Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist

I was over on the Think Atheist reading the Sunday services and I read an interesting article by someone who felt that Atheists are people who choose not to accept responsibility for their actions. The author feels it is because we don’t have a divine person to account to. I’d like to address some of these stereotypes.

The first one I’ve heard is that we’re all a bunch of assholes who think we can do anything we want. While there ARE a tiny percentage of atheists out there that use their non-belief as an excuse to hurt others, the larger percentage hold themselves accountable for their actions and even do charitable works. There have been food and clothing drives sponsored by atheist groups. There are even major secular charitable groups such as Oxfam International, Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF.

At Tam7 (the seventh annal Amazing Meeting, a conference for non-believers, free thinkers, secular humanists and the like) there was a wedding of two major players in our skeptics community. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick.org and Sam Rodriguez said their I Do’s in a beautiful ceremony that really showed their love for one another. You can see the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yi2KTaieDs

Skeptics and non-believers also have their little quirks like everyone else. I name my cars. My current car, a 1993 Honda del Sol is named Maz because he thinks he’s a Maserati. This doesn’t mean that I believe that my car has an actual personality. I know that it is just a machine. It’s just fun to pretend once in a while. This is simply a carry-over from my childhood when we named our cars.

I have met many skeptics and non-believers out there more than willing to apologize if they are wrong or if they hurt someone’s feelings. Most people I have met on various forums are tactful when dealing with believers. We HAVE to be. People are easily offended when their beliefs are even gently put into question.

I think that people feel threatened because they don’t want to appear stupid if their favorite belief is proved to be in error when put to a real scientific test. When people get scared they tend to lash out. So a skeptic has to be careful.

Even when we’re being kind and gentle in helping people question their beliefs in things that may not be scientifically  sound, many still see us as baby eaters who are out to consume their souls and destroy everything that is good in the world. For me, babies are too stringy, souls are too insubstantial and I LIKE stuff that’s good.

Just because you understand that rainbows are refracted light or what a shooting star REALLY is, that doesn’t have to take the wonder and joy from the experience. The world isn’t magical, but it IS wonder filled. So talk to a skeptic. Get to know an atheist. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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Prelude Part 2

That experience (see the last post) threw me completely into the wonderful world of Woo and drowned me in it. I became convinced that I was some kind of trance channeling psychic Girl Wonder. Any brand of Woo was something that I subscribed to. I spent thousands of dollars on Reiki classes and became an energy healer. For years I practiced hands on healing as an Usui and Karuna Reiki Master. I convinced people that Reiki would help them feel better.

In reality, who doesn’t feel better by laying down for 45 minutes and just relaxing? It doesn’t take mysticism to make that happen. At this point I had lost all rational thought. Fortunately the American public didn’t buy into it and I found that I could not make a living doing or teaching Reiki. So I moved on to hypnotherapy.

There is at least a little bit of validity to hypnosis. Unfortunately the theories about how the brain is ordered that this group subscribes to is incorrect. Hypnosis really is simply giving someone else permission to reprogram you. If you REALLY want it to work and put the effort into making it work then it will work. It’s another form of a magic bullet, though. As with reiki, there is SO much woo in hypnosis. I would love to see more scientific research done on how and why it works.

Penn and Teller did an episode of Bullshit! on hypnosis. I was only able to see their conclusions in that show though. According to Penn, they just don’t know how it works yet.

When we moved to a smaller town and I couldn’t get my hypnosis practice off the ground, I turned to a different career. Herbalism. Dr. Steven Novella calls herbs “dirty drugs” and for good reason. They are not regulated by the FDA or any other government agency. I became SO fascinated with how herbs work on the human body that I started studying phytochemistry and pharmagognosy through the American College of Health Sciences.

That was an inkling of the beginning of my return to rational thought. About that time my husband introduced me to Penn Jillette’s podcast radio show and his cable TV show Penn & Teller’s Bullshit. The things Penn said really started making sense. It took me no time at all before I had begun to reject psychics and the like. It was a hard lesson but I realized I had been deluding myself. So I walked away from Reiki and the rest of the Woo I was involved in.

Unfortunately, I clung to herbalism for another year or so because of the financial investment and because I still thought I might be able to do some good.

Ken also introduced me to The Geologic Podcast. Thanks to George and my continued exposure to Penn I became a skeptic and a non-theist. What cemented it in place fully for me was meeting James Randi at DragonCon last year. He asked me if I felt any better since giving up Beliefs.

My heartfelt reply was a resounding “Yes! I feel like a burden has been lifted and now I’m free to be myself”.

I’m afraid I don’t have a real time line for any of this so I’m calling my official Skeptical Birthday August 29th 2008 because that was the day that James Randi helped me confirm that I was doing the right thing for myself.

Prelude to Rational Thought

I have always been a skeptic. I just didn’t know it.

When I was 12 I wrote an essay about why December 25th is not the anniversary of the Christian savior’s birth. Unfortunately i was raised in a home where magical thinking was encouraged. My mother, an artist, believes in psychics, astrology, influencing outcomes with positive thought and other standard woo. My Dad is in radio and had quite a few characters he portrayed on air. Needless to say, playing pretend played a huge role in my family life.

While my parents are Christian, we very rarely went to church. Sunday was my Dad’s only day off. So I was never really indoctrinated formally. Although there were a couple summers when I was sent to Bible camp. I think I ticked a few people off with some of the questions I asked. Many of the teachings just didn’t make sense to me.

When I was 16, I had a very emotional experience at a church get together for teens and I became a believer. I still didn’t go to church and I still had questions that had no answer. Finally I accepted the “God works in mysterious ways” reasoning. I got beaten over the head enough times with it so eventually I capitulated.

When I was 17, I spent the night at my Mom’s friend’s house and she played a tape that I just fell in love with. I didn’t understand at that moment but that was my first introduction to Wicca. The Old Ways made more sense to me. In that religion god was both male and female and there were many gods to choose from. If you didn’t like one, you could choose another. It was a taste of free thought.

The more I investigated, the more I really liked the precepts that Wicca followed. “If it harms none do what thou wilt”. Short, sweet and to the point. “Whatever you do, be it good or ill, comes back to you three fold”. Fantastic. A religion that taught that you were capable of policing yourself without fear of some Mighty Smiter coming along and condemning you to Hell.

For about 10 years I followed Wicca. Eventually I became a High Priestess, though I was mostly a solitary practitioner. I even cast spells and did ceremonies. Eventually though I began to realize that the spells I was casting weren’t working. They weren’t making a difference in my life. I had also never looked very deeply into Wicca and it’s foundations.

When my Christian boyfriend asked me “Why do you worship the Creation and not the Creator” I genuinely didn’t have an answer. So, back to Christianity I went. And it got pretty bad for a while. I got sucked in deeply this time. I started going to his church, a Church of God (aka Holy Rollers). I even started speaking in tongues and giving the translation during the weekly tongues and interpretation segment.

After a year or so, my logical thinking abilities REALLY went south. I went to visit my best friend in California. We were on a road trip to see another friend of ours. While she was in a convenience store I started having a flashback to the time I was anally raped by my first husband. She came out to find me curled up on the front seat, sobbing.

Her solution was to hand me two crystals and have me place them at either temple.

To this day I still do not understand what happened. It felt like a bolt of electricity went from temple to temple and I was momentarily blinded. When the darkness cleared it was like a veil had been removed. The world seemed clearer. Color were brighter and everything was thrown into sharp focus. I was enthralled by the bark of trees and the texture of brick. It was like the world was brand new.

This is getting a little long so I’ll continue this in my next post.

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