Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Spirituality, the 'new' religion?

I realise that its been a very long time since my last blog post. A lot has happened in the last few months. We moved from our old house out of town and we have purchased our first house, which is closer to the city centre. I have also acquired a new job since we last spoke, so Dale and I have been so busy cleaning, getting the new place in order and I've been preparing to start my new job that I haven’t had time to do anything, let alone find time to write a few hundred words.

At least all of this brought me to the topic of the next post. While chatting at the fence with our new (very nice, very quiet) neighbours the other day, I heard some stories about the old owners of the house. My neighbour informed me that they were somewhat 'alternative.' This information instantly struck a chord, as we had some inkling of their mindset after coming across some interesting items. The colour scheme that they had picked throughout the house is quite odd, and the wheelie bin is covered in hand prints with 'THANK' written on the front. Not to mention the home made wind chimes made out of marbles, knives, forks and spoons hanging in the trees. These things together start to form a picture in ones head. According to said neighbours, the lady of the house used to have ceremonies outside worshipping the universe. She, in my mind, is a hardcore hippie. This, to me, is completely crazy and I want to tell you why. It seems the new craze lately instead of calling yourself religious, is calling yourself spiritual. There are a few different forms of this so called spirituality. One comes from a religious stand point. Using spiritual as a way to say 'Yes, I believe in god, but I do not follow religion, I'm just spiritual' or this new type of spirituality I’ve been seeing which is 'No I don't believe in god, but the universe is looking out for me, I'm very spiritual.' If you break it down though, its all the same bullshit, just wrapped in different paper.

Both promote distancing yourself from any responsibility for your own actions. Religions claim that you have no control over your own fate because 'god' will decide for you. Spirituality says that fate/destiny and trust in the 'universe' will make things go your way. This idea of the supernatural, and also that of Karma – the notion everything you do will come back to you double is a concept I just don't or can't buy into personally. What I understand are choices. If you make a bad choice, you will suffer the consequences. That is a fact of life. Many of the websites I’ve visited in an attempt to understand this better have argued that spirituality fills the voids between religion and atheism. One website Anti-Religion posted this explaination.  

Spirituality is introspective. It is immediate. It lives in the here and now and looks to the ground at our feet, to the sky over our heads. Spirituality is a personal connection with the divine presence. It comes from within, and it bows not to authorities and past traditions. Spirituality is not the echo of our dead ancestors and is not inherited from anyone. Spirituality wells up from the deepest part of your own essence and is as individual to you as your own fingerprint. Spirituality is authentic, organic, and true. To be spiritual is merely to listen to the voice of nature, to the voice of the universe, to the voice of your own intuition, to the voice of your own god. 

Spirituality is not cliquish or regional. Spirituality is open, accepting, and non-biased. It is merely found in those who feel the great divinity within nature and within themselves but do not wish to infect that indefinable thing with dogma, hierarchy, patriarchy, and the lust for power. Spirituality fills the void between Atheism and Religion. Because spirituality is absent of all rules, laws, proclamations, and structure, there is no chance for indoctrination by culture and group-think. The proselytizer’s tool bag is empty.

I beg to differ with this theory of 'needing' something more in this life. Yes I am an atheist. But that does not mean I am void of all feeling. However the idea that a 'god' OR that nature and the universe are all looking out for you is absurd. I believe in myself, and I believe in the good of the (majority) of the human race. I take responsibility for my own actions. If I make a mistake, I realise that I will have to deal with those consequences that arise. People need to stop taking themselves 'out' of their own lives and see the beauty and wonder of the world around them, without the superstition that often goes with it. To me, it really just sounds like people cannot stand the thought that 'this world' is enough for them. Or they cannot fathom being 'alone' in this vast wide world without being told what to do. I don't understand this, or maybe my reason and logic form a barrier to such mind numbing ignorance. But shouldn't you be the one in control of your own life, and where it leads? There are scientific explanations to almost every facet of life these days, and with access to the internet and countless credible sources of this information, it boggles me that anyone can ignore the reality of the world.

What makes it worse, this the blatant denial of this information. These 'spiritual' people also tend to have 'faith' in so called natural medicine. I have a huge problem with this also. I understand how in aromatherapy some scents can cause relaxation and how some 'natural products may be beneficial to general well-being, but what I don't get is people taking ONLY natural supplements to cure diseases that the medical community have already worked out a way to fight. That is just dangerous. The medical profession have relied quite heavily on substances from nature to create our common medications. Take Asprin for instance - It comes from the bark of a willow tree but has been refined with modern science over the years. On just one website

Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid, is a derivative of salicylic acid that is a mild, nonnarcotic analgesic useful in the relief of headache and muscle and joint aches. The drug works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, body chemicals that are necessary for blood clotting and which also sensitize nerve endings to pain. 

The father of modern medicine was Hippocrates, who lived sometime between 460 B.C and 377 B.C. Hippocrates was left historical records of pain relief treatments, including the use of powder made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree to help heal headaches, pains and fevers. 

There is a massive database of medications that have derived from plants found here if you would like to have a look.

Coming from a quite liberal stand point, I feel that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want. However if this interferes with anyone else, or endangers your own life, someone should be able to step in. There is a fantastic quote from Tim Minchin, which was also taken on by Neil Degrasse Tyson on twitter last week, which basically says  

"By definition ... alternative medicine ... has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine."

And herein lies the message. Question everything, even what I have just said. Don't stop digging for information. Knowledge is power, don't just settle for something that 'feels' right. I can tell you now, if I get proven wrong (meaning I can see empirically tested and peer reviewed evidence of a topic) about any of my claims, I will change my mind. The same cannot be said of those who blindly believe.


Monday, January 09, 2012

Help DPR get to Reason Rally

So, Seth from The Thinking Atheist brought to my attention that YouTube atheist AronRa is trying to get DPR Jones from The Magic Sandwich Show in the UK to Washington for Reason Rally 2012. So i thought I'd help out by posting the widget on my Blog. If you can, spare a couple of dollars. I think its a good cause.

Friday, December 02, 2011

What is a 'normal' relationship?

My mind has been swimming in a sea of jumbled thoughts of late, and by late I mean the last 12 months or so. What actually constitutes a 'normal' relationship? I have friends from all walks of life, and to them, relationships are as varied as a multicultural day parade. There are people who staunchly believe that monogamy is the best way to fulfill a relationship while there are those that are interested in exploring an open relationship. There are even those people who can fall in love and be with more than one person, in a live in situation that is happily transparent and free from jealousy and guilt. This is known as polyamory. I wanted to know where and why we got our current societal view of relationships and how different they were in the past.

I have poured over psychology articles, medical journals, personal blogs and anything else I could get my hands on to grasp a more solid understanding of these lifestyles over the last year or so, and I am finally starting to form my own somewhat unorthodox views on the topic. My opinions and beliefs are mine and mine alone, and while they may seem controversial to some, and I am not saying at all that this particular view of the world is necessarily for everyone; I feel that these lifestyles are completely valid. I want to explain to you, my friends, family and readers who I don't know, why I believe open relationships and even polyamory can be healthy and fulfilling ways to live. I also want to educate those who might not fully grasp the idea of what these things actually mean. First, I guess for the purposes of this blog the definitions of these terms would be useful. These lifestyles are so subjective however there are many different ways people involved in these circumstances define what they have, and this may not encompass everyone.

Monogamous Relationship is used to describe a committed relationship that involves only two partners in sexual and intimate situation.

Open Relationship can be described as two people in a committed relationship who decide to sleep with people outside their primary commitment. There are usually rules associated with this situation and boundaries for the primary couple need to be established well in advance.

Polyamory (from Greek πολύ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin amor [love]) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. While this seems fairly open, there are also rules and boundaries in place with this living arrangement too.

Go here Types of Open Relationship for a more in depth breakdown of the many different types of open relationships.

For starters, I should explain my current situation. At the current stage of my life I can say I am in a monogamous relationship. I have never and would never cheat on my partner, its just not something I would do. Cheating however, should not be confused with an open relationship - this is another kettle of fish entirely. My partner and I are both mature intelligent people who to date, have never had any relations outside of our commitment. We both tend to think about things quite a lot, sometimes way too much, mainly on my part. We have had the discussions about open relationships and we have spoken about it on numerous occasions. Its the type of couple we are, we share our views, opinions and secrets. I never feel nervous to bring up my most strange or confusing thoughts, fears or worries with him and the best part is, we only ever want what makes the other person happy. Now that that is out of the way. Moving on.

I have come to realise that people enter alternate situations together, for many reasons. Sometimes one partner cannot completely fulfill the needs or wants of a partner, sometimes the social construct that is monogamy just doesn't fit the couple but more often than not, from the things I have read and the stories I have heard, it is about a mutual desire. A mutual desire that while you are completely in love with your partner, something just doesn't feel complete. In a monogamous relationship this is where cheating could become a real possibility for people.

Picture this – You and your partner are in a loving, honest, caring relationship, you talk about everything and are happy discussing controversial topics. Your partner brings up the subject of sex outside of the relationship. What do you say? Are you completely against it, or are you curious about the logistics of such an endeavour? For arguments sake, lets say you decide to embrace the idea. First thing that you would do is to sit down and work out a set of rules and boundaries that apply to you and your partner in the event of another person or persons entering such an arrangement. You would tailor these to the exact wishes of each partner, and if you cant agree on something, there is no point in moving forward with anything. Everyone needs to be on the same page otherwise the primary relationship is destined for failure.

The following excerpt is taken from a blog post of a woman who interviewed people who are currently engaged in an open relationship.  Rachel Kramer Bussel

Sex with another person is allowed, but it's not flaunted or discussed outside the household. Their openness isn't a license to bed everything in sight—respect and discretion rule. Those who've tried it say it isn't always easy.

I want to make a point here, that while I support this idea of opening up a relationship and even the possibility of loving more than one person there are criteria that need to be met for this to work and it includes mature, open minded, trusting, non jealous people. I have to say though that this situation is not right for everyone. Some would argue that an atheist such as myself would be completely suited to this way of thinking. Logic and reason tells us, that if you think rationally about a situation, you are more likely to understand it completely. For me, that has been the case. The more I have started to open up to science, logic and reason, the more I have noticed a change in my thinking regarding sex, relationships and of course monogamy. I want to tell you though, this is not always the case. The idea of a closed relationship has been so engrained in our society, that even the most hardened atheist can have aversion to any type of poly situation.

Another point to make clear here, is that nothing is set in stone in these types of relationships. If something isn't working, the primary relationship takes precedent over any others. Another major piece of information I have been coming across in my research is this – couples who take part in open relationships can and usually do phase in and out of monogamy when the need calls for it.

I am fully aware of the draw of monogamy, two people in it together, two people against the world. I have been in this situation for the last 3 years. Its admirable and commendable that people have been able to make it work, and if it suits them in all areas of their lives, then I see no issue at all. They should enjoy the connection that they have with each other and not look to others to decide what works for them. I look at it like this; the divorce rate of married couples is growing everyday, the number of partners that cheat on their spouses is phenomenal, and I somewhat feel like its because naturally, humans are not monogamous creatures. I cant help but wonder that there is a very good argument for non monogamous relationships in certain circumstances.

From my understanding, peoples current view of monogamy and relationships are based solely on claims that religions have made over the last few thousand years in order to maintain social control. It is a social construct that has been cultivated over centuries, and one size does not fit all in this regard as people are so different. Human beings are animals, we are designed like all others to survive. That means procreation. In generations past, men would procreate with many women in order to make as many offspring as possible. While the women would not be jealous about it at all. In current times, this is obviously an outdated viewpoint, however the premise is the same.

I see some friends who are involved in some of the most wonderful intensely happy relationships, and they are not of the 'traditional' sense at all. I also have friends who are with one person, and have never even considered the possibility of being with anyone else. In my opinion, I don't see an issue with either of these circumstances. If you are in a relationship with the person you love, nothing should be off limits for discussion. Even if you differ in opinion to your spouse you should never feel like you have to keep secrets from them. What this whole issue comes down to is honesty. This is a fatal error that many people make, even in monogamous partnerships that leads to trust issues, and without trust, a relationship is dead in the water. I mean, if the two primary people involved are happy, content and not jealous then why should it be a problem for anyone else. To me, there is no such thing as a normal relationship. Every single relationship in the entire world is different, and what works for some, does not always work for others. It is based on the willingness and trust of the parties involved to define what they have with each other.

I am fully aware, that by posting this to a public forum, I may receive some backlash, but as friends, I would say take some time to think about the reasoning for your disdain. Is it purely because you're view of the world is different? I think about it in terms of personal lives. If you choose to live your life a certain way, it shouldn't matter to anyone else, as long as you are happy. People should no judge you, unless they walk in your shoes, and it is no one else's business what you, an adult, does anyway.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do you believe in psychics?

While watching one of my favourite magicians/illusionists, Derren Brown the other day, I grew fascinated with his knowledge of human psychology. He seems to understand precisely how it is we believe and think and how our brains form thought patterns and create meaning in seemingly meaningless information. I have always had an interest in the human mind, although my grasp on the most complex of psychological issues is quite vague, I do understand quite a lot in regards to suggestion and so called 'mind reading'. Derren Brown has one of the sharpest minds I have ever seen which enables him to elaborate on the tricks people claiming to be psychics and mediums, aura readers, astrologers, numerologists and faith healers use in order to manipulate vulnerable people.

A few of the things these frauds use to snare people include: The Barnum Effect, Cold Reading, Warm Reading, Hot Reading, Selective Thinking, Confirmation Bias and Subjective Validation. There are a mountain of other techniques these people use, however it would take an entire website dedicated to debunking these charlatans and I just don't have the time. I'm going to take a minute to break down what these terms mean, and why we are taken in when 'psychics/mediums' use them. It is a cheap and nasty form of fraud and trickery and it makes my blood boil that they take advantage of people who don't know any better. The definitions for these terms are taken from www.skepdic.com and I do not claim to have written these definitions at all.

“Cold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to "mysteriously" know things about the subject. ("These techniques are not taught in St Mary MBA or RN to BSN online courses.") Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject's inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable. He knows, too, that people are generally self-centered, that we tend to have unrealistic views of ourselves, and that we will generally accept claims about ourselves that reflect not how we are or even how we really think we are but how we wish we were or think we should be. He also knows that for every several claims he makes about you that you reject as being inaccurate, he will make one that meets with your approval; and he knows that you are likely to remember the hits he makes and forget the misses.”

“Warm reading is sometimes used to refer to "utilising known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone, this can also be called a Barnum statement.”

“Hot reading is a technique used by psychics, mediums, palm readers, and the like that involves surreptitiously gaining information from clients. For example, a medium who claims to get messages from the dead will chat up the audience members before a performance and gather information from them.”

“Selective thinking is the process whereby one selects out favourable evidence for remembrance and focus, while ignoring unfavorable evidence for a belief. This kind of thinking is the basis for most beliefs in the psychic powers of so-called mind readers and mediums. It is also the basis for many, if not most, occult and pseudoscientific beliefs.”

“Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

“Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.”

Watch Derren Brown in Action
Derren Brown - Astrology

As you can see “Cold Reading” is the broad term used for different types of subjective validation. People will draw their own conclusions to things that are written or told to them and they purposely make it fit into their own circumstances. Its such a shame that people I know and have met really do believe the things the psychics/mediums say and what makes it worse, is that some psychics actually do believe what they are doing is real. There are those narcissistic psychics and mediums * cough John Edwards cough cough * that know exactly what they are doing, and are quite happy to trick people out of their money.

Humans as a race look to fill the gaps that science has yet to fill, and in doing so we create gods, life after death, mind reading, UFOs, ghosts and anything else that naturally curious humans will believe. Now I'm not claiming to know everything about the universe, but what I do know, is that I don't believe ANYTHING until there is substantial independent scientific experiments that prove the existence of the supernatural. The thing with people like myself is thus – If there is ever scientific proof of any of these things happening, I WILL change my mind, because I am not that arrogant. You always have to hold the assumption that you might be wrong, but you are also allowed to be confidant in science and technology.

I want you all to research the claims that are made to you, not just about the supernatural, but about everything. You need to open your mind to the possibility that we are NOT the centre of the universe and that we are just an insignificant carbon based organism on a tiny speck of dust in the never ending scope of the universe. That to me is more extraordinary than any of the other explanations I have come across. 

My whole aim with this blog post is to get people thinking critically. Without thought provoking arguments, people just amble along in their lives, not really questioning what it is they have been told. This goes for every facet of life. Everything that we know about life and our existence in the whole history of the world we call home, everything that was ever thought to be 'supernatural,' when examined with the current scientific advancements have turned out to be...not magic, as Tim Minchin would say.

So after that little rant, I thought I’d leave you with this little gem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why not start with a bang?

Mulling over my morning coffee at 11am on a Monday morning, reading my Facebook updates, a string of stories from a few different pages I follow smack me in the face with a force I hadn't expected. One post on a support page for Gay and Lesbian Equality in Australia, another on the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the other on Channel 10's The Circle page. All of these pages were rejoicing and supporting an ad posted on YouTube by GetUp.org called “Its Time.”

I watched the ad with a view that it would be another temper raising video, designed to make people like me, people who support equal rights for all, not just a select few 'lucky ones' who happen to be born in the majority extremely, blood boiling, horrifyingly angry. I was completely thrown off guard, and I was shocked at how warm, loving and simple their message is, and in fact, did not make me angry at those who oppose love, freedom and equality at all. It made me sad, sad for those men and women who in our country, a country which I love, a country founded on differences of every kind imaginable, a country that denies a staggering number of my fellow Australians the right to be treated as anything but second class citizens all because of their sexual orientation. Head to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TBd-UCwVAY if you want to watch the clip.

But then I got thinking, while I was saddened by the predicament I found myself in, feeling empathy and sympathy for those countrymen who are being left by the wayside, my anger, frustration and desperation started to grow. WHY? I'm going to put this out there with no qualms about it. I am in full support of marriage equality. In my opinion the whole debate about 'Gay Marriage' is about a federally legal change to the wording of the term marriage in the eyes of the law and nothing else. As it stands the definition of the word 'marriage' in Australia reads like this:

"The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman,
to the exclusion of all others"

What I can't see, is why it is so difficult to change this sentence. Why can't it read:

The voluntary union for life of two people, in love, to the exclusion of all others”

What I can't seem to wrap my head around, is why anyone else cares what other people do with their own lives. It's quite simple really; if you don't want a gay wedding, don't have one. But who are you to stop two people in love from expressing everything that YOU get to express to your loved one? I think its absolutely abhorrent that this is still being allowed to happen, almost completely based on the slant the religious right have given homosexuality. You might not agree with me, but the majority of people who object and actively try to stop marriage equality will be those of faith.

This has nothing to do with religious affiliation, as churches that don't want to marry GLBTI people, shouldn't be forced to (they can still be as discriminatory as they want.) They say that it is attack on the institution of marriage to allow homosexuals to wed. Since when did the religious own love? Since when did the faithful take that tradition as their own. Yes, it is known that marriages happen in churches and its written about in that so called 'good book'. But who said – Oh yes, the catholic/muslim/jewish own the entire institution. If you ask me, marriage is about ones own standing and protection in the country in which they were entwined. Its about getting the support of your country, its about being able to enjoy the benefits available to those that choose to spend their lives together, and there are quite a few. It has nothing to do with the churches.

In regards to federal government recognition, this needs to happen. The whole 'same but different' debate has gone on long enough. Civil unions are great, but until the marriage act reflects its entire constituency, until the GLBTI community are respected and allowed the EXACT equality of their straight counterparts, true equality will never be reached. And in my opinion, this would be a tragedy. I'm of the opinion that I will not get married, at least until my peers of ALL sexual orientation can do the same.

All of this got me thinking, to the point where my head hurt. I have such solid views on so many facets of society, and while I plug away at a job that I don't particularly like, in a world of constantly changing opinions, morals, and values, I do have a voice. Granted, not many people in my everyday life would hear my voice above the tirade of other opinions floating around, but nonetheless I have decided to embark on what I fear may be a short run in the vast eternal blogger-sphere that is the internet. I hope to be able to discuss the way I see the world, how I deal with my own thoughts and feelings on anything from the light-hearted news story about loyal dogs and cats, to the horrifying stories regarding war, religion and death. I get angry about a lot of things, but I feel my anger is justified in almost every aspect and I hope to share my honest opinions and thoughts on these matters in my coming posts.