Surgery and Updates

cropped-nick-and-nora.jpgMy husband went in for bladder cancer surgery on Thursday and is now home recovering nicely. It all went as well as it could have and they said they got all of it without it having spread elsewhere. During it all, I think he gets reminded of his mortality and perhaps, just a tiny bit, he’s reminded about who’s important? I, too, have had a complete rethink.

We have actually achieved a truce, of sorts. I’ve had to scale back emotionally and he’s living with the idea that he does not have my full attention any longer. Perhaps that’s for the best.  This article is one I came across accidentally, but it does help me understand the ideas behind things and why we are all bent on romanticism and the idea of one person for each of us until death. I have always fallen for the full romantic picture that we are taught as young women; there is one special person, your soul mate, whom you will meet, fall in love, and marry and live happily ever after in perfect bliss. Yeah, not so much.

I think now that people live to a very advanced age and it’s virtually impossible to ask someone to love one single human being throughout your life. It is entirely possible to love more than one person romantically. I’m doing it now. I love my ex-husband and I love my current husband. I see no contradiction. The contradiction only occurs in people’s minds when it comes to sex. Jealousy only really occurs when we think of people having sex with other than us.

I certainly don’t believe anymore that people are monogamous. The majority of evidence that I see around me in the people I know and in the news confirms to me that men especially are incapable of fidelity.  Yes, women too, but it is not as accepted in women as it is in men. I am certain that if two people work at it, non-monogamy can work, however BOTH people have to start at the same place and not try to fit it in afterwards. My problem is that I didn’t sign up for it from the beginning. If I had, I could have dealt with it all better.  If I’d been honest with myself as well, I could have been self-aware enough to know that I am NOT one for fidelity myself. My current relationship proves it! And, just because I have no interest in outside relationships right now, it does not mean I won’t in the future.  I’ve made it clear that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and the hubby accepts that.

The lesson learned here is to BE HONEST FROM THE BEGINNING. We all spend so much time hiding and lying to ourselves and to others about what we really want and then we try to force ourselves to live by a moral code that we did not create. Someone else said that this was our moral code and we accepted it. I told my husband, it’s not that he’s ACTUALLY seeing anybody else that’s the problem for me, it’s the lying about it that angers me more. The betrayal is making it seem that I’m not worth telling the truth to. True, I’ve made it difficult for him to be truthful by my outbursts, but I’ve learned, through scaling back emotionally, that my outbursts do not encourage honest dialogue. So there are learning curves all around.

Perhaps something can be salvaged after all. I feel better about it now that I give myself time to really think about it and the ramifications of certain choices. It’s not for everyone, but it might be for us.

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Quitting Christianity a la Anne Rice: a Manifesto of sorts

Anne Rice

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I’ve gotten angry with religion quite often lately. Like being part of a nation or state which also angers you because of their stupid policies and marginalizing of certain groups, finding your religion consistently betraying its preached principles is very disheartening. And although I’ve claimed atheism at various times in my life, I can never willfully give up that part of me that convinces me personally through experience a belief in a Divine Will that operates in/throughout/above/below the Universe. Many times I throw my hands up in despair and say, “No more of this bullshit for me!” Yet, I always come back.

Anne Rice has gotten a lot of flack lately for quitting Christianity. Some say that quitting Christianity is not possible. I would agree with the semantics of that. If you believe Christianity is an institution, you can quit it. There are differing definitions of “church” although I believe the church is made up of Christians no matter where they are. Others are in agreement with her and have come out of their religious institutions as well. We all agree that the polarization Christians (and all religions) cause when they insist on following this or that dogma, tenet, doctrine, or “prophetic” saying are the prime motive for our coming out. On her Facebook page, Rice has posted the various responses and there are so many that I can’t single out just one. However, I can say that I agree with her 100%.

When I became a Christian, I was not evangelized nor did I “come forward” in an alter call at a church. I had my own experience of Jesus and “God” on my own time and in my own way through personal prayer and from reading parts of the new testament. The Divine manifested itself to me in terms I could understand. It just happened to be in Jesus’ form. My first mistake after this experience was searching out a church where I could meet with fellow believers and connect with others and perhaps compare notes about our experiences. That would have been great, had it stopped right there. Unfortunately, becoming part of a community such as that seems to imply that others can become your moral compass and tell you what you can and cannot do and what you can and cannot believe. This got me wondering what the church is for then. Is it primarily a place where others can compare experiences or is it a club where only those who pay the right amount or who follow all the rules others laid down for us by others, away from the secular world and all its contaminates? Is it supposed to welcome all who wish to come to it or is it primarily set up to exclude? You will find as many explanations as there are religious sects, so nothing can be decided either way. What’s left is the kind of individualism that Rice espouses and that church leaders so despise. It is fundamentally a lack of faith in people to do the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons. I think it’s time we grow up from that.

Church leaders argue that Jesus set up these rules, but of course there is no evidence of this. The bible cannot even be counted on to accurately record the words of Jesus or to set down the history of the church without those, who happened to win the power play of sects back then, redacting those portions that came down to us ahead of time.  The one thing that convinces me that religions as practiced in the world are not absolute truth is due to the confusing witness provided by the varied sects, churches, religions, and practices throughout the world. None are in agreement. If such dogmas were ABSOLUTE TRUTH, there would be consensus about these issues and there is not. Individualism is the only answer here. Actions such as peace, simplicity, and love are its evidence. What I think these so-called leaders fear most is being out of a job! Do they not think that a Divine Will can’t accomplish what it wants with or without us?

My individualism imposes no belief on anyone. My individualism does the most good and spends my money where I see fit. I don’t funnel funds through the church and expect it will go where I want it to go. I send it directly. I don’t evangelize nor do I believe every believer called to do that. This thinking is only an institutional tool to garner the most numbers. In this day and age, it isn’t necessary to evangelize. The information is out there. It’s up to the Divine to speak, not me.  Much like the Religious Society of Friends, I believe in the Light that is in every person. This is the Light of God and it has to be trusted that whoever or whatever Divine Will is accomplishing in the world, what is accomplished is what is meant to be accomplished. The church as a traditional institution has done irreparable harm in the world by not trusting this concept. They believe “truth” is funneled through authority and hierarchy. Judaism and Islam share in the harm done and in believing in imams, priests, prophets, or “special” people. The “big three” have a lot to answer for and I’m not going to blindly follow the herd and say “They told me to” because they claim authority over me. My only authority is my conscience informed by my spirit, however that comes to me (brain, soul, outside me, whatever), through a community I choose, if I choose, and through information garnered from experts in other fields; scientific, religious, or otherwise. Therefore, I will stand or fall on my own decisions, no one else’s.

Between Spock and McCoy

The crew of the original Enterprise, except Hi...

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As a Star Trek lover (all incarnations) this article resonated with me as a good explanation of the balancing act required between reason and emotion. Massimo Pigliucci writes about the Platonic and Humean theories:

Modern neurobiology tells us that both the Platonic and the Humean programs are doomed to failure. As Antonio Damasio put it in a series of three highly philosophically informed books on the science of consciousness (check this one, for instance), a healthy human mind is one that constantly negotiates between the excesses of reason and those of passion. Too much leaning on one side, and one becomes incapable of empathy, possibly embarking on the destructive route to psychopathology. Too much on the other side, and we join the long history of destructive irrationality against which the Enlightenment was a valiant, if flawed, reaction.

While it’s nice to have modern science validating with facts the idea that a sensible human being ought to try to steer a middle course between the Scylla of too much reason and the Charybdis of too much emotion, it was yet another philosopher who had arrived at that conclusion 24 centuries ago: Aristotle. His virtue ethics is based on the insight that we improve our happiness (in the holistic sense of the ancient Greek eudaimonia) by a combination of reflecting about what we do and why, and practicing virtue so that it becomes second nature. Not reason against emotion struggling for primacy inside us, then, but rather a continuous flow aiming at a dynamic balance between the two. (Before anybody even thinks of making the analogy, let me assure you that I do not have any eastern mysticism or new agey crap in mind.)

I think my own struggles are always between, to be colloquial, the head and the heart. Too much head knowledge and I turn into a raging misanthropist. Too much heart reaction and I turn into a blithering empathetic idiot waxing on about “noble savage-ism” and the wonderful-ness of human beings. Bleck. I dislike both. I’m a big fan of the Aristotelian “mean.”Of course, this philosophy assumes a particular form of binary opposition that I don’t necessarily subscribe to, but if we are dealing in simplistic terms, it’ll do.

I think that what bothers me most about those on the extreme edges of either is an inability to admit there can be a balance. Religious fundamentalism says “Do not listen to your intuition. Listen only to our interpretation of scripture.” They dismiss all forms of inner knowledge and experience (except their own) and their measuring stick is an ancient text. Scientific fundamentalism says, “Do not listen to your heart. Listen only to those facts that can be proved” and their measuring stick is a laboratory. If it hasn’t been verified by two or more people it cannot be real or true. For me the path of true wisdom, or Truth, lies somewhere in between. Intuition, heart, metaphysics, the supernatural …. these  are all terms for those things that cannot be quantified or measured or experimented upon.  A healthy dose of head and heart makes a healthy human being. They don’t have to be in opposition.

Are Religious Beliefs Based on Evidence?

I was reading my Google Reader yesterday morning and came across this article by Ophelia Benson. I really appreciate atheists’ work to keep religious believers honest in what they believe. I appreciate that they call out sloppy arguments and show us that we believe too easily those things which are not supported by any evidence at all such as UFO abductions, ghosts, etc. (never mind that I find both fun and interesting) However, I must take some small issue with her statement here:

Scientific explanations of the universe are not just coherent, they are also based on evidence. Religious beliefs are not based on evidence. Makes a difference!

Benson makes a good point that we shouldn’t be biasing emotions and feelings about what we want to believe over our intellectual faculties and discerning what’s true, even though someone surely could argue that emotions/intuitions/faith can be reliable sources of information. If they couldn’t be, then no one would make decisions about love, marriage, fleeing a bad relationship, sensing dangerous people, etc. However, to then go on and assert that religious beliefs are not based on evidence is also an over-generalization. There is evidence that Christians came into existence because of the preaching of a man named Jesus and a Jew named Saul. There is evidence that this movement changed the world for good and ill. I’ve met people, who I respect greatly, who are or were radically changed by their beliefs and I consider that good evidence of something. I can’t name it, but it’s evidence to me. It may not meet Benson’s standards of scientific verifiability, but it is evidence. I think the problem is that maybe the believer’s threshold of evidence is lower but they do rely on some evidence on which to base their faith. It’s just not first hand evidence.

Look, I’m not trying to be an apologist here for any religion, but ordinary people make decisions all the time based on second-hand evidence. Someone tells us to stay away from the corner of Monroe and V. Parkway because the traffic is awful. Hearsay, yes, but we heed it.  Can we go check it out? Sure we can, but we don’t always check out every bit of information someone gives us. It’s not possible. If it’s possible we have that option. Some would consider not checking all evidence lazy. But we can’t verify every single thing presented to us as fact. No one can.  We make a decision about what we’ve heard or read and we act on it. A doctor may tell us that if we go where others are sick we have a chance of picking up whatever bug they have. So we avoid it even though we neither see the virus nor do we know if these people are indeed sick with anything.  We decide to act on this knowledge or we don’t.

While I do not condone believing without evidence of ANY kind, I cannot say there is no evidence of religious beliefs at all and I don’t think Benson can either. Sure she can say what she wants, but I find it a weak argument; just as weak as someone saying that they can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Peter Enns writes about this very well in the article Benson quotes. And even the part she quotes to pick apart is the part that makes sense to me. Enns wrote:

To say that God’s existence is detectable with certainty through reason, logic, and evidence is a belief because it makes some crucial assumptions. For one thing, it assumes that our intellectual faculties are the best, or only, ways of accessing God. This is an assumption that privileges Western ways of knowing and excludes other wholly human qualities like emotion and intuition.

It also reduces God to an object, a thing, a being among all other beings, whose existence is as open to rational inquiry as anything else….

I don’t believe, as Benson does, that Enns is saying that Easterners aren’t logical. To me, what he’s saying is that we, in the Western world, have derided intuition and emotion and excluded them as legitimate means of knowing.  The East and their religions have not done such a thing. For them religion is experiential and part of the world. We on the other hand have separated out everything that we can’t objectify in a rational, critical manner.

My argument is that these are people I admire who have faith yet have kept all of their critical thinking faculties. I also work with people who are highly educated, who struggle with faith, and who believe, not all in the same way of course, but they believe. For me, this is evidence that God or something exists and that people believe in this something to enhance their lives and that millions of people, rightly or wrongly, believe that they interact with a supernatural element that provides some kind of guidance, comfort, or vision. I don’t believe in the bible, but I read it as a testimony about other peoples’ faith down through the centuries, just as I would any other written record of someone’s experience.

This kind of personal experience has also proven to me that evidence comes in many forms. I may hate the institutional straight-jacket that Christianity has become. I may hate bibliolatry and all that passes for critical thinking in religious circles. I may rail at clergy who take advantage of people because of their position of authority and I most assuredly abhor anyone who uses religion as a tool of violence or stamp of approval for their hideous rage, but deep down I cannot ever deny that there is something out there in the universe that defies scientific knowledge; something that weaves itself into the warp and weft of this world so intimately that living our very lives is a sacramental act. My threshold of believable evidence may be lower than Benson’s but for me it’s evidence nonetheless.

“Unless She Can’t Think….”

John Piper and all his ilk explain exactly why women need to steer clear of any male dominated religions:

I need to see videos like these and read articles pertaining to this doctrine to remind me why I no longer adhere to Christianity. Like Anne Rice, author of Vampire Chronicles long before Stephanie Meyer was born, I’ve given up on that religion and really any religion that glorifies a male prophet/God: Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Baha’i, etc.

Guide: Beth Moore is a prominent bible teacher/expositor in the Baptist tradition. Elizabeth Eliot also.

Change, Insight, and Creativity

The most boring people I know never change. They live in the same town all their lives. They listen to one news source. They don’t own a television and are not interested in culture of any kind. They think the same thoughts and try to fit the changing world into those thoughts. On the other hand, the most creative people I know are movers and doers. They’ve traveled widely. They’ve educated themselves. They are open to cultures, trends, and popular ideas without taking any of them as holy writ. These kinds of people are not afraid of difference and do not live in fear of the world. How do we become a creative person? Why you do it the Jocelyn Glei suggests in this post. Happy and fortuitous change, my friends.