It’s strange not being shatteringly poor anymore. As a mater a fact, due to years of training from being we-got-the-tax-return-yeah!-we-can-buy-another-years’-worth-of-rice-from-sam’s club-poor, we are so careful with our money, our current income, only comfortable to our peers, feels like independent wealth to us.
I am typing this on the same Linux computer I bought 2 years ago, but on a flat screen. As the computer booted up, the screen was obsidian black, and I watched myself watching myself in the reflection, smiling at the coolness of it.
Money does not buy happiness, tis true. Money buys options. Some of those options lead to happiness some do not, but when you have money you have more options. The fact I have a flat-screen does bring me a tiny measure of happiness, I always wanted one. But the real happiness I find in what I buy is not the things I buy, but the fact I have the option of choosing to buy or not to buy them in the first place.
The world is funnel, with the big end out. Right now, at this very moment you are making one decision about various options. That one choice will end certain options, and bring you to new set with a single new decision to weight them. Far in the future, the funnel is very wide. You have a few options open right now, but those options produce options, and whole thing fans out like the delta of a river.
Poverty makes for a narrow funnel. You have less options, which leads to you less new options, and then sometimes you cross a line, and their isn’t a funnel anymore. There is just a slow conveyor belt to misery.
So, no. Money does not make me happy. Money gives me the ability to chose, that ability, not what I do with it, is what makes me happy.
So what ties the previous two blogs together? In the first blog, I talked about sometimes missing the comfort the church provided me. I spoke of speaking in tongues and the joy of sharing spiritual experiences with others.
In the next, I wrote about one of the best nights at house church. What happened that night felt wonderful, a pleasure not entirely unlike the non-sexual part of one’s wedding night. When you get married, there is this joy that seems to exist independently of the joy of sex . It’s the joy of belonging to someone totally and them belonging to you. There is a spiritual sharing, a knowledge that this person is really, finally, yours.
And that was the feeling I felt that night. My life would forever be tied to those people in that room. We had all adopted each other, so to speak. We had committed ourselves to love them, to care for them, to help them be the best they could be, and they committed the same to us. There were perhaps 30 of us in that room, and we conscientiously decided we were going to be the early church together, God’s little point of light in Westport, Kansas City.
The feelings I felt that night were real. The elation, the warmth, the affection. All of those feelings were real feelings. It’s just the premise which was false. None of us really loved each other, not like that. We all thought we did; I don’t doubt anyone’s sincerity that night. It’s just that our hearts were writing checks our lifestyles couldn’t cash.
I remember once taking an old, rotten wood and canvas canoe down a river. My father and I began with the feeling that everything would be OK. The boat fell apart over a little 3 day trip, patched beyond repair. The next year we began another river trip, this time in a heavy aluminum jon boat. Again we began with the same hope, excitement, expectation and the feeling that everything would be OK. That trip was OK because our feelings were founded on solid fact, unlike the first, when the feelings were not.
The comfort of the church I miss is the false comfort of kindly lies. I do miss the comfort of naivety, but not at the price of living a lie. To be naive because you are ignorant of the truth is a normal part of youth. To be naive because you choose to believe lies rather than truth is the first step toward mental illness.
Above all, I guess what I missed was the friendship, but upon reflection I realize, I didn’t have real friendship, but rather real feelings about non-friends. An acquaintance asked me the other day if I still wanted to be friends with her. I laughed out loud. Real friendship isn’t something you choose to do, it’s something you cannot chose not to do. And that sort of friendship takes time measured in years and decades, not months.
Let me plug my friends Jason, Paul, and Ben here. I have known all of them for 16 years. Any of them would lay their lives down for me, and I for them. We aren’t friends because we know how to be, we are friends because we don’t know how not to be. All saw me through an awkward adolescence, the turbulent nine years of teenhood, 3 failed attempts at college, a failed engagement, marriage, fatherhood, ministry, and finally atheism. And nothing I have done has made it possible for them to stop loving me. That’s friendship.
I am not super atheist. I do miss the comfort of the church sometimes, but it was real emotions based on false events. I miss the feeling, not the falsehood.
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. Fasting is hardship. It’s not nearly so bad as starving, but it’s an experience that few westerns have had. Shared hardship builds tight social bonds, and fasting is no exception. We hadn’t eaten in three days. The first day is easiest, you don’t even feel it till supper, really. The second day is harder at breakfast, but easier in the afternoon. The third day is pretty hard. I’ve talked to people who’ve fasted for weeks, and they say the third day is the hardest, that your body is learning how to fast, metabolically.
Wednesday night we had all had supper together, and none of us had eaten since. Eating together also forms bonds between people. The early church broke bread and praised together in houses Acts 2:46 and so did we. Everyone had brought something, a casserole, a dessert, finger food, prepared with shaky hands and growling stomachs. Have you ever prepared food when you haven’t eaten in 70 hours? The anticipation is almost crushing.
There was so much food it was overflowing the table, crock pots were circled around outlets like campers around a fire, and chairs were loaded down with platters and bowls. We stood around the table, hand in hand. It was strange how we looked at each other. Our eyes were shinning like lovers as we looked into each other’s souls shamelessly.
We prayed in a babble of tongues for a time, each person worshiping God in an inscrutable language he blessed them with, and then stopped, looking at each other breathlessly. We ate, at last. We talked, we laughed, we loved. We all loved each other.
Finally it’s time for communion. Communion is a joy, but also serious business. Many modern Christians have forgotten that God punishes those who take communion unworthily with death and damns them to hell (First Corinthians 11:27-37). This same passage also tells us that to take communion is to be in unity. We knew that. We had chosen this communion to be special.
This was our standing before the lord as one. We took communion together that night not only because we loved Jesus, but because we loved one another. That night, before we took the cup, we each affirmed that we loved each other, and that we bonded ourselves together, to care for one another as Christ cares for us.
The next post I write will tie this and Super Atheist together. Thanks for reading all, and thanks for the comments, both for and against my position.
I have an online acquaintance who is disabled. She speaks often of a struggle she has, which she calls the “Super Cripple” complex. (Read her blog here). Are you familiar with positive stereotypes? A positive stereotype is a belief which infers imaginary abilities to a group or subgroup, such as black people being better at sports or Asians being better at math, etc.
She deals daily with the struggle to accept herself as she is, rather than a Hallmark Movie caricature of herself crafted of positive stereotypes. She calls this caricature “Super Cripple”. SC never gets tired of campaigning for human rights. SC can wheel-up gradual stairs. SC is super, she doesn’t need help from ANYBODY! The reality, of course, is that disabled means “less able” and she does need help. The real strength is accepting the reality of needing help, rather than trying to pretend she doesn’t by playing the fictional part of SC. Accepting this every day remains a challenge for her.
My struggle, or one of them, is to not be Super Atheist. Super Atheist finds purpose and joy without God or religion. Super Atheist doesn’t need faith; Super Atheist has reason! Super Atheist never believes sincerely with one part of his mind something that another part of his mind knows is actually false. Super Atheist finds happiness in holidays like Easter and Christmas, because even though he knows there is no God to celebrate, he is with his family and that is what really counts. Super Atheist never wants to go to church, or take communion, or pray for the broken of the world. Super Atheist can do anything!
But the thing is, I’m not Super Atheist. I miss the comfort of the God hypothesis. The idea that I am here for a capital “P,” Purpose, a participant in a grand narrative. I miss the afterlife hypothesis. The idea that what we do on earth has a greater meaning than the handful of lives we touch, and that evil which is not caught in the here and now, will someday be punished in the after life.
I miss crappy church. I miss getting dressed up and going and singing once a week. I miss real church…a lot. I miss sitting in a room full of adopted family, and singing and praying and feeling loving and loved.
I miss speaking in tongues and the emotional high that it brings. Actually, come to mention that, I really miss it. Someone would come forward and we would all put them in a group hug. We’d all go around the circle and “pray a message of God’s heart for that person” which amounted to telling the person how valuable they were, how loved, how special. It felt great to do and to have done to you. Then we’d pray in tongues. The reason part of the brain idles down, and the emotional part revs up. I’ve never taken 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (Ecstasy) but speaking in tongues seems to have the exact same effects. From wikipedia:
- Mental and physical euphoria
- A sense of general well-being and contentedness
- Decreased negative emotion and behavior such as stress, anxiety, fear, and paranoia
- Increased sociability and feelings of communication being easy or simple
- Increased urge to communicate with others.
- Increased empathy and feelings of closeness or connection with others
- Reduced insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of emotional injury
- Decreased irritability, aggression, anger, and jealousy
- A sense of increased insightfulness and introspection
- Mild psychedelia (colors and sounds are enhanced, mild closed-eye visuals, improved pattern recognition, etc)
- Enhanced tactile sensations (touching, hugging, and sex for example all feel better) Ask any married Pentecostal if you don’t believe me, by the way, sex after praying in tongues is an amazing spiri-sexual experience.)
And I miss them all. Above all I miss feeling like I was apart of something really special: a 2000 year old Royal guard, still fighting the rebels to have the kingship of the true and most high King recognized. There is a romance to words like “Kingdom”, “Knight of the Cross”, “Sacred purpose”, “Most High” that words like “country”, “community advocate”, “special reason”, and “President” simply cannot match. Though administratively identical, they are rhetorically worlds apart.
I am not Super Atheist. I confess, I have a desire in my heart to gather with believers, to sing songs of worship, reverence, sorrow, penitence, and heroic victory. I long to kneel, to dip the broken crust in the wine, to speak the words of my heart to a friend and Lord. My only caveat is that he not be imaginary. I desperately want to sing, worship, kneel and gather my community around a real God.
I long for a god, a religion, a purpose, and grand narrative. I long for everything worthy religion gives man. My disbelief in God is not the result of a lack of longing, but a lack of God.
Happiness is a funny thing.
It’s so transient. Today was my last day on 60+ hour weeks. My box of bike goods arrived, and my new duty time is 0630. So I will be riding my bike to work again. I will be seeing my family again. I am getting rid of my little Panda. (I liked the Panda, it was a fine little car, but I’ve learned all I can from it. I’d like to have small car that I can hot rod a bit, and if I fix up the Panda I’ll have the world’s fastests P.O.S.) I’m getting a used Volvo V90. I’m putting it on finance to work up my credit score, though I could afford to buy it in cash.
Everything is working out my way for the first time in awhile, and today I am happy. I thought for a moment that I sort of missed being able to thank God. But then the one sidedness of that relationship came back to me.
I think I would still be religious if it was OK to get angry at God. I had a great day today, and I wouldn’t mind thanking God for it if when at some point in the future, when I have lousy, lousy day I could be pissy at God. I mean if a good day is His fault, then a bad day is too right? He’s either Lord of all or He’s not.
But no, bad days were always somehow my fault. Even if I didn’t cause the ‘badness’, I was sinning by not blessing God in a bad situation. I was sinning by doubting, sinning by having such a poor attitude, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Today I am happy. Sometime, sooner than later, I won’t be. Crap happens. While I am happy I will celebrate with my loved ones. When I am sad, I will be sad with my loved ones. No fault, no failure, no blame. Life is so much simpler and more peaceful as a spiritual atheist than as a Christian.
So the last post was actually supposed to lightly touch on feminism and talk about an experience I had recently. I realized that I would have to explain what I meant by values so much in the comment section I made it another post of it. Anyway…
Feminism means different things to different people. Ask one person what it means to be a good feminist and they will give you different answer than another person. Despite the lack of clear guidelines, I think “feminism” is an implied value system. Like all value systems, the resident values thereof are self evident to the practitioners and somewhat arbitrary to everyone else.
I have over the last 6 to 9 months become functionally aware of some basic feminist thought. Aware enough that I know some feminist would say that parts of my thought life are wrong (ie, a sin against the feminist value system.) So I want some feedback (preferably from feminists) on the following story.
A while ago, I had had some things to do which required me to sit through the standard “boiler plate” reading of some instructions. The task took seconds, the instructions took about 20 minutes. Even though we were all done, the person had to read all the instructions. This had to be done twice. So, I had about 40 minutes to do nothing but stare at the person talking.
The speaker was a woman. The first thing I noticed were her eyes, they were the deep brown-black of espresso. She had glossy, black hair which bounced on its slight wave as she spoke. Her skin was a creamy camel brown, with a dusting of chocolate freckles. The makeup and clothes she wore were very tasteful and classy. She was full figured, and I thought she was beautiful.
My form was filled out, and my mind wandered as she spoke. I thought about how beautiful she was. I thought about how I would like to be seen with her or someone who looks like her. I thought about how lovely her skin must feel. I wondered if she was married or single. A glance at the enormous rock on her platinum wedding band told me she was married and to someone of some comfortable income. I wondered if she was clever or funny, if she was a good story teller, if she knew good jokes. If I could magically take her out to dinner without it being wrong for either of us, I wondered what we would talk about. I wondered what she would look like naked, and wondered what kind of partner she would be in bed. I wondered if her husband found her as desirable as I did.
At the end of it of the instructions, I had to turn in my papers to her desk at the front of the room, and wait as she looked them over. I’d noticed earlier, she was wearing a low-cut blouse, and I took a fraction of a second’s view at her cleavage, which I found quite pleasant.
Now, I pose this to any feminist who wishes to help me understand. Did I do anything wrong by your values? Never once did I think I had a right to stare at her, nor did I stare inappropriately. I was supposed to be looking at her, and I spent the vast portion of the time looking at her beautiful, brown eyes and freckled face. I didn’t oogle. I didn’t think then, nor do I now, that she was an object. I did think about sex with her, but I thought about it in passing, and in the context of a relationship.
Was I not supposed to notice that she was attractive? Is there something wrong with desiring sex with an attractive woman? Is anything I did or thought, somehow unethical?
I welcome all comments on this one.
Value is always subjective. Different people value different things. We know that, yet we are always slightly aware that the things we value are a little more important than what others value, and because of this awareness, we associate with people who value the things we do. When values are sorted out on some sort of imaginary top ten (or so) list, we call that a value system. (Oddly, because it’s not particularly systematic.)
Because value is subjective, the ranking of value is always more or less arbitrary. But for the value system’s practitioners, it’s not arbitrary; it’s self evident. This results in a lot of exasperation, confusion, and distrust for practitioners, non-practitioners, and both, respectively.
Example: people believe in God because they value the god hypothesis. To them, God is self evident. To them, everything thing that exists, and every idea about existence, is in and of it self evidence. They get very frustrated with people who don’t see the world that way. To atheists, God is not self evident. They demand falsifiable statements (which they don’t generally receive) and get very frustrated too.
The deist thinks the atheist must be purposefully ignoring the clear evidence of God for some (sick) reason. The atheist thinks the deist must be purposefully ignoring the clear lack of evidence of God for some (bizarre) reason. Sanity is a gradient expressing ones communication with reality. Those who are deeply in touch with reality are sane. Those deeply out of touch with reality are insane. So, each side views the other as, more-or-less, mentally ill.
I bring up God mostly for the opportunity to talk about atheism, (and maybe build some report between atheists and theists/deists) but my real point is to talk about value systems.
1. Value is relative.
2. Value systems are formed by “self evident” beliefs.
3. As such they are totally arbitrary.
4. This “Its self evident/No, its arbitrary!” can cause a huge amount of friction.
A note here. I have no social friction with people who chose to value me and disregard in their own lives, my values, nor do they get any from me. The trouble is when people assume because they do not value another group or person’s views, they must also devalue the group or person.
For instanse, I support the right of homosexuals to be recognized as married, join the military, and do whatever other people get to do, because they are just that: people. However, I think homosex is disgusting, and it takes regular effort on my part to remember that people who value an act I find repugnant are OK.
Social peace = seperating the value of the person from the person’s values. Social friction = not seperating the value of the person from the person’s values.