Atheism Schmatheism

20 05 2015

This will be my last entry in this blog. I’ve said all I need to say at this point about atheism. I suspect it will only get more popular as we go deeper into this secular age, given that it caters to (preys upon) our basest evolutionary instincts for power and control, and we’re all about instincts these days. Just as well, I suppose, as too many so-called “believers” are comfortable having their cake and eating it too — meaning they reap all the rewards of belief (the afterlife, someone to talk to when they’re lonely, a built-in community, divine imprimatur for all their nutty ideas, a “purpose”) — without having to suffer any of the slings and arrows that come with a counter-cultural commitment to Jesus. “Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness’ sake…” How quaint.

If I sound terribly cynical, I suppose I am. Are there pockets of belief that inspire me and that call me to ask the hard questions about my relationship to sex, money, and violence (for example), the three current vices of American culture? Yes, there are, and I am both moved and challenged by them, and hope some day to count myself in their number. But pockets they are, and pockets I’m afraid they’ll remain. Of course, I believe in a God of grace and forgiveness, and we will all rely on both when the time comes (I am not a proponent of works righteousness for all the obvious reasons). But do I think we’ve managed to water down the radical call to discipleship to the point where so much of what passes for Christianity looks unrecognizable from its origins? Yes I do. So in the end, perhaps we’re the ones to blame for this current morass. There will be hell to pay, I’m sure.

But on to more interesting things at this point. One can only kick against the atheist goad so many times. At some point, you just need to up and walk away.

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The Last Virus

4 10 2014

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More and more we’re being told what to feel and think by corporate America (eg. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, et al). We’ve always been told what to feel and think by corporate America, obviously, but back in the day (like, five years ago), corporate America and our own minds and bodies still were separated by this thing called our skin; by boundaries, however porous they might have been. But with the advent of virtual social media (what does “virtual social” even amount to anymore?), our skin is no longer a boundary. Now they get their ubiquitous messages through our eyes and ears, and with the roll-out soon of the Apple Watch in 2015, they will, as it turns out, get under our skin.

Important to remind ourselves that Apple — like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter — is a private company with a bottom line, and it isn’t your well-being. These aren’t non-profit charities or charitable NGO’s. They are corporate America dolled up to look like your hipster friends. And they want, not just your attention and money, but every piece of you and every secret you’ve got to spare along the way. Don’t know about you, but I’ve got too many secrets that I’m not about to share with a faceless corporation — or with the rest of the world, for that matter. Undettered by this, these companies are out to harvest whatever information they can. And ideally, you’ll not only let them do this, you’ll beg them to. To wit: the recent lines around the block for the iPhone 6.

In one of the latest TIME magazines, there was this slug line: “Technology’s biggest advances have come from making our machines more intimate.” And as our machines have become more intimate, we’ve become more inanimate. Seems there’s always a trade-off on the road to personal nirvana. Sure you still want to play?

We’re constantly told that we’re one touch away from “a world of information,” as if this is necessarily a good thing, that information is what makes life worth living, or as if that’s what we really need more of. Don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty damn sick of information. In the same TIME magazine article, the author asks what comes after the Apple Watch and iPhone: the iMplant? Then there’s this doozy of a paragraph:

“The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets overconnected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough, experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual — tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them — and the world has congratulated you for doing so.”

Seems that in our inexorable rush from 1G to 4G, we’ve landed in a dark wood and have lost our way, to borrow from Dante. But do we even care anymore? I mean, if you have no direction, can you really ever be lost? Will it take a trip through hell for us to wake up from the real nightmare of virtual technology? And if it doesn’t feel like a nightmare to you yet, take a little gander at this lovely little p.s.a:

http://www.sciencechannel.com/tv-shows/futurescape/videos/computer-chips-in-your-brain.htm

And now read Mind Change by Susan Greenfield, then make decisions about the technology you use — which technologies are good and which aren’t. All of history’s biggest revolutions happened incrementally. The real virus? Well, you can dispense with your concerns about Ebola, because this virus is about to be put on your wrist, and it’ll soon be in your brain, and it’s already in your head. Hell, it’s in the air — all you have to do is breathe.





Tempis Fugit

13 09 2014

Illustration-of-man-walki-007

Some say it’s a mathematical trick played on the mind. The longer you live, the smaller percentage a year of your life amounts to, so it feels like it goes by quicker. Sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t fly. A year is still a year — 365 days. 24 hours in each day.

Seems to me that what matters is the amount of life each year, each day, represents. When you’re younger, things fill you with more wonder. Each day presents itself with its own small surprises: an open door, a cold night, a light rainfall, new things learned, new people met, new places seen. As you get older, though, you find yourself lapsing into more and more routines. You stop trying to learn, perhaps, because you feel the pressure to already have all the answers. You stop taking chances and, instead, spend your time adjusting to and apologizing for your mistakes.

But time doesn’t have to fly. Let it saunter. Each day at 50 can be just as long as it was at 5. It’s just a matter of being open to life’s small surprises. It’s a matter of seeing, listening, paying attention, being awake.

It’s easy to look back and think, “My oh my, time has flown.” But maybe it hasn’t. Maybe I’m just not willing to think about it as deeply as I should. Maybe it’s actually taken its time. Perhaps time saunters after all. It’s just a matter of how deeply you’re living it.





The Intellectualist’s Conceit

1 09 2014

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Atheism is the Intellectualist’s conceit (see Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”). You can dress it up any way you want with brave homages to unblinking consciousness and searing praises to naked existence, but it is a nightmare you praise. It is a requiem. Besides, if Shakespeare couldn’t dress it up, neither can you.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.




Lavender & Honey

19 08 2014

lavender-honey

Found myself sitting next to two young women at the local watering hole, probably no older than 18, talking like there were walls around them and no one else could hear. Is that this generation’s “please look at me” idiosyncrasy? Growing up on social media, which itself has no boundaries, likely lends itself to schooling young women (girls, really) about social boundaries in general. No diaries with locks anymore. No whispers. It’s all about the loss of the private self. They are a generation of voyeurs and exhibitionists. “Here I am, in all my naked reality. Look at me… please.”

True to form, instead of working on a writing project, I was instead invited into an ostensibly intimate conversation between two budding young lesbians who were all agog about their lesbian-ness. It’s all they could talk about. The vagaries of coming out, being outed by others, sleeping around, telling family, getting used to going public (“the first month is always the worst”), experimenting with multiple identities, dressing straight or gay, singing church songs, being raised Episcopalian, not breaking their sexual preference to Grandma.

Did I learn much? Not really. Except maybe this. There was a conspicuously self-conscious sense of deviant adventure about the whole conversation, about the way they were playing around with their identities as if they were commodities to mold and form as they saw fit. It was all about desire. Which, on the face of it, is no different than many teen-age conversations about sexuality down through the ages. Only this was different. There was a blase, even haughty contempt for… for what? For boundaries, for discretion, for tradition. This is a generation that celebrates anything different, where novelty is the new normal.

I felt out of place in this new reality, not because it viscerally turned me off — it didn’t — but because there was such a contempt for holiness, for any kind of restraint. There were no manners, no discretion, and as a result, no mystery to the very thing that was sending them up and making them giddy with excitement. It was all so… sad. And so haughty. That was it, really. They weren’t afraid of anything, of the implications of their sexual adventures, of their speaking in casual conversation in a public coffee house about the most private of things. It was all so new for them, so exciting and “dangerous.” So Katy Perry “hear-me-roar!”

And so I did, while drinking my lavender and honey tea, and I found myself wondering about the ways of the world and how the divide between generations, between me and these two young women, was growing wider and wider with each passing day, and how they didn’t see it, or if they did, they didn’t care. I cared. I cared a lot. My daughter is half their age and yet I feel more in common with her than I did with these two young women twice her age. I guess what binds generations together isn’t age, after all, but a shared vision of things, a shared sense of awe for the magic that shimmers just beneath the surface of things, which requires silence and restraint to see. A respect for enchantment, for holiness, for discretion. For secrets, and the sense to know which ones to keep and which ones to tell.

Silence and restraint. Lavender & honey. That’s what these two girls didn’t have. And didn’t miss. And yet, there they were, treading on holy ground from thread to seam, beginning to end, dancing around the sacred, and they never saw it. Never saw it even once.





Another Note, Another Table

22 01 2014

a-diner

I was so taken by the note I’d run across the other day in Nebraska (see recent blog “Note on a Table”), I figured I’d return to see if lightning struck twice. It did. Same coffee shop, different table, another note. Does this guy see me coming? Does he regularly leave his missives at the table for any random person to read? Is this his way of “getting the word out”? Whatever his reasons, here is another letter I discovered from Mr. (or is it Mrs. ?) D.B. Wyatt.

Nothing but Now
by D. B. Wyatt

“Probably Not”

I see what I see. All I’ve got is what I have. A couple of grown kids, a pleasant spouse, a few kicks and bruises doled out by life. Some irreparable friendships, a few lies for safe-keeping, a good dog, a comfortable house with a fenced back yard for the grandchildren some day (knock on wood). And some stories. Quite a few of them, actually. Life lived at the micro level, where paying attention is required. You see things others don’t — and probably don’t want to. Sometimes you have to shake your head and look again. A memory of something very small, happened on a Tuesday afternoon about 3,000 Tuesday afternoons ago. You remember. But you’re not sure why. Sometimes you are.

I’ve seen a lot. All I’ve got is what I’ve had. Some poems published in reputable magazines. Long conversations with friends long since gone. A run-in once with William Faulkner. He and his wife were visiting Omaha for some writers’ conference at the college where I taught, and he had been asked to speak. My better half and I were selected to take “Bill and Estelle” out for drinks and dinner afterwards. They both drank more than they ate and got into a big row about money. I made the fatal mistake of siding with Estelle to minimize the embarrassment it was causing all of us. Didn’t end that well. Then there was my friendship with Gus, my mechanic for 30+ years. Smartest guy I ever knew. Would quote Wittgenstein while fixing my carburetor. I asked him once if he believed in God. He told me, “Wittgenstein said, ‘Since the mystical is inexpressible, there is nothing more to be said.’” That was his reply. That’s all he ever said about the subject. Every once in awhile I’d catch him walking to the local Baptist church on a Sunday morning, all dressed up, smart shoes, bow tie. Alone. Never quite figured Gus out.

If you focus on the frame, that’s all you see. If life is supposed to add up, you’ll only see the additions. But if it isn’t ~ if it’s supposed to not add up, which is presumably where faith comes in, then we’re stuck doing additions while the truth is not a sum but some product, a quotient. I’m reminded of my early math lessons when I thought I’d go that route instead of writing poetry: “The derivative of a product is not the product of the derivatives.” You’re not even asking the right questions if you think life is supposed to add up. Is God supposed to add up? If God were God, he wouldn’t.

So probably not. I’ll keep my manifesto for another day, just in case. But God? This is about all you can say:

(f g)≠ f t g t





Note on a Table

18 01 2014

diner_table_setting

Had to go to Nebraska for a couple of different reasons. Went to a coffee shop for breakfast and found a note lying on the table. This is what it said.

 

My Future’s Manifesto
by D. B. Wyatt

“Probably”

I can see it and hear it now: Computers so smart they can actually mimic spirituality, because we’ll find that that a sufficient amount of computing power actually leads to an innate exocentricity – the impulse to “go beyond” one’s capacities, and this inevitably leads to a belief in God. The replication of intelligence begets replication, which by law of finite extrapolation, always leads to a desire for more. So get smart enough and you’ll want more than you have, and need more than you are. It’s a natural urge, which means that religion would have been developed whether or not there was a God. This doesn’t disprove the existence of God, but it makes it much less likely that such a being exists.

I can see it and hear it now. Computers so smart they can out-write, out-rhyme, out-paint, and generally out-create us. Because we’ll find certain innate algorithms built into nature that are expressly designed to create, and we’ll be able to replicate (and even manipulate and perhaps even improve upon) those algorithms in computers, but given that their computing power is so much greater, they will be able to out-perform us in creative tasks. So a computer will be funnier, more charming, even more sexy, than its human counterpart.

So religion will become a relic of the past, a natural stage in the progression of human intelligence, as we find that computers themselves begin to get not only personalities, but faiths. And this will prove, convincingly to most people, the true provenance of religious belief.

We’ll also come to the conclusion that we actually aren’t moral animals, we humans, and that our instincts for goodness are actually adaptability strategies in order to get along. We’ll find that there is no right and wrong, technically speaking, and that such concepts are developed for the propagation of the species. We make this shit up in order to survive, in other words. And it usually works, except when it doesn’t. It backfires because nature backfires. Every natural cycle is incomplete. Nature isn’t perfect – if it were, it wouldn’t change. Evolution is the process of attempting to reach perfection, which would be homeostasis. Religions call it eternity.

Anyway, all these religious impulses, all this morality wrought out of guilt, all this inspiration that supposedly came from the gods – all of this will, in time, be understood for precisely what it is – mechanisms built into the process of change for the purpose of insuring the survival of the host. Morality has no actual moral content of its own. Things are what we make them to be, and we make things that reflect what we want to be.

Will this lead to chaos and a rupture in the social fabric? Hopefully not, as people begin to accept that to live is better than to die, and so we must do everything we can to insure not only our own survival, but the survival of our progeny. This instinct alone, the desire and will to survive, will be recognized as the ultimate impulse—the ultimate religious impulse, if you will—that must be protected. Living will become the God. Life will be the God. Life will be God. God will be Life. It will be reduced to that kind of simplicity. There will be no need for sufficient complexity. It will be a call for sufficient simplicity. The simpler, the better, the more elegant, the more economical, the more efficient. Nature is actually on course to becoming more simple. It’s just that the road to get there is pretty complex ~

“I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” Blaise Pascal