Tag Archives: skepticism

The Trooth Fairy


I’m a bad parent, I realize, as I slow-pedal up to the front of the house. It’s 5:30 AM, I’m just getting back from my run, and I can see through the blinds on my son’s window that he’s awake and bouncing around in his bed. (Literally. He’s six. Settle down.)

My first thought is, “why is he up so early?” Which, as soon as it’s asked, is answered by the second thought: “because he’s checking for his tooth fairy money.” Which I forgot to place under his pillow last night.

Because I’m a bad parent.

I don’t have a great excuse, and I’m no fan of excuses anyway. It just wasn’t a priority. So somewhere between Masterchef (which I watch too much and hate every minute of) and a couple dozen pre-sleep pages of How I Killed Pluto (and Why It Had It Coming), it slipped through the cracks in the ol’ memory box. Which is kind of terrible, because this tooth has been falling out for about two weeks. First, it was just loose. Then it was really loose. And for the past week or so, it’s literally been hanging on by a thread. (I know, it makes me queasy just to think about it, much less to write about.) Seriously, it could spin in its socket like a stripped-out screw in drywall. (My further apologies.) Its loss is an event, awaited with the same kind of impatience that accompanies the weeks leading up to college football starting up.

Yesterday, it finally fell out.

Sprout tried to pull a fast one on my wife and I.  He told me, when he got home, that he “lost it”, and when I asked him what that meant, he said it was either on the road somewhere (my first clue — he’s such a little sack of nerves that he won’t go anywhere near the road out of somebody’s supervision) or that he swallowed it. My wife gave me her unimpressed face and said, “oh, you mean it’s not in the bag your teacher told me about?” And then he went running to his room to get it.

He had come straight in the door and put his newly unmoored tooth directly under his pillow.

I remember reading a story recently about somebody whose kid ran a science experiment on this whole “tooth fairy” business. Said kid lost a tooth — one of the back ones, one that’s not readily within notice (whereas my poor kid basically has a bay window in the front of his mouth now thanks to losing both of his front-top chompers). Said kid suspected that the tooth fairy had something to do with her parents, so without telling her parents, she hid the tooth under her pillow.

Three mornings later, short of cash and still in possession of a dried-out tooth, she presented her findings to her parents, I imagine buttoning her Ted Talk with a petulant “this is all bullshit, isn’t it?”

So, I thought of that, and my heart leapt for a second. Maybe my son was trying to test the existence of the tooth fairy. Maybe he’s a secret scientific genius. Maybe this is the beginning of his skeptical awakening.

But no, I’ve watched enough TV to know better. Follow the money. He was trying to get paid, preferably as soon as possible so that he could get some dollar-store candy, thank you very much.

But, as I said — here I am the next morning, and I’ve forgotten.

And he’s already up. And the only reason he’d be up early on a school day is because he’s excited about something, and that something is the fat stack of cash he’s anticipating for his missing tooth. So he’s seen that his tooth is still there, still in its wrinkled plastic baggy, dried blood flaking of the craggy underside. His little heart will be broken. A little bit of magic will have gone out of the world.

And because I’m an evergreen Scrooge, my heart brightens a little bit at that thought. Well, this is as good an opportunity as any to tell him the whole thing is a sham, the miser in my head says. He was gonna learn sooner or later, so why not now? First, kick this tooth fairy business out the front door — with great prejudice, I might add. Next on the hit list: Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s gonna be a good year.

These thoughts I share with my wife as I’m climbing into the shower. “Might as well tell him,” I say. “We already blew it, so we ought to just send the hard lesson now.” She gives me the unimpressed look, so I stop telling her the things I’m thinking out loud and resolve to have The Talk with my kid once I’m clean.

But I won’t get the chance, as you might have guessed when she was giving me the unimpressed look. Sure enough, I’m mid towel-off when my son bursts in the door with a fistful of dollars. (That’s the funny thing about having young kids. They don’t care about bathroom doors. They’ll come right in. And then stare at you. Nothing weird about that.)

Cue the following exchange:

Sprout: “DADDY LOOK.”

Me: “Oh, you got some money, huh?”

Sprout: “YEAH. I woke up and the tooth fairy forgot to pick up my tooth, but then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, SHE GOT IT.”

Me: “Oh, wow. That’s awesome, buddy.”

Sprout: “Yeah. And daddy, guess what?”

(I often wonder if he actually thinks my name is “daddy guess what”.)

Me: “What?”

Sprout: “She gave me EXTRA dollars this time. LOOK.”

Me: “Super cool.” I look past him to my wife, who leans on the door frame, giving me the unimpressed look again. “I guess she felt bad about not getting it on time, huh?”

Sprout: “Yeah, I guess so. Can I buy some CANDY PLEASE?”

So, as usual, my wife saves the day. Because the other thing I forgot while planning the shattering of my son’s illusions? He’s six, and he’s happy to believe just about anything when plied with toys and candy. The tooth fairy doesn’t fail to exist just because she didn’t show up at the appointed time. She was just running late this morning.

I guess I’ll have to break the tooth to him some other time.

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The truth, I mean.

(I’m so, so sorry.)

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10% Chance of Woo


I’m consumed, at present, with Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier.

I’ll make all appropriate caveats to say that I’m not done with the book. In fact I’m only about halfway through it, if that. But it’s the kind of book that for whatever reason is shaking me on a fundamental level. The book’s subtitle — How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works — sort of sums it up for you.

It’s fascinating reading. Harris basically uses his pages to recount a personal journey, from tv reporter-turned-anchor to drug-addicted high-chaser to spiritual sojourner to — well, as I said, I haven’t finished it yet.

The book is funny, full of great turns of phrase and idioms — he describes Deepak Chopra as “the Golden Arches or Nike Swoosh of spirituality — a globally recognized icon next to whom celebrities could pose when they wanted to signal ‘depth’,” for example. But more than that, the book is simply shatteringly honest., which is giving it a charm with me that’s hard to describe.

I don’t often read nonfiction books cover-to-cover, but with this one, I can’t help myself. I see myself in the narrator. His thoughts are mine, often before I even realize it. He’s a deep, committed skeptic (yep, that’s me) who’s constantly besieged by feelings of doubt and inadequacy (totally me) and constantly plays out the myriad ways everything could crumble around him (ME) and can’t get a moment’s peace inside his own head as a result (ME ME ME).

When drugs don’t solve the problem, he takes a hard left into the world of spiritualism.

At this, my eyebrows went up. Spiritualism is one of those fluffy, impossible-to-define words that generally seems to involve a lot of hippy crap like hugging trees and breathing deeply and sipping tea to solve life’s problems. A great way to fool yourself into believing there’s “something more to life” after you’ve let organized religion go but you’re not quite ready to dive into the icy waters of atheism. A middle ground.

And, well, I have some feelings about middle grounds, but mostly, middle grounds are not to be dwelled on.

Luckily, Harris has the same reaction. His battered brain-boat beaches itself on the strange shores of Eckhart Tolle and the aforementioned Deepak Chopra and he finds himself (despite himself) going along for the ride. Because despite the fact that both men (and countless others in the spiritualism circle) speak in insane intelligent-sounding but ultimately indecipherable word salad and deepities, something clearly seems to be working for them.

So he dives in. And, I guess, sometime in the coming pages, he begins meditating. And apparently this works for him.

Meditation is one of those things for me that I’ve always been kind of fascinated with but have never given it an honest shot. You hear “meditation” and you picture some kind of monk staring at the wall and pressing patterns into the floor through the sheer power of repetition. Sounds hokey, sounds fake, sounds too good to be true.

Furthermore, I have enough to do in my day; even ten or twenty minutes spent actively doing nothing seems entirely counterintuitive. Then again, I say that and I think about how much time I actually waste in a day — a few minutes here or there watching hilarious videos on Youtube of people falling off bikes, more than a few minutes hate-watching or hate-reading the news, lots and lots of minutes with my novel open, minimized in the background of my computer when it should be maximized and locked in front — and I wonder if an investment of ten or twenty minutes wouldn’t be worth it, if it helped me to reclaim some of that lost time.

And now, writing this post and reading this book, I realize that this is already an idea that’s wandering the halls of my subconscious, idly drawing patterns in the dust with a finger, now and then opening the fridge to see if anything tasty has magically appeared in the meantime. Just hanging out, waiting for something to do. In my first novel, I had a character who indulged in meditation every day to keep from losing her mind with the competitiveness and craziness of her job.

I wrote a character who practiced this very thing, even though I’ve never really tried it, even though I think it’s hokey and self-delusional. And it WORKED for her.

Anyway, a passage that had me reeling last night was the following:

The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete.

And, you know, damn. I feel that. Right down in my recently-operated-upon guts.

All of which is to say that I think meditation is a thing I may have to try. But, you know, in that “do or do not, there is no try” kind of trying, where you actually commit to the thing. (I know, I know. Add it to the list of “things I want to try,” which quickly molders into a pile of “things I tried once or twice and gave up on almost immediately”.)

So, do I have any meditaters (meditators? Spell check doesn’t like either one, go figure) in the house? Any firsthand advice or things I should know?


Sunburned Eggs (or, Atheists at Easter)


My son and I were in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart today.

Okay, so mistakes were made (never enter the toy aisle at Wal-Mart with your kid — better yet, never enter the toy aisle at ANY store with your kid — better still, never enter Wal-Mart) but it led to this interesting tidbit:

Me: Hey, bud, you like this one? Looks like he does magic.

Sprout: Magic isn’t real, daddy.

Me: Oh, really? It’s not?

Sprout: Well (he prefaces all his profundities with “well”), magic tricks are real, but real magic isn’t real.

(Whoa.)

Me: (the militant skeptic, hoping that this, right here, standing in the toy aisle, is the end of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and all manner of insufferable BS that parents pretend at for the “benefit” of their kids, but not wanting to come on too strong) oh, really?

Sprout: Yeah. Nobody has real magic.

Me: I see. Well — do you think the Easter Bunny is magic?

Sprout: Well, he only brings eggs filled with candy. That’s not magic.

So, you know. His skeptical instincts are apparently well-formed but still developing.

None of which kept me (a staunch atheist) and my wife (a wobbly atheist) from taking the kids to a local church for an Easter Egg Hunt (what gets capitalized there, really? Easter is the holiday, but Easter Eggs are specific things, and Hunts for Easter Eggs are certainly specific things too, though eggs and hunts are not typically specific things, and sometimes I hate the the fact that I taught English). This was not a purely cynical exercise, mind you. We were invited by one of my wife’s co-workers who, I think, thinks she can “snap us out of it.” And because we apparently think these kinds of things are good for the kids to take part in — as a cultural phenomenon, if not as a religious one — we went.

Anyway.

At said hunt, the organizers were dropping eggs from a helicopter, which is a thing that’s become more of a thing in recent years at your bigger Easter events. Of course, this is all flash without substance — it doesn’t change the intrinsic sugar-frenzy of the kids scrambling to get all the eggs before their peers, it just hypes them up and instills a good, solid bloodlust beforehand. But at this particular event (which was the first helo-drop), all the bugs had not yet been ironed out. So the helicopter circled the field once or twice, with the anticipation building, landed nearby to collect the eggs, then descended and dropped (apparently) thousands of eggs in a single spot on the field.

Thanks to all the rigmarole with the helicopter, the waiting for the “hunt” to begin (and the field in question was a literal soccer field, so it was less “hunt” and more “frenzied Thunderdome for all the clearly visible eggs in the grass”) took over an hour. Which resulted in a lot of cranky toddlers, frustrated parents, and at least one seriously sunburned bald atheist.

Which left my wife and I wondering why we went through it all.

Of course, the kids had a ball.

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I want you to note how really, thoroughly, unimpressed my kids are by all this.

So I guess there’s that.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


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.


Stream-of-Consciousness: Arm Yourself


Just a friendly little reminder:

Everything is made up. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Even the experts are making it up as they go along.

Sounds good, right? That’s the mantra of the “free thinker.” Unfortunately, that kind of thinking can land you in some pretty untenable places, like for instance, denying that humans are responsible for climate change or thinking that 9/11 was an inside job. You embrace the thinking that “you can’t trust anybody” and the whole world begins to look like a conspiracy theory. Pretty soon you’re driving around in a car that looks like this:

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Which is a pretty good way to advertise to the world that they shouldn’t waste their time talking to you.

Fact is, experts are experts not because they know everything, but because they constantly question whether they know anything. An expert will admit when he’s out of his depth. And then he’ll start asking the questions that expand his depth.

Put another way, when all the fish are swimming in one direction, your first thought shouldn’t be, “I’m swimming the other way.” Your first thought should be: “why are they swimming that way?” There just might be a good reason.

Arm yourself against idiocy. Arm yourself against people that want to take advantage of you. Ask questions. Think about what you see instead of just parroting the party line.

This post brought to you by nothing in particular.

Part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday, even if it’s a day late. Everything is a day late around here lately. Maybe I’ll invent my own time zone.


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