It cast a lovely light…

I’ve been struggling all day for the words for the impact that Christopher Hitchens had on my life. I honestly don’t recall the first time I read his work, it seems like he was always in the background of my life with some kind of reporting from somewhere in the world. Though I knew the name, when I was younger I was never politically minded so I never paid much attention. But to be honest, I’m not sure of the person I’d be today if Hitch had not been a part of my life.

I know that I’ve written about the near-death experience I had back in ’89 that was the main cause of my first leaving organized religion in the past. But I don’t recall ever hearing the word or even considering myself an atheist until I first read Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” and followed it up with Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great”. Hitch especially sent me down a path of self-examination that eventually led me to the realization that atheism was the only course of reason and putting the mythology of religion in my past. He was also my first real introduction to many topics in world politics. When I became more politically aware starting in my 20s, I started to pay more attention to what Christopher was writing about. Most of what I came to know about American politics started with what he taught me.

I still turn to his books, articles and videos on a regular basis, be it his views on American and international politics, British history, atheism or just some that he wrote on everyday life — like how to make a proper cup of tea. 🙂  No one could phrase an argument or articulate a particular thought quite the way that he could.

His superb oratory mixed with intelligence, a razor sharp wit and a voice that commanded your attention, made him so incredibly unique that the loss of him is still felt so keenly today. Anyone whose life he touched can’t help seeing things in the news or in politics without wondering what Hitch would have had to say about it. He taught us how to look at things in a different manner than everyone else and not to just accept what the mainstream media was telling us. And his example was that of a man who was willing to be unpopular for standing by his convictions.

Hitch left us too early. There was too much left to say and no one to say it. This huge gap in all of our lives has not yet seen his like to fill it. I can only comment on how much he affected my life…my words are a pale shadow compared to the ones that could be uttered in their place.

We miss you Hitch.

 

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Oh…Canada…

I have to admit that most of the time I am incredibly proud to be Canadian. It’s a fairly quiet country, we just go about our business and try not to bother anyone. We love our healthcare system (most of the time), our national broadcaster (when Tories aren’t trying to defund it), there’s little unrest compared to the rest of the world and we don’t tend to get a lot of extreme weather (outside of our normal extreme weather). Overall, we’re a fairly left-leaning country that tries to take care of it’s citizenry.

However….

We have way too many people here that believe way too much woo for me not to be constantly embarrassed by my fellow Canadians. Every day I am confronted by someone who believes whatever piece of scientific bunk is being reported on by someone who has no idea what they are talking about. Or a story about another child dying because their hippie parents decided that homeopathy was better than seeing a doctor.Seriously people, oil of oregano is not going to replace antibiotics when your child is sick. And how can there still be those who can look at what is going on in the world and still deny human-caused climate change?

When did people stop being able to be critical thinkers? It’s not just here…look at what is happening south of my country in America. When did people cease to have the ability to truly assess information with skepticism? There was a time when “news” that you’d see in the National Enquirer was laughed at but now it seems that most people take every conspiracy theory or every bit of “alternative medicine” as fact without requiring any actual evidence. This absence of reason makes me sad for the future. I truly think we are failing future generations. I can only hope that they will have the skills to fix the problems the current generations will cause.

I just fail to understand why everyone suddenly so afraid of medicine…or science in general.  It seems to me as though we’ve lost some level of trust not only in those who are experts in their fields, but also in each other. In this day where communication is easier than it’s ever been…we all seem to be talking, while have lost the ability to listen to each other.

So…this happened today..

I had intentions of doing a real blog after work tonight but work was *so* long and the holiday shoppers are out now. What a tiring day to top off a tiring week of covering the entire department myself at work since the full timer was out sick. So I came home, had dinner, watched some Once Upon a Time and then made a cup of tea and came upstairs.

Remember last blog where I talked about Alex aka Cosmic Skeptic and his buddies Gabriel and Mattie from Swish? Well, Alex did a “day in the life” video a few days ago and turns out he works for a tea and coffee merchant – Cardew’s of Oxford. I have heard the name from time to time but never thought much of it. However, after the video I thought I’d look at their website and I found out that they ship worldwide. Naturally, being the rather large tea addict that I am (have you ever seen my tea cupboard?!?)…I had to place an order. Ok, it might have been a relatively large order based on a certain person’s recommendations for the most part. Go big or go home. One might as well make the most out of international shipping charges after all. It could be a really long winter. That’s my excuse and I stand by it.

At any rate, Alex wanted me to have them let him know when I ordered. I figured he’d draw a little smiley face or a little note on it or something. I really should have known better than that.  🙂

Now that I have been ‘outed’ as the head of the cheering section, don’t forget to subscribe to the antics of Alex and his friends over at Swish. Highly entertaining regardless of whether or not they are mailing you things, lol. I am rather looking forward to getting my arts & crafts project in the post. I might have to frame the bag…

And don’t forget

Cosmic Skeptic – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7kIy8fZavEni8Gzl8NLjOQ

Casualex – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRZMGycre5l0pQMSc7oOA1Q

Swish – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_M00p2NurFJVCgPc_XTwSQ

And Alex could use your support for his Patreon as well.

https://www.patreon.com/CosmicSkeptic

 

 

New Dogs, Old Tricks

In the past I have always seen YouTube as this wonderful repository of lectures and whatnot by scientists and thinkers — people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss being among those whose wit and intelligence that I value. Also a great place for music – bands like Walk Off The Earth do fantastic stuff on YouTube. When I came out as an atheist, I found it a valuable research to hear people like David Silverman, Aron Ra and Hemant Mehta speaking on activism in the community.

It wasn’t really until someone at work turned me on to Joe Santagato that I started paying attention to vloggers and “personal” pages on the channel. And over the last few months I’ve become rather fond of this incredibly intelligent seventeen year old…and his friends. Ok, that might sound a little odd considering I’m old enough to be his…older sister (be quiet) but honestly Alex J. O’Connor aka Cosmic Skeptic is a really great up-and-coming voice in the atheist community with just a natural charm and wit in front of a camera. He’s got a little of that “something” that Hitch had.  Maybe it’s the British Oxford thing, lol.  He’s a rather big science geek too which I can totally get behind.  It was actually through Hemant that I discovered him and I was among the first on board his Patreon. I have a screen grab to prove it and one day when he’s a famous author or somesuch, that thing will be golden.  😉  His buddies over at Swish (Gabriel and Mattie) are fairly hilarious. I’ve called them kind of a meeting of Monty Python and Jackass.

If you aren’t familiar with either of them, you really should be. Check them out on their assorted channels. You won’t regret it as they are an entertaining lot and you just *might* learn something. (And you should really subscribe while you’re there. Trust me…do it.)

Cosmic Skeptic – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7kIy8fZavEni8Gzl8NLjOQ

Casualex – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRZMGycre5l0pQMSc7oOA1Q

Swish – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_M00p2NurFJVCgPc_XTwSQ

At any rate…Alex posted this video recently…

So today, I thought I’d build on that and pick a couple (or so) books to recommend out of my moderately out of control library. This might become a semi-regular thing, we’ll see. To start it off, one of Richard Dawkins’ books that Alex didn’t mention in his video, is one of my top picks and is highly underappreciated compared to his other works. Climbing Mount Improbable grew out of his Christmas Lectures and it’s a wonderful and concise book on topics in evolution.

Next (naturally) would need to be a book by Lawrence Krauss who happens to be my favourite physicist (and yes, I can name several thank you). If you aren’t familiar with him…what the hell is wrong with you? The book I’m going to put at the top though isn’t his wonderful A Universe From Nothing, because anyone who knows him has likely read his most recent book. I’m going to recommend another one that I love, Atom. A look at the origins and journey of a single atom of oxygen in the universe. It’s a very deep, but incredibly beautiful read by a brilliant scientific mind.

Last for this post, is Wade Davis’ book The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire. If you are unfamiliar with Wade’s work, he’s an anthropologist, ethnobotanist and historian who right now teaches at UBC here in Canada. And….he has the coolest job title on earth. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. His books are explorations of indigenous cultures, travelogues and glimpses into times and places that are disappearing from our world. His writing is lovely prose that transports you to these moments that he cares about so deeply while he tells you why you should care about what others see as obscure topics. He’s written about everything from hallucinogenic frogs to drugs that turn people to zombies to the climbing of Mount Everest. This book of short stories is a wonderful introduction to his work.

We’ll leave it there for now. I’m going to have to try harder to find some discipline as my new motivational guru is making me feel like I need to up my game. (You know who you are…)

 

The Darkness Before The Dawn

Before I blog about what has gone wrong in the world recently and where we should, as citizens of the world, go from here…before I get angry and vent my activism…I need to close out this horrible week with some reflection. Then I can put this behind me and move forward.

On the heels of what could be the most depressing election I have ever witnessed, Canada lost one of it’s greatest voices. Leonard Cohen was more than a songwriter – he was a poet, a visionary and an artist in the truest sense. He was the one that so many turned to in our darkest hours, swept away by poignant lyrics and haunting music that made you close your eyes while the music wrapped around you. But even this hour was too dark for him and so a mere three weeks after putting out his last album, he told his son that he was done and could die now…and left us.

It’s strange watching events unfolding from Canada – from Brexit to the American election. We just threw off our Conservative government after eight long years…and even our Tories now look positively moderate by comparison. If there was ever doubt that we are nothing more than evolved apes, looking around the world right now it’s pretty apparent. I remember a time when people actually cared about each other. Is it just me or over the last couple of decades or so…has the world become increasingly mean and cruel? When exactly did we stop being one people and start only caring about what we could get at the expense of another?

There was a time when the goal of everyone was to be educated. For some, that meant going to a really good school. But now, with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”, young adults aren’t even able to fully express themselves. How do you learn to coexist with others, to truly learn what you and others believe if even Halloween costumes are regulated? For others, being educated meant learning for yourself. Getting out into the real world – working, taking part-time classes, reading – but when wages are so incredibly depressed and the wealthy are only concerned with how much more they can make off the backs of the working poor, who can manage to better themselves?

I have always held to the values I learned growing up in Tommy Douglas’ Canada. A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members.  That as fellow humans, those who have plenty, have a moral responsibility to help those who are struggling because only by sharing the load, can we all stand up together. That when you see someone fall, you reach out and help them.  When I was growing up, we tried to lead by example. We had our envied healthcare system, our social safety net and on the world stage we were peace keepers. Wherever you traveled in the world with a Canadian flag displayed, you pretty much always got a smile.

Our star does not shine quite so brightly as it once did, although things may be changing for the better with our new government. Only time will tell. I would like to think that we still hold Tommy’s values at our cores but what I have seen from some of my fellow Canadians during the American election season makes me realize how fluid our border really is. I am scared for my neighbours and friends but I am even more scared of what this means for the future; not only for my country but for the world. We share one tiny planet in the vast universe, and we rise and we fall together.

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New World Order

When America first started down this election path, I had real hope that it would build on the immense progress that seemed to be symbolized by two terms of President Obama. The economy was doing better, they finally had a framework for healthcare – there was even a strengthening of religious freedom to some degree. Even nonbelievers got acknowledgement from the administration, a good first step.

The world I woke up in today seems darker. Looking on from Canada, I see our neighbours embracing a leader who touted xenophobia, hatred and fear of “the other”, sexism, misogyny, violence, trickle-down economics, theocratic lawmaking,  locking up of political opponents, being able to sue the press for printing things he disagreed with, the use of nuclear weapons. He seems to be against science in general, for warfare, against peace, against healthcare for all, against education, wants to go back to coal production, against green energy and doesn’t think climate change is a real thing. And let’s not forget the wall that apparently Mexico is going to pay for.

America is not an island, what happens there affects all of us. Are they truly going to get the leader that they voted for? Is democracy finished in the U.S.? What is this world going to look like in four years? Looking out from a country with a Liberal government right now on a world swinging wildly to the right, the world is feeling like a lonely place.

Losing My Religion…

Have you ever been sucked through a dam in a rowboat? It’s not really an experience that I would recommend but it was a significant moment in my life that led me down the path I am currently on. I spent most of my childhood and teen years as part of the Baptist church. I always heard about people and their “personal relationship with God”. I spent years trying to figure that out, going to church and teen groups, singing in groups at retirement homes, volunteering at Sunday school, studying the Bible…never even for one moment did I feel anything except for wasted time.

Back in 1989 when I was 19, a friend and I were up at their place on the Green River doing what we did most weekends — swimming, boating and just hanging out during our last summer before college. As usual, being idiot teenagers, when we took the boat out we weren’t wearing life jackets. Because…we all seem at a point in our lives feel that we’re immortal and that bad things only happen to “other” people. Instead of going out to the lake like usual, Cass took the boat down a branch of the river I had never been down. We were putting along with the tiny motor and I never thought much of it when I noticed a slight increase in the current and she never said anything. A little more current. Interesting….soon the increase in the speed of the boat was noticeable and as we rounded a bend in the river, off to the side was a small sign tacked to a tree. I can still remember how I felt the moment that I saw it.

DAM OPEN

Far too late to fight the current and turn the boat around. The current was getting really wild as we approached the bridge over the river. Cass grabbed a hold of one of the bridge supports and was pulled from the boat and as I rounded one more bend, I saw the dam.

There is nothing quite like the vantage point of seeing an open dam from inside a small metal boat as you are approaching it. Luckily, a few summers of sailing lessons where there’s a lot of emphasis on what to do if you capsize came back to me and I had to weigh my decisions quickly. Jump from the boat now and risk the current slamming me into the dam itself. Stay in the boat, ride it out and hope that it doesn’t flip, hit me and knock me unconscious. Or ride it out through the dam and pick the moment to jump. I decided on the third option as the one with the best odds. It’s an amazing feeling to be terrified and yet completely calm and detached at the same time. The boat stayed upright through the dam, I picked my moment and jumped overboard before it could capsize and the current pulled me straight under.

You hear a lot of things that people say about being confronted with death – from angel visitations to bright lights to your life flashing before your eyes. It is really incredible the things that you can believe that you experience.  What I remember is how incredibly quiet it was. And a feeling of not quite being alone.It’s really hard to describe it, that’s always the best I can come up with. I’ve had people ask me, “Did you feel like God was with you” or “Did it feel like an angel” to which I answer…how the hell would I know what an angel ‘feels’ like?!?  It’s not like I have one hanging out every weekend. And also…why is stuff like that always the things that people ask??? No one ever says, “Did it feel like Lucifer was with you?” (which based on the whole Bible thing is much more plausible anyway). But no, it wasn’t a THING….just a strange feeling. But then I was facing drowning so I could have felt any number of weird things at the time. Plus, I was watching a lot of Oprah back then.

From multiple safety classes I recalled being told repeatedly not to fight it, don’t thrash around trying to get to the surface. First off, you waste energy and oxygen and secondly, you can’t really tell where “up” is. You hold on and wait to rise to the surface…and hope that it happens before you run out of air. At any rate, I accepted that whatever was going to happen, was going to happen regardless. When I finally did break the surface I was physically exhausted and it was all I could do just to swim to shore.

For a while after that, it puts you in a bit of a tailspin. It makes you reflective and it freaks you out a bit knowing that you could be dead. But instead of drawing me into the church in some sort of “finding God” moment, my brush made me realize what a complete garbage religion was. I went on a bit of a spiritual search and read anything I could get my hands on, including a lot on Buddhism before becoming a pagan.  Now, to be honest – I am not entirely sure back then that I had even ever HEARD the word atheist. I do recall the year that XTC released their song Dear God which at the time was fairly scandalous. But it never really occurred to me that not believing in some sort of deity was even a thing. The worship of nature at the time seemed the closest I could come to how I felt about the world – that there was this nebulous, creative force that connected everything. I honoured the Wheel of the Year, read tarot. The whole lot. What changed that you ask? What started me down this road of outspoken atheism after something like, 20+ years of Celtic paganism?

Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion.

I must have looked at that shiny, silver book for a good two weeks before I worked up the nerve to buy it. (I live in a pretty Presbyterian town.) And I smuggled that thing home like it was porn. Everything resembling religion was pretty much done for after that book, though it required more reading and thinking before I was comfortable to admit it. Dawkins led me down the merry road of scientific discovery — Lawrence Krauss, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson and the lot soon followed. Because of people like Professor Krauss (and Hitch of course), I became more comfortable thinking of myself as an atheist. However,  I was still fairly quiet about it in my day to day life until David Silverman burst into my life being all fiery and *right*, dammit.

So. Here we are, making my presence known online. Being a walking atheist billboard and getting passive aggressive looks wherever I go and attending atheist events. You just never know where life is going to take you, sometimes there are some interesting forks in the river.