Category: Life


I took some time off from writing. Sadly, when you have a chronic illness, you do not feel like writing. I lost the battle with convincing myself to write the past week or so, and for that I apologize to anyone who missed my witty ramblings about religion. (Seriously, I love you guys. My readers are awesome!)

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As a culture, we have become hypersensitive to criticism and questions. Most of us, particularly when it comes to questions from people of other religions, do not know how to separate frustration over not knowing the answer to a question and thinking people are personally trying to attack our beliefs. When we feel comfortable in our views, we do not like that comfort to be challenged, especially, if we find not knowing the answer troubling. On the bright side, many of the questions faced by both believers and non-believers are philosophical questions that have been examined by people for a very long time.

Both believers and non-believers have something to lose if we cannot learn to treat each other’s opinions with respect. The ability to think for ourselves and choose what we believe is something that most cultures have only tolerated for the last century, and some cultures still do not tolerate this. If we want to avoid the need to take up arms against our neighbors who do not share our beliefs, we need to stop trying to impose our beliefs on others. It is one thing to try to discuss in a respectful manner why you think someone has not thought through what they believe, but we need to stop name-calling and intimidation.

If you have a question, phrase it in a manner that is deferential or at least polite. If you do not know the answer, be honest. Nobody knows everything and it is usually better to be honest about what you do not yet know than to try to make something up. If you are interested in looking in to the subject deeper, then do so.

We have reached a point where we have learned to shout at each other, but ignore what the other person is saying. It has led to a major cultural clash because all sides want to be able to impose their beliefs on others, but we have seen from generations of societal experiments where religions have been banned entirely, such as in the USSR, or some religions have been banned, such as the treatment of Native American religions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that people rebel. Oppression is not a welcomed part of the human condition.

My call to you is this: be tolerant, be willing to ask questions, give questioners the benefit of the doubt (they may be genuinely interested and if you shut them down you kill the chance for dialog) be willing to admit when you don’t know, and respect the honesty it takes to make that admission. We live in a world that is troubled by religious conflicts. People are persecuted every day for their beliefs, or their lack thereof. This is the 21st century. We should be able to move beyond this and respect the rights of everyone to worship whatever god or goddess they choose or choose to believe there is not god at all without penalty, without fear for their safety, and without having the religious beliefs of others imposed on them.

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Freedom

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I want to talk about freedom.  Many people believe that freedom gives them the right to do anything they want.  This is problematic because if that were true, that would mean you have the right to infringe on the freedom of others.  This means that in order for there to be anything resembling freedom for everyone, then that freedom is naturally limited to those things that do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

It is also important to note that freedom isn’t free.  I am not even talking about the traditional way this statement is used.  For freedom, soldiers give up their freedoms.  Freedom costs money.  If you have money, you have more freedom than others in America do.  Not only that, you have the “freedom” to provide your employees with a salary below the poverty level, insuring they have fewer freedoms than you do.

What do I mean by freedom isn’t monetarily free?  Let’s talk about college, which is supposed to be the great equalizer, but statistically students who go to good colleges tend to do better than those who do not.  The thing is, as a first generation college student, I know getting into those colleges isn’t the hurdle.  I had no problem getting in, where the problems arose was actually being able to afford to go.  Where you go to college, limits what you can study and what you will end up doing.  Ultimately, money limits opportunity.

Money determines your access to healthcare, too.  In light of the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, your employer can determine what is covered by your health insurance compensation and you then would be responsible if, for example, your insurance does not meet your medical needs.  If you were rich, you could just pay for it yourself, but when it costs 2 weeks’ pay to cover your medication (which is about what an IUD would cost if you make around $13 an hour. Many Americans affected by this law make less than that).  If you are rich, you also have the freedom to buy political favors.  In theory, all of this influences the freedoms of everyone else, but in the United States, the so-called “Land of the Free” we are all supposed to be free.

This is why I support a single payer health care system, so all Americans have equal access to the medical care they need.  This eliminates the employer religious concerns over covering whatever birth control a woman and her doctor decide she needs because instead of covering insurance as part of her compensation for working for you, it would be provided through the government.  Yes, this has tax implications, as did the billions of dollars we have paid on wars.

Since we are talking about my politics, I also support big government.  I think there are certain important roles to be played by the government.  These roles should include: education, health care, employment oversight, environmental oversight, and the protection of the equal rights to freedom of everyone under the law.  The problem I see in our country is the unfortunate lack of free and open elections.  This has been further impacted by the Citizens United ruling, which codifies the rich being able to manipulate elections and buy political favors.  The American government no longer is for the people by the people, it is for the few and by the few.

This needs to change.  Just because I see serious flaws in the system, I love this country and I believe it has the ability to be better than it is.  In fact, as Americans we should insist on whatever it takes to make our country the best in the world.  The first step is to seek true equality of freedom.  This means giving people equal access to opportunities, an equal voice in deciding the future of America, and an equal right to practice their religion, so long as that practice doesn’t prevent others from being able to freely practice their religion.

How do we do this? You didn’t really think I was just going to write a philosophy article without giving you some sort of suggestions did you?

First, we need to work to overturn Citizens United.  It is going to be very difficult to have anything resembling equality of access to opportunities if we continually give the rich a megaphone while forcing the poor to whisper.  Check out the Mayday PAC

Second, you need to vote.  Your vote is important.  You should do your research and think critically about what you are told.  Who is saying talking, who is paying for it, and what do they have to gain from it?  I don’t care if you vote against my beliefs, but you should still make your voice heard.

Third, you need to stay engaged. Sign petitions, run for office, write and call your representatives, and keep informed on the issues.

Ultimately, I believe your ability to live freely, impact elections, and decide how to practice your religion should not depend on your personal wealth.  Freedom shouldn’t be dependent on the socioeconomic status of your birth.  While we are on that topic, my friend Marie posted today on Freedom, particularly freedom from slavery http://t.co/ZfM09mMlw6.  July fourth is a fantastic day to talk about freedom, particularly as “patriotism” in the United States focuses a lot on the idea of freedom. For me your freedom to do something should not impede the freedoms of others. You should read Marie’s post before you continue because what she has to say here is the first half of what I have to say.

I’ll wait… seriously, this blog isn’t going anywhere.

Now, that you have read that, I’m sure half of you are thinking “but Crystal, I’m not a Christian,” so I would like to amend Marie’s conclusion with this.  My changes are in italics.

 Good people of the world, it’s time we came clean. It’s time we stopped hiding … behind the term “addiction.” Certainly one can be addicted to almost anything, but let’s at least call it what it is. Every time we click the link, flip the page or pay the john, we are exploiting someone. A person. A human being just like you. It is nothing short of evil for anyone to abuse another in this way.

The wealthy using their privileged position to impact legislation in their favor at the expense of everyone else is also a form of exploitation, particularly when the legislation there are seeking is specifically formulated to ensure that the poor stay poor.  We have a crisis of exploitation in our society and much of it revolves around the privileges of wealth, maleness, and whiteness, but that is a topic for another day.

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Exhale

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It’s five minute Friday, and I wasn’t going to participate on two hours sleep, but I enjoyed participating last week so much I’m going to try my hand at it again. #FMFParty
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I tend to be a high strung individual, but sometimes I need to just be able to take a moment and exhale, remembering that life doesn’t have to be the serious endeavor I try to make it.

One of the best exhales of my life happened at 4:12 am this morning when I finally finished a massive rewrite of my MA thesis. This was particularly difficult because I have been struggling to be able to get motivated lately. The lack of motivation doesn’t stem from laziness; unfortunately, I am starting to think my depression is showing its ugly little head again. It doesn’t help that I have been quite sick from unwittingly poisoning myself for several days last week.

Exhales are one of the great and under-appreciated joys in life. When done correctly, they offer so much in return for something you were going to do anyway. As the breath leaves my body, I relax a little. Focusing on my breathing allows me to live in the moment. This has helped me so much because like most Americans, I tend to be using technology and multitasking a lot, but taking a moment to feel the exhale makes me feel a little more alive.

Five Minute Friday Join in! It’s fun I promise.

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In Dreams We Find

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I just awoke from a very strange dream, but it is a dream I feel is trying to tell me something.  I was in a dark cave with a couple of people.  They had Biblical concordances, and they were trying to prove to me that other gods or goddesses are not mentioned in the Bible and therefore there are no other deities.  Everything they showed me continued to convince me that not only were other gods mentioned in the Bible, but they were real.  I just knew deep down that their God wasn’t the only one.  What I didn’t know is what this meant for me.

When I got up, I picked up a Biblical concordance and the first thing I found was an article about Artemis, who was worshipped by the Ephesians.  I have always felt a close affinity to Artemis, so I found this to be really quite fascinating.  The article claims that Artemis worship died out, and that no one worships her now.  This is not true.  I have found a number of Artemis worshipers throughout my life, but I am certain that when this article was written you could only have found them if you knew what you were looking for.

In fact, what I found makes no indication that the other gods and goddesses worshipped by other regions in Biblical times weren’t real, but rather that the Hebrew God was jealous and did not want his followers to worship anyone else.  From an anthropological/folklore standpoint, I would argue it is unlikely that anyone writing the Bible would have been willing to claim the other gods and goddesses simply did not exist, something I hear often from modern Christians.  Their argument that not only is there God superior to other gods, other gods simply do not exist.  If they did then people would still worship them.  I think this ignores the actual history of the Western World where people even under suspicion of worshiping another god would have been put to death.  Worship of any other deity would have gone underground.  It simply wasn’t safe, much in the same way that it isn’t particularly safe to be a Christian in Sudan.

From a scientific standpoint, I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the divine.  I have had experiences that indicate to me that magick is real.  My first inclination of this was actually at church camp in fourth grade.  We did light as a feather stiff as a board in the cabin under the leadership of our camp counselor.  I do not remember if the girl actually levitated, but I do remember feeling something was very strong in the room with us.  It was rather incredible.

I think my subconscious is trying to figure out whether any sort of divinity is real, and I still am falling on the side of yes.  Is there just one Christian God?  I don’t know.  The Bible seems to indicate that not only are there other gods, but humans have a tendency to idolize things.  Are there two aspects of one god as suggested by some Wiccans?  It seems possible to me, though the goddess-focused Earth-based spiritual movement beyond Wicca is in many ways a response to the patriarchal rule of Christians.  This doesn’t invalidate the importance of this worship; however, it could explain why there are many groups who ignore male deities entirely.

I have spent my whole spiritually conscious life oscillating between Paganism and Christianity.  I believe this is because of several issues:

  1. My mother is very strongly convinced of her God’s powers and constantly forces me to evaluate my beliefs.  I think this is actually a very good thing because unlike many people I have to justify my beliefs.  As an intellectual, I dislike the idea of blind faith; therefore, I find this to be very useful.
  2. Sometimes I just want to fit in.  The majority of my family, my boyfriend, and the majority of the people in the United States are Christian, so I begin to question my feelings on God every so often.
  3. I always end up back at Paganism because I haven’t had that moment of spiritual conversion to Christianity.  Some Christians argue that I’m trying to make God do all the work, but I struggle to believe that trying daily prayers and asking for help from their deity is me not trying hard enough.  Something is missing.
  4. I also end up back at Paganism because I am a scientist and most apologists I have struggled through either reject my field of science entirely, or pick and choose what parts to accept.  This doesn’t work for me.
  5. I end up back at Christianity because while blind faith is thoroughly unappealing to me, I find faith in general to be beautiful.  I like to see people who have experienced something so deeply that it means everything to them.
  6. I ask a lot of questions and hold my beliefs up to a high level of scrutiny.  Some things about spirituality, I suspect, cannot be explained by science at the level it is at now, and so I end up trying to make sense of what I know in terms of the faith I am not following at the time.

So I suppose I will continue to oscillate until I either become an Atheist, have a conversion experience, or accept my Paganism aha moment as the foundational moment for understanding the spiritual realm for me.

Lost

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Hello Reader,

It’s #fmfparty time! Linking up with Lisa-Jo and all the fabulous bloggers. This week we are: lost. This is my first time officially joining in, so we shall see how this goes.“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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I think I have always viewed myself as a little bit lost. Part of it is because of chronic illness, but part of it because I find myself pondering things others don’t, or if they do they don’t speak of it. This became the cardinal sin that caused me to leave the church less than two years after my baptism. I have been back a couple of times since then, most recently I spent a year assisting with a youth group. Those children were amazing and willing to ask the questions it always felt like adults brushed over. I didn’t have answers, but I think they were relieved that I didn’t have the answers. It proved that adults can be fallible.

After I left them and moved on with my life, I wandered through a labyrinth of ideas and experiences. I fell in love again with the scientific passions of my youth, but the conflict they created with my faith, what little of it there was led me to leave. Since I have been lost. Through my wonderings I have explored the teaching of the Buddha, the Greeks, Romans, Norse, Druids, Hindus, Muslims, and even Confucious. It wasn’t until my most recent encounter with Atheism that I truly felt lost.

I continue to wonder through the labyrinth. Trying to make sense of my internal opposition to Atheism, yet not being able to find the faith that would allow me to embrace the God of Christianity. Maybe I am lost, or perhaps I am just one of Tolkien’s wanderers.

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Five Minute Friday

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“Evolution skeptic: Professor Haldane, even given the billions of years that you say were available for evolution, I simply cannot believe it is possible to go from a single cell to a complicated human body, with its trillions of cells organized into bones and muscles and nerves, a heart that pumps without ceasing for decades, miles and miles of blood vessels and kidney tubules, and a brain capable of thinking and talking and feeling. JBS: But madam, you did it yourself. And it only took you nine months.”
― Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

I am a scientist. I am a very logic and fact driven woman. My most recent readings have been texts on quantum physics and evolution. It was through reading these texts that my “crisis” moment occurred. To be clear, I 100% accept both sciences until evidence is sufficiently offered to the contrary. Richard Dawkins’ science is impeccable. Quantum physics took this one-step further for me indicating that God was not needed to be the catalyst for the big bang. It could have been more like a bottle of soda in the freezer, pressure built up until it eventually exploded.

The problem occurred after I accepted his conclusion that there is no God. The evidence fit logically within my scientific understanding of the universe. I was so convince I came home and excitedly shared it with my boyfriend. My boyfriend is a Christian. He took the evidence I offered him and suggested that living in a fallen world could have the same consequences. Part of me finds the fallen world theory to be a convenient argument for anything that science finds that contradicts what would be expected if there were a creator. It feels simplistic to argue that science does not contradict religion because we live in a fallen word, and therefore nothing we would expect actually is.

The problem is this; I think most humans would prefer not to be atheists. It is a bleak world if we are the pinnacle of all existence. That being said, I find the evidence I have seen so far to convincing. My aha moment as a Pagan is what I think is causing me the problem. If I had never had a moment in Paganism where it made perfect sense, where something went exactly as it should have, despite being quite improbably, I probably could have accepted Atheism without a second thought. Having never had one of those aha moments in Christianity, I cannot entirely rule the “fallen world” hypothesis out, though I can construct similar hypotheses from the dogma of other religions.

The lack of a need for a god is not proof that there is no god, but I suppose this is my struggle. The reason I have been reaching out to Christians for explanations and understanding is that I have had aha moment that convinced me of the validity of Paganism, but despite being raised Christian never had a similar “conversion” moment. I am not certain it is possible to embrace the fallen world hypothesis without being a Christian. Certainly, there are faults with the world and things do not happen as they would in an ideally constructed universe, but is it possible that is just the way nature works? Do we need religion?

There is scientific support for the idea that people with faith live longer, but the studies I remember indicated that it did not matter what religion you were, so long as you have faith in something. Does it matter what we believe? Clearly, it does or people would not kill each other over disagreements over who is God and what s/he wants.

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Last night I met a lovely woman online.  We chatted for a bit and when I told her I had to go to bed because of my migraine, she told me to pray for healing.  Here is the cold hard truth: I get chronic migraines and have since I was about 16 years old.  When I was 16, I prayed my little heart out that they would go away, but after several years of prayer and a loss of my faith, I am certain that my continued migraines are not a product of a lack of faith, but rather a medical condition.

Many faithful people have chronic illnesses.  It is difficult to take seriously people who believe that illnesses and other hardships are caused by a lack of faithfulness.  Everyone has illnesses and hardships. Everybody suffers.  Faith might make it easier to get through life, but it will not shield you from suffering.  Some even believe that it will trigger more suffering in order to test you.

People with chronic illnesses are often given these sorts of platitudes: if only you prayed harder, exercised more, ate better, or even just wanted to be sick less, you would not be sick anymore.  Maybe you cannot actually understand what it is like to wake up every morning sick, unless you actually live it, but most religions encourage some level of compassion, yet these platitudes always feel like judgments.  My body is broken and yet I am being judged for not trying hard enough to be healthy.

Maybe there really is no higher power.  People are evil and judgmental by nature.  We all need to feel superior to someone else.  Compassion is weakness.  If this is true, here is what I want to know, why should we bother staying in this universe?  If there is no compassion, everyone is evil and judgmental, human beings are the pinnacle of existence, and this is all there is, is there meaning in existence?  Why do we hurt when we see others in pain?

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In The Dark without A Flashlight

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A few weeks ago, I very nearly became an atheist.  As a person who values knowledge and logic, Richard Dawkin’s arguments in The Greatest Show on Earth were convincing.  I was particularly struck by the argument that an intelligent creator would not have created human the way we are designed, particularly concerning the sinuses.  I brought this idea to my boyfriend who informed me that it could simply be a product of living in a fallen world.

I can’t decide if I think the fallen world argument has legitimacy or is just an easy way to dismiss anything that falls outside of what would be expect.  If God is so infallibly great then why? Because we live in a fallen world.  It’s a catch all for everything from why create humans as bipedal apes instead of making them with a more logical formulation to why do bad things happen to good people.

If this doesn’t work for me, why does it continually run through my mind.  Why have I been considering attending a church for the first time in nearly 5 years?  I have been happily pagan for quite some time.  I found a community, friends, and a goddess to work with who seemed to be what I needed.  I am arguably the happiest I’ve ever been, and yet I keep coming back to the question of God and Christianity, but why?

I see very little evidence for a God, which brings us back to the fallen world argument.  Churches are clearly fallen.  Many of the most visible are greedy, judgmental, and completely lacking in love and compassion.  I see no reason to be a part of such an organization.  If we truly live in a fallen world, though, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see these things.  In fact, they should be expected.  Which leads to my next question, what would make me want to follow a God who allows these things to happen?

The thing that struck me about God when reading the Bible was the compassion and willingness to allow people to make their own decisions, even if it was not in their best interest.  The idea of free will is what makes me continually go back to the idea of the Christian God.  He gives people free will, probably knows they will mess up, so in his infinite compassion gives them an option for redemption.  Not only that, he had to allow his child to die in order for that redemption to be a possibility.  It’s a story about the infinite compassion of a loving God.  How cool is that?

So why is it so hard for me to believe in this story?  I suppose the downside of my intellectual gifts is a personal inability to have faith in much.  I struggle to accept much of anything without imperial evidence.  Gravity? Fantastic, I see evidence of it every day.  Evolution? Same thing, I find a lot of fossil and DNA evidence.  Mindfulness Meditation? A lot of research and personal practice demonstrates the benefits. God? I see a lot of people trying to encourage me to have faith in the unseen, but while I don’t struggle to believe that there is something greater than humans, I don’t know if it is God or gods and goddesses, and I suppose that is where I am right now.

Now I assume at least one reader will try to show me the literary consistency of Biblical books, and I will grant you that the evidence is there, and it should be because Christianity has been a world religion since not too long after its inception.  Other books were destroyed, but not the Bible.  Just because a book matches the original doesn’t make it true.

I feel like I’m muddling thought the dark without a flashlight and the answers I seek are just out of reach.


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A7x “So Far Away”

For a time, I was posting songs that I thought were worthy of being shared.  Following Dan Wheldon’s death today, I have been listening to “So Far Away” by Avenged Sevenfold.  Even if you are not a fan of metal, I think this song can speak to you as it does to me.

I haven’t posted a blog in quite some time.  To say that life has become busy would be an understatement.  Life always throws little bumps in the road and often I do not deal with them the way I should.  Today one of my heroes passed away and I find myself simultaneously at a loss for words and so desperate to say something.

“Dan Wheldon injured in massive 15-car wreck in Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas”, read the text message my sister Joyce sent me around 5pm EST.  To be honest, I didn’t think much of it, until my other sister posted on Facebook that he had passed away about an hour and a half later.  I’ve grown up around racing, and this very moment is what it took to recognize why my mom made my dad quite racing so many years ago.  You see, as race fans, we assume that everything is so safe, and the cars are so much safer than when my dad was drag racing in the 1970s, but racing can still be fatal, especially in open-wheel race cars.

Last night when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway, my boyfriend jokingly told me that Kasey Kahne was his new favorite driver.  I smiled and agreed; after all it seemed like for so long Johnson had more luck than any one person should reasonable have.  Then I saw the replay.  Just a decade ago and motorsports would have lost two great drivers in one weekend.  The physics of Johnson’s crash should have broken his neck; fortunately, his HANS device saved his life.

Racing is a big business in America, and even throughout the hard economic times most Americans are facing, we still tune in to our favorite sports.  We need something to believe in and distract us when times are tough.  Unfortunately, I am distracted tonight by the thoughts of how devastating it is to lose someone who is only 33 years old.   Dan Wheldon was only 33 years old.  He leaves a wife, two young children and his parents behind.  Yes, the whole motorsports family lost a friend a colleague this weekend, but tonight I struggle with what all this means for his family.

Before I was born, my dad gave up a successful career as an NHRA driver to move out west with my mom and sisters.  As I understand it, he had a horrific accident early in the 1973 season that would have taken him out for most of the season.  In fact, nearly 20 years later he still had a bone fragment floating around his elbow.  It wasn’t a career ending injury, but my dad never raced again.  In many ways I am so lucky that he didn’t.  I was born 10 years after my father retired from racing.  As long as I can remember, I wished my dad was still a race car driver growing up.  We even discussed me taking up motocross, which my mother refused to consent to; she insisted racing is too dangerous.

Dan Wheldon’s death is a reminder to me that even as the major racing sanctioning bodies take action to make motorsports safer, there is always an inherent risk.  If the man who won the Indy 500 five months ago can get caught up in a fatal accident, so can everyone else.  No matter how safe we make the cars, they will never be 100% safe.

It’s hard to say what Dan Wheldon meant to me.  I cried when I saw him win the Indy  500 in May.  It was emotional and he seemed like such a genuinely nice guy.  I saw him in August at the Brickyard 400 and was impressed by his jovial nature.  In some ways for me Dan Wheldon was the best that IndyCar racing had to offer.  He was articulate, charismatic and talented.  It was hard to not like him.

My heart goes out to Dan’s family and friends tonight.  Their suffering is more than I can imagine, and even though their tragedy has managed to touch my heart and wretch at my soul, it is nothing compared to the pain I am sure they are enduring.  I wish them peace and comfort over the days to come.

Goodbye Dan Wheldon. You will be missed!