Molecules in Motion…

Monterey 2011 - Oceanside Highway

 

A theist told me that without god I’m just molecules in motion… 

Correctamundo!

We are molecules in motion.  Only not just.

We are also heirs (at the very least) to 5 thousand years of history, 14 thousand years of civilization, 50 thousand years of behavioral modernity, 3 billion years of biology, 14 billion years of physics, chemistry, and cosmology.

We are descended from the cosmos — “A way for the universe to know itself.”

Not  a p a r t  from it, but a part of it.

We are particles that dream. Atoms that love. Star dust configured to comprehend its own existence.

We are kin and kindred to every earthly organism that is or ever was and perhaps ever will be.

We sail across an ocean of  human toil and pain and blood…and of  hope.

We are curators of knowledge. Co-authors of the human story.

At our feet, all of human achievement, above us endless possibility, within us untapped potential.

And the truly beautiful part, the sweetest, most succulent, warm and fuzzy, spine-tingling, uplifting, stupefying, humbling, unequivocally, undeniably most beautiful part about it…

Is that everything I say is true and proven true.

We are all molecules in motion.

You’re goddamn right.

The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

All Will Be Well

I had an awful dream last night.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a nightmare–I could have mined it for story ideas.  No, this bad dream was about something that actually happened.

Awhile ago, the only girl I’ve ever been in love with asked me to go away with her.  She was going to grad school on the east coast.  That whole last year together,  she’d been dropping unsubtle offers for me to go with her.  To her credit, she made the whole thing lighthearted.  It would be awesome if you came with me.  As if she was suggesting we get an ice cream sundae after dinner.

The incident in my dream transpired during one of our goofy–but absolutely perfect–conversations, this time about Method Man’s Release Yo Delf (she thought the song said “bitches by homicide!” which makes no sense.  The actual line is “being chased by homicide”).  And for the first time she pushed the issue.  She really wanted me to come with her.  She thought I could do well back east.  I could further my education.  Find a better job.  And I could still work on my art.

I stood my ground.

I was going to San Diego.  My favorite studio was there.  My utterly stupid notion of an ideal life was there.  Besides, I couldn’t leave California and my friends and my family and my life.

Of course it was none of those reasons at all that kept me from going with her.  I didn’t go because I was an idiot.  I was chickenshit.  I took for granted how much I loved her.  So I let the best thing that ever happened to me walk right out of my life.  And now, my subconscious mind was rooting through that misery for reasons only Providence could possibly know (Damn to hell  whatever it was that connected those dots, by the way).

I didn’t realize how serious she was about the move until she stopped trying to convince me.  She had this exasperated look on her face.  That’s the image that’s been stuck in my brain since I woke up.  God, how could I have been so stupid?

We officially broke up about two weeks later.  But the die had already been cast; from that day on, our relationship was palpably different.  She was starting the process of letting go.

It seems that was about the time when my life kind of got…stuck.  As far as relationships, I took my hat out of the ring.  At first because of heartbreak.  Then because it became comfortable to not take the risk.  I mean, sure, I dabbled.  But I’m an odd cookie.  I’m black, but the world I live in is not. I know it doesn’t sound like a thing.  Maybe it wasn’t.  But in my head it was. I mean, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian…cleaned up they sort of jibe.  But then there’s this 6-foot-4 black dude lumbering around in the mix; I would sometimes feel…out of place.  Of course, neither of my brothers has a problem with that, so it probably was me.  Still, I was living in a new city; I didn’t know a lot of people.  And hitting on women cold has never been my forte.  (I got laughed at once.  Laughed at. Let that stew in your noodle a bit.)  So i didn’t really go out all that much.  I’ve never been the rock out with your cock out type.  Unless we’re talking pancakes, I typically favor quality over quantity, particularly with interpersonal relationships.  And I’m not a toad, but unless it’s the DMV, I’m rarely the best looking guy in the room.  I’ve never really made a lot of money, had particularly cool jobs, nice cars, or “dripped swag.”

To top it off, I’ve been raised almost exclusively by women, so I have a great deal of respect for women, which means I’m a nice guy, which I have learned–the hard way–is poison to the romantic interest of the vast majority of women.  I’m talking forever friendzoned.

While we’re running the litany, I’m prone to bouts of depression.  They don’t necessarily manifest as sadness so much as withdrawal from social interaction. Sometimes months go by when I feel wholly disinterested in doing anything.  Oh, and I have a potentially fatal heart condition.  I don’t smoke, don’t drink, and I have never taken an illicit drug in my life.  But I do love junk food.  I wouldn’t say it’s killed me, but it definitely has it’s hooks in.  If I was betting on which way I’m gonna go, I’m putting the house on the ticker.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think I’ve had a bad life or anything.  I don’t seek pity (before now).  I’m not waiting for death.  In fact, I find that entire mindset absurd and counterproductive.

I have plenty of amazing people in my life who love me and care about my well being.  I’ve typically been well liked and well respected by most of the people with whom I’ve interacted.  My passions are writing and drawing and I do one or the other pretty much every day.  And I have had relationships…just fewer than I would like (I’m probably with the majority in that regard).  I’ve even been in love.  Requited love.  I fully expect the day will come when I earn my entire living with my art.  I don’t believe in soul mates or anything but I know there are people out there with whom I’m compatible.  I just have to get re-acclimated with putting myself out there. A la George Costanza, I’m like a commercial jingle (do they have those anymore?); initially I may go unnoticed, I might even be annoying, but you’ll be humming my tune by the end of the day.

I’m perpetually optimistic.  I mean, it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.  You’re stuck with what you’ve got.  You can spend your time getting worked up about your circumstances or you can try to make things better.  Tomorrow’s coming either way.  It’s like that quote that says something along the lines of, optimists are realist; they know how bad a place the world can be.  It’s pessimists who keep relearning it every day…or something to that effect.  Personally, I think optimism, when applied, looks a lot like determination; and as an ideal, it’s the next best thing to happiness.

Anyway, my point, at the beginning of all this, was about my dream about this girl I loved and how my life would have been profoundly different if I would have just gone away with her.  Would it have been better?  Possibly.  Okay, probably.  But perfect?  Obviously not.

I was just haunted by the vividness of that look on her face.  It dredged up every bad thing that’s happened in my life since.  I had to vent. But even as I thought about the bad stuff, I started thinking about the good.  That says something, right?

Anyhow.

Free. Thought.

Bizarre Encounter

https://i1.wp.com/www.c-cproductions.org/sa/emoticons/confused.png

There’s this guy I know…

He’s the younger brother of a high school friend.  He now lives somewhere in the general vicinity of where I live.  He’s fallen on hard times since our school days.  He’s usually high, drunk, or stinking of booze whenever we bump into each other.  Nevertheless, we’re cordial, though I haven’t talked to him for longer than 5 minutes at any one time in my life.  He’s the proverbial “hello” around the neighborhood.

Anyways, I was just on a walkabout in crappy ass Fresno, corralling my thoughts, when I ran into said acquaintance.  As I was walking past a nearby convenience store parking lot, he was pulling into it–driving the most beat-to-shit early 1990’s Honda Accord I’ve seen in quite some time.  He got out, said hello; we shook hands…then he saw an overfilled garbage bag–like a homeless dude would have–sitting amongst sparse bushes under the convenience store sign.   He abruptly strode over, took the bag, and put it in the back seat of his car.  Then he nonchalantly entered the store, leaving me standing there without so much as a farewell.

WTF?!

What just happened?

Where the F*** is my trash bag?! I LEFT IT RIGHT HERE!!!

What was in the bag? Drugs?  Money?  Garbage?  Some poor homeless guy’s stuff?

I wouldn’t trust my acquaintance with my product if I was a dealer…of any kind.  Besides, who would leave anything of value just sitting out there like that?

Was he expecting that bag to be there?  Did he just see it and think, “ZOMG, I could use one of those!”

Baffling.   I’ll have to remember to ask him about it the next time I run into him.

Anyway, it was weird.  Just thought I’d share.

Free.  Thought.

Beyond Belief: The Albatross

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

–From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The line between free thought and subjugated thought is thin but absolute and can be determined with a simple question that requires no modification of current beliefs:  If there is no God, if we are all that is, would you want to know?

I believe abjectly that human potential is virtually limitless.  We have just scratched the surface of what we can do and become.  Unfortunately, we are constrained by a fatal flaw in our design (it also happens to be one of our greatest attributes):

Faith.

I’m not just talking about religious faith–although religion is a crucial aspect.  I’m talking about faith as the trust we have that we are correct about what we believe (i.e., hold to be true).  Because of that trust we make presumptions.  We hold some presumptions so dearly that we actually consider questioning them taboo.  But  presumption is simply unfounded belief, no matter how logical it may seem or profoundly we may believe it.  Religion then exalts these unfounded beliefs as the Will or Law of supreme and/or supernatural beings–who are themselves unfounded beliefs.   It uses evidence to justify–rather than evaluate–beliefs and either disregards or denounces contradictory evidence (such as evolution and radiometric dating).

It may seem like I’m calling humankind delusional, but as instinctive and intuitive animals, we are right so much of the time–purely by guessing–that belief has become innate.  Whether it’s navigating through traffic, recognizing whether a door is automated or manual, or realizing that an unattended child is getting into something, we guess right an overwhelming majority of the time.  It verifies our faith. It’s probably why it’s so embarrassing and even unsettling when we’re wrong; we’ve failed in our perception of reality.

Faith was crucial when we were ignorant of the natural world.   But as we have passed from the age of faith, through the age of reason, and into the age of knowledge it has become imperative for us to re-evaluate the principles and processes by which we discern what is true.

We have not only acquired more knowledge–beliefs supported by evidence–we’ve gotten better at acquiring it; knowledge chafes against the limits of faith, religious or otherwise.  Our understanding of the world, once buttressed by faith is becoming increasingly imprisoned by it.  We resist accepting new truths because they may dispel older ones.

It has become untenable.

If we are skeptical–which is to say we presume as little as possible, only accepting beliefs supported by evidence–we can get closer to the reality of existence than we ever could by faith in unfounded beliefs.  Because that faith may be displaced.  Skepticism is the purest search for truth and truth encompasses all possibilities.

So this is not to denounce religious beliefs.  The exploration of a transcendental origin, nature, or purpose for existence is at the very least well-intentioned.  And it may very well be true.  But until it is supported by evidence, it is only a belief in what is possible and therefore should neither be the basis for social law nor the arbiter of morality.

The only way to liberate thought is to prioritize truth.  Science and philosophy which share this mandate with religion, will always trump religion because science and philosophy admit to fallibility.  A core tenet of scientific method is scrutiny through peer review and the first rule of philosophy is that we may be wrong about everything. Meanwhile religion, particularly Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, and Judaism, profess, without evidence, to relay the infallible, yet wildly interpretive, word of God.   None hold up to objective scrutiny.  Their only defense is to restrict investigation, deny contradiction, and denounce skepticism.

It’s been successful.  We have been programmed to avoid intellectual conflict.  Never talk about politics or religion.  By default I would add money to that list.  But these are the core, substantive issues affecting the quality of life on earth.  What better to talk about than money, politics, and religion?  Or should billions suffer and starve so no one has to admit they may be mistaken?

When we are wrong–which is inevitable–failing (or refusing) to re-examine what we hold to be true diminishes our potential.  We deny possibilities for no reason outside our own minds.  It limits our ability to understand, even to question.

Thus faith has become the albatross around the neck of human thought.

We absolutely must free ourselves from the yoke of this superstition.  We must define truth as beliefs justified by–and better, arising out of–evidence and always subject to greater truth.  Only skeptical reason, tempered by compassion, can elevate society beyond unfounded belief and into the realm of knowledge in the noble quest to understand.

Free thought.


There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice

America's past or future?

Connecticut just became the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.   Japan, China, and the United States are the only modern nations that still employ capital punishment.

Most modern nations have banned it outright.  Israel uses it only in extreme cases such as treason and terrorism (understandably).  Even Russia has a de facto death penalty ban.

We share  company with the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Uganda.

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve gone back and forth on the death penalty myself.  I’ve been leaning against it in recent years, but after a little digging on the subject, I have become firm my opposition to capital punishment.

I’m not opposed to it theoretically.  I accept that the death penalty is not justice but state sponsored revenge.  It does not rehabilitate.  It does not deter criminals or affect crime rates.

I’m okay with it–theoretically–based on my gut reaction when I hear about the absolutely horrible things some people do, their total disregard for other people’s lives and humanity.

My problem, however, is with how capital punishment is applied.  For a government to execute one of it’s own citizens there can be no bias and guilt must be proven beyond any doubt whatsoever.  One innocent person being murdered by the government is unacceptable.

So far, we’ve failed (EPICALLY) on both counts.

  • Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.
  • From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3 exonerations per year. From 2000-2011, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.

DNA testing has played a key role in at least 14 of the exonerations.  But there are many cases where DNA cannot help because of the deterioration, misplacing, or destruction of  evidence.

Think about that, over 130 people found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt were later proven innocent. It’s very likely that dozens of innocent people have been executed by the state simply because we do not have the means to prove innocence.

Then there’s bias.  Leaving aside gender and age which are each discussions on their own, race plays a HUGE factor in capital punishment cases.  The race of the victim, the race of the jurors, and even the race of the prosecutors significantly impacts the rate of  death penalty convictions.

Race of the victim in death penalty convictions.

Nationally, people who kill whites are 3 times more like to receive the death penalty than people who kill blacks and 4 times more likely than people who kill Hispanics.  Additionally all-white juries convict black defendants 16% more often than white defendants (in all types of criminal cases).

This is the textbook definition of systematic racism.  If a white man killed a Chinese man, don’t you think the likelihood of a death penalty conviction would change if the Jury was mainly Chinese or mainly white?  What about a black or white jury judging a black panther or a skinhead? If the victim is a 19-year old pretty blonde or a 40-year old migrant worker? It’s naive–or dishonest–to say that bias wouldn’t play a role.

This is an ingrained dilemma.  People are convicted by juries of their peers.  The attitude and mindset of all Americans plays a role.  You would have to “de-prejudice” every single person in America to fix the glitch in the system.  Impossible.

The Unabomber attacks, the Holocaust Museum shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the 2010 Austin IRS building plane crash were all acts of domestic terrorism carried out by whites.  (This is to say nothing of the 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 153 assaults, 3 kidnappings, 41 bombings, 73 arsons, 383 death threats, and 619 bomb threats carried out against abortion clinics and providers since 1977, a majority of which by whites.)  Yet we didn’t hear a national outcry to have young white males get singled out and searched at security checkpoints.  No one caused a incident because they saw a white guy wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses boarding a plane.

Would it still be the case if all that stuff had been done by Mexican-Americans?

The fact is we’re prejudiced.   We see other people and before getting to know them as individuals we form an opinion based on how they dress, act, and talk.  It’s part of our nature–everyone’s nature.   We continue to combat it and we continue to get better about correcting it.  But we are a long, long way from getting past it.  In fact, we’ll probably have banned capital punishment long before getting beyond all the isms we might have against other people.

And until we do we cannot have a system that is so vulnerable to those biases deciding who lives and who dies.

Irrational Belief

What God would just leave us in a world like this
And call it love?
The gates of heaven should open into oblivion
that under this firmament
–where the seconds saunter spitefully by–
full of dancing fools and lovers,
whose eyes fix on peace
and call it nothing
My bond is to my brother’s keep
‘Til I take his eye for my belt loop
(Just for the snivel in him)
I. Draw. My. Every. Breath.
to climb.
–To find–
My rainbow ends in her arms
her hearth
friendly faces, ocean-side vespers, humble feasts
What world could be as Divine as this
–where the years take wing upon swift gales–
That has no God?
Only selfish fools and lovers
whose eyes fix on nothing
And call it peace

I’m Dyin’ Here

It’s a funny thing not knowing when or where

only why.

Then again, it’s not that funny

dyin’ here.

Modern discomforts, to give it a name.

Just another box.

These products and processes

Just another pox.

And everything’s been said,

And there’s nothing I can do

And I don’t leave time for

breathing the air–or looking for love.

‘Cause everything is wrong.

It’s all that I hate.

It’s so unfair.

Yet things still grow,

And places I haven’t been, that I could go

while standing here aches and makes the ankles swell;

Just another cave.

So I recline and stare (like every other cog)

Just another grave.

Meanwhile, there’s life-lovin’ livin’ to get done!

…and I’m sitting here

by myself–missing it.

I’m tired of dyin’ here–so far from you

Just another day.

On this winding path, walls to rivers

Just another way.

A Little Sustenance

She is gliding sweeping strong and soft

and breaks

dripping juices sweet my knees bend buckling

ever close to outstretched fingertips

she turns leaving

vapors twirling swirling

around fingertips outstretched and still

there is nothing

there was something

once for touching grasping feeling

and yet she was never she

nor ever he or even it

but always that which

fills the gaping howling spaces

gliding sweeping strong and soft

and breaking pure

through sun and moon

to always reach but never grasp

or ever touch or truly know

filling spaces gaping howling

that is something for the nothing

until once more

she returns

The Non-believer’s Guide To Prayer

The title is a bit misleading (Guess I just liked the sound of it).

This post is really for the non-religious.  Being skeptical of a theistic, intervening deity–which I am–is not the same as being cynical of any greater power whatsoever–which I am not.

I was never much of the “praying type”.  It  always seemed kind of selfish to me.  Even when I prayed for other people, I was doing so because I wanted good things for them.  I suppose there are worse things you could do with your time.  But I always like the concept of praying, putting good vibes out there.

A key aspect of myriad religions and philosophies, prayer covers a wide range  topics and there are innumerable methods and purposes.  In general, I consider prayer as a kind of active, focused, positive thought.

I posted a blog recently discussing my rejection of religion.  It sparked several wonderful conversations with friends,  family, and fellow internet geeks on both sides of the issue, and has helped me more clearly define my own beliefs while being introduced to new ideas and perspectives.  I can already tell this is just the beginning of my exploration of the subject.

However, I’ve already come to the startling and identity-smashing realization that I am an Atheist. I have likewise become entrenched in my rejection of religion and furthermore believe that religion is in desperate need of a new reformation–as happened with Christ, Mohammed, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation.  Religion is the bridge between a people and their deity.  As such, religion must reflect both sides to be relevant, which most of today’s Western religions do with plummeting effectiveness. Civilization is in peril because modern technological capability is being governed by iron-age theosophy and agrarian morality.  (But more on that another time.)

This is not a rejection of faith or even God.

Epistemologically speaking, “God” as the Creator, exists.  The proof is existence itself.  I exalt that “trinity” of creation, destruction, and recreation.  My limited and casual understanding of the sciences suggests to me that these forces are at least interwoven if not one.  While violent and terrifying from our subjective view these dynamics are, in reality, nothing more than the restructuring of particle groups and the principles that drive it.   I believe, by the intricate flawlessness of these organizing principles, that some kind of intelligence drives them or comprises them or perhaps originated them.

I won’t speculate as to  what kind of intelligence that might be or how it works.  Nor would I hazard a guess as to sentience, especially not sentience as I know it.  This, to me, is one of the places where reasonable people can, for the time being, come to their own conclusions.

For me, the  staggering actuality that I–a collection of individually lifeless molecules, inexplicably arranged into sentience–am able to experience even this infinitesimal speck of all that is, has been, and will be, is more than miracle enough to compel my continual, embarrassed, and humble gratitude.

The question is, how exactly do I show that gratitude?

Again, I am an atheist, theologically speaking.  Yet there are “higher” concepts that I do believe in:  Salvation, enlightenment, even bliss.  These ideas still hold profound meaning for me.  To my mind they are all modes of thought, or more accurately, modes of thought procession. From perception and understanding to joy, forgiveness, and guilt, thought is how we experience existence.

This means that thought has power–unequaled power from the human perspective.  So logically, I must therefore believe in the power of positive–and negative–thinking.

What I mean when I say positive is anything that drives us toward the combined states of individual contentment, environmental equilibrium, and social exceptionalism.  In other words, I’m talking about states of happiness, balance, and growth as individuals and as a species.

  • I define happiness as the cessation of need, the tempering of desire through both achievement and self-control, and the unfettered pursuit of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual interests.
  • I define balance as maintaining a respectful, pragmatic equilibrium between the utilization and replenishment of our natural and cultural resources.
  • I define growth as progressive improvement in the quality of life and equality of opportunity for all people.

Experientially, these are modes of travel not destinations (to steal a motivational poster slogan).  Salvation, enlightenment, and bliss are the ultimate forms of these modes.  Our belief systems are how we achieve such modes which serve as the highest material functions of belief.  In plain terms, faith can help make us better people.

Prayer then, along with reflection, meditation, and study, have their place as ways of attuning and refining thought positively, regardless of belief.  You can pray to God, Allah, Yahweh, Mormon, or Buddha; you can pray to Oblivion; you can pray to the Blind Luck of the Universe if you want.  The purpose is to give profound thanks for the opportunity to experience Life and to seek, within yourself or from God, the capacity to endure, overcome, and achieve.

I find something very reassuring about that.

And if praying is not your deal, then don’t do it.  There are people of even devout faith who rarely pray.

Besides, if you’re doing it right, no one should know the difference.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

-Matthew 6:5

( Praying hands: http://www.prospectorjewelers.com/About_Us/Praying_Hands.htm.  Kohlberg’s stages of moral development: http://klooste-mycave.blogspot.com/2010/10/gender-typing-are-there-flavors-as-well_22.html.  Buddha statue:  http://blogs.babble.com/famecrawler/2010/10/18/what-is-aqua-buddha-rand-pauls-campaign-is-getting-a-little-crazy-watch-the-ad/)