Well, here we are. Three weeks left in the year, and two blog entries to go to round out the year at an even 52, for a one-per-week average. I have a sizable folder in my email and on my phone's to-do list of half-hatched ideas that I send myself, some of which mature into something interesting enough to bother writing about, while others never grow beyond a single sentence.
Reading through them, I realized that none seemed fitting for wrapping up the year, even though there have been several things pressing on my mind of late; the unfolding fiasco with MERS and its role in the housing crisis in the US (see this months Harper's for a great article), the role of “the frontier” in both natural evolution and human innovation, the hints of the Higgs boson that have been all over the news and just how big a deal that really is, etc. Those things, and hopefully many more, still require more time and thought before I know what I think I think.
But what did seem appropriate to wrap up a year of blogging was a bit of reflection on the practice itself. This year has been very, very interesting and informative for me in more ways than I can probably squeeze into a single post, but I think it is worth the time to sit back and reflect on the big ones.
The first thing I learned, and this continues to shock me to this day, is that some people are actually interested in reading what I write. This strikes me for several reasons. One, it is simply flattering on a personal level. But, what I am more surprised by is that there is enough interest in the subject matter to generate several dozen hits on any given post. Now, that isn't a tremendous number by successful blog standards, but given how little pushing I have done, I'm still always surprised at the spikes on the readership graph.
Why would I doubt that anyone would be interested in reading my thoughts, or anyone's thoughts, on these subjects? Well, I am not ignorant of the fact that some of my posts could be read as highly offensive to people who take matters such as faith very seriously. I have never offered any apology for my disdain for that mode of thinking, though I would apologize if it has ever caused anyone offense. So I do find it intriguing that despite the number of people who have communicated disagreement with me on that stance, many still seem to continue to follow the conversation.
Secondly, as someone said when I started writing this, “Yes, but people don't care if what they believe is true, so long as it makes them happy.” Now, I don't pretend to have access to any “truth” that others don't, that would be antithetical to the entire point of the blog, but I have made it a point to call out claims to the “truth” that I see as fundamentally flawed. At the same time, people's preference for happiness over truth is an incredibly hard concept for me to understand, but I have had people state this to me, about themselves, in so many words. So although it is a well-known fact of human psychology that our brains will consistently make this choice whenever possible, it is most astonishing to me when someone is insightful enough to articulate this choice to themselves and others, yet makes it anyway. I simply can't get with that. If I had one magic-lamp wish, it would be an easy choice- to be able to know the truth of everything there is to know. No more, no less.
Lastly, I am surprised, although I shouldn't be, at the continuous readership precisely because it has spurred almost no conversation outside of the blog itself. Essentially, people are curious to read about things that they aren't generally interested in talking about in person. I get it, and I don't have an issue with it, but still, it is amusing. At the same time, some of that is on me; I write the blog with the understanding that there are people who I know personally who aren't interested in hearing me hold forth on these topics, and I take that into consideration. I'm generally willing to talk to anyone, anytime about anything I find interesting, but I'm not interested in shoving my agenda down their throats.
Meanwhile, writing the blog, and reading the comments of readers, has been a great reminder of why I have friendships with the people I do. My oldest friend has been a regular commenter on here, while also occasionally taking up similar issues on his own blog, and this back-and-forth has been a poignant reminder of why that friendship has endured. Other friends and family have contributed in thoughtful ways, and each of these has reminded me just why I like each of those people so much. And lastly, perhaps the most unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise, the blog has led to new friendships, some with people who are close enough that I have gotten to know them in person, and others which have turned into a great web-relationship. (There has got to be a better way to say that. Anyone? “webship?” God, that's awful. ) I would not have anticipated any of that, particularly the last, but have been very pleased with that outcome. So thank you to everyone who has been a part of that. And I suppose I owe a special thank you to Adam, who has done more to garner new readers than I ever have.
I have also experienced a bit of what I am going to call, henceforth, “the Rome effect.” No, not that Rome, through which the Tiber runs. I'm talking about Jim Rome, sports radio talk-show host. For those of you who aren't Clones, or who live outside the US, a little Rome-primer might help. Besides doing sports interviews and talking smack with callers, Rome often devotes segments of his show to detailing the over-the-top obsessions of certain “Guys;” Softball Guy, Bowling Guy, Fantasy Football Guy, 40-year-old Video Game Guy, Star Wars Guy, DnD Guy, etc. And, as he often points out, whenever he decided to poke fun at a new “Guy” he invariably gets a call from said Guy, saying, “I've always loved your show Rome, but I just can't believe what you said about X, cause I am that Guy and I am offended.” Basically, it's okay to make fun of everyone else, just not me.
For instance, there are many people who were raised in dementedly religious households, who now have a very negative view of established religion. These people will generally cheer along anything they see which takes shots at that monolithic nightmare. But at the same time, many of these people, and this continues to baffle me, will leave established religion only to pick up any number of woo-woo beliefs which suffer from the same lack-of-evidence and internal-contradiction attacks that can be leveled at religion. And then, when someone points out that what they now believe is no different, in principle, than the religion they so despise, they bristle, and call you close-minded, a slave to reason and evidence (I'll accept that charge any day, by the way), and say that they “just know” or that they “don't need proof” that what they have come to believe is true.
Although I could have explained why this is before, the first hand experience I have gotten writing the blog has really helped me understand it more fully. All of us, myself included, are desperately attached to what we believe, what we value. I work hard to remain conscious of this, which is one reason I always find Rome's takes on “Guys” that I personally am so darned funny. And thus I recognize that fewer things get me more riled up than the charge that “Well, you just have faith in science and reason.” Because while even though I logically appreciate that people who say this don't truly understand what “faith” means, or how science works, and how incompatible these ideas are, and I appreciate that they have made a semantic and logical misstep, I continue to take it somewhat personally. I'm working on that.
I guess what I am saying is that I have come to realize that there are two types of ex-religious folks. There are those who left religion because they had a negative experience with religion itself, either through the people in their lives who practiced that religion, or through the experiences that were forced upon them as members of the faith. And then there are those, like myself, who had generally positive experiences with religion, in fact too positive from the faith's point of view because we got into it too much, asked too many questions, pushed too hard, only to find that the man behind the curtain is just a conjurer from Kansas. Those who leave for the first reason generally leave with a sense of “good riddance” and may or may not feel the need to replace that piece of their life with something else. Some turn to other, more accepting religions, others woo-woo or just a vague spiritualism. Or they struggle to find anything that fits in that place. ('Cause only Jesus can fill a Jesus-shaped hole, right?) Those of us who leave because we discover it simply doesn't work usually go reluctantly, often maintaing some vague belief in an uninvolved deity who still exists out there somewhere and has some purpose for all of this. But after years of living without the comforting thought of a Supreme Being who very much cares if you get that job you applied for, even that tenuous grasp slips away, and we realize that anything we know so little about, can know so little about, doesn't really matter very much.
I have also realized that there are more of us out there than I ever thought. This has been the most important thing, for me, that the blog has accomplished. It has helped me, and I hope some others, recognize that they aren't alone in this world simply because they don't believe in magic. And while we are still vastly outnumbered, we need to start standing up and making it known that we are here and we're not going anywhere. There are three openly gay US Congressman. There is one openly atheist US Congressmen. Americans trust atheistsas much as they trust rapists. Rapists. Rapists. Like, people who rape other people. But while this level of ignorance is frankly appalling, it isn't all that surprising. In fact, it may be built into our brains. (I'll get to that in a later post.)
So if you're one of those non-believers raised in a religious household and about to be dragged through the tedium of the religious holiday season, or if you live deep in the Red State Sea and often feel like you may very well be the only rational person for a thousand miles, or if you weren't raised religious at all and don't really get what these people get so worked up about, but know that they still outnumber you 10-1, so you manage to keep your mouth shut, I hope this blog has been a useful place for you to go. And I hope that you will keep coming back, because I enjoy writing it, but that process is much more enjoyable when I know that someone else is reading it.
And if you are religious, or are woo-woo, or anyone else I may have offended along the way, but you keep coming back anyway, well, I think I may appreciate that even more. It certainly helps me keep my aggression in check and try to approach these questions from a civilized perspective, as best I can.
So anyway, fifty-one down, one to go. Hopefully soon. And that one will mark another personal milestone.
Thanks for reading, and have a great new year.