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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

No Country for Atheist Potshots

Posted in response to an Amazon review on the book "Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists," by Dan Barker. The reviewer suggests that the foreward by Richard Dawkins reduces the credibility of the book, an opinion with which I am inclined to agree.


I agree here, that Dawkins makes a poor spokesman for atheism, only marginally better than Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who in my opinion, was abysmal.

Rather than complaining about ignorant Christians, or how horrible it can be to act on faith, the future of atheism must be to ultimately, be able to take the positive contributions that religion makes, and make them as well, but better. Many atheists knee-jerk that there are no such "positive" contributions, but they are clearly wrong. There are in fact, liberal, progressive Christians, and many who do put their money where their mouth is, offering much compassion to those in the world sorely in need of it. They're out there, they are just too busy making positive contributions rather than grandstanding their belief system. There are many organizations who travel the world looking for people in need, and honestly are there primarily out of compassion, to help, rather than to collect more followers or dollars in the process. And the vast majority of these organizations are Christian, and many of them are not out there proclaiming doom and how Obama is the antichrist or whatever extremist vitriol is the popular focus of the anti-christian.

The problem with atheism is that there is no "Atheism"-- most atheists would just as soon not be "represented" by anyone claiming to be an atheist (myself included), yet it is that level of organization that would be required to achieve a seat at the table of world religions. Government will continue to treat the atheist as a second-class citizen as long as "Atheism" has no political power, and as it doesn't even exist and most atheists prefer it that way, that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. But "atheist" organizations that can garner contributions and then can apply them to the same sort of positive tasks religious organizations most commonly perform, may ultimately raise the awareness to the level of at least insuring some respect for the atheist in common society.

I would say that preaching about atheism is far less compelling than leading by example, and the same is true about religion. And a lot of religions do exactly that, atheists would do better understanding them rather than taking potshots at the easy targets-- the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This was posted to the "Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Support Group" in response to an OCPDer wondering how other people think about the future and their decisionmaking processes.


What Paul seems to be doing when he hears that inner voice saying "he listens to meditation tapes every day," is he's "trying on for size" what other people's perception of him will be if and when they find out this particular fact about him. His concern with how he is perceived by others is paramount, so it's part of his evaluation of any activity. The difference I think, is in the level of importance of that evaluation in decisionmaking.

In my case, not OCPD, it may matter little to me what other people might think-- or at least, what people think of me does not enjoy the level of concern in me that it does in someone with OCPD. I may think about it, but it probably just doesn't carry the same weight as it does with Paul.

The essense of flexibility is the ability to make decisions quickly. Those who get stuck even on relatively simple decisions, just aren't going to be very flexible. Fava is correct in observing how important emotions are to decisionmaking-- there's an old saying from Engineering (or perhaps it is from Marketing), that "at some point, you have to fire the engineer and go into production." And that point may end up being driven by emotions-- the inability to wait any longer for perfection from the engineer, for fear that the market opportunity will expire.

One big stumbling block that the OCPDer seems to have, is the inability to either recognize, or come to terms with, things over which they have no control. Or to be able to make a choice, and be willing to accept the consequences of that choice. Once a choice is made, in some cases you have left behind the control that you had in making the choice-- you have given up some control, because at that point, you have relinquished the option you had of doing something different. As we have seen, relinquishing control is not something that an OCPDer likes to do. And the retrograde energy that goes into rumination about whether a choice was a "mistake" because it may not have been the "perfect" choice, is not at all productive once a choice has been made.

In my case, once I make a choice, the "future" is reevaluated in terms of that choice, rather than punish myself for making a wrong choice. If a choice turns out to be less than optimal, I work on identifying what choices are now available to me under the new circumstances. Some "wrong" choices are reversible, or there are things you can do to "put things back as they were," to an extent at least, and while that may be seen as a waste of time to have to do so, it may pale in comparison to the time wasted NOT making a decision because the ruminations over it won't allow one.

You can stall over making the decision whether to order the chocolate dessert or the strawberry one, but the decision may get made for you if they run out of chocolate while you are thinking about it-- you'll get strawberry or nothing simply because you failed to act in a timely fashion. You cannot place the world in suspended animation while you think about things. There's a saying in computer science about the definition of a 'real time' system-- "a real time system is one where if an answer comes in late, it's wrong." Life is a real-time system.

Trusting your emotions, your "gut" as it were, can assist in making decisions quickly. Some of them are going to be wrong ones. But if you can accept that and move on to the next in the new context, your ability to adapt and improvise under pressure can often bail the situation out. But you have to have confidence in your ability to improvise-- again, something that requires the ability to make decisions quickly. And, something that CAN get better with practice. You can practice improvising, musicians do it all the time, but you have to ignore your fears of failure, something that also gets better with practice.

Thomas Watson Jr., the well known one-time president of IBM once said in essense, "if you want to increase your rate of success, you will have to increase your rate of failure." The true entrepreneur will fail more often than succeed, but by trying often, will succeed often as well, despite the failures. But you have to have the will to move on past the failures, and not get all that embarrassed by them. You have to give yourself permission to be human, that is, less-than-perfect.

If you're spending very much time "trying on" what other people will think, that's taking time away from getting the decisions made and moving on with them. Getting those decisions made quickly is far more important to flexibility than is making sure they're perfect. Many decisions are 'real time' problems, how soon you get the answer is not irrelevant. How soon you get the answer may be more relevant, than how correct it is.

As an aside-- I approach life this way even when I'm typing. I'm a real fast typist, though I make a lot of typing errors. But since I can recognize and correct errors quickly, my level of productivity in typing is pretty darn high. So what's more important-- getting the completed results in a timely fashion, or making sure you made absolutely no mistakes every step along the way? That sometimes really is an either/or choice.

OCPDers seem to be inclined to quash emotionality because they think it is nonproductive, but if that's what they think, they are wrong about that. Emotions are not particularly a weakness, they are often a strength. There are some great "logical" arguments that support my opinion about emotionality here in the book "Passions Within Reason," by Robert H. Frank. Frank shows just how important emotions can be in a variety of decisionmaking situations. I would think that OCPDers might benefit from some of his observations-- at least it might make them feel a little better about it if they allow emotions to make their way into their decisionmaking processes. A great book full of thought provoking insights into the value of emotion.