searching for meaning

Some people have told me that they tried to find god and believe in him because they were looking for meaning and purpose in the world. But then many religious people have said god is so complex and powerful compared to us we couldn’t begin to understand him, let alone understand his purpose for our existence. So why even search if we can’t possibly understand?

What sort of greater purpose would an all powerful being have for what is essentially an ant farm in comparison to him? Us being like an ant farm to god is one of the only purposes I can think of when reflecting back on history. There’s been a lot of chaos and suffering throughout human history, and those who believe in god often claim he’s all powerful, so it makes me imagine god as someone who likes to watch things burn for his own entertainment, much like reality show fans, only he’s able to do something to stop the chaos but doesn’t.

I think most of the time people say god gives life meaning and purpose because they are parroting the claims of other religious people before them and haven’t thought it through. The only explanation I’ve gotten for god giving things meaning is that it must be the case because of a feeling they have. It’s sort of a variation on the argument for god from design, an attempt to find order in the nature of things that isn’t actually there. I think the line of reasoning that god gives meaning and purpose to life speaks to those who are uncomfortable with settling on “I don’t know” as an answer. This is often referred to as “the god of the gaps argument”, whatever we can’t answer for sure is filled in with “god”. It’s about seeking a relief from the anxiety of existence by slapping a simple answer on things.

I also think god giving all of us meaning and purpose cuts into that whole “god gave us free will” thing, but I’ll save free will for another time. But I’ll at least pose this question, if someone is given a predestined purpose, do they have free will?

To me, the important thing about meaning and purpose is that we all find our own. There’s something much more special and valuable about everyone finding it for themselves than relying on feeling a sense of meaning from religious belief. It’s also one of those instances where I think belief in god as an answer to complex life questions can halt deep thinking.

dwight!

thank you comedy

I was recently watching some older episodes of South Park and I was reminded of how my love of comedy and satire helped fuel my passion for atheism and skepticism. In my personal experience a lot of people have assumed that passion came out of reading the works of people like Dawkins and Hitchens or from having a strong interest in intellectual pursuits like philosophy, history, and science. Yes I do have those interests, but I think things like the Simpsons, South Park, Monty Python, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Kids in the Hall, and various stand-up comics helped to spark those interests.

In my post “Cats and Disbelief” I explained that I had a difficult time believing in god from the time I was a young child and couldn’t shake my sense of skepticism. Being skeptic while others around me seemed to easily accept religious teachings was a very distancing and lonely experience at times. It feels very odd when you can easily see the ridiculous nature of things but no one else around you seems to notice. One thing that leads people to feel lonely is the feeling that they are the only one that is that way, that they must be a freak. Believers often act as if it’s freaky and strange that people would not believe in god. I realized I wasn’t a freak or alone in my skepticism of Christianity when I saw an episode of the Simpsons called “Lisa the Skeptic” in which she digs up a skeleton that looks like an angel that sets the town into a religious fervor and Lisa questions the existence of god. Hearing Lisa question it made me feel more confident to question it myself and that episode has stuck with me for years.

The South Park episode that got me thinking about this is titled “The Biggest Douche in the Universe”. In this episode, Stan realizes that popular TV psychic John Edwards is a fraud and then makes it his mission to prove that to Kyle and the general public. If you don’t remember or never heard of John Edwards, he was like that Long Island Medium woman on TLC but his hair wasn’t as fabulous. The following exchange from the episode between Stan and John Edwards struck me because it reminded me of all the times people ask me why I have a problem with religion and talk about it:

John Edwards: “Everything I tell people is positive and gives them hope, how does that make me a douche?”

Stan: “Because the big questions in life are tough. Why are we here? Where are we from? Where are we going? But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we’re never going to find the real answer to those questions, you aren’t just lying, you’re slowing down the progress of all mankind, you douche.”

Like Stan, I don’t see the point in people feeling positive and hopeful if we’re never going to make progress and stagnate in blissful ignorance. It bothers me when people act like the squishy nice feelings that come from believing religious claims outweigh the negative impact of religion on individuals and society as a whole.

I think comedy and satire are great tools to get people to think. People are often intimidated by intellectual things, but good timing and sound commentary can make them let their guard down a bit. Sometimes I wonder what I would have turned out like if I hadn’t grown up watching the types of things I’ve mentioned. I’ve also probably taken more from comedy than I ever did from going to church or trying to believe in god. So, thank you comedy.

LisaSkeptic

“There are no atheists in foxholes”

I couldn’t believe someone was actually saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” the first time someone said it to me in conversation. It was a few years back now, I had shown up early for my sociology of death and grief class and decided to strike up conversation with a few of the other early comers. I now forget what led me to share it, but for whatever reason the conversation reminded me of something my paternal grandma said around the time of my grandpa’s funeral. I explained that she was an atheist and I thought it was beautiful when she said that her only concern for her death was that she be cremated and spread in a flowerbed to help them grow. She used to stop by the side of the road whenever she saw a great big field of wild flowers and pick some; I loved doing that with her. I occasionally miss the black-eyed-Susans that grow all over the upper peninsula of Michigan. So it really struck me as beautiful when she said that because she didn’t care about an afterlife, she cared about helping life that she loved to continue after she was gone, and in a way she would still be here because she would become something new. I explained this to my fellow students excitedly, thinking that they would also see what I thought was beautiful about my grandma’s sentiment, but then I was sadly disappointed. The response I got was along the lines of “well maybe she’ll change her mind when she’s closer to dying, you know, there’s no atheists in foxholes”.

As I said before, I was a bit thrown for a loop that was actually said. Best thing I could come up with to say before the professor walked in was that I was sure plenty of people throughout civilization have died not believing in god.

Since then I’ve thought a bit more about that silly phrase. Personally the word “foxhole” brings to mind the trench warfare of WWI and WWII and how terrifying that must have been. Besides the constant fear of an attack from the enemy there were things like trench foot, running out of rations, and various diseases to contend with. It’s very strange to me that many think it’s rational for people to see the horrifying conditions of war and come out of it believing there’s a loving god out there. I think for those who see the horrors of war and still believe there’s a god, out of that often comes a selfish nationalistic way of thinking. That god is on our side and our enemy is a product of Satan. So god is loving, just loves us and not that other tribe. But I digress slightly, the main point of the phrase is a more boiled down Pascal’s Wager. The idea that one will convince themselves they believe in a god and afterlife right before they die out of fear . It’s a bit funny to me that believers will proudly use “there are no atheists in foxholes” as an argument because they are admitting they think it’s fine to believe something simply out of fear and to comfort. A belief based on simply emotions does not have a solid basis in reality. Flashback to that classroom years ago, I remember once class started I couldn’t get what was said to me by another middle class white girl out of my mind and it hit me that it’s so arrogant for white Americans to assume that people will turn to their myth before they die. The fact that she also seemed completely fine with the idea that it made sense to believe out of fear and to comfort rubbed me the wrong way, it was so illogical. She was a fellow sociology major, I’d hoped her arrogance came out of not touching upon the subject of religion in her studies thus far, was mostly trying to give the benefit of the doubt. It was definitely a moment that reminded me to be a bit more skeptical of how logical those around me may be.

Another thing that strikes me about the phrase is I would think I wouldn’t want people in the military being very comfortable with the thought of dying. It is our fear of dying that makes us want to fight to survive and keep going on. The belief in heaven makes people less fearful of dying because it means they’ll just continue on and be in a better place. I’ve often wondered why Christians don’t seem to embrace dying a bit more if they believe in heaven like they say they do since heaven is often referred to as a better place. Since atheists don’t believe there’s an afterlife, many of us feel it’s best to make the most of the here and now and attempt to extend that time for as long as circumstances will allow us. I also feel that I’d like to leave a positive impact on those around me in some way before I leave this mortal coil, and I think other atheists could relate to that sentiment as well. I would go as far to argue that life is more precious to atheists than it is to believers. We could be wrong, but we’re pretty sure this is it, so we’ll fight as hard as we can to keep it but also accept that it will end someday. So to any believers that read this, stop using the silly phrase, you’re not helping yourself.

vonnegutFoxhole

Stop Telling me to be Respectful of Others’ Beliefs 

As an outspoken atheist I’ve come across the “be respectful of others’ beliefs” sentiment many times when expressing my thoughts. The funny thing about it is I’ve been told that sort of thing by fellow atheists on several occasions. It’s as though they feel they’re being very nice and protective of the religious group being criticized. I see where they’re coming from, because of empathy we don’t want to see others feelings get hurt because we know what hurt feelings can be like. But I must say I greatly disagree that having people censor themselves is a respectful route to take, and I don’t think it’s important to protect people from getting hurt feelings.

Whenever I’ve been told to be respectful of religious beliefs one of my immediate thoughts has been, well what about my beliefs? I don’t think telling someone they can’t share what they believe is very respectful. Being told to essentially shut up and it’s wrong for me to share doesn’t feel good, but yet those with the intention of protecting how others feel are fine with doing it to me and other atheists. It’s happened to me on many occasions and each time it was very frustrating, and it always feels like a double standard that it’s applied to atheists. I would never tell a believer to not share their thoughts and opinions, I respect their right to say it, but I also have a right to question them or say why I think it may be ridiculous or illogical.

I think immediately making the assumption that someone’s feelings will get hurt by criticism is more condescending than respectful. That especially goes for the atheists that think fellow atheists should use kid gloves or not speak out against religion at all. To me, it gives off the vibe that the religious can’t handle it and we are to be extremely sensitive like they’re children. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed a shift in our culture with the idea that it’s mean to tell people they’re wrong. I think it’s far crueler to keep people in the dark and in some ways encourage their ignorance. It reminds me a little bit of Plato’s “The Cave”. Also, by giving into the idea that telling people something is wrong is mean, many are helping to encourage ignorance and the many willfully ignorant can cry bully when they are told they are wrong. It’s feelings over logic and I think that can become a recipe for disaster. For example, could you imagine if teachers graded based on students’ feelings and beliefs rather than whether or not they were right or wrong?

When I say something about religion or the religious, my intention is not to insult but to criticize. Many don’t think there’s much of a difference but I think there’s a huge difference. An insult has the intention of just being abusive and disrespectful; a criticism has the intention of pointing out flaws to encourage thought and discussion. I don’t see my criticisms as completely right and I try to express myself in a civil way. I like to be challenged on my ideas; it helps me develop them further when people do challenge them. With an overly politically correct culture, many have equated religious beliefs to race and act as though questioning beliefs is the same as racism or bigotry. Beliefs are not set in stone like skin color, and the major religions are not exclusive to certain races. Many beliefs can be very harmful and destructive for individuals and society. Beliefs can also change when presented with different arguments and evidence. So for the people that tell me and other atheists to essentially shut up by saying “be respectful of others’ beliefs”, you’re actually doing more harm than good.

SamHarrisbeliefs

The Power of Prayer and Boobs

One of the common not so philosophical but sometimes pseudo-scientific arguments Christians use when asked why they believe in god is “the power of prayer”; I prayed for something and I feel it was granted therefore god exists because he was listening. People who use this argument are often focusing on one vague prayer they felt was granted while ignoring all the times their prayers weren’t answered. Or they had prayed for something that was going to happen anyway. For some “the power of prayer” doesn’t necessarily mean prayers are granted, they take it a step further with an appeal to emotion by saying they feel it in their hearts that god is listening to them when they pray. When feelings are brought into the argument it’s sort of pointless to go on because the ones making the argument are not attempting to use reason in the first place and it’s very hard to dispute how someone feels.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I often get funny comments on my selfies with a bit of cleavage on Twitter along the lines of “my prayers were answered, I might start believing” and “if I believed in a god I would think he blessed you”. These sorts of jokes from fellow atheists got me thinking about how there are actually many believers out there that are reassured in their belief in god because of very flawed but seemingly reasonable arguments.

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I remember times of wanting to fall for these arguments myself because people around me had fallen for them. Believing in god was always a struggle for me, but I did have moments of really trying to because I didn’t want to feel left out and in a way turning to a supreme being who we are told loves us to ask for help doesn’t sound too bad if you don’t think too much into it. When it comes to believing through the power of prayer, it seems you get pretty used to making the prayers continuously more and more vague as to not be disappointed and to possibly mark it down later as a win for prayer working. Although there are times people can’t help but ask for what they really want, humans are just naturally selfish. I remember this from praying for years as a teenager, most of the time I tried to keep things vague in an attempt to feel whatever it was the people around me seemed to have felt or occasionally out of desperation asked god for specific things. The really funny thing about those jokes people make on Twitter is that I used to pray for big boobs when I was a teenager. I was a late bloomer and for a good chunk of my high school life the girls in my class were more developed than me. I also had always thought women with large chests were really pretty but was always a really skinny kid, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have much of  a chest like my tall and skinny grandmother. I was proved wrong in my late teens when my bra size far surpassed what I ever expected to be. I’d also been wrong for years about not taking after my mom much.

I now wear a bra size that is mostly sold in specialty stores and occasionally in higher end department stores; so I could be saying now after years of prayer while wearing padded push-up bras and asking for big boobs, he answered them and therefore exists. But of course that’s ridiculous, I’d been talking to myself the whole time and it would be vain to think a supreme being would want to make a girl’s chest big while lots of people are suffering and asking for help. I now find the notion of being “blessed” in certain ways to be a very self-centered and vain way of thinking.  So I admit it was pretty dumb, being a teenager makes you partially dumb at times.  I’m critical with how I look most of the time but I am grateful to my genetics for my chest, although I would not wish the back pain on my worst enemy. It’s just funny to think that if I wanted to keep blinders on and believe in a flawed argument I could have fallen back on the “power of prayer” as proof of god, I can see how that can happen to some but my love of logic and being concerned with intellectual honestly along with desire to not be too vain got in the way.

Cults and Religions

HBO recently released their new documentary “Going Clear” based on the bestselling book with the same name by Lawrence Wright and many people learned about the crazy past, their charismatic and crazy founder, and practices associated with Scientology. I highly recommend watching the documentary, especially if you are not that familiar with Scientology. Many consider Scientology to be a cult and not a religion, but I find the differences between the two concepts to be pretty blurry. Generally “religion” is seen as a positive thing that has some benefits to society and individuals, it’s also something that should be respected without question. When people use the term “cult” it’s used to describe a group with religious aspects that also has various negative and many times outlandish aspects; cults are also often known for having very crazy and extreme doctrines. That leads me to ask the question, what makes one doctrine that is not supported by evidence more valid than another doctrine lacking in evidence? It’s easier to see that a set of beliefs seems silly or crazy if they are brand new and unfamiliar. The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was a prolific science fiction writer before he began to form his church and it wasn’t too many decades ago. So as an outsider it’s very clear to see that the religion is made up. If we use Christianity as an example of a mainstream religion to compare it to, we do not exactly know who the writers of the doctrine were so there’s a lot more mystery surrounding it and easier to make various claims about the authorship. In the western world the bible has been protected by the unfounded notion for centuries that its words are infallible and divinely inspired. A highly accepted idea that has been around for a long time often goes unquestioned because it’s popular amongst the majority and those in power, and for the most part it’s much easier to go along with the majority and the thought of questioning doesn’t come up. I think a Christian would be just as offended as a devoted Scientologist if they were to be told their beliefs are just made up, but more would be willing to stand up for the feelings of the Christian than for the feelings of the Scientologist. When I have said something along those lines to Christians they have taken great offense to it.

CRUISE

I think the special treatment the bible gets is partly because many in the western world are told how important and highly valued the bible is starting at very young ages, and this is reinforced by their family members, peers, and culture.  People often like to believe that brainwashing is just something that happens in cults, that’s one of the big differences between it and proper respectable religions. It’s very obvious that the Church of Scientology uses brainwashing tactics to make their membership numbers grow. I’d like to argue that mainstream religions such as Christianity use forms of brainwashing to maintain and grow their membership. I thought of this because the other day on Twitter I said “people that make the argument that Scientology isn’t a proper religion just don’t want to analyze what’s wrong with religion in general” and to sum it up quick a tweeter claimed I was making a lazy argument because I could not conflate and compare the criminal cult Scientology with “actual religions”. When I asked what they meant by “actual religions” I was told that for starters it meant upfront disclosure of church doctrine. I do admit that when Scientology is bringing in new members they slowly spoon feed aspects of the doctrine and while they are doing that they are also doing things to make their mental state revert to that of a child’s. Those are classic brainwashing tactics. If you think about a young child being brought into Christianity, it is not that different. Unlike the Scientologists, they don’t have to work on the reverting back to the mind of a child because characteristics needed for brainwashing like lack of knowledge, trust in authority, and desire to please those around them is already there. Christians rarely wait until their children are old enough to understand many aspects of their doctrine, I’m pretty sure things would be pretty different if many people were explained Christian theology at the age of 18 instead of from early childhood. I remember for years as a child not understanding bits and pieces of the Christian doctrine I was being raised in. I distinctly remember as a very young kid wondering what the word “virgin” meant when the Pastor talked about the Virgin Mary at Christmas time. For a long time I just assumed it meant a very nice and good person. Of course when I understood what it actually meant and had to wrap my head around the idea of a “virgin birth”, the doctrine got a bit crazier to me. So I wouldn’t say that personally anyone was upfront with the doctrine with me because I barely had the comprehension skills at the time to understand it. Threats and put downs are often used during brainwashing to make the victims easier to control. I think teaching children that they’ll go to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus sounds like a threat. The notion that we are all born miserable dirty sinners which is foundational for many sects of Christianity sounds like a put down, also the idea that people are powerless without god in their lives. These concepts do sometimes brainwash the minds of adults who are at low and desperate points in their lives and are looking for answers and acceptance within a group, many “born again” Christians fit that description. Many adults who join the Church of Scientology would fit that description as well.

A big difference between a cult and a religion is that a cult is like watching a sped up more intense version of religion in a petri dish. Many of the negative aspects we find in cults we can find all over history in many sects of mainstream religions. Those mainstream religions have just been able to get a lot of respect and power, and many want to keep a blind eye to the negative aspects. It’s great that many people don’t want to make excuses for an awful religion like Scientology and can easily speak out against it, but if people have a problem with criminal activities and crazy ideas within religious institutions why is there not more of an outcry against certain practices of the Catholic Church, various Evangelical groups, or other mainstream religious groups that are connected to criminal or underhanded practices? I hope more notice this double standard.

“Wait till marriage” 

When growing up in a sexually uptight Protestant culture, children are typically told that sex is for when you are married to your spouse of the opposite sex and to have sex before marriage is wrong. The idea of saving it for that special someone is romanticized and if you don’t do that you are going to really miss out on something special. The white dress on the wedding day can actually mean what it has traditionally meant. This sort of thing was told to me as a kid and I remember really clinging to it into my late teens. I can clearly remember one of my mom’s early sex talks with me basically just as “wait till you’re married”, and I think it was mostly out of fear of teen pregnancy she of course did not want to deal with.

I’m not passing judgment on the people that are waiting or did wait until marriage, but it was not right for me and I think it generally does go against human nature. Not accounting for asexuals, the human race is very much driven by sexual desires. That of course comes from our instinct to reproduce and it just plain feels good. If god did design people, why would he have sex feel so good but only allowed under a particular circumstance involving a ceremony? I don’t really see too much of a difference between people having sex before or after a wedding, only difference I can see is a ceremony and piece of paper. When people who are not married have sex, I don’t see how they could be doing anything inherently wrong because as long as they are practicing safe consensual sex they are not hurting themselves or anyone else. Fundamentalist Christians may answer that by saying they are at least hurting themselves spiritually and possibly mentally, and to that I say the spiritual thing just means it doesn’t match up with what the bible says and you can find plenty of sexually active mentally healthy single people, gay and straight.
The idea that people have to be married to have sex can be very detrimental because it can drive people to get married at a very young age because they don’t want to wait much longer. Their impatience can led them to rushing into a commitment with a spouse that is not right for them. In some instances, those rushed marriages can turn into domestic abuse cases. I don’t blame them for their impatience, it’s hard to deny one’s desire to have sex, but they wouldn’t have had to rush into marriage if they were comfortable and knowledgeable about the idea of safe sex. There is also a portion of those who are told to wait until marriage that don’t end up waiting but are far less likely to use condoms or other forms of birth control than those who are taught a more well rounded sex education.
Personally, I dropped the idea of no sex before marriage after I realized the only argument people had for it was it was what god wanted and that it was somehow more special. I didn’t have proof of the Christian god so I didn’t see how what he wanted mattered, and being awkward and uncomfortable on my wedding night didn’t sound that special to me. At first the Protestant guilt was a little hard to shake, but I’m very happy I did and did not turn out sexually repressed.

Thinking bout Jesus

I am very conflicted when it comes to my thoughts on Jesus. There was a point in my life where I did think he was a great man who spread a message of peace and love, that was thanks to his portrayal in popular media and being brought up in a Lutheran church. I wanted to believe he was the son of God because people around me believed that, and I think at some points I did believe it. The image of the fair skinned blue eyed Jesus has been burned into my brain since staring at it in my grandparents’ house and other Midwestern houses when I was a kid. Of course as I got older I realized how silly that image was. There aren’t any first hand accounts of what Jesus said, so how would people have any idea of what he looked like? And the bible doesn’t give a physical description. It should also go without saying but I feel like I have to say it to many Christians, based on the region he was supposed to have been from he sure as hell would have not been of the Aryan race.

blue-eyed-Jesus

Christians of various sects give me different non-answers when the question of what Jesus exactly was comes up. It generally seems to go back and fourth when referring to him as God or as separate from God. I never understand how many Christians who say Jesus is God can also gush about how loving and kind he is. If he was literally the God we know from the Old Testament, then pretty sure that would make him a genocidal war-god. Christians that are on the fence or embarrassed to admit they believe in something as silly as the virgin birth tend to say they at least really like many of the messages he was spreading. But how do we know that what the bible says he said is accurate at all? If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest watching Life of Brian and you’ll understand what I mean. The movie also illustrates that there were many street preachers/miracle workers at the time. Based on that I think it’s very plausible that the Jesus we know today could have been based on multiple men. There are varying theories about Jesus because the only sources we have are what early followers said about Jesus, no records from the time of his supposed life. There was also the concept of a Christ or messiah in many pagan cults before Christianity arose, so the concept was not unique like many Christians today like to believe.
One of the best ways to describe the way I see Jesus is he’s pretty much like Batman or Sherlock Holmes. There have been different variations of them and many people conjure different images when those names are brought up. There are some repeating central themes throughout the iterations but there’s not exactly a clear answer of who they are. Some versions of Jesus are very admirable, but I think if people like the positive fluffy aspects of Jesus, they can also find those characteristics in many real life people today, contemporary historical figures, and many fantastic fictional characters. Rejecting Jesus as a god or the son of god or even as a historical person doesn’t mean you have to reject the positive peaceful messages associated with Jesus. I don’t literally believe in Batman but what he stands for has been a source of inspiration for me.

All Dogs Don’t Go to Heaven

I’m pretty sure that I was first introduced to the concept of heaven by watching the animated movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. I still really love the movie. I think it’s a great example of good animation and the voice acting by Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds is wonderful. So of course when I was a kid, thanks in part to the movie, I wanted to believe that everybody went to heaven after they died.

allDogs

So it’s really funny to me that the Pope Francis has just declared that all dogs do go to heaven. I’ve heard mixed answers on this issue before from different sects of Christianity. Some on the more liberal end of the spectrum already have been saying that animals get into heaven and others say that animals are soulless and do not enter heaven. Pope John Paul II was in agreement with Pope Francis, although it seems that Pope Benedict was on team soulless. I can understand why people would want to believe that their pets go to heaven, we love them very much and it’s hard to see their life come to an end. The ones that refer to animals as soulless scare me a bit, it makes me greatly question how they must treat animals. I’m also very confused by people that refer to animals as if they are not animals themselves. I’ve even seen Christians go as far as to be offended by being called an animal.

PopeDogs

As someone that recognizes that I’m an animal just like a dog, cat, hamster, what-have-you, I’ve always felt a kinship with my fellow animal kind. My love of animals has led me to have a good amount of pets in my life; right now I have three cats and a dog. My pets have always brought me a lot of joy and comfort, and it’s been heartbreaking when pets have passed away or have had to be put down. It would be nice to think I could see them again in an afterlife, but I really don’t think that’s going to happen. I find solace in the fact that I cared for and loved my pets as best as I could and gave them happy lives. I also take comfort in the fact that I was privileged enough to own such wonderful animals. I actually think it can be dangerous for people to believe that all dogs (or other animals) go to heaven. If you believe that animals are going to heaven, then where’s the concern for their well-being while they are with us? They have that paradise waiting, so why bother taking care of them? Just wait for Fido to be god’s problem. As someone that doesn’t believe there’s an afterlife, I feel a sense of urgency to take care of my fellow animals around me. I think every animal deserves happiness and comfort in their life, and I get really upset every time I think about the number of dogs and cats that are put down because they weren’t adopted into good homes. People should be more concerned about making a paradise for animals now than hoping that they’ll end up in one later.

poor-old-kilgore

As cheesy as it sounds, I really love my Twitter handle. In the past year or so that I’ve been on Twitter I’ve been asked so many times, “What does ‘pooroldkilgore’ mean?”

I love it because it gives me a chance to gush about my favorite author. I don’t remember exactly when I started using the name online for various website log-ins, but it’s been a while. I thought of it because I really love Kurt Vonnegut and the character “Kilgore Trout” is a recurring character throughout his work. I wanted to come up with something that didn’t need numbers in it, so I thought of my love of Vonnegut and I thought Kilgore was a tragic character so I was thought of “poor” and he was described as in his 60’s in my favorite book so I thought of “old”.  In some ways, Kilgore was an over-the-top characterization of how Vonnegut saw himself. Descriptions of Trout vary throughout Vonnegut’s books, but what all of them have in common is that Kilgore is an underappreciated science fiction writer. As I’ve read Vonnegut books over the years, I’ve often noticed that I get very excited when he has popped up in different ways. I’m not a Vonnegut expert and there are still some books I need to read, but I have also lost track of how many times I’ve read “Slaughterhouse Five”. In that, Kilgore Trout’s stories are found in pornographic magazines and the main character Billy Pilgrim becomes a fan of his work and also befriends the author.

One of the many reasons I absolutely love Kurt Vonnegut is because his books made me passionate about reading in general. When I first picked up “Slaughterhouse Five” in high school I finished it in two days. For some people it’s not a big deal, there’s a good amount of people that read at a fast pace all the time. But for me it was an amazing feat. I did like reading before that, but I always got discouraged because I was a bit slower than kids around me due to struggling with dyslexia. For years I got awful grades thanks in part to my terrible spelling and getting anxious during tests. Sometimes seeing classmates read and do their work faster than me was a blow to my self-confidence and I would call myself stupid. So even though I liked reading, I would put off attempting to start a book because I would tell myself I was too dumb to get through it anyway. I think people really underestimate how much low self-confidence can hold people back. But one day I mustered up the courage to pick up a book I had heard from a few different sources was good. Something about the way Vonnegut wrote instantly spoke to me; I was effortlessly reading through pages and recognized a kindred spirit in his words. I still can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about Vonnegut’s attitude that I related to right away. The passion his writing brought up in me made me realize I wasn’t dumb, just a little different. I still struggle once in a while with dyslexia but it’s gotten much better. Reading more definitely helped me a lot and I really thank Vonnegut for that.

I think his work has also been partly responsible for my interest in humanism and atheism. “Slaughterhouse Five” isn’t an explicitly atheist book, but while reading it I remember my lack of belief growing a bit stronger. I would explain why in detail but I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the book. If you read it, you may not have as much of a life changing experience as I did but I still highly recommend it. I still put myself down here and there (as we all do), but at least from I’ve learned to remind myself to stop being my own worst critic and that it’s okay to be a bit different. I also realized it’s usually the “different” people that are the most funny and interesting, like Mr. Vonnegut.

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