Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Losing My Religion

I disagree with most of the Christian positions on social issues. I have serious moral quibbles with much of Christian doctrine. Significant parts of the Bible are reprehensible; the Passover story is particularly appalling. But, those are beliefs that developed after I stepped away from Christianity and examined it objectively. They're not the reason I stopped believing.

The first crack in my faith came while in jail. I was visited by members of a local Charismatic church. I had always believed that speaking in tongues was nonsense, but they convinced me to do it anyway. They were convinced that I had had a spiritual moment; I knew I was just spouting gibberish to make them happy. This presented a serious problem for me. I had always just accepted that what I was told in church was true. But, here were people just as sincerely telling me something different. If they were wrong, how could I be sure that what I had been taught was right.

In the hospital, few if any patients were actively religious. I attended the weekly chapel services, but only because I was the only pianist who could accurately sight-read whatever hymns the chaplain happened to choose that week. The chaplains were a varied bunch from assorted Protestant traditions. Without active support of my particular belief system, I had ample time to consider just how much of what I believed was simply based on personal choice.

Then came college. World religion class required me to read the Koran and other assorted holy books. I began to realise that Christianity was just one of many religions; all of which had followers who were just as certain that their religion was right as I had been about mine. A class on the Prophets took me outside the safe for Sunday School parts of the Bible. For the first time I realised that I was appalled at what I was reading in the Bible.

The final blow that shattered my faith was just after I graduated college. I was attending church with friends. The church youth group was detailing their experiences speaking in tongues during summer camp; I realised that I found it total BS. That was the last time I tried to pretend that I could still be a Christian. As much as I wanted the fellowship, I couldn't lie to myself and pretend that I believed something I didn't.

It was still several more years before I could fully accept my lack of belief; childhood conditioning is hard to shake. I wasn't even one hundred percent certain I wanted to shake it; there are a lot of advantages to being a Christian. Now, years later, my doubts have been overcome; I can confidently assert that no version of the Abrahamic God actually exists. But, it was by no means an easy journey.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Good Ol' Southern Baptist Values

I was born and raised a Southern Baptist; church on Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I was fortunate; while my paternal grandfather was an old-school conservative preacher, my parents were far more liberal. The church we attended concentrated on instilling positive values; not on condemning the negative. My parents didn't teach me that drinking and smoking would cause me to go to Hell; they taught me that those activities were foolish. Consequently, I took the values my parents taught me to heart instead of feeling the need to rebel against them.

For the most part I still have the same values now that I had as a kid. I fit right in with my Christian co-workers; I actually come off as a bit of a prude in real life. I only differ from the church on those issues that rely on citing doctrine for justification. Or, in other words. pretty much all of the current political "morals" issues.

Let's take gay marriage. There simply is no way of legitimately opposing it without relying on scripture. That's because without claiming your religion says homosexuality is a sin, you have no way of getting around the central problem that what two other consenting adults do is none of your damn business. Thus you have absolutely no basis for claiming that gays getting married has any affect on you whatsoever.

With abortion, there shouldn't be any real debate that abortion is a bad thing. However, legally obligating women to bear any child they become impregnated with is a fundamental violation of a woman's freedom. Without the religious belief that unwanted pregnancies are a punishment for the sin of having sex; I can't just dismiss the claim that women should have a right to choose.

Finally, there's the "war on drugs". While I personally don't believe in using mind-altering chemicals; I'm also aware that using the legal system to solve social problems only acerbates the situation. The reality in this country is that most of the problem associated with illegal drugs come from the illegal part. Just like during Prohibition, we've only succeeded in creating a new criminal class.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Big Reveal

I was always the weird kid in grade school. Awkward both physically and socially I was the kid everyone picked on. It didn't help that my family moved around quite a bit and I always felt like the new kid. By the ninth grade things had gotten better. I wasn't being made fun of, I had friends, I even knew a girl I was sure would go out with me if I asked. Naturally this meant it was time for my family to move.

Suddenly, I was back to square one. I had no friends and didn't know how to make any. I didn't really blame anyone for us moving; I had far too practical an outlook for that. But, that didn't change my situation. I was alone and my sense of alienation soon became overwhelming.

One unfortunate Saturday I started thinking of suicide. I dwelled on the idea all morning and afternoon. The thought of solving all my problems was intoxicating. That's not how things turned out. In a fashion that has never been clear to me, my rage turned outward instead. Instead of simply killing myself, I killed a family member first. I have no doubt that left uninterrupted, I would have killed myself also. But instead, I fled the house; after having plunged a knife into my chest. I soon calmed down and returned; I was taken to a hospital for treatment and then to jail.

I don't consider my alienation an excuse. It's not even all that good an explanation. But, I can't change the past; I have to live with it instead. I mention the murder here simply for context. Without knowing about it, huge chunks of my past make no sense. In particular, the fact that I was there on a criminal commitment explains how I could spend so much time in a state hospital without actually being mentally ill.

Over the years a few acquaintances have known the truth. Once people get to know me it isn't as hard to get them to accept the truth about me as it would be if it were the first thing they knew. I always try to be a nice guy. My shyness sometimes makes me appear aloof and there are times where I appear a condescending jerk; but I'm never mean or hateful. Most importantly, since I'm far more comfortable on the intellectual plane than the physical, I'm almost completely non-violent. People are able to pick up on this and don't feel threatened by me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Slight Digression On Truth

Humans are absolutely terrible at dealing with uncertainty. We always want to know why; even if we have to substitute in our own guesswork. In ancient times this meant inventing elaborate explanations for physical phenomenon that could not otherwise be explained. These explanations then became the truth and were questioned at one's own peril.

In modern times we have a voracious appetite for the smallest details of every new scandal that hits the news. But rare is the person who will not venture an opinion on what they believe happened; no matter how little or how much information they currently have. A person's opinion may occasionally change as they gain new information, but seldom will change the degree of certainty with which that person presents their beliefs about the situation. You see the same thing in action everyday in mundane situations like someone stealing food from the fridge or trying to trace the start of a rumor.

The search for the truth is important. The tendency to substitute one's own best guess when the actual truth is undeterminable is fine, as long as you don't then insist that that guess must in fact actually be true. That's essentially going to be the basis for my theory of Panagnosticism. The idea that's it's alright to accept that you don't know as the basis for a general philosophy of life instead of applied just to the question of the existence of a god. But, more on that topic in a future blog entry.

First though, I have a more personal reason for ruminating on the topic of truth. You see, there's another aspect of truth that is extremely problematic for me. As paradoxical as it seems there are times when the whole truth can be more misleading than a partial truth. This is due mainly to the fact that "the whole truth" is essentially an impossible ideal.

As a practical example, I know that telling my co-workers about my time in the state hospital would be a bad idea. Everyone has pre-established assumptions about what a mental patient is like. Since none of those assumptions accurately describe me, I can give people a much more accurate picture of what I'm really like by whitewashing those years and just describing my self as a college student.

And, the more information I give, the more questions people are going to have. Just accepting that there are things they don't need to know and moving on is next to impossible for most people to do. I've thought long and hard about how much to reveal in this blog. Even were I to try to answer all possible questions there would always be more asked. I know that I can't simply mention the hospital without addressing the question of how I could possibly have spent almost ten years there without a mental illness. So, in my next post I will address that subject; but, I will be doing so only because not doing so would open up too much speculation.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Birthday

I was born on March 2, 1965. Why am I devoting an entry to such a trivial detail instead of including it in my profile? Because for some unfathomable reason Blogger sees fit to automatically list astrological information for anyone choosing to enter their birth date. While just listing one's sign would be bad enough, listing the zodiac year qualifies as an implicit endorsement of astrology. Since one of the main themes of this blog is going to be railing against the kind of faulty thinking that allows people to believe in ludicrous notions like astrology, allowing my sign to appear in my profile would seriously undermine its purpose.

It's hard to understand why Blogger would make such an inane decision. Why I believe astrology is nonsense is irrelevant; the fact remains that I do. If I knew enough about the alternatives I'd probably move my blog. There are many more users who feel the same way I do. When you throw in the religious users who believe fortune telling is a sin; Blogger is offending a large portion of its users.

The alternative of only including astrological information if the user chose to do so would have been a much more sensible solution. There's no need to tie it to the birthdate field; anyone who wants their sign included isn't going to need Blogger to automatically determine it for them. This would be a solution that wouldn't unnecessarily offend anyone. It's not like believers in astrology are going to yell persecution if they can't force everyone to participate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Marxist Paradox

One of my problems with women is that I'm a victim of a Marxist paradox (Groucho, not Karl): I wouldn't want to go out with any woman who would be willing to go out with me. I don't smoke or drink which puts me at odds with most of my current socioeconomic class. I'm not a Christian which puts me at odds with the rest. On the other hand, women able to appreciate my intellectual ability aren't going to settle for a broke loser like me.

I'm what amounts to a fixer-upper. The problem with that is that women who would be willing to settle for the before me aren't going to appreciate the after me. Women who would be willing to be involved with the real me aren't going to settle for the current me in the hopes of performing a miracle.

Beginnings 4

Don't get me wrong though, this blog isn't about me wallowing in self-pity. Aside from the occasional bout of soul-crushing depression, I generally have a fairly upbeat attitude. I don't know how much of it will show through here, but I have a cynically sarcastic outlook on life. I always try to interject humor into situations; sometimes inappropriately. As a coping mechanism I've developed a self-deprecating style of humor; making fun of myself first deflects others from doing it for me.

Also, this kind of self-indulgent personal introspection is not going to be the norm for the blog. I have a certain amount that I need to do, but after that I'll get into the real meat of the blog: an attempt to develop an all-encompassing centrist philosophy. I'll be tackling a number of political and social issues. While I won't delude myself into believing that I'll have anything significantly new to say on any particular issue; I do hope that what I have to say is at least somewhat thought-provoking.

Essentially, this blog is a place for me to say all the things I can't say in real life. I realise I'm probably only talking to myself at the moment; but I hope I'll eventually attract others to read what I'm writing. The personal material is necessary to establish a foundation; it's not an attempt to get others to feel sorry for me. I don't need pity; understanding would be cool.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Beginnings 3

Physically, I'm tall and slightly overweight. To be honest, I've not really been motivated to take that good care of my appearance. I'm by no means unattractive; most women wouldn't be repulsed at the thought of making love to me. But, I'm also not the kind of man women are going to make an effort to get to know. If I were wealthy and/or charming I would have no trouble maintaining a social life. Being neither, I'm the kind of grey man no one gives much thought to.

I tend to be clumsy and accident prone, I'm no good at sports whatsoever. Mentally, I'm also error prone, but I'm also excellent at finding those errors. In school I was incapable of writing a program that worked the first time. But, in four years of computer science classes I only had to ask for help from my professor twice; one of those times it was the compiler's fault. Ironically, since I always double check my work, I've often been accused of thinking I don't make mistakes.

Despite my tendency to make mistakes, I'm highly intelligent. I've been trained in problem solving both while getting my math degree and because of my interest in puzzle solving. While a gift, my intelligence in a lot of ways is a key source of my problems. People respect someone who is physically superior to them; they tend to resent those they consider intellectually superior. Over the years, I've found it best to downplay my intelligence in order to get along.

But, more to the point, I'm pathologically shy; I'm scared to death of meeting and talking to new people. Unfortunately, my intelligence allows me to over-compensate for that. Once actually engaged in conversation I come off as composed and self-assured; I've even been complemented on more than one occasion on my excellent people skills. But that's purely during non-social interactions. At a party, for instance, I'm useless. Since people don't really perceive me as shy, they don't reach out to me the way they would someone they felt needed help.

And, my shyness, which is mixed in with my desire not to be rejected by people, goes a bit beyond the norm. I'm scared to death of talking to people on the phone; sometimes I've had to psych myself up for hours beforehand. I'm afraid to go into new stores and restaurants. I'm even border-line agoraphobic. In general, I often go to ludicrous lengths to avoid dealing with people.

Even online, I'm generally scared to death to get involved. I haven't even tried chatting and refuse to have an active instant message ID. I'm way outside my comfort zone doing a blog; hopefully that will change if I can keep this going.

Beginnings 2

Starting when I was 15, I spent almost 20 years in the state mental health system; roughly half of that time I was an in-patient at a state hospital. I'm not, however, mentally ill; turns out that actually being mentally ill wasn't as important a factor as you would've thought under the circumstances. Clinically speaking, that means I have no Axis I diagnosis. Aside from a single initial evaluation, which said I was schizophrenic with little hope of recovery, no psychiatrist or psychologist has ever found evidence of an active mental illness.

As a result of the hospitalization, I never got the chance to develop normal social skills; especially in regards to the opposite sex. My senior year of college, when I was allowed to spend a year living in the dorm, I made significant strides; however, I never managed to get an actual date. While they meant well, the friends who promised they would set me up with someone instead made things worse. The only thing more depressing than not being able to find a date yourself is knowing that other people can't find you one either.

After college, I lost track of the friends I had made there. They moved on with their lives; I didn't. I tried my hand at grad school, but pretty much failed miserably. An excellent student in class, I lacked the motivation outside of class to do the necessary work on my thesis and to prepare properly for comps.

I've since settled into a dead end retail job that pays the bills. I've nothing really in common with my co-workers who have lives of their own. Part of the motivation for starting this blog is the realization that I've been in the same rut for the last 9 years and there is no real sign of any change on the horizon. I guess I'm hoping that becoming involved socially on-line will, if not replace, at least help compensate for my lack of a social life in the real world.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Beginnings 1

Well, this blog is likely to remain a work in progress for a while to come. It has a couple of purposes. One is to start the development of the philosophy of panagnosticism. Panagnosticism is based on the theory that most of the world's problems are caused by people's unwillingness to accept uncertainty. Instead, they simply choose to insist that what they want to be true must in fact actually be true. While religious fundamentalism is a good example of this phenomenon; the current polarization of U.S. politics is also rooted in this tendency. But, that's more of a long term goal.

Initially, I'll be focusing on more personal matters. As alluded to in my profile, I'm an extreme loner; a forty-something virgin without any social life whatsoever. There are a number of reasons for this; choice really isn't one of them. On the other hand, while not the sole cause, being placed in a state mental hospital when I was 15 has had a rather startling affect on my social development.

I intend to explore my past in depth over the coming days. Both as a therapeutic outlet for me and as a way of letting people see the real me. Unfortunately, in real life, telling people the truth about my past isn't an option. Even online, once I've revealed the whole truth (or at least as much as I intend to), I'll have people who automatically reject me without giving me a chance. But, online, that rejection can't have negative consequences like costing me a job.

After that, we'll see. I'm mainly wanting a place where I can freely express my opinions. I live in the heart of the Bible Belt. Not only would revealing my past cause serious complications at my job, but revealing that I'm actually not a Christian would be almost as bad.