Thursday, November 30, 2006

Religious Symbolism, A Book I Forgot, Marcel Cairo & a note to Believer Michael:

Once again, I love all the comments. I guess - after turning it over in my mind for a day - that I am thankful that Mulan does not have any references to Jesus at school. Even though I also hate it. Cause I guess I want it both ways. I want to enjoy the myths as myths and I am tired of rejecting the symbols of those myths because some people think they are real.

But leftdog said something wonderful and I think true: Leftdog wrote, "Sure, it's a good story. I understand that, but it needs to be discredited before it can be reclaimed. Think Norse Mythology or any other similar; great stories, but only acceptable now because they have been defanged." Defanged. I like that word in regards to the Christ story. Sheldon said this too -- we need space and time before this story can be indulged in as a good story.

Plus, it's true - Jesus is everywhere, on every church lawn, inside churches, and it's only in the public areas where it's absent - or should be absent. I dream of a day when Jesus is as interesting and weird as Persephone or Eros. And I want that day to be NOW.

Austin Cline: thanks for all your wonderful research and writing. I read everything you linked to at your site. But still, even though I agree that it was the Christians that killed Christmas to a large extent -- how do we account for Europe, who have state sponsored religions and yet seem to be highly non-religious (at least at the moment, and in regards to Christianity.) They seem to be able to slip into secularism without a war with the fundamentalist Christians. Do they ban the creche from the government lawns? I don't know. I'm looking into it.

Maria: thanks for reminding us about Mithra. It's true. And the Mithra story is rawer and I think, better in lots of ways, over the Jesus story. See, Christians are plagiarists! Or, as I heard at a recent Skeptic lecture at Cal Tech, "Ingenuity is simply a matter of masterfully concealing your sources." Or maybe he said "Creativity." In any case, you get the drift.

Norma: I wasn't suggesting that the Jesus story be taught as another way of looking at the world, I like it as one of the myths that is part of our culture. In answer to your question: You are unduly cranky and cantankerous, but that is what I love about you. ONE of the things I love about you. But I don't think you have to be perpetuating fraud to enjoy a Sader meal or a Passover meal or Easter or the story of Jesus being born at Christmas. But I do agree, we aren't there yet. It's weird to enjoy the Jesus birth story amongst a group of people who actually believe that story is true. It feels condescending and wrong, but still, I'm going to do it. I want my daughter to feel what it's like in church on Christmas and the songs and the candles and all the rest. And if my experience last Christmas is an indication (I was told by my fellow pew-mates that they had seen my show and agreed wholeheartedly with my view of Catholicism and God...) I'm not sure that most of the people in that church won't feel just like I do.

Ben Turk: You are absolutely right about Donohue when you wrote: "Donohue's attempt to paint himself as a victim of exclusion by straw-man 'multi-cultural gurus' is an attempt to 1. reaffirm the dominant culture's symbol set. 2. make that dominant culture feel threatened and incite a backlash." And for that alone, I revise what I said. I wish we could have Jesus and the songs, but we can't at the moment. Maybe in my lifetime but probably not.

Boo Hoo.

Okay. There is another book I totally forgot from my 17 and is almost the most important!

18. The Moral Animal, Robert Wright.

I am still recovering from this book. As I said to Robert Wright, when I met him at the TED conference last year, "Your book totally f**ked me up!" It's so hard to accept that even those qualities that I strive to perfect in myself: compassion, love, sacrifice and so forth, stem from the most unwily and advantage-seeking impulses. Also, this book made me truly admire Charles Darwin, the man. Wright analyzes Darwin from an evolutionary psychological standpoint. And this book made me realize that if you were to put Darwin the man, and Jesus, the maybe-a-man side by side, Darwin -- outside of his scientific research and what he contributed to the knowledge of our species -- was truly admirable, much more so than Jesus. Darwin was an exemplary family man, devoted to the needs of his community, he stood up for animal rights and even took two neighboring farmers to court over their mistreatment of their animals. He was conservative in his advice to others, kind and compassionate. He was not damning anyone to hell for not "believing in him." He was not frightening people into thinking the world was about to end. He was not counseling others to abandon their families. Wright doesn't make these comparisons, I am making them. But it was impossible for me not to think about Darwin's life this way. In any case, I recently reread the Moral Animal. When I first read it, I had to go lie in the fetal position for what seemed like months, just to recover from it. I gave it out as a Christmas gift to the entire Sex & the City writing staff. This book is so important to me.

And now we come to Marcel Cairo. Yes, I agree, our discussions of God on this blog have been childlike in that they are referring to the God that most Abrahamic religions believe in. And i would like to take you seriously, but it is hard when you make statements like you do. You say you believe in the afterlife BECAUSE you are a spiritual medium. What does that mean, exactly? This is what a spiritual medium is to me - a person who takes other people's money by playing on their weaknesses. I think what you must mean is that you feel you have communicated with people who are dead?

What do you say, gang? Should I engage this fellow? I went to look at the research that you mentioned in your blog responses and none of it looked terribly legitimate to me. The thing is this: I have a biological and natural view of the world. My understanding about consciousness, which was opposed to my inclinations - is that it is an evolved adaptation that our species has in order to help us survive and reproduce. Why would that survive death? The whole idea that this organ would survive death, just because I like my brain so much, seems narcissistic and silly. My critical thinking tells me that the chance of the brain having some special otherworldly-function is so highly unlikely that it is not worth pursuing. Do you think animals brains survive death too? What about insects? Anything with a brain? What about people with Alzheimer disease, whose brains have atrophied? Do they have some other brain, their healthier brain, that survives out in the universe after they die and is just hanging in purgatory until they do?

Why do you discredit James Randi and Richard Dawkins? Those of us who admire them are admiring them because they strictly follow the scientific method and are willing to speak out about their findings and are willing to expose people who do not. This is not adulation, but respect. I can't believe you would put Randi and Sylvia Brown in the same category. They are completely different. I am suspicious of engaging with you based on that alone.

If you say your experiences with those who are dead are not able to stand up to the scientific method, then I don't know what we have to talk about. I reread the recent research on near-death experiences and I don't see anything revolutionary about it since I was reading Susan Blackmore.

Believer Michael (If you are reading this...) I just saw that you posted an answer to my question to you from a couple of days ago. I am going to read it later today and write about it tomorrow. Thanks so much for writing back. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Catholic League President: William Donohue's NYTimes Ad pleading for Diversity at Christmas.

So, this ad appeared yesterday in the New York Times"

Celebrate Diversity: Celebrate Christmas

The United States is 85 percent Christian, which means we are more Christian than India is Hindu and Israel is Jewish. Moreover, 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas. So why do we have to tippy-toe around the religious meaning of Christmas every December?

There is something sick about Friendship Trees, Winter Solstice Concerts, Holiday Parades and Holly Day Festivals. The neutering of Christmas extends to the banishment of Nativity Scenes from the public square, the expulsion of Baby Jesus from creches not otherwise forbidden, the banning of red and green at school functions, the censoring of "Silent Night" at municipal concerts, etc.

All of this madness is done even though 97 percent of Americans say they are not offended by Christmas celebrations. So as not to be misunderstood, it is important to recognize that the few who are complaining do not belong to any one religious or ethnic group - there is plenty of diversity to be found among the ranks of the disaffected. No matter, fairness dictates that their intolerance should not trump the rights of the rest of us. Diversity means respect for the traditions and heritages of all groups, not just hose which have been cherry-picked by the multicultural gurus.

To be excluded is normal. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veteran's Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Parades - they all exclude someone. The Olympic Games are a showcase of segregation - men are barred from women's sports - yet not even radical feminists call it sexist. Should all of these holidays and events be banned because some feel excluded?

By celebrating Christmas we are celebrating diversity. Don't let the cultural fascists get their way this year.

William A. Donohue, President

I thought I would post this ad and see what people thought about it.

Okay. Here's what I say: I agree with Donohue (!!!). Well, I agree that it's silly to take Jesus out of Christmas. I mean, we call it "Christ" mas, fer chrissake.

When I discussed this ad with my friend Jim Emerson (who sent it to me to begin with) he said, "Yeah, but you could also argue that the Christians took a perfectly good pagan holiday and made it about Jesus!" Which is also true.

But it kills me that Mulan can't sing any religious songs at school for Christmas. Everything is all about Santa (as if that is less religious than Jesus!) and holiday-time. Which I really hate. I love the story of Jesus' birth. A baby born in a barn, after a long trip? Born in the humblest circumstances and yet became a leader and revered? This is a great story. It's a myth, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great story. That means that if I want her to hear the Jesus birth story I have to take her to a church. Which sucks. I mean, this is the myth of our culture! Why do we have to pretend it is not?

I think it's silly to distinguish between myths-that-everyone-accepts-as-myths, being okay (i.e. Easter Bunny, Santa Claus) and the myths that people actually believe in as real (Jesus, Santa Claus...)

Plus, de-emphasising Jesus over Christmas inevitably leads to over-emphasis on Santa Claus, which means presents and THINGS and buying, etc.

So, I tossed and turned last night thinking this through. If I think Jesus is okay at Christmas, then what about crosses on government land? No. That is not okay. What about prayer in public schools? No, that is not okay. I think a moment of silence so the kids can be thankful should be part of the school day. Meditation, yes. Prayer, no. What about "under God" in the pledge? No. What about Bibles in schools? Yes! I think they should be reading the Bible and learning Bible stories along with stories from the Qur'an and everything else.

But I have to say, I really miss the story of Jesus being born in a manger. I love that story. And kids like it too, unlike, say the Fourth Of July, which is a really hard concept to understand for a little kid -- a baby being born in the barn is a fantastic story that should not be banned from the public square.

I really love that William Donohue rejects "political correctness" as well. He's right. We should be concerned with the facts and not whether those facts upset someone or not.

I listened to a speaker at a skeptic conference from Australia who said that he was amazed at all the hoopla surrounding Christmas in the states. Australia is highly secular and they sing about Jesus in school at Christmastime. Same thing in Sweden -- a highly non-believing population and they just go crazy at Christmas. The holiday lasts a month long and a lot of their celebration has to do with Jesus and the story of his birth.

Okay, I am thinking out loud here:

Maybe Easter is perfect example of my mixed feelings. I mean, the Christian Easter story: Jesus dying and then rising from the dead. Gawd - that's a great story too. It's much better then just symbols: eggs, bunnies, or concepts: fertility. On the other hand, I like all the symbols of spring at Eastertime - I like eggs and bunnies.

Maybe it's the writer in me that likes the details of the crucifixion story. It's a real story. Characters, events, surprising endings! And the bunny is just... well, a bunny. And... eggs. But in the end, when it comes to Easter, I like the religious story AND I like the symbols. But at Christmas, I think I just like the religious story the best.

But the point is, why can't it just be everything? I think it's a mistake for people like me (atheists) to argue that Jesus should not be taught and shown during Christmas in public schools. That's just the kind of thing that makes a lot of parents send their children to religious schools. I think it's a mistake not to have Jesus and a creche and the kids singing Silent Night.

When it comes to Christmas, even though it was originally a holiday with pagan roots, I like to be reminded of the story of Jesus. I think those garish Santa Claus' are creepy compared to a creche, which I think is beautiful and poignant. Maybe we should just pick 10 holidays and just go for it. Tell the whole story - whatever the story is. And just enjoy it, it's a STORY.

Well, I just thought I would throw that out there to see what people thought.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To God-Believing Michael:

(I'm not even sure anymore what's been covered in the Believing-Michael debates - but this is me throwing in my two cents...)

Earth appears to be a very rare place. Earth has conditions on which to
support life, and allow life to evolve and flourish. Lots of events
seem to have been necessary for this: a magnetic field, a moon, a
meteor bombardment at just the right time, continental drift, etc. How
did life get here? It could have been floating through space. It could
be that the chemicals to produce life occur when certain elements are
in place.

And, it could have been implanted here by a God. What do you think is more likely?

If you look back on the history of human's search for answers to natural phenomenon, each time there is a groundswell of support by the religious that it is God who did it. And the scientists say, “No, there is an answer to this.” And every time the scientists find an answer, the religious take up their fight again
on the next question that is unanswered.

So, wouldn’t it be arguable that the most likely answer to the question of how life arose on Earth is that there is some natural, scientific answer? Crick is
right, it IS miraculous (in the sense that it is has a small chance of
happening) that life arose on earth. The conditions had to be just

But we don’t even know how many chances there really are out there for life. If the Universe is as big as it appears to be, and there are as many stars as we calculate there are, and as many planets and moons and so forth, it seems that – even with an
infinitesimally small chance of life taking hold on a planet, there is
still room for that to happen.

So, wouldn’t it be more prudent to go with the conservative answer? Not leap to God, but to instead assume that life arising on earth is a natural phenomenon?

Personally I have no problems with the panspermia hypothesis. Sounds
reasonable to me. I think that the seeds of life are ubiquitous in the
Universe, and that this is a likely way that life began here on Earth.

I don’t know exactly what this has to do with God, frankly. Or more specifically, what it has to do with a God that wanted us to exist (and knows our thoughts
and feelings, cares about us individually, sent his son to die for our
sins, etc.)

Do you deny that evolution is the way that nature creates species? I can’t remember if you are a young earth creationist or not. If you accept evolution, don’t you see what a horrifying and uncaring process it is? Even if God cared about human beings, why wouldn’t God care about all the other animals that lived, struggled, and died along the way? Why would God create human beings through the method of evolution, a
process that inevitably caused inestimable heart-ache and pain for our
species, people, human beings just like us?

For example, one of the costs of humans having a large brain is that females have a hard time giving birth. Their birth canal cannot accommodate such a big
brained baby easily. Think of all the mothers with narrow hips who died
in childbirth! Millions, probably. Women who were smart and cared
deeply about their babies. But still – killed off, the horrible
by-product of evolution. Why would your God do that to these women?
What had they done to deserve this?

For me, evolution and life as a natural product of the Universe is the most conservative and reasonable answer I can give in the face of this evidence. This allows me to feel compassion for those women and feel enormously lucky that I
am not one of those women. I get to have a full life. I get the luxury
of being able to love my friends and family for a very long time. Even
if I died tomorrow, I am still the lucky recipient of being born at
just the right time to live a long life.

But what would I feel like if there were a God who decided that those women should die in childbirth and that I should not? What a horrifying, uncaring,
maniacal, diabolical creature that would be! Fortunately I do not have
to hate God. Because science has given me a reasonable answer to these
complex realities. And that is the view of earth and our Universe as a
natural landscape, filled with accidents and natural selection.

So I ask you, Michael, “Why do you believe what you believe? What is the God like that you believe in?

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 17 Books I Read Along The Way

Over about three years, as I searched my heart and soul for God, I read the following 17 books. I actually read many more books, (or parts of several more books) and I actually think I may be leaving some very significant book out. Eventually I would love to write extensively about each of these books and how they affected me and led me to the next one on the list.

But since so many people have asked for this – I thought for today I would just post this.

Remember too, my path was specific. I went from a liberally minded Catholic to an openly out atheist. So my books are particular to where I was starting from.

1. Papal Sin, Garry Wills

This book was the first time I considered the hypocrisy inherent in the priesthood – that the whole idea is that priests were supposed to be people who upheld truth as an ideal and yet just becoming a priest was a lesson in learning to lie – to their parishioners, to themselves, etc. Garry is still a Catholic, in fact his next book was called, “Why I am a Catholic.” But for me, this really made stark the inherent corrupt nature of the Catholic Church – and how deep it all went. I couldn’t really experience Catholicism again – whatever that means – after I read this book. Even though I read it while I was attending Mass regularly and rededicating myself to the Church.

2. The History Of God, by Karen Armstrong

Even though I had majored in history in college and had an educated appreciation for religious history, I had never had it served up to me – in connection with the history of worship and God – exactly like this. Karen is still a believer – she calls herself a freelance monotheist – but this book made clear the social and political and human need for God and all the ways that this has been manifested in recorded history. Reading this book eventually led me to read all of her books. I really like the ones about her personal journey, Karen was a nun for seven years and she wrote about her experience in “Through The Narrow Gate” and it’s really riveting.

3. Ken’s Guide To The Bible, Ken Smith

This slim volume is hilarious and right to the point. I used a couple of the examples of Bible ridiculousness from his book in my show. It’s really a must-have for any skeptic. At this point, I was still a believer in God, I just thought the Bible and organized religion got it all wrong.

4. The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, Ruth Hermece Green

Wow. I really wish I could have met this amazing woman before she died. The book is a little all over the place – much of the information is repeated because the book is a compilation of lots of different essays and writing about the Bible. But still, she has an uncanny ability to see through the crap and write about the Bible. And she is hysterically funny too.

5. The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman

This book was actually recommended to me by my trainer (how Hollywood!) when I told him one day how I was coming to see Bible as a terrible human distortion of history. And he responded, “More than a distortion! The whole story of the Exodus isn't even true!” Which just floored me. Really, the whole exodus story, not true? And that’s when I began to read about it and this book is the best one. And it turns out, yeah – the whole Exodus story: not true. Or rather, there is a telling lack of evidence at the archeological sites which points to the Old Testament stories’ mythological roots. This may seem obvious to many, but for me – at this time, this was revolutionary in my thinking.

6. Origin Of Species, Charles Darwin

I read this while traveling in the Galapagos and just when I had decided that God – for me – was nature. Darwin doesn’t even mention God in this book, but I did start to look at nature in a whole new way that was significant. And this book is easy and interesting to read. Plus, such a big important part of history!

7. Rock Of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Steven Jay Gould

Okay, at this point I was basically in a panic. I wanted to be able to believe in God and learn more about science at the same time. And this book seemed to offer me a way of looking at both without rejecting one or the other. Gould has this idea of science and religion being different magisterias – science explains “how” and religion explains “why.” Eventually, however, I came to understand that if the "how" obliterates the need for a "why" -- then what is the point of trying to get "why" out of religion to begin with? Why can't "why" come from myself, my community, the why's that I give my own life...? But I did like that Gould was addressing what is a big problem for most people; trying to reconcile religion and science.

8. Losing Faith In Faith, Dan Barker

This was the first personal journey story about letting go of God. I was engrossed and thrilled – I felt there was a person out there who may, possibly, be able to understand what I was going through. I still wasn’t sure I could give up on God myself, but I respected Dan Barker for standing up for what he believed in – or rather DIDN’T believe in.

9. How The Mind Works, Steven Pinker

Okay, I would call this my first real science book of my life. And it was super hard for me to read. I had begun to wonder about the mind – this amazingly complex and mysterious part of myself that made me who I was, in the deepest sense. I didn’t know how this could be explained by science and I wanted to know. I remember I was visiting London while I read this book and I spent a whole day in the hotel room reading it, slowly – slowly, underlining this and that, rereading it. I can’t say I really understood everything, but this book gave me a way to look at consciousness and brain function from a materialistic point of view.

10. Dying To Live, Near-Death Experiences, Susan Blackmore

But wait a minute! What about all those people who see God when they die and the light at the end of the tunnel and all that???????? I was kind of panicky again at this point. Susan Blackmore led the way for me to understand that those experiences that people have, all have scientific explanations. This was also the first time I really considered the idea that the “self” is a mental construct. Her theory is that the near-death experiences are a result of the breakdown of the sense of self, and how our brains are constantly trying to construct a model of reality that is acceptable to our self. Reading this book also led me to another of her books (also amazing), “In Search of the Light, Adventures of a Parapsychologist.”

11. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett

Okay, this book was really it. I wanted so badly to mention this book in my show, because in many ways it was the most significant. (This book was super-hard for me to read too. Like Pinker, this was the first real scientific look at the world from a scientist's point of view, written by a scientist. I was so glad Dennett wrote little paragraphs at the end of each chapter summarizing it! I would often reread it and then go over the chapter again, just so I got it.) Anyway, I got to somewhere in the middle, and that’s when I put the book down – walked through my backyard – and thought, “Just admit it. You can’t believe in God anymore.” Amazingly, it was the first time I really seriously considered the idea that there may not be a God out there. I put on the no-god glasses and it was frightening, exhilarating, and mind-blowing. Not to mention life-changing.

12. Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins

This is when I thought, “Wait a minute. I want to see the world like an artist. I want the beauty and poetry that looking at the world through the lens of an artist allows. But science is all technical and Dr. Spock-y. And Dawkins tackles the idea that looking at the world scientifically makes it less beautiful. He argues that it makes the world much, much more beautiful. And I think he is right. It was a beautiful book and led me to many more of his books.

13. How We Believe, Michael Shermer

This was another big book for me. Michael explains why people want to believe in God, and how they justify it to themselves. It is written clearly and plainly, but not ineloquently. I'm not sure this book should be listed earlier -- I was reading it and rereading it all along the way. I probably bought twenty or twenty five copies of this book and gave it out to people anytime anyone started to talk about God. I thought his book would be alarming and persuasive, but also easy to understand and accessible. But so far, no one's come back and t0ld me they'd been changed by the experience of reading it Also, learning about Michael Shermer led me to learn about the Skeptic’s Society in Pasadena. I started going to the lectures at Cal Tech and became friends with Michael Shermer. This gave me a whole new group of people to hang out with, a group much more in line with my own thinking about the world.

14. Tales Of The Rational, Skeptical Essays about Nature and Science, Massimo Pigliucci

I had dated a guy who was a believer in Intelligent Design (he didn't call it that, but that's what he meant) about a third of the way through my journey letting go of God. He made arguments for the existence of God based on things like the complexity of the human eye. I had no real answers for him, but this book provided them. Pigliucci is a wonderful writer and really funny too.

15. Can We Be Good Without God? Robert Buckman

This is around the time that I began to consider “ethics” as an adult, as a non-believing-in-God adult. Robert Buckman’s book is a good overview of the flaws in the idea that people need God in order to behave justly or compassionately. I also gave this book out to a few people, like Shermer’s book, I thought I would really rock some people’s world. But it didn’t seem to happen. In any case, I thought about what Buckman wrote in depth. In fact, I always think of Buckman during my show when I talk about diverse religion's similarities, "We all sure seem to worship in the same way: we recite prayers, we make sacrifices, we wear special garments, we use special objects." I think that is practically a quote from Buckman. It's a good read and I recommend it to anyone who wants to find the way to "be" without God.

16. God’s Funeral, A.N. Wilson

This is when I began to wonder how the study of philosophy dealt with the evidence against God. What is philosophy without God? I thought this book would answer that. It really didn’t – BUT, I really liked how it told the story of God and philosophy, doubt and belief, in the nineteenth century and it’s repercussions today. This book made me realize that even what we are experiencing now in our country is a tale retold over and over again in recorded history – as the waves of realization hit us over who we are and what we know about ourselves and the world. In any case, this book doesn’t really discuss modern doubt, but after I read it I realized that I was staunchly on the side of the Doubters. (Now, for turning over ideas in ethics, I read Peter Singer – but that’s another story…)

17. The Demon Haunted World, Science as a Candle In The Dark, Carl Sagan (& Ann Druyan)

This is the book that galvanized me. Activated me. Made me realize that I couldn’t keep my lack of faith to myself anymore. I had watched the "Cosmos" television series during my quest (it was out on video and available to rent at my local video store. I didn’t see it when it was first on TV. Really, I should list “Cosmos” along with all the other books because as I was reading them I was watching that Sagan's brilliant series.) After reading "The Demon Haunted World," I could see how important it was not to let the believers get too much power over those who advocate reason and secularism. I became an activist after reading this book. I also realized how important a concept and tool science itself is! After reading the chapter “Real Patriots Ask Questions” I no longer pussy-footed around the question of God or the fall out from that belief that we live with in our culture.

So there you have it, 17 books. There are so many more, too! But for right now, I will just list these seventeen.

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving by the way -- boyfriend's mother and boyfriend's brother and boyfriend all were fabulous house guests. Lots of Scrabble, jumping on trampolines, reading and eating amazing food.

I just found out that the View (where I am appearing on Tuesday next week - December 5th) they are going to give the CD/book to the audience members. am so excited about that!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The posts are fantastic! I am really into reading them. I am wondering why this is even on my blog, I am the least interesting one writing! I feel Sheldon and Norma and Mcglk have done so much in terms of answering Michael. I don’t know what more I can do. I really loved Bookeraptor’s comments about how, even framing the arguments about science as anti-God makes the discussion give more weight to the super-naturalists. I laughed really hard at the anti-Keebler elf paradigm. If you did not read this post, go back to the last one and find Bookeraptor. That is so right! It’s like the word, “atheist.” Just that word sets up the faith argument in a way that puts non-believers at a disadvantage. As I think Sheldon pointed out, Christians are also atheists about, for example, Zeus. What does atheist really mean, anyway? Mcglk, I really liked your posts in response to Michael regarding Denton.

And Norma made me laugh when she wondered whom the descendants of the New England tribes say “thanks” to, and… why? As far as my own thanks on Thanksgiving, I usually try to take a moment and think about all the effort that has gone into the meal. All the labor that has gone into the meal – not just from the preparation, but even all the ancient farmers who helped evolve the wild grasses into something that could be planted intentionally. And the animals that were bred over eons into something that could be kept and bred in captivity.

I wanted to respond to Anonymous, who wrote, “I'm angry, I'm scared, I'm overwhelmed at the realization that I can make my own decisions and run my own life without waiting for Divine Intervention, Guidance or Permission...things that I'd sometimes LIKE to have!! Julia, when things get screwed up in your life these days, where do you find comfort? Can you still feel like it'll all turn out alright in the end, or do you just hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope for the best after doing everything that's in your power to do?”

So may answer is: Yes. It is really scary. I think I don’t emphasize that enough, because I feel pressured (from myself) to make people think that being an atheist is so wonderful! And I DO feel it’s wonderful, insofar as letting go of god made me capable of such a deeper – and fuller - wonder. But it IS a cold, heartless abyss out there. And even though – if you think about it deeply – the idea of a loving, caring God is absurd (given the reality of how people’s lives are played out) and even cruel (when you think of people blaming themselves for bad luck, for example) – it is also true that accepting a cold, indifferent universe is no small pill to swallow. It’s practically unbearable. Which is why I think so few people can really do it.

I am reading “The Denial Of Death” right now by Ernest Becker. It is tough. (A poster on my blog actually recommended this book and I can’t remember who… but, thanks!) It talks about human ego, and the anxiety about death being the basis for all our heroic struggles, our wars, our tribalism, everything. For the last several years, I have been saying to myself, “Everyone is the tragic hero of their own life story.” And this book is saying much the same thing. But it’s really tough to take. It’s dark.

So, I guess what I am saying to the Anonymous that wrote to me, I guess I find comfort in a variety of things. Like, just relying on statistics is even helpful. For example, I will think (if, say, I am worrying about the outcome of safety of someone) the chances are they will be safe. Or chances are that it’s going to work out amenably to everyone. Or, chances are, even if this one thing blows up badly, in the end, people will find their way. Or, more specifically, I will find my way.

Another thing I do is that I recognize that the God I was praying to, before, was just me. I have a lot of good advice inside of me, for me. I can ask myself, my smarter – better – more rational self – what would that ME do? And I get a lot of good answers that way. Also, I acknowledge that when I prayed before, all I was really doing was “hoping.” And “hoping” is okay! I can hope! I can have a lot of hope! And that is comforting to me too.

Bookeraptor wrote something that I thought was amazing:

“Schopenhauer said something like "The world shapes itself chiefly by the way in which it is seen." Seen through the anthropocentric eyes of western theology, the world was created solely for the benefit of man, and is merely a stage on which our ultimate fate is played out. But nature as revealed to us through science is an impartial, elegant and intricate system within which man stands and falls equally with all other life, unique only in the quality of awareness and the responsibility of intelligence. Of this magnificent universe it is quite as possible to be reverent as it is to be reverent of the various intellectual constructs we have invented for man's reassurance and glorification (read, gods). If some people find their egos deflated viewing the universe in this way, others are exhilarated and find new grounds for wonder.”

I am squarely on the exhilarated side of the no-god equation. Seeing the world without relying on God has made me filled with such deeper wonder than ever before. I wouldn’t trade the comfort I used to get for that wonder.

Sometimes I think that if I were going to sue the Catholic Church, it would be for denying me the natural “wonder” that I might have had for the world for almost forty years. That’s the worst thing that religion does, it quells the natural curiosity of human beings towards their surroundings. It’s a drug that makes you feel good in the short run, but makes you pay highest price, it takes your curiosity and awe away.

Film update: after much thought this weekend, I have decided (at least for now) to shoot Letting Go of God on a stage just like I did God Said Ha! I have really, REALLY appreciated your comments. I wrote more notes in my script and it seems to work (in the version where I would do it in my own house) until I get to the second act. And then, because it’s so heavily science-driven, it seems to slow down in my mind. Whereas, when I am onstage, I think that the second act is really more dramatic and moves faster than the first act. So I want to protect that feeling. This is mostly on my gut feeling about this piece. But I think the most conservative and most reliable way to film it is like I did God Said Ha! And plus, I know how to do that. So that’s where I stand on that topic as of today, November 20, 2006.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I really appreciate your comments about how I should shoot the movie version of Letting Go Of God. It’s really having an impact on me and I am thinking about each of your ideas.

This summer, I got the chance to do about thirty minutes of my second monologue, “In the Family Way” accompanied by the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, with a new score written by the same composer who did the music for “God Said, Ha!” It was really fun to perform with an orchestra. I mean, duh.

And afterwards I kept thinking about orchestras, and chamber orchestras and choirs and the music I used for the stage version of “Letting Go of God” which is Vivaldi’s Mass in D major. And I kept thinking about – perhaps – doing a shoot with the orchestra on stage with me, almost like I’m giving the Church it’s voice back, and it’s the music that accompanies me.

Anyway, I was just thinking about that…

So anyway, I guess I just want to say that I really appreciate your opinions and ideas about how to shoot this. Right now I am favoring shooting it in my own home, but also with an audience. It would be very surreal. My house is small, but I have a backyard – a little backyard, but a backyard – and I could put in seats, on little risers, and I figured today I could probably get about sixty people back there. And so I would start the show there – and the way it would be shot, you might not really understand if it was in a theater or not. And at some point I would walk out of the backyard and into the house and the rest of the show would be a transition between areas of my house and times when I am performing in front of an audience and other times when I am clearly all alone.

And I could even have a small chamber orchestra in, say my dining room and maybe a small choir too (although I would still use the music from a full orchestra, it would be just suggested by the few musicians and singers) and they would just sort of be there, and then maybe when I walk back through the house, not be there. And I could make a makeshift church in the garage (I like that idea, that the church is in the garage!) and I could go there when I talk about being in the church and the Bible study classes and so forth. And I have a big map of the world that I used to have on the big front door of my garage that I could re-put-up, and I could go there when I talk about traveling through the east, and going to South America.

My mind is just exploding with this. I don’t know if it’s too hokey or not. And I don’t know if it’s because my daughter, Mulan, watches Pee Wee’s Playhouse incessantly and that’s inspiring me too. But I don’t know. I think I can do both, the audience and the house, surreal and real. Maybe, possibly? And all for under a million dollars?

I was thinking I could shoot a test of this with just a camera operator walking with me through the house, cut that together and see how it really looks.

We will see. It’s true that an audience in a theater adds a certain amount of energy that cannot be caught in a house all by myself. And that thought makes me want to just do it the same way I did “God Said, Ha!” Hmmm… But I have to say, that I like the idea that I invite the audience into my home, just the same way I did the Mormon boys. And it feels the most organic and right from an artistic standpoint – I mean, when I did the stage version, I created a set that basically was my living room.

When I discussed this with my friend Jim Emerson (see his blog, it is fantastic, it’s at he liked this idea and he said that he loves when movies have that sense of space and you know where you are and you can feel comfortable there. Okay, just writing that last sentence makes me think that this idea sounds obvious, but Jim was much more eloquent about it (as usual) and I agreed with him!

Anyway, I was so glad to see that the creative idea I was evolving into is shared by so many of you. I really want to try to make this surreal both-in-the-theater, and-at-home shooting thing work.

OK. Enough of that.

All day I thought about science being anti-God or not. And I think I have to revise my answer. Because I came at it from a different point of view. I put on my belief-hat and I asked myself that question from the person I was before, when I was a believer. And I would have answered sort of like Anonymous suggested: that there was a God, but it wasn’t a super-natural force, it was natural. But it was an intelligence and had consciousness and was able to know about us, human beings. And THIS is what I would think that science was biased against.

Of course, at that time, I really didn’t understand science. But, if I did, that’s what I would have thought. And then when I read the blog posts I saw that Anonymous wrote (see I have no idea which Anonymous is which) basically the same thing I was getting back to. Anonymous wrote and suggested that God could be a schoolteacher watching his class, dispassionately, play around and try to learn about the world.

And yes. I think that when believers think that science is anti-God, they aren’t thinking of God as supernatural, they are thinking God is natural, a natural Something that instigated the Universe and watches over us.

And that is sort of Deism. And I remember, that was my last great hope – I was going to be a Deist. It made sense to me that some intelligence started this whole thing, and then set back and since it was clear to me that this intelligence didn’t intervene in our affairs or affected anything, I just saw It as this passive presence. And I mentioned this idea to Vic Stenger – this physicist who has written extensively, and he said. “Yes, that could be true. But it sure doesn’t have to be. And why would it be? And wouldn’t it be much more likely that we would, as narcissistic as us humans are, come up with that idea because that idea is so agreeable to us?”

And then I thought about evolution, how cruel and horrifying evolution really is. And then I thought, what is the difference between no-god and a god that does nothing? And why would I elevate consciousness above anything other than an adaptation that our species inherited that allows us some advantage in our reproduction and survival problems.

And then I just had to let go of the whole thing. I guess I am only slightly revising my answer. Science is not anti-God, unless God is defined as a Supernatural power that can change the laws of nature. This does not seem to be a very helpful idea in science. It basically just says, "Anything is possible." But I think most people think that God is a part of nature. Not supernatural. I mean, I didn't think of God as supernatural. But then, I didn't understand what supernatural was any more than I understood what nature was.

I mean, I think for me, the problem is – that even though, as Pontifica wrote (which I am so thankful by the way) and quoted the Salon article, “The God that people like Dawkins reject is a God very few people believe in.” And yes, I would say that is true. I think most people were like the way I was. And that means I didn’t really define who God was, and I just had this vague sense of love and direction and fate and the world seemed, on the surface, to be designed.

But when you start to define God, that’s when it gets tricky. That’s when God disappears, because he is impossible to define. Now, my old self would think that was a compliment. Yes, yes, God is so elusive, he is beyond description. But now I think that is just a cop-out. And that people who believe in God like that (which is, in my world, everyone!) just haven’t sat down and thought about it deeply. Because when you think about it deeply, it is very hard to keep God alive in any sense.

Okay, I’ve already written too much and I have to get off to the grocery store to buy Thanksgiving supplies! But I wanted to write to Pontifica about the ghosts – there are lots of books about this, but the bottom line is that it is amazing what people can “imagine” together. People are naturally coerced into a collective agreement over experience, especially families. It seems to me, much more likely than there actually being a ghost, that the family conjured this idea of a ghost up for themselves and then agreed on the sounds and feelings. This isn’t really conscious on their part. I think it’s just something we all naturally do.

I did the CNN interview. It was really short. I wanted to make a point that Atheism is not a faith (that was a really good comment by the way, and I really wanted to say that) but I didn’t get a chance. He asked me, like, three questions. How can I be moral without God? How could a good Catholic girl like me become an atheist? And I forget the last question – oh yeah. What do I want people to get out of my show, am I trying to proselytize?

I always get that last question. As if they are saying, “You are as bad as all the rest!” And I have such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am simply telling my story. On the other hand, I am actually making my case. I dunno.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Oh. Oh. I almost hate to post a blog entry because the discussion is really getting so interesting. I am enthralled with each entry. Carl – your story made me well up. Yes, it’s true. Atheism has nothing to say about how to cope with life. And you are so right, when you lose a loved one and are surrounded by people who try to comfort you by telling you that you will see the recently deceased again one day… it’s just a big old reminder that you aren’t.

And Michael – the person who wrote that science is anti-God. Yes, it is. You are right. It’s anti-God. Many others said the same thing. Science has a bias against evidence that cannot be tested. And since most people define God in a way as to make him, her, or whoever completely Un-testable, then God is not a good solution to scientists.

And so, in that sense, you could argue that science is anti-God. Of course there are scientists who believe in God and the ones that I respect (I am thinking of Martin Gardner) insist that their faith is completely private (and I think he even has admitted that his faith is for his own comfort, nothing more - he won't define his God or debate about it) and people like him don't even try to do silly things like argue against evolution or try to prove a 6,000 year old world, or that there is something called a quantum consciousness. They just have their faith. And it's private. And they don't insist that other people have their faith and they agree that science and secularism are the best ways through which to govern and exist in society.

Imagine if Copernicus had just accepted that the earth was flat because that’s what it said in the Bible. Any scientific advance necessarily discounts a supernatural answer. Because then that’s the end of the inquiry. God did it. End of story. And yet, this computer that I am writing on right this minute, is a product developed persons who dared to think further and experiment more and wonder deeper than the limited worldview that belief in God and compliance with a religious text might have instilled in them.

I say to Michael, just try and think of it. Just try to. Imagine we are right and you are wrong. Now I say this because I spent so many years thinking scientists were wrong and religion was right.

So I say to you, just sit and think about it. A species like ours, lurching – careening – bumbling into existence, in a world with a million, a billion possible outcomes. Here we humans come, oozing up out of the earth right along with the caterpillars and worms and bats and whatever existed at that moment. Imagine all the accidents – the asteroids destroying so much, the climate change, the deforestation, the flooding, supervolcanoes and wandering continents and magnetic fields switching up and back – all the species that died off that inadvertently benefited us, all of that – and here we are. Dominion over the earth – and not pre-ordained by God, but by pluck and luck and the virtues of natural selection and time and evolution – here we are.

And we have these brains that can figure out so much, and we are chock full of wonder and ability as well as violence and hate and jealousy. And we populate the earth, we over-populate it! Our success will, surely, participate in our ultimate demise – and yet here we are – you and me. Aware that the earth is round and that our solar system is about 6 billion years old. And we can’t even think about time that long because our puny little minds only evolved to be able to really appreciate about a hundred years or so. And here we are for this glorious moment, looking back at the Universe, blinking.

And then gone again and who knows what other species will evolve after us or if there will be an enormous asteroid plunging into us tomorrow. Or if we will extinct ourselves because of our violence that seems to be inexplicably, and intrinsically intertwined with a species’ intelligence (Dolphins, turns out they aren’t all so sweet as Flipper…)

But I ask you Michael, just let yourself imagine that we are right. Now, I know you will go right back to your other way of thinking. And I know that I would march to the Capital by foot to defend your right to believe anything you want to (in the privacy of your own home). But imagine that we are right for just a moment.

What a magnificent moment! How terrifying! How exhilarating! How tragic! How beautiful and poignant! Here we are, a little field of flowers and who knows when we’ll get plowed over and if the right insects will come and pollinate us.

And we know this because of this method – this crazy simple, but mind-bogglingly difficult method – the scientific method. And this method requires of us to stand up taller, distance ourselves from our feelings for just a moment, pull the camera back so we can see where we are standing when we face this evidence and then with tough, accepting eyes – take in the answer. To me, that is science at it’s best. And of course there are a zillion mistakes and missteps in this endeavor because we are simply humans and we are full to the eyebrows with emotions that cloud our perspective and our competitiveness and our desire to imprint our own expectations on the evidence. Of course! But science, when it’s done right – attempts to take the most honorable road. Even when that road offers us no comfort, and in fact makes the world much starker and more difficult to swallow.

I listened with some interest in the meeting of the American Bishops in Baltimore. And they started their weekend (which came to some announcements about homosexuality and the Church, more in a minute) with a shared reading that reminded us of god’s grant to humans, dominion over the earth. And I thought: that’s the problem right there! Dominion over the earth. Dominion. That arrogance!

But then I thought, but they are right. The outcome I mean. We have dominion over the earth. We are causing the sixth great extinction right now. And who cares if it was the Bible who told people or if we just evolved into this position of power and vulnerability. But we DO have dominion over the earth. And we are not handling our dominion particularly well.

And then the Church made an announcement that it was perfectly all right to be gay and Catholic as long as you agreed that acting on your sexuality (if you are gay) is sinful and wrong and heinous. And that it’s the actions that are bad, not the person. It’s just… something inside you that God put in you that makes you want to do things that are… bad, bad, bad. But don’t worry, that’s not YOU. That’s just God testing you.

ARGH. It just makes you wonder how that church even can continue at all.

In other news: I am doing a CNN interview tomorrow that is supposed to air Sunday morning on the CNN news. This segment is on faith and I am the subject of this week’s story. I did a pre-interview this morning and I go to tape tomorrow morning. The man who interviewed me today said he was shocked I was willing to say I was an atheist and that his friend told him not to even talk to me because I didn’t believe in God. Even though, this man was perfectly wonderful to talk to. I think, mostly, that people don’t understand why you are good if you don’t believe in God. It always amazes me that people think that if they didn’t have God to answer to, they would just bust out and do all kinds of unlawful and immoral things. It’s as if they, themselves, don’t understand why they behave well.

I am gearing up to shoot the movie in February, probably mid February. There is a raging debate going on in my mind about whether to shoot the show in a theater with an audience, like I did God Said Ha! Or film it all in my own home, me talking right to the camera, like the audience is a visitor. I go back and forth all the time over what is right.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I want to just write a long, long entry responding to everyone’s responses! But I cannot, at least tonight. I am so tired. I can barely see straight. I have been doing spelling drills with Mulan and all I can say is T-h-a-n-k-s-g-i-v-i-n-g.

Last Thanksgiving we flew to New York from Los Angeles, and left purposefully at two in the afternoon. The Thanksgiving before that, we were in Spokane with my mother as she got two knee replacements the day before Turkey-day – by the way: turkey, t-u-r-k-e-y. And this Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and his brother and his mother are coming here. I am way looking forward to it.

Oh, Oh – GAWD, I can’t even get started. Even though I want to, I want to. I want to respond to the Christian person who wrote that about his objections to using science to find truth, and that it science has an anti-God bias. I think a lot of people think that. I used to think that too – those poor scientists who can only use numbers and facts to make sense of the Universe.

I was really glad that Pontifica wrote back. I still disagree with much of what you are suggesting you may be entertaining as your point of view. But I really, really think it’s awesome that you are even reading my blog and the comments at all! I very much appreciate that.

Mulan lost a tooth today. Now she doesn’t have either of her two front teeth. (There's a Christmas song I think we have to learn!) Anyway, I have to go play tooth fairy. (I think the Tooth Fairy and Santa are okay. I think you can participate in elaborate fantasies with your child as long as you expect them to outgrow them by age... 12 - at the latest)

I am bleary eyed and heading for bed. I will write tomorrow.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I just got home from two three-quarter-days at Disneyland. Last night was all California Adventure Park and today, all Disneyland. It’s already all decked out for Christmas, and holiday carols are heard throughout the park. Christmas trees and Santa Claus are everywhere. The crowds were enormous, throngs of people just trying to get from one side of a pathway to the other. The waits weren’t so bad, mostly because I had younger children too afraid to see Pirates of the Caribbean, and we mostly went on things like Autotopia and the spinning teacups.

Today - Frances, my assistant/nanny, who came along, had an idea where each child got to pick one favorite ride and we all just followed that clear agenda (that meant six rides; four children and the two of us.) My favorite: The Tiki Room, OF COURSE. I can’t help but get all choked up in that room. And even though it uses technology from 1963 (as the MC told us at the beginning, like he was warning the younger ones that it would be archaic and hokey) to me it was as enchanting as anything else there. The worst moment of the day was waiting for an hour in the sun just so we could order lunch. But otherwise, a good time was had by all.

Okay, I am so thrilled with all the posts to my blog! Wow. I wish I could respond to every entry. I thought all day yesterday AND today about Anonymous’ comment, the first one. He or she wrote:

“If I get pleasure or comfort from my religious faith, logic is not likely to change me. Why, because the "pain" of self-deception is less that the perceived or real pain of facing reality. I think it's only when life throws us a "sucker-punch from god" (the seminal event I mentioned in the email) that the pain of continuing to embrace our faith exceeds the pain of abandoning our faith.”

Yes! Wow, I thought about that so much. Even though that wasn’t what it was for me, in terms of God. I really just learned way too much about science to keep leaning on the vague crutch I had, the political correctness I enjoyed, the culture I dipped into. It was truly an intellectual crisis where I really felt I had to choose between my mind and my learned reflex of belief.

But in terms of the pain/change equation, what about people who have, like… their children die? And this horrible event is what makes them stop believing in God. That seems to have been a contributing factor for Darwin. I mean, supposedly, their faith in God is something that would be quite comforting in that moment. Hmmm…

I guess in that sense, their loss of faith is like mine, that you just can’t be comforted anymore by something that makes so little sense. It’s just mine didn’t involve a crisis like that one. I mean, actually I did have a crisis, and I believed that God comforted me. And then, I analyzing that comforting made me Uncomfortable. It embarrassed me. It didn’t make sense to me.

But I didn’t really think about this comment, this statement of fact by Anonymous, in terms of God. I was thinking about pain=change comment in terms of everything else! How this applies to almost anything – and how there are things I want to change about myself – habits, behaviors, I mean nothing gigantic, but still. And I wandered around Disneyland thinking, “When will the pain of behaving in the way I have been be bad enough that the pain of changing the behavior be less painful?”

It’s so elementary, but so potent – just thinking about things like that. Really – it applies to my inability to organize the papers on my desk or to stop over-scheduling myself or exercise or anything, just anything. Pain is such a great and useful and wonderful thing. The pain of frustration is such a powerful motivator. But not always the motivator I wish it were.

I am really appreciative of all the posts about the second law of thermodynamics. I do understand it better now. And Dan in the U.K. talking about the faithful fogging up their arguments so quickly! Yes, I find that too. It’s laziness – it’ such slutty-ness in thinking. They will quickly move from one argument to the next, without fully understanding what they are throwing out and not caring that the second or third argument they serve up is contradictory to the one before it.

But whom I want to address right now, and really only for my own practice really, is Pontifica, another person who wrote a response to my blog. I am going to break apart her post and answer it piece by piece.

Pontifica writes:

“This specious binary opposition (God or Not God, faith or science) neglects the very many people who can unproblematically get behind both. Not all "Christians" believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance. There are many shades of spirituality.”

You are saying a lot of different things with those first three sentences. First of all, yes, you are right. There are millions of people who say they “believe” in science and in God. It is my opinion that most or nearly all of those people haven’t looked into either God or science very far. I was raised by people like this: well educated Jesuits who could debate with you with word games long into the night, doctors at the hospital who prayed with their patients before heart surgeries. These are the people who raised me. Well-educated, intelligent, mainstreamed – not fundamentalists or survivalists – smart people who had professions that required them to be at a high level of knowledge.

And yet, it is my experience that very few of them – including the Jesuits, I am so sorry to report – had really thought about the real cold hard chilly probably truth about the existence of a loving God and very few of them understood the nature of science. The doctors knew a lot of facts – they could use those facts to help people. So did the priests. But they were traders in bits of knowledge. Not people who thought deeply about the theory behind it or the implications of their belief or knowledge as it applied to God. Or even people (like the priests) who were capable of or inclined to confront the likely truth about what their faith was really based on. How that evidence stood up to the standards of good evidence. How what we all know about psychology and human behavior made the invention of God inevitable – or at least much more likely – than their Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Because, as Anonymous so rightly pointed out: what was in it for them to let their minds confront this? There would be too much pain in it, and for what? So they could become atheists – the most reviled group in America? A group that association with makes them unable to be elected to office? Un-trustable? They would be out of step with their culture. They would be out of their religion, the religion they loved. They would not be able to call upon God in times of crisis. They would not be able to let a vague sense that the world was in some way pre-ordained (the poor, the unjustly punished, etc.) allow them to look the other way. (And think about it. People who are attracted to the priesthood are attracted, probably, partially because they enjoy the "trust" that this job gives them. They like being this symbol of trust to a community. Why would they do something that would jepardize this -- just so that a few, a very few people who HAVE thought this through would have more admiration for them?)

There is SO MUCH that not-really-thinking-it-through provides. There is a big gigantic incentive not to look at this stuff deeply. The facts are profoundly unsettling. Our vulnerability, in this spinning world without God, is frightening. Denial of our vulnerability is necessary on some level, just to get through the day. Religion offers us that denial, it gives us so much. It’s perfectly reasonable that people feel they can accept religion and science. But that doesn’t make them compatible or meant that the person really understands either line of thinking very deeply.

Then, when you say that people have “many shades of spirituality.” I really don’t like that you throw that sentence in there. What do you mean by spirituality? A sense of wonder and connection to the material universe? That’s what I feel. I think the feelings I feel when I contemplate myself as a living, breathing, temporary piece of matter to be deeply profound. Profound in a way that most people would call it spiritual. The word spiritual is used to mean so many things that it’s really wrong to label a person who doesn’t believe in God as a person who is not “spiritual” in the way that you mean “spiritual.” I try not to use that word, in order not to be confusing. But the experiences I have, the feelings I have, the connections I feel, are all things that I would have used the word “spiritual” to describe before I became careful about the words I used.

Pontifica continues:

“ I find it reductive and insulting to paint all people who believe or have faith in a force greater than our little, temporary, individual selves as stupid, weak, and unable or unwilling to let go of a crutch.”

What you are saying, when you make a statement like that, is that people who don’t have faith are people that have an overly inflated view of human intelligence, and in particular, their own human intelligence. You are basically saying that people who believe in God are people who are humble, and see that humans are small and limited in awareness. But the truth is that the opposite is really true. People who believe in God are people who think that their limited ability to intuit truth should take precedence over a concillience of evidence pointing in another direction: towards a world that evolved without the help of a God, without the intervention of God, and without the guidance of God.

Pontifica: “If you don't believe in god (and believe me, many Christians and other people of faith don't believe in a vengeful, bearded guy passing judgments and thunderbolts from a pink cloud either), it doesn't somehow make you smarter than and superior to those who do. I truly admire you, Julia, and yet I seem to pick up that this is really what you and your atheist friends think.”

This is a hard one. It really falls under the heading of an ad hominum attack. I mean, I don’t think it necessarily makes me smarter. I think I am right about this. I think I am right that there is no God. I may be wrong. Or I may be not as smart as you in a hundred different areas. Or maybe I’m right. But this kind of stinging statement is made so that a person is humbled, and fearful that others think that “they” think they are smart. I think it’s insufferable to be around know-it-alls or people who have an inflated sense of their own intelligence, just like anyone is. I think it’s really beside the point. And this kind of remark is made to let the person know that if they come off sounding like they think they are so smart, others won’t like them. What does that prove? Maybe they are smarter. Maybe they aren’t smarter, but they are right! Maybe the smarter people are wrong. What difference does that make? I’m not sure. I just hate statements like that.

Pontifica continues: "This seems just as wrongheaded as the so-called religious right (which is just about as un-Christian a bunch of villains as you could hope to find) claiming that anyone not in lockstep with their worldview is going to hell."

Why do you think the religious right is un-Christian? Jesus said in Matthew, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus told parables where he asked people to bring those that did not have allegiance to him and slaughter them. That is Christianity. Granted, there are a lot of admirable, or loving things that Jesus said too. The point is that… well, what is Christian anyway? I was brought up on what I consider to be the best type of Christianity – the Jimmy Carter – Vatican II type of Christianity of my Jesuit high school. I loved their view of the world and their call to social action. I liked what kind of social movements they were part of in Central America. They felt their worldview was inspired by Jesus. So do the fundamentalists who would happily see me burn to death in a rapture. Who is Christian? All of them, or none of them. The bible gives you a smorgasbord of views, a Jesus that is a character that could say wildly divergent things – a hodgepodge of views. Movements pick and choose based on what they want their church or personal view to be. Who is right? How can you say what is right when it’s a mythical character (most likely) who has had a stew of ingredients thrown into his character profile. Christianity can be anything and still be Christian as far as I can tell, after reading the Bible.

Pontifica: “You can't prove that god, or, let's say, an eternal force of love and creative intelligence of which we are all a part, perhaps, doesn't exist - any more than you can prove that it does. So if you're an atheist, you're just like every single other person on the planet: someone with a theory. No more, no less, no smarter and no dumber. Maybe we should all label ourselves agnostics. Because no one knows!”

Yes, yes. I can’t prove that there isn’t a purple dinosaur in my garage either (to use the classic analogy). I mean, the dinosaur is invisible, so I can’t see him. But is he there? You can’t prove a negative! Well, yes, you are right. I can’t definitively prove that the invisible purple dinosaur is not there. But I would say that the probability that the dinosaur is not there is really high. I am going to conduct my life under the most likely scenario – that the purple dinosaur is not in the garage. I think that makes me smarter. Yes, I should – technically – be agnostic about the existence of the invisible purple dinosaur, but then I might be afraid to enter the garage – not committing to any one view on whether the dinasaur exists. And that makes my life very limited. Because my garage has lots of space that I can use! Blah, blah, blah. I can’t go on. I just had to take a stab at that one.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What joy. What a great day yesterday was. I was filled with glee and optimism. What a stunning reversal. It’s the happiest Election Day I have had in recent memory.

My television, which has been out for longer than three months, and then got fixed last week, only to go out again when I tried to turn it on, on Tuesday night, frustrated my desire to watch Jon Stewart and Fox news (so I could gloat.) So I was reduced to using my computer, which I was constantly updating, on the New York Times site. And calling my friend Smartypants so he could tell me what he was watching.

It all seems too good to be true! And yet, it is. I mean, things will inevitably get screwed up – but not as screwed up as they might have been. In any case, I am feeling unrestricted joy.

I shot this Yahoo thing all day yesterday (me doing little one minute bits about parenting and other thoughts about life) and I am wiped out and I am not very articulate right now. Later today Mulan and I are going to Disneyland with three of her friends and staying overnight. We will be at the Disney parade tonight and at the doors at the park opens tomorrow. I am sort of excited about going. And also looking forward to it being over at the same time.

Oh, I will say that I got into a semi-debate yesterday with a person I met recently and who happened to be at this Yahoo shoot. I like her a lot. But we disagree on the subject of God.

Her arguments were in a typical range – that atheism was a “faith” like belief in God was a “faith.” And that my “faith” was stronger - or maybe she meant required a bigger leap -than her “faith” in God. I never quite get that argument. It’s like the person is denigrating their own faith as “Faith” – for being so flimsy as “faith” at the same they’re accusing you of having something you don’t think you have.

I was reminded of the James Randi quote that goes something like, “Atheism is a faith like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Oh that line gives me such joy. I don’t get to use it often. Even though, what I actually think he said was, “Atheism is a belief like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Then she moved onto the second law of thermodynamics. And that this law shows that matter should move towards chaos, not towards cohesion. I am paraphrasing her own definition of it. Although that part is correct, about matter and cohesion over time, I don’t think she understood really thoroughly what the second law of thermodynamics was, frankly. (I don’t fully understand it either – but I know it’s not relevant to where a God existing is likely or unlikely.)

But when that argument is used by believers it goes something like, “Science shows us that matter should not stick together and that over time it moves away from complexity towards simplicity. But look at the world around us; it is filled with complex beings and things. This is not explainable. God must have done it.”

I need to get better and making my case in regards to this argument. I tried to explain how that law was uniform on a macro level, not a micro level. Or that entropy will increase, but only over time and in the meantime, we can – well, exist. Things can have mass. And then I scrambled to figure out the best way to articulate how that scientific law affects us, and does not contradict our existence. But already even with this (and I was not doing a good job) I felt I’d lost her.

I always end up sounding like the eager science professor when I get into these discussions. And I can see that the person I’m talking to has already lost interest in what I’m saying. And usually they move to something emotional immediately – something that is, for them, outside the arena of science. They say something like, “The world cannot be explained just by using science, I like to feel things, I am a feeling person.” I guess implying that I am not a feeling person. And that only someone in touch with their feelings could understand that God exists.

Now I am feeling badly writing this because this woman is truly likeable and she was not trying to argue with me, and in fact, the producer of my Yahoo shoot really wanted us to get together and watch us have a conversation and we were really not trying to have an argument, and yet, I found so much to be desired from her way of thinking that I couldn’t stop – probably long after I should have – trying to explain myself.

The other way the “feeling” argument can go – this is what my mother resorts to, and in fact what this woman in particular resorted to – and that is, “I just cannot live without feeling that this connection to God is real and I just can’t even contemplate letting it go, because I need to believe.”

Then, I really don’t know what I can say to that. I WANT to say something like, “Well, I might feel I need to believe that I am a Super Hero that can stop a meteorite from slamming into the earth. But… the truth is… I am not.” But I don’t because that would sound condescending. And plus, to me – all bets are off at that point. To me, that’s like saying, “I don’t care about reality.” What kind of conversation can you have with a person who has that opinion?

I did end up making a argument about how human beings have these feelings and intuitions about how the world works that were useful when we lived in an ancestral environment, but now we live in a different world where we can gather information and test it. And that even though it’s probably instinctive to believe that the world is flat – I mean, the sun rises in the east – it sets in the west, the land seems relatively flat as we walk along it – that we know the world is in fact not flat. We know this because all kinds of evidence presented itself and made us look at the earth in a new way – one that is not one we could have gotten from feelings and from casual observations.

But by then I think everyone wanted me to just shut up, including me! Agh. I want to get better at this.

I ended the night with several people from Yahoo sharing a few bottles of wine around the outdoor dining table, and eating cheese and crackers. We all lamented about Hilary Clinton, our great hope – and how she has revealed herself to be a person of so much less integrity and so much more political ambition than we had realized. And how could she be going to those prayer meetings and how could she have supported this war? And how now she is just the person we’d like to begin rallying around for President, except that – too bad, reluctantly but truthfully, we all don’t really like her anymore.

However, we all agreed we would support her if the alternatives were worse.

Off to Disneyland.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I am voting. I am going to be watching. I am going to be interested. I am going to be hopeful. That is my day today. Along with…

Today I don’t have that much to say, except that I love Norma Blum and Smartypants and Sheldon, of course.

And Big Daddy is seriously trying to put me on with his story about impregnating women. I think he is trying to impersonate someone with a scientific Darwinian view of life and to him that makes him think that impregnating as many women as possible is the logical conclusion to that worldview and how do I like that? Or something. In any case, it made me laugh, so I guess that’s okay. If he’s in any way serious, he should have read “The Moral Animal” by Robert Wright.

What I am currently reading: It may sound silly, but I am going to bed reading “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff With Your Family – Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life.” (Pretty titillating, huh?) I can be a real fan of some of these types of self-help books. I loved “Simplify Your Life” – the even simpler version of “Don’t Sweat, etc.” I actually followed some of the advice in the book. More than that, I thought about it.

Also I just read Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” I got it at the airport and read it in a couple of hours on the plane. It’s only 137 pages! I really like Nora Ephron’s writing much more than her movies. When “When Harry Met Sally” came out, I absolutely hated it. I hated it so much. I couldn’t stop telling people how much I hated that movie. I hated the way Meg Ryan behaved. I hated the throwing of the tissues in the air and the overacting. I felt that they were all trying to be so sophisticated but they really weren’t. I found it insufferable.

But then, over Christmas last year, it was on TV. And while I was killing time at my mother’s condo, I re-watched it. And it was so much better than I remembered it! Sure, there were cheesy parts – lots of them. But I didn’t know why I loathed that movie so much, before. Maybe I’m getting older and I’m not so judgmental about contemporary romantic comedies the way I used to be. Anyway, “I Feel Bad About My Neck” is breezy and funny and unexpectedly poignant. The best chapter in it, I think, is the one about her apartment in New York at the Apthorp. And how she eventually moved. I read it in the New Yorker, I think – a while ago. Anyway, that essay is in this collection as well and it’s really even better the second time around.

My favorite magazine right now is: Seed. It’s glossy, it’s a science magazine, and the layout is fantastic. It’s going to be my Christmas gift this year. E.O. Wilson is on this month's cover. He's trying to bring the religious right together with the environmentalists to get them to work together. I have read some evidence that there is some alignment. I still don't know what I think about that yet. I guess, if it get's people to behave differently towards their environment and actually take the future seriously, I am for it.

There is also an article in this last issue of Seed about creationists in Turkey. There is a creationist museum, and there is a lot of fighting about irreducible complexity, and how a scientific worldview is what leads to violence and fascism. Here’s a excerpt from the article:

Terrorists, according to Oktar, are "social Darwinists hiding under the cloak of religion," while communists, still active in Turkey, are in "bloody alliance" with Darwinism. "Evolution is a communist and fascist belief," offers Tarkan Yavas, BAV's president. "The Muslim community understands that now."

Oh jeez. It’s so important that evolutionary psychology be understood. And how everything falls under “Darwinism” – not just violence, but everything else too; love, community, altruism, sacrifice for others. People, in general, don’t understand that you can be good without God.

Daniel Dennett, the last time I saw him, said that this is the one thing he wished the typical, average person who might not think through ethics and morality and religion understood: You can be good without God.

Tomorrow I am doing a shoot for Yahoo – eight little comedy bits for their “Lifestyles” webpage about parenting. My assistant, Frances’ mother has a friend with a horse ranch in Wyoming. I’m thinking what a wonderful environment that would make for Arden, my dog. I mean, I’m just thinkin’.

Monday, November 06, 2006

While I was away, I watched an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” His guests were Alec Baldwin, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, and AB Stoddard. One of the topics brought up was about Haggard and then, the gay marriage movement.

On the one hand, Jack Kingston just kept saying that it’s not right for marriage to include other than one man and one woman. And children need a mother and a father. And that almost a million children were born out of wedlock, and how sad that was. Then, Alec Baldwin had some angle where he said that if Republicans were against gay marriage because you needed a man and a woman to procreate, what did they have to say about heterosexual marriages where they couldn’t have a child and then adopted? Were their marriages and families just as unnatural and should they be unlawful?

Then Bill Maher said that just because there were almost a million unwed births that didn’t mean that the parents weren’t there to be parents. Maybe they didn’t want to formalize their union with a legal document, but still intended to be participating parents. And that he never married because he didn’t want the government in his bedroom or something like that.

This is where Maher’s libertarian streak just pisses me off. And then, I also felt that Alec was just making intellectual arguing points and missing the real issue. The real issue is that a high level of parental investment IS better for kids. Children do better when more adults invest in their futures – not just in terms of money, of course, but in concern, time, setting examples and so forth. And children born out of wedlock (which, incidentally has nothing to do with gay marriage – it was kind of hilarious, although understandable, that they were conflating these things – or rather, that Jack Kingston was) do tend to have less parental investment than children born to two committed parents. (I think Maher’s point, that the parents were committed, but not legally binding their union was sort of silly. If there are a million unwed births, a small percentage of them are in situations like the one that Maher was describing.)

Of course it makes no difference who those two committed parents are – and that they are even biological parents. In any case, marriage is good for a society in that it corrals, legally and publicly, the responsibility of two people towards offspring. I mean, the whole reason that natural selection selected for parental love was so that the child had better odds of making it. And while everyone knows there are lots of examples of shitty parents even though they’re married, in general, children are better off having two people to look out for them. And in that sense, Kingston is right, it’s just better for kids to have two parents and out of wedlock babies, in general, don’t have it as good. They do not do as well at school (in general), their home life is less secure and insulated from disaster, etc. Plus, if the parents are not legally committed to each other in terms of raising the child, the chance for other adults getting mixed into the family is higher – like new fathers, etc. And children raised by people other than their natural parents are at a higher risk for neglect. There are ways that nature can trick us (I mean, trick us in a good way) – like me, for example. I feel as attached and responsible for my daughter as if I were her biological mother.

So that’s when I thought all three of them were missing the real issue. The real issue is creating the best environment for children to grow up. (Peronsally I don't understand why people even get married unless it is for raising kids together -- or for insurance purposes, or because parties with special outfits are fun.) And anyway, the best environment for child-raising includes two or more committed adults to the welfare of that child or those children. And it means a family having enough money so that time can be devoted to that child. And that means that raising the minimum wage, and using tax laws to lessen the inequity between the rich and poor – laws like that (as opposed to opposing gay marriage) does MUCH more to create an environment that makes children better off and parents more likely to stay together. When families are terribly poor, father’s often, under the burden of being unable to provide for the family, have a greater incentive to just abandon it - or to have to travel far and wide to find a job, which can create further instability. And when families are very very rich, the ability of a father to leave and just start another family is higher too. Or for the mother to toss the father out because the greater income (from her OR him) allows for two independant households. So big differences in income in society is not good for keeping families intact, on both ends of the spectrum.

In that sense the Republican family values agenda is horrible. It penalizes the very people they are trying to protect, the children.

When I adopted my daughter, I was militant about the fact that I had the right to do so as an individual. And I think I’m doing a good job and blah blah blah. But now that I am truly in the trenches – even as a relatively high-income earner with a flexible job that allows me to be pretty full time in mothering Mulan – even though I am in that category – I think I was ridiculously naïve that I could handle this all myself. I think kids need – or rather, they are better off – having two parents and an extended family around them. I am now totally in favor of tribes. I want to be in a tribe! It’s so much better for everyone! Now I look at everything from the harsh, wide-eyed view of the vulnerabilities of our life – how everything can change in an instant. How easily people can die, for example. And having two parents who are hands on insures a child a little bit against that horrifying possibility. So in that sense, the Republican Representative is right – marriage, in so far that it’s two people committing to a child, makes the child better off. And that is something, that as a society, we should be pushing for, and certainly (like people opposed to gay marriage) not trying to legislate against.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back in 1999, when I was watching the movie, “American Beauty,” I almost let out an audible – “Oh, come on!” in the theater when the homophobic Chris Cooper character admits that he himself is gay at the end.

I mean, if I were teaching a screenwriting class and my student had turned this script in, I would say – that is way too much of a cliché – the homophobe turns out to be… gay! It’s so one-dimensional; it’s a cartoon character. And while I’m sure there are SOME outspoken homophobic men out there who are actually gay, I think there are a whole lot more outspoken homophobic men out there who just don’t have a clue. They aren’t gay; they are just unsocialized and small-minded. And this stereotype is just that, an enormous over used cliché.

And now here we have that cliché prancing around us, with Haggard. OH MY GOD. It’s too good to be true. And yet, here it is, TRUE. Oh! I am so giddy. And yes, I hope that Richard Dawkins is lifting a nice glass of bubbly in the air. This guy is so reprehensible! He was also featured in “Jesus Camp.” That movie is even creepier now.

It’s so obvious that when we make some behavior absolutely taboo, we tend to fetishize it. This is like, SEX 101. So while I think it’s an overused stereotype – the closeted preacher, it is also everywhere! I just hate that people like Haggard and Foley fall into self-hate so quickly (and in Foley’s case, blame.) If they derive pleasure from having sex with people of their own gender, it’s not hateful. They aren’t in “sin.”

And it’s so tricky, because the progressives just want to heap disgust and anger on the person, not for being gay but for being such hypocrites. But it’s obvious that the person themselves, who has been set up for this naughty-boy, self-hatred by their screwed up church, takes the criticism as if it’s about the sex act itself, not the fact that they were penalizing others who had the same tendencies. They don’t seem to get it – it’s not about being gay, it’s about lying about it. And I fear that the message American’s get is: being gay means being fucked up. When it doesn’t. Only if you are lying about it and, oh – yes, in this case, advising the president about legislation in regards to it. THAT’s when it’s morally reprehensible.

And the cycle continues, I’m good – I’m bad, I’m clean, I’m dirty. It’s so depressing!

This is what I don’t get. When I see people on television, like Bush – like Haggard – they seem to be so obviously reacting to some deep screwed up personal issues. Their facial expressions, the way they get heated up and testy over the smallest things. I’m not saying Bush’s thing is sexual – I actually think his problems are so much deeper and more twisted than that – but to me, is just so… OBVIOUS. And come on, aren’t we supposed to be social animals that have evolved a keen ability to detect insincerity in others? And yet all these people voted for Bush because they “trusted” him more - they “liked” him more. And the same with Haggard – when I saw him in “Jesus Camp” or in the Dawkins BBC show – or even when I saw him preaching on television, he was so obviously about to explode with repression. I mean, look at the guy’s eyeballs – they are practically bursting out of his head! He seems crazed and on edge.

Haggard wrote to his congregation about his attempts to “cure” himself of his sexual “problems.” He wrote, "… the dirt I thought was gone would resurface ... the darkness increased and dominated." It’s like he’s involving his congregation in his own naughty-boy sex games!

Haggard, you are such a bad boy! A bad, bad boy! And you just need to be spanked right now! Jeez, it’s almost like we’re reading pornography. I just kept thinking, “Wow, his next sexual encounter with a man is going to be muy, muy caliente!”

Can’t write more now because I just flew home from New Jersey where I attended a Bar Mitzvah. (It was really fun! It was my first! So much like Catholicism to me! The venerated objects! The recitations! The goblet, even!)

I also want to say that my website has so much wrong with it right now, it’s making me lose sleep. I am trying to get things the way I want them by the end of this week. But at least people can finally order the Cds.

And yes, Shannon is obnoxious. But I feel weird banning someone from commenting on my blog. He doesn’t take up a lot of space.

And it’s weird to me, that since I am sympathetic to people’s nostalgia for the church, and appreciative of the community it creates, that makes them think I am leaning towards belief in God – when that is so very much not the case.