Saturday, 27 October 2012

Day 40: This sort of angst is embarrassing when you're over 25

Day 40 of the Atheist Prayer Experiment was yesterday, on Friday 26th.

After two weeks of more of the same, I decided to give the last day a special effort.  I got on my knees in front of an armchair, with my face in the cat's blanket.  (The blanket bit wasn't planned - it just happened to be there.)

I'm nervous about sharing what I prayed after the request for revelation, as it's personal and talking about it makes me feel vulnerable.  It also makes me feel foolish.

Me and food.  We have a love-hate relationship.  I was bulimic in my twenties and occasionally it comes back.  I think about food, eating and calories far more than is healthy.  It's also really bloody boring. 

Having found the "Be thankful" advice helpful, I thought I'd ask the wise-voice-who-I-think-is-me-but-you-might-think-is-God to help me with this.  Wise-voice-[etc] said:

"What do you want, above all?"

I thought about it.  "I want to have a normal relationship with food.  But I also really want to be thin."

I hate writing this.  At size 8 (UK), I'm not exactly fat, but that's beside the point.  The fact is, I'm super-annoyed with myself for being so in thrall to stupid societal expectations of what women should look like.

The voice came back: "Why don't you meditate on that?"

I've been in therapy so, on an intellectual level, I know what's going on here.  Control issues, fear of letting go, fear that I can't trust myself and, underneath it all, the belief that I have to be a certain way in order to be acceptable.  Or lovable.

I felt tearful down there in front of the cat's blanket.  It's frustrating still to have these issues in middle age.  Nonetheless, I'll take the advice on board.  I've been tightening this knot for most of my life and it's not going to dissolve if I keep ignoring it.  I'm just aware that it may take a long time to work loose.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

How I lost my faith (4)

In York, I scraped by as a musician, living hand to mouth.  The promoter I had met introduced me to several people and put in a good word for me, but he was not a professional manager and only helped me as a favour.  I earned most of my money sitting in the corner of wine bars being ignored by people who occasionally glanced up from their crudités to clap politely.  I also did the odd fun gig, for a real live audience and no remuneration whatsoever.*

This soon ground me down.  I had been so sure that God wanted me to perform, but now I was doing it, I found it uninspiring and lonely.  I didn't know many people in York to start with; those I did know went out socialising when I went out to work.  I spent hours sitting by the river Ouse, watching squirrels frolic in the trees and wondering whether I could be bothered to drown myself.  I couldn't: it would have required far more willpower than I could summon.  After a few months, realising that these thoughts might just be a sign that I wasn't terribly happy, I decided to go back home to my parents.

This was a huge blow to my pride.  More than that, though, it triggered something of an identity crisis.  For so long, I'd thought of myself as an entertainer and musician.  If that wasn't who I was, then who the heck was I?

My mum found me a job in a local chemist's shop as a pharmacy assistant, so I spent the next few months dispensing drugs, looking longingly at the benzodiazepines and planning my next step.  I looked into going back to university to do a PhD; I even put together a thesis proposal and persuaded a university to take me on.  My parents were happy with this but also sent me off to a group of occupational psychologist for a day.  After hours of aptitude tests and personality profiling, the official verdict was in: academia was a possibility but I might want to consider law.

A schoolfriend had done a one-year postgraduate law conversion course at Exeter University, so I called them and asked if there was space left on their course.  They said there was and that I could join them in October, but that they'd need to know within 24 hours.

By this time, I'd drifted from God and I don't remember praying over my decision.   In any event, I didn't have much time to weigh my options.  I called Exeter the next day and told them, "I'm coming".

A fresh start awaited me.   I was well and once again felt that I had a future.  It was time to repent of having been so distant from God.  Time to turn back to Him.  That Sunday, I attended the morning service of a lively house church near my parents' house.  At the end of the service, I asked someone to pray with me while I rededicated my life to Christ.

Two days later I was in hospital on a drip.  I'd caught a stomach bug and had been throwing up so much that I had become dehydrated.  While I was in hospital, the doctors took blood and ran all the usual tests.  My kidney function had deteriorated.  My immunosuppressive medication was upped, but the results didn't get any better.

I went down to Exeter with a lot of tablets, worries about the future and a fair bit of resentment.  Which of you fathers would give a scorpion to a son who asked for an egg?  Apparently, God would.


*If anyone is interested, I have uploaded some very old recordings onto Soundcloud.  Most of the tracks are originals.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

How I lost my faith (3)

My first year at university was cut short by poor health.  By Easter, I was showing symptoms of end-stage renal failure and was unable to return for summer term.

Both my parents had already been tested as potential kidney donors.  Between them, they decided my dad should go first.  (I know, I have wonderful parents.  I'm very lucky.)

We both underwent tests; I received a blood transfusion from him; the labs analysed our tissue and blood to make sure there were no signs that we shouldn't go ahead.

Shortly before we were scheduled for surgery, the hospital called.  There were unusual antibodies in my blood that were reacting with my father's cells.  The operation couldn't go ahead as long as those antibodies remained.  The doctors had never seen these antibodies before, so they didn't know how long I'd have them.  The operation was postponed indefinitely.

For the first time, I felt angry with God.  I trashed my bedroom. ( My mum was pleased by this - she'd been worried about my lack of emotion over my illness and felt the outburst was healthy.)  I dragged my oh-so-easily-exhausted body up to the hills near my parents house and cried.  I screamed at God.  What the hell was he doing?

The antibodies were thankfully short-lived; as a result, so was the drama.  My anger subsided.  In July 1990, I had my first transplant from my dad and returned to university for my second year.

My body accepted the kidney.

By my final year, I had become a complete Jesus freak.  Apparently I was still likeable enough but, as a good friend told me years later, there were times when I was annoying and - to quote her directly - "I wanted to shove your prayer stool up your nose".

Although I was studying Italian, I spent a lot of time at university playing classical guitar, singing jazz and writing songs.  I was convinced that God wanted me to be a musician/entertainer.  Shortly before my course finished, I met a promoter from York who said he'd help me out if I wanted to work there.

I graduated, spent the summer at various Christian events and moved over to York with my guitar.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Some thoughts on prayer (that Facebook keeps ejecting)

On the Atheist Prayer Experiment Facebook page, quite a few participants have mentioned that praying for people/situations feels pointless, and that they would feel much better if they did something practical.  I agree.

I remember when I was in hospital having tests, at the time when it was becoming clear that my first kidney transplant was failing.  My mother - a lovely woman and a Christian, but not the most subtle individual - asked some of my Christian friends why they had not been to visit me.  When they objected that they had been praying for me, she said "Big deal".  Truth is, I felt a lot more love from the people who bothered to stump up at hospital or took me out for a coffee and listened to me unload.  You prayed for me?  Yeah - big deal.

A phrase from my old Christian days has been running through my head: "God has no hands on earth but yours".

Christians: do you think you ever pop a two-minute prayer heavenward because it makes you feel like you've done something to help but actually it costs you nothing?  I'm pretty sure I was sometimes guilty of that back when I was a Christian.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Atheist Prayer Experiment: four weeks in

I haven't blogged for a few days because I haven't noticed anything new.  I still haven't received anything that I'd call a divine revelation; I'm still discovering the benefits of meditation and contemplation.

Having said that, the "be thankful" thought that came into my head early in the experiment has been a great reminder and has been part of my reintroduction to the amazing world outside my head (and that big, scary place they call "Offline").  So if you think that came from God, he gave me good advice and it's helping.  Whatever or whoever it was, I'm grateful for it.

The other consequence of raising my awareness through gratitude and meditation is that I'm now conscious of personal issues that I need to deal with.  Well, not "need" to deal with, but that it would be a bad idea to ignore.  It's like I've been driving along with the radio blasting and, now that I've turned it off, I can hear some troubling engine noises.  Better get the toolkit out and, if necessary, visit a mechanic before I rev up again and hit the radio switch.

I'll see the experiment through to the end, but - to be honest - it's the meditation that I'd like to explore further.  I found a photo with a W B Yeats quote the other day that summed up my feelings so far. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Days 20-23: Getting a feel for what's happening

As part of my prayer time, I've given God permission to change me, if that's what's needed for me to see him.  As far as I can tell, he's still a no show.

I have noticed two things though.

First, like anything in life, the more time and effort I put into my morning sessions, the more I get out of them.  Hardly a surprise.

Secondly, the prayer for revelation feels like the most pointless part of the session.  I say it as sincerely as I can, but it's the meditation afterwards that calms my mind for the day.  It's thinking about the good things in my life that brings home to me how lucky I am.  It is these earth-focused activities that anchor me in reality and seem to benefit me in my daily life.

I'm not committing to continue daily meditation once the 40 days are up: if I do that, it'll feel like a duty and a drudge - I know what I'm like!  Nevertheless, I like to think I won't immediately drop this habit.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Days 17-19: Down to earth

I've completed two big pieces of work and I gave my talk yesterday.  Oddly enough, my anxiety levels have fallen!  I still have a 2.5 hour talk to give in a week and a half, but that's a talk I do every year and just needs tweaking, so it isn't a worry.

I found it very hard to settle in prayer on days 17 and 18.  I was preoccupied with work and didn't want to reawaken the anger etc that I wrote about in my last post.

This morning, I prayed in Starbucks, over a soy cappuccino.  After praying, I looked out of the window.  The voice in my head said, "I am in the earth".

This unleashed a whole load of thoughts and memories: the time that voice told me to "love things for what they are instead of resenting them for what they're not"; the sense of peace I get from watching the world go by in its ultimately meaningless busyness; a story in which the Buddha agrees to bring a woman's son back to life if she can bring him a mustard seed from a house that has never known death.  She can't, of course, but she learns acceptance through the experience.

I don't believe I will find fulfilment by looking to something beyond this world.  I believe I will find it by living fully in this world, by appreciating and accepting it for what it is.  I don't want to denigrate it by thinking of it as some pale, corrupted imitation of the "real" world to come.  Our universe is awesome.  If all we are is stardust, that is more than majestic enough for me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Days 14-16: Oh look, my latent anger is being all un-latent

The last few days have been difficult.  I continue to feel under the weather but have a shed-load of work to do, so I've been working from home when I'm not being sick or sleeping.  Mrs McGingersnap is wonderful when she's here but, alas, she works full-time and has yet to master the art of bi-location.  As a result, I've been feeling rather isolated.  I've also felt anxious: it's hard to work with a brain like ether-drenched cotton wool.  And I have to deliver a 2-hour talk on Thursday morning.  Yay!

I think the praying is stirring up old feelings too, mostly about evangelical Christian teaching on homosexuality.  That old chestnut "Hate the sin, love the sinner"?  To a young gay person, that sounds like "We'll love you even though you're repulsive - aren't we gracious?!"  If you tell a young person (a) that their love is perverted and disgusting and (b) that you can tell a tree by its fruits, it doesn't take much skill in deductive logic for that kid to work out that, hey, they're disgusting!  Cue: self-esteem in negative equity.

Churn out all the hair-splitting distinctions you want: there's a reason why so many LGBT youth from conservative religious backgrounds come to believe that they're worthless.

Do I believe I'm worthless?  No, but that's thanks to the love of a good woman and - let's be honest - one heck of a lot of therapy.  Furthermore, that doesn't mean I'm completely free of the consequences of my upbringing. 

While I've been praying these last few days, I've felt uneasy.  How much of that is because of what's happening in my life and how much because praying is associated with some painful memories and destructive beliefs, I don't know.  But that's what's been going on.  I'll probably have a good old word-dump in my personal diary to get this out of my system, but I'm not convinced that revisiting those feelings at this stage will have any therapeutic value.  It's just running electricity down neural pathways that need to dry up for good.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Days 12 & 13: Is that a bug or a feature?

Day 12 was another perfunctory affair.

Today, I waited until I was a little more awake.  I find it easier to concentrate if I'm not on the verge of losing consciousness!

I began with the usual: thanks and a prayer for revelation.

On the Facebook page for the Atheist Prayer Experiment, a number of Christians have suggested that the participating atheists try repenting, or at least asking God to help them with personal problems.

I've resisted the repentance aspect, because it is so tied in with a particular brand of theism, whereas my aim in this experiment is to invite anything that thinks it fits the word "god" to show itself to me.  Also, there are bad habits that I'm quite attached to.  I'm not proud of being attached to them, but I am.  Even worse, I'm attached to being attached to them.  I don't even want to want to change.

That said, there are of course parts of my life I'd like to change.

While I was on my knees, I thought of several things.  The main thing I'd like to change is my energy levels.  I work two days a week and struggle even to do that.  I often end up working from home because I'm ill, run down or otherwise exhausted.  As I prayed, a part of me wondered if I sometimes use this as an excuse.  Then another part of me piped up: "Stop giving yourself such a hard time - you're on immunosuppressant medication and your body has been through a lot".  Then a third part said, "Would you stop over-analysing and get your head out of your arse?"  - which is probably what you're thinking, dear reader.

This links back to my last autobiographical post about hoping to change things which, frankly, it would be wiser for me to accept and accommodate.  There's that old prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

That third part is a bugger.

I don't know how to handle my lack of energy.  I don't know whether or not it's something I can change.  I'd like whatever it is I'm talking to - be it God, a wise part of me, whatever - to help me with that.

How I lost my faith (2)

My mother tells me I changed overnight, from a happy-go-lucky child to a rather intense individual.  I don't remember this, though I vividly recall my overnight stay in hospital the day before I had the blood tests and scans that confirmed my diagnosis.

I tried to fit what had happened into my 10-year-old understanding of God.  Was he punishing me?  I couldn't think of anything I'd done to deserve it, but God would know better if I had.  Perhaps God had chosen me to bear a special burden that would bring me closer to Him?  I tried to feel thankful for my illness.  These questions troubled me throughout my teens.  I never got an answer, but didn't blame God for what was happening to me.

In fact, I expressed very little emotion about my illness.  As I mentioned in my last post, my family was moving towards a more charismatic form of Christianity, which meant that the Christians around us believed in miraculous healing.  So did my parents.  So did I.

My family, my family's friends and others prayed for my kidneys to be healed miraculously.  I attended a lively, "Spirit-filled" youth group (I use quotes not to be offensive but because I don't believe in the Holy Spirit) where my friends and the group leaders regularly laid hands on me and prayed with me.  I would cry a lot.  This was pretty much the only emotional release I allowed myself, and I can't say with any certainty that I was crying about my illness.

During this period, I went to hospital about twice a year.  At each visit, they took blood to test the levels of urea and creatinine in my bloodstream.  Creatinine is a waste product of muscle metabolism which is almost all excreted by healthy kidneys; it is the primary marker doctors use to measure kidney function.

Each time I went, I took the memories of the prayers with me, the people who had "prophesied" that I would be healed, the message from the Bible and individual Christians that you needed faith to be healed.  I tried to believe.  I wanted to have faith.

But each time, the results came back, I had worsened.  Each time, it became more difficult to have faith - too painful to raise my hopes only to have them crushed.

Nevertheless, I kept believing.  I was passionate about God and Jesus and believed that he was active in the world through the Holy Spirit.  I wanted to be a part of that and sought to be his instrument in the world.

At 18, my renal function still declining, I went to university.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Days 9-11: Something not very nice

Days 9 and 10 were uneventful.

This morning, I said the usual prayer and spent time in thanks.  Then I thought, "Let's read Joshua 8."  Having decided to go along with these thoughts, I went to the bookshelf and picked up the well-thumbed Bible I got as a reward at Sunday School for memorising the order of all the books in the Old Testament.

Given the subject matter of Joshua, I suspected I wouldn't like what I read.  I didn't.

Chapter 8 is about the Hebrews taking the town of Ai.  All credit to Joshua's military acumen, but essentially it's a massacre.  The Hebrews slaughter everyone in Ai and burn the town to the ground.  This is framed as a glorious victory given by God to his people.

My first thought was that this story is vile; my second was that it fits well with my atheism.  If the story were in the annals of any other bronze-age tribe, I suspect most Christians would interpret it as the narrative of a primitive, warlike group attributing its victory to its (non-existent) deity.  That's how Joshua 8 reads to me.

My next thought was that if this was the will of the God I'm praying to in the mornings, then I really don't like him.   I wouldn't want to worship a God who is as hemmed in by us-and-themism as humans and orders the extermination of entire communities.  I would want to follow as God whose "us" is so all-embracing that there is no "them".

In fact, that's the sort of person I'd like to be.  Not that I'm anywhere near it!  The closest I've been to it was when I was regularly practising metta meditation.  And that's a Buddhist practice.

Buddhism is atheistic.  Just don't ask me to believe in reincarnation.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Days 7 & 8: what I learned from the cat

Day 7 was another non-event day, though I did spend some time in gratitude, after day 6's thought/revelation/whatever it was.  On that score, I've decided that if that voice speaks to me again, I'll take on board what it says - as long as it sounds reasonable - without worrying too much about its origins.  (A commenter on my last post also suggested I do this.)

Today, I prayed downstairs, on my knees in the living room.  The cat was in the mood for morning affection and was winding round me, rubbing her face against me and rolling on her back for a tummy rub.  In the face of this furry temptation, I stood firm, steadfastly continuing with my prayer.  I asked God to reveal himself to me and spent some time being thankful for the good things in my life.  Including the furry temptation.

After the prayer, I tried to settle into a listening, meditative state, but the cat really wasn't having it.  She was working that cuteness to unignorable levels.  So I gave her a stroke and decided to direct my meditation towards her.

She came to me for a stroke, went over to her bowl to chow down a few biscuits, back to me, over to the window to look out on the garden, then back to me.  She was happy doing her thing completely unselfconsciously, without worrying about the meaning of her actions or her life.  (Or at least, if she was, it was not readily apparent.)

I can be so laden down with the significance of my life and my desire to make a difference.  Yet this little animal makes such a difference to my life without trying, simply by being herself.  I started laughing.  Within 70 years I'll be dead and the chances of anyone remembering me in 150 years are close to zero, and here I am worrying about my to-do list* and how to change the world.  I laughed some more.  Perhaps I make a difference just by being myself and should lighten the hell up.

I guess I got my lesson for today.

This is not to say that I think dealing with injustice is unimportant or that I should lie back and do nothing, because one day I'll die.  But sometimes it's good for me to zoom out and get a better perspective on my life.  As Bill Hicks said: "It's just a ride."


*Currently written on five toilet rolls

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Atheist Prayer Experiment: Days 5 & 6

To be honest, day 5 was a bit meh.  In terms of the praying, that is.  The day was alright.  The prayer time was difficult because my cat, who - like all cats - thinks she is God, was loudly demanding that I pay attention to her.  So I was unable to settle into it.

Today, I felt a lot of things.  For the first time, I got on my knees, in the hope that it would help me concentrate.  It kind of did.

I began with the usual prayer for revelation.  "God, you know me, you know I used to believe in you.  If you're there, please show yourself to me."

I felt fear.  What if God was there?  What if it was the God that I abandoned in my 20s - the God of the Bible?  A homophobic God who would demand that I dissolve my civil partnership (or at least never do anything more than hug my wife) and who thought, on balance, that it was better for me to go through three transplants than to heal me?  Not to mention a God who is happy to sit back and watch millions of people die of starvation, drown in floods, be crushed in earthquakes etc only to punish most of them for eternity for failing to believe something for which the evidence is pretty shoddy?  I really don't want that sod to be real.

Also, as a matter of personal pride, how bloody embarrassing would it be to discover I'd been wrong all these years?  How my atheist friends might mock me for so easily succumbing to auto-suggestion.  (I'm a suggestible person and I was aware, coming into this experiment, that I'd need to be wary of this.)

I also felt sad.  I have depression, which is treated but I've been ill this week and that often aggravates it.

A voice in my head seemed to speak.

"Would you like me to help your sadness?" 

"Yes please."

"Be thankful."

Was this God?  I'm pretty sure the Christians reading this will be thinking "Yes!"  Sorry, guys, I don't think it was.  I suppose it could have been, but I think it's far more probable that it was a part of me - a wise part to which I listen far too infrequently.  I used to spend more time in contemplation and often heard a wise voice.  Moreover, the idea that gratitude can help combat sadness is something I learned a long time ago, from friends.  I think the human brain is very good at digging up answers, given time to forage. 

My conclusion from the experiment so far is that while I am still an atheist, a few minutes' meditation at the start of each day is a worthwhile habit.


How I lost my faith (part 1)

I told Justin Brierley that I'd blog about how I lost my faith.  I'm afraid we're going to have to start waaaaay back.  This could take a while.  More than one post.

My parents took me to church from the time I was a foetus*.  The church we went to when I was a small child was a fairly solemn Anglican affair.  I usually enjoyed the services (except for the rock-hard pews), believed in God and made my first commitment to Jesus when I was four, sitting on the edge of the bed in our spare room.

When I was seven, my family moved to Sheffield.  Again, we chose a relatively sombre church to attend.  Life went on.

When I was about nine, my family went to stay with one of my mum's sisters and we went to her church.  The worship there was so different from anything I had ever encountered - lively, joyful, heartfelt.  Instead of following a liturgical text, expression was free.  At one point, we children stood in a circle in the centre of the room, while adults stood behind us, laying hands on our heads and asking God to bless us.  During that time, I felt a peaceful warmth suffuse me.

I was blown away by this experience.  This was the kind of Christianity I wanted!  I read books about the Holy Spirit and asked God to fill me.  One night, while sitting in bed praying, I began to speak in tongues.  My parents - mum in particular - noticed a change in me and became interested in charismatic Christianity.  A few years later, they moved to a more charismatic Anglican church.

In the meantime, however, my life was rocked by the discovery that I had chronic renal failure.  I was ten.  At some stage in the future, I would need dialysis or a transplant.

*Though probably not within a few days of my conception, since they were in Ibiza.  Too much information, mum.  Seriously.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Days 3 & 4: Where should I be looking again?

Yesterday and today, I have experienced mild euphoria and a sense of peace and clarity.  Not while asking God to reveal himself to me, but when calming my mind for an answer.  Oddly enough, the euphoria comes when I close my eyes; the feelings are very similar to what used to happen when I was a Christian.  The peace and clarity come when I open my eyes, still my thoughts and focus on the world.  That said, I can also summon feelings of joy by concentrating on, say, the beauty of a plant; I can summon feelings of awe when I consider the way human ingenuity has harnessed natural forces and turned them into my laptop.  (Seriously!)

So far, I've not found God, but I'm starting to appreciate reality and reconnect with my emotions.  Which has to be a good thing, right?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Day 2: Letting go

I managed to focus a little longer this morning.  I also spent some time reminiscing about my time as a Christian.

I was what is known as a charismatic Christian.  I spoke in tongues, I often trembled or cried when people prayed with me.  I would sometimes feel a surge of joy, love and wellbeing as I prayed.

Now here's a thing.

I haven't had people pray with me for a long time, but I can still speak in tongues and can usually still summon up the feelings of love etc, if I try.  I don't believe that my "tongues" is a genuine language, and I believe the emotions I experience are internally generated, rather than caused by interacting with God.  Nevertheless, the feelings leave me contented, with a sense of peace and connectedness.  Yet I very rarely try to summon them.  This morning, I asked myself why.

The answer is multifaceted and I'm far from unravelling this, but I believe it essentially comes down to a fear of losing control, of letting go of thought and surrendering myself to emotion.  It's similar, in some respects, to the way I have felt during vipassana meditation.  For perhaps even less than a second, I would reach the point where my thoughts stopped and I experienced reality directly, rather than through the prism of my conceptualisations.  Those moments were both exhilarating and terrifying.  (It's all about the death of the ego, baby!)

Yet my reluctance to conjure the feelings I experienced during prayer is also to do with the fact that I don't want to go back to a belief system that I believe to be false, and that caused me a lot of distress.  Not even as a "let's make believe for the sake of the outcome" exercise.  If I can separate the ability to feel connectedness from the belief system with which it was associated - and my experiences with meditation lead me to believe that I can - then I'll be fine.  Well, apart from my crippling fear of immersing myself in the moment...

What has all this got to do with the prayer experiment?  Not a lot, really.  That said, I've often heard theists claim that what they experience during prayer and worship is evidence for God's existence.  It isn't.  A correlation between prayer/worship and temporary good feelings (or even a lasting change in perspective) may require explanation, but "it's because God has changed me" is far from the most parsimonious explanation.  (As I recall, a study of devotees of various spiritual traditions showed that, in terms of neural activity, they all experienced the same thing when they reported spiritual ecstasy.)

Perhaps I need to let go of the fear that allowing myself to experience my emotions will lead me to believe things that are untrue.  I can observe and move myself, a puppeteer whose marionette is me; maybe it'd do me good to drop the strings more often and step inside the marionette.  I can always take up the strings again afterwards.

Just some rambling thoughts for anyone trotting by.


Monday, 17 September 2012

Prayer Experiment: Day 1

"Hello God, if you do exist I realise you're probably a little busy right now, what with half the world going round setting fire to things, but I wonder if you could possibly take some time out to reveal yourself to me."

This is how I felt, praying this morning.  Prayer can be pretty self-important and presumptuous, it seems to me.

I found it hard to concentrate.  This is partly because my mind is always a bit like a butterfly on cocaine, but my struggle to focus was exacerbated by the fact that I don't believe there is anyone or anything on which to focus during prayer.

No major revelations, though when I went out for coffee, a busker was outside Starbucks playing the tune to what used to be one of my favourite hymns.  I'm not persuaded that was God waving at me, but it did lift my spirits.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Atheist Prayer Experiment

Starting tomorrow, I will be spending a few minutes every day, for 40 days, asking God to reveal himself to me.  I'm doing this as part of a project run by Premier Christian Radio, called - well, see the title.  The idea is that participating atheists will share their thoughts via Facebook, blogs etc and, by the end of it, God will have resurrected Freddie Mercury, Jimi Hendrix and all the dead Beatles, thereby incontrovertibly proving his existence to us erstwhile unbelievers.  Or something like that.

I'll be writing here and on the Atheist Prayer Experiment Facebook page.

I was brought up in an evangelical Christian home and was a pretty fervent Christian until my mid-20s. I'm also gay and was diagnosed with chronic renal failure when I was ten. Despite many people praying for God to heal my kidneys, I ended up having three (count 'em!) transplants.  Attempts to de-gay me were similarly unsuccessful, but you can imagine what I was taught about homosexuality.

So yeah, I got religious baggage.

I'm typing this on an iPad, so I'm not going to go into details on my past here, but it may come up in the next forty days. I'm not expecting God to turn up. If he does, though, he'd better have a bloody good excuse for giving me my mum's depression instead of her cheekbones

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Extracts from 'The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr"

The need to struggle for rights

"My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals." (p.191)  

The problem of indifference

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection." (p.195)  

The cause of backlashes

"When we had our open housing marches, many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: 'You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching. You are only developing a white backlash.' They failed to realize that the hated and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface." (p.305)

On power and love

"Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." (p.325-5)

Getting to the root of injustice

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.' It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say: 'This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just." (p.340)

[Headings are my own. Quotations taken from 'The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr', edited by Clayborne Carson, Abacus, 2011 edition]

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Bah to the Royal Family!

I hereby give notice that I shan't be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee*. The Windsors - or should I say the Saxe-Coburg and Gothas - are German.

Bloody immigrants: come over here, steal our monarchy, live a life of luxury at the taxpayers' expense... Frankly I can't understand why the Daily Mail isn't all over them. Elizabeth is literally a foreign welfare queen.

(*I may eat some festive biscuits as a concession to multiculturalism.)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Someone explain this cunt thing to me

Here is an example of the type of conversation, concerning the delightful word 'cunt', that I have frequently observed on feminist websites used by people from the UK and the US.

"US: Cunt is a gendered insult! It is demeaning to women and if you don't stop using it to describe Rush Limbaugh, your feminist card will be revoked!

UK: But for us in the UK, calling someone a 'cunt' is the same as calling them an obnoxious individual, only it's quicker and with added spice. The very fact that we apply it to men as well as to women (like Thatcher, the cunt) illustrates that it is not gendered.

US: Rubbish! You are such an asshole.

UK: So are you. You're also a bit of a cunt, if you don't mind me saying so."

And so it goes on.

Here's how I see it: the word genuinely has different harmonics in the USA and the UK. Because of this, while I avoid using the 'c' word in discussions with Americans, I will happily throw it around when speaking to my fellow Brits.

By contrast, I think 'bitch' is a gendered insult and that it remains so even when applied to men. As far as I can tell (the ever-evolving nuances of language being frightfully hard to keep track of) , 'bitch' is a word that describes an undesirable attribute that is supposedly - stereotypically - female. If you call a woman a bitch, you are saying that she possesses this undesirable attribute. If you call a man a bitch, you are saying that not only is he displaying this undesirable attribute, he is acting like one of those inferior vagina-owning beings as well. Double insult!

I don't see 'cunt' as having the same dynamic in the UK. Here, call a woman a cunt and you are saying she is a vile individual. Same applies if you call a man a cunt. There's no added overtone of 'and, what's worse, dude, you're being like a woman'.

I am slightly hung over from taking very strong sleeping tablets so this may not make a scrap of sense. It is also possible that I have completely misunderstood the concept of a gendered insult. However, I genuinely want to know if I'm missing a chunk of the argument and need to rein in my potty mouth.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Lose fat in 2012 with this one simple trick!

Ladies and gentlemen - feeling bloated with Christmas lard? Want to squeeze back into those jeans that were comfortable as recently as December 3rd? Behold - I have invented the perfect fat loss contraption!


Take one corset. Cut smallish holes in it. Don corset and pull tight until fat bulges out of the holes. Trim off fat with a pair of scissors. Et voila! A slimmer you; a more desirable you!

[May also involve blood loss. Mcgingersnap Industries accepts no liability for scarring or semi-fatal injuries arising from the use of its advice.]