment wrong, there being nothing trivial to the Church of Christ. Any deviation from its teachings was said to come from the sin of willful rebellion, the very sin that Satan committed and had caused a war in heaven. As the Church of Christ saw it, there were but two ways: its way (which was God’s way) and the road to eternal hell, with nearly everyone on earth choosing the latter because they were in league with Satan and therefore in rebellion against the commandments of the “Most High,” commandments so simple that “even a child could understand them.”

ME: Your belief that God has a sense of humor is appalling to me in light of the way his people have treated me. I was once struck on the head when I wouldn’t stand when the district attorney led the Grand Jury that I was on in prayer, and I’ve also been cursed and had people flip me the bird because I didn’t worship their God of love. I also know of people who have been run out of their homes because they were atheists, yet the worst that we suffer in America is nothing compared to atheist bloggers in the Middle East being beheaded, hacked to death with machetes, or imprisoned for decades, this for writing things that were less critical of religion than what I have written for years. I never have much confidence that the day won’t come when I too might be in danger, and that day draws nearer every time a Republican is elected to office because Republicans would take their version of sharia law and impose it on us all.

ME: In a sense, the entire human race is in Auschwitz. Sure, most of us—in this country anyway—have enough to eat, yet we are surrounded by misery and death, in the presence of which Christians would hold that the love and guidance of their Supreme Being is available to anyone who asks for it, but for how many decades is a person expected to ask when he gets absolutely no answer regardless of how desperate he becomes? If God is such a great lover that he personally died for us (that’s a hard one to get my mind around!), why doesn’t he love and guide me, and why doesn’t he tell those millions of fanatical Moslems that he really doesn’t approve of honor killings, genital mutilation, car bombs, gas attacks, the rape of “spoils of war,” and knife beheadings on YouTube? Do those who do these things not also think they’re under the guidance of God?

ME: My first college was run by Independent Methodists, and most of the Methodist students planned to go into the ministry, but they weren’t necessarily religious, so I got along with everyone. We had compulsory chapel, and there would often be an invitational given, so I would regularly go down to the altar to renew my “dedication to Christ.” Dr. Howard, my theology professor would always meet me there, and look disappointed because he could see in my eyes that I didn’t believe. No matter how much I wanted to believe, I couldn’t, yet Dr. Howard blamed me for my unbelief, but what was behind his disappointment? Was it that I couldn’t get God’s “plan for salvation” right, or because I didn’t want to believe badly enough, or because I committed the “unpardonable sin” at age twelve and was eternally damned? Clearly, he—like my former blogger friend, Joseph—felt that I was to blame for not believing because that’s what he had to do in order to maintain his own beliefs. Joseph could only hurt me because no matter how hard I tried to communicate the truth about myself, he, like Dr. Howard, didn’t believe me because he couldn’t allow himself to believe me without throwing his own beliefs into doubt. Like Dr. Howard, he said I was too proud and too arrogant to open my heart to God, and he continued to maintain this no matter how desperately and for how long I told him that I wanted to believe. His position was tantamount to calling me a liar, and when he said that he thought that people like myself shouldn’t be allowed to spread “atheist lies,” I pictured him holding a machete, death being the only sure way to silence people like myself. The faith that you obtained so easily, I have spent decades trying to achieve, and I simply can’t do it. This raises, in my mind, the question of how you can.

ME: I can but assume that, for whatever the reason, there is something different about the brains of believers versus those of nonbelievers because how else can people believe so strongly in that for which they cannot offer a smidgen of evidence, and which seems utterly absurd to people like myself. Rationally speaking, I cannot see the difference in believing in Jesus and believing in leprechauns. Sure, a lot more people believe in the former than in the latter, but this suggests nothing to me regarding the reality of the former.

PAULINE: Those were the years (1969-early 70's) when culture was fascinated with transcendentalism and the metaphysical, and the simplicity of "hippy" life.”

ME: I read Alan Watts and Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, in the hope that, even if I couldn’t be a Christian, I could at least be something, but it all rang so hollow to me that I was eventually forced to admit that I was only pretending to believe any of it.

PAULINE: I resented for many years the judgmentalism of the Baptist tradition in which I was raised.

ME: What kind of Baptist were you? In my area, nearly everyone was Southern Baptist with most people who weren’t Southern Baptists being Church of Christ (my church) with the role-call of churches going downhill from there. The C of C was more conservative than the Southern Baptist, and even taught that the Baptists (along with everyone else on earth who didn’t belong to the Church of Christ) were going to hell because “they followed the ways of men instead of the clear commandments of the eternal God.” Since it was Baptists who controlled the elections in Mississippi, it was Baptists who didn’t repeal prohibition until I was finishing high school (I never actually graduated), and it was Baptists who, at the same time they voted for prohibition, allowed bootleggers to sell their wares openly right there in town. The advantage—or so it seemed when I was a teenager—of bootleggers was that they didn’t care who they sold to, so every weekend, my young friends and I would go to some bootlegger’s house, tell him how many fifths we wanted (the bootleggers in my area didn’t make moonshine; they imported brand name liquor from Louisiana), and then drive around, drunk out of our minds. The next day, I wouldn’t remember who I had been with; I would just observe that my car was filled with empty bottles and puke. I don’t know how many young men—and one young woman—died in car wrecks while I was in high school in that “sleepy Southern town” town of 12,000 people. Many of these kids died drunk, yet no effort was ever make to clean the town of white bootleggers—the black ones didn’t fare so well. Such were the values of Baptists.

PAULINE: My folks were not so rigid, fortunately.

ME: Mine weren’t either. My mother feared God so much that she wanted to think of herself as religious, but she only attended church sporadically and took no interest in anything related to religion. My father flip-flopped between being religious and being an atheist. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade because he wouldn’t let a teacher spank him for fighting, so his reading skills were poor, but I can picture him sitting up in bed at night, running his finger along the page and mouthing the words as he struggled to make sense of his King James Bible. Dad was morbidly shy, a transexual and a trans-dresser before it was cool, had a personality disorder, had severe anger issues, and possessed few social skills, all of which left him socially isolated despite his pathetic efforts to make friends. My father’s life alone is reason enough to reject the concept of a compassionate God, because Dad surely never received compassion from God or from Christians, but was instead met with scorn, rejection, and loneliness. He finally became so weird around religion that he would tell Peggy and me over breakfast (he came to live with us when he could no longer live alone) what God had told him during the night. He then started giving cards to strangers that contained his name and address, and identified him as a “Prophet of God.” He told everyone to whom he witnessed that they were to come to our house if they needed anything (we immediately told him that we weren’t okay with that, so he stopped doing it).

ME: Dad’s second biggest problem regarding religion (I’m coming to the first) was that he decided that God favored the King James version of the Bible and would send anyone to hell who didn’t use it. To convey this important message, Dad would interrupt services in the various Churches of Christ he visited, and tell them that God wanted them to throw away their other Bibles. This made him instantly unwelcome since these churches had no compassion for the mentally ill, at least for the ones who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. What he did that brought Peggy and me the most pain was to enter sweepstakes, and be informed by God that he had won. When he didn’t win, he would explain that God had postponed him getting the money because he had failed to persuade the Church of Christ to use the King James Bible.

PAULINE: Having friends who are "open-minded theologians" who believe God will gather everyone into his kingdom…

ME: I know that there are Christians whose hearts are open to atheists, but my experience has been that those who are open to religious views other than their own nearly always maintain that atheists are undeserving of anything more than a brief and awkward show of politeness. This has created in me a suspicion of religious people because I don’t always see their bigotry until I’ve known them for awhile. For instance, it’s not uncommon for atheists to hear such things as, “You’re not like other atheists,” or “You’re too sensitive to be a real atheist,” this from people whom the atheist had considered a friend. To understand how such things feel to atheists, substitute the word black for the word atheist: “You’re not like other black people,” or “You’re too sensitive (or intelligent) to be all black.” Such statements are also why I so value those few religious people with whom I’ve been friends for a long time. I can accept a certain amount of suspicion on their part, but I also need to trust that, if I hang in there, they will eventually see me as a person and not a hated category. Sometimes, as with my blog friend, Joseph, I end up feeling like a moron because I gave someone my trust. I tell myself that I should have seen it coming, and that I should be more careful next time; basically that I made a mistake that requires me to hold religious people at arms’ length until I’ve known them for a very long time. Such feelings are like poison, but they’re impossible to dismiss because no one likes to be kicked in the teeth because he opened his heart to someone who claims to worship a God of Love, but is not himself loving except to those who agree with him.

PAULINE: I often find that even the most "dogmatic" often have holes in their armor, vulnerabilities, doubts, and woundedness that they try to hide.

ME: I wonder which religious people are more solid in their faith, the hardcore dogmatists or the liberals. It’s often true that those who profess the most rabid hatred for gay people score highest on tests of homoeroticism. In the case of religious dogmatists, could it not be that their rigidity is likewise built upon a fear of finding within themselves the very thing they most hate; and that in persecuting those who disagree, they’re really trying to destroy their own doubts? I suspected as much of Joseph, because no matter how hard I tried to reach him, he never came a hair’s width closer to understanding anything about me. I reflected that, since he had said that his primary reason for belief is that he couldn’t face life without it, he had strong grounds for closing himself off from me, although doing so implied weakness rather than strength, this from a man who described himself on one occasion as a wall and on another as a rock.

The four of us

I’ve been awfully sick of late. I finally went to the doctor on Thursday and took the following list of symptoms. The list also included some things I’m doing to better deal with the pain because I’m absolutely on the edge of falling apart at times. It’s a little hard for me to share the following because it’s so personal, but I’m not going to let embarrassment about who I am and how I deal with things inhibit my free expression. For one thing, I almost never get anything but positive reactions on this blog no matter what I post, and for another, I know that when people react negatively to what I share, it tells me more about who they are than who I am. I know that most of you are more reticent than I, and that’s fine, but if you’re coming here, you’re obviously open to me being different. I can’t even tell you why I’m different, and I don’t care enough to think about it because I accept myself this way, and I know that all of my regular readers do too. You guys are among my best friends.

As for the doctor, he looked at the list, complimented me on the things I’m doing, and said he was going to run tests on me for everything but pregnancy. I’ve haven’t gotten the results yet because I couldn’t get the tests done until yesterday—Friday. My doctor, Kirk, is but four months younger than my age of 67 (my birthday is in March, and his in July), and I worry about him because he’s looking feeble. I love and respect Kirk to the point that if he ever needed anything, I would be there for him if I could. There are few blessings in life that are better than a good relationship with a doctor, and few curses that are worse than a bad one. I’ve had doctors I adored, and I’ve had doctors I wanted to shoot because when youre hurting, scared, and vulnerable, and your doctor is uncaring or incompetent, the former constitutes a betrayal that you never forget, and the latter can kill you. But enough. Here’s my list:

Trembling of fingers

Difficulty keeping feet still

Muscular tension that I have no ability to control for more than a few moments at a time




Anxiety and despair focused upon my seemingly hopeless and ever-escalating downhill slide coupled with worries about Peggy’s eventual death, our sick cat, earthquakes, crime, the world situation, etc.

Difficulty concentrating

Poor appetite

Feeling too hot one minute and too cold the next

Ten pound weight loss over ten days starting on Monday a week ago

Constipation when I take oxycodone, diarrhea when I don’t

Continuing pain in mid to upper back, both shoulders, and both knees all of which are sufficiently severe to keep me awake and make adequate exercise impossible

Back pain frequently so severe that I often find it hard to think about anything else

Increasing difficulty staying out of bed. Spent most of every day and night in bed last week, but am now able to be up, although I feel fragile and exhausted

Lack the strength to carry on usual activities, have any sort of a social life, or handle life’s common stresses

First time onset of what I assume are pollen allergies, as evidenced by sore throat and scratchy sinuses


Go to Sacred Heart Sleep Clinic tomorrow for office visit re-evaluation of BiPap settings

Start a 15-hour “Live Well with Chronic Pain” class on Monday

Start a 12-hour “Grief, Loss, and Peace” class on Wednesday

Lose another 10-pounds to hopefully avoid knee replacements

Ask you for a prescription for—and a medical certificate of necessity for a new TENS unit because Empi, the manufacturer of the old one, went out of business, so I can't get pads.

Re-visit my pain specialist on April 26 (his efforts at alleviating back pain have thus far been of little benefit, but he has had some luck with my knees).

I should add that Peggy and Brewsky aren’t doing well either. Peggy has a severe iron deficiency problem (not that it’s slowing her active lifestyle down much), so she too is having some tests done. As for Brewsky, his bladder problem is so bad that I wouldn't be surprised if it killed him. Right now, he’s on Valium, and talk about strange! He’s going around doing things he just never does. For instance, getting into the bathtub, jumping up on the kitchen countertop, and pacing the house with a look in his eyes that says, “Who am I? Where am I? When Peggy was a teenager, doctors tended to think that every complaint a female adolescent had called for Valium, and Peggy quickly came to love the drug, so she keeps threatening to take Brewsky’s. I said to her, “I guess a woman knows she has a drug problem when she starts stealing her cat’s medication.” I should add that she didn’t really mean it. As for Ollie, he’s eight months old, and and driving the rest of us crazy by running around like a cat who’s had way too much coffee. 

Anything but a friendly letter

Was winning at football what Jesus had in mind?
I was sipping Yellow Tail Shiraz and doing yardwork yesterday, and the wine put me in mind of my Australian friends, Kylie and Elephant’s Child. When I later found four dead gnats floating in my glass, I thought of my vegan friend, All Consuming. Specifically, I wondered if a vegan would, for reasons of veganism alone, avoid swallowing dead bugs. After all, lots of foods contain bugs—flour and peanut butter, for example—making pure veganism a practical impossibility. It then occurred to me that my dead gnats were like roadkill in that their deaths were an accident, and I knew that, as one who avoids meat, I wouldn’t eat road-kill, because vegetarianism isn’t just about health, compassion, and environmental concern; it’s also about aesthetics, and dead critters are gross.

A little later, I was running a square-pointed shovel along the curb to rescue earthworms that had been stranded by a week of hard rain. When a neighbor walked by, I told her what I was doing, and, completely free of charge, gave her a little speech about how a human life is worth no more—if as much—as an earthworm’s life, because we humans have to destroy other lives in order to live, whereas earthworms are a friend to everyone. 

People look at me funny when I say things like that. If they respond at all, they mention our bigger brains, opposable thumbs, and the notion that God likes us better than he likes worms, which is why he made us “in his own image.” Yet, of all the species on earth, we take the cake when it comes to causing misery and death. How, then, do we know that God didn’t make earthworms in his image, and that by rescuing earthworms, I’m insuring myself a place in a wormy heaven alongside the very few other humans who loved worms? Really, given the harm that we do, and the good that worms do, why should we imagine ourselves superior?

“Because God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” “But how do you know God said it?” “Because in Numbers 23:19, the Bible says: “God is not a man, so he does not lie.’” “But how do you know the man who wrote Numbers 23:19 didn’t just make that up?” Because in II Timothy 3:16, we read: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God.’” “Well, gee whiz, thanks for your compellingly rational answer.” “You smart-ass! You bastard! You atheist! Just wait ‘til you get to the judgment throne! Do you really imagine that it will be occupied by a worm? Do you dare blaspheme God?” “Oh, yes! It’s what we atheists do for fun.” “Ahhhhh! The fires of hell await you, for in Psalms 14:4, we read: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,’ and again in Matthew 25:41: ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” 

You might doubt that believers really quote the Bible to prove the Bible, but they do, frequently. But are they  so deluded as to think that sharing the Bible’s low opinion of atheists will win atheists to God, or do they simply mean to insult nonbelievers without taking responsibility for it, as in: “I’m not saying these horrible things to you; God is, but I’m only too glad to share them”?

Why am I all worked up about religion again? It’s because of a recent discussion with my Christian blog-buddy, Joseph. As much as I would like to be understood by Joseph, it’s pointless because I can’t argue against a constant barrage of personal insults, there being nothing in them to argue against. My attempt at dialogue with Joseph inspired the following list of things that atheists commonly hear from believers, most or which are completely devoid of truth. Again, I’m generalizing, it being impossible to portray every believer and every atheist as thinking exactly like I’m about to portray them. 

Atheists think they know everything. Otherwise, they would have admit that they might be wrong about God. (Atheists do admit they might be wrong; they just consider it highly unlikely. There is a big difference between saying: I don’t believe God exists, and, I can prove that God does not exist, and most atheists do the former, because, strictly speaking, no once can disprove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, much less God.) 

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer, because atheists have to believe that the universe came from nothing. (1) In accordance with the First Law of Thermodynamics, atheists believe that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and (2) they would ask why it’s easier to believe in the eternal existence of an infinitely complex and conscious being known as God than to believe in the far simpler eternal existence of unconscious matter and energy.) 

Atheists know that God exists, but they’re too “swollen with pride” to admit it. (Trust me, I don’t know that God exists, but with all my heart, I would like to be proven wrong. I had much rather believe that I’m under the eternal protection of a benevolent deity than to go around congratulating myself for being an atheist.) 

Theists believe in God; atheists believe in science, so what’s the difference? (Science is not an entity in which one believes, but rather a method for understanding the universe based upon rationality and evidence rather than authority and intuition.) 

Atheists have no reason to be moral because they don’t fear hell. (Atheists believe that morality is the product of evolution, but that it should be guided by respect, compassion, and reason, rather than by the authority of a book or religious leader. As atheists see it, a belief system that rests upon authority is prone to rigidity, contempt, oppression, and cruelty. According to the Bible itself, God ordered “the faithful” to commit murder, rape, abandonment, and pillaging. At his command, God’s people treated women as property, owned slaves, murdered homosexuals, discriminated against the disabled, and on and on and on, so for his followers today to claim moral superiority based upon the Bible is absurd.) 

Atheists just want to make believers look stupid. (Some do, some don’t, but I try to avoid sarcasm, argue rationally, show respect for the person I’m talking to, and keep an open heart rather than resort to insults. I know that I sometimes fail, but I have also observed that believers typically go out of their way to be hurtful, because (1) they hold atheists in utter contempt; (2) they know less about religion than atheists do, so their rebuttal options are limited; (3) their beliefs are based upon emotional need rather than rationality, so they feel severely threatened by serious questions, and their fear gets turned into anger.) 

Atheists are responsible for society’s problems because God is punishing everyone because of them. (Dogmatic belief—whether in God or the State—is a major reason for societal failure, which is why countries—and parts of countries—without such a mindset are happier, healthier, safer, less stressed, and better educated, than are places where the edicts of religion or the state are beyond criticism. 

Atheists think they’re smarter than everyone else. (Statistically, atheists are better educated than believers, but conceit is a human problem not an atheist problem and, in my experience, it’s more likely to be based upon wealth and class than non-belief.) 

Atheists just like to argue. (Most atheists keep their atheism a secret because they fear discrimination that can result in name-calling, vandalism, job loss, rejection by their families, imprisonment, and even being hacked to death with machetes. Personally, I enjoy discussing religion, but, except on my blog, I don’t around looking to do it.) 

The life of an atheist is without meaning. (The life of an atheist is without a God-given meaning, but it is not without the self-given meaning of work, family, and other interests.) 

Atheists want to outlaw religion. (Atheists want to outlaw discrimination based upon religion, and they’re far more likely than theists to oppose other forms of discrimination as well. It’s NOT atheists who want to silence believers, but believers who want to silence atheists.) 

Atheists go around trying to force their beliefs upon others. (Atheists resist having the values, music, ceremonies, and visual representations of religion forced upon them, but many believers decry any such limits as oppression. Their advice to those who don’t share their particular brand of Christianity is: If you don’t approve of them, don’t listen to our prayers, sermons, and hymns, in schools and at city council meetings. If you don’t like to look at Jesus; turn your head when you pass his statue or poster in a park, courtroom, post office, sheriff’s office, mayor’s office, etc., If you don’t want to read Bible verses, look at your feet when our public school cheerleaders and football players run onto the field carrying banners with Bible verses on them. In those parts of America where they can get away with doing whatever the hell they please and excluding everyone who disagrees with them, believers use public property as if it were church property, and for anyone to argue that not all believers are that way is just not much of consolation given that millions of them appear to be exactly that way.) 

Atheists hate God. (You can’t hate an imaginary being, but you can hate what that being represents and the harm done by those who think he is real.) 

Nearly everyone on earth believes in God, so atheism is a defect. (The thinking of the minority has often been proven superior to the thinking of the majority, so instead of atheism being a defect, it could be a positive trend away from a system of thought that has caused so very much pain and grief.) 

Atheism didn’t exist until the modern era with its emphasis upon science and materialism. (Atheism originated way before Christ, but the word itself is only 500 or more years old.) 

Atheists are insensitive, humorless, and unable to appreciate beauty. (It’s rather believers who denounce the natural world as fallen and attempt to put limits on art, dance, literature, and music. As for sensitivity and humor, these are individual characteristics, and if they’re limited at all by belief, I should think the limits would be more common among among theists. I don’t know the extent to which laughter is frowned upon by theism—right off hand, I can’t recall a single instance of laughter in the Bible—but it’s not limited by atheism.) 

America’s increasing secularism is why God is punishing it with storms, crime, political turmoil, cyber attacks, military failures, and in many other ways. (Similar things were said about Europe during the Black Plague, so the people burned witches and heretics, expelled Jews from their countries, and threw their cats on bonfires, all in an effort to win God’s forgiveness. Today’s growing tendency to blame Jews, homosexuals, atheists and other not nice people for America’s problems is the first step toward a repetition of the crimes that Christians have committed so many times before.

My discouragement around dialoguing with believers is primarily based upon such insults as I have listed, insults that are repeated endlessly in lieu of rationality no matter how many times I try to say, “No, that’s not true. I’m not like that. I don’t feel that way.” Now, I’m going to generalize about believers in a way that I know is insulting, but I truly do believe it based upon a lifetime of experience. Again, I’m generalizing, by which I mean I’m portraying believers as a group, but with complete awareness that some believers are smart, educated, humane, and thoughtful. To begin:

Few believers have a clue as to what constitutes a rational argument. My discouragement with Joseph in particular arose from the fact that—brilliant as he is—all he had to offer was one insult after another combined with one very personal reason for his faith and two arguments that he considered rational. His personal reason was that life would be pointless without God, and his two arguments were: (1) Christianity must be true, or else all those people wouldn’t have died for Jesus; (2) the fact that nearly everyone who ever lived believed in God proves that God exists. His claims represented an argument based upon authority, in this case, an authority that I have no confidence in, so, combined with the constant insults, I finally concluded that my attempts at dialogue were a waste of time, considerable time as it turned out, because I really tried for all I was worth.

The believers whom I respect don’t try to defend their faith, not because they’re afraid their reasons might be shown to be lacking, but because they know their reasons are lacking. They might consider the so-called evidence and logical arguments for believing in God to be suggestive of God existence, but they recognize that, at best, nothing they can say would prove God’s existence. Why, then, do they believe? This is where it gets hard for me, and not just because of the lack of evidence in favor of God but for the abundance of evidence against God. Most notably, why, if an all good and all-powerful God exists, are trillions of the world’s creatures suffering undeserved pain and fear at this very moment; pain and fear that my species, even if it tried its best, could not even begin to eliminate?

Nothing that anyone has ever offered has come even close to defending against this most important argument in opposition to belief, and so it is that atheism isn’t just based upon the paucity of evidence but upon the massive contradictions between the supposed characteristics of God and the situation that we find ourselves in. Some believers recognize that there is no explanation, so they take the position that God is indeed all-good, but that he/she/it is not all-powerful, and so it is that God needs our help. I consider this a fantastic claim because it means that God had the power to create the whole damn universe only to be defeated by the situation on planet earth. In other words, I should think that even a limited God could at the very least do better than he is now doing. For example, he could get rid of floods, droughts, famines, forest fires, and earthquakes. Surely, the God who created black holes so immense that they could swallow our entire solar system like the tiniest part of the tiniest gnat could do better than he’s now doing, so why doesn’t he, and why do people believe in him?

I have thought and thought about this and, aside from them wanting the various comforts that belief brings, I have no idea. They can’t tell me—at least not in a way that makes sense to me—so the best that the more thoughtful of them seem able to do is to redefine God in terms that, frankly, makes his existence irrelevant. Pantheism, for example. I call the universe the universe, and pantheists call the universe God. Well, so what? I guess it makes them feel good, but I don’t see that it would make me feel good. Other people define God as “the force for good that permeates the universe.” Surely, good (however defined) exists within almost every human being and other creatures too, but why call it God?

It’s as if liberal believers are able to give up each and every significant claim about God, but somehow find comfort in retaining the word. They take the position that I, as an atheist, am somehow missing the point, perhaps because I lack depth, sensitivity, and openness. But no, I abhor being an atheist, and I would seriously doubt that anyone who reads this blog would consider me shallow, insensitive, or unwilling to go where my best thinking takes me. But just as liberal theists fail to give me credit, so it is that I am at a loss to give them credit. They could, for example, define love, gravity, and hundreds of other things, and tell me why they believe in them, so why not God? It always comes back to claiming that, if I don’t believe, there must be something wrong with me, but this ignores the contradictory diversity of belief, and besides, such a claim could just easily be turned back on them.

I think that there surely must be a physiological basis for belief, and that it is to their credit that atheists lack it because it results in them being the ones who are open whereas it is believers who are closed. Believers might or might not be—I think they probably are—more content with life because of their beliefs, but when I look at the amount of harm they do, is personal contentment worth the harm done by religion?