Friday, July 24, 2015

Too Much Pressure

I've been feeling down as of late.  It might be lack of sun or some vitamin I'm not getting, but this uneasiness has caused me to come back to this blog after yet another long hiatus.

As I sit here typing, my second monitor is displaying a picture of my daughter when she was a newborn.  The auto-slideshow just changed it to her playing her drumkit when she was three.  That seems like yesterday.  She'll be starting school very soon; leaving the house for hours out of the day when neither me nor her mom will be with her...

And I'm scared.

Good Ol' Days
It's becoming more obvious that I'm slowly losing her to the world. As parents we can fight all we want but we can't win that war.  We can't shelter them forever, nor should we, for the sake of health.  But still, as a parent you want to keep them all to yourself, safe in the cave.  I knew this day would come and I know that other, even harder days will eventually come too.  But I still can't help but be scared.

The world I'm giving her to seems to be a frothing, bubbling cauldron of chaos.  Mass shootings, out-of-control law enforcement, governmental quagmires, corporate megalomania, destabilizing climate, ubiquitous vapid entertainment, and eroding common sense are a few of the things I can't help but spot as my eyes scan the horizon for danger before letting my cub out of this cave.  I just saw there was another shooting in a movie theater yesterday.  You used to not even think about being scared to go out and watch a movie, but now it crosses my mind every time I step into one.  I'm always planning ahead, running "what-if's" in my head in an attempt to be ready for anything, not just at a movie theater but everywhere I go.  Maybe that's been heightened since I became a parent...I'm sure all parents do that to some extent.  I'm watching out for my little girl whenever I can.

But she's growing up faster than I can think.  She'll be going off to school -- another place that used to be safe.

Didn't it?

It's easy to think that the world is going to pot.  I hear people saying that things have gotten worse, throwing around the old "used to not have to lock the front door" argument.  I have to catch myself and remember to be rational when I hear these things.  Because in point of fact, things have been and continue to be better.  Statistically, we're safer than ever, and crime has been in steady decline.  Through technological advancements, the world is becoming better and better each day.  But it's hard to miss the big stories and headlines.  But it's a product of our modern world.  If not for our ability to get 24/7, instant notification of nearly anything we want, it wouldn't seem like everything is so bad.  It's all in how you look at it.

Bad things happen every day.  Bad things have always happened every day, only now we know about them faster, so it seems like it's getting worse than it used to be.  But it's not.

It's easy to think that before Columbine, school shootings where "just something you didn't ever see".  But that phenomenon it didn't start in 1999.  Ever since there have been guns and schools, there have been school shootings.  A man entered a school in Pennsylvania with a gun, shot and killed a teacher and nine kids.  That could be a report from any day in the last decade -- but it happened in 1764.  And things like that have happened ever since.  Look up the number of deaths from school shootings in the US since 2000.  The number fluctuates from 19 one year to 4 to the next; from 38 to only 3.  Now granted, every single one of those are tragedies and I don't think I'd give a good goddamn that crime has dropped in this country if my daughter were one of those cold statistics.  "I know she's gone, but there were only 3 this's actually getting better!"

We're better informed about the news of terrible events (if not informed, at least aware -- hell, we can know there's a shooting taking place before we even know how many people are pulling triggers), but we're at a loss for the reasons why some of these things happen.  Of course each is it's own issue and a blanket statement is both belittling to those issues themselves and a non-sequitur of any kind of approach to dealing with them, but nevertheless I hear a rather loud majority unfolding their favorite blanket: religion.

(I'm going to digress into preachy mode now...this is my atheist blog by the way)

Can't Reconcile Fact and Faith
We don't have enough of it, they claim.  We've "turned away from God" and "taken the Lord out of" every facet of our lives, so it shouldn't be such a shock when someone shoots a building full of innocent people.

Indeed, why would an all-loving, infinitely powerful force lift an invisible finger to help us if we hurt its feelings?

This is not going to be a post about tearing that argument apart.  You've probably already done that before reading this sentence. Instead, I'm more interested in a larger and clearer problem.  And it stems from this: I agree.  Religion is likely the problem.

But it isn't because we are not as fundamental as the fundies want us to be.  On the contrary; it's because people believe in it, and it's hard to believe in, even for the believers.  I think that a majority of people are good, decent and loving.  We all want our kids to be safe and happy, and we all don't want to die just because we're in close proximity to a crowd of others.  This is true no matter your country of origin or background in life; it's universal.  But believers been suckered into thinking that they need religion in order to be decent and loving -- that in fact those qualities come from religion itself.  (Each religious and "spiritual" person will have their own exact deity or force in the end, but for the sake of argument we can lump it together here.)  And those who believe that must reconcile the world we all live in with the claims their religion makes.

If you believe in some kind of loving God, you have to try to rationalize the problem of evil, there's no way around it.  I'm just arm-chairing here, but I think that doing so causes so much cognitive dissonance that it leads to detrimental effects.  I don't have the clinical knowledge to even begin to really talk about such things, but to me, it seems an easy sell.

I say that because of personal experience; I've been there.  I know what it's like to have that internal struggle...that "crisis of faith".  I also know what it's like to think I have beaten that, to keep thinking that God loves the world while horrible things keep happening...that there's a "reason for everything".  I know the arguments and the bible verses.  I get how comforting religion can be whenever these bad things happen.  And now, as an atheist, I can't call upon a sense of love and safety in a deity.  But by facing the truth that I'm alone in the universe (theologically speaking) I've found out how to be on my own.  I know now how to find true, real hope.  I've reconciled personal fears about death, for myself and others.  It's something everyone has to do for themselves...I don't have a guide for that.  But I can say that I feel healthier and more at ease for understanding the world around me now that I'm not trying to fit a God in there somewhere.

Many people claim we need religion for comfort.  But when I have to watch someone I love die slowly, it's comforting to know that it's not because of some supernatural Shakespearean drama between magical forces.  When my grandmother died, I found it comforting to know that there was no outside force that failed to save her, and that there was no outside force that caused her demise.  She wasn't "called home" and she didn't die because we failed to pray hard enough.  To me, it's more painful to think one or both of those things is true than to look Truth in the eye.

And in the end, I think that's what make most people uneasy.  Maybe that's a reason for a lot of the behavior of people, from rebellious pre-teens up to mass-murdering adults.  They're stuck on the problem of trying to get an answer out of an unanswerable question, like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Not everyone will take the time or effort as I have -- either through a lack of personal ability or overwhelming apathy, or something else entirely --- to sit down and think about all this "God stuff".  A lot of people I've talked to are on the fence when it comes to religion.  There's too much misunderstanding and stigma attached to the "'A' Word" and people wind up being "just spiritual" or "agnostic" in the wrong sense.  We don't like to challenge our own thoughts.

As an animal, we seek to minimize pain.  This includes mental anguish.  Therefore, I don't find it surprising that humans take comfort in religion rather than tackle the hard parts of life (including questioning said religion).  And I understand that having to deal with those feelings when you realize religion is empty of real hope can seem daunting.  It takes more work, but you get real, tangible, substantive joy from it.

Ditch Faith, Find Hope
When we were burying my grandmother, we stood for the preacher's final words before departing the cemetery.  Then he said something along the lines of, "Without Jesus there is no hope...for everlasting life."  The ellipsis there represents a pause he took, a pretty important pause.  If he had ended his sentence before then, I'd have probably made a scene right there my grandmother's funeral.  Not only do I hate having to sit through religious funerals where we are mostly there for church and not to remember the one we've all lost, but then to be told I have no hope on top of that...

But he did finish the sentence.  And honestly, he did a good job with the service overall.  It was more about her than church (although just barely).  I only bring it up now because of that one incident.

He is right, ya know; without believing in Jesus you can't pretend you'll live forever.  Well, unless you're one of those "spiritual" folks.  If you are, try talking to someone.  Preferably to someone who doesn't believe the same things you do.  Challenge everything you believe, not just religion or "spiritual" stuff.  Ideas are either strengthened or forgotten by challenge.

[To all my loyal readers who come to this blog for concise, well-written posts: forgive this rambling mess as I try to re-enter the blogosphere.  I've got some rust to knock off.]