Thursday, April 19, 2018

Similarities between Comic Con Geeks and Religious Fanatics

Similarities between Comic Con Geeks and Religious Fanatics:

Both like to:
Dress up
Gather in large crowds with people for rituals
Idealize individuals and personalities
Buy stuff that symbolize the ideas

One knows it is not real,
the other doesn’t.
One does not seek to force or control individuals choices.
One doesn’t realise that it is a fantasy.
One manipulates the life choices of its followers based on guilt and coercion.

One is pure entertainment.  The other divides groups and people live and die by it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts on Mental Health and constructed Realities

The other day, my friends and I recorded a vlog about Mental Illness and Religion.  I will link it at the bottom.  It is a concept I spend a lot of time contemplating.  Religion, having gone from being a stabilizing world paradigm for me to me ultimately rejecting it in order to keep my sanity, it is a potent subject for me.

St. Dymphna, patroness of mental illness
I am beginning to see it as illusion that the brain creates to make sense of our world like math, language, marriage, government, other human social constructs, sight perception and music.

Many modern philosophers such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Dan Barker are spending time focusing on free will and if it is something we can speak to as a reality or if life is completely deterministic.  Dan Barker has recently written a book that I am interested in reading called "Free Will Explained."  In it he seeks to argue that free will and determinism are not opposed but two separate understandings of reality we live in.  If I understand him correctly, he says there is no free will on a scientific level, but that free will emerges out of our social reality we live in. 

I find this concept extremely intriguing in regards to my quest for understanding mental health and it's relationship to religion.  As I see it now, Religion seems to be a construct created by the mind in order to make sense out of our chaotic world.  In that sense, it can provide relief to a trouble mind. Popular religious cliches reveal this: there is a reason for everything, God works in mysterious ways, the redemptive value of suffering.  The problem is when our perceptions about reality cause us to make incorrect and harmful conclusions.

Some comparisons I can make are to language, music, marriage, visual perceptions, government and others.  I will spend a little time contemplating on these ideas and their structure and how they compare to religion.

 Starting with language, I speak Italian and Spanish moderately well and have spent some time studying ASL, Korean and Croatian.  It is amazing to me how languages are formed and the similarities between them.  I have spent the past year teaching English as a Second Language and it has forced me to analyse the constructs of language and to understand it on a more pragmatic level.  I spent over 5 years taking Spanish in school.  In the end, I could barely use the language, but when I moved to Italy in 2003, I spent day and night immersed in Italian. I learned to speak Italian on a functional level within about 3 months or 4 months.   Something clicked for me in understanding languages that I had never understood before. Using the language in a functional, practical everyday way engaged my mind to
appreciate another language as a bridge to relate to someone else and not some structure to learn.  I relate it to learning medicine as a science or as tool to heal your mother.  Most people do not consider the parameters and legalistic functions of language when they use it.  They just use it. But the rules are there. They are necessary to make sense of whatever language is used for.

Our brains are wired to connect to others and survive.

Music is another concept that I find intriguing.  There are the scientific properties to explain the notes, the sounds, harmony, and theory, but when we hear a song that "strikes a chord" in our "soul" so to speak, we don't need extensive musical understanding for it to have it's effects on our mind and emotions.  I play guitar and sing and write my own music.  I am not a great musician, but I can use it as a tool to communicate lived experiences within me.  Others are able to relate to it at times and it is a special experience that I am so grateful to be able to have. If I were to practice more, I am sure my music could be better quality.  But, even with the most technical education, some are not able to compose their own music.  Music is a construct we have created to sooth our turmoils and communicate with others.

Marriage and other social constructs, I propose, are systematic structures to give order and meaning to
the volatile situations of human interaction.  Religion looks at marriage as a supernatural bond between individuals.  Pop culture can look at it as some sort of mystifying love connection that transcends natural understanding.  But, when we examine closer, we can see biological, sociological and psychological reasons for these "feelings" we have and significance we give to these social structures. The lived experience of these relationships do transcend the components as the experience of listening to music transcends the notes.   I find it interesting that for me the loss of my marriage and the loss of my faith had very similar impacts on my life.  My security in the world and paradigm was damaged and I had to break down the meaning of my life and understanding of values I hold on in order to move forward. It is still a constant struggle and effort.  What I am saying is that we make these ideas and mental constructs and superimpose them on the world and it can be devastating when we realize that there is not much reality behind them beyond what we give.

Visual perception is so intriguing for understanding how what we experience can be made up of objective reality and illusion.  There are a few good presentations online that can explain all of this better than I can.  I will try to link a few at the bottom.  But the basic idea that I am calling upon here is that colors, shapes, depth, and so many other properties are perceptions of our external reality. It's how our brains interpret what is there, it is not necessarily accurate.  Our enjoyment or repulsion of these things are not necessarily determiners of their intrinsic value or composition or reality.

I could go on comparing governments and laws and such. But, the idea is basically they are structures humanity finds to make sense of the world and to function in a meaningful way.

All of the concepts go back to Religion for me.   Why is spirituality so powerful? Why is something that cannot be proven and has so many variations throughout the world still have such a potent influence on our lives? I listened to an interesting (even if I think erroneous) talk on depression and spiritual awakening.  The doctor giving the talk says there is scientific proof that spiritual people who embrace suffering as a spiritual awakening have an increase of positive brain structures.   If this is scientific and provable it seems to point to the conclusion that spirituality is evolutionary and possibly a coping skill for interpreting the meaning of life.  I do not think it points to the truthfulness of religious claims, but to the truthfulness that religion is used by our brain to understand the world.  Similar to how our experiences of the beauty of colors and landscapes bare no truth to there being some creator or actual objective goodness or badness of these things.  We use our perception to interpret these things to our benefit.  Another example is our enjoyment of sugar and salt bare no significance to the object goodness or evil of these substances, but that our taste sensors have developed to interpret these things as benefits and harms to our physical bodies.

I think Religion and spirituality are tools that human minds have come up with for understanding our chaotic and morally objectively neutral dis-compassionate reality we live in.  Is it a necessity? Are there more reality based constructs that can give us the same benefits? Does losing the belief in the truth of these paradigms cancel the possibility of using this evolutionary process of our brains to find peace?  These are questions I would like to pursue more.

“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others."

― Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

Atheist Catholic Conversations Episode 5: Mental Illness

Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | Anil Seth

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Atheist Catholic Conversations

Next episode in our podcast

On Morality

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Catholic and Atheist Conversations

Two friends and I are starting to record our conversations on atheism and Catholicism.  Peter van Kampen is a current Catholic and professional minister for the Catholic Church. Daniel Mallett is a former cradle Catholic and the cousin of Catholic music minister Mark Mallett.  I am me. If you're on my blog, you probably know I am a former Catholic and minister of the Church, now Atheist.

I love our conversations because, I hope, we are respectful and we mutually enjoy each others company.  We are hoping to make these conversations a regular thing.  The goal is to benefit both sides in understanding the other.

Have a listen

Friday, October 20, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Why Does It Upset Me

I am trying to process the grief I have been experiencing the last few days. Why has it been so tough? I feel I am coming to an answer. Since this is my blog,  I will use it as an opportunity to process.

I am comparing it to other sufferings I've had to endure.  I think of my mom dying, losing religion, my daughters medical issues and forced deployments of my spouse.  I think the most traumatic experiences of suffering come when they have the shortest time to process.

For example, when Zelie was born, it was a shock to realize that her life would be very different. In an instant I had to process years worth of anxiety and stress. But even still, as she grew we could tackle the problems one at a time.

My mom dying was very hard on all my siblings, but I was very lucky in that I lived close to her. I spent the most time with her throughout the years before her illness and death. For me, I see processing what happened may have been less traumatic than for my sisters, because I had time and space to process.

Losing religion took me years to do. I began really struggling in college and then throughout my twenties came to grips with certain things about religion I didn't agree with or that bothered me.  It took me another five or so years to process that religion wasn't what I had hoped it was. It took a LONG time. So long, that once it was over, I haven't struggled with it at all.

With Fernando's deployments, it was always very hard to endure, but I think the first one was the hardest on me.  Going from getting out of the military to being without my new spouse for over 15 months in a single phone call was traumatic.  Taking him to the military base and leaving him there as a young mother and expecting again, knowing I could potentially never see him again left me hallow.

So, why is this so hard? I have already come to accept that my marriage had to end. But, it has been a slow process too. It took years of struggling and strife to let go.  Once I did, I went back multiple times.  I still have had parts of me that long that we could make everything OK, even though I have also been convinced that is hopeless.

But for me, my marriage was sacred.  As flawed and troubled as it was, in my mind, it was real. Letting go of it was like letting my mom die or saying goodbye to Jesus. It was a death that was slowly happening and I was mourning the process.

In my heart, I believed that I did the best I could have in choosing to get married and how I handled all the stress that came after. I remember loving Jesus and Mary and standing before God and committing to Fernando.  So, for the Church to send me a letter informing me in an instant that it never happened was gut wrenching.  I hadn't had time to process that. I've been just trying to survive in the world as a single person who is still trying to be a mom as best I can.

It's true. I don't believe it was sacramental.  So, why does this bother me so much? Because I hadn't processed all of it yet. I was still processing letting go of the actual current marriage, much less accepting it was all fake 12 years ago.  I truly believed we lived up to all the needs for a valid marriage. It was shocking to me that they would declare otherwise.

So, it's like someone dying in a crash, unexpected and difficult to process and accept.  I struggle between feeling gas-lit and believing it.  There is nothing special to religious ceremonies besides the significance we give them. In my mind, I was still giving that process a lot of significance.

My therapist likened it to an abuse victim who is hung up on the past. It makes sense. It's normal. But for the rest of us, we are left just wishing that person could move on with their lives and be happy.  It takes time.

I really have to let go of whatever beliefs I had attached to those religious commitments and vows.  The marriage wasn't good for me. Period. I need to move on. "Write my own scripts," as a friend and I say to each other.  Get away from the voices of others in our heads that, knowingly or not, enslaved us to living lives that were not our own. We were afraid of using our own minds to think critically. We were warned of devils and hells and all sorts of supernatural influences over our choices.

Goodness is in this world. Evil is in this world.

How many people have to told me to pray through this!  Really, almost everyone except my specifically atheist friends.  How can they think that would help? That is what got me into this mess.  Praying and not using my reason.  Taking a step back to breathe and accept is definitely good.  But, asking for some kind of divine wisdom and actually expecting it to come, is madness.

For me, putting on the glasses of reality has helped me to process many things up to now. I hope that I can make it through this one.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Catholic Church says I wasn't married

I woke up Wednesday morning to an official letter from the Diocese of Salt Lake City informing me that the "tribunal", which consisted of one priest, had made the decision that my marriage to Fernando was "null."  It never was "sacramental" according to their decision.

I knew this was coming. But, receiving it still felt like a punch in the gut that lasted 48 hours.  It made me physically ill to think I devoted so much of my life to a church and a man who want to just wipe that commitment away.

You see, I didn't just "get married."  I had been celibate for 9 years prior to meeting my husband. I was a good girl, trying to love Jesus and do everything I could to prepare myself for marriage.  I went to confession at least once a month. I taught religion in middle school. I lived as a missionary with drugs addicts. I studied theology because I wanted to spread the "good news" of the Catholic Church.  I loved Jesus with all my heart. 

 I waited to find a man who also was committed to the Catholic Church.  A man who wanted to be open to children, who wanted to pray and grow in mutual love of Christ.  A man who would be committed for life and be a good partner.  I took my vows seriously.

Because of those vows, I suffered through 3.5 years ( total over the marriage) of being separated from my husband because of

the army.  This was a great tragedy for me because I had been very clear before Fernando and I got engaged that I did not want to be a military wife. I knew I couldn't handle it (not many marriages survive anyway).  He had agreed it wasn't the life he wanted. Yet, throughout our marriage it was a major point of contention because he said I married him "in the military" I should accept it. He lied. He went back on his promise.

I also was open to life. Because of my faith in the Church, I felt it was immoral to use contraception. We tried NFP, but I was extremely fertile. I had 6 kids in 8 years.  This was extremely difficult and caused a lot of personal suffering, of which Fernando would minimize and invalidate.

So, yes, maybe the fact is that I don't believe we were ever sacramentally married. But it isn't because we didn't follow the church or have the right intentions at the time. It is because I do not believe any of it is true anymore.  But, that doesn't mean I didn't believe it then.  I gave up over a decade of my life and portions of my entire future to that marriage and the children and consequences from it.

 For them to have the audacity to "decide" that my marriage wasn't real (in their eyes) is just deplorable and the worst experience of gas-lighting I have experienced to date.

If there was any part of me that still wished the Church was real, it is gone.

I am so insulted and disgusted.  The worst part is when other people who haven't experienced this say to me, "why do you care, you don't believe it anyway" or "it's just because he wants to be remarried."  It doesn't matter WHY Fernando wants an annulment. It doesn't matter that I don't believe any of it anymore.  It's because I truly did believe it. I sacrificed and tormented myself for way too many years before I finally admitted I had to get out of the marriage, because of that belief.

The power of religion over our lives, guiding us to make choices for years and then saying they weren't real is unacceptable.  Until people realize that we need to make choices based on reality, this kind of detrimental manipulation will waste lives.

According to the Church, all of this was based on a not real commitment.
I am heartbroken once more.