Saturday, November 12, 2011

Obligatory Religious Post

My parents had very different ideas of how to raise children.

They both did their best to raise me in their own ways, and you know, I think I turned out pretty damned great. But sometimes their values conflicted. My mother wanted me to be a good girl, and my father wanted me to be inquisitive. When you're a little kid and your divorced parents are throwing you different ideas, and each claims the other is wrong, it gets a bit confusing.

Despite this difference in opinion, when I was small I was taken to church every Sunday, regardless of which parent had custody of me that weekend. I think my dad may have taken me because I would actually ask him to. I was a good girl and going to church was a good thing to do. If you didn't it would make god sad. To paraphrase what my mother told me, so my five year old ass could comprehend, god made us and everything around us and he just wants us to visit him once in awhile to say thank you.
"But if god is everywhere, why do we need to visit him at church?"
"Because that's his house."
 I never questioned it too much. I hardly ever paid attention. I actually found mass rather boring, but I liked singing the songs and reciting the prayers. Going to church made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I went to catholic school for a little while in kindergarten. I don't remember why I changed schools. I remember one really bad experience with my teacher and that's about it.

I started getting sent to CCD (catechism classes) every week so that I could get my seven sacraments (Roman Catholic thing). At this point (around seven years old) I got really serious about this shit, even started taking pride in it, because suddenly my religion was school, and I was all about doing well in school. I memorized more prayers. I started praying more, on the school bus in the morning, before meals. I learned to genuflect properly and how to use a rosary.

I also started reading the bible, and paying attention in mass. And I think this is when I started to doubt.

I don't remember the progression of my doubts very well, but I know I started doubting the institution of religion long before I started doubting the existence of god. One Christmas Eve, I had a discussion about religion with my cousin Melissa, someone I really looked up to, who talked about it in a way I'd never heard before. She said that she viewed religion as a personal thing, that you should have a relationship with god in your own special way and that the church should have nothing to do with it. She talked about some of the ways the church changed religion for the worse. I started talking about it more, and asking more questions.

In my preteens I started to resent going to church. My father stopped taking me. My mother had to drag my stubborn ass.

I began my freshman year of high school still referring to myself as a Roman Catholic. Then I got my laptop, my very first entirely personal computer. I had the internet, and access to millions upon millions of personal opinions. A classmate of mine also introduced me to LaVeyan Satanism, which wasn't at all what one would imagine, and had a set of virtues I could more easily get behind.

Satanism depicted Lucifer, the dark bringer of light, as the hero of the bible. God placed Adam and Eve in paradise, and gave them everything except knowledge. Adam and Eve were stupid, and god wanted them to stay that way. He just wanted them to walk around in paradise and eat and sleep and fuck and sometimes talk to him. (I wonder what they'd talk about?) But essentially, god wanted us to live no differently than any other animal, he just wanted us to be obedient. And at the same time, he knew we would disobey him and gain knowledge and self awareness, and then he punished us for it. I found the thought abhorrent. I had a thirst for knowledge, I loved learning more than anything. And according to the bible, this is what Satan gave us. The bible was no longer a thing of value to me, fact or fiction.

Furthermore, I began to examine the goal of Christianity: getting into heaven. That was it. But what if there was no heaven? How sad is to to spend the brief time you're given as a conscious being trying to attain the unattainable? And if there was a heaven? It sounded incredibly boring. This seemed like a lose-lose situation. I much preferred Dante's description of limbo:

Charon ushers you across the river Acheron, and you find yourself upon the brink of grief's abysmal valley. You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. You encounter a seven-walled castle, and within those walls you find rolling fresh meadows illuminated by the light of reason, whereabout many shades dwell. These are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, unbaptised children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. You share company with Caesar, Homer, Virgil, Socrates, and Aristotle. There is no punishment here, and the atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad.

I grew hatred the idea of the Christian god and started forming one of my own. I quietly renounced my religion. I started calling myself agnostic.

But my mother continued taking me to church and sending me to CCD so I could receive the sacrament of confirmation. I could understand why, she wanted to do what was best for me. I mean, how often does a fourteen year old know what the fuck they ought to do? But I started being a smartass about my assignments. We had to listen to the gospel every week and write what we learned from it. I started writing the same exact lesson for every week: "Have faith in Jesus."

One morning before school I worked up the courage to tell my mom I wanted to stop going to church, I didn't want to be Catholic anymore. She wasn't very happy about it. It was kind of scary, but the whole thing dissipated quickly. I was still forced to attend church and CCD, but I knew it wouldn't be for long, and it felt good to have that off my chest.

Sometime after that my mom started going to church less an less. I always wondered if it was my fault, to some extent. I didn't know how to feel about it. I wasn't too unhappy about losing my own faith, but you know, I imagine it wasn't quite the same for her. It made me kind of sad.

Through high school and college my ideas about religion and god evolved constantly, and change still. I learned the semantics of gnostic vs. agnostic and theist vs. atheist, and can now refer to myself as an "agnostic atheist." I fit a few different labels, such as "spiritual without religion." No matter how you boil it down though, I'm completely secular. I find no personal value in religion which you can't get from philosophy.

I have have an idea I refer to as "God," but it is not a deity. It's a possibility. It's a name I lend to that which I do not know or may not be able to comprehend, and I acknowledge that. It allows me to enjoy the use of the word as a metaphor in art, music, literature. It's not a big part of my life.

I don't have a particularly valuable or witty closing thought.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thoughts on Love and Intelligence

Do you think those of a higher intelligence are able to love more deeply? (Please try, for just a moment, to not turn this into a semantics argument.)

When this question was first posed to me, I answered "yes" automatically. But then I immediately reconsidered. Why? Why did I answer yes to that?

 My younger sister, Maggie, is one of the most energetic thirteen-year-olds you'll ever meet. She has an innate vitality that follows here everywhere. Sometimes it's almost as if she has more than her physical being can handle. She has a very active imagination, good memory, and impressive logic and problem solving skills.

Maggie is also autistic. She's in the "special" class at her middle school. You don't have to be around her for long before you realize that there is something very off about the way she behaves and communicates. She is extremely stubborn, fervent and temperamental.  She is a creature of habit completely uncomfortable with change. Her skills in speech, reading, and learning are all several years behind where they ought to be. Overall, she's not very well adjusted, though I think she is entirely capable if getting there with time.

Growing up with her, I always thought I understood her better than anyone else, at times moreso than her own mother. I introduced her to video games at a young age and was a diehard advocate for her continued exploration of them as she got older. They were something she became passionate about, just about the only thing she was passionate about, and I believed the skills she could learn from them to be invaluable.

The only time she really communicates openly is when she's talking about video games. If you ask her about her day at school she won't answer. She won't talk about books or people or anything really. But if you ask her about the new treasures she's found in Pikmin 2, she could go on for hours. Video games, in a way, are her world, and a common means for someone else to enter her world. (Being the only one in her immediate family to also play video games, I always thought this fostered a special connection between us.) Some might think this is unhealthy, but I disagree. If not for video games, what would she have instead? Television?

At any rate, I think that in certain areas she is very intelligent, much moreso than people give her credit for. But her social intelligence is lacking, as are her communication skills. It made growing up with her an unusual experience. She doesn't usually make eye contact. Her sentences are often ambiguous or disjointed. She does not understand or experience emotions in a way that I can compare to the average human being. You know, I don't think I've ever in my entire life heard Maggie say, "I love you."

But I know she does.

Sometime in the past year or two, while I was off 500 miles away from my immediate family who I hadn't seen in months, I received a call from my mother. She was sitting aside a hospital bed, calling to tell me Maggie had gotten a serious MRSA infection. I could heard loud, aggravated grunts and groans in the background, as if in protest of something. My mother informed me that Maggie was angry because she absolutely insisted my mother didn't tell me she was in the hospital.

I felt a pang in my heart. I don't know how it seems to an outside observer, but as someone that's known Maggie her entire life, what she did that day was the greatest expression of love I had ever seen from her, and perhaps ever felt in my own time. She understood the severity of her situation, and despite her own pain and difficulty, she wanted to spare me the burden of worrying about her. It was absolutely beautiful.

In reflection, I know why my gut reaction was to answer the initial question in the affirmative. Those with higher intelligence are often better capable of expressing their love, and so they can more deeply share their love, and by this line of thought, those of higher intelligence can more deeply fall in love with eachother. Communication is incredible that way. However, I must disagree with the sentiment that they can feel love more strongly, because at this point in time, I know better. My dear Magpie has shown me otherwise.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The class applauded at the end of her speech and she returned to her seat, feeling confident she'd done well. She made only two mistakes, and they were likely noticeable only to herself. There was a lot of effort and rehearsing put into that speech. She sat through the rest of her public speaking class with mild interest - she resented having to take such a course given her academic plans, but she enjoyed learning either way.

She was going to be a vet. And using this as a springboard, she was going to do great things. Maybe inspire an animal rights reform. Maybe research astrobiology and Mars. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do exactly, but she knew she wanted to do things.

Class ended and she stepped out into the November air, cool and thin, carrying the faint smell of rotting Halloween pumpkins and decaying leaves. She fastened her coat and mounted her bike, and as she rode home she ran through her schedule in the front of her mind. I am going to go home, start dinner, take my dog to the park, and then study chemistry until my brain leaks out my ears. Maybe I'll even have time to practice the violin or watch a movie with Daniel.

But then a dull pain throbbed in her lower abdomen. Almost forgot about that. Pharmacy, then dinner, Fort, and study. Not too much of a hassle, it was on the way anyhow.

Halfway there she swerved to avoid a car and hit a pothole. Suddenly her bike was handling quite funny. She braked and dismounted to find that he back tire had gone flat. Pharmacy, then bike shop, then dinner, the park, and studying.

But wait, that's too late to take Fort out. And I still have to go to the pet store before eight. Shoot.

The entire way home she was preoccupied with these events, trying to arrange them in a suitable manner. She walked in her front door with a bike that was still flat. She greeted her dog cheerfully but was distracted by other things.

She walked up the stairs, still thinking of other things to be done, when suddenly her very enthusiastic dog bounded up behind her and ascended the stairs by weaving through her legs. She was thrown off balance, and tumbled head over heels down a very steep, narrow staircase. On the second landing her head hit the wall in such a way that her neck snapped, and she died almost immediately.

"But I have so much to do."