Category Archives: Religion & Philosophy

Atticus and Holden discuss religion and philosophy from a skeptics point of view growing up in the bible belt of America.

Cornerstone

As a youngster I remember my great uncle. I still see his face now. Clean shaved with a shadow of beard that he can never fully rid himself. He has deep wrinkles from a calm smile that never totally leaves his face. I remember the sincerity in his voice that always struck me.

“Papa” on my wife’s side of the family was the same type of man. Though he died years before my wife and I became a couple not a holiday goes by that I do not hear fond stories about Papa’s role in their lives.

On Thanksgiving day 2014 –at age 27 and my house full of family – after my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law hugged me and thanked me for “taking care of the family”, my nephews asked how to be successful, and my father-in-law asked for advice – I realized I had become a Cornerstone too.

For me, there are more questions than answers about this journey. About the type of man I want to be. How to do what’s right. What is right anyway? And how to lead.

I think conscious effort is a good first step. Here I am.

Live That Way

At least three times a week I run 5 miles. I live in a historic area of Atlanta, GA so the scenery is quite charming. The path is full of historic homes from the early 1900s and the occasional plantation home – now surrounded by urban development instead of farmland.

My run happens in stages.

For the first mile my brain is disconnected. This is the most congested part of my run. I focus on avoiding traffic, crossing intersections, a train track, and clearing my mind.

Miles 2-5 are where the magic happens. I’m in the zone. My mind drills deep into itself. My thoughts follow through no particular path, create hypothetical situations, and eventually lands in some place I find enjoyable or helpful.

Sometime I relive college wresting matches in painstaking detail. I shoot – take the opponents leg – circle, circle, circle – head in leg, finish the takedown!

Other times I walk through scenarios at work or home. How to treat my family better. How to be successful at work. Always in great detail. I visualize body movements, voice inflection, outcomes, and various alternatives. I see myself sitting behind a desk at work. Moving my arms confidently as I discuss a project. Remember to smile. Listen, head nod, courtesy.

Sometimes I think about my death bed too, but not because I’m afraid of dying. Because I want to be at peace with death when I get there. By thinking about my death bed I’m really contemplating life.

I see myself lying back with oxygen running to my nose. There is always natural sunlight hitting my face because my bed is near a window. In my vision I know my family is there, but I always focus on my face as if I am a camera man staring from the foot of the bed. Maybe the view a small grandchild would have.

In my final moments I close my eyes and smile. I smile.

Two phrases have become quite important to me over the years:

1. On my death bed I want to close my eyes and smile knowing that I have given life everything I have.

2. We are given one life, one chance, we should live that way.

Neither of these ideas are unique or original, but I take them seriously as part of my vision of life and death. Instead of being a cliche’ quote I’ve consciously tried to put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve booked immediately following a long run. Or how many times I’ve come home and been a better father or husband.

For me, very little happens by accident. Most things I have been truly successful with have come from hours of deep thought and mental preparation. Long runs or laying in bed at night – just thinking. Then taking those thoughts and putting them to action.

You are given one life, so you should live that way.

In the Moment

Orange, green, and brown leaves. A perfect seventy degrees. There’s a beautiful family walking down the mountain trail as my own family walk up it. The trail is steep and there are a lot of roots and large stones so we move to one side to let the family pass. The Dad, head of his family, marching proud down the trail. He leads his wife and three kids down.

His wife has brown-blonde hair. She also looks happy to be on the trail. Their children following closely behind like young ducklings. A proud momma of a son and two daughters.

But something is different about their children. Their heads are down. They aren’t looking at the beautiful leaves, they do not have the same proud look their parents have, and they are missing it. There is a lack of life in their movement. A lack of interest. Missing the golden leaves, the breeze, nature. Missing all of it. They are out of touch – eyes glazed. The youngest’s nose almost touching the screen of a phone.

That night my wife and I return home and begin to make dinner together. We turn on music, chat about the day, watch our daughter play with her toys and scoot across the floor. I pick her up and throw her up and her head almost touches the ceiling. She laughs and I put her down. She craws across and I am impressed with her speed. We are in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

Sunday Morning Coffee

Sometimes I become very caught up with what I think life is supposed to be and forget what my life really is. Life doesn’t have to be so stressful. Life doesn’t have to be this continuous race – where there is no finish line. Life can be more (or less, rather).

That is what I love most about my Sunday morning coffee. I wake up at no particular time, slowly move down-stairs, carefully grind and prepare a cup of coffee, and enjoy the cool morning air on my front porch. It has been a methodical and almost meditative routine.

I take this time to think about nothing in particular. To enjoy a few squirrels running across my front yard, the birds making noise, and the leaves rustling from time to time. Most of all I enjoy the perfect temperature – before the Georgia heat forces me inside.

I wish I had more of these slow days. Maybe, over time, as I mature and allow myself to do so I will grow wise enough to give up more of my “ambition” and gain the courage to simply be present in each moment. Present on my front porch enjoying the world.  Like right now.

Spirituality, God, and Self-Delusion

I used to talk to God all the time. I would pray for God to help me succeed. To help me accomplish goals, to help me get over problems, and for comfort. It was an excellent feeling knowing that something bigger and more powerful than myself would take care of me. Sometimes I miss that feeling. I wish I could get it back.

Sometimes, just out of habit, I find myself talking to God. When I realize what I’m doing I pause and reflect on the fact that no one is listening. Damn. I kind of wish there was someone listening. Maybe it’s a healthy delusion.

When I examine God I sometimes wonder if I could convince myself it’s real. Could I revert back to my adolescence and start believing again? This time it wouldn’t be the Christian God. It couldn’t be. There are just too many gaps on that front. But what about a deity? Just some higher power. Even then, I don’t think I could ever believe that this higher power is involved in my personal life.

Many of the founding fathers were deists. They believed there was something out there. Somewhere. Not an “it” but a “something”. At least they seemed to believe that. I’d like to believe that too. The comfort in such a thought is almost too appealing to ignore. Maybe there is some energy, some common and unseen force that connects all of the Universe. Maybe I can buy into that.

I really don’t know, but I do think spirituality is important. It is important for mental health, I think. But being spiritual doesn’t give you that sense of community traditional religion does – so what’s the alternative? I don’t know. Maybe it is just a common appreciation of everything.

I’d like to be more spiritual, but I can’t compromise truth to do so. I can’t lie to myself just to feel better. If there be such a deity self-delusion is not doubt the greatest sin. I guess I’ll just keep searching for my own truth – if there be such a thing. That’s all I can do.

Futility and Power

I just finished a book called “War is a Racket” written by a Major General Smedley Butler in 1935. The book is a short critique of war and war profiteering in the years during and after World War I.

War is a Racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes”

This was a conversation going on almost 100 years ago. A conversation brought to the public by the most decorated marine in United States History. Still nothing changed.

Truth be told I am sure these same conversations were happening 1000 years ago.  I see this pattern again in again in almost every philosophical or political subject I take the time to study. History, it seems, is an unstoppable and constantly repeating cycle. We have no control.

Without Control: Finding Happiness With Self

It seems like the only sure thing we can do is to find happiness and justice within ourselves. To live life by our own code. To focus on the self, internally, rather than those things outside our own control. We have to make a conscious decision to live life and pursue our own paths of justice and righteousness.

Mankind taken as a whole is an average. A powerful combination of humanity’s natural inertia that cannot be stopped. That average tumbles along through the years and becomes history and is our future. A timeline of humanity constantly repeating and never straying far from a standard deviation. Repeated again and again, to some degree, in a never ending cycle. Some men rule, some are ruled, some people are good, others are bad. Ad infinitum.

Ultimately, we are the helpless subjects to the king of the inevitable force of history, but the rulers of our own state of mind. Futility and power.

On Purpose

Most of us would like to believe that we are here for a reason. That our life has meaning. Others have come to the realization that there is no such reason. That we are here by chance. Our consciousness a blessing of mother nature and infinite time.

And even if some of us are reasonable enough to admit that we have no supernaturally assigned destiny we still tend to believe that we make our own destiny – if we be so conceited to believe in such a thing. We believe, even if subconsciously, that our reason for existing is somehow of different value than our neighbors.

But if we are truly the creation of mother nature – star dust miraculously combined over billions of years – we must admit to ourselves there is no supernatural meaning behind it all. And if there is meaning, or purpose, it is only because we defined it ourselves.

If we are to conclude, rationally, that all meaning has been defined directly by other humans we must also conclude that each individual has the right to define their own purpose. And furthermore, in a cosmic sense, no one person’s purpose is any more correct or valuable than another person’s.

One person may chase money and fame. Another may dream after women and fancy cars. Yet another may dedicate himself to the cause of morality and the betterment of mankind. And while we, as humans, may arbitrarily define one better than the other it is all ultimately meaningless – until we decide for ourselves to give it meaning.

So it follows – if we define our own purpose and all purposes are cosmically equal – we can and should learn to be satisfied with any pursuit we so choose as long as it increases happiness and decreases suffering.

The ultimate goal: to maximize happiness and to minimize suffering. And the path for achieving this is no doubt different for every individual.

This should be comforting. Knowing that whatever we choose to do is equally as important as what anyone else chooses to do. Regardless of one person’s arbitrary assignment of one thing being more valuable than another.

We can happily work on model planes, write a silly blog, dedicate ourselves to family, or travel the world – and as long as our purpose ultimately increases happiness and decreases suffering – you have been successful.

On Contentment

I’ve always tried to live life with a purpose.  How I interpret what my purpose is changes from time to time, but I adjust and continue pursuing whatever goal I have in mind. That goal always existing on some distant horizon.

I define myself based on that never ending quest to fulfill my purpose. Sometimes I call it passion, preventing complacency, or just zeal for life. An unquenchable desire to learn and grow. Restlessness. Pride.

But another part of me knows that this feeling is directly opposed to true contentment. That I can never be truly satisfied unless I give up this type of passion, ego, and my lust for consumption (of knowledge and of things). This is difficult to accomplish since so much of how I define myself is linked to these desires.

So how does one balance being content without the guilty feeling of stagnation? Maybe it’s all just in your state of mind.

Enjoying life and living in the present

Dennis Potter is not a particularly memorable man and before watching this video I had never heard of him. He had some fame from television series and as a screenwriter, but never won many awards or earned world-wide fame. Toward the end of his life, mere weeks before his death, he recorded this interview where he reflected on the shortness of life and how to live in the “vividness” of the present. I think it is a good lesson for the rest of us – from a man who recognized his ow mortality.