I’m Back!

October 13, 2008

Ok, so I created this blog with the high hopes of updating it often, of writing with the freqency with which I used to update Doubting the Fish…

…the last post was April.. yeah, that didn’t work.  Well, a lot has happened to me since then.  I’ve been promoted at work.  I’ve been realizing just how much work chasing a toddler around can be (and how much fun, don’t get me wrong!).  I’ve dealt with a whole CRAPLOAD of medical issues, mostly with other people and not my own.

In short, life got in the way of blogging — and come’on, you didn’t seriously think I’d choose blogging over life?  Riiight.

So here I am, and I’m back! I hope to start writing more, but I make no promises (especially do an uncaring blogosphere 😉 ).  However, I will endeavour to write as much as I can.  I’m still commited to making people aware of the beauty of life without God.  I’m still committed to talking about the meaning I make for my life, without religion pulling the marionet strings. I’m still commited to all of this.

Or perhaps I need to be committed — I’ll leave that up to the authorities to decide.

🙂

-olly

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For thousands of years, cultures around the world have been using inebriation/altered states, acheived through ritual starvation/dehydration, mental deprivation, or chemical substances usually, as a means to “enlightenment” or to “attain spiritual harmony” or whatever the buzzword at the time is for having a “religious experience”.  While you and I know that talking to God because you just ate an ounce of mushrooms is no more valid then talking to him on your knees in a church, it’s a fascinating subject for me personally because of some of my own experiences.

Over the years (and especially as a teen), I’ve had my fair share of these ‘spiritual experiences’ through the use of drugs such as LSD, mushrooms, peyote, and other hallucinogenics, as well as through the use of simple euphorics like ghanja.  I’ve felt, seen, heard, experienced things that almost defy my ability to describe them (and been more terrified to the core as well, particularly in the case of LSD — olly and acid just don’t mix folks!).  And while I have never really been religious, and so have never had much drive to attribute these experiences to God, I’ve certainly felt connections with people and nature that I’ve never achieved sober.

When I was about 20, I was invited to a harvest party held by an Afghani professor at my college.  He was a very interesting guy, an engineering professor (which is not my field at all), charismatic as they come, and passionate about everything he did. As an example, after 9/11 when tensions were running high, I was at a public forum at the college — after listening to the ‘reasoned’ arguments on either side debate back and forth, the merits of war, blah blah blah, Tosh finally stood up, shaking with fury, and said “I’m Afghani, and I live everyday with the knowledge that troops from America, my adopted home, are in my old homeland making war, wondering about family and friends, and if they are surviving, and you are debating merit like it’s some dry political topic?  These are PEOPLE!!”, to which one of the panelists of academia responded, apparently just as outraged, “those were people that died in the twin towers and on the flights as well!”, to which Tosh responded (I’ll never, ever in my life forget the lump in my throat) “yes, you are right — one of them was my best friend.”  His best friend, one of his colleagues, was on one of the flights that hit the towers that day.

Anyway, I’m digressing.  Back to the harvest party.  So I’d been invited to the party sort of indirectly.  A good friend of mine was one of Tosh’s best students, and my mom also worked for the college and knew Tosh well — so when the party came up, and my buddy asked Tosh if he could bring me, Tosh said yes, no problem.  This party is perhaps one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been to as an American — so different from our usual cultural gatherings.  For starters, Tosh was slow roasting a lamb on a spit for 10 hours, from noon until 10:00 when we ate dinner.  All the guests were expected to help out in some way or another, so that by the time dinner came, everyone had contributed something (I spent a couple hours working a HUGE cider press — it took 4 or 5 of us big guys to turn this thing, as others cut up apples and tossed them in).  If you played even a lick of any musical instrument, and Tosh knew it, he’d hand you an instrument as the evening went on and you’d be playing right along in the huge ongoing jam session.  Sort of a cross between a gathering of ex-hippy academia (which it was), and a traditional Agfhani feast (which it was).

So that night, around the largest bon fire that I’d ever seen (which we spent all day gathering wood for), I was handed a pipe full of a mix of hand cured tabac, ghanj, and opium (apparently a fairly traditional mix).  Not being a stranger to any of the three, I happily partook, and as it kicked in wandered a bit off from the party to sit on this grassy hill and stare at the moon.

I can’t describe to you well enough the feeling I had.  The air was cool, but not freezing — a sort of warmer than normal air, but still October.  It had that moist, cling to your skin feeling that I’ve never felt anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest, the kind that can chill you if it’s too cold, but at the right temperature just seems to emphasize the fact that you are outside without actually making you cold.  I was sitting on damp grass, about 20 yards away from the fire and the festivities, staring out at a series of valleys running all the way from just below me to the horizon line.  These valleys, which looked like a green blanket that’s been tossed out (with raised folds), were shrouded in mist, while the tops of the hills were above the fog.  With trees lining either side, the way in front of me was clear, looking nothing so much as like someone had mowed a wide swath through the trees, all the way to Mt. Rainier on the horizon.

And right above all of it, just to the left of Mt. Rainier was the moon.  It was already an amazing full moon, bright and clear as only a fall/winter night can make it.  And filtered through my wide eyed gaze (thanks to the opium in my system), it was perhaps the single most beautiful natural sight I’ve ever seen.

I remember sitting there, for perhaps an hour, and feeling what I can only describe as a “spiritual” awakening within me.  I don’t mean spiritual as in some connection to some sky-fairy God, or any supernaturalism at all.  Spiritual in the sense that something inside me, in one emotional rush that seemed to last for hours, knew my place in the world.  I knew where I fit in among nature, and I felt an absolute awe that just floored me, and to this day gives me chills just to write about it.  My experience that night, filtered through the substances in my system, showed me something more profound then anything I’ve ever heard a religious person describe.  There was no one else involved in it, no supernatural entity, and I knew that it was just mine, just internal.

So here’s the question at hand: what do we, as atheists, make of these pseudo-spiritual experiences?  We know their origins.  Psychologists have studied how drugs interact with certain centers of our brains (even proposing that we have a “religion center” as it were, or so I’ve read).  But that’s not my question.  What is it that we do with these experiences, where a religious person might attribute them to a deity?  I personally cherish mine, and many others that I’ve had, but what do you all think?  Experiences like this are a willing subversion of the rational mind for something “deeper”.  I put “deeper” in quotes, because for many of you it probably isn’t anything more than a silly hallucination, something easy to write off as your rational mind works around it.  But are we missing out on some fundamentals by doing so?

I will be honest and say that for me, there is still something that human experiences like this can teach us that science and rationality cannot.  It’s not religious, it’s not supernatural, and it’s not a denial of evidence (such as faith).  It’s just something that Science cannot describe (in the same way that music cannot describe physics).  And even take the drugs out of the experience, what are we missing when we spend so too much energy focused on the ‘why’ without enjoying the experience itself?

Truly, is there something wrong with enjoying and learning from altered state experiences but still maintaining rationality as the “go to” for ethics, life, etc?

Is it even POSSIBLE to describe these and leave out the rational brain-chemical explanations without slipping into something pseudo-religious?

-olly

This is a test of the wordpress colient “Scribe”, which is a wordpress client for S60 smartphones. This allows me to actually blog directly from my phone using my bluetooth keyboard.

Great for on the go blogging!!

-olly

Welcome

April 10, 2008

Hi, my name is olly, and I’m an atheist.  (Sounds like the opening to a support group, doesn’t it).  You might know me from…

…no, can’t do it, I can’t go the Troy Mclure route, I just can’t.  Let’s just say I’ve blogged before, and you may (or may not) have read some of my previous work.  So, here it is, the obligatory ‘welcome to the blog!’ post.  The post where I explain what I’m about, where I wax poetic about all the injustice in the world, where I explain how I, as a blogger, must change the world with my writing! Inspire the masses! Get on Technorati!

…er, wait, scratch that last one.

So why AM I blogging, you might ask (or you might not — I mean don’t we all have blogs now? ).  Well, I’m blogging for a few reasons.  The first and foremost is that I need a new place to write.  I need a new place to inflict my bizarre and meandering thoughts.  I need a place where people can read what I write and stroke my ego a little bit.

Oh yea, all that change the world stuff too.

Really, I’m just writing to try to fill a void that I feel exists.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading (and writing) about atheism.  I’ve read all the biggies, the Dawkinses, the Dennets, etc (say ‘Dawkinses’ out loud — has such a lovely Gollumesque feel to it, doesn’t it?).  And while I totally respect (and support) the work they do, I feel a need to have a place where wonder and awe are discussed, where inspiration and amazement are talked about in the context of this atheistic life we all are living.  Yes, we can explain where our emotions come from through evolutionary biology and mind-theory.  Yes, we can (and should) discuss quite rationally the origins of religion, the negative effects that it had had (and continues to) on us as a species.  And yes, we can discuss rationally why we do what we do when we do it.

Frankly, I’ll leave that discussion to others.

What simply AMAZES me is the moroseness that so many atheists seem to have when they first come to atheism.  It’s like you come to this realization that life really has no deep, absolute meaning, and then you all of a sudden start needing to pop Prozac to get through the day!

Kurt Cobain once said that if he could, he would spend years starting bands, taking them right to the point of breaking into the big time, then abandon the project and start over.  He claimed that the time right before a band broke was the most exciting time to be a part of it because there were no restrictions, no rules, just absolute enjoyment of the music that was being played (without the burden of stardom).

This site is kind of aimed at the same principle.  I’m not trying to reach those of you who have come to accept your atheism and find your own meaning (though I would love to inspire the lot of you too!).  No, I want that 16 year old kid who feels alienated because the religion that his parents built his life on, the one he wasted so many Sundays on, suddenly seems like weak sunlight through glass — its still pulling at him, but because of his new found atheism it doesn’t contain the warmth that it once did.  I want to show that kid how to open the door and feel that sunlight for what it is — not religion, but human experience.

Oh, but I still haven’t explained what I mean have I.  Well, let me start with the title of the blog.  “…whatever will bewilder me” is a quote from a Tool song (Lateralus).  The context:

With my feet upon the ground I lose myself between the sounds, and open wide to suck it in I feel it move accross my skin.  I’m reaching up and reaching out I’m reaching for the random for whatever will bewilder me.  And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been, we’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.

Does that help?  No?  Ok, this is it in a nutshell: there is nothing, nothing, nothing, more amazing then human experience.  There is nothing more awe inspiring then standing next to a tree that is 10 times older than you are, and 100 times taller.  There is nothing more amazing then staring at a horizon, at colors that you couldn’t capture with the finest camera in the way that your brain can capture them.

Are you with me yet?

Emotion!  Experience!  THAT is what life is all about!  Love, hate, fear, loathing (Las Vegas?), awe, inspiration, joy, pain, sadness, and any other emotion and feeling anywhere in between!  I want this to be a site where you can talk about what it feels like to amazed at the world around you, without having to fear that you will be judged a ‘bad atheist’ for talking about things ‘outside the lines of reason’!

Now, are there the ‘haters’ out there? For sure, and they come from both the atheist and religious camps, to be sure.  There are atheists who have written me hatemail that is as condescending as anything that I’ve gotten from Christians.  Christian hatemail on this topic is usually ‘how dare you take God out of all of this, he created the mountains so your awe should go to him, blah blah blah’.  Atheist hatemail is usually along the lines of ‘why are you writing about beauty and experience and emotion, don’t you get it?  That’s what THEY [meaning the religious folk] base their arguments on!’.   Apparently talking about how experiences make me feel is to ‘wishy-washy’ for them.  There are too many of us atheists who FEAR to talk about experience, because the blogosphere (and meatspace) are filled with religious people just waiting to point their fingers and say ‘see, you’re not always rational!’.

So this is why I’m here.  I am writing as an atheist who very much understands why our brains do what they do, why I feel love or hate or pain, or why I’m driven by evolutionary forces to do certain things.  I get it, I’m not an idiot.  I’m just asking people to momentarily suspend the explanations of ‘why’ we are in love, and simply talk about ‘what it feels like’ to be in love.

Call it atheist spirituality (an odd term that one, but perhaps apt), call it ‘the aesthetics of atheism’ (that term I kinda like), call it whatever.  But STOP for a minute and talk about what it is that makes you tick, what it is that makes you cry, or feel joy, talk about photographs and poetry.  Start ENJOYING life as an atheist, and don’t be afraid to say that something deeply moves you.

No gods, no masters, and no boundaries to beauty.

Upside Down Smile from Ella

-olly