Incoherent Rambling #4
Religious Preconceptions, Debate, and Endorphins.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Or, as I like to call it, "Trivialize the Beliefs of Minority Religions Day".

I have a lot of friends who subscribe, in one way or another, to some as-yet-non-institutionalized belief system, so I have a certain responsibility to feel disdain and superiority at greeting card companies who try to capitalize on Samhain. Oh, other people may giggle merrily as they purchase their candy corn, ninja turtle costumes and "nose-dive witch" lawn decorations; but I am smug and aloof, knowing that this is actually a religious holiday celebrated by real people and is therefore no time for fun.

No fun whatsoever.
Oh, yeah. I'm far too sophisticated for Hallowe'en.


I wasn't always "in the know". I was raised in a good Christian home, and, as Bill Holbrook put it, like tends to run with like. And don't get me wrong-- that's a good thing. My parents didn't want me hanging out with ethicless cigarette-smoking Atheists, or sadistic heavy-metal-listening Satanists, or flower-sniffing nudist cult members. I went to an all-Christian elementary school, and hung out at church youth groups. If I had wanted to learn about Paganism, I would have had to look it up in the encyclopaedia. I went to a public high school, but I never hung out with the people there. I wouldn't have wanted to anyway. High schools, all over the world, are always full of morons. It's unavoidable.

So, when I came to the Internet (or, at least, to the bit of the Internet that allowed me to meet and talk with new people), I had an unfortunate tendency to assume that everyone else was exactly like me. In some ways, I still do. I have a sort of subconscious "person template", on which everyone is a white heterosexual male in his twenties from North America who is either a Protestant or an Agnostic, and until I see evidence to the contrary, that's how I think of them. Bad habit, really.

I hang out on the message board for Dragon Tails, and, in its friendly atmosphere, I've made quite a few very close friends. I make friends far more easily online than I do in real life. On the DT Board, however, religious discussion is discouraged, so it came as a complete and utter shock when I realized that, lo and behold, this seemingly normal discussion forum was actually chock full of Wiccans.

It was, as I commented at the time, roughly analogous to moving one's Chesterfield and discovering a healthy crop of toadstools amidst the carpeting. Not that I wasn't pleased, mind you.

So now I hang out with fellow cartoonists and comic strip enthusiasts, and am friends with Atheists and Wiccans and Akrishnikans and even a Roman Catholic.

It's so weird, really, that we can do that. I mean, we have fundamentally different views of the universe. I have a monotheistic worldview: I believe there is an omnipotent, personal deity who, motivated solely by unconditional love, incarnated on this planet two millennia ago and died temporarily in order to re-establish relationship with and to cancel the moral debt of my undeserving species. My friend has a atheistic worldview: he believes there are no supernatural beings of any sort, and that all life is merely a cosmic accident, headed for naught but oblivion. My other friend has a polytheistic worldview: she believes there are a handful of reptilian superbeings who control various elements of Creation, a passel of winged demi-gods who interfere with our lives, and that most people return as a different life form after death. And we can all get together peacefully and discuss computer games, tattoos and uses of peanut butter. That, to me, is so weird.

I mean, these are big issues, here. According to my worldview, my two friends (unless drastic action is taken) are headed for an eternity of flaming torture. According to my friend's worldview, I am wasting my time with an mind-controlling organization that saps my time and energy. According to my other friend, we're both in danger of offending the gods and being cast into the Dark Swamp. (Okay, so maybe the situation is a little more drastic for me than the other guys. Still.) We whole-heartedly believe that close friends of ours are in very real danger. And we talk about video games.


In my case, at least, simply because I know that arguing with them will do nothing. A kind of ideological pessimism, I guess. Very depressing, really. There are forums for religious debate-- and I don't know about you, but I have yet to hear of anyone going into such a forum with a truly open mind. No one joins such a discussion group because they want to discover the truth and change their lives to match. They join because they have a definite view of what's going on, and they want to convince everyone else that they are right.

Arguments of that nature, unfortunately, can often become power struggles and yelling exercises (which is why, I think, they're so often banned in more civilized forums). People can fall into arguing, no longer because of the urgency of their position, but because of a babyish need to come out on top, and make up for some deep-seated feeling of pathetic inadequacy.

I hate psychological stuff like that. I've always been naturally rationalistic-- instinctively believing that, given the correct methods and enough data, we could derive the truth of everything. (Another bad habit: I have to work at letting some things slide.) Ego conflicts, psychological baggage, that all gets in the way. I have this sort of subconscious fantasy where all conflicts are eliminated, all biological needs are eliminated, and human beings are free to debate endlessly, until we discover the Ultimate Truth of God and everybody lives happily ever after.

Which is not to say I hate my body. A human being, sapience and soul aside, is still very much a mammal. Biology is important. Eating may take time and valuable resources, but I do enjoy it. I consider myself to be really in touch with my body. I like the warmth of my skin, the feel of my hair, the length of my fingers, and the smell of my elbowpits. I enjoy eating, lying down, running, sneezing, and scratching myself.

Every so often, I try to extract the maximum amount of endorphins from any given experience. You've had these: those times when you take in every possible element of the event, every nuance, the firing of every nerve. It feels like you see or taste something for the first time. You stop, time itself slows, your nostrils dilate, your fingers flex, every synapse is firing, you feel alive.

I get experiences like this most often when I'm eating, or looking at a sunset, or listening to a really good piece of music, or leaping from rock to rock along some coast or other.

That last one is really cool. Whenever I'm up at some lake, and there are big, irregular granite boulders with light waves filling the spaces between them, when the sky is a perfect azure and there is a soft breeze, when everything is just right-- I can bound like the nimble gazelle. I just bounce from surface to surface. All my limbs work together perfectly. I need to think on the fly, to keep track of what is where and in which direction I'm headed. It's awesome. I probably look like a complete dork. Maybe I am.


I can't do it for nearly as long as I'd like, mind you. I'm not in the best of shape, to tell the truth. I gained a lot of weight over the last summer, and it looks really bad, because I'm structurally an ectomorph. I have depth, but no width yet. I don't really "exercise", per se. I used to do a lot of walking, but I don't any more. I miss that.
So, in summary:

I need more physical exercise.
Religious debates, unfortunately, rarely solve anything.
And anyone out there who actually purchased a "nose-dive witch" lawn ornament can bite me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the candy corn is calling.