Peggy offers a **#%*! suggestion

Peggy sometimes offers subtle criticisms regarding the subjects I write about. For example,

“Why the fuck don’t you ever write about something more interesting than religion?” (Peggy will argue that that she didn’t say the f___ word, but since I am “overly sensitive to criticism,” as my mother put it, I always HEAR the f___ word at the least suggestion that I'm anything less than perfect.)

“Okay, Sweet Lambikins Baby Lovey Dovey Pumpkin Strudel, what do you suggest?” (I ask smilingly).

“Well, how about what you just said?”

What I had just said was that Fox News’ policy of continually assuring its listeners that it’s “fair and balanced,” is not only unforgivably redundant, it also suggests a cynical attempt to appeal to an audience that is too stupid to distinguish between a claim and a reality (“Your president is not a crook;” “I didn’t have sex with that woman;” “I know the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true;” and my own dear father’s favorite, “I’m going to be honest with you”). Furthermore, it reeks of Orwell:

“Political language is designed to…give an appearance of solidity to pure wind;”

of Lenin: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth;”

of Hitler: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it;”

and even of that bumbling little bastard who was our last president: “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again…to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

“But isn’t what I just said rather obvious, Peggy Darling Dearest?”

“Not to some people.”

Which is precisely why I had said it to Peggy. Intelligent though she is, she doesn’t know the difference between a Republican and a Democrat, a Catholic and a Shiite, a Brit Hume and a Jon Stewart, simply because it is all so senseless and depressing that she doesn’t want to know the difference.

Sometimes, I think Peggy is onto something, yet I remain inveterately incapable of “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out,” because if there's safety to be had, surely it lies in at least knowing from which direction danger approaches. Besides, human inanity can be awfully entertaining at times.

Liquidambar styraciflua

I could travel the world and never see anything more lovely than a sweet gum in the fall (do click on the photo). This raises the question of why I should travel the world. I am far from opposing such expeditions, yet it seems to me that most of them are inspired by nothing more noble than the desire to escape obliviousness at home by imagining oneself to have experienced something abroad.

A relative was here recently. He had driven 5,300 miles in two weeks and planned to complete the final third of his journey in one week. He explained that it's sometimes possible to see two national parks in a single day if one takes a business-like approach (i.e. treat them as a prostitute to be done with rather than as a lover to romance). His own scheme was to pick a park’s most celebrated feature—which the federal government would have conveniently situated near a commodious parking lot—take a snapshot of it, and drive on to the next park. He had already bagged Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake, and had his sites set on Yosemite, Sequoia, the Grand Canyon, and, last but not least, heaven. I’ve heard that, despite its extreme heat and various other inconveniences, hell does have a first-rate postal service, so I’m hoping Earl will send me a snapshot of Yahweh to go alongside his other trophies.

I’m confused by the part of the Bible where it says that god doesn't confuse people

If it’s such a great thing to be a sheep, why do Christian schools always name their football teams after lions, Crusaders, and even bulldogs? I think Atomic Lambs has a nice ring to it.

Could it be, do you think, that animals got a raw deal? On the one hand, they’re cursed, not because they screwed-up, but because we screwed-up. Yet, we get to go to heaven, and they just get to be dead. I guess the truth of the matter is that animals are only good for providing us with food, clothes, and lab rats. Small wonder then that none of the churches care about animals. When you look at where their money goes, I don’t think they care much about people either, but of course I’m an atheist, and everyone knows that atheists are “embittered God haters.”

I guess I do hate god, but not in the way religious people think. I hate god in much the same way that I hate Hitler. If everyone had ignored Hitler, he could have spent his entire life jumping up and down and screaming at people, and no one would have gotten hurt. God—or rather the concept of god—is the same way. If everyone ignored him, no one would get hurt. The problem is that people think he’s real, so they try to suck up to him in order to get mansions, virgins, and dark chocolate.

I personally think that the Moslem heaven sounds like one hell of a lot of fun, at least for the men. For the women, not so much.

When missionaries come around, they never talk about the good I can do for others but the good I can do for myself. Every Christian virtue is secondary to the desire for eternal wealth, and not just for a few gold serving spoons either but for entire gold turnpikes.

I think of heaven as like the Bahamas, only a whole lot nicer. The problem with heaven is that every iPod only contains one song—the Hallelujah Chorus no less—and you have to hangout with your inlaws, assuming that they didn’t end up in the goat line. My inlaws tithe, so they will probably go to the head of the sheep line. Some of them can’t even afford to neuter their pets because of all the money they put into the church plate, so, yeah, they’ll be in the sheep line.

If Christians are right about how I’ll be screaming for god to save me just before I die, I’ll end up in the sheep line too, and it won’t have cost me all that money, and it won’t have caused my pets to give birth to all those unwanted litters. Based upon this, it’s probably just as well that I’m a “godless atheist.”

The downside of waiting until the last minute to get religion is that I could be killed instantly by a falling safe or a speeding train. I could also get laryngitis. The Bible says that everyone—atheists included—has to “confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord,” so it probably wouldn’t work to write it down, but even if it would, I might be too sick to go looking for a pencil.

Even so, I really like it that you only have to do okay for your last few minutes over here in order to get a really nice bungalow over there. It’s like if you went all the way through school and made a zero on every test you ever took, but you got to graduate with honors because you said that you believed in arithmetic three seconds before the final bell.

When an atheist or an agnostic says that Jesus wasn’t god, but that he was a great man anyway, I always wonder what in the hell they’re talking about. If Jesus wasn’t god, then Jesus was a fruitcake, except that real fruitcakes taste good.

The god of the New Testament is supposed to have been the same as the god of the Old Testament except for one difference. When he got mad in the New Testament, he just threatened to torture people for all eternity instead of murdering them immediately. That’s quite an improvement, I guess. It’s probably why everyone says the New Testament god is a “God of love.”

One person who used to read this blog told me that I couldn’t be an atheist, at least not a terribly good atheist, because I didn’t know enough about theology (I think he meant Christian theology as opposed to the theologies of all those false religions). But if this were true, wouldn’t it also be true that most Christians don’t know enough about theology to be theists?

I think the Bible contains a lot of contradictions, but then I stopped taking theology classes after my junior year. Like in one place, Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but in another place, he said to buy a sword even if you had to sell your coat to pay for it (I always wondered if he gave that order in winter). When I mention this to Christians, some think he really did say the first thing but he really didn’t say the second thing. Others think he wants us to stab everyone who refuses to accept his love. I just think he was in a bad mood when he said the second thing.

I’ve noticed that Baptist theologians always agree with the Baptist church, and that Catholic theologians always agree with the Catholic church. Since that is too weird to be a coincidence, it has to be a miracle, which means that god probably does exist.

My problem is that Episcopal theologians don’t agree with one another or with anyone else, and this makes me think that I was right all along about god not existing.

Does the Church of Scientology even have theologians? If I run into Tom Cruise, I’ll ask him. I’ll also suggest that he take his shoes off before he stands on the furniture. My mother always said that we had to take care of our furniture because we couldn’t afford new furniture, and that’s what I have faith in to this very day. Peggy’s mother always said that her family could afford new furniture, and that’s what Peggy has faith in to this very day. When Peggy says that our marriage is plagued by theological incompatibilities, I tell her that Job’s wife gave him a lot of unnecessary trouble too, and, for some strange reason, that always seems to piss her off.

Skinheads, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK

For months, I’ve been reading every non-fiction book the library has about neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and the Ku Klux Klan.

Damn! You must be about ready to join-up.

Sure, who wouldn’t be? I mean isn’t it obvious it that the Jews were the sole orchestrators and the sole beneficiaries of both world wars; that Satan had sex with Eve who gave birth to the father of the black race; that the scummiest white criminal is superior to the best person of color; that practically every problem that any white person has is the fault of “the Jewish conspiracy;” and that, despite the fact that the Jews are able to run nearly the entire world from behind the scenes for their own profit, they are nonetheless rather dim-witted?

So why do you read this stuff?

I don’t self-analyze about what I read. It’s not that I’m uninterested; it’s just that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Once I learn about some things, they leave my system forever, whereas I cycle back through other things again and again—for example, botany, geology, knot tying, and the Hardy Boys series. If I were to tell you what it is that I learn from reading about hate groups, it’s an understanding of why people think that way.

Okay, why?

It gives them someone to blame for their failures. It also gives them a tight-knit community which values them and tells them that they’re better than everyone who belongs to an inferior group or has fallen for the “Jewish lie.” It even offers them a vision of how wonderful the world could be if those who think like they do were in charge. You don’t have to have an IQ of 85 to believe this stuff, you just have to regard yourself as an outsider and a failure who wants to be an insider and a success, but you can’t figure out how to make that happen in the current scheme of things. It also helps if you’re a minority white kid who is surrounded by black kids in a ghetto—or if you’re a nerdy white kid who is bullied by jocks and preppies in a suburb—and it’s the skinheads who protect you. People are just naturally attracted to groups that promote their survival, and this makes them more susceptible to beliefs that would otherwise seem ridiculous.

I would say that my study of these groups has done two things for me. One is that it has made me hate what these people believe—and what they do—even more than I already did, and it has given me a measure of sympathy for them. They’re not all irredeemable, and, when they are redeemed, they are in a far better position to work with their former supporters and, at times, their former victim groups, than you or I. For us, it’s a mindset that we can only imagine, but, for them, it’s something they’ve lived, and every time I’ve read about one who was redeemed, that redemption was made possible by people who kept their hearts open. In many cases, those people were black or Jewish. If that doesn’t make you shed a tear, I don’t know what will.

How did the CFI meeting go?

Good, I guess. Since no one would help facilitate, I spent hours creating a program all by myself, but the three people who previewed it thought it was too structured. I edited it down from two hours to a fifteen minute introduction, and left the rest of the meeting open for an unmoderated discussion. As soon as I finished my part, people exploded into a verbosity that made my presence pretty much redundant, and that was fine with me because, by then, I was a bit drunk. I had thought that my glass held three ounces of vodka, but it actually held four and a half—as I later realized while trying to determine why I had been so affected by so little—which meant that I was sufficiently wasted by the time I finished my introduction that I was afraid to open my mouth for fear of slurring my speech. After two years of narcotics and sleeping pills, I am sorry to report that I can no longer hold my liquor.

When everyone departed, they said they had a great time, and I had to take their word for it because I was pretty clueless myself. God at the food they left! I asked them to bring snacks, and, predictably, some brought nothing and others brought enough for five people, so there was a substantial net gain to me that consisted of sundry hors d'oeuvres, two partial bottles of wine, one full bottle of wine, three six packs of beer, three bottles of hard cider, and two liters of soft drinks (I’ll save the unopened liquor for our next meeting).

As the meeting closed, I said that I could do the Internet announcements; I could be the welcoming committee; I could do the writing; I could support people who wanted to sponsor an event; and I could host events; but everything else was best left to someone else. No one complained, so that’s where we left it. Two days later, someone offered to sponsor a book group, and we have another general meeting scheduled, so the group gives every appearance of really taking off despite our recent loss of the two people who started the Eugene chapter.

It’s both funny and sad that no matter how hard I worked to support any group that I was ever in, I always felt like an outsider. Now that I’m older than most of the people in this group, at least, I feel that way even more.

News and views, as it were

When Baxter succumbs to lung cancer—he coughed up blood for the first time yesterday—I would like to adopt a rescue schnauzer in a year or two, or even a week or two, but Peggy insists on waiting several years (and even then she would prefer a dog that’s small enough to fit under the seat on an airplane). She felt the same way when our last schnauzer died in 1993, and it made life very difficult for me. Yesterday, I looked at photos of rescue schnauzers on the Internet and literally sobbed, partly out of grief for Baxter, and partly because I don’t want to be without a schnauzer.

My orthopedist called today in response to a letter I sent in which I asked if a third shoulder surgery was advisable. He said it wouldn’t help unless it was a replacement, and that I could look forward to continued pain in both shoulders even I had them both replaced. This got me down a little. It didn’t surprise me, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

I voted straight Democratic today, although I hate all politicians at this point. I’m sick of their lies; I’m sick of their supporters knocking on my door several times a week; I'm weary of throwing away their slanderous mail; and I'm incensed at having them call me on the phone everyday (yesterday, Peggy told one to “Fuck off”). I’m tempted to withdraw from the voting roll simply to end the harassment, but I can’t because the stakes are too high. However bad the Democrats are, the Republicans are infinitely worse.

I’m the host and de facto local leader of an international group called the Center for Inquiry (its purpose is to: “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values”). Our first meeting was in May, and since then, we’ve been piddling along with about six people at each meeting. With five days to go until our next meeting, our membership recently jumped from 40 to 61, of which 16 are signed up to come. Only four of those have been to a meeting before, and I’m the only one who is willing to lead even part of this next meeting. I’m very unhappy about the lack of cooperation, but I can’t just sit back and do nothing. I’ve been working hard preparing my presentation—for the whole damn meeting—which is why I’m so far behind on visiting other people’s blogs. It seems that this group is poised to really take off, and that all the responsibility for its success is upon me. Without the generous support I’ve been getting from Sylvia, a volunteer in the Portland office, I really don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I would simply cancel the meeting, but I would sure be tempted.

I recently received dues notices for the IOOF and the Masons, but I’m not going to renew. Both require a belief in god, but neither define god. Well, I can say I’m a pantheist easily enough, but then it’s obvious that my fellow members define god as a supernatural entity. Furthermore, the rituals of both lodges assume that this entity is available to grant favors. I’ve hung in there for upwards of twenty years, but I’m thinking I’m ready to let it all go, although I’ve grieved a great deal over the matter.

The content of atheism and pantheism is, or at least can be, the same, but this just raises the question of why anyone would feel the need to add the extra word—i.e. pantheist. Some people do, but I’ve found it increasingly hard to do so myself. I’m even a member of the World Pantheist Society, but I’ll probably let that lapse too. I know that some of you think I’m an atheist because I’m pigheaded, but the truth is just the opposite. I did my best to hold onto religion, any religion, for as long as I could and then some, but the bottom-line is that I’m unable to accept the existence of a supernatural deity simply because I see no evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity.