I’m becoming an Irish pagan!

OMFG you guys! I cannot help but think that I have found among the Irish pagans the place where I truly belong!

When I read the email exchanges posted by Pagan Federation Ireland on their Facebook page, I shouted hallelujah! (<-It’s a relic of my xtian upbringing. Obviously, I will have to learn what my new fellow Irish pagans are supposed to shout in similar situations.)

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What if we’re wrong?

Our esteemed colleague and beloved friend Don Ardell forwarded an interesting exercise he received from his friend, a fellow Robert G. Ingersoll enthusiast. The Great Agnostic was asked what he would do if he passed on and discovered there was indeed a God. The Christian god, of all the possibilities. Ugh.

Q: If you died and somehow found yourself face to face with Jeezus Haploid Christ Incorporated, what would you say to him?

I have to admit my instantaneous reaction was to imagine myself getting right up in his grill and saying FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK. And not just because I’m a New Yorker and that’s how I greet everybody. It’s probably no secret ’round here that I detest Christianity (though I do not detest all Christians) with the burning passion of ten thousand UY Scuties. Cursing Jeezus out would succinctly convey my feelings perfectly well. But upon further reflection, a more thoughtful (though no less enraged or revolted) reaction might go something like this.

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Christ as colonic?

[CONTENT NOTE: discussion of fecal elimination and common problem associated therewith.]

As readers here may recall, I take tremendous pride in my half-assed, poorly executed, semi-regular attempts to extract $82 billion worth of amusement every year from the Religion-Industrial-Complex on behalf of atheist U.S. taxpayers. I perform this service 100% free of charge; it is my noble, selfless, one-woman protest of the appalling injustice that is $82 billion in yearly taxpayer subsidies to the R-I-C. Okay, it’s probably not much of a sacrifice on my part, because I happen to thoroughly enjoy mocking a particular church sign in the small town in Northern Maryland where my mother lives. Hey, someone has to do it.

And today’s sign is a doozy.

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ALL UR BONEZ ARE BELONG TO US.

It’s bad enough of course that the Catholic Church as an institution has precisely zero respect for the bodily autonomy of living people. Like all authoritarian panty-sniffers, the hierarchy strives to control every aspect of human existence in keeping with its morbid and moribund dictates whenever and wherever it can get away with it. Now, in accordance with its bizarre and stunted worldview, the Vatican has helpfully narrowed its mandates for what Catholics can and cannot do with their bodily remains even after they’re fucking dead.

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GUEST POST: I’ve Seen Bears Kill.

Please enjoy these beautiful thoughts, beautifully expressed, by my friend Ian. (Posted with permission.)

__________

I think one of the advantages to having been born and raised in Alaska, and having a mother who encouraged me to explore my world, was that in those massive wide open expanses, the unending forests, the freezing lakes and rivers, impassible mountains, and temperature extremes that think nothing of ending your life…

I learned that life is not given to us. That the world doesn’t belong to us. It was not made for us… In fact, for the most part we aren’t even suited to it.

We survive the world. We live small in an unimaginably massive universe that would kill us instantly in our natural state.

I learned all of this before I even turned 5 years old.

So when someone first told me their stories about their God, or their religions, or their books… All I could think was:

“That makes absolutely no sense! Why would anyone make something so mean to us? No. I just don’t believe that. I’ve seen a bear kill. I’ve killed fish. I once fell in a river during the winter. I know I almost died. Nothing invisible saved me. I saved myself! That book is ridiculous.”

I’ve lived another, what? 35 years now?

Nothing’s changed.

We survive the world. We live in that unending and harsh world.

And that’s the best feeling there is. Walk any forest without your tools to save you, and you’ll see. No God. Just you, and the world that makes you.

I’ve never felt more free than in those mornings when the world was about to end me – without malice, without anger, without hatred or rage…

Just the ice wind, blowing into my lungs. Quietly asking,…

“What are you doing here? How are you going to live?”

Jerry Coyne at BHA 2016—Part 3: Yes and hahaha no.

UPDATE: WordPress apparently black holed a few of sentences re: Purvi Patel (and some formatting tags). I fixed it—I think.

(Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

[CONTENT NOTE: While this post contains no graphic descriptions or images of violence, it does mention: rape, sexual assault and violent abuse, including against children; mental illness including suicidal ideation; hostility to consent, bodily autonomy and agency; sex- and gender-based discrimination.]

To briefly recap: While atheist Big Willie Jerry Coyne is notoriously prone to poo flinging, he also said some very interesting things in his Darwin Day lecture at the British Humanist Association (and elsewhere). I transcribed a few sections of his talk because I’d like to have a handy link to it to help shut down the font of incoherent nonsense that is conservative movement atheism. I also thought some readers here just might (a) find some of this talk as worthwhile as I do (see Part 1), and/or (b) enjoy my documenting Coyne’s insulting, dismissive, nearly comical obliviousness to his privilege (Part 2).

Part 3 focuses on a section of the Q&A wherein Coyne manages both to say some more really cool stuff, and then go into full mansplain-to-the-feminists mode and pull a classic Dear Muslima.

CAUTION:
POO FLINGING AHEAD.

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Reason Versus Faith, Freethinking Versus Dogmas

Reason and faith, freethought and dogma lead the seeker of positive well being to different pathways, including support for or resistance to church/state separation.

Introduction: Reason Is In Season – Year Round

No one should throw away his reason, the fruit of all experience.
It is the intellectual capital of the soul, the only light, the only guide,
and without it, the brain becomes the palace of an idiot king,
attended by a retinue of thieves and hypocrites. 
Robert Green Ingersoll

A sweet sentiment from the seemingly inexhaustible warehouse of Ingersollian brilliance. In a similar vein are these thoughts of Ingersoll, once featured on a plaque at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York CIty, where Ingersoll and his family once had a private home:

I shall follow the light of reason, be true to myself, express my honest thoughts, help destroy superstition and work for the happiness of my fellow beings.

Note the qualities Ingersoll extolls: Devotion to critical thought, respect for human judgement, observation and experience, the celebration of intelligence, personal integrity, reason and the embrace of happiness.  Contrast the credo of reason with the credo of Christian faith:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven and sitteth (sic) on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

On what basis would a sentient adult believe such improbable claims? Would it happen if the individual were devoted to critical thought, respect for human judgement, reliance on observation and experience, the celebration of intelligence, personal integrity, reason and a fondness for the pursuit of happiness?

I find the likelihood of that difficult to believe.

If Ingersoll Lived in Our Time

Wouldn’t it be lovely if The Great Agnostic were with us today, if we had his commentaries on topical matters like the state of the Republican Party that in his era was the Party of Lincoln? Imagine his observations on the not-so-Plumed Knight who seems certain to be the Party’s choice for president in 2016.  Or his take on any of the multiple incursions of religion into government and the rights of women, gays and non-Christians? A partial list of such incursions, as shown below, comes from an essay by Iris Vander Pluym; details on the listed violations of church/state separation can be read here at the Palace:

*  Religious exemptions for withholding medical treatment from children.

*  Religious education that enjoys little to no regulation with a host of predicable tragic results.

*  Catholic hospitals that can and do refuse treatment when quality medical care conflicts with dogmas affecting rights to contraceptives, abortion, end of life, etc.

*  Pharmacy conscience laws that enable zealots to refuse to fill prescriptions, whenever their interpretations of religious beliefs conflict with recommended medical care.

*  A White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives that provides taxpayer support for dogma-guided programs.

*  Abortion restrictions, biased counseling, mandatory delays, forced ultrasounds and other theocratic  legislative acts that reduce access and close secular clinics.

A conservative estimate is that government supports for religion amount to at least $83.5 billion annually.

The Unfortunate Immersion of Children in Religious Dogma

My take on the sentiments expressed by Ingersoll is that few today consciously discard their intellects though sadly, the neglected soils of youth provide little but a barren harvest of experience. The capital of the soul, in such cases, is capable of little more than the faintest light. This, alas, provides little guidance for the discovery and embrace of freethought as a part of a larger, REAL wellness philosophy.

There is, for most, not much of reason’s light to follow, so the paths of loyalty to the unknown self are unmarked, and convenient impressions are easily mistaken for honest thoughts, at least by oneself. Instead of destroying superstitions, the discarded, un-nurtured intellect defends superstition, a lamentable state in evidence today. Too little reason as a foundation of positive well being does little to advance happiness or improve men and women.

Needed: A Product to Treat Early life Brainwashing

Perhaps there is something to be said for targeted, pinpoint brainwashing. If the local supermarket had over-the-counter brain-cleansing products along with polish removal, mouthwash, rinses and the like, I would purchase and apply it, carefully of course, so as not to suffer collateral memory loss, to the portion of my brain that holds to this day the remnants of jejune Catholic elementary school prayers, such as the voodoo-like Christian example quoted above.

Ingersoll’s words on that plaque deserve our attention:

No one should throw away his reason, the fruit of all experience. It is the intellectual capital of the soul, the only light, the only guide, and without it, the brain becomes the palace of an idiot king, attended by a retinue of thieves and hypocrites.

Well, I suppose re-education is the best method of brainwashing we can hope for, informed by the embrace of reason for a better, secular future for each person and the nation. Reason does not get a lot of support but is it our best hope – and that’s why the positive, life – enriching form of wellness with reason as the foundation dimension of skill-building (along with exuberance, athleticism and liberty) is so invaluable for quality of life promoters to advance at every turn.

Support for reason (versus superstition) is tenuous, at best, as Ingersoll suggested:

I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the star-less night, — blown and flared by passion’s storm – and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains.

All good wishes.

++++

Donald B. Ardell can be reached at awr.realwellness@gmail.com; his latest books are 1) Wellness Orgasms: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy and 2) REAL Wellness – it can be examined and ordered here.

Jerry Coyne at BHA 2016—Part 2: NOPE.

(Part 1 is here.)

[CONTENT NOTE: While this post contains no graphic descriptions or images of violence, it does contain discussion of: child sexual assault, abuse and death; suicide; hostility to consent, bodily autonomy and agency; homophobia; sex- and gender-based discrimination.]

Just a reminder: in the intro to Part 1, I noted that while atheist Big Willie Dr. Coyne may communicate some very useful and interesting things in this lecture (and elsewhere) that readers here may find worthwhile, he is exasperatingly prone to poo flinging, and I fully respect the decision of anyone who decides to pay him no attention whatsoever on this basis alone. As I said, FWIW I do not allow Coyne’s poo flinging in the remaining portions of the transcript to go unrebutted.

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Jerry Coyne at BHA 2016—Part 1: YES!

In February Jerry Coyne delivered the British Humanist Association’s annual Darwin Day Lecture in London. For those unfamiliar, Coyne is an evolutionary biologist, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and the author of Why Evolution is True (which I have read) and Faith vs Fact (which I have not). He is a fierce critic of creationism and a fiery proponent of atheism; he blogs prolifically about these and other topics at Why Evolution Is True.

I genuinely like Jerry Coyne. He comes across as knowledgeable and affable, the kind of person I’d really enjoy sitting next to at a dinner party. Of course that doesn’t mean I agree with him all of the time, and in fact his annoying propensity to shit all over straw feminists is fucking exasperating (more on that in Part 2), as is his comical obliviousness to his own privilege (more on that later too).

But hey, nobody’s perfect. We can all decide for ourselves who we will expose ourselves to, on which topic(s) and under what circumstances. For example, Richard Dawkins is dead to me, barring his (highly unlikely) resurrection into a state of semi-self-awareness minimally capable of basic human decency and rationality. On the other hand, when a good friend recommends Jerry Coyne’s Darwin Day Lecture to me, I might be inclined to put on my (metaphorical) biohazard suit so as not to get splattered with (metaphorical) shit, and check it out. Those with less privilege are always making such calls: suit up and wade into the muck, or maybe sit this one out. Otherwise we would consistently miss out on some interesting and useful knowledge, and worse, we would hardly ever go to any dinner parties at all.

I get the Spidey-Sense that anyone reading this who is in some marginalized group(s)—i.e., not white, male, straight, cis-, able, etc.—is nodding along with me, because microaggressions are A Thing to which those privileged along these axes tend to remain haplessly oblivious. So I completely respect your making a different call about paying any attention whatsoever to Coyne (or Dawkins or anyone else).

But I found (some of) Coyne’s lecture, entitled Evolution and atheism: best friends forever?, fascinating. Moreover, he provides support for my point in this post, namely that:

there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that a robust welfare state (especially quality universal single-payer health care) decreases religiosity, while economic insecurity (with respect to wages, housing, food, etc.) increases it. See, e.g., Phil Zuckerman’s book “Society Without God.” Fiscal conservatism in the form of [American Atheists president] Dave Silverman’s “small government, low taxes, a free market” is entirely antithetical to taking the path most likely to get us to the very outcome he seeks: the death of religion.

I transcribed portions of Coyne’s lecture because I think readers may be genuinely infotained by it, but mainly because I’d like to have an easy link to it in order to help shut down the font of incoherent nonsense that is conservative movement atheism. In case it helps you decide whether to continue reading: I do not allow Coyne’s aforementioned (metaphorical) poo flinging in these portions of the transcript to stand unrebutted, and in any case no poo is flung in Part 1.

Tl;dr:

TRIGGER WARNING: Jerry Coyne.
(especially Part 2.)

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Prayer: The Greatest Time-Waster Ever

Introduction

How did Ted Cruz decide on Carly Fiorina for a running mate, in the unlikely event his campaign had a future which, fortunately, it did not? He said, I’ve prayed about this decision for a long time. Not long enough, it seems. Or, maybe there’s another explanation.

Perhaps there’s a god out there with a sense of humor – who knows? Or something beyond knowing – tooth fairies, vampires, devils, goblins – or even currently unknown gods, benevolent or malevolent apparitions of eternal, everlasting omniscience, power and wonderment, beings that become the focus of future adorations and prayers? Maybe such a god or gods simply haven’t yet revealed themselves, just yet. Moses, Joseph Smith, et. al. – where are you? Who knows?

All such wonderments are impossible to settle, to verify. Gods are not subjects for science, after all – they inhabit the realm of superstitions, at least until verifiable evidence for one or more of them turns up. Not likely, but then, who knows? That’s why religion is about faith – simply believing, hoping, wishing. Knowing humans cannot establish such things, I’m agnostic. But, convinced there’s no rational basis to believe there’s anything out there in the nebulous beyond, no anyone/anything to pay attention to Ted Cruz, or anyone else, now or ever, I’m an atheist, as well. Of course, there’s no actual difference in the two – if you don’t believe in the supernatural, what are you if not agnostic and atheist? Neither says there could not be a god, or a devil or a Flying Spaghetti Monster or anything else. Yet, the one who says I don’t know and the one who says I don’t believe have the same position – they cannot reconcile the existence of the unknowable.

Which gets us back to Ted Cruz’ prayer that led him to pick Carly. Wow.

Prayer

How many bazillions of words, thoughts, animal and human sacrifices and other pleas to an imaginary friend have been sent into the ether, to no avail save, perhaps, in a calming, meditative sense (an effect available without belief in a skygod)? We’ll never know but, whatever the tonnage, heavy duty skepticism seems in order that any single prayer was ever heard, let alone answered, favorably or at all.

Why, then, do so many persist in doing so, despite the absence of results? Explanations by the faithful are varied and diverse; one of my favorites comes from an evangelist named Ken Collins: If He did, you’d stop praying! So He delays His answers to give you something better: fellowship with him through persistent prayer.

Another comes from Superintendent Chalmers, a character in The Simpsons: Prayer has no place in the public schools, just like facts have no place in organized religion.

Let me offer a rhetorical question: Has there ever been a greater time-waster than prayer in all of human history? In my view, nothing else comes close. Not spectator sports, not stamp collecting, not bingo and not even chasing after or primping to attract prospective mates. The latter, after all, contributed to the fact that we’re still here.

Reason and REAL Wellness

If you view reason as a key dimension of well being and thus place importance upon rational thinking, you too might have reservations about prayer. This is most likely to be the case if you are not disposed toward superstition and magical thinking. I don’t think doubt that you can be well if you don’t pray, but I’m not convinced you can be truly well mentally if you earnestly believe prayer would influence a god, IF there were one. It’s just so bizarre, when you think about it, unbounded by continuous conditioning from the norms and rituals of religious traditions.

Prayer, in my view, is more injurious to well being than chain smoking, alcohol abuse and binging on sugary soda – put together. A person has to suspend his/her sense of reality to think or even hope that prayer might affect a change beyond his/her own feeling state. (I am not questioning the possible value of prayer – or simply whispering, chanting or thinking of words in a mumbo-jumbo fashion as a meditative chant or form of relaxation – only as an attempt to change something in the world beyond the self.) I’m with Ethan Winer: If prayer actually worked, everyone would be a millionaire, nobody would ever get sick and die and both football teams would always win.

Christopher Hitchens pointed out the arrogance of praying when he wrote, A man who prays is one who thinks God has arranged matters all wrong but who also thinks he can instruct God on how to put them right. In Improved Man, Robert Green Ingersoll noted that the improved man will not endeavor, by prayers or supplication, by fastings or
genuflections, to change the mind of the Almighty, or to alter the course of nature; neither will he employ others to do such things in his place.

Many people believe, as several are credited with saying, that nothing fails like prayer. Dan Barker wrote a song with that title – and it’s delightful.

Any drug company that sold pills with less efficacy would be prosecuted; anyone who ingested them would be considered a fool. Yet a Pew survey a few years ago found that half the American population prays daily. Politicians have created a national prayer day; even lawsuits have not kept public officials from mixing city/county/state and other government business meetings with opening prayers. Our president can’t conclude a speech without intoning the ritual mantra, which sounds a lot like a prayer, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. After every hurricane, tornado, tsunami, mass killing and tragedy of every kind, people seem compelled to offer comfort or sympathy with these meaningless words: Our prayers go out to the victims and their families.

Well, it does no harm, I suppose, to let prayers go out, but it would be nice if something positive were to come back as a result. And that has never happened. Never. Not once.

Summary

Step back and imagine for a moment you’re a visitor from space. Knowing because of your vastly advanced large head containing multiple wondrous super computer-like brains that no prayer anywhere, anytime in any form has ever been answered by an deity or god-creature in the whole wide cosmos, what would you think of the inhabitants of this planet being attached to such a bizarre convention?

I don’t know for sure, but I doubt that spaceman/woman you would be favorably impressed.

Other than eating, sleeping and having sex, humans have done more praying than anything else since climbing out of trees to walk about and jog on terra firma. No verifiable results, ever, from a single prayer and yet, we keep at it. Not everyone, of course, but most people, to say the least. More likely nearly all people.

I do not have a closed mind about prayer. Here’s a simple way, suggested by Sam Harris, to make prayers of infidels like me:

You could prove to the satisfaction of every scientist that intercessory prayer works if you set up a simple experiment. Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God. I find it interesting that people of faith only tend to pray for conditions that are self-limiting.

As a small child under the spell of Roman Catholic brainwashing, I had to do a lot of praying. I stopped doing so when I was 12; I often wonder how many of my schoolmates from the graduating class at St. Barnabas in 1952 are still at it.

Be well while looking on the bright side of life and pray for me.

Just kidding.