Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Film that Helped Me Come to Terms with My Atheism

Right now, a whole bunch of people who clicked a link to read this blog are probably clicking “back,” or closing the tab.  Most of the folks reading this blog are coming from a forum where many of the members are religious in some way.  One of the concerns that I’ve had is that folks who believe in a god or a set of spiritual beliefs might not come around if they though that I was gonna attack or otherwise ridicule those beliefs.  If you’re still reading this, I assure you that I won’t.  That isn’t to say that I won’t call some things into question, be unintentionally offensive, or (very occasionally) poke light fun at established religions.  However, I like to think that I at least try to stay away from pointless cruelty, at least where religious discussion is involved.  Most times, I actually succeed in that endeavor.

I started to become an atheist when I was about nine.  I won’t get in to particulars, but it was around then that I started to notice the world around me a little more, and questions started to raise in my mind about the possibility that there was no Great Benevolent Consciousness watching out for us.  I still clung to religion, in myriad forms for years, well into adulthood, but I never really believed that any of them were a way to understand the meaning of life.  No holy man, witch, high priest, or guru was ever able to give me what I felt to be adequate answers to my questions.  Spells, rituals, sacrifices, and prayers did nothing to alter the course of reality in a way that would not have otherwise been affected—at least in my estimation—by the natural course of time and action.   If I wanted things to go my way, I had to stop talking to the air and take matters into my own hands.  I became my own God, in a way.

One of the things I can’t stand about zealotry, and I include many atheists in this, is the tendency to take proselytizing to a dark place where someone is made to feel bad or stupid for what they do or don’t believe.  I think that is a bunch of bullshit.  Proselytizing should never be a forceful or negative act.  It should never be done using fear, intimidation, or violence as implements of salvation.  If you feel it is your place to bring someone you care about into your belief system, you should be doing it out of love, and you should do it by presenting it as a choice that they make for themselves.

Which brings me to the documentary that helped me come to terms with my lack of belief in the spiritual and solidified my belief in myself as the maker of my own destiny and the only one who could answer my prayers.  And, at first glance, it looks like a cruel prank.
Kumaré is a documentary by Vikram Ghandi.  During Vikram’s own quest for spiritual knowledge, he started to investigate various gurus and mystics to see if it wasn't all just a tall pile of horseshit.  He went all over America and India to meet and interact with these sages, only to come to the realization that they were, in fact, all full of shit, to one degree or another.  But what if he, himself, became a guru who, from the very outset, claimed no great mystical enlightenment, and merely wore the trappings and spoke in a funny accent. Would he be able to pull it off? Could he help people find an inner peace without the use of “magical powers” or “metaphisical insight?”

So, he gets his look together, and gets to work building his myth after enlisting the help of a hot ethnic-looking woman, and a cute-as-all-hell redhead yoga instructor.  As an aside, in the very beginning you see him introducing his team and drawing what must be the symbol of this new, fake movement on their foreheads, and I swear to you, it looks like a cock and balls.  It has to be.  That shit can't be an accident.  They start formulating fake yoga, and even a philosophy that basically boils down to telling the would-be follower that this whole thing is a sham.  But he does it  mystically,  and in an exotic accent, so people eat that shit up like a fat chick at a cupcake factory.

The recruitment of these followers, er, follows.  You want to laugh at these people, but these aren't just a bunch of incense-sniffing, bark-chewing California-types that'll hop on any movement that contrasts with western culture.  These are people.  And some of them are really stressed-out people with some fucked-up circumstances.  One of these folks is a death-penalty attorney.  I've worked in human services, and that shit is hard.  But comparing what I did to what this poor woman does is like saying I know what it's like to be a rape victim just because some fat dude once brushed up against my ass on the bus.  It isn't in the same fucking universe.  I would rather have a career driving wrought-iron nails into planks of oak using only my face than do what this woman does for even one day. Dealing with people in fucked up situations for a living is some stressful, mind-shearingly depressing shit.  When I was doing it, I would sometimes pray for some sort of guidance or relief from the knowledge that nothing I did for these people was ever going to really help them.  I was a medic with a pack of band-aids standing on Omaha Beach.  Nothing ever came of my prayers,  but I can understand the urge to believe that there has to be some kind of meaning to all this horrible shit.  Someone must be able to give us an answer, right?

Not all these people suffer to the same magnitude in their daily existence as death-row-lawyer does.  Most of them are normal folks who are just looking for something that will make them feel a little better about being a more advanced monkey crawling around on a mote of dust floating through infinity.  Some of them are looking for redemption from past sins that still haunt them.  I'm not trying to down these poor bastards for looking outwardly for this comfort.  Shit, I know none of that stuff is real, but I long for the same feeling of acceptance, redemption and worth.  Them's jus' folks, same as me.

As part of his excursion, Vikram (I'm going to refer to him by his first name because trying to remember the alt-code for é whenever I type Kumaré is a right pain in the ass, and referring to him as Ghandi just seems, well, wrong) also meets with several spiritualists and so-called mystics.  I'll be straight up and say that I don't like these assholes.  They remind me of those fucking televangelists that are alway conning grandmothers and poor people out of their SSI checks.  Seriously, I bought in to some of this shit a while back. Looking back on it now, I'd have an easier time admitting to being a bukkake practice target than to admit to myself that I actually believed in some of this shit for even a short time.  Gods below, that stuff even made sense to me.  I went to the bible camps. I hung out with the wiccans.  I attempted to commune with ethereal forces, and, after the brief high of being included in something new faded, I was left with less money, a bunch of books and crystals and shit, and the same empty feeling that followed the realization that none of these pointless exercises did a damn thing to help me feel anything approaching peace.  But there was never a shortage of these underhanded cocksuckers waiting to take me on my next adventure and try to wheedle a little more cabbage out of me.

 Things begin to get pretty heavy pretty fast.  Folks start telling Vikram incredibly personal stuff and asking his advice on some relatively serious matters.  And in some of the shots you can tell that this poor bastard is saying to himself, "What in the blue hell am I supposed to say to that?"   But, people just keep doing it, even though he's not trying to draw it out of them.  I can tell you that, even if you're only remotely human, this level of trust really affects you.  Add to that the fact that these people are expecting some of the deep knowledge that comes from  spiritual enlightenment,  that's some serious pressure.  I didn't envy Vikram his situation. I don’t even like when people ask me what we should have for dinner, or if I thought the ending of LOST sucked.  I for damn sure wouldn’t be too keen on advising them on whether or not they should end a marriage.

Throughout the film, Vikram explains to both the audience, as well as his followers, that the whole point of the Kumaré movement is self-empowerment, but he frames it all in the mystical.  I won't answer to the ethics of this (I failed that class), but at least his motives seem pure.  As the film progresses, we see what each of the followers is getting out their interaction with this  fake  guru, and, oddly, at no time did I look at any of these people and say, "What a bunch of fucking morons."  So what if they were missing the picture because they were staring at the nice frame?  They were still getting it on some level.  The fake begins to become real.

Eventually, there is the big reveal, which is that it was all a sham, and I'm about to ruin it for you.  It's not as dramatic as you're thinking.  If this was put out by the soulless shitheads at TLC we could expect that someone throws a chair at Vikram and starts cussing him out.  But maybe the reason that none of that shit goes down is that, even though this guy was outwardly doing this to make a movie, at the heart of it he just wanted people to look inwards for the cure to their sadness or emptiness or indecisiveness or stress.  And maybe these folks, at even a subconscious level, realized this.

 I would recommend that anyone, atheist or faithful, give this film a go.  For the faithful, perhaps it might offer them some insight into how they can use what is within themselves to follow the path laid out for them by their god.  For non-believers, perhaps it will reinforce the idea that we are the ultimate determiners of our own destiny.  For me, it made me realize that I don't need a religion, holy man or god to find my own path.  Have I found it yet?  Maybe, maybe not.  But I'm enjoying the search a bit more than I was.  I’m for damn sure saving a lot of cash that I can now spend on a higher class of beer, instead of buying a bunch of books and crystals and shit.  And, I must say, that does give me a sense of peace.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Black Mood

Well, Robin Williams smoked himself.  And now his family and friends are left to sweep up the wreckage. And people are saying "Oh I feel so bad for him." And every goddamn media outlet and website seems to be having a memorial for him.  And I feel like the only dude in the world looking at all this and saying to myself, "Man, FUCK that motherfucker."

Now, I don't want to come off as a troll, so let me explain my position.  I feel really bad for folks going through mental shit.  You can't escape from your own head, no matter what drink, drug or other pastime you partake in to get away from the ever-flying shrapnel inside your skull.  Eventually, it's just you and the little man who lives behind your eyes and takes care of the filing, going over all the reasons why you should or shouldn't pop the top of your head off with a shotgun.  Those nights, laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, imagining what it would be like to check out, permanently.  That is some awful, fucked-up shit.  I know.

We had found out, months later, that my best friend, Jim, had been planning to kill himself for quite a long time, almost a year.  About two months after he finally did, I was sitting in his room in the basement, sorting his notebooks and filing his poetry, story-fragments and a heap of other shit.  He had always been terrible about keeping his things in order; there were entire crates of papers, napkins with scribblings on them, receipts. Nothing of a specific, all-inclusive journal, save his drug journals that read more like a collection of hallucinatory ramblings and near-psychotic scrawlings that took up over four composition-style notebooks.  There was no note. No final, ultimate declaration of “fuck you!” to the world.  There were none of the warning signs that typically accompany a suicide and are frequently noticed only after the body is cold and in the ground. He was fine one day and then it would appear that he decided to hang himself from the rafters of his room.  His mother and sister found him, his face blue and his feet almost touching the ground.

About six months after the fact, I asked my father (who’s a cop) to see if he could find out what the official cause of death was.  He did (at least, he said he did), and he told me that it was strangulation.  Looking back on it now, I don’t know why I had to know that.  Perhaps it was that I had to know if he intended to die that night.  Strangulation meant (at least to me) that he had, as there were no marks on his fingers or neck that would indicate that he struggled to get out of the noose.  It didn’t matter one way or the other, he was still dead. He let himself die; he didn’t snap his neck while he was fucking around or making some kind of “cry for help.”

He had done that before, the “cry for help”-type thing. Actually, he did it a couple of times and got institutionalized for one such instance.  They put him on meds and he stopped all the bullshit for about a year.  He was loving life, hell, we both were.  Then one night I’m sitting in my room with two of my friends and my parents come down to tell me that the kid I knew for sixteen years, the kid who was closer to me than my own brother, had killed himself.

People always talk about warning signs. They talk about them as if every suicide is a textbook case.  They make it out so one would think that you could tell if someone was going to smoke himself just by noticing a few behavioral earmarks.  Not that I was shocked about the whole thing. Part of me always knew that Jim was gonna go out like that.  Sure, it was unpleasant and very, very sad.  But it was not shocking. I was more, well, pissed off that he would do something like that.  That prick! Now, we would never go to college together. We’d never again smoke a fat blunt on the reservoir overlooking Syracuse while trying to convince girls to go streaking with us.  We’d never get to go on that road-trip to Vegas. Now, it was all worm food.

Owen (the third member of our unholy little trinity) told me at the funeral that any thought, any inclination, that he might have once had of committing suicide was erased the moment he saw Jim’s body in that silver-gray metal box.  I didn’t say anything. I remember wanting to say “yeah, me too,” but that would have been bullshit.  I was constantly thinking about it.  Wanting to die became like wanting to be a rock star or a space ship captain when you’re ten years old; an unattainable wish.  I couldn’t let what happened to all of us following Jim’s death happen again because of me.  I didn’t like being alive, but I couldn’t kill myself.  I was always the leader: of my groups of friends, of my siblings and cousins.  I had a responsibility to keep it together and hold it down for all of them.  But I still wanted out.  If I died in some horrible accident, well, that would be different, right?  If I got shot or stabbed, that would be downright forgivable. That’s why I used to put myself in situations where shit like that might have gone down, and I almost succeeded in my endeavors on several occasions. 

Why don’t I still do that bad-assed shit like I used to? Mostly because I have reasons not to. At least I do now. 

I remember when it was “cool” to be fucked up in the head.  Stylish, like Kurt Cobain.  There was a group of kids at my high school (many of them were my friends) that compared psychological maladies and bragged about what meds they were on much like some kids would compare basketball shoes or clothing labels.  I look back on shit like that and I feel nauseated.  They acted so much like the preps they always claimed to hate.  In the '90’s, nothing was sincere, nothing was real and nothing was ever anybody’s fault.  You’re an asshole? Well it’s because of your upbringing or because of stuff that happened to you as a kid.  It wasn’t because you were just an asshole. I didn’t want to let my self be affected by what happened to me in the past.  I was who I was who I am. And it wasn’t until I wanted to change and actually confront those things that may have affected me, no matter how much I didn’t want them to, that I stopped aspiring, even passively, to becoming a corpse.

I found a reason to live. To not want to self-destruct.  And when you’re natural inclination has long been to fuck yourself up and try to hurt yourself, regardless of how you would do it, well, trying to get up and want to live is like trying to breathe underwater.  About as natural as a Chinese blonde.  That’s the hardest part.  Instead of aspiring to die, I wanted to live, and it felt very unnatural.  I wasn't used to it. It scared the shit out of me. But, I would rather face it and suffer all of those horrible fears and tribulations and pains of self-reinvention than end up like Jim.

For a person who, like me, doesn't get an afterlife, suicide is the ultimate sin.  The ultimate waste.  I see why the Catholics and the like call it the Unforgiveable Sin.  Only it isn't you going to hell for doing it.  It's your friends.  It's your family. It's every person you have ever had, or will ever have, a positive effect on, no matter how fleeting that effect is.  Your final act will be to inflict massive suffering and rob the world of a valuable resource: your potential.  That makes you a piece of fucking dogshit.

"But, Johnny," I hear you say, "Nobody loves me, I have no family, no friends, no one will give a fuck if I take myself out.  Why should I fucking bother."  My answer: Dude, there's nothing after this.  There's no halos, harps or fluffy, white clouds.  You don't get to come back as a hamster or a prince or any of that shit.  You pull the cord and you waste ANY CHANCE YOU HAD OF MAKING IT ANY BETTER.  People can change themselves and love and become loved.  I've seen it happen, many times in the most unexpected people.  Even if you don't feel better, you might do something, anything that might make someone else's life just a little better.  Fuck, just holding the door open for someone or giving someone a smoke or even just smiling at someone might make their lives just a tiny bit better that day.  It's worth living for that.

When I used to hang out on the 4chan boards, one of the Anons said it better and more succinctly than I ever could:

"I never got why people would kill themselves. So, if you want to die, you obviously don't give a shit.  Like, about anyone.  'Cause if there is anyone who loves you, you don't give a FUCK about them, or hurting them and if there's not, there's no one to give a shit about. 

So, instead of killing yourself, why don't you just get the fuck out?  Leave the basement, leave your house, leave the motherfucking country.  Go on an adventure.  Spend your time doing something awesome, like tracking down some terrorists.  Go be James Bond. Go fuck up a shark with a harpoon.  Danger?  Fuck that, you were going up against a 100% death rate before, you're being safe now.  Fuck EVERYTHING, man, the world is your oyster.

Sometimes I wish I was suicidal.  I'd pull the barrel out of my mouth and point it in the air, start a revolution, LIVE.  Move to Barcelona, hit the bars, bang some chicks.  STDs, who fucking gives a shit?

And then when I'm done, maybe I wouldn't want to kill myself, 'cause I've seen how beautiful this world is."

TLDR;  don't be weak.  Don't be a cunt.  Go be awesome. 

Ran a little long in this post.  Hopefully I'll have something more entertaining for the next time.  See you soon, kids.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Well shit, might as well get this started...

I used to write a blog. About ten thousand years ago, I started a little, general purpose blog just to write stuff in. I wrote a couple movie/book reviews, some stuff about web comics, some stuff about advertising and current events. Not a huge body of work, by any stretch of the imagination, just a few entries. Then I ran out of ideas of shit to write. So I just drank.

I don't want it to come off as though I regret my alcoholism, quite the contrary, I rather enjoy being a high-functioning drunk. It makes the weekends something to look forward to, I'm much funnier when I'm loaded, and, so long as I stay away from wine, I'm a really nice guy when I get to be tits deep in beer. But it took the place of my writing for the most part, and I always felt I should go back to it, if only to provide examples of why I stopped writing in the first place.

Most of you are going to be visiting from a forum I frequent, where people smoke a lot and bullshit even more. I warn the denizens of that noble site now: You are likely to get very offended at some of the stuff I put up here. It might very likely make you not like me too much. I'm an atheist libertarian with only a modicum of human compassion. Most nights I can't stand to be in the same room with myself. I drink and cuss and make broad sweeping generalizations about very sensitive topics. I make rude and inappropriate jokes that are in extremely poor taste. I am a purveyor of prejudice, a cultivator of controversy and an alliterative asshole. But, I am what I am. I make no apologies and ask no forgiveness. If I wind up pissing you off, that's how it is. I hope we can still be friends.

I write how I feel at a particular time. Sometimes I change my mind or contradict myself altogether. Sometimes, this will occur several times in the same article. I hope to write about a bunch of different things, guns, beer, tobacco, maybe some politics, religion, beer, porn, and human nature as I see it through my rather warped world-view. I hope to update regularly, perhaps monthly, at least, until I become disillusioned with the whole thing once again and sink into a beer-soaked apathy and swear off writing again.

At the very least, I hope you keep an open mind. Maybe if I get all of this out of my system here, I may not be such a prick at some point. Thank you for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2014