Tag Archives: atheism

“Like teeth spilled from the sky’s broken jaw…”

I’m challenging myself to record one song each day this month, as a part of The MayDayChallenge. Here’s number one:

  • “Moldy Drywall”
  • Where the nail hung into / the moldy drywall
    I hung the icon / of the blessed virgin
    Her tears bled my breast / of its self pity
    No more will I succumb
    To the want of my impotent heart
  • I lay my back upon / the dusty hardwood
    My eyes found escape / through the curvéd skylight
    The lightning carved lines / betwixt the red clouds
    The earth drew the rain
    Like teeth from the sky’s broken jaw
  • Sleep crept toward me from / the furthest corner
    I turned my head to view / the encroaching shadow
    My throat offered up / an Ave Mary
    As the silt of forgetfulness
    Swallowed whole my dissolute self
  • In dreams madness swelled / with salty vengeance
    Rusted centipedes danced / on bleeding parchment
    I felt my lust and hate / gather hot beneath me
    My devils clamored
    While angels drained the pitch from my veins
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The Great Lego Analogy

Having access to the Lego bucket of raw data, humans are compelled to make operating structures to interface the millions of bits into manageable chunks. Some choose to build houses to dwell in, others are lit with the wish to craft spaceships that will ferry them through the asteroid field of experience, where they might glean valuable minerals and alien organisms for further research. Others build to see how gravity works (philosophers), or purely under an experimental Geist (such as artists).

By this analogy, belief-systems are like meta-structures, or templates that people adopt and subsequently model their buildings upon. Each religion (or school), and each denomination (or discipline), possesses certain characteristics that appeal to distinct types of thinking, feeling, and action. And within each system there are those who wish to follow the template more or less exactly, and who distrust any deviation from those instructions (or interpretations thereof).

As well, those who exist outside such constructs sometimes see them as prisons, even as insulting to their intelligence, which finds fulfillment in the act of exploration and experiment. These persons see truth as always in flux, and frame the game as a contest of invention.

While this playmate is sitting crisscross applesauce in the rainbow pile, the others have taken their accepted models and started playing house or battlebots, until an accident or vigorous playmate breaks their construct, and back to the template they must go.

Returning to the pile for a missing piece, there they find the inventor/ investigator, who has already discovered a few novel combinations in the chaos of potentiality. Sadly, each of these are lying forgotten in a pile behind him, discarded by the hands already onto something else.


“Faith, not religion, is the enemy.”

—opined the atheist. To which I replied:

Faith is unavoidable, for everyone is forced at points to posit unsubstantiated claims, even if only as stopgaps to gloss the transit from A to B. Now, being unable to modify these assumptions (or beliefs), that is a sign of mental or emotional calcification, which is caused by laziness, stubbornness, or in response to a perceived threat (for obstinacy is a form of armor).

I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but to discount the human capacity to have faith in what is not immediately graspable overlooks the role this capacity has in how we develop our lives, both personally and in the historic context.

Only experience can verify faith or knowledge. This hurdle seems to mock theists and atheists without particular prejudice.


Self Examination is the Yoga of the Opinionated Heart

…keeping one flexible and [redacted unnecessary reference to yoga pants].

*

(The following is taken from a dialogue I had in /r/christianity at reddit.com)

Me: After spending some time outside the church in my early twenties, I went to visit my parents (my father is a pastor) and I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable feeling during the worship portion of the service. It felt too ’emotional’ to me. People sounded like they were using their hearts to comprehend and interact with the divinity, rather than creating a calm, quiet space inside where the Divine activity could manifest.

Adversely, a couple years later I was in Europe and I saw an old, old, old wooden door. I thought “Hey: a landmark!” and I pushed myself inside.

Little did I know it was a place of worship. And it was the beginning of Mass.

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Religious Spirituality: a sliding scale

This is from a mini-essay I wrote to an atheist community, in the hopes of eliciting some discussion on the shallowness and depth of believers. It borrows heavily from the talks of Pak Subuh.

The Islamic tradition details four levels of religious experience: the lowermost is “shari’at”, where one accepts the revealed truth of a religion and its rules and regulations. This is the faith that most people hold: it is based wholly on acceptance of inherited truths. In this faith, it is enough to say the words and do the motions and then go on with your day. When people of this level speak about faith or reality, their language sounds like a ‘code’ to the outsider, they tend to bend all arguments to their narrowing viewpoint, and they come off as either pompous, batty or ambiguous— this is because they have not yet made the accepted truths their own, and so are unable to translate their faith into the present moment, be it in a dialogue or argument or some lackadaisical pedestrian philosophizing. Again: these are the most common type of believers. Disparaging religion for their sake is like denouncing bluegrass because country radio sucks.

The second level is called “tarekat”—this is where a believer begins to think: “Okay, I say what I should say, and do what I should do—but why? What is the meaning behind these words and morals?” This type of believer is not necessarily more ‘open minded’ than the preceding, but they are more deep minded about their beliefs. Most pastors and ministers fit into this tier. When speaking of matters of faith they will often have anecdotes to share, and will be able to communicate the subtleties of their creedo more or less smartly and with varying degrees of panache. However, communication will break down once the topic of direct experience is broached. They are still restrained to the traditional belief system, and won’t be able to comfortably walk into atheistic territory with you because they must stay close to their central tenants to make sense of things. Disparaging religion for their sake is like denouncing Apple based solely on their closed iOS platform—that is, most of their beliefs are based on a “design philosophy” that allows this and disallows that—and if they don’t jive with you, it’s more or less a matter of personal taste, not essential reality.

Now here is where things get interesting. The third level of religious devotion is called, in Islam, the “hakekat”. This means reality. You will find these persons rarely, but you will find them even among atheists. These are the ones for whom beliefs and statements are tertiary, where actual reality is central. They shine with an ‘inner light’—because they live by example: they know that teaching is the biggest lie, that everyone needs to come to terms with the terms of life on their own.

There is a fourth level, but that doesn’t really apply to normal people. We could say this fourth level is there—“ma’rifat” by name—as the sort of Ideal to be attained. It means an at-one-ment (to pilfer a shimmering jewel from Dan Brown) with the spiritual process. These are the prophets: they are a statistical improbability.


Believing is like Dreaming: a byproduct of intelligence

In which I urge a writer to explore his character’s doubts, rather than the deploring of others’ faith.

 

My personal take on religion is that it is a housing for experiences of an extremely personal and powerful effect, and over the centuries it has moved away from that, to a more or less impersonal aggregator of communal opinion, that seeks to mold the internal verity to an external denominator.

However (and this again is my personal take), both the disbelievers and believers base their beliefs on their own experiences. And when your character declares that he does not believe, that is not a lack of belief, but a (positive) belief in the lack of reality (negative value) of the religious experience, based on his dislike/mistrust/refutation of the religious doctrine.

Were he challenged by a [man] who uses religion not as a way to constellate the self in a cult of belonging — but rather as a way to communicate “deeper” or “uncommon” notions of connection, meaning, faith, and self — what would your character say to defend his belief that religious experience is a lie? How would your character hold up under a patient, reasonable examination of his certainty (absence of doubt) that there is no God? If he were to discuss his “un”belief with an intelligent inquisitor who insists on the psychological value, rather than the cultural influence, of spirituality — what experiences would he share? In his past, were there any moments [in his church] where the rituals fell away and he merged with something greater than him? What were the instances when his doubt emerged—the first cracks, leading up to the final shatter, which forced him to be honest with his own experience?

Believing is like dreaming: it’s a byproduct of our intelligence and imagination. We can’t not do it. And if some are convinced they don’t, it is more likely that they are not conscious of it.

(I in no way mean to say we all believe in a certain Something, but that belief itself is an attribute of human beings)

And a parting query: Can we doubt our dreams, while still allowing for their significance?


Women and God

Man’s understanding of the Universe begins and ends with women.

The theist will proclaim God in his deepest and most meaningful voice, but he cannot deny he is often befuddled by the woman that he lives with.

And the atheist will systematically deconstruct the notion of an afterlife, the notion of a sentient higher power, but he can’t control his fingers when he sees a woman that he wants.

Only in the glimpse that is arrived at, in the moment of giving himself to her fully, does a man begin to understand life.