Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Here’s a picture of Daniel Dennet and James Randi, two white-bearded fellows that line up just right one over the other. I took this at TAM4. Oh, how I love that image. James Randi underwent by-pass surgery this week and I am thinking about him a lot and I am worried about him. What a wonderful conference that was. I am still basking in that weekend.

I am pretty pooped, so I probably shouldn't be writing. This could be meandering, but here goes:

Okay. The CD is underway. There is a conceivable possibility that it will, indeed, be available on Feb. 22nd. I spent most of the day getting the information ready for the layout. It will be a 2 CD set with a book that will have the text of the show. The book will be about fifty pages long, a real honest-to-goodness transcript of the whole show. This is not to be confused with “My Beautiful Loss-Of-Faith Story” which is separate and will be much, much longer – an actual book - and include this loss-of-faith journey in depth. I spoke with the audible.com people and it even looks like I may have it up on audible by the 22nd of Feb. as well. And if it’s on audible to download, it will also be on ITunes. All this work really makes me want someone else to be in charge of making the movie. It’s so much work! And I am already thinking of what I want to write next. But it is interesting how this whole cd machinery works. I didn’t know anything about this, of course, when I made my God Said Ha! CD for Warner Bros.

I saw “Why We Fight” tonight. It’s a documentary about our Military Industrial Complex. I was feeling a little sad on the way to the movies. I was thinking how precarious our lives are – how we could all just go at any moment. I have spent much of today thinking about my friend Kent who just passed away from colon cancer.

I am seriously fearful of the future. I keep thinking, I hope we can be lucky enough to hold it together as a civilization for just another 100 years. That gets me through my life and Mulan’s life. I know that is just nuts to think that way. I mean there will always be people who someone cares deeply about. Mulan will have her own people she will care about deeply, just as deeply as I care about her. But maybe I’m just selfish. I am not as worried about those people who I don’t know – this abstract group of people -- as I am worried about getting to live out my life in peace and happiness. I hope this doesn't appear as if I'm saying I don't care about people in the future. Or that I'm behaving deliberately selfishly or that I'm trying to make life harder for people in the future. I hope very much that I am not. I even hope I am doing things that make people in the future have a chance at a fuller life in my own little ways.

But I guess what I’m saying is: I’m not optimistic about the future in general.

And I am not normally so pessimistic about the future of mankind, or even of the future of our country. But we are in such a precarious place. Just being a part of nature makes us so deeply vulnerable, in ways that I never fully could see before when I thought God was up there pulling the strings. But even if you take away all the fragility that we impose on ourselves unnecessarily, we still are vulnerable as a piece of nature in a bigger natural setting -- a bigger natural setting that doesn’t care a wit about us in particular.

Sometimes I play down the fear of death as a negative by-product of my lack of belief. But the truth is, especially now that it’s been several years and I can look back on it a little more objectively, the fear of death – or rather, sadness about death – is a much bigger problem in my life. It is truly a trade off. I think you can see much more clearly when you give up all that gobbledygook of religion. But the stark reality of how fleeting life is – oh! See! There’s no way to write about this without resorting to clichés!!! But the reality of how fragile life is – every person, every relationship, how flimsy the fabric of civilization itself is – it’s much clearer. And starker. And depressing. Even while it gives life so much more meaning.

And this causes me additional stress, that’s all I’m saying. Comfort or meaning? Hmmm…

I mean, it’s probably – arguably – a trade off in the long view. Because there are some aspects to my non-belief that have alleviated fear and stress. But sadness and fear about death – it’s increased.

My worries have changed markedly. I used to worry about things and I think I secretly (even secretly from my conscious mind) felt would have an effect. I really thought that my worry had some effect on events! Like my worry was an extension of prayer or something. When you grow up constantly pleading with the universe to allow this or that to happen or not happen – it’s easy to make worry the same as prayer. Worry that so-and-so gets home on time, etc. Now I worry about that much less. I know that my personal concern over events outside my control is not going to affect the outcome.

But now I worry about completely different things. I acknowledge it -- it's things I ALSO have no control over, but they are just...I dunno...bigger things. I worry that there will be some enormous explosion caused by – well, by a bomb or an asteroid or a volcano and I will die and not know if Mulan is safe. Or I will not know what happened. Just that in itself is so upsetting! I think of all those people in the Twin Towers on 9/11 – they didn’t know if it was just their city or building that was hit or if the whole earth had exploded. I hate that idea – the not knowing what will happen after I die. That’s so fucking sad!!!!! I worry that I will suffer and that time will slow down – my mind will do it’s thing in a crisis and slow everything down for me to be aware of every millisecond – and in those milliseconds I will be in excruciating pain or emotional turmoil and then it will just be all over.

And I acknowledge that I have led an embarrassingly privileged life. I have never experienced war first hand. I have never gone hungry. I lived in a stable home town in a close knit community. The best universities were open to me; all I had to do was show I could get into one of them and figure out how to earn the money to pay for it. And I did! I got to spend my twenties pursuing a career in the arts and I live in a country where I have the freedom to speak my mind (so far at least.) I have been able to travel and I was not burdened by having to become a mother against my will. I didn't live in a culture that considered it freakish for a woman to have some control over her life and ambition for herself. I am stupifyingly lucky. I just happened to be born at the right moment in the right place. If I were killed tomorrow I would still be in the category of: luckiest of the lucky. I got 46 fantastic years! Still, I am worried. I covet a future where I will be able to continue to live in such privilege. Where my daughter will live with such joys. I wish more and more of the world got to live like me. But I have to say, the future is NOT bright. It looks dim to me. I feel we are all careening towards disaster. Maybe not in my life time but relatively soon. And it fills me with dread. It’s hard to combat. It’s really, really hard to be “zen” about it. It takes constant attention and diligence not to spiral downwards.

As I drove into the parking lot of the theater complex I went to tonight, I was thinking how, us humans, are all just dancing precariously at the end of a diving board – a high dive – over a big deep empty concrete pool. And we are just chatting with our friends and backing up and backing up and who knows if our shoes are half way off the edge? Who knows if all of humanity’s shoes are halfway off the edge?

All right, now comes the funny part. This was my state of mind BEFORE I decided to see, “Why We Fight.” Yeah. I was near tears as I walked in the theater. And then I saw one of the most disturbing documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s all about the Military Industrial Complex and….well, I was a mess afterwards. I was really missing my dad, too. I remember, just before he died, he was telling me how he had never seen our country so in the clutches of big business, so clever in it’s deep hold on the American people because of it's ability to manipulate the news, and a media so cowed by this oligarchy that it couldn’t force some measure of transparency. And even though things have gotten even worse since he died two years ago, I was wishing he was around to talk to about this documentary.

I have two things to say about Why We Fight and then I’m headed to bed. One is that Hal Bidlack must go find the woman in the documentary that was in the military and left after twenty years, disgusted at what our country has done in Iraq and how the war was handled. Oh, here: her name is Karen Kwiatkowski. Where ever she is, Hal, you must find her and marry her. Also, I think I have to marry the Charles Lewis from the Center From Public Integrity, who is also in the film and he is AMAZING. Julia Lewis. I think it sounds good.


Anonymous said...

julia! I just read your blog and i broke into a panicky sweat!!i am so with you on everything....but, you really need to see the great things in life.
i know that's hard sometimes, but look at nature and how beautiful it is ( and try not to think about how we are destroying it! )I also feel like i am being inconsiderate when i have to just accept the fact that i can only worry about the span of my life, but if you take on worries of the future indefinitely your brain will pop.

although you are right to be scared and sad, cheer up buckeroo. isn't that a better alternative?

Anonymous said...

(http://www.flightfromdeath.com), Julia you need to check this out. It is based on the book by Ernest Becker's "Denial of Death" I read it a number of years ago, have never been the same since.

Julia Sweeney said...

Okay bookboy! I just went and ordered the film Flight From Death. I am so excited to see it! I went to the website and watched the trailer. OHMYGOD I have to see that movie right now!

And Anne -- thanks for your comments, and I am happy -- in the daytime at least. But when it's night and I'm tired, it's really really hard.

Anonymous said...

I just learned how to link and I'm so happy this is for everyone else. To make it user friendly. Check out Flight from Death

Anonymous said...

Wow Julia, you really nailed that one down. I get tied up in the same thought pattern exactly sometimes. Sadly, more often now than ever before in my lifetime. Finally I have my soulmate in my life and I am overwhelmed sometimes when either of us are on the road. We both commute a long way in opposite directions daily. The roads are the most dangerous place in America as far as I'm concerned. People are careless and put my and her life at risk constantly. Just as our Prez is putting all of our lives needlessly at risk.

Now more than ever in my life, I am really taking the time to savor the small things. Fresh air. Music. The cool comforting things. I have to. Because never before in my lifetime has the threat of nuclear annihilation been bigger than with what Prez McChimp and his Barrel of Megalomonkeys are doing. It's scary shit.

But, I keep seeking out the good things. The comforting things. I'm doing things I've never done before because I'm honestly afraid that I might not have the chance if I let things go any longer.

I'm actually comforted by knowing I'm not the only one who freaks out about this stuff occasionally.

Sheldon said...

The most amazing book I've ever read tackled this very topic, linking "Fear of Death" with "Belief in God." The book is called "THE GOD PART OF THE BRAIN," and it's by Matthew Alper. Alper posits that, as we evolved, we developed the ability to think in terms of Past-Present-Future. With those concepts came the unavoidable realization that we will cease to exist at some point (Past: a point before which we did not exist; Present: a point during which we exist; Future: a point beyond which we will no longer exist).

Once that change in our brains occurred, we had a HUGE problem. We'd either melt down completely from the fear, or we could use our well developed imaginations to console ourselves...thus, God was born.

I'm not doing the book justice, and it contains copius scientific support for each part of the overall premise. Check it out on Amazon, or at www.Godpart.com

Zigory said...

The internet, including blogs, has taken away Big Media's ability to mislead the American people. If one is against the current administration, there is no shortage of anti-Bush material in the media today. Do you really not see it? Turn on CNN.

I'm guessing your father influenced your thinking on this subject and he may have been overly pessimistic. If big business and media want to mislead, they can't get away with it for very long. The truth comes out as long as someone somewhere has the motivation to investigate and report. The American people usually gravitate towards the truth because living according to falsehoods or fantasies doesn't work for anyone.

I also think one fears one's own death more if one's life isn't up to par at the moment. Fearing a loved one's death is another story, it is always in the back of one's mind, but it mustn't be allowed to overwhelm. Just take any action you can, to make the unacceptable future less likely to happen. Be prepared for the worst, work for the best.

Thanks to science we can usually anticipate and avoid most of nature's threats to our survival.

Anonymous said...

Julia, I think fear of and sadness about death increase when you're a parent of a young child regardless of a belief in a god. It's just part of life's stages; it's when we truly care about our own mortality. I grew up and have lived my whole life without god, and these fears kicked in for me when my kids were little. Mothers I know who are believers have had similar experiences. Belief doesn't seem to innoculate the people I know from fear and anxiety. In fact, some older believers I've known seem more fearful than nonbelievers because they worry about not praying enough or doing whatever they need to do to make god happy enough so it won't be painful at the end. Believe or not, I think it's the acceptance that brings some sense of peace, not god.

Baconeater said...

I just saw the trailer. It looks excellent.
I really don't want to become obsessed with death as I grow older (I'm now 45). I have decided to laugh and make people laugh until I cease to exist whenever possible.
James Randi is an icon for Atheists, who is going to pick up his slack when he goes.
Incidentally James Randi was born the same exact day and year as my father, in the same city: Toronto.

Steven Strauss said...

Also, I think I have to marry the Charles Lewis from the Center From Public Integrity, who is also in the film and he is AMAZING. Julia Lewis. I think it sounds good.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Julia, you're just saying that because he looks like singing star Rick Moranis.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Some kid got mauled by a bear."
-Rick Moranis
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
I know you have a lot of work to do, so I dearly wish to thank you for your recent flurry of posting. I get excited about the chance there'll be something here I haven't yet read. I know a lot of folks are in your corner and share your concerns, me among them.

Steven Strauss said...

Shannon, I think it's important to distinguish happy people from cheerful people. I find cheerful people maddening because their response to the suffering of others is the equivalent of covering eyes and humming. "Hey, turn that frown upside down!" I am lucky to know a couple of happy people who have feeling for the suffering of others and count such folk as company the equal of anyone. They seem to me a world apart from the loud whistlers of the world.

Anonymous said...

Julia, you say that you have a quest for knowledge. Here is some wisdom from Al-Farabi.
Aphorism 87
"Many creatures hold different beliefs about God's, may He be exalted, providence for His creatures.
Some claim that He provides for His creatures just as the king provides for his flock and their welfare--without becoming directly involved in each one of their affairs, nor acting as a mediator between his associate and his wife. Rather he sets in place for that someone who takes it over, carries it out, and does with respect to it what truth and justice oblige him to do.

Others are of the opinion that that is not enough unless He takes over for them nd takes upon Himself, on their behalf, the governing of each one of His creatures with respect to each thing pertaining to their actions and welfare and does not put any one of His creatures in charge of another. Otherwise, those would be His partners and aides in His governance of His creatures, and He is too exalted to have partners and aides. From that, it follows that He is responsible for many of the actions that are defects, blameworthy things, base things, the error of those who err, and obscene speech and deed. And when any one of His creatures is intent upon tricking one of His helpers or refuting by means of objection the statement of someone who is telling the truth, He would be his aide and the One responsible for directing and guiding him. He would drive this person to fornication, murder, theft, and what is baser than that such as the actions of children, drunkards, and mad persons. Now if they deny some of His governing and aiding, they must deny all of it.

These are the roots of wicked opinions and reason for corrupt, bad doctrines."

Be sure that the God you have in your mind is what the real God is. If you have a false idea of God, of course you are going to reject him; he doesn't exist. This is why you have to be sure that you have the REAL concept of God first. You can do this through reading, with a sincere mind, great classics of religious thought. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, even Buddhist (even though they don't believe in an Anthropormorphic God, their idea of the Way is quite similar in content and meaning) thought.

If you, after reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, think you had the right idea of God all along, then you can be quite certain in your atheism. But first, be sure you have the REAL conception of God, not one that filters down and is seen through childish eyes.

Anonymous said...


I like how the discussion here has turned to a discussion of the book "Denial of Death". I read the book in 1980 as part of a death and dying in my second year of college. Out of a class of 40 myself and two others took the challenge to read it. I've been always glad I did.

I always think of it when you when you write on the exsistence of God.

As a correlary, if I recall right the book is prominent in Woody Allen's Anne Hall. And I feel Woody's comment/joke about the nature love parallel applies to the exsistence of a God as well.

niecey said...

just testing something

your swell

Rebecca said...

Pretty worthwhile piece of writing, much thanks for the post.