Whiskey at midnight: The Can’t Sleep Cronicles, Part 1

I guess I’m not getting any sleep tonight. I rolled around for as long as I could stand it, until it was time to get up and do something. It is 11 PM and I am watching the Oprah interview that has been all the rage in the non-believer community. Oprah interviewed Diana Nyad, a self-proclaimed “atheist in awe.” Nyad described her love of the world and humanity in a very “Saganeque” way only to have Oprah tell her that she couldn’t consider her an atheist because she recognized a sense of transcendence in herself (I’m paraphrasing here). It isn’t really Oprah’s fault that she would think that way, although I do feel strongly that if you’re going to interview somebody you should make yourself well informed about the subject matter, it is just a common misconception that atheists are emotionless voids of repressed hatred and hot chaos.

The Pew Research Center responded quickly with a completely unhelpful list they published in an article haphazardly titled “5 facts about atheists.” The article fails to define it terms, and I’m assuming that is the result of surveys that failed in the same way, so that nothing is really said at all. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is a great resource, normally. The articles they publish have been a great boon to me (who says boon?), but when it comes to the irreligious they seem to be confused. What the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life needs is a committed non-believer that is informed when it comes to religion, and public life. I checked their site and it looks like they are hiring a Human Resources manager, but no research analysts. I’ll have to wait my turn.

I have a career right now and everything is going as planned I suppose, but for some reason I can’t take it seriously or think of it as a real life-goal kind of a career. Honestly, I know the reasons but I won’t bother listing them. It would be too obvious. I remember being told that I would have to straighten up and get things right for middle school because everything would be serious business then. It wasn’t. The same was said about high school, college, and my current starter career. Disappointment and incompetence at every level.

How does this relate at all to Oprah and Diana Nyad? It doesn’t. 

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Goodnight.

 

Book Review: Elaine Pagel’s “Revelations”

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The Book of Revelations is commonly attributed to John, the apostle, which Pagels quickly disagrees with. John of Patmos was most certainly a different author, if he was the author at all.  A large group of early church fathers condemned the Book of Revelations and were convinced it was “written not by a disciple but by a heretic named Cerinthus” (107). We come to find out that a large number of early Christians felt The Book of Revelations was just blasphemy and nonsense. Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium all intentionally left Revelations off their lists of authentic books.

The Book of Revelations is full of symbols, some of which border on the absurd, like the seven-eyed zombie Lamb which takes a scroll and is told by a loud voice it is worthy to open it, or the pregnant woman that wraps herself in the sun while a seven-headed, ten-horned dragon impatiently waits to eat the coming baby. The main thing to take from all that silliness is the polarity it espouses. In Revelations there are the saved and the damned and that is it. God’s elect, and Satan’s minions. There is no room for anybody else in the cosmic battle. It is ironic that the author demonizes Babylon because it is very likely that the concept of a cosmic battle between good and evil was inherited by Judaism from the Babylonian religion during the Jew’s exile there. Babylon was a symbol of evil that the author of Revelations used to symbolize Rome. Babylon is now used to represent whatever and whomever a church might happen to disagree with.

Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria is almost solely responsible for the canon we recognize today as the Bible, and for the inclusion of the Book of Revelations, and he added it for political reasons. Athanasius was a charismatic and ambitious Bishop who had stolen his position with a well-timed endorsement letter from the Emperor while another 200 or so Bishops were trying to decide who would take the position. He immediately began seeking out what he called “heretics” which included any Christians that felt they were outside the Catholic Church. This included the thousands of monks that had congregated in small monasteries under the leadership of an ex-Roman Soldier named Pachomius. They had no need to fall under the leadership of any Bishop and saw the rank structure of the church for what it was, the Romanization of Christianity. They also kept large libraries of works Athanasius would condemn and was eager to destroy. Luckily, one of those Egyptian monks at Nag Hammadi, buried a large number of scrolls in a cave used for meditation 1500 years ago. They were uncovered in 1945 and have contributed greatly to our understanding of the Bible since then. Elaine Pagels was among the first scholars to begin studying the Nag Hammadi scrolls.

Athanasius apparently condemned any book that allowed for the personal search for God through asceticism. The Book of Revelation spoke out many times against heretics within the Church and Athanasius was able to use it against many of his opponents. Check out Pagels herself being interviewed about the book: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2012/02/24/february-24-2012-elaine-pagels-on-the-book-of-revelation/10372/

What should disturb most people about this is that even today this book is being used to spread hatred and intolerance. The Young Turks say it better than I could. Check out this video:

 


 

sigh… I guess that’s one way to solve the population problem, but reducing the human population to 144,000 would just make a big mess. So spread the word; the Book of Revelations is a bunch of fear mongering nonsensical delusional Iron age gibberish, stop electing people that think its prophetic!!! Time to start paying attention to the House and Senate Elections.

 

 

Ice trays

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I used to hate ice trays, but I’ve discovered that had more to do with sharing a living space than the task of emptying and refilling the trays. I am living alone for the first time in many years. Actually, I’m realizing right now that I’ve always had roommates. Before my current job I was a college student and always shared at least a common area with at least one other person. I had roommates early on in my career and went from there to married life. That chapter is closed and so this is the first time I have lived entirely alone. It isn’t a completely foreign concept though, I used to spend hours thinking about how nice my own apartment would be, mostly while lying awake at night in a dark cloud of frustration and resentment. And now here I am! I have a nice little two bedroom apartment with a breezy patio. I’m even walking distance from several restaurants. Getting my office set was the priority and it is coming along swimmingly. I can comfortably spend hours in there. I really like my kitchen as well. My Sunday morning clean up ritual has occurred each time with a continued rise in efficiency and efficacy, something that never quite caught on in my previous living situations.

These things came to light because I recently finished reading Going Solo by NYU Sociology professor Eric Klinenberg. He explores the recent rise in people who choose to live alone. I hadn’t thought about it as a choice before, it seemed more like a punishment considering my post-divorce circumstances. But I was reminded by Klinenberg that there are benefits to living alone. The freedom to go and do things last minute has been nice. I can get up early and start my day without wondering why everyone else is being so lazy. Or I can sleep in and nobody will bother me.

The only current drawback to this situation is the physical distance between me and my awesome kids. I miss them all the time and I am constantly reminded of the hole in my life that only they can fill. It seems selfish put that way, but I’m sure if they were older they could describe my absence in similar terms. Klinenberg knows that living alone, for most people, is a temporary phase. Maybe my kids will choose to live with me when they are old enough to make that terrible decision, (a decision I had to make too). Or maybe years from now I will have a partner who wants to share living space. I’ll just make sure I only consider cohabitation with someone who understand the tranquility of well maintained ice trays.

Scared of a Seven Year Old

The last time I was intimidated by a seven year old I was probably a little kid, maybe four or five. That makes sense because bigger kids can seem mean in a distant confusing way. But now I’m 32. I’m not scared of anybody, not in the way a little kid is anyway. So why does the idea of my daughter visiting give me anxiety and a confusing kind of fear? She is seven and little. I could totally take her out. Let’s reason through this together. Here are some thoughts I have considered:

1. It has been almost eight months since I have last seen her.  Maybe I feel guilty on some level, even though I had no control over the situation. Maybe the real guilt comes from knowing I had such a great year while I was away from her, a year she was almost no part of whatsoever.  I should have been miserable, but I wasn’t. I should have sent more things, but I didn’t. I should have called more often, but I didn’t. I should have, I didn’t.

2. Maybe I am worried her visit will be awkward or that she won’t have a good time. I’ve made some plans for things we can do, but I kept away from over planning as well. I have lists and even considered (briefly) making a flow chart to follow in case we couldn’t decide what to do.  I am most worried that she won’t want to come back next time, that she will tell her brother it wasn’t fun or sigh disappointingly the next time her mother tells her about plans for her to visit. Having a kid is inviting emotional torture into your life. Somehow it is both wonderful and terrifying, (numinous even, thanks Rudolf, are you sure it was God you were thinking of?)

3. Maybe I am worried that we’ll have such an awesome time that sending her back will be traumatic, for either or both of us. What if everything is even better than I imagined? What if we strengthen a bond I thought was weak, she confesses she is miserable at her mother’s and wants to live with me, we have an uninterrupted series of Hallmark moments and then I have to put her on a plane alone again and send her back while watching her eyes fill with tears? OK, that was a bit dramatic, but you get my point. It’s shitty whether she loves hanging out with me or hates it, and I’ll feel guilty either way!

Conclusion: I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not fit to be a parent. Everything is meaningless chaos. I want to say that I’ve placed too much importance on what somebody else thinks of me. If she were an adult, I’d brush it off. What do I care? I am me, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. But that doesn’t work when its your kid. For some reason their opinions are immune from attempts to be dismissed or rationalized.

There is one thing I will get right during the five days she will be here. During the years leading up to my overseas vacation I spent most nights juggling multiple classes and reading as much as possible. It was important for me to be the best in each class I took, and I was interested in the material so it wasn’t that difficult to keep up. But it was time consuming. I turned down reading bedtime stories more often than I should have and when I occasionally caved in it was grudgingly. I am going to read her to sleep every night that she is here.

Maybe that’s all I can do. I’ll just try to make up for lost time but I’m not going to force it or get bent out of shape if things aren’t perfect. That’s what this writing is for anyway, a pressure value. Yeah, I feel better already. A drink wouldn’t hurt either though.


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Scary right?

Book Review: Karen Armstrong’s “The Great Transformation”

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Karen Armstrong‘s The Great Transformation is a thrilling read. She shows the inner workings of the Axial Age without focusing solely on its major players like many others are wont to do. The story begins with some speculation on the Aryan migration and the possible roots of Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroasterianism, and then branches into four distinct groupings; the Greeks, the Hebrews, the Chinese, and the Indians. Each chapter progresses chronologically with a subchapter committed to each group so that you follow the transitions as they are happening all over the world, instead of just reading the story of one group in isolation.

The section on China is fascinating, possibly because it is all new material to me. I knew very little about Chinese religion before Confucious’s time. China went through a long period where warfare was so structured and orderly that it became absurd. It was more socially acceptable to lose, otherwise you might seem overly prideful. Imagine a Soldier waiting patiently while his enemy reloads in order to give him a fair chance. That didn’t last forever ofcourse, as most people are more familiar with the period of warring states that birthed Confucianism, and its rival Daoism. Armstrong uncovers a second rival to Confucianism, Legalism, which was a more secular approach to problem solving and was later enhanced by Daoist philosophers who appreciated the pragmatic.

The Hebrews were a very bloody people and Armstrong confirms much of what I have read elsewhere. She discusses at length the spiritual repercussions of the Hebrew’s defeat by Assyria, a subject often glossed over right before the Babylonian exile takes place. Her impressions are supported by numerous references from the Hebrew prophets of the time. Often Old Testament verses are taken from the Bible and applied to modern times, or to Jesus’s time, with no thought to their actual historical context. Armstrong provides the background to much of the prophets’ political and social motivations. She also explains the roots of rabbinical Judaism as a result of the Jews continual displacement and the descruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

The Greeks were so far ahead of their time. The sophists seem to have had a true grasp on what was important before Socrates and Plato besmirched the sophists’ reputations. The legendary conflicts between Persia and the Greeks are described along with the spiritual milieu that flavored them. Major political transitions are seen as complimentary to the shifting goals of the philosophers. Armstrong also explains the importance of the theatre and drama in Greek thought. This section I found extremely interesting. Tragedy was used to heal wounds and help the Greeks see outside themselves.

Indian spirituality has a unique history and importance. The first to be truly introspective, the yogins seem to have gone a completely different spiritual route than any other group. Fed up with complex external rituals and meaning, they looked inward and found an entire world of purpose and light. The Jains and Buddhists are the true inheritors of his Axial Age gift. That gift was later borrowed and adapted into Hinduism. The Bagavad-Gita was a major step forward for Hinduism. Armstrong explains the breakthrough of Bhakti Yoga and how important it is to the working class, unable to commit their lives to more internal efforts, like Jhana Yoga or asceticism.

Armstrong sometimes writes as if she was there. It is important to remember that this is her impression and view, an erudite informed view though it is (Eliade’s as well ofcourse). However, she references sources supporting most every assumption she makes, almost inviting the reader to follow up on her and challenge her opinion. She is one of my favorite authors and The Great Transformation is a book I will need to purchase for myself someday.

Armstrong’s underlying message is the importance of compassion in each othe Axial Age religious revolutions. Euripides, Confucius, Hillel the Elder, Jesus of Nazereth, Krishna/Vishnu, they seemed to all have the same message about what was most important; the Golden Rule. They all stated it in one form or another. Hundreds of years later and compassion seems to be the least important aspect of religious observance or doctrine.

A movement to replace traditional religious community building with a secular form has taken root in major cities in the Western world. It is called Sunday Assembly by the founders although the media has labled it “Atheist Church.” It will be interesting to find out what type of message the assembly espouses and how successful it can become. Hopefully they got Karen Armstrong’s message and will learn from the Axial Age thinkers that all discovered the Golden Rule during times of extreme hardship and strife.

Arizona Living

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When I was young Arizona was a mysterious place. I grew up on the East Coast, or really just the east, we only rarely went to the coast. Arizona was far removed from South Georgia. It was an unfamiliar and under-represented state. California I knew, it was in all the movies, it was a glamorous place and that was where rich porn stars lived. But Arizona was different. People from Arizona were happy and successful, not angered easily, and perpetually busy with some revolutionary green technology. There was also a very spiritual (gasp) element to Arizona, or perhaps just the desert in general. I’m sure that if every bit of media that I encountered growing up could be studied the cause for this illusion could be discovered. Perhaps a few characters from movies I’d seen had been Arizonians and so I applied their traits to the entire state. Either way, I had maintained a very idealistic impression of Arizona.

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I’ve come to find that Arizona doesn’t seem to be all that different from most other places, although it has better scenery. Sierra Vista is infested with the same line-up of ignorant locals as any other place I have lived, although Bisbee shows promise as being a memorable place. I have yet to get to know Tucson. It is a little further away than I had thought. The drive isn’t terrible but I’d need to plan a day’s worth of things to do before driving up there. I’d need lists and plans, and right now I have plenty to do here.

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So Arizona might not be the spiritual mystery it once was, but I like it. It is growing on me a little more every day. And yes the locals leave something to be desired, but I haven’t met everybody yet, so I’ll stay optimistic. Part of my disappointment had to do with Seoul. I was around wonderful friends all the time in a city that never ceased to be interesting. Arizona will be more of a challenge.

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This is one of the Matisse paintings I am considering for the living room. Nice framed prints aren’t really that much and it would look really nice I’m sure.

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Well I’m here now.

Since showing up in Arizona I have been camping, driven out to visit my sister in LA, acquired a decent place to live, and begun working with a new band. I have also read three largish books, constructed a dozen lego sets, and taken up Korean cooking. My social calendar was kept very full in Korea and I am having trouble filling the time.

So, what should I do? Make new friends? OK, working on it, but I’m kind of a snob and I don’t like wasting my time with people that won’t challenge me somehow. Either they have to be unreadable and therefore interesting or they have to be interesting for some other reason, like maybe they speak four languages or know everything a person can know about beets.

I got together with a local group of similarly godless atheist types last week and had a good time. Although, now that I’m a single guy, and seeing as how the group mostly consisted of several couples, I don’t see how we can socially connect beyond out distaste for organized religion. We’ll need something more substantial than that.

I have also been out boozing it up with a new friend from work. It has been a lot of fun both times, but the hangover the next day is a heavy toll to maintain a friend. (It did not help that I ate fruit with Tabasco sauce all over it or whatever a “school bus” shot is).

I guess the most interesting thing happening right now is my soon-to-be-complete application to a graduate program I didn’t think I’d ever find. New Mexico State University offers a MA in Sociology! And they have an option to take it almost entirely online. I will need to go to the campus at some point and touch base with the professors, but that is only a few hours away and I am more than willing to do that in order to have the opportunity to study what I really want to study.

Oh! My daughter is coming to visit in two and half weeks. I’m very excited and I miss her very much. My son can’t fly without an adult yet but I will see him in December, which seems so far away… Part of the reason I have to stay busy is to escape the ever approaching wall of sadness and despair that sets in when I am alone and realize my children are so far away. A really smart person told me once that no matter what, if you have kids, you will feel guilty about something. At least I can feel guilty about being so far away and not being as big a part of their lives as I’d like to be, instead of one day feeling guilty for having lived with them and neglected or ignored them during their most precious and influential years.

Let’s end on a good note! Syria! Woohoo…