Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Poetree

2014/09/04

This is a beautiful idea: a funeral urn with a tree growing in it.

My family already has a tradition of cremation, with ashes spread on a particular hill at the farm. It is a deeply personal connection with the land I grew up on, and if my family is willing, I would like any part of me that is not used for transplants or other practical purpose to be cremated and put there.

But this … this seems to take the whole idea one step further. Beautiful. Simple.

It connects directly to the idea of cycles, of transformation. It provides the most beautiful kind of monument to a loved one; one that will itself cycle in time, back to the earth.

The website selling the urns prices them at $225. (I’m guessing that’s US dollars.)

I’m torn – I think an idea like this should be congratulated, rewarded.

On the other hand, what would make it even more personal, even more meaningful, would be to make the urn myself before I die. Or for my loved ones to make it. And to select a tree that reflects my own identity and the identity of the land it will grow in. (Spruce? Maple? Birch? I’ll have to think about that.)

That’s the problem with great ideas. They spawn more great ideas, without end.

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Poems

2014/08/23

Yah so, in case you’re worried, I am already over the funk those poems came from. But I thought it would be nice to share them – a glimpse of the less cerebral side of this humanist. Also, I suppose, the less friendly side.

That’s all. Talk to you again soon!

My rain

2014/08/23

When I feel this way, your cheery cajoling is like

a bright strobe light

in a midnight rainstorm.

Unhelpful.

Blinding.

Destroying the unique, dark beauty of the moment.

Kindly piss off,

parade on someone else’s rain.

(Grumpy Haiku 2)

2014/08/23

Dwell in thund’ry storms.

Face gusting wind, lashing rain.

They’ll blow past in time.

(Grumpy Haiku 1)

2014/08/23

I am the anchor

holding myself to the ground

unwilling to fly.

Humph

2014/08/23

No thanks. Not me. I’m feeling grumpy.

My mood, just now, is rather lumpy.

Some time soon my mood will shift.

This darkling pall will start to lift.

But here and now, I choose to wait,

to sulk and scowl, to brood and hate.

Please don’t “help”; don’t rib; don’t joke.

For mercy’s sake, don’t tease and poke.

I won’t respond well; I’ll push back.

I’ll pull you down – I’ve got the knack.

So I’ll leave thou and thee’ll leave me –

To me my scowl; to thee thy glee –

And some time soon we’ll meet again,

alike in mood, rejoined as friends.

Respect! Already, progress made.

My funky funk begins to fade.

Don’t pounce, not yet; I’m not yet there.

But when I am, I’ll share. I swear.

 

Kids and death: reincarnation

2014/08/20

I talked recently about how the topic of death was co-opted by a religious meme that the kids were exposed to, which filled a gap left by their parents’ loud silence on the topic.

Well, we’ve been playing vigorous catch-up since then.

Recently, they asked me about what happens after death and I gave them the three main hypotheses that I could think of: nothing (the naturalist explanation), heaven (leaving hell aside for now), and reincarnation.

It seems that the current leader in their minds is reincarnation. Their imaginations have latched on, and they’re running with it. The day after I introduced the hypotheses, they followed up. I was asked if boys could come back as girls and vice versa. I answered affirmative – “Yes, I think that most people who believe in reincarnation believe that boys can be reincarnated as girls, and girls can be reincarnated as boys. In fact, humans can be reincarnated as other animals, and other animals can be reincarnated as humans.”

So far, when facing these different ideas, they haven’t asked “What do you believe, Dad?”

So I haven’t volunteered. I’ll keep reminding them of the other ideas out there (religious and non-religious), and trust their own self-determination.

I doubt I’d have thought of that approach, or trusted it, if I didn’t have all Dale’s blogging and books encouraging me. Thanks Dale!

Not talking about death …

2014/08/13

I’ve learned one thing more acutely than any other as a parent: now is the only time you have. Now is your only chance to have an impact on them.

That might sound like trite, wishy-washy silliness, but a couple of months ago it became rather abruptly real for me.

I have been reading Dale McGowan’s thoughts on humanist parenting since before either of my children were born. His blog, his books, the occasional video or personal email. I’ve learned that it’s important not to insulate kids from different ideas. That you need to be honest and open, and try not to pressure them into adopting your own favorite viewpoint.

And I’ve read that you can start as early as you like. But you know … no hurry, right? I mean, at first they don’t even understand speech. And then, well, they get the words but not all of the abstract ideas. And after that …

When Great Grandma died, it clearly lit something in them. A worry, a curiosity … I don’t know. Some existential human-ness that had so far been dormant. Anyway, at four and six years old, they started talking about it, asking about it.

I was unprepared, and I didn’t respond helpfully.

“Daddy, are you going to die?”

When are you going to die?”

“When am I going to die?”

“I don’t want to die.”

I don’t want you to die either. Or me. Please stop making me think about this.

Yes, of course. My own fears kept me from facing their worries directly, from recognizing them, from engaging them honestly and frankly. What can I say? Deep down I’m still a 4-year-old boy when it comes to facing death, or any of life’s other big questions. A 4-year-old boy with a somewhat larger vocabulary to hide behind.

No problem. I still had time to work out how to approach this better. Let me think about it for a while.

A few months later, we visited the church of some pleasant lads we’d been talking to – Mormon missionaries. This is good, right? Expose the kids to different ideas. Let them know about the great variety around them, and show them how much we trust them to make their own choices.

Deena and I sat through the service with the kids, and then visited a Bible study thing afterwards while the kids went to Sunday school. Afterwards, Kaia had this little craft she had done – a paper drawing of a person, with a transparent overlay, illustrating a person with a soul. She started talking about what happens when a person dies. Their strength goes out of them and goes … well, somewhere.

She was rather vague on the details, but clearly the idea of a life after death had been conveyed. It had been told her as simple truth, by someone who clearly believed it. And so she took it on as simple truth, as she would any other claim from a trusted adult. I really can’t fault the Sunday school teacher, or the Mormon church, for this. That’s their belief, after all.

It didn’t alarm me that she had heard this idea, or repeated it. What alarmed me was the realization that Deena and I hadn’t forearmed her with the knowledge that there are other ideas out there too – that this isn’t necessarily the way it is.

Her grandparents (who are all quite aware of our own beliefs about such things) were rather surprised to be told about souls and heaven by their (so far as they thought) thoroughly heathen granddaughter.

Lesson learned. Since then, we’ve been watching for questions and offering open answers – “That is what some people believe; others believe X or Y.” “Here are some ideas – have some fun with them.”

I’m also keeping an eye out for other hot-button topics. She’s only six, but at the current rate of time passage, by the end of the year she’ll be heading off to college without any fatherly wisdom on relationships, sex, finances, or how to strike the perfect work/Star Trek balance in life.

Anyway, stay tuned for further afterlife conversations. Our new openness in answering questions about death is already paying off.

Well, how would you describe it?

2014/06/22

From Kaia, my six-year-old daughter:

The time is six, dot-high, dot-low, five, three.

I almost don’t want to teach her the names of punctuation marks, just to see what she comes up with.

Do you have any stories of clever names that kids (or others) have given to common orthographic scratchings?

Belief without evidence (6 of 6): Comparing and evaluating

2014/06/20

So, since introducing this series, I have identified five elements which might be considered my “dogma” – things that I cannot prove with reason and evidence from other, more basic principles.

Claims about reality:
R1. Induction. (What has come before can tell us something about what to expect next.)
R2. Other people exist.
R3. Non-just-nowism. (The world is not a trick designed to deceive us.)
Values:
V1. People matter.
V2. Truth matters.

Ultimately, I can only support these by saying, “I choose this.” I do not say this with apology or sheepishness: everyone has basic beliefs. In fact, I think most people share these specific basic beliefs, or some other set that includes them. (Please let me know if you or someone else actually rejects any of these, and why.)

I have also pointed out a few things that have been claimed as points of secular dogma, but are not:
a. How to reason.
b. The methods and conclusions of science (including materialism).
c. Atheism.

And finally, I have noted some common things that religious people add to the above list of basic beliefs in order to hold their more elaborate (and, I think, more vulnerable to refutation) worldviews:
i. God exists (and has various definite properties or traits).
ii. Sacred scriptures communicate important truths about reality.
iii. Inner feelings can directly reveal cosmic truths.

If you think I have missed some point of dogma that I hold, or misrepresented one of the ones listed above, please tell me about it. If you think I have overstated the case for religious dogmas, please let me know how I’ve misstepped.

But in the end, what is the point of this?

At one level it is simply a response to those who accuse atheists and other skeptics of having as much faith as the believers (or more). My contention, given the above, is that I (and most humanists and atheists) have fewer assumptions than religious people. We accept less on faith than they do – though I acknowledge that we must all accept some things “on faith”.

To which most of you will respond “Obviously!” … In my defense, though, I wrote all of this because it is clearly not obvious to an astonishing number of the (religiously) faithful. One example prominent in my mind is Lesslie Newbigin, the author of a book I am currently reading with a friend.

At another level, I think the current undertaking is valuable as an exercise in introspection. It is common for atheists and other skeptics to assert that others take things on faith, but we don’t. This is a simplification. One goal of skepticism – an important and valuable goal – is to take less on faith, but nobody can entirely escape the burden of basic assumptions. It is important to be aware of our assumptions – not only to help us guard against wrong or unnecessary elements in our basic beliefs, but also in order that we can respond with appropriate frankness and, yes, humility, when confronted by claims (accusations?) that we, too, use faith.

So: introspection, self-knowledge, humility, and an appropriate basis for responding to our neighbours. I think this was worth six not-too-long posts. Here are some questions I have for you:

  • Do you agree that avoiding unnecessary assumptions is a worthwhile goal?
  • When you examine your own beliefs, do you find similar assumptions to mine? More? Fewer? Different?
  • I thought before starting this series that I’d come up with two or three basic assumptions, and I found five. Do you think I could (or should) pare my list down?
  • Do you think I actually have more assumptions I haven’t acknowledged? Please let me know.