Category Archives: Blog News

AIO Reviews on Temporarily Irregular Schedule

Hi, faithful readers. At the moment I’m in the middle of a move as well as starting a new job, and while I can still find time to write, my regular schedule has been thrown wildly off. I do not want to pause the reviews until things settle down (’cause let’s be honest, they won’t for a while) so instead I’ve given myself permission to post irregularly over the summer. My plan is to still average a review every couple of weeks, but it will be posted when it’s posted. Hopefully in the fall I will be able to resume some kind of regular day and time.

Sorry for the change, and I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

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Am I Still an Atheist?

I’ve been going through some reflections on my religious beliefs/lack thereof, and for a while now I’ve been wanting to update you all. This past week I’ve been battling a nasty chest bug. Then my cassette player wasn’t working, so I got an even later start on writing the episode. I was really dissatisfied with where it was, but I wanted to post something interesting and religion related, so hopefully this is an adequate substitute. My sincerest apologies for the change.

So, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had an issue with the religion I had been raised with. That problem was an excess of bullshit. And to be clear, I’m not talking about all Christianity. I’m talking about the specific subculture of conservative, evangelical Christianity, which is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-feminist and anti-civil rights, except the really popular ones, which may be supported in a milquetoast-y way that doesn’t challenge the traditional supremacy of old white men. You know. The bullshit Christianity.

But I hadn’t yet lost faith in the existence of some kind of higher being or afterlife or greater plan for the world. I just had no conception of what that all might look like. So I did some research, on Islam and Buddhism and Baha’i and non-bullshit Christianity, and everything else. I discovered two things.

First, every religion in existence has at least one bullshit version and at least one non-bullshit version. That is to say, there is at least one version where people believe in things that science has conclusively disproved, and also look down on at least one type of person who is, you know, not actually evil. And then there’s at least one version that doesn’t so much do that. I definitely knew that I wanted to follow a non-bullshit religion.

Second, none of the non-bullshit religions claimed to offer conclusive proof that their variation was correct. This was unsettling to me. I was used to claims of logical consistency, objective truth, and absolute confidence in being right. Sure, those claims turned out to be completely unfounded, but at least those claims meant I could eventually be certain of something. I was eventually certain that they were wrong. There’s something to be said for that.

I took to praying that God, the real God, wherever he/she/it was and whatever name he/she/it went by, would divinely offer me some kind of proof. Or, failing that, at least strong personal conviction.

No guidance came, so eventually I became an atheist.

If you’re reading this hoping for a decry of how foolish that was, I’m sorry to say you’ll be at least partially disappointed. I think it was exactly where I needed to be. After twenty years steeping in highly toxic religion, I needed a detox. I needed to see what life was like without passionate, fundamentalist belief, and I needed to know it would be okay.

And, you know, I was fine. I met some atheists who were real self-righteous dicks, and I met some who weren’t. Turns out atheism too has a bullshit and non-bullshit version. The non-bullshit version is people going, “I don’t believe in any God, and I’m fine with that. I find meaning enough without religion.” The bullshit one adds, “and that makes me an inherently better person than any non-atheists.” The bullshit atheists don’t come with any specific sub-denomination, so you have to just get to know people and see which one they are.

So all that was fine. I got some remedial science education in, started a cool blog series, and figured out how to be cool with the idea that my consciousness would probably end along with my body. Good stuff.

But over the last year or so, I’ve started to feel a little tug inside towards something more spiritual.

“Huh,” I went. “That’s weird and does not fit with my current conception of the world. It is probably nothing, and will go away on it’s own.”

It didn’t.

So, back into the thinking and the researching I dove. One of the things I realized was that the thing we call “religion” has multiple functions. One is to explain the world around us. One is to provide moral guidelines. One is to provide supportive communities for personal growth. There may be others, but those are the big ones. Or the ones I am most interested in.

The trouble with the explanation aspect is that eventually science starts catching up and measuring things that were once based on faith. This upsets religion, quite a lot. Religion does not like being told that it’s random guess was wrong, and has been wrong for generations. Unfortunately, in these arguments, science usually has the receipts. Personally, I think religion should officially retire from this function, and delegate it to science.

Now, unlike many skeptical materialists, I don’t pretend science is perfect at this function. Science is a slow and complicated process. For example, we haven’t properly disproven an afterlife, or a soul. It’s just that neither of those are things that fit well into everything else we know about death and the human brain. But also there’s a lot we generally don’t know about those things, so, the honest scientific answer to “is there such a thing as an afterlife?” is “I dunno. It’s really hard to research that.”

Now, people don’t like “I don’t know yet” as an answer, especially to questions with such existentially profound implications. So people seize on either the few tests that confirm their pre-existing biases, or just dress up those biases with words that sound very sciencey. People on both sides of these kinds of questions do that. But I think, even with this caveat, science is better than religion at figuring out facts. We just need to get better at accepting incomplete answers.

I could write a whole post on that. On to the next function.

Religion, I think, does help communities form moral philosophies. It’s very hard to make moral arguments from purely scientific standpoints, because science doesn’t make value judgments. Value is something that comes from a human perspective. Religion is good at giving that subjective perspective equally subjective language, and then we can use that language to compare notes, and create an effective intersubjective framework.

But that said, the truly universal morals don’t need religion to get there. People arrive independently at them using very different contexts, and people of no religion are just as likely to be good people as those who are deeply religious. But I do think religion can be a useful tool, both for individuals and societies. It just becomes a problem when religious people create echo chambers, instead of working to broaden the reach of their religious framework, and create a generous, diverse moral community.

Again, I could write for ages on this. Let’s wrap up the final function; communities.

Religious communities can be great. You can also be a happy, complete and sociable person whose communities happen to all be non-religious. So long as you’re surrounding yourself with good, supportive people who work to make the world a better place, you do whatever works for you. I don’t think anybody should feel forced to join a religious community.

But that said, I want to join a religious community. I dunno, I guess it’s just that things that religious communities are into happen to really appeal to me? And frankly, even at the height of my atheism, I never felt good around atheist communities. I never clicked with them. Not even the communities that were pretty solidly non-bullshit. This isn’t a judgment, it’s just that I never got that, “yes, these are my people! I have no trouble being myself here!”

You know who is giving me that feeling right now? Wiccans and neopagans. I went to an event and did a lot of lurky reading, and it felt really awesome.

That doesn’t mean I’m an official warlock now. I’m exploring. After a bit more, I might find I’m out of place after all, and some other religious community suits me. Or that I am just destined to spend my life a nomad of various faith communities. I am cool with all of these options.

(and, not to get too deep into it, yes, wiccans and neopagans also come in bullshit and non-bullshit varieties. It’s almost like they are humans or something)

As I am still very much an ex-Christian, and specifically an ex-evangelical, I do still want to do my reviews of Adventures in Odyssey, as well as some more works of C. S. Lewis and a smattering of other bits of Christian pop culture. I have been thinking of a good title to replace “Reviews as an Atheist,” and I have settled on “Reviews as a Godless Heathen.” I like that phrase for myself. It sounds funny and self-depricating, but it’s also a pretty accurate description of where I am. I’m not a Christian and God isn’t really a part of my religious makeup, but other than that, I could be anything. I don’t really know, and I fully expect it will change over the years.

I’ll be updating the titles and tags accordingly, and I’ll post the next AIO review two weeks from now. Thanks as always for coming along on the journey, and take good care of yourself! You are awesome.

AIO Postponed a Week

So, I am working on some intense job stuff to prepare for a big upcoming move, and I haven’t got my next Adventures in Odyssey post up to snuff yet. I’ve decided to postpone this post until next week, and then I’ll do another one the week after to get back on schedule. Sorry for the last minute notice, and thanks for your patience!

Adventures in Odyssey Paused on Account of Nanowrimo

Hi everyone!

I had this awesome plan where I was going to use October to pre-write all three of my AIO episodes, so they’d be out of the way for Nanowrimo. Unfortunately, I was slammed by two absurdly rough weekends in a row, and I spent a good part of my week just trying to survive at work and then recover when I got home. So the posts are, unfortunately, not done.

The good news is that those episodes are already a bit Christmas themed, so maybe it’s lucky that they’re now being saved for December? Maybe? I dunno. I’m very sorry and I’ll try to get some quick bonus posts out during the month, but otherwise it will just be my Monday book reviews.

If you’re doing Nano as well, best of luck to you! For everyone else, have a wonderful month and may your upcoming holidays rock.

AIO Post Delayed

I fucked up. While I was working on the next review I realized it didn’t belong in the stewardship theme, but another category entirely. Naturally, I realized this when it was too late to start another blog.

So, no post today, but there will be one next week to make up for it, then one the week after so we will be back on schedule. Sorry everybody, and thanks for your patience!

New Youtube Channel!

So, my best friend Sister Mark and I have started a Youtube channel, Lectio Fictina, where we read our favorite lines from our favorite books and ridiculously overthink them. We are very much at crappy-webcam-in-a-bathroom level quality, but hey, we’re both broke. Anyway, we’re having fun making them, and if you want to check them out I hope you have fun watching them.

My favorite so far is our third one. It has a kitty.

Adventures in Odyssey Update: Reboot!

So, it’s been a while since I posted an AIO review. I needed a break to rethink how I was doing these. I kept feeling like the roughly-chronological approach wasn’t communicating the real impact this show had on my life. As a kid, I didn’t listen through once or twice. I was steeped in it. I sampled random episodes while I was doing chores, or crafts, or on a road trip. It’s collective approach to various issues shaped my early understanding of almost any moral question you can think of.

With such a long running show, it was inevitable that they would return to the same themes quite frequently. Every topic they covered had good and bad episodes, naturally, but in retrospect not only were there more bad than good, but the bad ones were awful while the good ones were fairly bland and obvious. That, upon reviewing this series, is my biggest problem; it’s not that they can’t churn out a good message every now and then, but it’s that the morals they emphasize tend to be extremely problematic. Furthermore, I think that sometimes what most impacted my life wasn’t what messages were included, but which ones were excluded. To be clear, I don’t think any show should be responsible for teaching all of the things. That’s an unrealistic expectation. But unfortunately, it’s an unrealistic expectation that Focus on the Family actively encouraged parents to have. So I do think it’s fair to point out that, given how many episodes talk about relationships, none of them even mention the existence of emotional manipulation or abuse. (And don’t tell me it’s just a kids show. They do go to some dark, scary places when it suits their agenda, and plenty of kids shows do find ways to at least introduce difficult topics.) If you’re going to market yourself as a comprehensive moral guidebook for kids, and parents actually take that seriously, like mine certainly did, you get criticized for the important things you fail to mention.

So, during that four month break, I listened to every episode I have. I took notes and grouped them by topic, and cut out some episodes that were repetitive. For the most part, I’ll now be reviewing them by themes, with two exceptions. First, as I listened to all these episodes back to back, I noticed some interesting patterns in how AIO constructs a theme. I picked out some episodes that either didn’t fit neatly into a category (or retread old ground), but were good for showcasing how AIO tries to teach their lessons, for better or worse. I’ll be using these as spacers between the big thematic groups. Second, there are a couple arcs that hang together so much that it’s difficult to tell any part separately. I’ll be using a couple of these to show you how AIO sounds to a regularly listening audience. The last one section I do will be one of these, and it will cover their longest arc; the Novacom saga.

Good lord, I cannot wait to tell you all about the Novacom saga. It’s such a greatest hits of everything the show has ever done wrong.

I’m sorry the delay was so long, but there was a lot to cover. I’m going to be reviewing a grand total of 95 episodes, and as I said, there’s quite a few that I had but opted to skip. Now that I’ve got it all mapped out, I’m really excited to get back into it. I’m also going to start posting them on a regular schedule; every other Wednesday, starting next week.

Thanks for your patience, and look for the next review around noon next week!

July Hiatus

Hi all!

I’ve got three big things going on this month. Number one, I’ve decided to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo. Normally when I do a NaNo month, I pre-write some blog posts so I can keep up my 4-6 blogs per month. This time I didn’t get a chance, because, number two, I’m going through a big job change. I’m going back to school and switching to substitute teaching for the year. Number three, I’ve decided both this site my Tumblr is due for an overhaul. I’m teaching myself social media management as I go and I think there’s a lot I can do to improve both sites, and use them more effectively to promote each other.

I am prone to getting overwhelmed and burned out when too much is going on. I do put a lot of work into my posts, so I’ve decided it will help significantly to put them on hold for a month.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer, and I’ll be back in August. Thanks, as always, for reading.

News for November

Time for a bit of news! First off, I am doing Nano this year, though that doesn’t mean I’ll be entirely absent. Just in case someone comes across and doesn’t know what the deal is, it’s a yearly challenge to yourself to write a first draft of a short novel; 50,000 words in one month. I’ve done it to win a few years now, and that’s fun, but this time I really want to go for quality as well as quantity. So far, every time I’ve finished Nano I’ve been exhausted with the novel I poured myself into, and felt like story problems arose because I was trying to hard to get my word count in and not thinking about the choices that would be best for the story. That’s not an entirely bad thing. Every aspiring writer has a moment when they need to break out of the editing-as-you-draft habit, and for me Nano really did this. But now I think I’ve learned to finish projects, and it’s time to end up with something that I’m proud of and that I can keep working on until I’m ready to send it to an editor.

So what does that mean for this blog? In brief, it means that I won’t be going full-on Nano and I foresee periodically needing breaks, during which I might well post some brief reviews or writerly thoughts.

Now for the big news. I’ve been working on a project that I’ve been hinting about since this summer. I love stories that come in serialized formats. Part of that is the anticipation that is created as the audience waits for each next piece. Also, I like the way ongoing stories can explore the way stories and arcs in a persons life overlap; just because one part of your life has wrapped up, other stories may be ongoing. Some relationships might seem over for a while, and then start up again. You might learn a lesson, and then have to learn it again a few times before it sticks.

So, I’ve been wanting to publish a story in regular installments. Honestly, with work right now that isn’t going to be something I can do year around, but I can go in “seasons” like a TV show. The first season will start next Sunday. I’ll be posting one short story/chapter/segmenty thingy with a self-contained arc that ties into an overall plot every other week until mid-January, after which I will be likely moving the whole series to its own site. I am really nervous about putting my work up here but also very excited. I hope you all enjoy, but (constructive) feedback is welcomed even if you don’t.

Thanks for reading!

Blog News and the Villain Problem

I’ve decided to devote this summer to a writing project. I had a couple of weeks off from work to get a start on it. Unfortunately, my job does include working summer school, so to free up my time I’ve prewritten several posts. At the end of August, I’ll have news about what my project is and how it will be published, so stay tuned.

July’s posts have a theme. There is a problem writers often talk about, typically called the Villain Problem (obligatory Writing Excuses link). It’s the tendency of villains to be more interesting than the protagonists. Villains are fun, while good guys are boring.

When I was a kid this bothered me a lot, because it was a sign of how people were overly obsessed with sinfulness or something. Young me was a bit zealous at times. Now I think its important to note that there are cases where this is simply what the story was supposed to be. There is a very common story type, arguably a megagenre, where the hero is an ordinary person, and the villain’s presence somehow disrupts their comfortable status quo. It is the hero’s job to bring things back to normal. In this case, the villain has several natural advantages, as far as interest goes. They are proactive, while the hero is reactive, at least for most of the story. The hero is familiar, the villain, as the deviation from the norm, is often more interesting. This story type includes classics like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz and The Phantom of the Opera.

However, there is a difference between Luke, Dorothy, Christine, and the innumerable forgettable protagonists we encounter every year. If a story does feature the protagonist as proactive from the start, if there isn’t an interesting and well-crafted villain to overwhelm them, and the hero is still boring, there’s a problem. I’m going to post this month about the ways protagonists can be boring in a bad or unnecessary way.

The first of those will be up in a couple of days. Until then, thanks for reading!