Saturday, December 30, 2006

About Atheism...

I may be coming out of the closet with this one, but here goes. Check out this recent article by Sam Harris, entitled "10 Myths and 10 Truths About Atheism".

I have to share one quote because it's come up in recent discussions with some of my religious friends, who are apt to say, "But look at all the good religion has done."

Sam Harris writes:

"Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.

In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?"

I had a discussion recently with my brother about whether religion is really a force for good in society and whether one's intentions can excuse their behavior. I cited Mother Teresa and how she is lauded as some great and wonderful figure. But is that the case? Were her acts motivated by genuine love and kindness for those who suffer or were they guided by her devotion to and/or fear of some unprovable deity in the sky? I don't want this to be a discussion of Mother Teresa's motives, for no one can know for certain what her motivations were. My point is the question of whether belief in a God is necessary for people to do good.

Religion is such a sacred cow for most people. It seems we can discuss anything else, but when religion comes up, particularly the question of whether God exists, there is a tendency to hide behind the "I respect everyone's beliefs" philosophy. Well, you can tell this is a pretty interesting subject for me these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, on here or in person.

tall penguin

Friday, December 29, 2006

Grief...

Tonight I am heavy with sadness. I've been thinking a lot about my parents. Our relationship has been strained since I left the cult that they raised me in and that they are still part of. While they have not completely shunned me, as the tenets of their cult would have them, it is just not the same between us. There are very obvious conditions on our relationship now, conditions that make open, honest communication difficult if not impossible. I have grown weary of conditional love in this life. And to face it now with my own parents is sometimes too much to bear.

As I was reflecting on my parents and the loss of the relationship I wish I'd had with them, I was informed of the death of a friend's mother. This friend posts on the ex-cult forum I belong to online. In one of the condolence posts, a fellow member shared this quote from Maya Angelou: "I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life." This brought tears to my eyes. Tears to my heart.

I miss my folks. Some days I miss them terribly. I miss the people they could have become, the people I know lurk deep within them. For so often when we speak I know I'm talking to the cult and not them. They are buried deep within dogma and indoctrination and hopes that will go unfulfilled. I grieve for them. I grieve for me. I grieve for my unborn children who may never know their grandparents.

Sometimes I wish and I hope that they'll see what they're missing by choosing this cult over me. I dream wistfully of the day where we can put all this behind us and share family dinners and holidays and birthday celebrations. Where we can come together in the knowledge that our love for each other is stronger than any other force, where there are no conditions, only acceptance.

But most of all I think about the day when my parents will pass from this life, along with their dogma, and their idealistic cult dreams and I will grieve for what might have been. I dread that day. That will be the day that hope ends.

tall penguin

Another Wretched Night...

Even with the help of Mother Pharmaceutical I'm still having trouble sleeping. My brain buzzes with thoughts and ideas and worries and dreams and nightmares and songs. Yes, songs. Have you ever noticed the soundtrack that plays in your head. It's like I've had an Ipod surgically implanted into my brain stem. No matter how much chatter, or how little chatter for that matter, is going on in my head, there is still room for a song to play over and over again. Last night it was an 80's pop song by "Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam" called "Head to Toe". Why my amygdala decided that one was worth storing is beyond me.

So I'm lying in bed. This song is playing like the needle's stuck and my heart is racing like I've just climbed 10 flights of stairs. My brain fixates on some thoughts which swirl around and around in some cerebral cat and mouse game. I wish I were dead. All I want is to sleep. Sweet, glorious sleep. To sleep perchance to dream. Finally my prayer to the God of somnolence is answered.

I enter my first of many vivid dreams that night. Active dreams. Dreams where I wake up more tired than I was before it all started. I dream of conflict and escape. I'm running but not getting anywhere. There are people, some I know, some seem strange to me. And of course there's still some song setting the scene in the background.

As far back as I can remember most of my dreams have centered around a desperate search for something, usually relief of some sort. Often I've gotta pee so bad and can't find a washroom. Or I do and the door only reaches my knees. Or it's on a stage and everyone is watching.

When I was a child, I had this recurring dream where I was being chased by a giant spider through a department store. I couldn't just run away though because for some reason I was naked and had to make my way to safety while hiding under one clothing rack after another, so I wouldn't be seen by the spider or anyone else. Oh Freud, where art thou?

Sometimes I'm looking for sexual relief in my dreams. And yet, at the age of 32, I've never had sex in my dreams. Never. Whenever I get really close there is always some kind of interruption. Earlier in my life, it was usually my mother. (Gee, no surprise there. She ruined most of my fun for the first 30 years of my life.) Now, it's strangers who come and knock on my door just as I'm about to get it on. In last night's dream I was with Paolo Coelho, famous writer of The Alchemist. We were just getting snuggly when some neighbors pop by his house, without calling I might add, to say hello. I mean really, even the people in my dreams are ignorant bastards. Geesh.

So I awake to yet another day filled with frustration. Exhausted, slightly horny and quite frankly, filled with an angst and anger that seems odd for so early in the day. And I wonder what to do with the hours that lie ahead of me. All I really want to do is sleep in the hopes that maybe just maybe I'll find what I'm looking for.

tall penguin

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why Did I Believe?

The other night at Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt's place, an interesting discussion arose. At the "kiddie" table, we, aged 19-32, were discussing God and religion and philosophy. One gal said that she wanted to believe in God because she's afraid of death and doesn't want to think that this is the only life we get. She also expressed having a plethora of other fears which she didn't feel she could deal with without God's help. And I got to thinking about why I believed in God.

The most simple reason is that like this gal expressed, I wanted to believe. Granted, the belief in a God was passed along by my mother, but even as an adult, I wanted to believe. Some of it was the desire to escape my own mortality, but most of all as my life began to unravel through my teens and twenties and my health began to decline, I wanted to believe that there was someone out there witnessing my life. Someone taking stock of my pain and suffering. Some cosmic knight in shining armor that would one day rescue me and reward all my labor. But most of all what I was really hoping for, and I would actually dream about this, was for God to explain my life to me.

I envisioned myself after death, speaking to God; the two of us would review the events of my life and he'd explain to me why I'd gotten sick, why life had been so hard for me and why my brain seemed to not function like other people's brains did. I always thought that some explanation would have made all of my suffering worth it, put it into perspective for me. And since God had a master plan and was giving me everlasting life at the end of it all, it wouldn't matter much. I just really wanted to know.

I remember one dream where I was speaking to God and pleading to understand my life and my struggles with my health over the years, and he says to me, "Well, actually, you had a brain tumor, a really small one, and it really interfered with your functioning. The doctors never found it. Sorry 'bout that."

Now, I look back and realize that I probably would've been pretty pissed off with that explanation. "Gee thanks God for looking out for me. I mean all ya had to do was get the doctors to order me a brain scan. Would that have been so hard?"

Of course it all seems quite foolish now, these ideas of God and some master plan. The funny thing is I don't think I could believe anymore even if I wanted to. It's like trying to go back and believe that Santa Claus is real when you've seen your dad putting on the suit. I know differently now. There's no going back.

tall penguin

Monday, December 25, 2006

So this is Christmas...

This is my second Christmas since leaving the cult I was raised in (which didn't celebrate Christmas). Before that, my last Christmas was around age 4. I have pictures of me as a toddler with Santa and heaps of Christmas gifts. Seemed like a good time to me.

Last year, it was still a strange thing to know that I could celebrate Christmas. I still wasn't sure whether I even believed in the bible or Christ or God or anything for that matter. So, the extent of my celebration was to send out a few cards, exchange a few gifts and let the day pass like any other.

This year I'm still not sure what I believe and feel okay with that. I'm more sure of what I don't believe in, particularly God, so celebrating Christmas this year is purely secular. I really wanted a little tree to put in our apartment but wasn't quite ready to make the monetary commitment, unsure of whether I'd still be into Christmas next year. I decided to put up lights and buy a few candles. I love all things sparkly and shiny. I wanted to be mesmerized like I was as a child. I remember when visiting my non-cult friends at Christmas, which was a rarity since my mother kept us clear of the “worldly neighbours” at the best of times and even more so at Christmas, how I loved to just stare at their Christmas tree. The lights and the colors, the sensory overwhelm, it was wonderful. I tried not to look too pleased lest I bring reproach on my faith but I couldn’t help it. I was a kid and it was nice to be a kid in those rare moments.

Christmas this year has really been about letting that little girl come to visit me. Allowing her to be with her childish excitement and wonder. Giving her permission to just be who she is without the guilt and the expectation. It's been fun. I bought some little snowmen and snowflake decals for my window and they make me smile each time I walk by. I bought a poinsettia just to round out the festive ambiance. And I purchased a new Christmas CD and I've been playing it constantly, much to my boyfriends dismay.

I also bought the “Charlie Brown Christmas” DVD last week. I remember watching it as a child, every time it played on TV. I even recall sneaking peaks at it after we entered the cult. That scene where they’re all dancing on stage and Snoopy does his little jig is priceless. Oh Snoopy…you're the coolest! I bought the CD last year and it’s still my favorite.

I also started a Christmas menagerie. I began with a very cute little plush gingerbread man, nothing too chintzy. Then came, of course, a tall penguin, complete with earmuffs and scarf. I stopped at two for this year, but Boxing Week starts tomorrow so I may just add to the zoo before this holiday season ends.

It's abysmally green this year. No snow in sight. We had a light dusting about two weeks ago and that was it. It feels more like Spring here than the middle of Winter. Stupid global warming screwing up my dreams of a white Christmas!

So, I leave you this day with holiday hugs and the hope that you can reconnect with that little child within you that sees wonder everywhere and gets caught up in the magic of a twinkling light. May that child have peace.

tall penguin

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Bubble

I've lived in a bubble for a very long time. The kind of bubble that has sheltered me from the reality of life, from the reality of my own human nature. There are days where I wish I could climb back in the bubble, the days where I wish I'd taken the "blue pill." On those days, (And there have been many of them recently, just ask my boyfriend.) I feel angry. Really, really angry. I feel angry that I now have to deal with the fact that many of the beliefs I was raised with and that I've acquired for myself over the last 32 years are complete shite. Angry that I was raised in a cult. (What was my mother thinking?) Angry that my dad didn't intervene. (What was he thinking?) Angry that I wasn't smart enough to snap out of it sooner. (What was I thinking?)

Most of all, I'm angry that the story I've weaved for myself around my experiences may not be accurate. I can now see my past as a very different beast. I journaled recently about connecting with my father's sister attempting to get some background on my father and what he was like as a child, considering he's always been a bit of an enigma. He's the stereotypical emotionally closed European male. The hard worker, not much of a talker type. So, after that conversation with my aunt I wrote the following. It typifies what it's like on days where I'm acutely aware of being out of the bubble.

"So, now I wonder what’s true. I get bits of information and try to piece together a story about my parents' life, my life. But who knows what really happened? I don’t think I’ll ever know. It’s weird. You can build your whole life on false information. Make major life decisions based on untruth. You can weave this whole elaborate story and it becomes real in your mind. But it can be complete crap. How many stories do we tell ourselves each day? How often are we validating beliefs that aren’t true? What if it’s all a lie? Where do we go from there? Where do I go from here?"

And so it is for me these days. Today is one of those days. It's raining and I'm angry and I'm filled with grief. And I wonder about what I know. And my father's voice pops into my head. My father, the non-emoting, non-verbal parent, once said one of the wisest things I think I've heard anyone say: "All I know is that I'm here." Thanks Dad.

tall penguin

Coincidence

Oprah's favorite line these days seems to be "There are no coincidences." And I used to believe that. I used to believe that everything in my life happened for a reason, that there was some universal order to the events of my existence. Now, I'm not so sure. Again, my ignorance was showing.

For example, when I would meet someone, whether friend or stranger, I would listen intently to what they had to say, thinking that everything they had to offer would be useful for me. Sometimes it would be a book recommendation or a pithy cliche. And I would take it in and breathe a sigh of relief feeling that "the universe" cared about me, that somehow, that person was provided at that exact time to tell me exactly what I needed to hear.

I remember so many times a book would be recommended to me to read. And I'd run off to the nearest bookstore, buy it and devour it, looking for what it was that the universe was trying to tell me. And most times I'd see something that seemed to fit with my current life dilemma. But there were other times where the information would seem completely unhealthy or inaccurate. And I would wonder, what am I supposed to do with this? Where do I put this information if it's been directed to me in some non-coincidental, almost providential way? And when I could, I would dismiss the information but feel really sad because it made me question my belief in the nature of coincidence, in the nature of the universe really.

I would discuss this with some of my friends, mostly new agers, who also believed as I did in the non-coincidental version of the universe. They would say, "You got exactly what you needed. You needed to have that information to see that you didn't believe it." Huh? This just confused me more. So, sometimes information came my way just so I could confirm that it wasn't for me? Or unhealthy people entered my life just so I could know that they were unhealthy? And how exactly does one tell the difference between what to accept and what to discard if it's all driven by some ultimate meaning?

You can imagine the angst it caused me each day attempting to sort out what secret message lay within every interaction I encountered. I just stubbed my toe. No coincidence eh? Okay, what does it mean then? What about the car accident I had 7 years ago? Or the day my back went out when I was doing yoga? Or what about the abuse I suffered at the hands of men who claimed to represent God? No coincidence? So, what's the meaning?

I agonized over every little event, every conversation, every flu, sniffle and ache. I looked for meaning everywhere. Wasted a whole lot of energy looking for meaning where none was to be found. The reality was that I could put a meaning on anything I wanted. It didn't make it true. Sometimes I saw what I wanted to see. And sometimes I didn't see what was most obvious, that sometimes it just is. There are coincidences. There is probability of events. Sometimes things just happen because you're at the wrong place at the wrong time. And sometimes great and wonderful things happen as well, and that often has nothing to do with you either. As Penn Jillette, the famous illusionist, says, "Million to one odds happen eight times a day in New York."

In my naivete, I wanted to believe that the universe revolves around my existence, that I'm supremely special and that there is a providential hand directing my life. I really wanted it to be true. And then I grew up.

tall penguin

Thursday, December 21, 2006

So, I'm Becoming A Skeptic...

Never thought I'd see the day where I'm reading Richard Dawkins and perusing "Skeptical Inquirer" or putting aside my homeopathic remedies and reaching for the ibuprofen, but here I am.

I just finished reading "The God Delusion" and I realize how ignorant I've been for a very long time. Growing up in a cult, my exposure to evolution (notwithstanding "The Far Side" cartoons I loved as a teen; bless you Gary Larson) was at the hands of equally ignorant bible-thumpers who used just about every logical fallacy imaginable to back their case for creationism. Admitting to myself that I've been a complete idiot for most of my life is humbling to say the least. I've spent many moments recently in tears over my own ignorance. How could I have been so stupid? Sigh.

I'm slowly emerging from the hypnagogic stupor that has been my existence for the past 32 years to find a very intriguing and overwhelming world surrounding me. A stranger to a strange land, I find myself learning the language of this new paradigm with great difficulty. I have little foundation for rational thought and critical decision-making. I was taught what to think, not how to think. I grieve for the ill-advised decisions I've made. All the heartache, not to mention ill health, I endured because of cognitive dissonance brings me to my knees some days. For so long I tried to keep it all together in my mind. "Yes, there's a god. Sure, he cares. Yes I'm being abused but god will work it out when he's good and ready. It's not up to me to question him. There's a master plan. Just be patient."

I wonder what I will discover in the days ahead of me. More ignorance I'm sure. More 20/20 hindsight. More grief and anger and disappointment. Yet also there will be hope. And knowledge and truth. And possibility. Ahh yes, possibility. The ever-emerging idea that maybe, just maybe, I'll amount to something in this life. That all the potential I've been shoving away for someone else's ideals will surface and manifest in this world. That, my friends, excites me.

tall penguin

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Testing 1, 2, 3

So, this is a blog. It's all new to me. I figured I'd just dive right in rather than look at what other people have done here, since my inner voice will kick in and tell me I can't do it as well as everyone else and all my creative juices will pool in the lower recesses of my brain causing me great angst. So, here goes. Be gone inner voice.

Once upon a time, I wrote. A lot. Every day. Poetry. Journals. Essays. Whatever I felt like ranting about. And then life happened. Not the good kind of life. The crappy, kick-you-in-the-stomach-and-stomp-on-your-head-kind-of-life. And the muse left or rather cowered deeply within my soul, like the vulnerable child she is and refused to come out to play. But she's back. And I'm back. And well, here I am writing again.

It feels kind of strange really. This whole cyber world. The ability to put your thoughts out into the cosmos so freely, so easily, at the click of a button. It's a strange sort of vulnerability that creates, to be so exposed. I've always felt that sharing my writing was like lying spread eagle on a bed for all the world to see. So blogging for me is the equivalent of coming out as a porn star. I'm naked, I'm shaved and I'm about to climax. Everybody watch.

tall penguin