Skeptic and the Geek

It’s been a few days. I’m trying to get as many posts in here before school starts, because I know once I’m a complete basket case who’s drowning in academia it’ll be hard. It’ll be hard to write things that make any degree of sense that aren’t coated in despair. I’m one of those irritating students who refers to my academic stress in any real-life conversation and I feel bad for anyone who has to talk to me during school months. It used to annoy me when I’d bump into my high school friends and upon asking them how they’re doing they’d tell me they’re at the UofA (my school) working on their poli sci degree and dive into a story about it. All I’d think is “WHO CARES” but now I totally get it. Sorry, high school friends for thinking that. It is an all-consuming kraken that may or may not one day help us get a sweet job. During school, I’m swimming in the stomach acids of the academic kraken. Sometimes you deal with it just fine, but sometimes you get burned, depending on whether the kraken has heartburn or not. The heartburn happens when you get a prof that doesn’t post notes online.

Anyhow, the way I deal with the stress is by the deep rituals that are tightly laced in the grand schedule we call our lives. I wonder if it’s because of my heavy anti-theism, and I adore my rituals. I would describe them as both languid and intense. The intensity of my 15 minute morning routine that includes a 5 minute drive to my bus stop is one. Putting on the Amelie soundtrack during an hour and a half bubble bath with a juicebox of coconut water and some candy crush on my iPad is another. The majority of my online shopping also happens in the bath. Those ones might end when I drop my iPad in the tub. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. My rituals that make me the happiest are the moments each day I spend with my dogs and my indulgence in geekery.

Here’s a brief history of my journey into geekdom. It started with my parents picking the Sega line of gaming consoles for my brother and I. My Game Gear and Genesis were my best friends for a good three years while I spent my elementary years playing every Sonic game out there. Sleepovers at my Nintendo friends’ houses were a necessary indulgence and to this day I still play Mario as often as I can. Next came Tolkien. Along with every other 10-12 year old out there, The Hobbit is one of the first “big kid” books we read. Some of us are completely enchanted, while others decide that The Babysitters Club is more for them. I was one of the kids completely enthralled with the world Tolkien masterfully painted and graduated to Lord of the Rings. This morphed into more fantasy literary “masterpieces” with almost all of the Dragonlance books. Lame? Doesn’t matter. I loved those books. This was during the time that I started dating a guy who was the epitome of geek. His job, his appearance and his interests were molded around geekdom and we bonded over that for a good four years. I loved watching him play Neverwinter Nights and meticulously painting his warhammer figurines. The best way to describe him is the guy from 40 Year Old Virgin, minus the virgin part and including the lavish breakfasts. I was 16 and he was 22, and it was strange but I feel my geekery put me into a higher level of maturity that allowed this relationship to be okay. Now, I’m a 28 year old with the maturity level of a 20 year old, and I relish in that. It makes it okay for me to do the weird things that I do. So I was this person, who loved Star Wars, Warhammer, Tolkien, old school console gaming and any indulgent fantasy book I could get my hands on. Then I met my husband, Andrei. During the infancy of our relationship, he eased me into MMORPG’s. He got me to start playing WOW and I attribute the success of our marriage to my love of this game. We’re not hardcore with it anymore but still play. 7 years of history with World of Warcraft could probably get me a decent management position at Best Buy or something if I put it on my resume. It’s my greatest indulgence, hands down. And the rituals I’ve created in this game have been one of my greatest sources of joy. Paired with beer and loud gaming-appropriate music? That’s my heaven.  Now, I spend my spare time watching Voyager and TNG, watching Geek and Sundry, playing Magic the Gathering and so forth. It’s still the dominant force in my life.

I understand how the sense of ritual that religion gives us is a positive thing to a degree. For theists, it’s prayer, mass and conventions that keep their faith growing. Since what I know to be true is that religion is a complete fallacy, I’ve placed my rituals elsewhere. They live in places that are constitutional to who I really am. If it wasn’t geek culture it would be something else. Maybe fashion, maybe drug culture, maybe something else. Who knows. When I went to Blizzcon in 2009, I guarantee you that was so much better than a Youth Convention that any theist would attend. If you haven’t been to Comicon or Blizzcon etc and love geek culture, think about how mindblowing and awesome it is to be in a room with 30 000 other geeks. It’s incredible. I’ll never forget those three days. Even standing in line for my pass was an epic bucket list experience. Funny enough, the Anaheim Convention Center was also housing a christian youth convention. There were lots of funny exchanges. My atheist self laughed at the exchanges between hyper geeks and devoted christians. So, these rituals that I’ve created for myself have filled the “void” that christians and other theists consider us to inevitably have.

The idea that I get to fill my ritualistic desire with whatever I please is awesome. It helps me get through school, helps me appreciate my relationship and helps to keep me busy when I have nothing to do. The obligation is only encouraged by my own desire, and it makes me happy. I have tried praying before as a kid. Those were the days when I felt envious of my religious friends and wanted to go to church, yet I felt silly. At my bedside I’d be like “hey Jesus, ummmmmmm. Can you make sure I have a good day at school tomorrow?” And then I’d get bullied by the same group of mean girls that would bother me every other day. I never believed, but I tried to. I’m proud to say that I yearned for more. It seems like a lot of people who are a part of geek culture feel the same way. Most of my geek friends aren’t religious and are too busy trying to get through Diablo on nightmare mode than worry about some scripture. It takes skill and an open mind to enter this world, and it’s an incredible place to be.

If any borderline skeptics are reading this, come to the geek side. It’ll fill that void that religion left for you and you’ll leave a better person, trust me.

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Amazing Grace. Why we’re leaving the lost behind.

This isn’t a foreign concept to most people, but I’m really good at being influenced into these great ideas that I rarely go through with but allow to lead to something else. My latest and greatest happened yesterday when I was binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. It’s a sweet show, albeit slightly depressing sometimes. I highly recommend allowing yourself to be transported to a women’s federal prison for a Saturday of secret indulgence.

Watching the show got me thinking about the inmates who are lonely and whose families have abandoned them. I went online and googled “prison pen-pal”. The websites I came across look generally unkempt and the more I searched, the more I felt like a girl trying to hook up with a soon-to-be-released drug dealer. It’s a lot of personals ads basically. I completely get it because establishing a relationship is a hurdle for someone who’s been locked up for any period of time but I just wanted to make a friend and I feel like my letter would be disappointing to whoever was waiting for one. That being said, I found a girl who is incarcerated in Edmonton, my city, who seems to just want someone to write to. Maybe I’ll send a letter to her.

I have prison experience. I’ve personally never broken the law because frankly I’m too lazy to bother but my brother has been in and out of the system for several years now. I’m not here to capitalize on his struggles so I’m not going to dive into his story. But he is someone who has been to the very bottom and is slowly swimming to the surface, sometimes laterally, sometimes up. I love my brother, and it’s the way I reacted to his struggles that in the past pushed me into complete isolation. I turned away from my friends, my extended family and my job. My then-boyfriend, now husband was even sent out of the country to his homeland by his parents due to the circumstances of my family as a result of my brother’s crimes. When I look back and really think about how I feel, except for sadness for the people whose lives were truly affected, to me, it’s just something that is. The only way my relationship with him has been affected is by the geographical distance that his crimes have placed in between us. Meaning I don’t get to see him that often. Acceptance, folks. It happened to me when I chose not to think about it. And in all seriousness, my dearly departed dog Buddy was my friend when I was in need. I miss him.

So a lot of what caused this dark path my family traveled down is addiction. It’s a disease that runs fairly rampant in my family and although I don’t have it, my brother does. Reading the profiles on the pen-pal sites, it looked like it was a pretty big cause of incarceration for others too. But we know that. Addiction is a dark mistress that has a lot of power and ultimate control. It’s a medical disease with a spiritual cure, so they say. My brother was never baptized as a baby (I was: roman catholic here) and decided to become baptized as a Lutheran in his adulthood. One site I visited had 880 pages of inmates looking for pen-pals, with 10 inmates a page. The search section gave me an option to search inmates by religion, and so I chose atheist, naturally. I came up with thirty four results. It seems like religion has taken in all of those with struggles. I know that, because my brother is one of those people. The problem is, what if you can’t fully embrace jesus to guide you down the right path? I know my brother is also one of those people. When he meets his sponsor at Tim Hortons, it’s all god, all the time. THAT, to most is the only thing that will save your life. So if you’re like me, who completely rejects spirituality, what do you do? Doing a google search of “secular aa”, I found some stuff. There are programs for addicts to help them through their addiction from an evidence-based point of view. I’ve been to AA meetings with my family members who suffer from addiction and being someone who has had addiction become fused to my life, I’ve never heard of secular programs except through my own research. My brother is out, lives in a halfway house and is trying really hard to get his life on track. He’s mostly consumed with making a lot of money and his recovery. I wish I was the one to have influence over him, but I’m not. The money thing bugs me, and the person his pastor, sponsor and church programs made him is someone I’m learning to accept. He spent 7 years being indoctrinated and is struggling to conform to those changes imposed upon him, so me swooping in to redirect him at this point will only make things harder. We talk about it- I believe in being candid. But this is one of those cases where trying to convince someone does become “shrill”, and I become someone who is trying to indoctrinate rather than help.

There is an enormous spiritual presence in prison, and in recovery. Where are we? A 0.04% atheist presence in an inmate pen-pal organization tells me that only one belief system has paved a path to redemption. I have an overly understanding acceptance for people who’ve committed crimes for obvious reasons, and I’ve made zero impact on those people’s lives. As humanists, we look towards ethics, progression, science, intellect and truth and while we’re doing that we are allowing the damned to actually believe that they are the damned. Do we do this because we think we’re taking away their hope? Are we scared to tell them that their actions of the past, present and future happen as the result of their own decisions? There are millions of inmates who will be released, like my brother, who were indoctrinated to believe that they were not responsible for what they did. Although blame comes to mind, there are ways to communicate the idea of self-responsibility tactfully. Not to talk to people who’ve made terrible mistakes with a wagging finger, but to tell it like it is. And give them hope in the future. We’re biological beings who are constantly bombarded with choices and it’s only fair to allow people to exercise their right to make a positive impact after they’ve made negative ones.

It’s a complicated concept that I’ll admit is over my head. There are intricacies that escape my ramblings and if I was a completely politically correct person, I could try to pick those apart. Religion feeds on the abandoned, the sick, the poor and on those who have wronged. The word “help” has been so bastardized that I don’t want to use it, but we can start somewhere. Welcome to the depressing side of atheism. We’ve neglected the darker side and it’s time to spruce it up and hold out our hands to the skeptics out there and talk to them like what they are: human beings who we stand on equal ground with. The lost aren’t food to us like they are to the religious. They’re people who need to know that they aren’t alone. The cool thing about humanism is that it can show the lost that a real person cares. They can see us, hug us and we’ll hug them back. They don’t need to fall to their knees and beg, and they know a person is listening. I don’t think that’s depressing at all and a real circumstance is really the only solution to a real problem.

SPACE, Which to my knowledge is The Final Frontier

I have space to thank for being here. To even comprehend what the odds are that I’m here is nearly impossible for me. Space doesn’t care about odds, or luck, or us for that matter and that is what makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside about life. Even the word: space. It can mean something so small, as in “there wasn’t enough space to swing my  lightsaber around in the garage” and yet it also means everything. We are space, stardust. And when I look at my hands and see my veins, bones and the rest of the hardware that’s letting me type this, it blows my mind to think that I’m existing, doing these things as the result of a phenomenon that happened billions of years ago. So thanks, space, for being so awesome like that. I know creationists think it’s totally absurd to reject the belief that the space wizard created us, but I think it’s much more realistic that we happened here by chance. Like I just said, space doesn’t care. Odds don’t exist there. Life existing in space matters as much as it not existing and therefore the chance is irrelevant. WE know we’re lucky, but that’s an idea that was formed by our own comprehension and perception of our circumstance. I’m really one of those people who should not and does not require any hallucinogenic drugs to be amazed by things and ideas because I don’t need my mind blown more than it already is. It’s ridiculous, really. 

Here are 5 things that space may consider more important than us if it cared: nebulas, black holes, stars that are 300 times the mass of our life-sustaining sun, different types of light and something that we have not discovered yet. Puts things into perspective, right? 

haaaaaaaa

Admit it, you’ve used this excuse before.

It’s extremely self-serving to think that we are the reason the universe exists, which is the religious point of view. Once upon a time, it made sense and the fact that that idea still exists in my lifetime is the reason I started this blog as an outlet. This is essentially a dog chasing its own tail, with us atheists being the head and theists being the tail. The tail has no knowledge, or desire for it. But we’re chasing it, trying to tell them to stop doing whatever they’re doing. What they’re doing is trying to grapple at all of the scientific evidence that’s been steadily providing a solid foundation to one day answer our biggest questions, placing them in theist circumstances. I can’t ever see the blocks of reason being placed inside a big, fake fairy tale box ever establishing a plausible answer to any of these questions. Theists tend to consider us to be self-serving for understanding that we were not created by an all-knowing, loving god who lives in the clouds. I don’t think that that’s something I can explain to them without passing out from a flood of suffocating, ill-reasoned bible verses. A life founded on the make-believe is not one that you can intervene with easily. I have no physics background and know little about the intricacies of space and our interstellar neighborhood. I have Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry to thank for most of what I know about space, and I do understand that really all that did for me was make me a huge Trekkie who thinks space is cool. But I am an evolutionary biology nerd, so theists, brace yourselves if you ever want to have that discussion with me.

Anyways, here’s to space! Cheers to being so big, vast and mysterious and giving us a reason to never stop asking the questions that matter.