Sunday, November 21

Fall out with your Lover

A Big Fight and Deep Hurt is FeltI hate it when my partner and I fight. I know some couples get off on arguing and fight as a way to pass the time. But when we fight, something breaks inside me.

There's a feeling you get when your lover's mad at you. Or at least there's a feeling that I get. It's a feeling that sits deep inside me. It's an emptiness that needs to be filled. An emotion that needs to be expressed. A guilt that must be confessed to.

When I'm excluded from his touch, excluded from his love, it feels as if I've been cut off from life itself for a while. And I feel it all through me. Every part of me wrong. Every inch of me feel confused when I know that he's mad at me.

And I know, of course, from experience that with in a few hours, it will be gone, and life will go on as normal, still during those few hours my heart trembles. I feel like I want to shout, or scream, or punch something just because it's the only way I can begin to ease the feeling of loss that I get whenever that love goes away, whenever that love leaves me for a minute or for a day.

Maybe it's just me, it probably is. I'm good at over-reacting. But to me, losing that love, is like losing part of myself. It's like tearing a chunk out of my soul.

And it's a shame that the time I most realise how I feel about him, and how deeply connected I am to him, is a few seconds after the fight is over.

Sometimes having a spirit can hurt too.

But then, later on, you get to make up.

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Wednesday, September 1

Ghosts are a spiritiual phenomena

meliss_ghost bwThe existence of Ghosts proves the existence of the human spirit.

Nope, I haven't gone to the woo side. Bare with me.

Humans fear death, although how we deal with it changes as we age. Heading into late 20's, I largely deal with death by ignoring it. As I age my attitude to death may slowly change. One day I expect to have a sudden crushing realisation that I will die one day. I already know that death is inevitable of course, I have no illusions of immortality, but death still feels far away, or unlikely - as likely to happen to me anytime soon as winning the lottery. I have not yet changed the world, I have not yet left my footprint in history. I have not yet even written a will, i can't possibly die yet. One day, having still not changed the world, left my footprint in history or written a will I'll probably suddenly realise that I am running out of time and decide to buy a motorbike.

We're not wired to understand death. If we did we would never attempt to do anything. What would be the point? Instead we see ourselves as separate from our body. It is not my brain telling my hand what to write, it is me. I am not my mind, I exist separate from my body, but also in it. Of course, logically I know there outside of my body and my brain there is no me. And yet everyday I act as if there is something else. And so do you. This is the way our brains have learnt to program us. It is the most effective way for us to cope with existence. It is also completely a lie.

But having created a lie the brain must validate it. And this, I believe is where ghosts come into it.

We all want to believe. We may scoff at Most Haunted or Ghost Hunters but there is something comforting in the idea of ghosts. They are proof that the spirit exists beyond this mortal coil. The existence of ghosts proves the conceit the brain has constructed. And for this reason I wonder if we are predisposed to see them.

The brain constructs wonderful stories from feelings and sightings from the corner of the eye. Rather than dismissing them, we call these ghosts. We create elaborate stories about ghosts to tell others who agree with us and tell us their own. Almost everyone has some sighting to share, the smell of their grandfathers cigarettes at his funeral, their deceased mothers voice in their ear, the feel of their child's hand holding onto theirs. The stories bond us, and convince us that the spirit will live forever.

This is the brain at it's most amazing. It has not only created an illusion of the spirit, it even seeks evidence of it. We are so keen to avoid death that we seek proof of the afterlife in everything. The brain allows us to create elaborate stories, based on a shadow in the corner, or a smell in a room, and use it to convince ourselves that we are immortal. And with this reassurance, they can carry on in the world. No matter what happens we will live forever.

How incredible is a brain that can do this? Next time someone tells me a ghost story, instead of fighting them I'll respect them instead. They may be mistaken, almost certainly they are, but they simply can't help it. Their story is evidence of brain that needs us to believe we exist outside of our body. And will go to phenomenal extents to make that seem true.

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Thursday, August 26

One of the top 50 Atheist blogs of 2010!

Online SchoolAccording to an e-mail I received this morning, my blog has been voted among the top 50 atheist blogs of 2010!

I didn't know such a competition existed until just now, and feel rather like I've just been told that I've won the New-Zealand lottery. I'm not entirely sure whether I should trust this or not. Maybe it's just some big targeted advertising campaign? But when you click on the link there I am. Link number 19 (yes I counted!)

The online school Atheism blog awards judges a blog across 20 different attributes, including content, frequency of updates, amount of advertising, length of posts, and readability, and ranks them in order. To get in the top 50, based on such impressive criteria, is shocking! The fact that someone even bothered to nominate me in the first place is shocking.

This blog is such a baby in the massive established big boy world of Atheist bloggers. It's nice to feel like this baby just won it's first bonny baby competition.

A massive thank you to whoever voted for me! I'll work extra hard now to look like I actually deserved it.

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Tuesday, August 24

Being a Spiritual Atheist - Read Romantic Poetry

Prospect Cottage All writing is egotistical. Poetry doubly so.

Whenever anyone writes something down, with the intention of sharing it with others, they do so with an inherent belief that they are writing something worthwhile. A blogger, for example, does not blog for the sheer joy of it, but rather because they think they have something to share that other people need to know. The very act of writing on a public forum assumes that people want to read your writing.

Poetry is this squared. When someone sits down to write a poem, they not only think they have something of worth to share but they think that it's so worthwhile you'll be happy to spend ages trying to understand it. A poet is an wannabe celebrity without the looks. This is possibly the reason that I used to spend a lot of time writing poetry.

With this in mind I write this post carefully. Many, many people do not read poetry, or enjoy reading poetry, and yet I am about to suggest that you do just that. Hang with me here, it should make sense before I'm done.

Love, as most people know, is an illusion. It seems to be little more than a firing of endorphins which encourages kinship and childbearing. It is an evolutionary device to help us pass on our DNA. And yet no one would alive that the experience of love can be distilled so. Love is beyond understanding, love is a mystery, love is without words.

We can't understand love, and we can't understand poetry. And so the two combined create a whole world of mystery. And it is this reason that I love it.
Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell'd up to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.
Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;
So to'intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.
John donne - The ecstacy
The Ecstacy, by John Donne is one of the most beautiful descriptions of love and sex every written, especially considering it was written by a preacher. In this passeg he describes with metaphor and beautiful words lovers lying on a river bed, gazing into each others eyes, as the rest of the world seems to disappear around them.

This is a human beings attempt to describe the indescribable. It is a man's attempt to transcribe lust and passion. It is impossible to completely understand it. All we can do is feel the words, feel round the idea. And it is own idea of love, our own Idea of passion, that gives the meaning shape. In this way reading poetry affirms your own view on the world. And for a few moment's it allows you to float above it.

In the film 'Bright Star' John Keets describes how reading a poem should feel.
"A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery. "
To read romantic poetry is to immerse yourself into another persons emotions, and to feel the emotions well up in you. It is to remove yourself from the world of black and white and live out a moment in a world of intense colour. When you return to the world of reality, everything looks that bit more colourful.

And when a poem attempts to describe love. Even the simplest words can be profound.
let me be your vacuum cleaner
breathing in your dust
let me be your ford cortina
i will never rust
if you like your coffee hot
let me be your coffee pot
you call the shots
i wanna be yours
John Copper Clark - I wanna be yours  
To read a love poem is to see into someone else's soul, and see inside yours all at the same time. Next time you want a instant hit of spirituality, do a google search for love poetry, and let yourself soak in the words.

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Friday, August 20

My E-mail to Catholic Care

Following yesterday's post about Catholic Care and gay adoption,  I realised I might be being unfair. After all, I am only hearing one side of the issue, and I'm hearing that through a very biased filter. As far as I'm concerned their decision is an attack on me. They are suggesting that as a gay man I am unfit to raise a child, as if I'm socially and psychologically imparied, and any child in my care would be permentatly damaged.

But this seems to not be a moral battle, but a financial one. It seems that Catholic care would lose their church funding if they go against catholic teachings. And so realising there are other issues that I may be overlooking, I decided to write to Catholic care to see if they would give me an insight into their own points of view. Are they simply upholding the view of their financiers, or do themselves hold the view that homosexuality is immoral and dangerous for our children?

Dear Rev Roche,
I'm would like to discuss the recent ruling by the Charity Commission and convey your opinion, and your side of the story, to a wider audience
First, a confession. I am a gay, UK atheist who blogs at I, and the majority of my readers, disagree with you on this issue. 
However, It has occurred to me after writing a post short, bitter post discussing this,  that I may have the situation completely wrong. The more I read about this story, the more I see that this may be a financial problem, rather than a religious one, and I, and my readers would like to hear your views on the matter more directly. 
Of course, I am far from unbiased. As a gay man I feel you are discriminating against me personally, as if I am unworthy to raise a child. But I aware of my bias and I am eager to try to understand why you feel you must now close, rather than offer adoption to gay couples. 
My blog readership is small, but the gay and atheist online community are well connected and I am confident that I will be able to fairly, and accurately, convey your point of view to a large audience. At a time when the reputation of the Catholic Church, and Catholicism, is suffering, it may be beneficial to help your strongest opponents understand your point of view. 
I would happy to carry out this discussion by telephone. MSN or E-mail and keenly await your response.
I do not, of course, expect a personal response. They have not been responding to direct requests by news Journalists, so I hardly expect them to respond to me. But I hope they at least send me a short form e-mail explaining their position.

What do you think? Are Catholic care simply reliant on funding from the Catholic church, or is this their own Moral objection to Gay Adoption? Are the Catholic Church right to withraw their funding if it they violate catholic Teachings?

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Thursday, August 19

Catholic adoption agency 'disappointed' they can't deny Gay's happiness

A Roman Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Care, is considering closing it's doors after their appeal to refuse adoptions to same sex couples has been overturned.

"The charity is very disappointed with the outcome," a spokesperson said,  "[and] will now consider whether there is any other way in which the charity can continue to support families seeking to adopt children in need."

This is of course the only logical thing to do. Gay's mustn't be allowed to adopt children: that would be immoral.

Never mind that hundreds of children are being robbed of the chance of a happy home, never mind that homosexual's are being denied the right to a family, never mind that study after study after study has shown that there is no significant difference in raising a child in a straight or gay household.

The Bible says it is wrong, somewhere, if you interpret the passages in a certain way. God doesn't want kid's to be happy if they have to live amongst the gays to do it.

And so rather than carrying on helping willing adults and homeless children come together. They may close their doors altogether.

It's just what Jesus would have wanted.

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Tuesday, August 17

The Evolution of Disney Intros

There was a time, as recently as 1994, when all good movies started like this.

This animation is famous. Most of us grew up with it. Nearly everyone alive, in the western world, today links it to childhood, to innocence, and to a damn good movie.

Back then we made cartoons by hand, each frame painstakingly drawn and painted, one frame at a time. Then something amazing happened. A company called Pixar created the first ever fully CGI Movie, about a Toy Cowboy and his Space Ranger friend, called 'Toy Story'. For the first time ever, an entire movie was animated on a computer screen. And to celebrate, they made the intro animation a little bit more CGI...

But it didn't stop there. More and more films were made on computers. CGI effects became standard in every movie. The quality of animation continued to get higher and animated worlds became more realistic. 

And so, in 2007, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Disney World, they had no difficulty in creating this.

Take a look at those animations again. Compare the top one to the bottom. That transformation happened in a mere 12 years. Remember how excited the world was when Toy Story was made? Remember how novel and new it was. And now 12 years down the line, we take such amazing displays of talent and technology for granted.

This is the promise of humanity. In 12 years, 12 tiny years, human minds came together and changed the world. We are living in a time of amazing discoveries. Technology and Science are progressing faster than ever in recorded history. This is our potential. This is the gift of humanity. We can do so much, so quickly. We have never had more possibility than we do right now. And it's all thanks to the human mind, a bundle of grey, pink and white cells, working non-stop inside your skull.

We are truly incredible beings. We can create worlds of beauty. And maybe we can even make our real world more beautiful as well.

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Friday, August 13

Atheists are afraid to believe in God

J Pelikan Sarcophage thinks atheists have it all wrong. We start from the premise that God doesn't exist. That's the only way we can explain the unfairness of the world. This he argues is all backward. Instead, we should assume that God does exist, and is an absolute bastard.
"Too often, intellectual communities today assume godlessness as a baseline. Allow me instead to suggest a new foundation for intellectualism. A thinking human’s initial position on the existence of God should be one or more of the following: (a) God exists, and He/She/It is hopping mad and/or malevolent; (b) God exists, and He/She/It is a myriad of spiritual personalities—that is, a pantheon or a split-personality singular being—many of which should be avoided like the plague or propitiated in order to avoid being turned into a shrubbery; or (c) God exists, but what the fuck was He/She/It thinking when He/She/It created a yummy vegetable like asparagus which, upon digestion, causes one’s urine to smell like rotting venison?!"
Here he has the upperhand on me, I have no idea what rotting venison smells like, but the rest of the argument leaves me unsatisfied as well.

Firstly, if God was an absolute bastard then what would be the point of him/her/it? A God who does not intervene because they are malevolent, schizophrenic or unfazed by the effects of asparagus serves no purpose. The world would be the same whether this God existed or not, and so it is impossible to take such an argument seriously.

But that isn't my main problem. Sarcophage's definition of an atheist, as someone who doesn't believe in God because there are bad things in the world, just doesn't ring true. " I think [atheists] believe in God but just don’t want to admit it", he writes. Atheists are afraid to believe in God, because if God exists then he must be a horrible person.

I completely disagree. I don't not believe in God because of greed, evil, or suffering: these would exist whether or not God was real. I don't believe in God because I don't believe in God.

Belief in anything requires evidence. For example, when I see a play, I believe in the existence of stagehands. But my belief is not blind. The curtains raise and fall, scenery changes, spotlights follow the actors. I may never see the stagehands themselves, but I have a very good reason to believe they exist. They leave evidence behind them.

I do not however believe in Rainbow coloured leprechauns. This is a shame, because rainbow coloured leprechauns would be the ultimate fashion accessory. But I have no reason to believe they exist. They are no leprechaun fossils, no genuine photographs, no rainbow coloured footprints left in the mud, or rainbow drop sweets left on my pillow in the morning. I have no reason to believe that Rainbow coloured leprechauns exist. And It's a pretty safe bet to say that they don't.

I don't believe in rainbow coloured leprechauns because I don't believe in rainbow coloured leprechauns. I wish I could, because that would be awesome, but I have no reason, and no evidence, to make me believe in them. I don't believe in God, because I don't beileve in God. I wish I could, who wouldn't want to know there is an omnipotent being looking after them? But I have no reason, and no evidence, to make me believe in him.

And so whether God is good, or bad, or mad, or just hates asparagus, is irrelevant. He/she/it has given me no reason to believe. And so therefore, I don't believe.

This is why we have 'God does not exist' as our baseline. There is no reason to believe anything other than this. And so the Sarcophage's argument's fall flat. I am not afraid to believe in God, I do not think God is a bastard. I just think God is a fictional character. And like all fictional characters, he exists only in the mind.

Do you agree? Or does Sarcophage have a point? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments.

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Thursday, August 12

Britain The Most Irreligious Country on the Planet

British_Isles_outline_cola.jpgBritain is officially going to hell in a big red bus.

According to Jonathan Hari, Britain is shedding superstition faster than any any other Nation on Earth. 63% of us now class ourselves as non-believers and 82% of us think religion can be harmful.

It's encouraging to see how quickly England has embraced anti-theism, even though I suspect it may just be the fashionable thing to do at the moment. Even our celebrities are doing it! Unfortunately it's also fashionable to believe in Ghosts and take Echinacea, but you can't win all your battles at the same time.

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Wednesday, August 11

You are a Child of the Skies

As human beings we are connected to every living thing in nature. Every human, animal and plant on the planet is a member of our family. But our connection goes even deeper than that. Our very existence is due to the stars, and so we are connected to the whole of the universe. We are children of the skies.

When the universe was first born it contained only the simplest elements, some hydrogen, some helium, and a handful of Lithium. This is enough to create gaseous planets and stars, but nothing more complicated than that. The universe was nothing but of Stars, gas clouds and gas giants. And then the Stars began to explode.

Stars, like our sun, are gigantic nuclear reactors, fusing hydrogen and helium into heavier and heavier elements. When a star dies all of the elements it has created are released in a massive explosion. More stars are formed from the dust cloud, and in their turn also die. As more and more stars are born and die more heavy elements are created. And eventually a solar system can form that is heavy element rich. A planet can come into being that has the potential for life.

This shouldn't be possible! Without the death of thousands of stars, the basic elements of life could not exist. Without the right combination of elements on our planet DNA could never have formed. Without the planet being positioned just right in the solar system with just the right atmosphere life could never have survived.

death+of+a+star.gifWe are the product of thousands of remarkable moments in history, incredible chances, and astonishing coincidences. Your own life story can be traced back to the beginning of the universe. If the universe had not been the way it is, if the stars had not formed and died the way they do, if the Earth had not been the perfect nursery for life, had any one of your billions of ancestors decided not to reproduce, had any of these moments altered in the slightest in their course, then you would not exist today.

And it all began from stardust. Every atom in you is the result of a remarkable journey, beginning at the birth of the universe and travelling through the millennia to become you. And not just you. The air you breathe, the ground you stand on, the water you drink, your entire existence, is the end product of billions of years of life, and death of galaxies, stars, and worlds.
You are the last breath of a dying star. You are a child of the sky.

And one day, when our Sun consumes the Earth in its death throes, and itself ceases to be, you will once again be scattered into the universe, to become a new Sun or a new world. And so, thanks to your atoms, life may begin all over again.

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Monday, August 9

Hitchens's Spirit Embraces Mortality

I have never been a fan of Christopher Hitchens. Whenever I have seen him speak he has come across as arrogant, with no apparent understanding of, or care for, the other point of view. But to see him discuss his possible upcoming death, with such acceptance, and dignity, I have begun to realise there may be a spirit inside him too.

All of us are mortal, and all of is have but a moment to enjoy here. The trick is to make the most of that moment that you can. Hitchens seems to be happy with the time that he has spent. He accepts that he has brought about his own demise with his lifestyle, but seems satisfied that the candle has burnt bright enough for long enough to justify burning itself out so soon.

There are some who are attempting to see Hitchens's blatant denial of any death bed conversion as a sign that he still believes in some higher power. Nothing can be further from the truth. As the video clearly shows he is very comfortable with his world view. He is just a man who knows that the body is weak and may one day betray him.

I hope we do not lose Hitchens anytime soon. He may be an arrogant Boris Johnson lookalike but he has poetry in his soul and a passion that burns. The man is one of the most rational and logical our generation has seen, and, through his reason and his logic, his spirit shines. 

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Friday, August 6

Keith Olbermann on Prop 8 - Video now working

I married my husband 2 years ago, in a beautiful hotel just outside Bristol. Both of our families turned up, which was something of a shock to both of us, and I can truthfully say that it was one of the happiest days of my life, if for no other reason because it gave me a reason to take a two week honeymoon in Florida.

Before 2005 this wouldn't have been possible. Any marriage would have been unrecognised by my country. I would have no legal rights in relation to him at all. My country refused to recognise my love. Thankfully my country saw common sense.

That there are places in the Western world that still refuse to see this love astounds me, and that, in California, people actually voted to deny this love, is something I can't begin to understand.
Proposition 8 being overturned is as massive victory for what is right. This isn't a moral argument, or a political debate. This is a simple question of prejudice vs 'what is right'. And 'what is right' is finaly gaining the upper hand.

Shortly after Prop 8 was first passed Keith Olbermann gave a special opinion on it on MSNBC. I have never seen this before today, but a request as elegant, as beautiful, and as 'right' as this can only be a spiritual one. They are some of the truest, and most powerful, words I have ever heard.

Congratulations to California for finally waking up. The next step is the high court. Let's hope they do know the difference between what is right, and what God says.
Stolen from the friendly Atheist

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Thursday, August 5

Realise your Connection with Nature

Imagine you're attending a family reunion. Relax! Your uncle John won't be there, and as you're only imagining you won't have to talk to your grandma about that awkward situation at last years Christmas party.

Sport (?) 1911 (LOC)Imagine your family decides to do the conga: they're that type of family. You take the lead, and your father grabs your shoulders. His father grabs his shoulders and so on. As this party is imaginary even the dead are invited, so long as they don't upset Aunt Bethel, and the conga line can stretch back for generations, say 1,000 fathers or more. This is the reason you always hold your family reunions in very large venues.

This conga line is your family history, and the reason that you are alive. Every single person in that conga line, managed, without fail, to reproduce and father offspring at least once. If anyone of them had failed you would not exist. If you broke away from the conga and walked down the line, you would also notice subtle changes as the generations pass. 10 generations back your family didn't have your prominent pointy chin. 30 generations back their ears were bigger. 50 generations back it's hard to find any family resemblance at all. If you could go back even further than the 1,000 generations, you would eventually find that the faces start to become less and less human, and the conga-ing less and less civilised. If you walked far enough back your ancestors would be too small for you to see.

This is the story of human evolution, albeit including a conga line. Most of us are familiar with this idea. But what we sometimes forget is that every living thing alive today has a similar conga line all of its own. Your hamster has a line of ancestors that run back for thousands of generations. And somewhere in his conga line, is an ancestor who is also in yours. It's true! If you go back far enough you and Hammy are cousins.

koala_conga_line-782160.jpgAnd it's not just Hammy you're related too. You're related to your guinea pig too! And the parasites living in Hammy's fur. Even the straw that lines Hammy's cage. Everything that lives or has ever lived is related to you.

We've all heard this before but we tend to brush it off as an idea, rather than a reality. But it is a reality! Think about this the next time your outside. That tree is your relative. That bird is your cousin. That butterfly is family.

When you look at the world this way, you cease to be single soul and join with the whole of creation. Every living thing in the world is family. Every creature, plant and cell shares a part of you.

Treat every person, animal, and plant as family, and you'll never feel alone again. All of nature, the whole of your massive extended family, is there, experiencing their own family trials, right along beside you.

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Wednesday, August 4

"Joyous atheists: the ultimate oxymoron?" says bigoted Cathoilc

A writer at the Catholic Herald believes she has discovered a new oxymoron
"I heard the expression ‘joyous atheists’ the other day and it struck a tinny note against my lexical eardrum. Indeed I refudiate it on the grounds it is an oxymoron. ‘Joyous’ has spiritual connotations and atheists have rejected the life of the spirit. They can of course be ‘happy’ – a word that is much lower in the hierarchy of the emotions."
What a daft thing to say. She might as well say that Atheists can't do crossword puzzles for all the sense it makes. Joy is an emotion, a feeling of extreme happiness. Not believing in God doesn't mean I don't believe in Joy. The way I see it this is probably felt more by Atheists than by believers anyway.

I feel joy everyday, knowing that my life is my own, that the world is a wonderful place and that I am deeply connected to it. I can feel joy knowing that my only goal today, and every day, is to live the most worthwhile life I can.

I wonder how many believers truly feel joyous when there is the constant fear of a vengeful god watching your every move ready to punish you when you go wrong. How many feel joyous with a life full of contradictions, having to constantly struggle to make theirs beliefs and the real world agree? How can they be joyous when their Church is got in the deeply embroiled in a scandal, over the way it's leaders have betrayed the trust of, and deeply scarred, hundreds of children?

With all that you'd think it would be difficult to be a joyous catholic.

I can be a joyous person. And my joy comes from something real. The experience of being alive. If my joy came from a sense that I would one day live forever in heaven, at the cost of living half a life now, I don't know how rewarding that joy would be.

What do you think? Is joyous a word reserved only for believers?

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Sunday, August 1

Take a walk on the Beach

DSC_0070-2.JPGThere is something awe-inspiring about the sea.

To look out over the ocean is like looking at infinity. With nothing but water all the way to the horizon, the distractions, and problems, of the world disappear.

I grew up in the corner of the UK with a coastline 5 minutes away in 3 directions. Whenever I needed to think, I took a short walk to the beach, and looked out at the waves.

The sea itself is a planet of wonder. The waves travel in from unimaginable distances, exchanging oxygen and Carbon dioxide between the water and the atmosphere on their way. Without the waves life could not exist below the surface. Each wave hits the beach like a sigh sending watery fingers creeping up the sand, a voyage of discovery, before, tried, they return to the safety of the sea. As the day goes on the water climbs higher, then withdraws again, each tide a breath of water on to the land, caused by the ballet between the earth, the sun, and the moon. Without these tides the whole ecology of the sea would be thrown into disarray. It is even possible that tides were the reason sea-dwelling creatures first climbed onto dry land. Without them mankind may never have evolved.

The beach sand, which the waves crash onto, is formed from rocks and shells older than we can conceive. Eroded by water and wind over time, they are made even finer by each wave. The water itself is part of a constant cycle of evaporation, rain, river, ocean, and is the same water in which the first living creatures swam. Every single creature in the sea is related to us, and yet there are still thousands of them yet to discover. The ocean is an unknown world, and we have only just begun to explore it.


As the sun sinks below the horizon, dust and liquid particles scatter its light, painting the canvas of the sky with colours that take the breath away.

It is tempting, when experiencing the power and wonder of this mysterious world, to believe it was created just for us. That all this beauty was put on the earth for us to enjoy.

But the real story a beach tells, of the slow path of time, the spin of the earth, the pull of the moon, the flowing of the water, the adaption of species, and how it all fits together perfectly, is far more wondrous, far more life affirming, than any myth we can create. That the ages stare back at us when we look out at the ocean reminds us how lucky we are to have made it at all. And how much there is that we still do not know.

And until our life is over we will always be able to marvel at the view.

Pictures by Sansgod

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I've Joined the Atheist Blogroll

The Spiritual Atheist has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar.

The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world.

If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

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Saturday, July 31

Atheist is a four letter word

"I think this is absolutely disgusting. It is wholly inappropriate to promote religion in a public library. We do not pay our taxes to have this derisive, evil and destructive rubbish rammed down our throats."
Young Christian painting. A self-confessed agnostic wrote the above in an exhibition guest book at Bristol public Library. The Exhibition, isay:usay:wesay, was put together by young Christians and Muslims, expressing their faith through paintings which they discussed with each other to see what their religions share.

The paintings are largely harmless, symbolic paintings, with religious symbols, such as the cross, or the dove, or words of arabic used to represent beliefs and feelings.

There was a guestbook by the exhibition for the visitors to give their opinions. It was full of meaningless praise, as the British are inclined to give, until the comment above. Then the equivalent of a handwritten flame war began.

People were offended that someone had dared to voice these thoughts in writing. They called the commenter 'an absolute disgrace!!!' and told them to 'Go home and be quiet like a good atheist'  'An absolute disgrace!!!' And so it goes on for the rest of the guestbook. People criticise the writer for questioning the rights of religion and throw in the occasional insult for good measure.
Religious backlash against atheist comment
I don't agree with the original comment. The library is a place of learning, a place of thousands of opinions waiting to be read and understood, and an exhibition about two faiths getting to know more about each other is a display that belongs there. Rather than ramming religion down our throats it was an exhibition about understanding other faiths, and about training our children to think of other point of views. It was education in art form.

But the response to their comment scares me. Would the replies had been so vitriolic if the commenter had mentioned politics instead of religion? Almost certainly not. For a country that is largely considered Secular, openly questioning religion still causes offence, and 'Atheist' is still used like a four-letter word. The UK may not be so welcoming to atheists as I thought, maybe even less welcoming than we were 20 years ago. The stigma is so strong that the original commenter felt the need to deny any association with Atheism. They were 'Agnostic.' And agnosticism is the default, and therefore safe, position in the UK.
If religion is going to cause this much debate every time it is aired somewhere publicly then it should be done as often as possible. But we need atheists who can fight against it with charm and skill and make the word 'Atheist' a positive one, rather than link it to anger and hate talk. Because, to my surprise, it seems that atheists in the UK are still largely unaccepted.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments. Maybe I'm reading too much into one guestbook. Or maybe I'm idealist and the situation is worse than I think!

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Friday, July 30

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Laboratory

Cheeky Canines steal treats behind their owner's backsAs if it wasn't enough that we're connected in someway to every human on the planet it seems that dogs are even more like us than we thought. It will be no surprise to any dog owner that dog' know what people are thinking. But recent research has confirmed that they not only know what we're thinking, they use it to their advantage!
Researchers have found that dogs are more likely to try to sneak a treat when they weren't being watched, and knew how not to give themselves away.
The dogs had been trained and commanded not to eat some treats, and then left in a room with a scientist, and two containers full of the treats they weren't allowed to have! One container had bells on it and rang whenever a dog tried to get a treat from it. The other container was silent. Whenever the dogs were being watched they would should take treats from either container. They were going to get in trouble for it anyway, so it didn't matter. But, as soon as the scientist looked away, the dogs would take treats from the silent bowl only.
bad dog doberman
It seems that the dogs knew what the scientist was thinking. They knew she wouldn't be happy with them sneaking treats, so they tried to do it without giving themselves away. They waited till she was thinking of something else and then snuck a treat behind her back, much the same way that a child would try to sneak a cookie by waiting till mum had left the kitchen. They also realised that the container with bells on would give the game away. In short dogs understood how others perceive their actions, the same way you might think twice before telling your spouse they've put on a little weight.
It's a great example of exactly how un-unique we are on this planet. Even dogs know how to avoid upsetting us. They can tell what we're thinking and use it to get the better of us.
Knowing all of this I feel a lot closer to dogs than I used to; They're more like me that I previously imagined. But I'm also not sure if I can ever trust them ever again.

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Wednesday, July 28

Does Skepticism take the fun out of life?

Part of me has always been a skeptic. Even as a Christian I used to experiment. Being told that I couldn't do things I would try them to find out why. I borrowed a book on self-hypnosis from the library, burnt joss sticks in my room and practised yoga. I was somewhat disappointed that I never ended up being possessed by a demon.

Tai chi - Guess I'd be the bald one...One thing I experimented with was Tai Chi. I borrowed a DVD from a friend and learnt my first kata, or sequence, within 2 hours. It was supposed to take weeks to learn properly, so either I'm a very fast learner or my technique was very sloppy, but I was happy enough and practiced whenever I could. I tried to feel the Chi moving through my body, but all that seemed to happen is that my legs got tired. Eventually, a week after I began, I realised that Tai Chi was unlikely to be the play thing of scheming demons and gave it up.

Recently though, in my quest to find spirituality, I decided to try it again. Realising a DVD may not have been the best way to learn a marshal art, I attended a free taster session at a local park instead. And watched as my skepticism took all the fun out of it.

The teacher, dressed all in black in the 28° heat, began to teach to us about Chi.

Is this what Chi looks like?"Chi", he told us, "is the life force running through your body. It is centred just below and behind the belly button, and is the source of all your energy." He went on to tell us that the reason we get ill is because our Chi is blocked, and that Tai Chi is a natural way to remove any blockages and promote optimum health.

The problem is that I already know about Chi. And I know that Chi doesn't exist. No evidence has ever been found to support it. No working medicine is based on it. No laws of physics allow for it.

And just like that the session was ruined for me. I'd hoped to try Tai Chi as a moving form of meditation: a way to clear my mind. Instead I spent the rest of the session trying to ignore the fact that the energy meant to be moving through me didn't exist. Far from being relaxed I felt like a fraud. At any moment I my mask might slip and I'd be revealed as the James Kirk fan at the Star Wars convention

This is where my skepticism had brought me. I had gone to the class looking to experience some peace, and instead experienced a deep desire to sit everyone down and explain basic biology to them.

This isn't the first time my skepticism has done this. It's ruined films and TV shows, made me doubt my friends harmless stories and anecdotes, and even put me on guard whilst someone is pouring out their heart to me and asking me for help. My critical thinking has trained me to doubt everything. And it's making me more of a cynic than I want to be!

I love my skepticism. I love being able to apply critical thinking to the world around me. But I still want to be able to get lost in some of the mysteries of the planet. I still want to able to indulge in some of the benefits of the spiritual world without needing to believe the lies that are behind it. But my skepticism doesn't have an off switch!

How do you stop your skepticism from taking over your life? Is it possible to be a skeptic and still enjoy new, mysterious, experiences?

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Tuesday, July 27

Is Dancing a Spiritual Experience?

We all feel happy every now and then, and sometimes we feel so happy that we can't help but dance. People dance worldwide, regardless of politics or culture, as a way of expressing joy, and sometimes when they feel sad as a way of cheering themselves up. Matt Harding danced all over the planet and shared his appalling dance moves with hundreds of people along the way. His video is a beautiful reminder that we are are all connected to each other and that we all share a common bond, even if that bond may be a complete lack of rhythm.

If nothing else, this video should give you hope that your dancing isn't that bad after all.

The videos been around for a while but I bet even now you can't watch it without smiling, and that shows the power that dancing holds. So one way to experience spirituality might just be to dance. With no care for rhythm, style, or even the music, just feel the joy, and go a little crazy.

Imagine what an happy place the world would be if everyone we met was dancing.
Video reminded to me by Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Journalist accused of atheism arrested in Maldives

The Maldives are becoming a dangerous place for atheists.

In May a man was mobbed by the audience during a lecture in which he renounced his faith. And just weeks later, a 25 year old atheist air-traffic controller took his own life, after being hounded to death.

Now a Maldivian journellist is has been arrested for attempted suicide, homosexuality, and atheism, all of which are illegal on the small island.

It makes glad that I live in a country like England. We may be slightly backwards in a lot of our views but it's a far safer place to be an Atheist than much of the rest of the world.

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Monday, July 26

Mitchell and Web - Does God Exist?

I love Mitchell and Web, and love their increasingly skeptical bent.

This is a classic clip in which they discuss the existence of God.

Of course God doesn't exist. If he did he would have smote Mitchell and Web for this sketch a long time ago.

With thanks to Unreasonable Faith 

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What is Spirit?

2969089369_cd09a217df_m.jpg So what is Spirit anyway? Do I even know what I'm looking for? Spirit seems to be a word that means whatever people want it to mean, and while that would make it easy to find spirituality in my life ('Pouring the milk over my Corn Flakes is so spiritual') it would probably cheapen my quest a little.

Before I can begin seeking spirituality I need to answer a question - 'What does spirituality mean to me?' If my life were a movie a question like that would be answered by a montage scene or with a road trip, but as I don't have a film crew to hand, and as I can't drive, I'll have to find my answer in a more old fashioned way.

What does spirituality mean? What definitions have people given to it already
The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual
Right... that was helpful. What does it mean to be spiritual then?
Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit
Fine... and what is the nature of spirit?
A strong distilled alcoholic liquor.
Alright, maybe I'm doing this wrong! Maybe instead of looking at other people's definitions of Spirituality I should define it for myself. What is it that I'm looking for in this quest for spirituality?
noun. adj. 
  1. The experience of powerful, and beautiful, emotions
  2. A feeling of connection, even entanglement, with other people, with nature, and with the universe
  3. The creation, and appreciation, of beauty in all its forms.
It's a sloppy definition I'll admit, but then there's a reason I don't work for the Oxford English Dictionary, the main reason being that it would probably be a really boring job. Not much chance of finding spirituality there.

And so with the challenge laid out, the quest can begin. Let's go find some spirit. And when we're done drinking that, we can go find some spirituality.

What are your definitions of Spirituality? Is there anything I've missed?
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Sunday, July 25

The Poetry of Science

Charles-prize.pngIs a poem spiritual? Maybe, if it's a well written one. Beautiful Poetry can bring you to tears of joy. Bad poetry can just bring you to tears.

Dr Charles, at The Examining Room, is holding a competition for the best poem about health or medicine. The winner will get $500 and a cherry tomato, so there's 2 perfectly excellent reasons to get your entries in now.

The combing of science and art is a beautiful way to get in touch with your creative side, and awaken the spirit. I hope to read some entries that can make my spirit soar.

Or at least not make me throw up.
QDBASC4DWAQV - Technorati approval Link

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Why is an Atheist trying to find Spirituality?

Simon Hembra In Back to the Future T-shirt.jpgI've been an atheist for 5 years now.  

Like many atheists, I was once a believer. I was a born-again christian for 18 years - your standard happy-clappy, dancing in the aisles, washed with the blood, believer. I would witness to my friends at school, would argue with my class mates over evolution during biology classes, and would fall on the floor, laughing, or crying, in the spirit during the Sunday services.

But little by little, logic, rationality, common-sense took a hold of me, little by little I began to see the impossibility of God for what it is: an impossibility. I saw the contradictions, the lies, the fear, and, one day, I simply let god go.

But with letting God go, I let go of other things I had come to rely on. I lost my support group of friends from my church, I lost the hope of eternal life, I lost a right to believe that anything is possible, and I lost a friend that I could talk to whenever I wanted.

The freedom that comes with Atheism makes up fo this somewhat. My life is now my own, I can choose what path to take, live the life i want to live, without fear of repercussion or eternal damnation. And for several years now I have revelled in the world of science, instead of the world of faith. The truth behind our existence is much more exciting than the stories religion tell.

Pacific Ocean Beauty, Nature ColoursBut at the same time I have become something of a cynic. In disregarding all faith, I have confined myself to a life solely of logic and rationality. By looking at the explanation behind everything, I sometimes forget the amazing story the explanation is telling. The world is more than just a collection of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology. It is a beautiful place to be. Life is more than a chemical reaction. It's a wonder, an honour and an adventure.

This blog is my attempt to remind myself of the beauty, the wonder, and the wholeness of the universe. And to experience as much of that beauty for myself as I can.

I've only got one life to live now after all. I want to make sure that I spend it enjoying the wonder that is all around me.

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