Friday, June 24, 2005

New camera

Okay, things are moving along. The show opens Sept. 1 in previews and then opening night is Sept. 17th. I am in the process of gathering together my team of people, the sound director, the lighting designer, etc. It's all very very exciting. Also, Mulan graduates from pre-school tomorrow. Also, I just realized that I have either misplaced or had stolen my video camera and my Leica. OHMYGOD. First, I hate myself for not knowing if I've misplaced them or had them stolen. Okay, let's just assume they weren't stolen. Where the hell are they? Oh I am filled with self loathing.

I had to go buy a new video camera just now. Yep. I had to go spend $700 on a new video camera. I have turned the house upside down. I have no Leica Camera and no video camera. The video camera has a tape on it which is basically everything Mulan has done for a year. How can this be? Oh, the cost of being disorganized is high, indeed.

Okay, breathe. Breathe.

I now have a new video camera. The old one was several years old, so I guess it's really good that I have a new one. I will now be able to properly record my daughter's life. Where is the Leica, though?

Okay, let's change the subject.

I got to meet Wim Wenders today. He interveiwed me for a part in an upcoming movie he is directing. I worshipped Wim Wenders for years. I mean, I still think he's great. It's just...looking at him, talking to him. I felt like I was in a dream. He didn't seem real. The whole thing threw me into an entire day of thinking about his movies. I wanted to say so many things to him that I didn't. That "The American Friend" is one of my all time favorite movies and I've seen it eight or nine times. Alice in the Cities, also an iconic film for me. But I was speechless, I just sat there and giggled nervously. He asked me how I could have done a monologue about cervical cancer. And I said something like, "It wasn't just about cervical cancer, it was also about my brother's cancer!" I sounded like a freak. But he was nice. He acted like he was going to see me again, but you know those europeans, they can always sound like that, they are so polite. Oh jeez.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Taking a blogging break

Thanks so much for all your e-mails. I got hundreds more in the last few days. It’s really overwhelming. Over three thousand now. I appreciate them all. I just wish I could respond. So many made me want to jump right in and write a thorough letter back. I am still going to try to reply to people when I can get a moment.

But for the time being, I’m going to take a blogging break. Not that that’s so important to anyone, but… I’m just going to take a break. First of all, since I started my new job, my whole life is wound up in things I can’t talk about at all.

Second of all, I’m getting some pretty harsh weird e-mail. It’s making me take a moment to think about how many people are out there who scare the shit out of me. Granted, most of the e-mail I got - to an overwhelming degree -- is from people who are positive and encouraging. Who feel just as I do. Who went through what I did. Or people who are worried about what's happening in our country and culture with regards to religious fundamentalism and Christian domination.

Of course, I don’t want to restrict my reading to only those e-mails which are from people to feel the same way I do. But…well, I wish I could just show you some of the many frightening letters I have received. They make your spine tingle. They are SCARY. A lot of angry, scary people.

People with poor spelling and punctuation. Mostly.

Not that I’m the bastion of proper spelling & punctuation, but… I have one suggestion for the Christians out there who want to send me a long intimidating, terrorizing e-mail – at least spell your threats properly. It’s distracting to my sense of fear when your spelling is SO bad.

I know, that’s mean. But it’s hard to look past it.

Anyone who has e-mailed me and asked to be notified when the CD comes out will be contacted. I am still on my schedule. It will happen and you will be notified.

I have to keep reminding myself that these people are just people composing e-mail and telling me their point of view. But they are sooo nasty and so outraged and so filled with hate. I think I tried really hard not to be hateful in my monologue. I tried to make the case for faith, and show the struggle with compassion to all sides. But yes, in some ways I am hurtful. I am saying things about a myth and a book that many people believe are sacred. And I am challenging the validity and the sacred nature of those materials. I even feel an imperative about what I have to say. I think the future of our species depends on us wising up and accepting ourselves as animals that evolved on a planet.

Just like the Christians think that my future of depends on accepting their beliefs. In this way, I think I have a lot in common with Christians, or these types of Christians, because I think it’s majorly important if someone is religious or not. Only, I think it should be on the "not" side.

I feel that people who have superstitions have been victimized and do not see the world clearly. And I feel very sad for them.

Also, a teeny bit afraid of them.

But to be honest, I don’t know how much I want this in my life. All these angry people. If I still had an assistant, I would have him or her going through these e-mails for me, but I don’t have one and I end up reading them all. And it’s just gotten to me. I mean, of course, they haven’t convinced me. And I’m not going to be quiet about it. I just think that a daily journal about my views isn’t the way for me to go at the moment. The blogging just seems to goad them on even further.

And today, for the first time, I seriously thought I should move or something. I got a little scared.


I will blog again someday, but not in the near future.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Life Is Not Fair

Mulan and my mother are still asleep and today is a big workday, so I’m going to write a few thoughts down before they wake up. And I guess some might think I’m just spouting off now because of the big response to the This American Life piece and now I’m pontificating or something. And well…yes. I guess so. I am a little bit. But it’s been such an overwhelming response, I got almost fifty more letters just this morning! And I guess I’m indulging the fact that I have a few more people’s eyes to read what I have to say. I have to remind myself that this will all calm down soon and I’ll be back to complaining about five year olds or something.

So, that said… This is what I've been turning over in my head recently.

Life is SO not fair. That’s something my dad said all the time while I grew up and I think probably everyone’s parents said that. Well, without the SO part. So here: Life’s not fair. But I never really believed that. I thought God sorted it all out in the end. I had a vague idea that there was ultimate justice. And this had effects down to the smallest interactions.

For example, I am a person who has a very hard time haggling for something. And I have spent time in South America and Asia where you have to haggle for everything. And I would think, “If they overcharge me for this or that item, then that’s taking advantage of me and that act is on their head and they will deal with that when they meet their maker.” And then I would just pay them the price they asked at first as a matter of pride. Like, it’s not up to me to make sure this person behaves with dignity.

This makes me seem ridiculous, and when I write that it does seem ridiculous. But I’m trying to say that these ideas (like life is not fair) aren’t just in place when one considers the big questions in life, it affects even the smallest interactions.

When I stopped all magical belief, including God, it struck me like thunder that everyone was getting away with everything they could get away with and there was not going to be any God to sort it out. And that’s such a difficult bitter pill to swallow, that life is not fair. Life is not fair in the extreme.

The way nature works is not fair either. Survival of the fittest: not fair. I mean, unless you are fit in the ways that nature dictates is fit.

Anyway, I suddenly realized I had to defend myself against others who were trying to take advantage of me. It was all up to me. It felt really cold and sad. I had to defend myself not just against the big forces of chance, but even against this person trying to charge me four dollars for something she's charging one dollar for right behind me

And there’s no remedy for that cold and sad realization. Not at least, one I have found. It’s stark and it makes me feel like an adult in all the worst ways. But then, I had this whole new appreciation for what does enforce some fairness in life. Like governments and laws. Who said that great phrase? ”Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Yes. That’s what society does. That’s why we aren’t animals all out for our individual selves. We come together collectively to help insure the survival of the whole group and in that process we make things a little more fair for those who can’t insure that fairness themselves.

That’s one of the worst things that religion does, teach people to be compliant with gross unfairness. Religion does this by inculcating and idea of ultimate justice after death. This makes the paupers happy and content – they will get their reward. I know that most religious people would say that Jesus inspires them to behave in ways that are altruistic and heroic and that all Jesus was about was helping the poor. And yes, I can see how Jesus is an inspiration in that.

But all I have to say to that is two things: Jesus did use the idea of reward when it came to helping the poor. He didn’t say to help the poor because it’s fundamentally unfair and that a more balanced financial distribution is better for everyone. He said to be good to the poor because if you do you get rewarded in heaven. Also, all I have to say is that Bush says Jesus is his favorite philosopher and look at what he’s done for the poor. Just make them a whole lot poorer.

So, life is unfair. This is one of the hardest parts, for me, of letting go of God. And it’s unfair in ways that no government laws could ever change. People die on the brink of great promise in their life. It doesn’t always work out for the best. We are fantastically vulnerable to having everything we hold dear be killed, betray us, reject us. And that is a harsh and hard way to see the world.

But I think it’s accurate. And I realized that I was willing to trade accuracy for a fantasy. AND, weirdly, this harsh acceptance has led to such a deep appreciation for so much in my life. I would call myself a very happy person. I enjoy every day – or nearly every day that I am alive. It caused me to care about others, to increase the money I give to charity and to make sure that that charity is doing what it says it’s doing. It has caused me to be even more politically active and try to make the world a slightly more fair place for other people. It has made me discover science and the scientific method and it has given me a consistent way for evaluating the world. That is no small thing, by the way.

I have come to realize that maybe one of the best things that has come out of my whole experience has nothing to do with God. It’s that I realize that I respect the truth and that there are systematic methods for arriving at truth -- or what we can bet is closest to truth -- and that thousands of years of scholarship has gone into refining these methods. I truly sit on the shoulders of giants in this way. I am receiving the fruits of many people’s efforts over thousands of years who have figured out how to think systematically and come up with information that is reliable and re-testable and all that. And that gives me a great calm. I have a system for looking at the world.

It’s had all kinds of tangible effects too. Like I don’t spend time, or excessive time, around people I don’t like simply to be nice. Time is so limited and valuable. I know I am speaking in platitudes and stating the obvious, but I have to say, this came to me in a whole new way after I grew up, FINALLY.

Okay, now I have to go make Mulan put on clothes. It’s crazy beautiful here in Hawaii. I really hope I get to retire in Kauai someday. I like Oahu, but my heart belongs to Kauai. Yesterday I think I spent more time in the water that I ever have before. Mulan did this dolphin quest experience – they have a dolphin lagoon here and about five dolphins in it. They give you all this literature about how Dolphin Quest is good to the dolphins and they don’t force the dolphins to do excessive tricks. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that Mulan had the best two hours learning about dolphins yesterday. They gave a class where they showed a human skull (a fake one) and a real dolphin skull and they spent about twenty minutes learning the differences in the skulls and what mammals were and how we can tell they are mammals. Wow. I wish I’d had that when I was a kid. Or maybe I did hear all that stuff (well, I certainly didn’t do a dolphin experience) and it washed over me. In any case, I was so rapt. It was really interesting. Then Mulan got to pet and feed and splash about with the dolphins. It was pretty great.

I remember when I was in the Galapagos and suddenly someone yelled that there was a school of dolphins on the side of our boat. (Is it a school?) Anyway, we all jumped off the boat – there was no island in site, and we swam along with the dolphins. I could hear them clicking and communicating underwater and I was really right next to them. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Now, I’ve been reading recently how dolphins are pretty cruel to each other. I guess it turns out that the bigger the brain, the crueler the species. Hmmm…

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Biology and Psychology

Okay, I'm on a break here in Hawaii. And I was thinking, after reading more the letters to me, many of them about the real deeper meanings of the Bible stories, that in the end, it wasn't the Bible that did me in about God and all the rest. The Bible did in religion for me. Yes, that's true. Reading the Bible and learning about how the Bible was put together. Reading the Gnostic Gospels and the other "sacred" writings, learning about the traditions of the church and how they became traditions, all that led to me rejecting religion.

But not God.

What did God in, really, was biology and psychology. Learning how our minds work, how we respond to social hierarchy, how we naturally tend toward superstitions and how we see patterns in things, even when no patterns exist. How evolution works, the slow agonizing process of animals evolving, how we living creatures evolve different specialties to compete in this harsh world for survival, how our brain evolved and how it gives us a certain type of advantage, how viruses work and evolve – that’s what did God in.

Many people have written to me about Michael Behe’s book. He wrote Darwin’s Black Box and he’s an Intelligent Design guy who says that there is an irreducible complexity in cells that is unaccountable by evolution. So basically God made cells and evolution did the rest. I have read this book and listened to many scientists responses to it. Basically the problem is that Behe does not account for the fact that certain structures in the cell could have evolved by natural selection and then further evolution caused those same structures to find employment in other novel ways as evolution continued.

Plus, even if a cell floated to earth fully formed, it still doesn’t mean that human beings would evolve or that there is a designer out there somewhere who wants us to be here in particular. I always say that if God got humans here by means of evolution he is a harsh, horrible, wasteful, uncaring God. Millions upon millions of species evolving and dying off in horrifying circumstances. What did the dinosaurs do to God to make him cause them to die in a cloud of darkness after the meteor hit? But for the believer, that’s just what God did. Have 4 and a half billion years of agonizing evolution to get us. Us humans. It makes the creationists who believe that God plopped humans onto the earth in one fell swoop seem reasonable when you think of a God who got us here by means of evolution.

And now the evidence is enormous. Evolution is confirmed over and over again by all kinds of different fields: anthropology, biology, genetics, and so forth. And we understand our own minds much better than we did before. We know the parts of the brain that have religious experience and we understand how people can have those experiences. Experiences I had myself! So, for me, it all points to a world without a God. The world makes sense without a God from a scientific world view. The world does not make sense scientifically with one. (I am referring to a traditional definition of God here.)

I won’t even get into the New Age redefinitions of God. I always say that if God is hydrogen and helium, then yes, I believe in God too.

Some people have written and accused me of a dogmatic fanaticism in my non-belief. I disagree. My disbelief in God is just like my disbelief in Santa Claus. If there is solid scientific evidence that shows a creator God who cares about us humans and offers an eternal life, I am completely open to that and I would change my mind based on it. I have not yet seen evidence that comes close. And yes, it’s true, I am not going to spend all my time searching for evidence that I am wrong. I did do that for years and I came to a certain conclusion and I’m going to stick with it until I find compelling evidence to the contrary. Michael Shermer says you should be open minded but not so open minded that your brains fall out. I think that’s a good stance.

Many people have also said that I selected portions of the Bible that look the worst and judge the whole book in that context. And that’s true. I did do that. I actually left lots out -- I mean lots and lots of passages that are so absurd, like the children getting mauled to death by bears because they make fun of a bald guy in the Old Testament. There are some stories in the Bible that are so ridiculous that I thought that I wouldn't seem credible repeating them! I tried to find passages that people were generally familiar with.

But what I found is that religious folk who argue that the Bible should be viewed in the whole context of the Christian tradition are using that as an excuse to not deal with the disturbing and clearly legendary and folktale aspects of the Bible.

Of course, if you judge the Bible by it’s impact on culture, it’s a tremendously important document. But this becomes a spiral where you can’t judge the Bible by itself and you can’t judge the cultural impact without the Bible. I do not argue that religion has many, many great byproducts. It offers so much. It can do tremendous good. It creates community and ritual and connectedness and Christians in particular are very good at organizing social injustice movements. All that is fantastic. I think those wonderful things are practically worth it to be part of the organization in spite of what it’s based on. I mean, almost.

But some have argued that the byproducts of Christianity – the positive byproducts, the work on behalf of the poor, the community it creates, is the proof that Jesus is the son of God and that God is the only God and a force that created us and loves us and offers us eternal life. However, many other cultures have similar types of byproducts from their religion (maybe I shouldn’t even be saying byproduct, maybe it’s just impacts) and they aren’t Christian. The Muslims have social injustice movements and religious sacred literature with many insightful and great passages, just like the Bible. The Buddhists do too. The Hindus do too. Also, there are secular organizations that offer all this without the religion.

I am here in Hawaii, and I’ve met a couple who went and did the Peace Corps after their six children were grown. They spent two years doing work in Africa and there was no religious organization, it was totally secular. So, the fruit of religion isn’t a good argument for the veracity of Christian truth.

On balance, I think religion has been detrimental. I think it caused the Dark Ages and has set us back over and over again in our human history. ON BALANCE.

So, please, don’t send me more individual examples of religion being so great. I find what I experience as the transcendent in nature, with a full acceptance of who I am and where I stand in nature. Nature may not care a wit about me, but I sure care a lot about Nature.

Last night I laid on the beach and looked at the sky full of stars and the water crashing at my feet and just the thought that the earth is round, just that little fact that I used to take for granted, it just bowled me over. The earth is fucking ROUND!!! And we’re hurtling through space! And who knows how much longer animals like us will be here to look out at that sky and know that the planet they sit on is ROUND? How many animals in the universe know that the reason it’s dark is because their sun is on the other side of their round planet? Or that the sand I scrunch my feet into is made up of millions of years, billions even, of rocks ground up into bits, rocks that were crawled on by other creatures and plants that didn’t have this wonderful gift of knowledge that the earth is round – hurtling through space.


Okay, that probably sounds all preachy and shit. I’ve just read through (or skimmed through) two thousand e-mails (really, over two thousand letters in four days) and I’m a little wound up.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Thank you so much for your e-mails

Note: this is written hastily as my daughter tugs at my shirt sleeve and I don't know how to use spell check, so keep this in mind.

I really wasn't prepared for the This American Life show to have such a big impact. I have so much to say back to each and every one of you who has written. I almost hesitate to write this because I don't want anyone NOT to write to me. I read each and every one and today has been such a grand day. I wish I could respond to everyone tonight but I can't!

Many people said they knew I was going to get a lot of e-mails from people who were appalled and angry. This is true. But I would say those e-mails represent a very small minority. I also thought that is what would happen. But, for the recond, what I have found out today is that there are lots and lots and lots of people out there who feel just like I do, have gone through the same things I have. What an amazing thing! I got e-mails from people from all over the United States, I mean all over the place. And I am soooo appreciative. Thank you so much.

But really, this isn't so much about me. What thrills me is that I am finding that there are so many of us who have gone through the same experience or are going through the same experience. I mean, in some ways, because of Bush, he has pushed this whole issue to the forefront, for good or bad, you just can't dismiss your views on religion anymore as being a small matter.

And of course, not everyone has jettisoned God the way I have. And I have so much to say in return.

But I will say this here: many people wrote to say that they didn't think I should have gone from rejecting the Bible to giving up on God. The truth is that I didn't do that. It was a long long journey with many other variations on God and if you could see the whole show, you would see that it wasn't just straight from not-Catholic to non-believer. (my show is two hours and fifteen minutes long and the This American Life excerpt was less than thirty minutes) It took years to explore everything and I hung on until I realized that the only God I could believe in was made up of hydrogen and helium. And then...anyway. I am so re-inspired to write the book and get the CD out and the film done. Really, everyone who has written, thank you soooo much.

Also, YES, my newsletter sign up asks for birthdates and the person's gender and that is really wrong. I don't know how I allowed that. It was a suggestion by the person who designed my website and I'm going to change that immediately. Don't feel you have to put that information in. I have never even looked at that stuff and I won't.

And also, for the Christians who wrote about what those passages mean in the Bible. Yes, I know that the passages I site have all kinds of theories and complicated layers of meaning. I know the theories. I know the ways that people explain those passages. I looked into it. But now, it doesn't really matter because when I, after a long learning curve, really understood how the Bible was put together, which stories were kept and which weren't, what political situations were in place and what was useful to emphasise and so forth, then the Bible became a really interesting historical religious document to me -- inspiring but not sacred. Very much the work of ancient man and not the inspired word of God. So, you see, telling me all about the meanings behind those stories is sort of beside the point at this point.

I am in Hawaii right now, and I am so lucky to be here. My mother is with me and she just had a knee replacement surgery six weeks ago and my daughter is here too and it's a little like having two kids to look after while I'm on a work retreat. Not that I'm complaining, believe me I am not. But my time to resond to e-mail is limited. I will try to, I really will. Because people have the most amazing stories. Everyone's story of how they woke up and saw through the workings of their religion and their faith is interesting, even if they don't give it up in the end.

Also, I got many letters from priests and pastors who told me that they too, don't believe anymore, but what can they do? They are in a profession and they have been at it a long time. This is so heartbreaking to me.
Soooo... no spell check and I'm not even going to read this over, but I felt I had to put something up on the site.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Raining in Hawaii

Well, it’s pouring rain here. And I like it. It probably won’t last. I love the daily rain in tropical islands.

I am still getting tons of letters from people all over the United States. Ira says that approx. 1.7 million people listen. (Ira wrote and said they have gotten possibly more comments on this weekend's show than any other -- I haven't asked yet if it's more positive or negative.)

So, I can’t speak about the general opinion. But the letters to me are really positive. Wow, I am so fascinated by everyone’s stories. So many people who feel the same way. Only a few begging me not to “let go of God.” Most are supportive and from people who feel exactly the same way.

You know, when I first “let go of God” I felt it was a private thing, something I didn’t need to share with anyone. But now, as I see what religion is doing in our culture and in our politics, I think we’ve all just got to be a lot more out-spoken about how we feel. I remember being hesitant at first, when people said religious things around me, even benign things like…”Well, it will all work out for the best.” I would just say nothing. I would simply joke to myself “Yes, that’s just what Hitler said…” But now, I do say things like that. Or I say, “Well, I don’t believe that is always the case, but I know what you mean. “ Or something like that. I am proud of being a woman without superstitions, to me it’s liberating, nothing to be ashamed of. I think of it as an achievement, and I’m not going to be quiet about it.

I got a lot of letters from people who were raised in a religion and then when they were around 12, they saw through it all and left. In fact, most of my own friends had this exact experience. I think they are fascinated by how I could have believed for so long. I think it’s a combination of the following:

1.) I needed to believe emotionally and I didn’t want to NOT believe that there was something there that cared about me.

2.) I didn’t think about it deeply. I dipped into my belief when I needed it or when it made certain circumstances more tolerable or more “poetic” and then I went back to a benign skepticism when I didn’t need it.

3.) I had a serious lack of science education. I would latch on to seemingly scientific ideas about “energy” or “the power of intention” or “synchronicity.” I just didn’t have the critical thinking skills or the basic scientific knowledge to not be vulnerable to lots of ideas that seemed to make sense if you didn’t look into it too much.

So, I was never a big believer to begin with. I mean, more than my friends. In some ways, loosing my faith wasn’t the big deal. It was on the other end, it was in accepting myself as an evolved animal on a planet in a vulnerable fathomless abyss. And after you got over the horror of it, the deep realization that we’re merely random flowers blooming in a sea of minerals, then it was all so different. That impact was immensely greater for me. It made me appreciate each day, each moment so much more. It made me grieve for injustice in a whole new way. It made me truly afraid and appreciative. My investment in my own life grew and my concern for others plight increased.

Anyway, most of the letters I’ve gotten are from people who feel the same way I do. And that just makes me feel great – obviously. Thank you so much people!

The letters I got from people who were upset and angry – well… Many of them started out the same way, something like, “I know you think people like me are stupid, and I can tell you even enjoy putting us down.” One person said, “Obviously you get off on humiliating others.” Get off? Get off on humiliating others? Another person started their letter, “I bet you feel pretty good about yourself right now, stomping all over the sacred book that most of us hold dear.” Or something like that. Anyway, all day yesterday I was thinking, “Well, was I gloating? Do I ‘get off’ on this?” I felt I really didn’t. I didn’t do this rashly. It’s not the only topic I’ve taken on. I don’t make my living from it. I have lots of dear relatives who are believers. I tried not to be condescending.

Then I thought, “Well what if I WAS ‘getting off' on it?” What difference would that make to the truth? If someone were attacking me as a non-believer, I wouldn’t -- first thing -- right off the bat, accuse them of enjoying disagreeing with me. Or of happily humiliating me. I would try to counter them with the facts and I would keep my feelings about their state of mind while attacking me to myself. It’s beside the point.

I didn’t know what an ad hominum attack was until a few years ago. Which is horrible because I was a high school debater and my dad was a lawyer and I should have known about it. But basically it means when you attack the character of your opponent as a way of arguing for your view. It’s such a basic thing. It’s sort of what my parents did the whole time I was growing up. “Well he’s an idiot.” Or “Why would listen to THAT guy, everyone knows he’s nuts.” “You are angry right now” and so basically everything you say has no merit. Or I even think of old arguments with a particular old boyfriend where every time I brought up something disagreeable he began to attack me on “when “ I brought it up, or “how” I brought it up or my “tone” when I brought it up. Everything became about everything else and not the facts of the case.

I suppose this is so obvious to everyone in the world, but it sure wasn’t to me. I mean, until a few years ago.

Well, I am going to try to post something every day. I can’t write about my job, clearly. But I can write about everything else. Now it’s stopped raining and Mulan and I are going for a swim before my work starts for the day. Yippee! A seven a.m. swim, what could be better?