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.

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Life Through the Lens

I recently gave a gift of my photography to someone that I admire greatly. There was a time in the past when I never shared my photos with anyone and even now I share very little of it with anyone who is not a friend. I can count those who I have given gifts of it on one hand.

When I was younger, I experienced most of my life behind the lens of a camera. They attempt to “force” you to be social while at school and I have never been that comfortable in social situations. I’m not good at small talk, I don’t like being the center of attention in any situation and I’m not overly thrilled with surprises as I don’t do well with being put on the spot. I can do fairly well if I get the people around me drunk. I’m way too much of a control freak to do that myself but people find me much more witty if they are intoxicated. However, I discovered that you can pretend that you are being social by showing up to things with a camera while never having to directly interact with the situation. A camera is like a shield, you are there as an observer and not a participant.

When I left the church and religion at 19 and took an interest in paganism, my photography changed as well. It became an extension of my love of nature. You start to notice the subtle changes in colour and shapes inherent in nature. Taking pictures at that point became an extension of spirituality. I suppose that to some degree, even though I have become an atheist it still is. I still have that reverence for nature and the beauty and complexity of life that surrounds me. Now though, it comes from a much different and more rational viewpoint than it did before. But it still maintains its place as my needed creative outlet and maintains a rather personal place in my life.

My photography is how I see the world. Every snapshot is a moment in time and in space from my unique perspective. A photo remembers all the little things, long after you have forgotten everything.

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The Cosmic Perspective

I remember loving astronomy when I was younger. I’m not entirely sure when that disappeared but sometime later in high school. There was a night that I remember distinctly, standing on the sidewalk across from our house with my camera and telephoto lens on the tripod. I was taking pictures of Earthshine (when light bounces off the atmosphere and lights up the dark side of the moon) and when anyone walked by I would tell them what it was and let them all look through the camera lens.

My interest in it didn’t start to return until the time The God Delusion came out. I’ll talk more about my journey to atheism in another post but I do live in a fairly “religious” small city.  I put that in quotes because although people claim a lot of religion, most of them are hardly biblical scholars. I remember looking at that book for a couple of weeks before I bought it. When I finally did, I snuck that book home in its little brown paper bag like I was smuggling porn.  🙂

Richard Dawkins got me thinking about a lot of things with that book. It started me down the path of rediscovering my love of science. Since then I’ve moved on to reading everything I can get my hands on and running several science sites on Wakelet to try and increase people’s interest to delve deeper into science. It will be no secret to anyone who knows me that two of my favourite humans are Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss (especially if you take a look at my Twitter feed).

Which brings me to the title of this post. It’s a favourite expression of Neil deGrasse Tyson, to talk about your cosmic perspective and how we fit into the universe. Naturally, my favourite quotes about this come from Prof. Krauss with his cheerful pessimism. Anyone that hears him talk about the end of the universe knows what I’m talking about.

I’m going to leave it here for now and end with the person of whom I speak.

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Welcome to the new blog…

This is the post excerpt.

As you can see…I’ve decided to add a new blog to my growing online pile of “things I try to keep updated”.  🙂  I will keep using my Blogger account for more personal things but this one is going to be (hopefully) a wider exploration of things that interest me. Life is an ongoing experiment. Maybe you’ll explore it with me.

iris