Sunday, 25 February 2007

I'm more important than you

If we consider spirituality then, to be a reaching out from ourselves, we can experience profound connection with others and feel things like love, self worth and purpose.

Spirituality in this respect needn't be restricted to human relationships. Take gardening for example, which many people enjoy because it gives a sense of connection to the earth. Others enjoy literature, as it provides a sense of metaphor and meaning beyond subjective worldviews. And I wonder how many of us have lain under the stars, like stoned teenagers, marvelling at our universe?

Our modern world isn't well equipped in this respect. Living in it conditions us to think individually. This can be seen most clearly when we consider the 'lifestyle' industry. Where else is outward beauty so sacred? Here, we find leather sofas somehow embodying human success. We're told we can buy our own success, in easy installments, interest free over 4 years. Contentment then, becomes inextricably linked to material acquisition.

Now, it's all well and good lampooning materialism, but it does have it's place. I doubt I would be considering notions of spirituality if my family were living on jam sandwiches. I like modern comforts as much as the next man. Not least this overpowered PC, with its broadband connection to the Magic Kingdom.

So, we've built our nirvana well and secured it on foundations of capitalism and individuality. If I'm honest, I think this is a good thing. By and large.

But why is depression so endemic in this Eden? It's estimated that a third of us will report being profoundly depressed at some time in our lives.

Perhaps it's material wealth that's lacking . Whilst it provides for physical comfort, many find themselves searching for something more profound. And this search often begins with introspection.

Which is a risky thing to be doing.

We've been trained to be hyper sensitive to our individuality. If we introspect, often all we can see is 'I'. We find ourselves so wonderfully interesting you see. So much so that we become hypnotised by ourselves.

"I'm too fat, too thin, too poor, too boring, in the right and in the wrong".

More on this later...

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Prisoner of I

There comes a moment in all of our lives when we're imprisoned within ourselves. After which, we're doomed to spend the rest of our lives within an illusion that we call "I". Few, if any of us can recall the moment the prison door shut. In fact, most of us don't even realise it's shut at all.

This incarceration happens when we're young. It begins the moment we realise our actions effect the world around us. If we cry, something soothes us. If we move our hands, we'll find something to grip. We might even put it in our mouths to experience its texture. At this point, we begin to think of ourselves as an agent that can change the world around us.

In this moment, we set ourselves apart from the universe. Nearly everything becomes 'It', and what remains is 'I'. All around us are entities that collude in this delusion. The thing that soothed us, smiles when we call it 'Mummy'. We become happy. We get called you.

The experience of growing up could be thought of as a gradual separation from everything else. In our culture, we become adult once this divorce is complete; once we know ourselves fully as an 'I'.

As adults, we find ourselves in a world of other I's. We've learnt to define ourselves by roles such as father, professional, friend, car driver and debtor. We compare these roles against other people. Other I's; better fathers, richer men, bigger cars and larger incomes.

Of course, in these things we find some form of happiness. Being able to say that I have a big car because I'm a productive worker provides for some satisfaction. But it's not particularly wholesome.

For me, this is where the notion of spirituality becomes important. We could consider spirituality to be a reaching out from our 'I' prisons, into a realm where the 'self ' becomes no more significant than the 'other'.

This is where spirituality becomes esoteric and difficult to think about. Most people struggle to truly differentiate between I, Us, Me and Thou. Myself included - I've yet to experience the epiphany of selflessness that many eastern philosophers describe.

However, I know what they're getting at. Much of what we would describe as spiritual in the west, can be thought of as reaching out of one's self. Reaching out to things like love, altruism, meaning & purpose.

I know that to anyone with a basic working knowledge of the ideas of consciousness, this post will represent nothing new. For this you have my apologies. However, it has helped me restate and understand my goal a little better.

I started this blog to explore the idea of spirituality without god. I began without any notion of a starting point. I guess this post is the closest I'll come to it.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Mission Creep

Of late, I've become quite belligerent. This blog has become a soap box upon which I've been bashing fundamental Christianity. This isn't what I intended when I started blogging. My plan was to explore notions of human spirituality Sans God.

So, for Lent I shall be giving up fundy bashing. After all, there are many more bloggers doing it so much better than I could.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Parental Guidance Notice

I came across this unsettling video via Ben Goldacre's fine blog badscience;

Since I've become a parent, I'm taken aback by how rabidly I react to watching stuff like this. I can't even watch fictional TV where kids are hurt, my reaction is primordial. Before children I abhorred abuse, but I was able to intellectualise it - arguing for a balanced approach to the problem. Not now. Not now that I've experienced parenthood firsthand.

This video shows kids, ages with mine, being indoctrinated by bad people. People like Ken Ham (the guy with the odd beard). Incidentally, he's also the 'evil' genius behind the museum of creation.

I dare not think how the minds of these poor children will develop within this dark, padded cell. Public indoctrination like this is child abuse. Plain and simple. It should be made illegal.

Now, I appreciate how difficult this will be. After all, free speech is the fundament of modern society. I bet that conservatives like Ken Ham however, are the first to argue that kids should be protected from inappropriate content in movies and TV.

In this respect I'm with them. Kids should not experience dramatised violence until they've developed the emotional and cognitive abilities to understand that it's fiction. It should be no different with fundamental religious belief.

I propose a legislative solution. The public broadcast of belief based theory (that cannot be substantiated through rational discourse) should be restricted from minors.

Of course, this will not prevent parents from exposing their children to creationism in the privacy of their own homes. However, it will restrict the power that skilled orators like Ken Ham abuse in starving free young minds.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

No time for blogging

Busy day today, off to Wallington Hall with the kids. Plan: let off their steam. Home, DIY (not one of my favoured pursuits), then beers with the boys. Wehey!

So, all I've got for you today is pics of my 7 mile run earlier this morning. Similarly to love, the runners high can be reduced to biochemicals. It being my only opportunity for solace, I couldn't care less. It makes me feel good, and is a little more wholesome than the excessive amount of alcohol I have every intention of imbibing tonight.

Mile 1

Mile 2

Mile 3

Mile 4

Mile 5

Mile 6

Mile 7

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Gravity never made someone fall in love.

Fifteen years ago I fell head over heels in love with Michelle. Seven years ago we married and five years ago we had our first child. I consider myself, in these respects, to be the luckiest man alive.

Even though the rush of our nascent longings have calmed, we remain very much together. To the point where only 'us' matters much of the time.

To me, enduring Love is an exercise in humility, luck and determination.

However, it could also be down to a good set of hormones;


Testosterone and Oestrogen

The first stage of love - lust is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen – in both men and women.

STAGE TWO: Attraction


The initial stages of falling for someone activates your stress response, increasing your blood levels of adrenalin and cortisol. This has the charming effect that when you unexpectedly bump into your new love, you start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry.


Newly ‘love struck’ couples have high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical stimulates ‘desire and reward’ by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It has the same effect on the brain as taking cocaine!

Couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship.


One of love's most important chemicals. This chemical may explain why when you’re falling in love, your new lover keeps popping into your thoughts.

STAGE 3: Attachment


It's a powerful hormone released by men and women during orgasm.

It probably deepens the feelings of attachment and makes couples feel much closer to one another after they have had sex. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. Oxytocin also seems to help cement the strong bond between mum and baby and is released during childbirth. It is also responsible for a mum’s breast automatically releasing milk at the mere sight or sound of her young baby.


Is an important hormone in the long-term commitment stage. Vasopressin (also called anti-diuretic hormone) works with your kidneys to control thirst. Its potential role in long-term relationships was discovered when scientists looked at the prairie vole. Prairie voles indulge in far more sex than is strictly necessary for the purposes of reproduction. They also – like humans - form fairly stable pair-bonds. When male prairie voles were given a drug that suppresses the effect of vasopressin, the bond with their partner deteriorated immediately as they lost their devotion and failed to protect their partner from new suitors.


Hormones or no hormones; Miche, you are adored.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Dawkins on CNN

It seems that CNN have responded to pressure and attempted to balance the debate. I haven't watched it yet (at work so only have a minute). Looking forward to seeing it tonight.

Monday, 12 February 2007

We need more fundamentalists

Is it right for the atheist community to ridicule creationists? What right do we have, other than our own 'truths', to rail against them and argue that religious fundamentalism is wrong headed?

Of course, we have the benefit of overwhelming evidence. We can even argue the moral high ground, given past abuses in the name of their Gods. And let's not forget that they ridicule us. An eye for an eye I suppose, to quote the vernacular.

It doesn't stop me feeling uneasy about it. After all, they are such easy targets. When it comes to religion, fundamentalists offer us low hanging fruit. A cheap thrill if you like. It takes little effort to debunk their odd theories on the speed of light, dinosaurs and such like. I almost feel like a bully.

As with most extreme positions, creationism is believed only by a minority, a growing one I grant you, but I'm sure that the vast majority of the religious remain sympathetic to Darwin.

Perhaps then, the moderate religious should be more of a concern to active atheists than extremophiles? After all, this is where the real sea change can be made. As any politician will tell you, the struggle is over the floating voter.

In my view, the vast majority of people who call themselves religious give their belief little thought. Why should they? Frankly, people have better things to be getting on with. Most people opt for the path of least resistance.

It's easier to adopt the belief systems of our communities and parents. In conforming to majority beliefs, we open more doors than we do by questioning them. So, should members of the atheist community (who wish to change peoples' beliefs), shift their attention to moderates? I would argue not.

The problem is, debate amongst moderates makes for poor headlines. It only gets noticed by those with an active interest in the topic. Whereas arguments between extreme points of view piques the interest of the masses. If only to laugh and poke fun at the oddballs on both sides of the debate.

We need religious fundamentalists, as much as they need us. Vapid, overly dramatic debates entertain people.

That's the trick of good entertainment; To change peoples attitudes and beliefs without them even realising that they've been educated.

The sad fact of the matter is - the group that will end up prevailing in this struggle for hearts and minds will be the one that's most entertaining and colorful.

Bring on the fundies...

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Eye Candy

Indulge the inner geek and watch this. It's the future man...

Not world changing stuff I grant you. But shiny things are cool.

Friday, 9 February 2007

For once, I am outraged

The atheist community is in a bit of a tizzy about this CNN broadcast. I laughed the first time I saw it. It is after all, an absurd conversation held between ill informed dimwits.

The more I've thought about it however, the more irked I've become. These people have every right to express their opinion about atheism. Even if I think they're wrong in a myriad of ways. What upsets me is the blatant lack of editorial judgement CNN have shown in presenting this one sided debate to the entire world. Not just North America - the "one nation under God".

My spirits have been lifted no end as I bear witness to the outrage, directed in no small measure to CNN from the Atheist community.

We tolerant moderates have been criticised in the past for allowing this kind of bigotry to go unchallenged. It's a fair point in some respects. Imagine our world if no one had stood up and railed against racism, sexism or homophobia. So, I've sent my outraged missive to the network.

There's a rumor that Richard Dawkins will be speaking on CNN tonight to redress the balance. I sincerely hope this is the case.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Who's Identity?

It took a while, but I managed to find a way out of the rectum, having disappeared up it thinking about you, me, I and thou. It got a bit smelly. My apologies.

However, these notions of personal identity continue to intrigue me. They've done so for ages, and will likely continue to do so. So forgive me whilst I indulge them some more.

I'm drawn to the idea that our identities are as much held by others, as they are owned individually. Can any of us narrate our life stories without reference to others?

Most, if not all of us, would describe our lives in terms of our relationships; Who we fell in love with, who influenced us, our best friends, our parents and how they screwed us up...

I guess this is why the 'Top 100' TV programmes are so popular. This cheap TV isn't meant to be watched alone, lest we loose the will to live. Remembering the top 100 hits of the 80's is only bearable when we put the shite music to one side and reminisce on the collective memories they provoke.

As ever with these things, identity is brought into sharp focus in the extremes of the human condition. I've the privilege of knowing people in late stage dementia. People who may live day to day, not recognising the people they love.

Yesterday I spent some time in one of my dementia care units. I do this quite frequently. When I do, I like to sit amongst 'residents' and get a feel for how life is in a nursing home.

Now, I know that because I'm a 'senior manager', staff modulate their approaches and try extra hard to be seen to care. But I believe firmly that in our units, people are cared for very well, and certainly not abused or eaten.

You see, the trick with our enterprise is not to objectify people. It's so easy to treat someone who's doubly incontinent, immobile and wordless as a waste of human flesh. After all, what would they know if we did?

The most powerful way of countering this is by telling the person's story. In narrating it and making it real, we can hold the person's identity on their behalf. This way, the person ceases to be a lump of flesh, and becomes an individual within their own context and narrative. In caring for the person, and hearing their stories we can become part of their identity, and they also become part of ours. We find ourselves intimately related.

It's much harder then, to treat somebody with a lack of respect.

Of course, this is far from a panacea for dementia care. If only it were that simple. Just knowing the person doesn't miraculously make it all alright. Family members will tell you this. I can tell you this, having lost both my Grandmothers to dementia.

One of the most upsetting conversations I have with family members is the 'He died years ago' one. It is painful, of course, when your loved one no longer recognises you, or starts to behave in ways that are out of character. It can feel like you've lost the person. Some people describe feelings of loss and grief - as if the person has died in all but bodily function. Some call this anticipatory grief.

However, if identity is something that we share, rather than posses then surely we remain who we are, regardless of how far we get 'lost' in dementia?

To quote Holly: Sometimes "I" and "you" fade, and only "us" matters.

How true.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Naive inquisitor?

Julian Baggini writes today about an intriguing initiative to teach philosophy in nursery schools. Now, I've said before that my kids are advanced for their age, but I've not introduced them to Nietzsche. There will be ample opportunity for this later. At the moment, our family time is spent learning how to question things like; Why is Bob the Builder's hat yellow? This is some sort of philosophy I suppose.

Right now, my mind is elsewhere. Let your imagination be free to wonder where. So, Julian can speak for both himself and I. He's summed up my struggle with atheism neatly into two paragraphs;

"Formal schooling in philosophy tends to teach you to listen for just one thing: logical consistency. That is as wrong-headed as learning to listen only to the melody of a piece of music and to ignore harmony, rhythm, timbre, phrasing and the rest.

I've increasingly noticed this in debates about religion. Many atheist philosophers seem to think the value and nature of religion is determined purely by the truth or falsity of its creeds, understood literally. Religion's other dimensions - practice, attitude, form of life and so on - are ignored as irrelevant at best, and secondary at worst. As an atheist myself, I find this spiritual tone-deafness detrimental to the cause."

Friday, 2 February 2007

Friday afternoon madness

Chavs, Tricia & Children; All wrapped up neatly within the genius of Little Britain. You're right Louie, we must stop them ;-)