Friday, 30 September 2011

The Dreams Of Autumn

A crisis of direction, a confusion over purpose isn't just the preserve of the middle aged. It can strike any time, and can be corrosive to our confidence, our motivation, our hopes. I wonder how many have said those words, "There must be more to life than this?"
Make no mistake that's a cry from the heart, from the depths of  our being. It explodes from the echo chamber in which our dreams incubate, evolve, and perhaps for many of us perish. I'm yet to meet a person who doesn't have some unfinished business, an ambition or a sense of longing that they haven't quite tapped into.
Yet how do we respond when the whispers of dissatisfaction become a grumble, a persistent complaint against us? Well don't expect any pat answers from yours truly; I'm clean out. I would suggest the following however, and that is simply not to forget the numerous small things we do each day that make a difference. Life often amounts to many interconnecting parts; a smile here, a word there, or perhaps just opening a door for someone or making them a coffee. What seems small can influence another in life enhancing ways, so don't knock it. Ok, you probably won't inspire them to rewrite the laws of physics or cure cancer, but you'll have made a difference. I know also that in our dreams we often measure ourselves by our failure to achieve the grandiose stuff, but that's a false plateau. By simply showing small kindnesses your influence upon your immediate sphere of reference can be bigger than you think.
Perhaps you're a father or a mother? In which case take a moment to look at your children. You might want to wait until they're asleep, which is typically the only time when they are still. Do you still think you've achieved nothing? If yes, then I doubt that anything I say will ease your angst. And if you live alone and feel that what you do means nothing, perhaps reflect upon those closest to you whom value your honesty, your bluntness, or your whatever. What I'm trying to say is that even if the big dreams don't materialise you're still all hands to the pump amidst the engine room of existence. That constructive advice you gave to a colleague, or that extra few yards you went for a total stranger; those things are never truly wasted.
We can't all be presidents or captains of industry or groundbreakers, yet don't think for a moment that you're not a worthwhile part of the chain. And as for those dreams you can still chase them, and I hope they stir your passions. And perhaps there are things that life still has for you that as yet you've no inkling of? Perhaps amazing good may rise from the ashes of disappointment?
True, life comes without a guarantee, and it owes you neither happiness or wealth nor anything else. But what it has given you is the chance to leave a footprint. Your footprint. And nobody else has feet like yours. Perhaps you should remind yourself of that?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Food Glorious Food?

Inside me there is a fat man desperate to get out. It's another of my impulses I have to constantly battle to control. What motivates me to retain my current weight is a sense of obligation to Joy and also to myself. I don't want to look in the mirror and see roles of flab rippling above my boxers, especially as there's no medical reason for it. If I did get fat it would be because I had lost control of my eating habits, and lost the desire to make the best of myself. This get's me thinking about the issue of obesity in general, and the worrying increase we see throughout the population.
I wonder, how many of us put on weight because we lack self control? Or because we eat for comfort? Or when depressed, bored, lethargic? That would be the category I'd fall into, and as such I would have no excuses.
I can't blame my job, although shift work can disrupt eating patterns. I sure as heck couldn't blame boredom; I mean look at the world? Is boredom even possible? No, If I became a porker it would be my fault and my fault alone.
But what about you? Now here's where I make one or two of you a bit uncomfortable, because I'm going to suggest that we could all do more to look after ourselves in the weight department. I'm so fortunate that Joy is a fab cook and ply's me with healthy food deftly concealed in curry's and chile and pasta etc. Yet even if she didn't I think I'd still have a enough knowledge to figure out some kind of sensible eating habits. For example, I know that if I drink to excess and stuff myself with fast food the mirror isn't going to thank me for it. Actually, neither is my brain, which is directly affected by diet. My weakness is my sweet tooth, and my willingness to kill for Dairy Milk or a sticky donut. It's not quite as satisfying as sex, but it ain't a million miles away.
A brief caveat, I don't include anybody with a medical or psychological disorder in my criticism. I know for example that some anti depressants can increase weight gain. My critique is squarely at those of us who could retain control of our eating habits yet choose not to. Let's have a bit of honesty, shall we? It's about us isn't it? Our choices, our ability or lack thereof to say no. Perhaps I offend you by even suggesting such a thing, in which case you're welcome. If you're anything like me, sometimes you need to hear words that irritate before they inspire. That's the way good criticism works with me, anyhow. My initial response is to grumble, and then I just simmer, and then once I've got beyond my own personal insecurity I actually think about it. And then, if it's valid I try to take heed. 
We're not that different are we? So anyway that's my take on a subject that many find touchy. Self image is a sore point, and I expect I've rattled a cage or two. If yes, rest safe in the knowledge that the cage I've rattled most is my own. 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Cost Of A Lie

To maintain a lie or lies requires effort. A scaffold of deceit needs to rise ever higher to secure the foundations. And like all structures, there's only so far it can go.
I've just spent the last two hours reading an e-book titled simply "Lying"
It is a mere 26 pages long, and penned by Sam Harris. It has, without question, ripped me out of my comfort zone.  On every page, assumptions I had made were torn up. More important, and more uncomfortably, it has shined a light upon me that has left me feeling uneasy about what I have allowed myself to be.
Yet what is a lie? Well put simply, it's a failure to engage honestly with the world and it's inhabitants. It's a conscious decision not to be authentic, and it deprives others of a genuine vision of ourselves. And I don't want that. I don't want people to be suspicious of me, or to have concerns that I might not be the person they think I am. That's no way to build meaningful relationships; in fact it's an almost perfect impediment to them.
I'm thinking now about those times when my honesty has sacrificed itself at the alter of my self interest. Perhaps I omitted to provide you with a complete picture, or neglected to reply honestly to a sincere but difficult question? In short, I've created an unseen barrier, a veil of fiction that may sour future interaction. Once again, I don't want this. 
The cost of maintaining a deception seems to outweigh any benefits. My type specimen example is the total dishonesty I felt some years back, when I continued to attend church even though I had long since ceased to believe any of it. I kept going because I didn't want to confuse my children, or create a huge family issue. I kept it going for weeks, for months, and in so doing lied to myself and everybody who knew me. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I finally shed that skin. It's not that my life got better, but I felt better as a man. I had decided that my personal integrity meant too much for me to carry on this way. And just in case you needed to hear this, the honest choice won't always be the easy one. I've far fewer friends now, and I'm incredibly wary of people who expect me to swallow claims without examination. 
Yet that's why the truth is the truth, isn't it? It isn't there to offer comfort or an easy way out. It's a brute fact about reality and it doesn't care for our feelings. No, the satisfaction must come from within, From knowing that we've been authentic, that we looked life squarely in the eyes and accepted the burdens inherent. 
But enough about me. What are you lying about? How highs your scaffold?
And in the quiet moments, when you stare plainly into the abyss of self reflection what is it that you see? Can you be trusted? Do others have good reason to trust you or should we be wary? In short, what are you? 
I don't need to know the answer to that, but i'd suggest that you do.

Fools To Ourselves?

Real harm can often be perpetrated by the kindest, most well intentioned people. Real suffering can result from the best intentions. And because of the genuineness and decency of those responsible, the harm is often all the greater. 
By way of example, consider the parents of a child who decide that prayer should take the place of medical treatment. In the United States every year we hear how otherwise healthy children are denied care, often for easily treated conditions such as diabetes. They die slow, agonising, delirious deaths. Or what about the pro-life family planning groups who maintain that in all circumstances abortion is murder? How many unwanted children have been born into squalor on the back of that? And how many young girls have damaged themselves or sought back alley solutions rather than confess to carrying new life? Or on a less lethal note, what about parents who teach kids that Genesis is literal and that the world is less the 10,000 years old, thus raising a child to be scientifically illiterate?
I wonder how many views we form that we actually reached for ourselves rather than simply absorbing them from family or culture? It's something I ask myself because I do my flawed best to apprehend the world around me with as much accuracy and honesty as I can. As I reflect I am grateful to my parents that they never tried to indoctrinate me. I was allowed space to form ideas, to get it wrong, to learn. I hope that's enabled me to mature with a healthy ability to accommodate new information without a wall of natural biases rising up to prevent this.
Now over to you. Ponder the following. Of your values and beliefs, how able are you to identify their source? Did you absorb them? Or did they engulf you? Can you recall periods in your life when you really had to think something through? How did you do this, and to whom did you speak? Did you step beyond the people you knew would agree with you? Did you actively seek to test the ideas you hold so dear?
As a father I'm anxious that I don't shoehorn my ideas into my kids. I want to give them freedom to think about the world and their place in it. This is one of the reasons I dislike indoctrination of any kind. It narrows the view, restrains the mind, and as far as I can tell does more harm than good. Worse, it traps people, often bright and capable people within a fog of ignorance that they rarely emerge from once certain thought patterns are fixed.
Like concrete, indoctrination weighs the mind down and starves it of movement. I know this from experience and there's rarely a day that passes when I don't reflect upon it. And those who fooled me were kind people, loving people, warm and generous and delightful. It saddens me then, that they remain so unaware that the people they fool most is themselves.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Vultures Are Circling

Unless you've been living under a rock today, you'll be aware of the astonishing results that have been coming out of the scientific community. It appears, if three years data collection prove to be correct, that faster than light travel is possible. As well as being fascinating, it means going back to the drawing board when it comes to our understanding of physics. As fascinating as this is, what struck me today is that we've seen science doing what it does best; going where the evidence leads. It doesn't matter how uncomfortable or humbling this new information is for thousands of physicists; they have to live with the ramifications and move forward.
Contrast this with the claims of pretty much all religion. When proven wrong, either historically or scientifically or philosophically the initial response is always one of denial and retreat. One can only speculate how far forward our science would now be had it not been for the incessant stumbling blocks the church placed in its way. Galileo was forced to recant and placed under house arrest because he dared to suggest that the Earth moved around the Sun rather than the other way around. So often when challenged with raw data, we see a stubborn refusal to yield to new information. We see this even today on issues such as stem cell research, which offers us incredible opportunities to alleviate real suffering in the real world.
But anyway, the purpose of today's blog is to pre-empt the inevitable cries from some corners of the religious community that science cannot be trusted as our best tool for figuring out how things are. I can sense it already, a swell of ignorance ready to proclaim Goddidit quicker than you can say Jack Flash.
Newsflash everyone; in the wake of bad science or incorrect science the answer must be more science and better science. 
The answer is never religion.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Chocolate Teapot

Imagine the following. You are stood alone on a stage with a giant screen behind you. Sat out in the audience are two hundred of your friends, colleagues, family members. They've gathered for a special premier, a movie that celebrates your life. Only that's not the whole story; unbeknown to you what's about to be played is footage chronicling every sin, every deviant thought, every  indiscretion you've ever entertained. And I mean the whole shebang, with special attention paid to those private moments when you were alone. Remember those experiments? That self discovery? The really embarrassing deep stuff you don't even feel comfortable dwelling upon?
How would you feel? Popcorn anyone?
I'd like to think that, upon hearing of the script change I'd smile and tell people to enjoy the show, yet even I confess to a certain discomfort at the thought of others knowing everything about me.
Believe it or not, a pastor used that story once, doing so to remind us of both our sin and our need for redemption.  I humbly disagree and regard the whole affair as just evidence of our own humanity. Come on people, we've all thought and done things that we'd rather remain a secret. Or at least I have. But does that rather obvious reality really require penance and repentance and guilt inducing angst? I really don't think so, and for me the word sin is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
Stop the press! We do weird things sometimes! We think and act in ways privately that we'd probably refrain from in public. When out and about we deploy something called social skills, and we all have these to a greater or lesser extent. We're each of us on a continuum, with perhaps Her Majesty the Queen at one end and people like me at the other. Now here's the thing; I know you have your strange moments. I know this, and you know this. I take some comfort from knowing I'm not alone in the asylum. What you think and do in your own private space is your business, and frankly I'm unconcerned.
Many years ago I remember telling my then Managing Director that "I wanted to live my life without doing so at the expense of other people."
This mantra has not changed. And as much as it's within my power it never will. You read these blogs; you know enough about me to have some  idea about what I might do during my hard earned spare time. The other day somebody said to me that I have this knack of saying what everybody is thinking but lacks the guts to say. Now this may or may not be so, but if I had one goal for my blog, just one desire I'd like to see realised, it would be for people to come away resting just a bit more comfortably in their own skin. We're human aren't we? And that means we're not always as refined or cultured or discreet or balanced as we might hope. That's ok. That's just fine. You're in good company. And you're not alone.

A Virtual Tour Of Me

I'm a man of extremes. An opinionated, clumsy, occasionally funny train wreck of ideas, innuendo, philosophy, all topped off with lots of sexual obsessions. I don't belong to any particular philosophy and I'm equally happy to offend friend and foe alike. If you are insane enough to enjoy my company, or masochistic enough to read my blogs you'll identify three or four themes that I tend to gravitate toward, give or take the odd detour.
I have huge issues with religion, which seems to me to fail almost every test one could set it. I'm obsessed with questions of sexuality, people's sexual antics and opinions thereof. I ponder questions of life and death, hope and despair, and I'm never far away from a glib one liner. I stopped caring whether anybody liked me sometime during my mid-late 30's and have never looked back. Tip of the day folks, shed that skin and travel light. Life's too short to agonise about the opinion other's have of you, besides which they are probably wrong, unless it's my opinion, which is always right, except when it isn't.
I'm more interested in truth than comfort. I drink lots of tea and think coffee is the work of Satan, who by the way doesn't exist. I've recently developed a deep distrust of Smurfs and believe they are trying to take over the world. 
I have an ability to make dangerously spontaneous decisions, and in fact did just that about forty eight hours ago based on a desire to expose myself to more natural light. Meet me on any given day and I hope I come across as Mr Average, only there's a lunatic beneath the bonnet, a leering wild eyed crazy dude with an aversion to political correctness and bafflegab.
By the way, bafflegab is my new favourite word. It's deployed when somebody is trying to pull the wool over your eyes by using big words and long sentences. Bafflegab has usurped my previous favourite word, which was viscous, only I don't have much practical application for it anymore.
I adore the natural world, and I'm proud to be an ape. People who believe in Creationism are shits who need a logic enema, and if I happen across one you really do need to stand clear because it invariably get's ugly. My hobbies include baiting American evangelical Christians, but only the one's who claim to know things they cannot possibly know. I've all the time in the world for the garden variety believer and count many of them as friends. From time to time I do like a good discussion about sex, because I love it and I think we should all learn to express that part of our nature without fear of taboo. I'm a leg man rather than a breast man, although breasts are quite fun too. The really good news about me is that if I do have an issue with you I'm probably going to raise it, which put's you in the happy position of never having to second guess me. 
All told, I have absolutely no idea what I've just said. If I started this post again I'd probably come up with different nonsense. 
Welcome to my world. And no, it was never meant to make sense.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Failure To Engage

Here's a funny thing. Back in my days as an evangelical I was frequently taught how to "spread the good news of Jesus." This tutoring took many forms, be it an Alpha course, a study group, a church service, or perhaps a weekend retreat. These were times of reflection and prayer, and times of deep communion with my fellow believers. And they were happy days, contented days, and I do miss the warmth of the friendships.
You're waiting for the "but" aren't you? You knew it was coming. Well, as I reflect now I can identify a common thread that linked us all, and one that, at the time we were surely unaware of.
It was the lack of awareness of our own ignorance. Our feeble grasp of history. Our blindness, perhaps wilful blindness towards things that might challenge our faith. What I suffered from, and what many of my dear friends continue to suffer from is a simple failure to engage.
Engage with honest reflection, impartial reflection, impassioned reflection.
The odd thing is, the goal of a Christian is to spread the gospel truth, but just try spreading a little truth in the other direction and I can predict the response you'll get with unerring precision. Most believers disengage very quickly if their core beliefs are challenged. They retreat, go quiet, or come up with some pithy comment about agreeing to disagree. 
As my knowledge grows, it becomes ever more of a challenge to respect Christianity. I don't mean this with any hostility, but rather as a proposition it seems feeble on so many levels.
Take for instance the Bible. Many of the books contained are subject to Pseudepigrapha, which is to say known forgeries, deliberately written by authors claiming to be someone else. And what of the Exodus? The famous story about the Israelites flight from Egypt? It has all but been abandoned as historical by scholars and archeologists alike. I mean, if you take the Bible as accurate for long years over one million souls wandered the desert, yet managed to leave not a trace of their existence? Not a pot, not a cup, not an inscription. And what of the famous King David? He was meant to have reigned over a mighty empire, yet many of the settlements alleged to have come under his rule never actually existed until after his death. The same goes for his son Solomon. It just goes on and on and on. And let's not forget about all the failed prophecy. Jesus explicitly stated that he would return before his generation passed away. It reaches a point where continuing to maintain the credibility of the Bible is an exercise in futility. The game is up, you've been duped and you're living a lie. 
Right now I can image my Christian readers shaking their heads. Once upon a time I would have done the same. But here's my challenge to you; instead of scrambling for the nearest book on apologetics why not try doing some honest research? If your faith is that robust surely it can cope?
Only you're not going to do that, are you? Because if you do then you end up like me, having either to lie to yourself and pretend that you can still believe it, or walking away from everything you've built your life upon.
Not an easy choice, is it? Honesty or comfort? Truth or Placebo? 
Actually, there is a 3rd way. And that's to do what many believers do and become so liberal that they cease to be recognisable as Christians at all. These are the cherry pickers I've dragged over the coals before, and they deserve, as far as I can tell only scorn. They lack the guts to be genuine believers, and they actually do so much more harm than good. They live a watered down faith, a middle class, Waitrose kind of faith. It's ugly and dishonest and an affront to the many believers who genuinely try to live out their beliefs. I expect when Jesus spoke of the lukewarm he had these types of Christians in mind.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Mr Marmite & The Rickety Fence

Life is odd. Today I'm forced to conclude that to be too honest is not always beneficial. Yes, I know, most of you learned this before puberty. I guess I'm just a bit of a simpleton when it comes to social interaction. You see, I've always been transparent, always prepared to identify my own issues and equally prepared to challenge the ideas of others. I'm wired this way, I can't do tip toeing around, which makes me either hugely entertaining or incredibly frustrating. I divide opinion, I'm like marmite, and I've known this for many years. My best quality, or worst depending what side of the fence you're on, is my simple need to be authentic and genuine in my dealings with others. Is that too old school? Naive? Perhaps. And whilst you're not obligated to like it at least you know where you stand. Fact is, I'm not very good at faking things or concealing how I feel. Pure honesty bubbles around inside me and occasionally erupts, sometimes with volcanic quality. I just don't have the levels of ambiguity most people have? And this means, from time to time, I fall foul of something or somebody.
There are times in life when I'd be better off exercising self control. I read about self control in a book once. From what I'm told it can and does come in rather handy, especially when trying to ascend the social ladder. I also understand that it's useful from a career vantage? I wonder, is there anywhere I can rent it? Just for a while? For those moments when I need to reign it in?
Problem is, it would just feel like a coat to wear, and a really uncomfortable and scratchy one at that. At the end of the day I just want to be real. Just clumsy old me, brash and slightly eccentric and wildly creative me.
It's those little boxes again. Remember the little boxes I blogged about before? The one's I don't seem capable of squeezing into. I'm forty now, so if I plan to become a conformist I should probably do it sooner rather than later. Perhaps I should just join the tide? Be more discerning when it comes to sounding off?
Actually, fuck that. It's so much more fun on this side of the fence!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Heavenly Lite

I read the strangest article today on the BBC website. It was from a person of faith who basically said, "It's not about what you believe , it's about how you live your lives."
Somebody clearly forgot to explain this to each of the worlds great religions, all of which make very specific claims about what we have to do to earn salvation. Besides, saying that "It's not about what you believe," is just about the least religious statement I've heard in years. It's dripping with humanism.
And let's be honest, how many Christian's really believe that it isn't important what you believe about Jesus? Or that Muslims are indifferent about the scarily specific claims of their prophet?
Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is cherry picking out of the closet. It's religion lite, all about living well and being the right kind of person. Only here's the thing; none of the holy books grant anywhere near that freedom. On the contrary, there are specific rites of passage and beliefs that one must profess, lest a person be struck from the heavenly guest list.
I do understand why this kind of article appeals to the more liberal Christian, but it's the kind of material that evangelicals and Mullahs would denounce as blasphemy at the drop of a hat. I suppose, from my perspective as a leathery old cynic I should be amused at the sheer amount of concession on display. Yet I'm actually quite sad to see something as profound as someone's beliefs so watered down that they cease to reflect what the great religions are seeking to teach. Once upon a time they used to stand for something really specific, yet now they've been reduced to obedient puppy dogs trailing behind the secular world, waggy tailed and big eyes, trying to get by on the feel good factor.
It's ironic. Atheists are often accused of seeking to undermine the religious convictions of others. Based on the article I studied today, I think the erosion is coming from the inside out.

Wild Eden

Your planet is trying to kill you. No, really, there's nothing it does better than wiping the unwary from its surface. By way of an appetiser reflect upon the following brute facts; two thirds is covered in water which is hardly the most congenial habitat for humans. Of the one third left, vast swathes are either too cold or too hot for us to survive on. We live on a surface that's made up of continental plates, plates that from time to time reach critical tension and cause earthquakes and tsunamis. And then there's the volcano's, and the predators, and worst of all the bacteria. Whatever you do don't underestimate the bacteria. And let's just assume we do find a relatively safe perch we still have each other to deal with, and let's face it our track record is less than compelling. We've got squabbling down to an art form, and over the centuries we've come up with all kinds of reasons to destroy each other. 
But perhaps I'm being too gloomy? I mean there's the mountains and the forests, the rivers and the glaciers. And the puppies and the kittens. Mustn't forget them. And people aren't all bad, are they? What I'm saying though is that when we say our planet is perfect for us we're seriously kidding ourselves. It supports life, but it's perfectly happy to wipe it out. Planet Earth doesn't owe us a living, so we're going to have to figure that bit out for ourselves.
So all things considered, if we can look beyond the weather and the conflict and the natural forces arrayed against us, what we're left with is a kind of wild Eden, a place that has a menacing beauty, and a grandeur that often leaves me lost for words. And at the end of the day this is our own little space in the cosmos, and at least for now our home. So let's share it and be sensible stewards, shall we? And for the sake of the puppies let's at least all pretend to get along?

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Woman In Black Stockings

Can't help it. Can't keep it in. Feel free to laugh at my expense. Have just watched the new M&S advert, part of which shows an attractive older women sliding black stockings up her leg. I was forced to pause and watch it twice, purely for research purposes you understand. There's something so sexy about that kind of scene, a really sensual sexiness and feminine quality that I've always been drawn too. What was also interesting was that they used a model in her late 40s and made her look absolutely stunning, and the overall message was that age is no barrier to sexiness.
Confession. Younger women do nothing for me. Perhaps I'm missing something. There's something about a mature women that trumps the younger one every time. Perhaps it's to do with reaching a point where a person becomes comfortable with themselves? It's that kind of confidence and assertiveness that does it for me. If I'm being really honest, the last time I went out in Milton Keynes I found the whole exercise so deadly boring. Couldn't quite connect with the drunken images tottering around in high heels and skirts that left so little to the imagination. And here's the point I'm driving at; our imagination is the spiritual home of our sexuality. It's where we really process the data, so to speak. And this, I think, also kicks into the value of building really good long term relationships. You get comfortable with each other, intimacy goes to new levels. When I hear some couples speak about how the spark just went I want to ask why they let that happen? Didn't they feel able to talk about this? Were they really being honest with each other?
Anyway, back to my M&S lady. The advert culminates with the phrase "Still turning heads," and she certainly turned mine.And no,despite my obsession with stockings it wasn't just the legs. It was her confidence, her radiance, which is something I don't think you can fake. I reckon that real sexiness is when the balance is struck between revealing just enough, yet leaving plenty to the imagination? It's in the flash of a smile, the glint in the eye, the scent of a perfume.
Get's me going every time. And at forty, that's something of a relief.

Closer To Home

Crossroads. Not sure which way to turn? I've been enduring shift work for over four years now, and it gives and takes in equal measure. On the one hand Joy and I are able to spend real quality time together and be a couple in ways that I know many envy. Whole days together, long walks, pub lunches, shopping trips, and other interests. But like making any deal with the devil it takes, too. Weekends, nights, meaning I'm not always around when I'd like to be. The job itself is well, the job I guess. I enjoy, for the most part dealing with the public, almost as much as I loath the political correctness and unavoidable politics inherent in any public organisation. Is it what I really want, though? No. Never has been. Never could be. I only ever wanted to write, and anything else could only ever be a plan B. and now I find myself asking what now, what next? And I'm asking the question because I don't want to get stuck in a rut like I did in my last job. It's easy to do, and more so when you're a father and a husband. I need to keep the money coming in, and sometimes that has to override the personal satisfaction of my job. Still, Joy has always been so supportive, and in the worst case she could do supply teaching so we'd never starve. All the same, she has a good quality of life right now; she's got the time to be an amazing mum and a respected co-worker at the nursery she works at.
Fact is, with government cuts as they are, I suspect that some career decisions are likely to be made for me within the next few months. The Government say that the cuts won't impact the front line, but that's simply untrue. Less people means lower service. Less people means that those left behind get stretched thinner. That's a non controversial fact about the way the world is. I'm expecting my job to get harder and less rewarding, which is perhaps the nudge I need to reflect on the next step.
By the way, I'm not really blogging for any reason tonight. Just getting some thoughts down. So then, when plan A doesn't pay the bills, just how do I get enthusiastic about plan B? I'm not the kind who can fake it, but at the same time I'm confident I could turn my hand to most things. If I were to face unemployment I'd happily do any other job that paid the bills, and I recall being told once that all work is honourable. I haven't got much time for the person that feels certain types of labour are beneath them; it seems to reflect an ugly cultural expectation that we're owed something, or that we're part of some unspoken caste system. Well no thanks. If I need to pack boxes I will, if I need to empty bins I will, and if I need to go downward in order to earn a living so be it. Ultimately, I don't define myself by my job and never have. There's more to being a person than that. More to you, more to me. I've also heard it said then when we find ourselves on our death bed the one thing we won't be saying is that we wished we'd spent more time at the office. Perhaps you disagree?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Creepy Town USA

Depending on where you live in the United States, what you believe about the nature of reality matters. The quality of your life will be directly proportionate to what you profess. I'm talking about your religious convictions. By way of example consider the story of Damon Fowler, a college graduate from small town America. He lives in a community where 91% percent claim "absolute certainty" concerning belief in God. Damon found himself unable to consent to this proposition, and was honest enough to admit of this. He promptly found himself shunned and denounced even by his teacher, and also booed and prayed for at at his graduation ceremony. Similar affirmation or lack thereof awaits many in the sleepy backwaters of small town USA, a bizarre thought when you consider the death rattle of mainstream religion in the rest of the western world. Tales of discrimination, intimidation, and physical violence are not at all uncommon, all for the simple crime of unbelief.
One could be forgiven for thinking we are talking about Saudi Arabia or Somalia at this point, but America? The land of the free? The nation built upon the inspirational backbone of Paine and Jefferson, both famous secularists?
America is an anomaly, at least in the religious sense. Much of it is drenched in old time religion, and 40% percent of the population believe the Biblical creation account to be literally true. It's astonishing, and here's the punchline, these convictions can and do influence the rest of the western world.
You doubt this? Foolish of you. Let's reflect on the latest debate between republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Each candidate has deep religious convictions, and when I say deep I mean disturbingly deep. Rick Perry, by way of example, recently told a young child that evolution was "just a theory with some gaps." This makes him a scientific illiterate and begs the question of whether such an ignoramus deserve to sit in the White House?
It get's worse. Senator Michelle Bachmann, pocket dynamo and fundamentalist is also actively denouncing a free injection against the HPV virus, which is known to protect against cervical cancer. This jab saves lives, yet Bachmann considers such an injection to be both a violation of parental rights and also likely to increase promiscuity amongst young girls. Yes, you heard me correctly, cancer is bad but sex is worse. Finally we have Mitt Romney, who appears to be generally likeable yet whom is an adherent to Mormonism, possibly the whackiest religious belief this side of Jedi. If you doubt this google it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
You might very well ask how, in this day and age people with these views could even be considered for the highest office? Herein lies the paradox that plagues much of American society. It's a stunningly innovative country which has given us so many advances in science and been such a staunch advocate of democracy, yet even now it remains in the grip of a strong religious undercurrent that often leads it into murky waters. Weirder still, one of the reasons why is to be found in the way in which religion markets itself.
It has no established church, so has been required to market and tout religion in many ways. It comes in brands, and if the yanks can do anything well it's market a product. There are so many denominations, so many schools of thought, and religion in America has a consumer quality about it which has bizarrely enabled it to thrive. No stuffy Church Of England institutions here. It's a banquet of choice. Little wonder then that it has endured, and even though there has been a marked decrease in religious adherence the numbers are still troubling.
So anyway, that's a clumsy overview into what is an absurd world. And it should lead us to consider the following; do we want scientific illiterates at the helm of the western world? Are we comfortable that Biblical literalists, replete with all their dangerous views on Israel and prophecy and the second coming initiating foreign policy which can and does affect us all?
I am not. I'm deeply uneasy about this prospect. Now in all likelihood those buffoons are going to get intellectually de-trousered once the presidential race hots up. People are going to start asking tough questions, but don't kid yourself for a minute if you think it's beyond the realms of possibility that within a year a person who believes in a literal garden of Eden, or talking snakes and donkeys couldn't be stood in Washington taking the presidential oath. Bush managed it, and look at how his religious convictions changed the world.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Only Human

Have you ever heard one person say to another, "I'm going to give this one hundred percent."?
You probably have. At the risk of allowing reality to piss on a perfectly good bonfire I'm going to suggest that such a proclamation is borderline insane.
Think about it. One hundred percent. Perfection. Does that seem to be a realistic target to you? Ok, I accept that what the term actually commits to is the noble goal of giving our best, but I've come to suspect there are dangers in unrealistic expectation. Take for example my job. Over the course of four years I've probably taken tens of thousands of calls. It's a relentless and unpredictable conveyor belt of humanity that never stops. During this time I've probably been taken to task formally three, maybe four times. Roughly once a year, setting aside the more minor discrepancy's that the law of averages would predict. I'm good at what I do and confident in my ability. I'm also perfectly confident that every now and again I'm going to drop the ball and do or say something stupid. Worse, I psychologically factor this in and simply accept when dealing with these kinds of volume, perfection is simply out of the question.
Am I wrong to think this way? I don't think so. I happen to think I'm being a realist, being honest about my own propensity for error and human enough to accept it's a part of who I am. This leads me neatly into the point I'm angling at, which is to question whether we're always being totally realistic in our expectations? Step outside of just work commitments now, widen the canvas and ask yourself just how likely is it that you're always going to be the perfect parent, perfect lover, perfect friend?
Admit it, it's an insane expectation. It's barmy. Why do we kid ourselves?
Now the obvious objection is that if we set a high target and aspire to it we stand a better chance of being better at what we do. I agree, but this does nothing to defeat my general point that sometimes we just have to be honest and accept that we're human, fallible, subject to error and misdemeanour.
And guess what? I'm actually quite pleased about this. A perfect world would be a very dull place. Nobody to encourage, nobody to get alongside and support, nobody to inspire.
So come on everyone, take a load off your back and just accept that you are human. It takes nothing away from you, and doesn't mean you shouldn't aspire to be the best that you can be. It's just a simple acknowledgement about the real world and our place in it. And it's also just plain honest, and there's no greater quality than that.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Relax, It's Only A Penis!

Anybody remember the film Ghostbusters? There’s this scene at the end when they’re fighting the Stay Puft Marshmallow man and the team have this discussion about what happens if they cross the beams of their guns. It would be bad. Really bad.

I think the Catholic Church feel the same way about two penis's coming too close to each other. It's like crossing the beams. It could lead to a singularity, or a black hole, or a global addiction to Ugly Betty.

There are some articles I should avoid. Today I’ve read how the Catholic Church in Scotland is speaking out against gay marriage and warning us just what a threat to the fabric of society it is. Now why should I care? I’m a heterosexual male and I don’t really have a dog in this race. It’s just that upon reading, the resulting tsunami of hypocrisy eventually became too much and now I'm just fit to burst.

Dear Catholic Church, I find myself open mouthed as I read your latest warblings. To begin with, what entitles you, as the planet’s most successful manufacturer of pedophiles, to venture any comment on any issue of morality? Frankly, I don’t think you’re best placed. And that thing you’re doing in Africa, when you teach millions of uneducated people that condoms are worse than Aids, I wish you wouldn’t do that. What I’m trying to say that you’re about as well qualified to speak on morality as Anders Behring Breivik is to speak on gun control. It just sounds wrong coming from you. And another thing, about the child abuse; I’d really appreciate it if you’d hand over the documents that provide potential evidence that might lead to the conviction of child rapists. I’m assuming you agree that child rape is bad?

Anyway, on the subject of homosexuality, what is it that get’s you so worked up? Why are the choices of consenting adults of any concern to you? Whilst I recongnise that it must be very frustrating not being able to burn people at the stake for not doing as you instruct anymore, I’m afraid I must point out that we live in a modern world. Most of us accept that men can love other men, and women other women. And we’re not too fussed about what they do between the sheets. This obsession you have with dangly bits is really going to be the end of you.

Anyway, grateful as I am for your continued willingness to self destruct, can I gently suggest that you get your own house in order before you speak into the private lives of others? You have a lot to get straight after all.


Thank God?

I've just read an interesting article about a Bolivian who was in a plane crash in which eight others died. He survived for three days by eating insects and drinking his own urine, as well as drawing a huge arrow using his blood to make the wreckage more visible. Upon rescue, the first thing he did was fall to his knees and thank God.
Now it's wonderful that this man survived, but let's just consider whether his gratitude might be a tad misplaced? The article rightly observes that presumably the same God allowed the plane to crash, the other passengers to perish, and required the fortunate male to spend three days in fear and physical pain. Could it be that his gratitude would be better directed towards his rescuers? Or the survival skills he had acquired? When he is giving thanks to the almighty is he really right in doing so when all else is taken into consideration? Of course, we hear identical testimony in the wake of other tragedy both great and small; there is something in us that needs to feel protected, that we're being watched over, and that it will all be alright in the end. I'm not going to be critical of this man, and I hope he is now back in the arms of his family, and I expect what we're reflecting on is a very human response to fear and the realisation that we are indeed mortal.
The author of the article then asks " Does religion manufacture fools, or do fools gravitate towards religion?"
I suspect he was being deliberately mischievous in his choice of words. My experience persuades me that the answer is "Sometimes"
Religion does make bright and capable people believe some rather peculiar things, and often defend them to the death. But I won't refer to all people of faith as fools as this seems to me to focus on only a part of who they are. As people we're multi-dimensional and we have many facets to our personality. Religion is a part of some people, but not the be all and end all. They are invariably richer, deeper, and more complicated. True, the more that religion permeates a person the more they become subject to increasingly odd perspectives, but hardly any of the believers I know have gone that far down the rabbit warren. So for once I'm going to be a bit charitable. Don't get too used to it.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Blind Spot

We're products of the Western world. West centric. The things that happen closer to home impact on us more than the events that occur to people of different cultures in far away places.
Perfectly predictable in one sense. But right?
I'm thinking about this on the anniversary of 9/11 because today is a day of mourning and reflection for many. But, and I say this without any intention to lessen what 9/11 means, I think we Westerners are quite selective in our response to human suffering. Consider; on any given day 26,000 children will die from completely treatable conditions, whilst thousands will starve to death in squalor and loneliness. In some cultures women will be genitally mutilated, in others children forced into slave labour, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The difference between these things and 9/11 is that they don't all happen in the same place at the same time. The suffering is dispersed, yet no less searing.
What am I getting at, you might be wondering? Well, it's really no more than just to point out a blind spot within us all. The big disasters jar us and draw us all in like moths to a flame, yet what about those smaller everyday evils? They go under the radar, flickers of anguish amidst a world that just trundles remorselessly on. Today we mourn a single, monstrous act of vileness that has truly reshaped the global landscape and laid bare certain delusions, yet even as we listen to the speeches and watch those wreathes being laid I find myself questioning my hypocrisy, and also yours.
Sadly, much of the hardship that afflicts the poorest people of the world are caused by the excesses of the West, be it foreign policy or more subtle evils like our consumer culture. You and I, by many of our choices, increase the suffering of others in ways that should revile us. If you doubt this consider the following; picture a child in a cramped sweatshop knocking out clothing that's  going to turn up on our High Street. They often work in dreadful conditions, earn nothing, and are frankly treated no better than slaves. And what about our obsession with fossil fuel? Reflect on how the behaviour of the large corporations often crushes the needs of local populations underfoot? Habitats destroyed, whole cultures wiped from the global map. And how many species have been driven to extinction by our greed? A few moments reflection is all that's required to to send a chill down our spines.
Do not misunderstand me. We need trade, economy, and all the engines that drive a society. Yet we need to be stewards rather than thieves. More than that, we need to be aware that our habits, our lifestyle, and our choices have an influence beyond our immediate line of sight.
So what to do? Well, how about a number of small things? Buy from companies with good human rights records, and boycott those that put pound sterling before a pound of flesh. We all want contented and peaceful lives, but don't you want this for others, too? We can't solve any of the world's problems alone, yet our choices can each illicit a small difference.
We're passengers on the same global ship. Just because we've had the good fortune of being born into 1st class doesn't mean we should ignore our fellow travellers. Please take time to think about this.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Something confuses me about a certain type of guy. It's the kind that when a relationship ends thinks that the best way to win back a partner is to stalk, harass, and generally make their lives a living hell. My initial thought is that if this is such a top notch strategy why don't all males deploy it at the start of a relationship? During the dating stage when we're really trying to impress you? I mean, we could send endless texts containing a mixture of veiled threats and declarations of love? Or perhaps a few silent calls? And how about we drive past your house late at night and brick your window? Or scratch your car? Or throw paint at the front door? I mean, that's going to win your love isn't it?

It isn't? Oh. And there's me thinking I've happened upon the perfect strategy for winning the girl of my dreams. Back to the drawing board for me then.

On a serious note, I've dealt with countless females and males who have endured conduct as described above; some of them for extended periods. I can't even begin to imagine what that must be like, although I do hear the desperation in their voices. But anyway, back to these spurned males, these clear thinking genuises who, contrary to all common sense, think that you win somebody's love and respect by threats and menace and coercion.

You might have noticed. I don't have much respect. In fact I don't have any respect. I don't think anybody who does this deserves any. What they do deserve is a full psychiatric evaluation, preferrably within a secure unit whilst modelling a straight jacket and denied access to anything sharper than crayons. Come on guys, what are you thinking? In what corner of your brain did these marvellous ideas spring from?
Let's have a bit of plain speaking. If this is your idea of reasonable behaviour then you need to be taking medical advice. Your conduct is abnormal and irrational and cause for some serious concern. Now I don't know whether it stems from your need to control or from some deep self loathing? Perhaps you think that if you can't win back the person you're stalking then nobody else would come near you with a barge pole?

Whatever. I don't care. I do however, care about the way you are toying with and manipulating those around you. I care that you cause fear and distress to adults and kids and appear not to understand just how far
wrong you've gone. And what you're doing is wrong; wrong on every level, and it's going to do nothing to win back the person you desire. Besides, wouldn't you rather have somebody respect you and choose to be with you for reasons other than fear? I'm not one for stereotypes, but something close to being a real man entails treating others with decency and consideration and respect. So do yourself a favour. No, do the world a favour. If you're inclined towards these patterns of behaviour get help, and do it sooner rather than later, preferably before you cause someone real harm.

Tabula Rasa

It means blank slate. It's how you and I started, before we began accumulating the various baggage and ideas that come with life's journey.
Question for you; what were the strongest influences upon you when you were growing up? A parent? A religion? A particular environment?
How have these things informed you? What marks have they left? Have these marks been good or bad? Are you planning to pass them on or have you had to fight tooth and nail to escape them?
Some things embed real deep, don't they? Perhaps an event, or a series of them? You've never been able to forget and it can always be summoned when required.
As we mature we are drawn to order. We want to have a place for everything and be able to rationalise things. If you doubt this try reading a book that has too many characters and too many plot lines which never come together. Bet it leaves you feeling unsatisfied? I've mentioned before that we're natural pattern seekers, and for good reason. You're here because your ancestors, generally speaking, made the right survival choices. And just as they were informed by their experience you are informed by yours. Only the yellow brick road to clear thinking is littered with many a lonely wanderer who was teased off track by irrationality. But what do I mean by that? And who am I to say what's rational and what's not? Well I'm clearly nobody, but there are some useful pointers I've picked up as I've ploughed my furrow.
The main thing is never to accept any claim that the evidence doesn't support.  If it's important to you, do the hard yards and make sure that what you're being told can be backed up by something measurable. You can apply this principle to all areas of your life, within reason, and if you do I bet you're hoodwinked far less often.
Second, we're each of us a hornets nest of biases and bad ideas. And worse, we hate to admit this to ourselves, let alone to others. Yet if we're brave enough to seek an honest opinion about ourselves then we might learn things we'd otherwise have been blind to. I've learned this on a whole new level over the past couple of weeks. I've had some articles published on one of the worlds biggest websites, and when you achieve this there's a comments section during which your work get's critiqued. Be prepared for the rough and the smooth; you can be sure that somebody out there is going to highlight a weakness or a bit of errant thinking.  Be grateful for alternate viewpoints, yet not to such an extent that you cannot see errors in them, too.
Finally, be open to the new, the unexpected, and don't duck for cover when you're dragged out of your comfort zone. I've always found it kind of tragic when I see people so desperate to insulate themselves against any and all hardship they seek the route of least resistance. If you succumb to cowardice don't be surprised if you don't grow, and if you don't grow then you limit the amount of potential life experience available to you. If you really want to rob yourself then that's your business, and perhaps I'm pushing you too hard. It's just that when I've stepped out, when I've said to myself that there's more to life than this, then every time I've been amazed how true that conviction has shown to be.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

So Now What?

It isn't really 2011. No really, that's just the calendar. It's probably nearer the year 14 billion, only our brains aren't evolved to cope with that. This is an ancient universe, perhaps one of many, and in terms of the amount of time we've been here we barely merit a mention.
Or do we? Well, thing is, to the best of our knowledge we're the only one's able to do it, which makes us special. In fact special doesn't even begin to describe it. We're beings that can think, feel, reflect, and a whole lot more besides. The evidence available suggests that the evolution of life is rare, infrequent, and absurdly improbable.
So here you are. Here I am. Alive. Capable of doing all sorts of clever stuff. Just how you going to play the hand you're dealt? Well here's just a little suggestion; seize it, savour it, devour it. Every waking minute is precious, each second a gift that we've been handed. It's incredible, insane, and it's yours. 
Depending on how you're life has panned out my enthusiasm may be a little lost on you today. I might even be getting on your nerves. Thing is, these are the days of your lives, your time on the greatest stage. So what's it to be?
You could waste the time you have, or you could get out there and be the person you always wanted to be. To be sure the sad days will come, but in the meantime you've got a whole lot of living to do. A lifetime, to be precise. I know you never asked for it, but it's yours. And it won't always be. So before the lights go out on this great adventure how about you live a little?

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Day The World Changed

A man in a suit leaps from the upper floors of a high rise building, licks of orange flame and black
smoke billowing outward around him. As he plummets he is so very alive, moving into a protective self embrace for those final seconds. Across town, members of his family gather around televisions to watch the scene replicated many times over. Inside the superstructure there is a surreal panic as thousands of normal people seek to flee, unaware that in just a few moments one of the largest structures ever built is going to disintegrate around them, closely followed by its twin.
You know where you were. You know what you were doing. This was the day the world changed; shifted in seismic fashion. And ten years on things can never, ever go back.
It's all been said, hasn't it? The testimonies, the soul searching, the heart wrenching pursuit of meaning, the need to make sense of these spine tingling atrocities. Let's be clear; there's no sense to be made of it because the idea behind these attacks was non-sensical to begin with. Nineteen relatively educated men orchestrated, planned, and executed 9/11, each one going willingly to what they perceived would be a glorious martyrdom. As the world watched they gave the word delusion new meaning, and provided ample evidence of the horrifying evils that true believers will perform in the name of their God.
I was still a very committed Christian when those towers fell and when those planes became flesh encumbered guided missiles. I recall being horrified that anybody could do such a thing in the name of their God. On September 12th a young philosopher and fledgling neuroscientist called Sam Harris began writing a book which would become a global bestseller. It was called The End Of Faith, and it was to change my life. It remains to this day the only book which on completion, I've turned straight back to the very first page and started again. Such was the power of the narrative and its clear dissection and disembowelment of faith at all levels. It was a book that was to start a movement that became known as the New Atheism; a movement I am now actively a part of as I seek to raise consciousness about the lurking dangers behind all unfounded belief systems.
If you are a believer of any stripe you have something in common with those nineteen men. Don't shake your head, and don't look away. The thing you have in common is that you are claiming to know things about the nature of reality that you cannot possibly know. You believe you have a relationship with the Creator of the universe. You are convinced he cares about you, watches over you, and has a plan for your life. You believe he is telling you to do certain things and abstain from others. In summary, you are taking instruction from a being for which there is no evidence and whom has left no detectable mark on his creation. And strangely this being exists in many forms, depending on your culture and the part of the world you happened to grow up in. 
The vast majority of you will lead peaceful lives. You may have some quietly repulsive views about sexuality and some tacit bigotry that lurks under your intellectual bonnet, but by and large you are garden variety believer, harmless and quietly living out your delusion.
Yet problems exists. This planet is soaked in religion. Drenched in the stuff. Three or four have large followings, and each of these perceives itself to be absolutely true irrespective of what the others preach. And across the globe, from the West Bank to the Bible Belt, from Norway to Nigeria we see how these contradictory systems square up. Think of them as continental plates, rubbing against one another. From time to time the pressure builds so much that there is a tectonic eruption. The seabed rises, a tsunami rips towards land, or the ground shakes everything to rubble.
Wasn't 9/11 a kind or religious tsunami, a moment when the pressure became too much? And why? Because people held beliefs that could only be supported by blind faith. And the moment you evoke the word faith you are quietly acknowledging that your evidence is not good enough. This world is entering a critical phase, with economic, environmental, and population problems creating tectonics all their own. Do you think faith is going to come to the rescue? Is prayer going to cut it?
I'm going to make the following suggestion. Whatever else we take from 9/11 we should accept the fact that religious certainty, religious zeal, religious delusion is only going to add to our problems rather than alleviate them. I'd suggest this is the time to put the fairy tales of old to bed and forge new paths based on reason, compassion, and mutual self interest. We face global challenges. Challenges that require global cooperation. Religion leads to division and falsehood. Let's remove that card from the pack. It was only ever the joker afterall.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The View From The Bottom Of The Glass

I can think of at least one very simple step that, if every person could abide by, would result in a radically better society.  It would be to drink responsibly. If you can't handle the grog, or if it makes you violent or unstable then learn to manage your intake.
There. Simple. A better world.
Don't believe me? Ok, I see I've a skeptic to convince.
A vast amount of crime, a huge percentage of domestic abuse, and a whole lot of other societal problems are under girded by our national propensity to exceed sensible levels of booze. The fights, the criminal damage, the general disorder are the obvious markers, but what about other side effects such as drunken fumbles  leading to unwanted pregnancy? Or venereal diseases? or the inability to control finances due to addiction? How many sick days were in fact hangovers days? How many appointments missed? How much money has been bled from our crippled economy because of our failure to apply self control? You might think I'm being puritanical, but you'd be wrong in so many ways. I'm not talking about abstinence, just a bit more restraint. I'd like to see a change in our culture whereby we all take a more measured approach to the whole matter. Am I asking too much? Am I being plain unrealistic?
I don't see why? What if we taught our children early, starting with a school curriculum that included modules on alcohol? Let's get recovered alcoholics into classrooms and youth clubs and get them to share their stories. Our kids are smarter than we give them credit for; let's entrust them with the facts and enable them to grow into adulthood better informed.  More importantly, what if parents led by example and lived lives illustrating that enjoyment doesn't have to mean excess? Cultures can and do change, and if we teach our kids sensibly and without preaching I reckon we'd see big improvements. 
You might wonder why I've got a bee in my bonnet over this? It's because I see the adverse effects that alcohol abuse can cause. The amount of police hours spent responding to drink related incidents should outrage us all. It eats  into our diminishing resources and prevents us from tackling other issues. Beyond this I just see the damage that alcoholism has done in the lives of so many. It reduces people to a husk, robs them of life and hope and purpose. I'm not blind to the fact that some drink problems are often manifestations of deeper personal trauma, however. Some drink to cope, because it makes life more bearable, less lonely. Only what it gives is nothing compared to what it demands in return. It's like borrowing money from a loan shark, trading a short term problem for a longer term one. Trust me, the view from the bottom of a glass might appear to bring comfort, but deep down I know you've the nagging suspicion that it's false consolation.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Cure You Just Don't Need

Apparently Ex-Christians make very good skeptics. It isn't hard to figure out why. I mean, if a person can safely negotiate a path out of the wild woods of religious belief it suggests they are persistent and capable of seeing beyond their own immediate desires. Thing is, once a person has surfaced and come up for air, why is it that so many, and specifically people like me tend to glance back and spend an awful lot of time sticking the proverbial boot in?
The religious explanation for this is typically wrong headed; I'm simply angry and bitter and disaffected by my religious experiences. Well not really. Now let's be honest, my initial feelings when I realised just how many years I'd spent with my head down the intellectual toilet were of acute embarrassment. I mean, just why didn't I do the basics? Like check out what I was being spoon fed rather than swallowing it wholesale? Why did it never occur to me to seek alternative perspectives? Well I guess I was just happy to have found a kind of home and some level of acceptance from God, from others, and from myself. I was in a whole new place, and I was happy. I had a peace that I'd never experienced before; why should I go galavanting about trying to wreck it after I'd been seeking it for so long? In short, I liked where I was, and so it never occurred to me to look elsewhere. You can forgive me for that, right? So when the applecart does get overturned, why look back? Why not just head off quietly into the night, embarrassed and downcast? That's the decent thing to do, right?
It really isn't. But in order to understand this you have to grasp just how important truth is to me. It's everything. It's sacred. It matters in so many ways. These days I cannot go anywhere near my old church; I'm reminded of the times I had my hands in the air, sang the songs, fully convinced that I was at one with the creator of the universe. I recall how I used to view homosexuality, evolution, abortion rights. I remember thinking in terms of saved and unsaved, the righteous and the lost. What arrogance, what hubris, what ignorance.
This is going to be the point where some are bound to take offence, but if I want to speak plainly that's a necessary trade off. You see, I often wonder whether many remain believers because it defines who they are so very strongly? Consider the following analogy; an anorexic stares into a full length mirror, a grotesque image of skin stretched over protruding bone. They are utterly certain that what stares back is morbidly obese, and nothing you or I could say would alter this same warped image. Only it get's worse; the anorexic often reaches the point where they don't want to change because they have begun to define themselves by their illness. Without it where do they stand? What are they for? I wonder whether this comparison between the mental illness that is anorexia and the simple delusion of religious belief has  striking parallels? Many believers are perfectly wonderful people, yet their self image has been distorted by the words in an ancient text. You're a sinner, you're fallen, you can't get by without God. In effect, what religion does quite brilliantly is diagnose you with a condition that you do not have and then tries to sell you the cure. And don't think for a moment that peace or hope could ever be found elsewhere, because that's not the way faith works. No, the believer has the truth, the absolute truth, and all else is imitation. And this simple policy of misdiagnosis and phoney cure has served the churches and the mosques and the temples rather well down the ages. People want to find hope, to have assurances for this life and the one supposedly to come, so it's no mystery where the appeal of faith comes from. Combine this with close proximity to like minded souls, often of a kindly and benevolent disposition and what you've got is a safety net that few would ever want to escape from. I understand it's appeal, and I lived it happily for 13 years. That it's built on false claims and myth hardly matters because it makes some bad lives better, and some good lives better still. So if you can swallow the medicine, if you can manage to ignore reality and cling on I suppose I can understand why. It's just that there's life beyond belief. It's not necessarily better, and it's less comforting, but it's honest in a way that religion can never be. And most believers are scrupulously honest except when it comes to treating their own claims with an honesty that would almost certainly require them to change.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Right Kind Of Man?

Joy tells me that in one of the Anne Of Green Gables novels the lead character confides that whilst she likes her men to be generally good, they should always have something about them to suggest they can also be bad. 
Going out on a limb, I suspect that a lot of ladies out there would go with this?Admit it, if we're too nice, too fawning, too docile we bore the pants off you. You don't want that kind of nice. You might as well admit it because we know already. You want a guy who's going to treat you like a lady most of the time, but who isn't remiss at knowing when a lady is the last thing you want to be treated like. There's a combination of the rough and the smooth that you kind of like, and there's a part of you that likes the fact that you can't always second guess what's coming next. 
I'm yet to meet a female who didn't appreciate being put on a pedestal from time to time, and as a guy I do like having someone to adore. There's something in my nature that draws me to traditional femininity, which is probably why Joy and I fit together so well. She regularly tells me that I'm a typical boy, and there's always a smile on her face when she does. 
So anyway, about this whole idea of the right kind of man, am I anywhere near the mark? I'm pretty sure you don't want a doormat, or a mummy's boy who can't tie his own shoelaces, and I'm also confident you're not after a wife battering moron who expects you to cook and clean and generally be his slave. Maybe some relationships can tick along like that, but I'm not sure whether that could ever be viewed as healthy? A good indicator of whether a female respects her partner is to hear how she speaks of him when he's not around. I've listened to women spout off about how useless her other half is, or how inattentive, or thoughtless, or just plain lazy. Never a good thing, as far as I can tell. Wouldn't those complaints be better directed towards the man in question or have I missed something?
So then, here's my checklist. I need to treat you like a lady most of time, except when I'm being a rascal. I need to make sure I really do listen rather than just pretending to; which is sometimes harder than you'd think. I'm thinking you want your man to be a lover and a friend combined, and definitely not an adult child or a generally useless tart. And talking of children, even when they come along you don't want me to lose my desire or appreciation of you. This is where I think a lot of relationships go belly up; the kids come along and before you know it they take over everything, and in so doing suck every ounce of passion and desire that Mum and Dad formerly had.
Newsflash; don't ever forget what it was that made your relationship strong. Don't start living your life through your kids at the expense of the very relationship which forged them. This error has destroyed more potentially good partnerships than any other, and it's such an easy mistake to make. You're not just a Mummy. You're a wife, a companion, a temptress. And as for me I'm not just a Daddy. I'm a friend, a lover, a real man with all that goes with it. So many couples work so hard to sustain families that they lose themselves and each other into the bargain. Yet know this; if you're kids have parents that are still into each other rather than just separate people maintaining family life they will reap the benefits. If you're strong as a couple then you're kids can only benefit. It's the ultimate win win scenario. Only like all things of value none of it comes easy; it's up to all involved to make sure they give the best of themselves. As I've said before the analogy that the grass is always greener is just plain wrong headed. The grass is greener when you water it. So please excuse me whilst I whip out my hose and get on with the task at hand.