Tag Archives: atheism

Terrible Reviews: Everything is F*cked


I picked up Mark Manson’s latest offering, Everything is F*cked, at my local library on the New Releases rack. Readers of the blarg will know that I love profanity, especially when it pops up in places it doesn’t belong (like a book title!). So I was intrigued. Of course, I also quickly realized that this is the same Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a book whose title also pleased me mightily but which I never bothered reading because I figured — I’ve kinda got that covered. I’m notorious — and it drives my wife nuts — for not caring about what other people think, for giving the metaphorical finger to social niceties, for just putting my head down and minding my own business. But after reading Everything is F*cked, I’m rethinking my decision not to read The Subtle Art, if for no other reason than that I want to hear more of what Mark Manson has to say, on virtually any topic.

Anyway, I got the book and immediately began my campaign of defacement of public property, i.e. dog-earing the hell out of this book. Almost every page featured a passage or two that made me sit bolt-upright, the gremlin in my brain shouting “YES” at the top of its lungs, so this book took a beating. A loving, well-meaning beating (Dog-earing books shows them you care!), but a beating nonetheless.

Because I loved this book. I loved it so much that I had to read it slowly, digesting its insights and offerings over time, like the Sarlacc devouring its victims over thousands of years.

The thrust of the book is that Life is Pain, and the better we can understand and embrace that fact, the better off we will be.

Image result for life is pain gif

While this isn’t particularly surprising news for an atheist at least passingly acquainted with cosmology and the physics of the universe, it does rather put things into perspective.

Rather than try to review the entire book, I’m just going to provide some quotes from its pages, for your own edification and mine.

The Feeling Brain drives our Consciousness Car because, ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion. That’s because action is emotion. (33)

Much of the first part of the book is given over to the dichotomy of Thinking Brain / Feeling Brain, and how we think that we live our lives with the Thinking Brain behind the wheel, but we really don’t — the Feeling Brain is always driving. Anyway — this quote in particular is relevant to me because this is a concept I’ve attempted to communicate to my Acting students, if never in such succinct language. So I’m gonna be assimilating this quote for future use.

… silencing the Thinking Brain will feel extremely good for a short period. And people are always mistaking what feels good for what is good. (37)

I don’t have a whole lot to add here, except to say that this phenomenon is probably responsible for a lot of the tribal behavior we see these days. You know. Politically. And so on. Ahem.

The pain may get better, it may change shape, it may be less catastrophic each time. But it will always be there. It’s part of us.

It is us. (106)

If the first half of the book is an examination of how our brain deceives us, the second half of the book is an exploration of the thing that drives us — which is pain, and more to the point, an avoidance of pain. We’ve sort of become slaves to the idea that we’re supposed to be happy all the time, that pain is this thing that crops up from time to time, but with the right outlooks and attitudes, we can avoid it or fend it off completely. Nonsense. We are defined and created by our pain, in the same way that the application of fire and heavy blows from a steel hammer create a sword.

Children are the kings and queens of antifragility, the masters of pain. It is we who are afraid. (230)

Antifragility is this concept Manson deals with a bunch in the final quarter of the book: in a nutshell, stress makes an antifragile thing (person, structure, idea) stronger. And because most of us try to hide from pain, our bodies and minds lose this quality. But kids, who haven’t yet been beaten down by the world, don’t know enough to hide from pain, so they run towards it — and this has the paradoxical effect of making them stronger.

The book is a fascinating read, and for a guy who has been sort of wracked by anxiety over the past year or so, it was an empowering and enlightening read.

It also gave me the best summation of my feelings as a writer that I have ever read:

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Accidental Philosophy: Tie Up Your Camels


When I read books, the best quotes go in an ever-growing Evernote file. Sometimes I reach into that file and ruminate on a passage or two. The result is “Accidental Philosophy.”

I recently finished Dan Harris’s 10% Happier, which I’ve mentioned once or twice ’round these parts. It’s a bit of a strange bird: a book about meditation which is somehow riveting. A great skeptic’s look at a practice that, from the outside, seems to be dripping with woo. If you’re considering the practice of meditation, or just curious about it, it’s worth your time.

But today’s words aren’t about the book, they’re about a single passage within it. Which is actually a quote of something else. So I’m quoting a quote about another quote. Anyway:

The Sufi Muslims say, “Praise Allah, but also tie your camel to the post.” In other words, it’s good to take a transcendent view of the world, but don’t be a chump. (201)

camel-3540678_1280

Let the record show, then: good ideas can come from religion!

I love this quote, and here’s why: we rely too much on faith. Even those of us who are decidedly not people of faith lean too much on faith at the expense of our common sense.

Faith in our own abilities. Faith in other people. Faith in society. And, yeah, for those who swing that way, faith in higher powers.

And that’s not, in and of itself, a problem, or even a mistake. Sometimes we do estimate our own abilities appropriately. Sometimes other people do live up to the hope we hold for them. Sometimes societies do the right thing.

But certainly more often than “rarely” those things don’t happen. You overestimate yourself and get in over your head. A person you trust lets you down. Society disappoints you. (Oh lord, how society has disappointed me these past two years.)

This quote, then, is a little reminder, a little prick in the pocket, to stay skeptical. To not rely too much on faith. To hold nothing so sacred that you give no thought to the consequences if it doesn’t deliver.

In other words, tie up your camels. Tie ’em right up.

And then keep your distance. I hear they spit.

llama eating GIF

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Go Evolve Yourself


There’s a church near me —

No, wait.

At one of the churches near me —

Nope, that doesn’t help either.

Look, there are a lot of churches near me. Living in semi-suburban, semi-rural Georgia. I pass by no less than five on my way to work, and my commute is only about fifteen minutes. (That’s a church every three minutes; way more common than any golden arches ever dreamed of.)

And some of them get pretty clever with their marquee. Credit where it’s due, I’ve gotten more than a couple of chuckles driving past this one particular church.

But this is not chuckle-worthy.

It’s not even smirk-and-drive-on-worthy.

This is veins-popping-from-the-forehead-worthy.

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I get it, it’s a joke. Haw haw, evolution thinks it has all the answers. (It doesn’t, actually, only lots of answers.) Moms are overworked. (On that one, preach on.)

But it’s a joke that critically fails to understand the thing it’s poking fun at in addition to being just idiotically wrong. Because that isn’t the way evolution works. And evolution *is* true.

Does that make me triggered? Does that make me a snowflake? Well, break out the flannel caps and snowshoes, because I have no patience for this.

Claiming that evolution isn’t true — for laughs or for real — is freaking harmful to society. Empowering people who don’t know any better, who base their arguments off archaic books rather than science you can see with your own eyes, to disagree with the fundamental understanding of the way the world works is bloody anathema to the forward progress of our culture. (And sweet fancy Moses, we need some freaking forward progress right now.)

Claiming that evolution isn’t true is the sort of thing that really should carry a sociological cost, in this day and age. Like stepping into an NRA meeting and suggesting a government buyback on guns, or crashing an LGBTQIA support group and crowing that about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

Claiming that evolution isn’t true, and telling kids to resist it in schools (I’ve encountered this myself actually, it really does happen), is holding us back.

I’m not saying it should be illegal.

I’m saying anybody seriously representing the idea should be embarrassed.


So Scientology is on TV Now.


Remember that time yesterday when I posted about the dumb things you do that remind you how dumb you really are?

That feeling is only salved by knowing that there exist in the world, somewhere — as a result of sheer statistics — people dumber than you. Honestly, the only person who can’t say there’s somebody dumber than him out there probably died hundreds of thousands of years ago, before our species properly had its feet under it (literally) and had not yet invented the capacity for realizing how stupid one is, let alone the language to kvetch about it. (RESIST THE URGE TO MAKE A POLITICAL JOKE RESIST THE URGE TO MAKE A POLITICAL JOKE RESIST THE URGE TO MAKE A POLITICAL JOKE)

So, you know. There are dumber people than us out there; we just don’t always see them.

But sometimes.

Sometimes they explode into visibility with fireworks and press releases and white-hot glowing idiocy.

Scientology is launching its own line of streaming TV programs.

Yeah.

Their tagline? “The only thing more interesting than what you’ve heard is what you haven’t.”

HAhahahahahahahahaNO.

Nope. Nopenopenope NOPE. Negatory. The cat is out of the bag on you already, Scientology. The horses have left the barn. The bell is rung. The milk is spilled. Choose your cliche; the world at large is already wise to your particular brand of horse puckery.

My first brush with Scientology (man I feel lame for even capitalizing it but rules of English trump even my disdain for acknowledging the titles of idiotic things as things which deserve recognition — heck, rules of English trump even my searing hatred for use of the word “trump” as a verb anymore) was in high school. Way back in the days when this budding atheist still thought there might be something to religion, in the maybe-there-was-a-creator-we-just-can’t-know-but-why-would-it-care-what-we-did-on-Sundays kind of way.

But even then, in the larval stages of my skepticism and the infancy of my critical thinking, all it took was one mention of the word “Xenu” and I ran away faster than you can say Tom Cruise.

So: a network? For Scientology?

This is dumb on at least three fronts:

  1. People already watching religious TV (bless their hearts) won’t be switching over to Scientology TV. It’s not like how you got bored with The Walking Dead and stopped watching it and you’re looking for another show in your life. People like their religious illusions and cling to them fiercely, and — more bad news, I know — IF they leave their religions, most likely end up with NO religion rather than any other religion. (Actually I don’t know if that’s true, but it must be. It has to be.)
  2. People not already watching religious TV are not about to start watching religious TV. We have better things to do with our time. Also, we know better. Move along.
  3. So, the only people who will be watching Scientology TV are those who are a) already members of the “church”, or b) chemically inebriated and watching for a laugh. The B’s won’t be offering up any money to you, and the A’s, given that your “religion” has as a central paradigm the extraction of as much money as possible from its faithful, are unlikely to have MORE money to offer up to you or your advertisers.

Oh, and that’s without even mentioning the nuclear submarine in the kiddie pool: Scientology is terrible. As a religious institution, it’s worse than most. Like, astronomically worse. It abuses its members. It attacks members who leave the “faith”. And its core beliefs about the world and about people — well.

It would almost take a divine being to create something so bad.

In that way, perhaps, Scientology TV might be the evidence for a divine being that will finally settle the argument.

Or maybe it will be evidence that our evolution truly did stop eons ago.

Either way, there has to be something better on TV. I mean, surely there are some reruns of The Walking Dead on, somewhere.


Hands Across Canada


Right now, there’s a dead hand touring Canada.

That’s not the name of a metal band; don’t don your blacks and your eyeliner and venture to the North to bang your head. No, the dead hand is the literal hand of Saint Francis Xavier. Why is it touring? For … publicity, I guess?

The story is here. Watch the video and marvel.

Here’s a thing I’ll never understand about religion. The claim is that the hand is a “relic”, which means it contains some sort of divine power. This power is bestowed, apparently, because it’s “the hand that baptized hundreds of thousands of people.” (The rest of his body, apparently, can Fargo right off.) Great, cool, awesome. I guess if you’re the sort of person who believes baptism actually does something and is therefore a thing worth doing, I can see holding in some regard a man who had done a lot of them. Of course, there is no mention of this man, or his hand, in any holy book; its divinity is tacked-on after the fact by a bunch of dudes in robes (and only dudes, let us not forget. Whether women could come up with something so ridiculous — I imagine they couldn’t — is irrelevant, because we’re talking about the Catholic church, here). But still, no, seriously, it’s a relic. It’s holy. It has powers.

By that rationale, they could sanctify my left earlobe (after my death, of course — one presumes I’d still be using it, and they could not therefore cart it around the world touting its holy powers, while I was still attached to it) if I could sufficiently convince them that God tickled it.

(By the way, it’s the hand of a dude. It did a lot more than baptize people, is all I’m saying. Consider that for a moment, and consider, then, the fact that people are pressing overpriced medallions and cards (which you can buy at the venue!) and pictures of their loved ones to the hand for blessings. [Okay, fine, the hand is tucked safely away in a glass case. But still.])

Consider the cost of this exercise. The hand has a caretaker who presumably draws a salary (we can’t just drop the thing in UPS after all — there are laws against the 2-day shipping of dead bodies and their parts). The venues that host it have to bring in volunteers to wrangle all the faithful flocking to see it. And the faithful! Imagine dropping what you’re doing to cross the countryside (this is Canada, where I understand it’s 99% countryside and 1% silly accents) and gawk at a bit of dessicated flesh attended by men in expensive suits. Then they come away crowing that this “experience” will have a tremendous effect in their lives.

Spoiler alert: the experience of being taken for a fool only positively affects your life if you learn from it.

Pretend you’re an alien. You voyage across interstellar space and come across this pale blue dot. They’re sending out radio signals, and the planet is swarmed by satellites and rocket ships and space stations and you’re thinking to yourself, hey, maybe the people of this planet have got things figured out. You look a little closer and see, I dunno, the internet and our politics and you say well, maybe not so much.

Then you train your telescopes up toward Canada and discover that there’s a whole lot of hubbub being made over some guy’s skeletal dunkin’ hand. (And we’re not talking about Michael Jordan’s dunkin’ hand, either — that at least you might have heard about. Space Jam exists, after all.) Literal worship of a dead man’s appendage.

You’re an alien. You see humans doing this.

In what universe would you not drop your spaceship into high gear and leap away at lightspeed?


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