How Do We Become Who We Are

books-livrmI remember being pregnant with my first son. I remember stacks of books about being pregnant and producing children. I remember laughing and throwing one of those books, the title of which escapes me, into the trash can because it said something about newborn children being “blank slates” upon which their parents basically “wrote” their being.  Wow.  I somehow knew, just from the nature of the kicks to my breastbone, that the little presumed “chalkboard” in my belly was not going to go along with THAT program!

books-officeThis was before I’d even taken a philosophy course and before I’d even heard the word “existentialism.”  But I had the certain knowledge of what my own parents tried to “write” me into and knew I had rejected that completely.  How and why did I reject their doubtless sincere, if self-serving, efforts?  Because of BOOKS.  Because I read from an early age – I read at 4th grade level in grade one.  Because in a household full of horrific physical punishments, the worst punishment of all was not being allowed to check out library books for a whole year.

booksaltarBooks were where I escaped the cruel cloister of “family” life.  Books made me forget cold and hunger.  Books told me there were other ways to live, places to be.  Books made me sure I could do more with my life.  I’ve asked for books as presents more than any other object, I’ve given books away all my life.  The ones pictured in this post are small remnant of books owned and re-homed elsewhere, or occasionally sold, in my lifetime.  Books, to me, are WEALTH.  And no, those photos are not even all of the books of the family.  Not even half the books.

Reading is freedom seeking.  Reading is hope in ink.  So believe me when I say, I approve this message.  A plan to GET books into the hands of children who live in the unimaginable horror of a “book desert”?!  I am absolutely FOR that idea.  Even at our poorest, in my childhood, there was a set of encyclopedia and a dozen other books in our home, until we lost it all when I was around age 13.  Living in the wilds of frozen rural Idaho with no book in the house except the Book of Mormon, left by missionaries, was the most extreme deprivation I’d known.

Books are the building blocks of the mind.  And the roadmaps to better futures.  Books can be weapons against chaos.  Give your children books.  Give your adult friends books.  Read books yourself.  Challenge yourself!

 

 

 

 

Tone Setting?

img_0081I know, someone is going to accuse me of intolerance. I care not one whit.  I don’t even pretend to tolerate racism, misogyny, slavery, and other horrid societal things, do I?  And since the dominant paradigm faiths promote  all of those things practically as a default? Hey, that puts it all in the “never fucking mind” file in my mind.  Christianity, like most of the big three monotheistic faiths, being centered on a male deity, tends to treat women like crap.  Possibly worse than crap.  (Fertilizer is valued for crops and bomb making, after all.)  Since I’m a woman, I feel under no particular strain to aid in my own subjugation!  I actually feel like religion is used more to oppress everyone into “good” behavior that serves our corporate and governmental “masters” more than any purported god.

I like the pagan pantheons because they encompass both male and female divinity as an example.  Also?  None of that “all good, all knowing, all powerful” nonsense that makes the Jehovah figures either incompetent or assholes.  Don’t waste your time throwing C.S. Lewis or any other apologists at me; been there, done that and it was as unsatisfying as that crummy diet ice cream made with poly-what-the-hell-ever instead of cream!  Does that mean I pray to the figures on my altar — Kybele, Athena, Mary, and Crow Mother?  No.  It does not.  They are there to remind me of storied capabilities they were endowed with so as to activate those very human qualities in myself!  As I have often joked, I am a sort of poly-deist: “They” may indeed be out there and have set it all in motion, but they are not standing by a prayer/ritual switchboard to satisfy all “our wandering desires”.

I live, these days, mystical past apart,  basically as a “godless pagan”.  This does not mean precisely that I am an atheist — I am firmly agnostic due to my mystical past.  I have no clear idea whether or not gods and goddesses objectively exist; but I am pretty certain that this planet is OUR ball of wax to shape and destroy as WE will.  To me, tales of gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines are examples and precautionary tales.  Mind you, if Athena pops in (again) and head-smacks me?  I am willing to change my mind; but as a humanist?  For me, the biggest deterrent to the  common practice of religion is that it holds us back from saving ourselves as we wait, like children await the Easter bunny, some other Being to do it for us!

It is reassuring to me to know  that I am not alone as a pagan who isn’t rushing to propitiate divinities.  If gods and goddesses exist, my main perception is that they would most likely prefer for us to grow up and stop acting like little lost sheep(le).  The first book on my buy-t0-read list this year is Godless Paganism.  May it be so for you!

 

Gratitude 29 August – Wherein She Deplores a Well-Written Book

I like reading, and am generally grateful for books. I am grateful for the book I just finished, although reading it was like indulging in a film genre I deplore: horror. Trouble is? This was a non-fiction book.

Attachment-1So, while I am gratefully deploring “The Battle for God” by Karen Armstrong; I’m pretty sure she would ungratefully deplore my used graphic today.  Tough.  I think Ms. Armstrong, for all her meticulous research and very fair minded approach, has a couple blind spots.

Armstrong peaks my tolerance meter when she suggests that people under duress from fear and economic distress feel “left behind” by modernism — the general post-Enlightenment default mode of most of the Western World.  Her discussion of American fundamentalists in particular comes across to me as a prettily written gloss for “Yes, we are fucking idiots who like to boost our ego by being assholes to others; how DARE you college kids and atheist/feminist/faggot jerks tell us no; it’s a religious RIGHT, damn it!

All in all, I DO recommend the book.  It might be better read with a bottle of Scotch near at hand instead of the coffee I used to plough through it.  I absolutely enjoyed her careful historical analysis of the religious revolution in Iran — the whole nasty business that downed well-meaning Carter with hostages he could not retrieve.  However, it was NOT Carter who set that stage with letting the Shah be an autocratic asshole to his people, driving them to religion for refuge.  However, she also describes how a well-meaning revolution descended into a reign of terror devouring many Iranians; and yet somehow misses sounding alarm klaxons for what could happen if the legal “cuffs” every came off in America.

While she discusses how the less educated, poorly employed, tech-deficient Americans embrace Iron Age mythologies because they feel “left behind” by modern secular life?  I think she should have perused the book series “Left Behind” for where those mythological dreams would actually TAKE those pitiful fundamentalist sorts.  While she DOES discuss the American Christians who openly want theocracy, complete with slavery and forced birth?  She seems to believe the “Dominionists” are more dangerous than their Islamic brothers.  I wonder?

Like many modern apologists for Islam, and monotheism in general, she repeatedly stresses the nice things the Koran says instead of discussing with complete honesty what believers in the Koran did, including plenty of “conversion by the sword” by Mohammed himself.  She notably does not address the absolutely Iron Age mentality in the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — the way women are property (whether or not they veil for their own purposes, thank you very much), children can be slaughtered for disobedience or apostasy, and wonderfully non-modern things like slavery are AOK with God (and Jesus?).

She seems to want to defuse the religious fanatic bomb without actually acknowledging that religion IS a bomb.  She insists that humans need both “mythos” and “logos” and it is her opinion that problems happen only when mythos is treated AS logos.  One of my issues with this is that she seems to think monotheism is the only viable mythos out there; and second, as she said, any mythos being transformed to logos becomes an ideology.  And that, folks, let me tell you, IS the road to human hell paved with allegedly good intentions.  Ideologies make people into a means to an end — and as a good Kantian/Nietzschean Existentialist, that is a huge no-no.

For every chapter and verse she quotes on peace and love, there is more than one for “Kill the unbelievers!” in any of the three faiths she discusses; she can list all the external pressures in the world — but that is only the making of the gun, if you ask me.  The ammunition and the will to put finger to trigger comes from the “mythos” she tells us we cannot live without!

For a woman who once called herself an atheist, Karen Armstrong has returned, it seems to an idealized fold.  She thinks a religion-free era leads to emptiness and nihilism — whether she got this from Sartre’s “god shaped hole” or Nietzsche’s dead god, I don’t know.  I think with a bit of practice, we big-brained adaptable primates could find plenty of grist for that empty mental mill — IF we could stop fearing an afterlife punishment we are propagandized, beaten, and bamboozled into accepting.  I sympathize with her personal struggle and applaud her “praxis” approach to religion  — her description of it as “ethical alchemy” enchants me.  But as a priest once told me, shortly before I, myself, abandoned the Catholic Church, “Your ethics and logic applied to religion are not in line with the bulk of religious people; they will not rise to your level.”

Note, this book came out before 9-11, 2001.  I know she has written more on the topic of religion and terror.  I am not sure I want to read more, even with a bottle of Scotch at easy reach!  I walk (gratefully?) away with the uncomfortable sensation that Armstrong believes religion necessary, even IF it is an evil, and is trying to put lipstick on a pig.  She finds criticism of her take on Islam destructive, fearing it could lead to another Islam-directed Holocaust.  I share those fears, to be honest.

But if we could see ALL religions and hierarchies based on the holier than thou sorts ordering large groups of semi-stupid people into action as dangerous?  Well, then perhaps change would happen.  I think pointing out more loudly that, just as feelings are not facts, NOR is FAITH, might lead to more societal benefit than merely writing hall passes (in blood) for religious manias.

 

Catch-Up and Run-down

Ok, so now feeling over the whole venom reaction thing! Back to being grateful. Mind you, being more humanist than theistic, I am usually grateful to human action anyhow.

chalkedOn the 30th of July, I was grateful that my husband took up paintbrush to do a small household project. He used chalk paint to cover an ugly faux-finish on an otherwise charming piece of furniture that has held my bathroom sink since 2011!

So now it is a nice matte black, and I didn’t have to die of paint fumes.  Ever since my 2014 spring/summer of doom with the kitchen remodel and two solid months of refinishing furniture and painting rooms in the house, paint fumes of almost any sort make me feel quite ill.  That atop the already sickly from waspy stings would have been too freaking much!

On July 31st, I was grateful yet again, to the Minotaur for finishing the sink-dresser with a protective coat of poly-acrylic to stand up to bathroom dampness.  This finish was much smellier than the paint itself.

On August 1st?  I was grateful to finish reading the ugliest, nastiest, most-derivative trilogy of so-called “young adult” books I ever encountered. This was a trilogy of books about anthropomorphized rodents by Robin Jarvis: “The Dark Portal”,”The Crystal Prison”, and “The Final Resolution.” I got one of these (the middle one, of course) gifted to me and ordered the other two from the library.

First off, even if you are ‘humanizing’ your animal protagonists; some basic biology should be observed. Such as the following annoyed quibbles:
*bats do not have “snotty noses” unless they are very ill
*mice are so much smaller than rats that rats would kick their mousey butts
*an owl would kick ratt butt
*bats don’t “see in the dark” by magic, but by sound

But worse, the books were so very derivative — basically bits stolen from Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” books (very excellent!) and added to “Lord of the Rings”by Tolkien.
Sauron = ‘Jupiter” the cat
orks = rats
men = mice
bats = “Istari” and Numenoreans
squirrels = elves
“starglass” = Ring

The cover illustrations were rather charming. The interior ones were incredibly ugly — even the mouse protagonists were ungainly and bulbous nosed. I can’t see anyone over age ten “enjoying” these books at all. All the back cover praise, even from M. L’Engle? Made me wonder if they ever READ these horrid, grindingly awful little novels.  Characters were shallowly drawn, and word descriptions were often so ugly you simply wanted to quit reading.

Beware back cover praise when selecting books for young readers — read the book first to be SURE!

August 2?  I am grateful for some rain filling my new rain barrels!