prisoner

I have not sinned
against a god nor man
nor woman
harmed no beast
—cared for Mother

why do I suffer
these sins of others
the revenge of Man
sins against me
—why am I prisoner here

admit they say and
confess – to what
I did no wrong
I harmed no one
—and yet I’m here

yet I am punished
forced – I sit alone, told to
feel some shame and
remorse and
—guilt for my breath

my dignity
my humanity
they took all from me and
I suffer – I do – I am alone in
—my pain without sympathy

why am I punished
made less than
human – no son of god
son of man
—fuck it all – fuck them all

try harder they say
love this god they pray
why must I see their way
It’s their way I’ll suffer
—the goodness of Death

prisoner by bill reynolds. 5/31/17

Look around. Mind what you see.

Morality Series: Envy

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“Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not achieve peace.” ~ Buddha

Let’s say that you and your close friend try out or compete for the same thing. It could be making the team, getting either a promotion or an award, or winning the lottery. You learn that your friend makes the team, got the promotion, or won the prize. You did not. How do you feel?

First, if you are an adult, you’re happy for your friend. If you’re a teenager (or you need to read The Untethered Soul), you may get out the voodoo doll and some pins, or begin some plot against your former friend.

envy-4We may begin to feel something else. It’s an emotion that we don’t want to feel, but it’s there. It’s a twinge we feel on the inside that is directly related to our disappointment and that other person. We feel envy. We do! It’s normal, and it’s okay as long as we don’t act-out on that negative emotion. I’ve never received recognition or a promotion (that others also wanted) without someone letting me know of their displeasure.

One time, I asked this guy, “Did you want me to turn it down so you can have it? I know you think you deserved or wanted it more than I did. Don’t you feel just a little petty right now?” I have been on the losing end enough times to recognize his emotion. Myself and I have had talks about that. I don’t like feeling envious. It makes me feel worse. Envy is not unusual. I often admit to the feeling.

So, if this is normal, why is it considered another breach of all that is good and holy within us? The reason is simple: this is not a good thing about our human nature. We know that envy is normal, and that it will pass, but it’s also dangerous. Loving friendships have ended. Businesses have suffered. Shame and embarrassment have been coopted by envy because the accompanying behavior make us feel worse. Envy is part of us, a dark corner of who and what we are. We must acknowledge that part of our dark side.

There is a shallow envy that is part of daily life. When I see men of my age with huge locks of thick, beautiful hair (usually gray), I feel mild envy. I admit it. I want what they have. That guy did nothing to deserve to have more than his share of hair follicles so late in life. I did nothing to promote my loss of the same. I’m almost proud of my envy. It’s true. I own up to it. I get it: envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.

In Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas said, “Envy, according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life… Charity rejoices in our neighbor’s good, while envy grieves over it.” Why do we do this? Because other people are so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than we are. Lucky bastards.

envy-2But there’s good news. If you go to Hell, your punishment awaits: you’ll be put in freezing water. I looked it up. Think about that. Hell, fire and all that; and you and I are hanging out at the ice bar. Now, it’s their turn to be envious, right?

I don’t know why, but envy is associated with the dog and the color green. Oh, right, the green-eyed monster. Not so fast. I use envy and jealousy as two different words that apply to different kinds of situations.

Envy and jealousy are not the same emotions. Envy, as unpleasant as it can be, usually doesn’t contain a sense of betrayal and outrage. Jealousy needn’t contain a sense of inferiority. The difference is in the numbers.

Envy is a two-person situation, jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone. Of course, when we feel jealous, we often feel envious as well.

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The opposite of envy is supposed to be charity. I think the more accurate word is love. Some experts say kindness. I say love, not because love will prevent envy, but because our love will help us overcome that part of our dark, selfish selves and we’ll find peace and happiness sooner. Love is the primary emotion. Envy and jealousy are both subordinate to fear, which is also primary. Both fall under the heading of wasted time and emotions since neither accomplish anything.

But, as long we are normal humans, we must deal with our feelings and emotions. It’s all about how we feel. The actions we choose to follow our emotions are up to us. Can we at least balance some light with our dark side?

Envy is real and normal. So is jealousy.
We generally see them as bad, weakness of the spirit, and damaging to life and our relationships. Consider both to be among life’s gaps.
Mind those gaps and look both ways. We need to see our own human darkness and weaknesses and deal with them.

Series on Morality: Introduction

“…people have inside them something that could bring them to ruin…This basic truth of life has been denied by both believers and unbelievers in every age. Yet anyone who has tried to help others with their problems knows that we all share a common struggle against self-destructive tendencies. Hidden in the human heart are marvelous capacities for good and dreadful possibilities of evil.” ~ Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones, Benedict J. Groeschel

7-sins-intro-3Steven stirred the pot when he responded to my previous post on the basic nature of humans with, “One word: Greed.” Reader comments followed with discussions about greed in terms of human nature. Sue V. weighed-in by suggesting that I compose a series of posts on the seven deadly sins alongside their antitheses, the seven virtues. I like that idea. I plan to write a series within the human nature theme reflecting on the human condition, using Sue’s suggestion as a method to breakout specific topics into manageable sized chunks.

I want my posts to be thought-provoking (we think about it), simple (easy to read and understand), and brief (1,000 words or less). If we can read it in five-to-ten minutes, comprehend it, and have an opinion; I’ve achieved those goals. I’m pleased when readers enjoy my dribble. I’m not trying to persuade or educate anyone, but only to explain my take on the topics.

7-sins-intro-4After reading them, maybe you’ll ponder your opinion vis–à–vis either mine or someone’s comment, and share your views. I also want my posts to have a free-thinker flavor; secular, but with an inclusive bent, if that’s possible. I’m not opposed to religious comments. I think secular.

Morality (or immorality) is the series theme. It’s a better word than sin, vice, virtue, or others that I see as rooted in religious belief. Sin is a theist concept; morality seems more secular, at least to the degree that it’s subjective. I’ll borrow from the topics commonly known as sins. Words like vice and virtue are okay, but they add value judgment before discussion.

7-sins-introMoral and immoral may do the same thing, but I see them as opinions that are formed after discussion. Topics are natural, but often seen as immoral under certain conditions. For example, lust seems normal and humans could be extinct without it, but it’s on the list of sins. I’m not sure how or why chastity applies to anything other than medieval devices of questionable utility. How we see our basic nature and religion both affect how we’ll see the seven sins or vices.

I’ll follow Sue’s suggestion to include both sides of the moral coin. Like Pride and Humility (the yin and yang). I’ll begin with Greed on Friday. We can ride that pony until one of us falters. Then, I’ll choose another pair. I plan two posts per week.

I’m open to your suggestions for topics. After I get all boned up on each topic, I’ll post my remarks. Then, I’ll hang them out for your target practice.

The seven sins I found (with their opposites) are: pride (humility), greed (liberality), lust (chastity), envy (kindness), gluttony (abstinence), wrath (patience), and sloth (diligence). The Catholic Catechism lists virtues as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity. The Bushido Code has seven or eight virtues of a Samurai warrior, four of which are generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and altruism.

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While we’re not all the same, we each have our bright and dark sides.
They are difficult to explain in our personal nature,
but they’re there. Mind those gaps and look both ways.

What Don’t We Know?

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Since the early 1970s, I’ve held to the opinion that basic human nature is good. I’m not sure why I think so. My conclusion is partly evidence-based for the good, but since so much in human history is to the contrary, many people disagree with me. We seem quite set on damaging ourselves and the world around us in ways that are evil.

I’m also unclear about why it should matter. No one knows the answer to our basic nature. It’s too complicated. But when I consider my personal basic nature, the one I was born with; is it good or evil? Or should I ask, was it? When did it start to change – before or after birth? What do you think your nature is? How do we see the basic nature of others? Good or bad? Are there bad seeds among us?

what-we-dont-know-3It is what it is. However, I wonder if our opinion on this matters more than the real answer. It’s like believing in a god – it either exists or it doesn’t. Our believing or doubting anything changes nothing about reality (placeboes or magic notwithstanding). Our opinion on this affects how we see the world, other people – and most importantly, how we see ourselves. Me, is the one thing in the universe that I have some control over—maybe.

To the point, I just finished reading Straw Dogs by John Gray. It’s unrelated to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name, or to the 2011 remake; both of which are, ironically, based on a novel with a different name (The Siege of Trencher’s Farm).

Note to self: book titles and author’s names matter.

what-we-dont-know-4The premise of Straw Dogs is that humans are animals like any other animal. Both Christianity and Humanism see humans as capable of controlling things much more than Gray and others seem to think we do. This is a philosophical book that challenges many basic assumptions about what it means to be human. While I don’t agree with some of what Gray presents, I admit that he makes astonishing points that lead me to question which of us is correct. Regarding several of his positions, I think he’s nuts. But I find many of his other arguments compelling. Reading John Gray made me think, wonder, and contemplate – not the meaning of life, but its nature.

Are we animals? For an excellent article on this, click here.

Is our nature much different than it has been for centuries? Have we changed significantly in the thousands of years since our first existence as homo sapiens? Are we any different from other animals in terms of what happens to us?

Humans have been in existence much as we are now for about 200,000 years. For about the last 6,000 years, we have been the social creatures we know ourselves to be. How do we fit into our environment? Do we belong here? How long will we survive as a species? Are we masters of our own destiny any more than any other animal? Are we doomed to destruction by our own actions?

I’ve seldom thought about it, but Professor Gray makes this point right off. His position seems to be that the last time we had it right, we were hunter-gatherers. I tend to agree. Gray begins with this basic assumption regarding evolution and religious culture.

“If Darwin’s discovery had been made in a Taoist or Shinto, Hindu or animist, culture it would very likely have become just one more strand in its intertwining mythologies. In these faiths humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising among Christians who set humans beyond all other living things, it triggered a bitter controversy that rages on to this day.” ~ John Gray, Straw Dogs

Accordingly, Gray says that Humanist’s believe that through progress, humans can be free of the limits that burden other animals. That by using our knowledge, we can control our environment and flourish as we never have before. Gray also has an interesting take on history; he seems to say it has little or no meaning.

what-we-dont-know-5

I like this book because it deals with some aspects of the dark side of human nature. Interestingly, most of us know about the Holocaust, the WWII effort by Nazis to commit genocide and eradicate Jews. How many other genocides (or politicides) in human history can you name? Gray proposes, with evidence, that genocide is “as human as art or prayer.” Apparently, we are not very nice to each other, to other living creatures, or to nature in general. Along with others of similar philosophies, John Gray is talking about humans in a general sense.

The question for me is: how does all this square with my position that our basic nature is good? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter because he undermines so many of my humanist leanings, thus shattering my position that humans are special. I’ll retreat to my favorite elusion from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

There is much we don’t know. But this Zen Proverb meme says it for me.

what-we-dont-know-2

Whatever our nature is, we share that truth with each other.
Let’s live our lives in awe of nature by embracing both sun and rain,
all flora and fauna,
and our fairies — Fenix and Furie.

Life is good and so are we, but mind the gaps and look both ways.

Pray for What?

prayer-1

If I’m your guest for dinner and your family tradition is to hold hands or bow your heads to pray, or we’re at a restaurant, and you want to pray; I’ll respectfully observe your tradition. I don’t say grace nor will I ask your God to ‘bless the meal;’ however, I’ll not be disrespectful. If you’re my guest, you may expect the same courtesy. I don’t pray, but if you do, it’s ok.

In Catholic grade school, we recited Grace Before Meals before lunch, and Grace After Meals when we returned. I don’t recall saying it with my family. As an adult, I said the short prayer you can see on virtually any episode of Blue Bloods. If you take too long and the food gets cold, I may pray for an end to your jabbering.

prayer-3

I consider some, perhaps most, prayer to be harmless and it maybe even good for you. That’s right. I said some or most. Openly expressing gratitude, which is perhaps the least felt of all human emotions, should be a good thing. But, in my opinion, not always.

Thanking God for the touchdown is silly. So is divine gratitude for a political candidate winning or for scoring in the lottery. These examples are nonsensically selfish and may be harmful. While I’m good with being grateful, I’m not okay with all forms of prayer. I shouldn’t care, but I’ve long held my opinion.

I’m fine with prayers of worship like God is Good, but if I hear God is Great yelled in Arabic, fight or flight may take over. Back as far as I can remember, I had issues with asking God for anything. It made no sense to me — still doesn’t.

My parents told me that God helps those who helps themselves, or a similar form of the phrase. I’ve never given up on the basis for that idea. For example, I went to see a house being remodeled and found the painter sleeping. After inquiring about his health, I asked if he worried about being fired. He said, “The good Lord will provide.” Raising eye brows, I said, “Oh. I see.” Lucky him. I wasn’t the owner.

prayer-4As often happens following severe droughts in South Texas, the many weather gods provided too much rain. Severe damaging floods came after the months of virtually no rain. As Father Conor McGrath was reading announcements from the Parish Bulletin in his wonderful Irish brogue, he adlibbed a joke by saying, “And would the gentleman who is still praying for rain please stop.”

Another time McGrath told us the joke about the man named Thomas, who continuously prayed to win the lottery and began to lose his faith. The gambler blamed God’s failure to grant the prayer as promised. I can still hear Father Conor deliver the punch line from God, “Thomas, I need a wee bit of help here. You’re needin’ ta buy a ticket first.” We must do our part.

Valerie Tarico made some good points in her post about why some prayer is neither valuable nor innocuous. It encouraged me to make my own case.

She said, “Atheists, agnostics and other secular activists may think prayer is hogwash, but a lot of other people like praying and they like to think that it works. So, why not just leave the habit alone? It seems harmless enough.”

Later, after she highlights some of the perks of prayer, she presents her case against the troubling hidden costs of petitionary prayer. This is her list of 7 problems, with comments that are mostly mine.

Petitionary prayer:

  1. Suppresses critical thought. During our meal, if you begin to choke on a turkey bone, would you prefer that I pray for your recovery, or would you like me to perform the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge the culprit?
  2. Undermines agency and responsibility. Let go and let God, right? We are not responsible for anything this way. Remember the painter? I agree that sometimes it’s good to let go of things. But, we need to do what we can (think Serenity Prayer).
  3. prayer-2Promotes a habit of self-deception. If God is right, why bother? Wouldn’t he do that same thing even if we didn’t explain it?
  4. Distracts from more promising endeavors. This is one of the most profitable things sold by TV preachers. What else might those resources do? Feed the hungry or clothe the naked?
  5. Promotes victim blaming, including self-blame. If God grants requests from some, what does that say about those who get no response? If God heals your wart, but not mine; something must be bad about me.
  6. Teaches people to mistake abuse for love. Deferring to Ms. Tarico, “Being forced to praise and adore a powerful person who requires vulnerable dependents to beg for what they need…and who then grants or denies these requests in some inscrutable pattern, is not love. It is abuse—and as many former Christians have testified, it primes people, especially women—for further abuse.”
  7. Replaces compassionate action. There are times for inaction and times to act. We are all in this together and helping one another is what we do best. Tarico refers to Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I watched it. It’s well-done and funny, but two hours long. If you’re of the Free Thinker persuasion, watch it — especially if you were raised Catholic.

As I’ve implied, some types of prayer, like contemplative meditation, gratitude, and communing with something greater than ourselves, may be useful even for non-believers. But, Valerie Tarico said it best.

“It’s time to get off of our knees and take care of ourselves and the people around us. We’ve long passed the infancy and adolescence of our species. Regressive fantasies can be delightful, but at some point, clutching a teddy bear and squeezing our eyes shut and lisping “Now I lay me down to sleep” ceases to be sweet. The world needs adults who, in Sweeney’s words, are willing to get up in the morning and mind the store.”

May we all live in the real world and acknowledge that we need each other more than invisible fantasies born from the minds of men.
Mind the gaps, the store, and look both ways.

Nano Rebel – Almost Half Way

memoir-into3I love this memoir or autobiography thingy. Like so much of writing, it’s a pain in the ass and a fantastic experience. This has been a busy week for me, as in doing other things besides writing. Of course, bless their hearts, nothing is harder than dealing with the idiots and morons. But dang! We had an election that shook me to my core – more than politics or other elections have in my lifetime.

Boring PresentationOn Wednesday, I went to a meeting that took too long and annoyed me – don’t they all?

I’ve managed to stay on pace to meet my Nano word count goal, but this week was not as productive as last week. I’m finding that I need to do a lot of research, too much thinking, and much trying to remember details of events I stopped caring about long ago.

Friday morning, I attended a write-in with the SnoValley group. After getting only four sentences written in the first hour, I gave up on a productive morning. Despite repeated comments from Alex that he would not talk politics, I returned from a break to a hot and heavy discussion relating to the political events of the week. Since I’ve been trying to contain my anger, it was not long before I was in rant mode. More wasted time venting, and less productive time writing.

I had one other event on that day, thus Friday was my lowest word count day since Nano launched. I was told that the Friday group wrote more during Nano. ‘twas not so on Veteran’s Day.

Another adventure this week was attending a session on memoir sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) It was facilitated by Theo Pauline Nestor, a memoirist and author of Writing is My Drink. The class was a productive learning experience for me and I wanted more. It was too short, even though it went a little overtime. From what I learned in that class, I decided to write an Intro to my memoir. Here’s part of it.

Introduction to Passionate Disbelief (Partial)

memoir-into2

To believe, or not to believe? Is that the question? Is it better to suffer with my beliefs as I am told? What good does any of it do? Do I stand behind my beliefs, unpopular or not? Would I be a martyr to my causes and die for my beliefs? Is it possible for me to decide for myself what to believe? If I am to believe anything, do I have the right to demand evidence or proof first?

What do I believe? How did I come to my beliefs? Do we have a complete free will to decide what we believe, or are we programmed? Do genetics play a role? How much does my culture and past life determine what I believe today?

I dislike being asked why. It makes me think and I’m too lazy for thinking.

And yet.

Why? is the best question there is. As children, we ask why repeatedly. As parents, we provide answers to our children, eventually saying, “Cuz I’m (Mom, Dad, your boss), that’s why.” Sometimes we answer why with whatever, just because, it is what it is, why not, the bible tells me so, and my personal favorites, who cares, and I don’t know.

When I was that quality assurance guy, I liked using five whys to determine root causes to problems. It is simply asking why repeatedly for five times, as any three-year old might.

Can I have both an open mind and firm convictions? Is it possible for me tell you why I believe (or don’t) something without trying to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong? We can both be wrong, but can we both be right?

So many questions. So few answers. Terry Tempest Williams has agreed that her writing is in response to questions (cited in an interview with Scott London on The Politics of Place). She went on to mention Rainer Maria Rilke, who described how questions move us.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (From Letters to a Young Poet, 1929)

Exploring my spiritual past is like reverse engineering, or tracing the specific coding that, to some degree, contributed to my conclusions years later. For many questions, I may have followed Rilke and lived into the answer.

memoir-into5Wonder why? Carefully look both ways and mind the gap.

“There are no gods”

 

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One definition of the word believe is to “accept something as true.” Synonyms include credit and trust. A second definition is to “hold something as an opinion, to suppose, or assume.” Synonyms for that definition include reckon, figure, and guess.

In her book Writing Down the Bones, the chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions, author Natalie Goldberg advises, “So even though life is not always so clear, it is good to express yourself in clear, affirmative statements.” I leave no doubt and no wiggle room with my clear declaration (albeit, not stated affirmatively). I’m not assuming, guessing, reckoning, or supposing. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, what part of no don’t you understand?

That’s how I choose to say it: “…no gods.” My reasoning is that saying I don’t believe in a god or gods is insufficient and could be misleading. I don’t need weak qualifiers to protect my position—nor do I need to prove it to anyone.

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I am not simply accepting anything as true or false. I am not supposing or assuming anything. I am stating my position as a fact. While some may use some esoteric scale (like the above) to argue that I must wear the label of gnostic atheist, as opposed to agnostic atheist, I disagree. I have one position that determines my point of view on many other things such as there are no ghosts, no devils, no angels, no unicorns, pigs cannot fly, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow cannot jump over the moon, but may have caused the Great Chicago Fire.

I enjoy Halloween and ghost stories around a camp fire as much as I ever did. It’s unnecessary to believe in spirit-world entities to enjoy being frightened by them. Reality, however, should be frightening in some circumstances.

no-god5Picture this. You’re sitting quietly in a random crowd of 100 people in the United States. Suddenly one person jumps up and yells loudly for all to clearly hear, “There is a god!” Let us now assume that said person had a good, but personal, reason for this announcement. None of the other 99 know it. What happens next?

Perhaps 40 or 50 people will say, “Amen.” Even more will likely applaud. Everything is fine and the feeling of the crowd is positive. Right? People have every right to their beliefs. In a random group of the remaining 99, not everyone will have the same beliefs. But there would be no grumbling, no accusations, no death threats, and not one person of the other 99 will stand and say, “Prove it.”

Add one person to that crowd – me. What if I stand up first and announce loud and clear, “There are no gods.” Keep in mind that of the thousands of gods humans have believed-in and worshipped over thousands of years, at least 70 people in the crowd agree with me, with one exception – the god they happen to believe in. Despite this, what likely happens next?

no-god1

Even when people know of my atheism, if I make that statement, I’ll be challenged to prove it. They see no oddity in asking me to disprove something more than 70% of the people claim to believe, but are equally unable to prove. Even some agnostics and atheists would challenge me by asking if I know it for a fact.

I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren this past summer. A friend wondered what I might say if one of them asked me if I believed in god. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I would answer. While it never came up, should it now, my answer is “No.” If a discussion or Q&A ensues, I would manage as honestly as I could. I am not afraid to use the words, I don’t know.

So, by stating that there are no gods, I’m establishing my position. I’m not a person who believes in god. I am not agnostic. While I have interest and curiosity about all religious beliefs, It’s not my intent to change anyone’s mind, unless I’m asked. But belief in god or not, I think religion is harmful. I am not trying to ruffle any feathers or destroy any fantasies. I agree with Ms. Goldberg and I’m thus making a clear statement – there are no gods. I’m keeping it simple.no-god3

Confidence and assuredness are good things, but we should consider all options.
Look both ways and mind the gap.