Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Delusion

Marathon training is in full swing and my long runs on Sunday are getting longer. Out on the rural roads in Central Texas, there are few distractions, leaving me to my thoughts. It's what I enjoy most about distance training.

What follows is a "note to self" following this morning's ruminating.

Admit it Allen, you've been delusional for a very long time. Somehow you thought that when you began moving away from religious and political dogma that you would become clear and free of delusion; That you'd now become a Rational Thinker, relying on evidence and reason rather than prescribed, baseless dogma. Not true.

It's become clear that your expectations were unrealistic. Your expectations of yourself and of others have been based upon some ideal image that you've conjured up. Based upon what? Probably lots of psychological and developmental reasons buried in there as the basis for these images, but regardless of their source, they're unrealistic and have not produced the fruit you expected.

Do you wish things were different? Yup. But they're not, and no amount of wishing will change that. You've finally come to a place where you've accepted who you are and you've discovered some major flaws that have led to some disappointments. That's great! That's essential! You've also forgiven yourself and you're definitely moving forward with a far better understanding of what led to failure and what's far more likely to lead to success.

But what about your unrealistic expectations of others? Well, I suppose you've taken the first step in recognizing that your expectations of them were unrealistic. They're human too, you know. What they say and do are not always consistent. Just like you. What they hope for and what they achieve aren't always in alignment. Just like you. But there are lots of ways that they are not "just like you". They never will be.

Many of your friends have the best of intentions. When they tell you "You can tell me anything, anytime, anywhere...I'm here for you.", they mean it. You know they mean it and have the best of intentions. They love you and you know it. There have been plenty of times in your own life when you had the best of intentions and simply failed to meet them. You've let people down too. Why would you hold them to a higher standard?

By accident, you've discovered that there are lots of conversations going on behind your back. You're the butt of some of their jokes. They don't understand how and why you've changed. You used to agree on politics, religion, all manner of things. Now you don't and suddenly they're grappling with "What's wrong with Allen." They aren't psychologists or experts, but they definitely think that you're losing your mind and they don't understand it. Yet they aren't comfortable talking to you about it, so they talk to each other.

What were you expecting and why? They don't ask the same questions you do. They don't have the same life experience you do. Despite knowing them for decades, you don't understand the details of their past, their traumas, family issues, and the myriad of other details that have made them who they are anymore than they know you and yours. Why would you expected them to be able to understand your path and it's inflection points?

When someone tells you something, in your mind, you might want to consider prefacing everything they say with "I'd like to believe that..." For example, when someone says "You can tell me anything and I won't judge you.", consider hearing it as "I'd like to believe that you can tell me anything and that I wouldn't judge you." Perhaps that's true, perhaps not.  People are imperfect and despite the best of intentions, they simply fail to do everything they say they will. You're delusional if you think otherwise. 

In The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, note the second one, Don't Take Anything Personally.

Everything every says and does is really a projection of their own reality, not yours. 
So answer this critical question for yourself Allen: Despite your friends' flaws, can you love them anyway?

You know the answer is an resounding YES! But what are you going to differently? Face the facts and reality. A huge source of division and misunderstanding has been rooted in social media. Here you are again, writing your thoughts down and you're going to post them for the world to see. Some will accept your view, some will reject them, some will ignore them. That's OK too. 

The geniuses at Facebook gave us Custom Lists. Be realistic. You know and love people who simply do not want to hear or see your political, religious, or economic posts (let alone your jokes with foul language). Their minds are made up and they find ideas counter to theirs as offensive. They don't struggle with the same things you do and they feel as if you're assaulting them with your stream of consciousness, or whatever you call it. Just stop. Create a Custom List of people that you find thoughtful and engaging around these topics and limit the posts to that audience. It's not that hard. What are you giving up? Not a damned thing. You can still vent your frustrations and talk through the absurdities you find. Limit your venting to those who care about the same things. No biggee.

Peace, my friends.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu, a Pagen, and an Atheist walk into a coffee shop...

I recently saw the meme above on Facebook and thought "Ah, yes. To coexist, discuss life, all the things we have in common, our struggles, and all the good things we can do together. How awesome would that be?"  I think John Lennon would approve and love this concept. Who wouldn't? It happens every day around the world; people of different faiths (and none at all) engaging one another in respectful ways toward common goals.

What else happens every day around the world? Not this. There are many ways the peace can be broken, but the deepest division happens along the lines that are most meaningful to us. Politics, for example: What values and resources are we going to share for the common good of the communities we live in? And then, of course, religion. Rather than focusing on the good things we can agree on and do together, someone decides to make their personal religious beliefs a mandate for others to accept or else there will be consequences. They could be temporal, political, or economic consequences, or "eternal" consequences. We've just found the asshole in the group. "Accept my religious view, or else."

But who's the biggest asshole of them all? There are at least two greater degrees of assholocity. In my opinion, the one who asserts the doctrine of hell on those who don't believe, as he / she does hits the next rung. Eternity is a really long time to suffer for not accepting as literal truth someone else's religious views. It's bad enough to threaten adults with eternal torment since adults can reach into their bag of reason and decide whether they accept that argument or not, then part ways with the evangelist. But the person who indoctrinates children with this sort of fear who've not yet developed the abilities to reject such nonsense, reaches a whole new level. The child has no escape and these notions can become part of their foundation in life. The believer thinks they're doing the child a favor by planting these seeds. If there were evidence that children raised in this fashion were better off than the rest of the population, perhaps believers would have a point. They'd probably assert that "They'll thank me in Heaven." Another baseless claim. Evidence (prison populations, education level, psychological damage and need for counseling later in life, etc.) suggests otherwise.

No, your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does. A good corollary: "Your beliefs don't make you an asshole, your behavior does." And indoctrinating others with your religious beliefs under the threat of eternal damnation makes you an asshole. Doing it to children makes you an even bigger asshole. Hopefully, they'll be able to forgive you one day when (if) they've recovered from this nonsense. Repent and turn away before it's too late.

Am I an asshole for pointing all this out? Perhaps. But it's a moniker I'm willing to wear if it helps someone avoid becoming a child abuser.

I'll leave you with this article:

Now, who wants some coffee? Peace friends.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sin and forgiveness, post-theism

A friend's post this morning conspired in perfect timing with my own ruminating over life, expectations, disappointments, and moving ahead in a positive direction.

His query involved self-loathing as an unavoidable outcome of not living out the salvation his Creator gave him. I responded with a call to look into the root cause of self-loathing and indicated that believing you are depraved, unworthy, and sinful from birth could lead to such self-loathing. 

My counter-query is this: Do we all need a savior, even those of us who no longer have faith based in theism? I'm beginning to think the answer is yes. 

Some groundwork: What is sin? I'd assert that "Missing the mark" is as good a definition as any. We can argue over where the mark is, whether placed there by God, reality, society, ourselves, etc. 

Some versions of Christianity assert that Jesus died for your sins as an atonement and that all you need to do is accept this gift of forgiveness. Some believe it's a free gift that cannot be earned but must be acknowledged and "believed". Others believe it's a universal gift that is inescapable. There are countless versions and nuances between sects. 

Let me posit that anytime we perceive that we've missed the mark (aka sinned), it's a matter of measuring the delta between the outcome we have experienced vs our expectations. 

Ultimately, isn't it up to us to accept forgiveness for missing the mark and leave that stuff behind in order to avoid it dragging us down? Whether we believe a forgiving agent is outside of us or not, we must forgive ourselves or it is pointless. 

Forgive yourself today, my friends. 


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Returning to religious conversations in a new way

I've been toying with the notion of returning to a church at some point in the future for quite a long time now.  Until very recently, every time I considered it, a sense of dread started to wash over me when I would mentally walk through the likely experience and the conversations I'll have with the people I meet.  Ultimately, "beliefs" would come up and I'd either have to keep my mouth shut or risk offending someone by expressing my heresy.

I know, I know.  Some of my atheist friends are already asking themselves "Why in the hell would he do such a thing?"

The forms of Christianity I've been involved with through my life have centered on "beliefs".  Whether they call it this or not, it's orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy (from Greek orthos ("right", "true", "straight") + doxa ("opinion" or "belief", related to dokein, "to think"),[1]) is adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion.[2] In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church".
As I've made clear through my previous blog posts here, I have a real problem with dogma and I have no intention of embracing it again.

Other churches focus on orthopraxy.
Orthopraxy is a term derived from Revived Ancient Greekὀρθοπραξία (orthopraxia) meaning "correct action/activity" or an emphasis on conduct, bothethical and liturgical, as opposed to faith or grace etc.[1][2][3] This contrasts with orthodoxy, which emphasizes correct belief, and ritualism, the use of rituals.[4]
While orthodoxies make use of codified beliefs, in the form of creeds, and ritualism more narrowly centers on the strict adherence to prescribed rites orrituals, orthopraxy is focused on issues of familycultural integrity, the transmission of traditionsacrificial offeringsconcerns of purityethical systems, and the enforcement thereof.[5][6] Typically, traditional or folk religions (paganismanimism) are more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy, and some argue that equating the term "faith" with "religion" presents a Christian-biased notion of what the primary characteristic of religion is. In the case of Hinduismorthopraxy and ritualism are mixed to the point that they become a single identity.
Most combine the two and try to use both beliefs and rituals to assist in connecting people to one another for common, pragmatic service to one another and their community. A nobel pursuit.
But for me, any place that asks me to confess belief in a dogmatic creed is going to be a problem.   But through the miracle of Facebook, I've recently become connected with a pastor who I've heard preach a few times in the past, while on my way out of Christianity.  Frankly, everything that emanates from his keyboard strikes me in the right place, whether he's discussing concepts of religion, compassion, dogma, politics, world events, on and on.

One post recently was particularly peace-giving for me:

While considering his thoughts here, I was reminded of an Episcopal priest I once read about who was also a mathematician.  When asked the question "Is God real?" he often chuckled when he considered the important mathematical symbol "i", an Imaginary Number:

I'm also reminded of another fantastic post on Michael Dowd's website (author of Thank God for Evolution) entitled God is Reality Personified, Not a Person.

These are concepts I can get behind.  These notions help me shape the lens through which I view writings which some people consider holy.  I can now understand and appreciate writings, stories, parables, and poems that represent someone's subjective, individual experiences without having to accept claims which are clearly contrary to objective evidence we have today.  I can now have a more sane, rational, loving and understanding conversation with someone of different beliefs by seeing through the lens this way.  All of our experiences are our own and it is impossible for us to see the world completely through the eyes of another, but we can attempt to love one another better, regardless of our beliefs and different subjective experiences.  "If your heart is as my heart...then take my hand."

I've also remained connected with several other pastors who've been very understanding of my struggles with dogma, remained connected and engaged with me while I walked away from religion, and have been good friends throughout it all.  We have wonderful conversations about all manner of things and have far more in common than not.

Although these are ways I find effective in thinking of all man has ever ascribed to the symbol "God" or gods, I know that I have many friends who have very different views, experiences, who still embrace theism, and I never want to criticize their belief.  I might criticize actions when anyone points to a book as a justification for hate, inequality, etc., but those are actions and subjective interpretations worthy of criticism.  As I've told many friends, "I don't care what anyone believes, only how they behave toward me and others."

Bottom line: I have friends of many different beliefs and friends who eschew anything resembling religious belief, who are all loving and compassionate people and I want to connect better with them all.  As far as I know, I have but one life to live and less of it left than I would like.  It is precious to me.  I'm tired of being angry about things I found lacking (and damaging) in my prior religious life.  I'm tired of lashing out about it and hurting those who still hold those beliefs.  I'll continue to criticize and remain strident about what I find to be bad ideas, policies, and behaviors, but I'm going to try to be better about focusing on those things and not making it personal about those people.

So who knows.  I may find my way back to attending a church again someday, as I think I've found a way to behave myself and be a better citizen therein.  I know what a blessing loving community can be.  Support from friends is good and much good can be done as a group.  The few times I visited Jim's church, I found the people to be very kind and warm.

Baby steps.

Blessings and peace to you my friends.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why am I critical?

I posted the following meme on Facebook this morning and it drew quite the discussion, as have others recently.  The discussion turned to why I'm often critical of Christianity.

So, why am I critical?  Bad ideas.  I'm critical of what I find to be bad ideas.  Especially bad ideas I once embraced that cost me so much and I found to be hugely damaging.  I'm critical of bad ideas that I find damaging to others and I advocate their reconsideration.

But criticizing Christianity as a whole is too broad.  I have many friends who practice various forms, hold disparate views and by no means find all of their views completely devoid of good fruit.  But I definitely take strong positions against the form I was taught.  What are some of those elements?

The notion that we should not rely upon our own understanding is chief among them.  Somehow we're supposed to divine the mind of God and rely upon an intelligence outside of us.    This cost me hugely.  For much of my life, I pushed all-in, abandoned my education and life experience and saw everything as a "sign from God", that I was supposed to "let go and let God", and trust in that faith.  That was just dumb, yet I did it, over and over again with predictably bad results.

But this wasn't the catalyst for the post.  My observations in recent years regarding Conservative religion and politics has led me to find that many of the policies that lead to war, poverty, and injustice of all sorts are very often advocated by those who claim the same belief system I abandoned.  I find it hugely contradictory that people claiming to be led by an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Holy Sprit, father God and Jesus (that they claim knowledge of and experience in) advocate things so completely destructive to humanity, our fellow inhabitants, and our habitat.  In the end, I don't care what they believe, only how they behave, but the common thread of their religious beliefs cannot be ignored.  Something's wrong when the fruit is so bad.  If there's anything good to be plucked from the books they hold sacred, surely these good things are contrary to these destructive policies.  If they have their way, there will be a self-fulling prophesy of the end of the Earth as we know it.

I find it to be a very bad idea to teach a child that they are born completely depraved due to Original Sin, due to a challenge setup by this same God, where a rib ate an apple after being swayed by a convincing argument by a talking snake, thereby plummeting all of humanity into eternal damnation unless they accept the narrative that the same God impregnated a teenaged virgin with himself, so that he could be born to be later sacrificed to Himself as a price for the Original Sin He allowed, that was outside of the child's control.  I find this tantamount to child abuse, but I also accept the right of individuals to believe what they want and raise their children in that tradition if they so choose.  I would prefer children be exposed to such mythology once they reach the age of reason and make up their own minds regarding evidence, but that's just me, Mr. Vegas.

I find it to be a very bad idea to force religion into government and public schools, especially as science.  Religious beliefs and teachings belong in church and private venues, not forced upon individuals who do not share a particular faith.

I find it to be a very bad idea to deny equal protection of the law to people of different sexual orientation.

The list goes on and on.  The following is just a short list of things I find Conservatives Christians have been on the wrong side of (taken from Salon:

  • Slavery
  • Women's suffrage
  • Evolution
  • Pain relief for child birth
  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Prohibition
  • Segregation
  • School prayer
  • Marriage equality
Add to the list the current, completely absurd notions of corporations as people, money being free speech, campaign finance, denying improved benefits to veterans who fought their wars, tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting benefits for those most in need, all while funding their litany of pet projects, and you're left with a struggling society, declining middle class, growing poverty class, and an evermore privileged elite. 

None of this means I dislike many of the people who hold these views, but I find it interesting how sensitive they are to having their ideas criticized.  Hold your views, speak your piece. You're free to do so, as am I.  You can remain assured I will.  I served in the military in part to protect your right to hold whatever view you desire, but not your position that I must respect it or abide by it.  I respect people who are worthy of it, according to me.  I respect ideas supported by evidence that I find compelling, my reason and experience, not that of a Bronze Age collection of books and a theistic God I find no reason to believe in and certainly not ideas I find lacking or abhorrent.

OK...who wants pie?

Peace friends.

Monday, January 27, 2014


This post is as much about feeling as it is about thinking.

A strange thing happened to me yesterday.  I started thinking about the first babysitter I ever knew.  She took care of me during very early childhood, probably for a couple of years total.  I called her Mama Pardo.  I remember her as always being happy, funny, loving, and nurturing.  Her husband was a good man, but I remember him being a loud "Man's man".  I believe he was a blue-collar worker at a refinery or something.

Although she only kept me for a couple of years, I was always fond of her and visited her and Papa Pardo a few times throughout my school years and for the last time while on leave from the Navy.  That last visit was about 28 years ago.

We moved away from her neighborhood when I was two or three years old, then my parents divorced when I was four.  By the time I was nine, my mom and I had moved to Houston, over 250 miles away, so the only opportunity I would have to see Mama Pardo would be when in the Dallas area visiting my dad.   Honestly, we weren't close enough for me to think of her often.  I very rarely thought of Mama and Papa Pardo over the course of my life.

Perhaps it's a stage of life thing for me, but I'm trying to resolve "Why now?"  Why start thinking of her now?  On a whim, I decided to Google her.  The first hit was her obituary, showing her passing on January 5, 2014.  OK, that's strange.  That's only a couple of weeks ago, and I've been thinking about her since then.

Then I remembered my dad sending me an email about "Pardo's Push" (, a legendary and heroic maneuver done in a F-4 fighter jet during Vietnam.  Pardo's Push was performed by Papa Pardo's brother, Captain Bob Pardo.  I remember Papa Pardo telling me the story about his heroic brother the last time we visited.  Dad sent me the email on January 4th, 2014, the day before Mama Pardo passed away.  Strange.

As a skeptic, I could sit here and try to calculate the odds of thinking about anyone on any given day.    The closer we are, the higher the odds they'll cross my mind.   No matter what the odds, I understand that my experience is completely anecdotal and not scientifically based.  But does that matter?

I've had similar experiences, many times.  Things that seem too spooky to possibly be coincidence.  The seemingly unexplainable feeling of tremendous loss moments before getting the call that one of your closest friends just passed away.  The call from your best friend - who couldn't possibly know about a situation you're enduring - just when you needed it most.  If he's your best friend and you already talk monthly or so, odds are better than 1/12... Etc., etc.

Some will use these anecdotes with confirmation bias to affirm supernatural beliefs.  While I'm not ready to leap to the conclusion that "because I had this weird experience, I accept scripture as literally true."  No.  Absolutely not.  But I do acknowledge that scripture (and all literature) reflects what man experiences and struggles with.  Good, bad, ugly.  It tells stories about our struggle to understand the world and our place in it, our projections, our hopes, and our fears.

Many non-theists talk about our connection to The Universe at the quantum level.  We're made of the same stuff - Star Stuff.  Everything in the Universe is connected elementally and through action / reaction.  Others adopt pantheistic or panentheistic views.  My point is that we all grapple with the notion of Connectedness - our connection to both the living - including humans, other animals, and all living things - and even the dead.  Is there a spirit that survives?  I don't know.  Do others live on only in our thoughts?  I don't know.  Is there any consciousness that lives beyond the body that we can connect to or that connects with us?  I don't know.  For the record, I know of no scientifically valid verification of any such phenomena.  Does that mean it doesn't exist?  Since NOTHING can be proven to not exist, we can only say that we do not understand it if it does exist.

But I don't want to be too quick to dismiss it altogether.  When something happens to us, it often feels as if it's true 100% of the time, even though we can cognitively resolve that statistical falsehood.  It's still meaningful to us.  We feel different when we perceive moments of serendipity or other strange happenings.  We seek to understand if there's a purpose or meaning behind them, even if they're purely psychologically rooted.

I embrace these weird events and do not want to diminish them or write them off as purely coincidental.  Perhaps there is "something there" that we still don't understand.  While I'm quite certain I'll never again embrace theism as I once did, I'm not yet convinced there's not "something else" that connects us that we still don't understand, and may never be able to fully grasp.

Peace friends.  And with sincere love, farewell Mama Pardo.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A special Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my fellow heathens

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

It's that special time of year when many of us will find peace and renewal with family and friends.  For many others, it has the potential to be a divisive time of stress and confrontation.

I wish I would whip some guru-esque wisdom on you - a Vulcan Mind Meld perhaps - that could convince you that it's all within your control and that it is all going to be OK.  But I can't, because that's bullshit.  Every relationship has multiple parties and responsibilities lie on both parties for the relationship to be a success.  We can only control our piece.

But we can control our reaction to the behavior of others.  We have a choice.  We can actively decide if we're going to buy-in to their drama and participate in it.  I know some who know exactly what they're heading for - whether it's a passive-aggressive family member or a drunken hot-head - and they see it as a game.  They're confident enough in who they are and know not take the aggression personally.   They understand the other person's behavior is all about the aggressor and not their target.  I know others who have decided to move on.  They've decided the cost of the relationship outweighs the benefits and they're done with it.  In business, this is a sunk cost, and there's nothing to be gained by throwing in good money after bad.  Wish them well and move on for your own sake.

No matter how you decide to deal with it, I hope you'll do so in a manner that puts you in a place of peace and renewal this holiday season.  Every one of us gets tired and weary from work, relationships, and all that is demanding of us.   It's time to recoup our sanity, peace, and strength.  To reclaim our zest for life and look forward to all the possibilities ahead.

I'll leave you with Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 7: Sharpen the saw (

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:
Physical:Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Social/Emotional:Making social and meaningful connections with others
Mental:Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual:Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a pretty picture, is it?

Feeling good doesn't just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It's all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything. You can pamper yourself mentally and spiritually. Or you can go through life oblivious to your well-being. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal--a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.
Peace, love, and best wishes to all of you my friends!