Susan K. Perry Reviews My Book!

Multiply-published author and Creative Atheist blogger here at Patheos, Susan K. Perry, reviewed my book!

Who Would Have Thought?

Reason makes strange bedfellows, so to speak. Sharp thinkers aren’t limited to blue states or big cities. Those who “get it,” those who think rationally rather than having mindless faith in the impossible, are everywhere.

Even after you’ve written and published a book or two, you still tend to think an “author” is somebody distant and impossible. Can’t be you. So it’s always strange, and strangely wonderful, to hear other people’s views of you and your writing, especially when it’s as positive as this.

His paragraphs are short, nothing like academic-ese, and his conclusions are sometimes pleasantly original. I heartily recommend book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist for a bracingly imaginative take on the value of reason and the potential harm of faith. I, for one, will be looking out for his next two atheist-themed books, due out sometime this year.

(Sharp thinker! Pleasantly original! Hey, that’s ME she’s talking about!)

Thank you, Susan! You’ll be first on the list if — no, when, WHEN! — those next two books come out.


BTW, those of you reading this, take a gander at Susan’s own books. If you’re an aspiring author, read her recent piece in Psychology Today, 25 Truths Learned While Writing a First Novel.



Back to My Redneck Roots … Maybe

Those of you who knew me as the Blue Collar Atheist, and who lament this high-falutin’ “Citizen of Earth” business, I may be getting back into the red-necky-blue-collary stuff in the near future.

Currently I drive a van for a drug and alcohol rehab facility. Five days a week, I drive more than 350 miles, round trip between my upstate New York town and New York City, to fetch and return rehab clients.

The work is interesting, sometimes fascinating. I’ve expanded my human horizons in that I’m interfacing with a demographic I’d never really dealt with before.

Oh, boy, have I wanted to write about them. But I haven’t, mainly because they’re humans, not … you know, things. Blog-fodder subjects I can casually deconstruct or joke about. Even at several removes on their identities — not telling you exactly where I’m working, not telling you their names, or any specific personal details — I would still feel uncomfortable relating any of their personal stories.

Mostly, as I’ve discovered, these are normal people with this Problem. Alcohol. Heroin. Crack. Xanax. Stuff I never heard of. And some have additional physical troubles such as a positive HIV status or hepatitis or … could be anything. But still, just people.

I have met a very few — maybe 3 or 4 in my 1.5 years of doing this — I might consider sociopaths, someone for whom the entire universe was created so they could be the center of it. You’d think someone like that would be some big ugly guy, but no, not generally. More often (in my sharply limited experience), they seem to be uber-charming, lovely young women. And I say I only “might” consider them sociopaths, because I carefully hold back on that judgment, fully aware that the field of drug addiction contains vast truths of which I am still pitifully unaware. I can’t begin to understand what drives one might come to have under the merciless lash of addiction.

I suppose I’ve known a few alcoholics in my life, but before this job, I can’t say I’ve ever really known a drug addict.  And even among the supposed alcoholics, I’ve never known one who lost a job or had other serious problems from it. So this is mostly subdimensional physics to me — a parade of people who will always be mysteries, interesting and sometimes sad beings who pass through my day, touching me only very slightly.

One part of the larger therapeutic environment is that bit based on 12-step programs, with liberal amounts of God and Jesus and Higher Powers sprinkled in. Knowing full well that my job is transporting these vulnerable people, with no scrap of it containing any right to meddle in their heads, I have given no hint to either clients or co-workers that I have the convictions you know I hold. And though other clients in the van might casually ask them what their drug(s) of choice are, or which prisons they’ve resided in, that’s stuff I’m careful never to do. Mostly I try to be nice to them, and smooth what is already a stressful day — a stressful life! — with music, a little tour-guiding, a listening ear, and lots of companionable silence for the long drive.

I can feel myself already getting tired of it though. There’s a certain strain in interfacing with addicts for many hours each day, day after day, week after week. And the job certainly doesn’t pay enough, even with benefits, to get me through my life in any halfway comfortable fashion.

So: I’m studying to get my CDL license, and sometime later this year I’ll be out hunting for truck driving jobs. Hopefully long-haul stuff, hookup-and-go loads along the interstates. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before it happens, but I think I’m headed that way.

I have to make a living, and I haven’t been very good at that for several years. I want to be able to pay my bills again, and get some dogs again, and live somewhere out of a city, where said dogs can enjoy some off-leash outdoor time and maybe a nearby creek.

I have several books yet to write, as I think I’ve told you, and I want nothing to get in the way of that. But book-writing for most of us is not a bill-paying enterprise. (You knew about this one, right? Hint, hint.)

Even if I break new ground in my book about dealing with death as an atheist (out sometime in 2014), it’s probably going to be anything but a bestseller. Who wants to buy a book about death and dying? Not even me, really … but there are still some things worth saying, and I think SOMEBODY has to do it. You know, for our people. For us.

I also want to carry on writing about — and hopefully speaking about — Beta Culture. Because I think it’s important, really important, and I’d like to see it actually happen.

But anyway, this time next year, I might be a trucker. Brace yourselves.

Hell, I might go all the way — pick my Southern accent back up, and start writin’ trucker love songs.

Baybuh, you done me wrawwnng,
Cain’t even think where to start,
I jist know I’m cryin’ tears,
For how you  jack-knifed my heart.

Whoa. Eat your heart out, Johnny Cash!


Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 5 of 8

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Molly (cont.)

This kind of thought wasn’t completely new for me – I confess I’d dwelt many times on the fortunes of other men, wistful and envious of the assets they enjoyed.

“What would it be like to be him?” I had asked myself, him way up there with all that money, with a daddy who provides private airplanes and the family’s own airport, with new trucks and horses and jet skis and scuba diving lessons there for the asking.

“What would it be like to be him?” … riding high, the life of the party, the totally unselfconscious, self-assured fellow who plays pool like a master, drives cars like a professional racer, rides horses and ropes calves like a rodeo champion.

“What would it be like to be him?” … towering above toads like me, with that tall muscular body, with such good looks and so many women hot after him that he callously brushes the discards out of his life every few months.

This, though, was the first time the question had ever been aimed in the other direction, asking “What would it be like to be her?” … not UP there above me, but DOWN there, below me. Down there with all that loneliness.

I shifted in that illuminated second from my one-down perspective, that blunt yearning known so well by the poor, the uncool, the disadvantaged, to a one-up view, the sudden knowledge that I had unintended power over this small creature. It was the same type of thought, but painted now in the colors of sympathy rather than those of envy.

I stood and considered the consequences of this new idea. How would it feel, I wondered from this new perspective, to care about what her life was like? How would it feel to do something about it?

I called her back over, and she came, very reluctantly. Suspiciously. Worriedly.

I stroked her head and neck tentatively and she cringed under my hand. I petted her some more, telling her what a good dog she was. She relaxed a fraction. I scratched behind her ears, and stroked along the length of her back. She leaned against me, snuggling up close. I dug my fingers gently into her fur, roughing it up and scratching down her side. She flopped down in the grass. I slapped her shoulder a couple of times, stroked the side of her face. She rolled over onto her back. I patted her chest and scratched her belly. She closed her eyes and sighed blissfully.

As I rested there on my knees gently stroking the fur under her chin, reflecting on how little this cost me and yet how it had never occurred to me to do it, she lay there absorbing the touch as if she was a sponge as big as a house, a desert a thousand miles square, and I was the first drop of water she’d felt in a year.

Yet rather than happy I had made the discovery of this new way to look at Molly, I was deeply bothered that I had only now noticed.

I was doubly bothered that this lesson was not in any of my schoolbooks, not in anything my parents had ever told me, not in anything I learned from my friends. In fact, it was just about 180 degrees opposite of anything I got from any of those sources.

To us, animals could be disposable entertainment devices or rare meat walking around on four legs, but they were never anything more. I myself had treated animals as targets, and even found pleasure in it.

I was a hunter once, sort of. My Wicked Stepfather took me up into deer blinds for East Texas’ frigid fall deer season in my teens. I grew up with coon-hunting friends and a peer group of friendly killers to whom hunting of any sort was a threshold of manhood. Later there was an adopted Dad in California who took me out on pack trips into the wilderness and infused me with his deep love of the mountains, and who regaled me with great stories from a lifetime of hunting exploits – of bringing down bear and deer and other difficult and worthwhile game. I had a Ruger .30-06 rifle that I was so proud of – though I no longer own it, I can still picture the matte beauty of its walnut stock, and the shiny perfection of its barrel.

It only happened to me once, but I can tell you what’s it like to see a big muley buck on a hillside across a canyon, and to raise such a rifle to a position firm against your shoulder and cool against your cheek. I can tell you that there is a feral joy in getting that animal in your sights, and I can describe the leap that a hunter’s heart makes at the thought of having that deer. Of owning its life, bringing it down with a shot through the chest. I can tell you what it’s like to visualize bringing it home bloody and gutted, hunter triumphant, full grown Man.

We humans really do have such things in us. A cat readying to pounce on a mouse, all feral intent, teeth and claws ready for the kill, could feel nothing more intense.

But fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s like to actually do those things, because I missed the shot. I never got my deer. I never got my bear. Instead, in this luminous moment with Molly, I found this doorway…


Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 4 of 8

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For eight years in my 20s and 30s, I was a draft horse teamster at a resort-town ranch, driving a two-up hitch of massive blond Belgians or coal-black Percherons, on a huge hay wagon for mid-summer meadow rides, or on big sleighs that would glide over the high-mountain snow on moonlit winter nights.

Molly was one of the ranch dogs. She was no particular color – a little black, a little brown, a little gray, all mixed up in a dark grizzle. Like most cowdog breeds, she was a sturdy little thing, weighing forty pounds at most and standing about 18 inches high.

She was no great spark in the personality field. Poor Molly was a bit of a slinker – one of those quiet, careful dogs who skirts around the edges of action, waiting to see if it’s safe to be noticed.

And it seemed that “notice,” for Molly, frequently came in the negative form.

Let me say right here that the people who owned the place took very good care of their animals. They were about as good as they could be to their livestock without actually inviting them into the house. Even that rule was suspended for their numerous bobcat-sized Siamese and Manx cats, and a succession of lucky dogs.

But businesses mean employees, and they were not always as enlightened. Molly probably heard “Molly, get out!” and “Molly, get away!” a thousand times. There may even have been a clod of dirt pegged her way at times.

I didn’t have a lot of patience for her myself. She’d seldom come out to meet me in the morning. Never wanted to go along on an adventure. Never wanted to come play, like some of the other dogs. Molly just wasn’t much fun.

But late one day, as I was coming up to the main ranch house from the bunkhouse, Molly somehow connected with me.

She happened to be lying across the trail as I came down it. She nervously thumped her tail on the ground at my approach, but I was in too much of a hurry to bother with her and I said “Look out, dog!” She instantly jumped up and skittered off to the side.

I glanced back at her, though, and saw her trudging slowly away with her whole body a message of dejection. I stopped, suddenly struck by the thought, “What must it be like for her?”

Left out. Never played with. Seldom petted.

Mixed in with all the random moments of your life that pass unremarked and unremembered, there are those sometimes-surprising few that stick with you for a long, long time. Through accident of time and life and human nature, these moments of happiness, or tragedy, or sudden understanding, become the axles around which the rest of your life turns.

Perspectives shift. Things change. Doors open.

Though I had a close friendship with my own canine buddy, Ranger, I was completely unimpressed with Molly. If I had ever cared to think about it, I might have known that there was something missing in her life. I might have said well, from her point of view, if there was such a thing, it would seem that she gets only occasional crumbs of affection. Tiny tag ends of attention, second thoughts, unconscious pats. Half-loves.

But I didn’t care enough to think of that. She was just another… well, dog.

Now, though, slow-motion flashbulbs went off in my head and freeze-framed me where I stood. For the first time ever, I wondered “What would it be like to be Molly?”


Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 3 of 8

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After seasons of proving myself at many of the other chores of branding, on this day, I’m in charge of castrations. After the calf slides to a stop and both the heel rope and the top man are firmly in place, I step forward and kneel down by the calf’s belly. I stretch out the scrotum and slice across the lower third of it with a sharp knife. The testicles usually pop out on their own, but sometimes you have to fish around, pressing here and there, to get them to come free. Pulled out several inches, they’re still connected by silvery-blue cords that have to be either carefully scraped through with a knife or cut through with a pliers-like tool that simultaneously severs and crushes them. Skill comes into play here to prevent excessive bleeding. The scraping technique causes the arteries to spasm and close down and takes considerable care to do right; on the other hand the cutting-crushing tool, an emasculatome, is more foolproof, sealing the arteries by intense pressure, and can be used in full confidence by just about anyone with a bit of grip strength.

The bags are sometimes tossed into a pile for counting, sometimes simply thrown away. The testicles go into a separate bucket of water. Depending on whether somebody wants to go the trouble, they’ll be cleaned and frozen later – and yep, people really do eat them.

Needless to say, your hands get bloody right off in this kind of work. The blood dries and sticks to your hands, coats your pantlegs. The testicles are sticky, sometimes adhering to your fingers so that you have to sling your hand vigorously to get them to drop into the collection bucket. Keeping the knife sharp is a constant battle, but as about half the calves are heifers, there’s usually time to keep up with it.

Castration and ear marking is skilled work for two reasons. One is that you want to do the work accurately, and get the calf through it with a minimum of blood and stress. Second is that you are holding a naked razor-sharp blade and a lot of people with other matters taking their full attention want someone they can trust.

The hot hours pass. A dozen or so at a time, we work our way through half the calves.

We break for lunch, shutting down the noisy blast of the propane branding iron furnace, and trooping out to sit on a grassy spot next to a loading chute. Roping horses have their girths loosened, and stand hipshot in the shade of a long trailer. Ranch dogs show up and beg for pieces of our sandwiches, or prospect for edible bits out in the branding corral. We talk horses and heifers (the two-legged kind), old friends and old dogs.

Finally we pry ourselves up from our resting places and go back to the corral, where we rope, drag, tussle, stick, slice, burn. The calves match us move for move with panicked determination – they struggle, buck, squirm, kick, quiver and bawl. We respond by overcoming, enduring or ignoring them.

At the end of the day, all of them are turned out to their still-waiting mothers, and the lot of them are herded off to a distant pasture to rest, graze and recuperate. The rest of us mosey up to the ranch house where dinner’s ready.

I sit down with my plate in a low, loose chair, and am so bone-deep tired that when I discover I don’t have a fork, it’s a good five minutes before I manage to muster the energy to heave myself up and get one.

As I break bread with my friends, again the feeling of kinship – of shared work, of difficult tasks done well, of eating and talking and joking together – washes over me. After a childhood of divorce and moving, a series of different schools and strange new faces, and an eternity with the Stepfather from Hell, here I am in the company of the people who took me in, who allowed me to prove myself. These are people who like and respect me, who value me for my contributions and my company, and who put up with my peccadilloes. Surely no Bar Mitzvah, no tribal rite of manhood in New Guinea or Africa or South America, could do any better job of making a boy feel accepted, validated, even loved.

I am exhausted, but it doesn’t matter. I rest in the comfort of knowing that these are my People, and this is where I belong.

Except …

I have wrestled with more than calves today.

Something has nagged at me off and on for many hours. Time after time throughout the waning day, the picture of a little dog named Molly has come into my mind. I’ve drifted back, over and over, to something I learned from her recently, and I’m no longer sure I can justify enjoying the things I’ve done today.

Thanks to Molly, I’m seeing today in a different light. Something has changed in me, some new channel has opened up, and in through it are trickling new thoughts, things I never knew I never knew.


Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 2 of 8

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The early end of the beef industry involves a lot of labor at identifying and altering young bovines from their original, mint-condition wholeness to something more in line with human designs, as they make their first transition from free beasties to hamburger-on-the-hoof. The work can be done in sheer industrial efficiency, with metal chutes and shock prods and unconcerned hourly workers, or it can be done by working cowboys, in tune with a romantic but very real vision of the American West.

On this day, with this herd of calves, I’m one of those cowboys. And though I don’t know it quite yet, I myself am undergoing a transition: I’m on the threshold of a new and grander phase of my life. My hand is on the doorknob and here and now is the moment in which I begin to turn it.

As I start the day, I feel deep western pride on the one hand, the heartfelt assertion that the people around me – the men and women in cowboy hats and spurs and chaps, working shoulder to shoulder with me and joking with each other in the solid, friendly voices of the west – are my people, and the things we do are a part of my native culture, a  culture of Texas and points west.

The men and women I work with are close friends, and we’re teamed up in a difficult, dirty and physically demanding job. We work side by side in blood and the smell of burning hair, and every hour of such work under the beating western sun is a rite of passage, a bringing-together as profound as any formal ceremony of brotherhood. This is a job, yes, but it is also a way to become one with each other.

Along with that pride, though, is another feeling, something darker. I have yet to identify it, but it ebbs and flows within me throughout the day, the beginning of a quiet guilt, a murky disturbance at doing what I’m doing.

The cattle, by contrast with the many-become-one social consolidation we humans experience on this day, journey in the opposite direction – from oneness to separation. Forcibly parted from the safety and comfort of their herd, a couple of hundred calves are trapped at one end of a large wire holding pen. With their four-legged moms just outside the corral making continuous loud protests, they mill around in confusion.


The kid in the blue cap? Me.

A cowboy on a horse cuts small groups of them out, to drive a dozen or so at a time into the main corral. Separated now at two removes from the main herd, this small group huddles together even more closely.

Two ropers on horseback work the branding corral. They take turns tossing ropes at calf heels, hopefully snagging both back feet of one specific calf, then instantly dallying up and spurring away to trip the calf onto its side and drag it through the soft arena dirt to the branding fire. There one cowboy jumps on top to hold it down, while several others come forward with syringes, knives and branding iron to inject, inoculate, earmark, de-horn, castrate and brand the little beast.

Every pen of calves has a different pair of ropers working it. Horses and cowboys tire and have to rotate out, to have their places taken by a new team.

It’s not the epitome of efficiency, operating this way. Not every cowpoke on horseback is at the peak of western form. For most of them, this is practice as much as it is work. They only get to do it a couple of times a year, some of them, and it takes a while to work through each pen of calves. The ground helpers spend a certain amount of their time just standing around, waiting patiently as the ropers miss repeatedly. Still, there’s a quiet recognition that everybody has to learn sometime, and a certain amount of friendly joshing helps to pass the time.

Here are the various jobs that must be done and the qualifications it takes to be accepted to do them:

Roping is the most demanding. You’re usually expected to have at least some experience in the sport. Since the object of all this is to get the calves processed with the least stress on them and the least strain on the crew, the quicker the better is the plan. The ideal is a quick toss just in front of a moving calf’s hind legs, so the little critter more or less steps into the open loop himself, then a snapping tug that snugs the rope around both ankles, with a simultaneous dally around the saddlehorn so the roper can spur his horse away with a captured calf dragging at the end of the rope.

Ropers can be older hands who are experts, second- or third-generation youngsters who grew up in the culture but are just learning the craft, western wives or girlfriends who want to try their hand, or rodeo-cowboy friends there to keep in touch with the roots of their arena skills. On days short of manpower it can be friendly neighbors who are drawn by the camaraderie, romance and dust.

Wrasslin’ and pokin’

Wrestling calves is the least demanding of skill, the most demanding of muscle, and kids and neighbors and wanna-bes all get their turn at this. It’s a kind of unspoken testing ground for the newcomers. This is where I got my own start, “throwing” roping calves in practice pens with cowboy buddies back in Texas.

If a dragged calf comes right to you already on its side, all you really have to do is put one knee on its neck, grab the uppermost foreleg and pull it back and up, and hope that the heel rope holds so that flailing back hooves don’t come slashing up at you. A bit of weight helps here, but if you have the technique down, a lightweight like me can do just fine.

If the calf is still on its feet – maybe the rope only caught one back leg – there’s a little cowboy judo thing you can do: snatch the near foreleg below the knee as the calf passes by, whirl the leg back backward and outward, and the calf falls almost magically onto its far side, allowing you to step over its body with the leg still in hand and proceed to the same knee-on-neck posture. Otherwise, there’s a more difficult reach you have to do, more or less enveloping the calf with your arms and body from the top, then picking it up and rotating it in the air so it falls onto its side.

Once you get it on the ground and secured, inoculations come next. A spritz of biological armor goes into both the calf’s nostrils, a human-engineered defense against various respiratory ailments. The spritzer has to have a fresh plastic nozzle for every calf, to keep from inadvertently spreading bugs from one animal to another, so if two efficient ropers are working the pen, the guy doing it can be kept hopping. Still, it’s not very tough work. Getting the plastic nozzle into a struggling calf’s nose is the only tricky part, and an agile young’un can do it.

A complex of bio-active goop – several different kinds of protective and growth-enhancing antibiotics – goes into another shot, this one into muscle on the calf’s shoulder or rump. Yet another shot will contain vitamins, or trace elements missing in the range on which the calf will spend most of his growing time, to be injected under loose skin such as that between the elbow and chest.

Shots take a bit more skill, as the person wielding the needle-gun has to be careful to poke it into the calf at the correct angle and the right place, making sure the full measured dose of medicine goes in, and at the same time missing the rumps and elbows of the four or five other people busily working the calf over. The syringes also have to be kept full of the appropriate stuff. A solid cowpoke or dependable ranch wife usually takes charge of the needlework.

Burnin’ and cuttin’

Branding is another task only allowed to experts. The iron, heated either electrically or in a propane furnace, has to be the right temperature – hot enough to scorch down to the skin, not so hot it burns holes in it, exposing the flesh underneath. It has to be applied at the right angle, to get the whole brand image onto the calf, and held for the right length of time to do the job right. The brander wears heavy leather gloves, and takes care to warn everybody “Hot iron!” before stepping up to the calf. The sharp, thick odor of burning hair coats everything and everybody by the end of the day, but the first choking stench of it disappears into the background after only a short while.

Dehorning takes a tubular tool that fits down over the horn buds one at a time, providing a circular cutting edge for scooping the buds right off the calf’s skull, leaving a little pit that will heal in time into a hornless scar. Dehorning can take up to three people working together to get it done quickly and right. The cowboy on the neck of the prone calf leans out of the way while the top horn bud is popped out, then grabs under the calf’s nose and bends its head back so the dehorner can get to the bottom one. The third person is usually standing by with a spray can of disinfectant for the dehorning wounds.

The last chore, knifework, also falls only to trusted hands. There are a variety of cuts that can be made on a calf’s front end, but the ones most often used on ranches where I worked were either ear-marking, which requires a large triangular slice to be taken out of a calf’s ear, or ear-tagging, which is basically ear-piercing scaled up to cattle-size: a bright plastic tag is slotted onto an instrument that cuts a slit in the ear and inserts it, the big tag on one surface of the ear, a round plug on the other.

As for cuts on the back end, heifer calves (females) will grow up to be breeding or milking stock and need no trimming of any kind. In one of the many ouchy realities of both beef and dairy cattle commerce, however, only a tiny percentage of purebred males are saved for breeding. Since most bull calves will grow up to be meat, they do not need the essential tackle of reproduction.


Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 1 of 8

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Somewhere above all this, all the roiling newness of the growing atheist and progressive community, there’s an overview. I’ve tried very hard to see it.

It may be that there are plenty of people smarter than me, more educated, innately broader of understanding, who already know what it is we’re all working towards. But I have yet to read their books or hear their talks.

I look out and see … pieces. A chopped salad of efforts and understanding that forms no coherent whole.

I don’t feel TOO bad about that. I mean ‘feel bad’ in the sense that there are churchy luddites who oppose positive changes, and we have to be a lot better if we want to win this thing. Because they are chopped up even worse than we are. And though they’ve had power over us for thousands of years, it was the power of bullying and cowardice and lies, rather than some sort of coherent strategy or vision or real knowledge, and that power – in the face of real advances on our side – is waning.

I sometimes wish I had a formal grounding in philosophy, so I could have more tools in my head to deal with all this. Yet other times I’m glad I’m an uneducated doofus, philosophically speaking, because the journey I want to make is my own journey, and the tools I do manage to work out on my own … well, they seem to work better – for me, anyway – than the stuff I’ve garnered from more formal philosophy.

I get little glimpses of the Big Picture, from time to time. And it’s not just us in the frame. It’s us and … Earth. The life around us. The way we can fit into it, and cherish it and, well, live with it. I see us coming into a real sense of our own immense power, and finding ways to curb our excesses to create a truly sustainable relationship with Earth (which we do not have and have never yet had) and each other.

Atheism is very much a part of it.

There’s a book I want to someday write that will explain it all. I’ll figure out all the basic pieces, and how they fit together, and will at last understand something of what this is all about.

And yet, when I consider writing that book, I worry.

First that I might need about a hundred more years (and a hundred more IQ points!) to get it.

Second that I’m … well, just wrong. That there is not only no Big Picture, but no Big Picture is possible. Not for human intelligence to figure out, anyway. Which means we’ll never have it, and will never be able to live well on Planet Earth. And will probably wreck most of it, and kill ourselves along the way.

Third is a bit of a sidebar to the second worry. When I first thought of it, it actually scared me, because I was afraid it was a fatal hit at the heart of atheist philosophy.

Are you familiar with “follow-through”? If you’ve ever done any kind of sport, I know you are. Follow-through is the part of the swing AFTER the bat or the golf club strikes the ball. The arm and body motion AFTER the baseball leaves the pitcher’s hand or the bowling ball leaves the bowler’s.

Every Little Leaguer knows that if you swing AT the ball, you get one result, and not a very good one. But if you swing THROUGH the ball, you get both more control of where the ball goes and more power to get it there.

In baseball or golf, the ball is in your control for only a split second, and it is only in that instant that you can direct it onto a path that you deliberately choose. The thing is, you can’t see that path if you’re focused solely on the ball. You have to look beyond — aim beyond, swing beyond — your contact point with the ball, in order to properly send it onto some optimal path.

The thing that I worried about was that Christians had this larger vision for human life, a goal that passed beyond merely human concerns, and that goal supplied the follow-through for living a good human life.

If you swung for Heaven, in other words, you’d hit ordinary human life out of the park. But if you aimed only at your own selfish life, you’d fall short and end in some sort of inward-aimed and lesser life.

I actually worried about that for a good 3 years before I started to figure out why religion was the wrong follow-through, that it couldn’t work. Which is: There’s nothing there. Christians only appear to be aiming beyond their own lives. In reality, they’re aiming in no direction. Or, considering the thousands of religions or personal interpretations of religions, in a thousand different directions. Their aim, if they have one, is disconnected from anyplace in the real world that you can get to.

Besides which, there are a LOT of larger things to care about. Every one of us can find our own larger aims and follow-through to build good lives for ourselves.

What follows is a multi-part essay, a little bit about follow-through and a little bit about that Big Picture. Maybe it’s a prologue to the larger quest.

There’s a place in it – and it comes early – where you’re not going to like me very much. But bear in mind that this is about a journey, not a stopping point, and that we all have to come FROM somewhere in order to get TO somewhere. We change in our lives, hopefully for the better, and that change has to be arrived at along a human path, not a miraculous one.

In the same way you wouldn’t hold a grudge against a recovered alcoholic for getting falling-down drunk on a day 30 years past, I hope you’ll withhold judgment long enough to read to the end and see where I’m going with it.


About 1980

It’s a beautiful spring morning in California’s Eastern Sierra mountains.

The sky is that impossible blue of high altitude places. The normally grayish-green high-desert valley is sprouting the rich shades of spring down toward the sparkling vastness of Crowley Lake, and an azure sea of wild iris, punctuated by dots of golden Mariposa tulips, sweeps out from the near view to vanish into the distance.

A red-tailed hawk circles overhead in the vivid air. Though I can’t see them, I know that off to the west, at the base of the rising mountains, migrating mule deer are cutting dusty tracks through the manzanita-covered foothills, browsing their way along as they trail lazily toward the passes which have yet to thaw enough to let them into the backcountry wilderness.

Fed by pure melting snow, crystal streams chuckle out of those mountains, running down in rocky leaps and bounds. Ice-cold trout lurk in their deep pools, visible from the surface as they dart about after insects and larvae and, to the joy of blissful streamside flycasters later in the season, the occasional artificial fly.

All in all, this must be the best place on earth in which to live, and the best of all possible times in which to be here.

And here I am in the glorious middle of it, covered in blood and dirt, working the spring branding at a local ranch … cutting the balls off bull calves.


Well, This Is Disturbing.

Before I started A Citizen of Earth, I blogged as The Blue Collar Atheist.

The name was mostly intended to underline my lack of a college degree, or any great amount of advanced education, to make the point that giving up religion, become an agnostic or atheist, is not something you need a Ph.D. to do. You can be a complete doofus and still reason yourself free of it.

Speaking of which, even *I* can see the gaping holes in some of the stuff from this site (hat tip to commenter Chris for the link): Creation Science 4 Kids.

Clicking through it, I come across bits like this:

Dinosaurs fit into the Creationist worldview far better than they do into the Evolutionary storyline.  These Creatures size, power and careful design don’t show the slow and steady increase in complexity that is the bedrock of Evolutionary thought.  They do make a lot of sense in our view, especially since the Bible mentions them in a number of places!

And this:

We actually have lots of evidence that people were quite familiar with dinosaurs.  We just never called them that until the mid-1800s.  We called them dragons.

Apparently artistic representations of dragons from various cultures are the proof. I mean, you couldn’t have ALL those different cultures painting these things, not unless they existed! Because obviously none of those people EVER talked to each other, or told their best scary stories around shared campfires.

One of the pages is Kids Resources. A sampling of “Family Creation Camps”:

Alpha Omega Institute, CO
Apologetics Press Camp, Oakman, AL
Creation Adventures Museum, Arcadia, FL
Akron Fossils Science Center Akron, OH
Genesis Camp Lomita, CA
Camp Sunrise Fairmount, GA
Tamarack Valley, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, MI
Living Waters Bible Camp Creation Museum/Nature Center, Westby, WI

The page also lists Online Activities, Bible Stories and Videos. And damn, there is some scary shit there, and big heaping truckloads of it. Scary not because it’s sheer flat-out lies, but because the lies are mixed with true stuff, descriptions of real places, real animals, real science. If you have even less education than I have, or read less widely than most of US do — especially if you have a religiously-cultivated mistrust of “experts” and educated people —  it all starts to sound plausible. Plausible enough to inspire further doubt of them SIGN-tists and all the unbelievable stuff they say.

Here’s what passes for erudition on the site, which is, remember, aimed at and for kids. Excerpt from a book review:

The first thing I noticed about Evolution Impossible is all the footnotes. I checked the whole thing and only found 11 pages out of 179 which didn’t have references. Most of those 11 pages were the half pages at the beginning or end of a chapter! Dr. Ashton expects you to search out the truth for yourself.

Then there’s the amount of math involved.

Yeah, the number of footnotes always impresses me too. Most of the books I recommend to people, I make a point of mentioning how many footnotes there are. And the math, I always talk about the math. Because it’s, you know, MATH, right?

Take a look at The Akron Fossils and Science Center. It’s like Science! Science! Science! … until you get to the creationism and climate change denialism. But no matter, it also has a Giant Slide and Zipline! There’s also a Truassic Park, a 2.5-acre outdoor park. I love the name gag, “True-assic.”  It’s an “outdoor adventure park with a dinosaur theme!”

Most importantly:

We are devoted to teaching creation science and intelligent design models on the origin and history of life (in contrast to teaching evolutionary models).

The location information is interesting too:

Our museum is located in the same building as a few other businesses. Our museum entrance is located on the Minor Rd. side of the building complex. Our upper parking lot is on the Cleveland-Massillon Rd. side of the building where we share parking space with Independence Financial Group an accounting firm and Alpha Background Investigations.

Makes it sound like the “Duchy of Grand Fenwick — Through the Gate and Around in Back.”

Yes, Religion now has to use Science to prop itself up. You can’t just hand around live rattlesnakes anymore, or Speak in Tongues. Well, you can, but it’s not as razzle-dazzle as a 60-foot dino skeleton unearthed and pieced together by, well, people who actually know something.

But they’ll use any tool at hand, twisting and warping it until it serves their purpose. They never stop.



Adventures in Cholecystectomy Land – Part 2

Argh. Survived. Recovering. Also caught a cold, so that makes it extra fun.

Maunderings on Facebook and elsewhere, before, during (sort of) and after:

After my cholecystectomy tomorrow, I expect to make medical history by being the first person ever to suffer the gallbladder version of PLP (phantom limb pain).

A few hours sleep, then up early for surgery, something new and scary in my life. Dang it, wish I could talk to my Dad. I really am a little bit scared, and he’d tell me “You’re gonna be just fine, Hank.” Continue reading “Adventures in Cholecystectomy Land – Part 2”

Adventures in Cholecystectomy Land – Part 1

daVinciProbably more than you wanted to know, but …

I promised myself I would blog about this, and so I am:

I went to the hospital on Friday for my pre-admission session, in preparation for gallbladder surgery – by an actual robot! – next Friday. Before surgery, they want to make sure you’re up to it, so they do blood tests, EKG, etc.

I aced the tests. One of the nurses even told me she really liked having people like me, because so many of her patients were, you know, smokers and such, and had multiple medical problems. She asked me all the questions – Are you a smoker or drug user? Do you drink alcohol? Ever had a heart attack or stroke? Any trouble breathing or swallowing? Etc. – and I answered No, No, No, and we just sailed through it.

Heh. One question: Do you have any religious preference you’d like the doctor or hospital to know about?

Easy one: No. (You ain’t gettin’ ME to tell one or more possibly-goddy people I’m an atheist and then placing my life in their hands. I’d sooner sweep into a restaurant and insult the entire minimum-wage staff just prior to dining. )

Continue reading “Adventures in Cholecystectomy Land – Part 1”