Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Being an Atheist Christian

I had a thought the other day: is believing in God necessarily a requirement for being, say, Christian?

The Old and New Testaments are, ironically, often cited by atheists as evidence in favor of atheist arguments. The trouble is, this has caused undue harm to the philosophy that comes from the religion.

The Old Testament includes equal-handed philosophical ideas and outdated cultural issues like keeping slaves and stoning adulterers. It also says that God exists, and that eating pork, or any meat on a Friday, or wearing two kinds of fabric at once will earn you the wrath of the only all-powerful being in existence. The New Testament says that doing many of these things, especially not believing that Jesus was in fact God in human form, will earn you a one-way ticket to Hell. It also says Hell is a place that is absolutely a real place filled with fire, bloodshed, and gifs of your parents having sex.

It's a good motivator for people with no formal education. Eating pork can be dangerous if you lack access to medical professionals and don't cook it right, even today. Saying God will hate you if you eat bacon is easier to explain to an illiterate shepherd than saying that those terrible stomach cramps, diarrhea and sometimes death are caused by eating pork (and yet sometimes it won't). Pounding into your impressionable skull from birth that higher powers will torture your soul for eating pork seems to have been an effective strategy. Hell, millions today still abstain because they believe God said so.

Whether they came straight from the mouth of the Alpha/Omega or not, rules like the 10 Commandments were beneficial to the few and the many if strictly observed. Maybe the ancient Hebrews and later Christians and Muslims really did believe in God. Then again, maybe they, or at least some, simply used religion and the idea of a god to keep people from hurting each other. Or themselves.

People are complicated, so maybe sometimes we need a complicated distraction to keep our minds off of our irrational fears. Maybe fear of God, or faith in God, really does work for some people. Either way, the base concept of the religion, God or no God, is based on sound principles.

All it takes to be a Christian, really, is to apply the dogma to your life. Saying "I believe in Jesus" shouldn't have to exclusively mean "I believe in the divinity of Jesus." It can also mean, "I believe he had a good idea or two about how to live one's life. Of course not all of it applies to everyone, and a lot of it may apply to someone in a positive way. Saying that all religions are bullshit because of their underlying beliefs, the faith in an invisible being of unfathomable power, in no way means that some of the ideas that stemmed from it- being a good friend, striving to be a positive force in one's environment- aren't good ones. Saying you're Christian, in my opinion, shouldn't have to mean "I believe in the Christian way of life in ostensibly every way that every other Christian does." The same goes for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, any other religion. If a person identifies themselves as someone who holds such system of beliefs dear, who are we to say they aren't "really" a Christian, a Jew, etc? I know people who don't believe in God, but they consider themselves culturally Jewish, upholding traditions that have been passed down for literally thousands of years.

Gandhi once said, "I am a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Hindu," because he believed that all of them contained wisdom that is valid to his life. He may have been a demonstrable egotist with questionable ideas about how to behave with one's granddaughters, but I think he had a few good points. Humans are complex like that, and so are their beliefs.

It used to be that good ideas needed to be validated by something other than statistical data, because scientific method wasn't a thing yet. One way to get a large number of people to do something is to force them, like a despot, but history (and scientific study) has shown that intrinsic motivators are infinitely more effective. Telling someone to not be a shithead "in order to prove one's worthiness of salvation and the love of a god" seems like a pretty brilliant alternative, when you look at it that way...and still works for some people, so long as they make the effort to maintain a little perspective.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why Psychology needs to be more "bipolar"

Forgive the expression, but I think psychology needs to be more bipolar.

Mainstream psychology has always been focused on two subjects: first, how to treat those with psychological maladies, and second, investigating the nature of the human mind and human behavior- how we work as sapient organisms. While important, these two subjects are not the complete package, I don't think. There is not enough emphasis on how to use psychological principles to improve or optimize one's life.

If clinical psychology is the negative end of the spectrum, humanistic or "positive" psychology is, well, obvious.

Positive psychology is a subset of psychology focused on discovering how a human being can live their life with maximum success and happiness. It's been around since the eighties, but has only recently, in the last decade or so, starting gathering momentum.

I've only got a B.A. and my specialty is clinical psychology, so unfortunately I'm not your best guy to inundate you on some of the big names in the field, but if academic text isn't your thing, there's another positive psychologist you can definitely look into. He's been practicing his craft for decades, and applying it to his own life with notable success. He doesn't call himself a psychologist, though. He calls himself the Dalai Lama.

People talk about the "supernatural" abilities possessed by some Buddhist monks with awe and respect. Of course there are things like levitation, which are probably the result of exaggerated firsthand accounts, but there are other things, too. For example, Buddhist monks have shown to be more resilient to the effects of stress, and have higher tolerance to physical pain.

Look into The Little Book of Happiness if you want to see a quick glance of what the Dalai Lama is about. If you want to see his words critiqued by a legitimate psychologist, read The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D. In the latter, Cutler has many one on one talks with the Dalai Lama, critiquing his words and comparing the holy man's assertions with archival psychological research.

It's absolutely amazing how often the two fall parallel with each other.

There are precedents in our nascent global culture that are literally thousands of years old that show the importance of self-mastery. We are imperfect beings who have created an imperfect society, but the latter will not improve until the former does. I think positive psychology is the answer, and we can start by combining scientific research with insight from figures like the Dalai Lama.

Just a thought.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Motivation


As many of you know, I consider myself an aspiring writer. I practice writing whenever I can, and have for some time. Recently I've been doing it far more frequently than I have in the past, in no small part than the down time I'm afforded between calls working at CapTel. I've been trying to find an effective motivator that works for me specifically; apparently being forced into one place for a long period of time with no option to surf the Internet, play video games or watch Youtube motivates me quite well.

This of course is not the only motivator, just a tactic to curb my mind's heedless desire to wander rather than focus. Once focused, I have been able these past nine or ten months to synthesize a (huge) amount of disconnected thoughts, daydreams and fancies into something tangible.

I'm not the kind of writer who has to focus on one story, and cannot work on anything else until that story is written, linearly, beginning to end. I've learned that, as well as many other things about myself over the past year. Most of the time, I'll get an idea for a story I like and I'll try to get it all down before it "poofs" out of my mind forever, but I'm not in the position to do so, or I don't get enough down to keep me engaged enough to work on it in the future.

That hasn't been the case about one story in particular, and for almost a year I've been in the perfect situation to finally stop procrastinating, stop making excuses not to write, and actually turn it into something. I can honestly say I've never been happier with a story, never been more attached to its characters, never been more proud of an idea that I've turned into a work of fiction.

George R.R. Martin was once asked, when he began writing "A Song of Ice and Fire", if he had any idea that the sprawling story of Westeros and its people would turn into something so big, both in terms of scale and following. I'm ecstatic, but I can't know for sure what kind of a following this is going to get. Maybe it'll burn out, maybe it'll get a decent number of view/books sold/etc, maybe all it will gain me is good writing experience and a few hundreds of hours enjoying the art form that I have loved most for as long as I can remember. I only know this for sure: I've never been more excited to find out. Partially, I suppose, because I felt compelled to add something that Martin once felt compelled to create, as he explained in his response to the interviewer's question- a response that I can relate to, as I'm starting to feel the same way:


"I knew I was doomed when I drew the map."




Monday, March 24, 2014

RIP Dave Brockie




Sad news to report if you haven't heard already. As of this past weekend (last Sunday around 7 PM Pacific time), metal music icon Dave Brockie was found dead in his home in Richmond, Virginia.


For those of you unaware, Dave Brockie was the human host for the lead singer and one of the founding members of GWAR, a band that is and has been for decades one of the most influential, unique, and fun bands in American music history. I've been listening to them since high school. Not everyone appreciates their over-the-top flavor, but GWAR as a musical and performance group has never failed to entertain me.

This news comes less than three years from another tragedy. In 2011, the band lost its guitarist Cory Smoot, who had also been with them from the beginning. Their most recent album, Battle Maximus, was dedicated to he and the alien demon persona who'd long lived within him, Flattus Maximus.

What does this mean? It means that, freed from his human prison, the intergalactic warlord and sex god Oderus Urungus is finally free to return to his home in the stars. Unfortunately, this also means that I and many lowly homo sapiens scum will ever get to enjoy a live show with him, in which we would be hosed down with alien bodily fluids, or dragged onstage to be butchered or eaten alive by cosmic horrors. Those who have already been so privileged will likewise never get to experience it again.

GWAR is a phenomenal group, and their shows have always been nothing short of fucking legendary. Oderus may have been a heartless monster, but Brockie was a deeply intelligent, funny, passionate man. He is, even now, a big deal.

God speed, you filthy animal.