Origins =/= Validity

Okay, I’ve not been on here for a while, but here’s a post I wrote a few months ago that I’ve been wanting to share…

Sometimes I see people making a big stink about how Christianity didn’t really arise the way the Bible said it did, how the miracles weren’t real and the stories weren’t literally true and the Bible was written by people, not a god. I also see this huge backlash, with people insisting that the Bible is divinely inspired and trying to force Creationism into schools.

I see this same conflict about Wicca: “We follow the Old Ways that were handed down since the Paleolithic!” versus “Wicca was made up in the 1960s based on faulty archaeology!”

Of course, it’s true that the origin stories for these—and other—religions have been embellished or fabricated. I think it’s important that people stay committed to historical accuracy. But this doesn’t make these religions invalid.

Think about it: both Christianity and Wicca have given countless people spiritual fulfillment. They’ve helped guide people to make themselves better and brought them comfort and closure. They work for people. Why does it matter if their origins aren’t supernatural? There’s no need to force false history on others to validate a religion as long as it works. And if your religion would become invalid to you if its origins aren’t supernatural, maybe it’s not working for you as well as it should.

With the same logic, there’s no need to dismiss a religion just because its origin story has been disproven. While Christianity doesn’t work for me, it’s obviously working for a lot of people, many of whom don’t care about the miracles or the literal Bible stories. And although I’m not Wiccan, I (like many others) have learned a lot from its teachings.

A religion can be based off of a twelve-year-old’s wet dream for all I care. If it works for its adherents, it’s a valid religion.

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Pagan Blog Project: A is for Afterlife

I know I’m a little late to get in on this, but I’ll try to catch up. For my first Pagan Blog Project post, I thought I’d go ahead and write about my current views on the afterlife (they’ll probably change as time goes on). Most people probably don’t care about this, but if nothing else, I’ll at least have gotten this down.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t believe that we remain individuals after we die because I view individuality as an illusion and think that our “souls” are really pieces of the general ‘soulstuff’ that we all come from. When we die, I think that individuality dissipates and our soulstuff goes back into the bucket…some of it may go into new lives—a plant, a bee, a cat—while some of it might wait there for a long time, or get absorbed into the Divine.

It’s just like what happens to physical bodies: some parts may get eaten by large animals, some by bugs, and some by plants or fungi or microorganisms. Some parts remain for a long time (skeletons, or embalmed parts) but ultimately it all gets absorbed back into Earth.

Maybe by this logic I don’t technically believe in an afterlife, but I do believe that there’s stuff after life. I get a strong feeling that individuality doesn’t dissipate immediately, but that alive-things will often hang around in the form they were in before they died. My mom’s side of the family has for generations accepted it as self-evident that dead loved ones will come back to us in our dreams or in outside presences, and they’re not the only ones I know who have had these experiences. Maybe having a lot of loved ones is like being “embalmed”—you stay around in your individual form for a while so you can check up on them and make sure things are okay before going back into the ‘bucket’ of soulstuff.

When I first encountered the idea of individuality dissipating after death, I found it incredibly unnerving. I’m not exactly sure why. I’d been browsing a Pagan forum and came upon a thread asking about people’s theories on the afterlife. One person posted that he thinks we’re all just soul energy that loses its individuality and goes back to the bucket after we die…and something about it scared me. I couldn’t understand how he could be okay with that, how he could accept it as natural and not be terrified.

Now, I find the idea comforting. It was my first experience with ego loss that started this shift in me. When I started feeling like individuality was an illusion to begin with and that there’s really no distinction between one soul and another, the idea came back to me, and for the first time it felt calming, beautiful—like the world couldn’t possibly be any other way.

I’m interested to know what any of you other people think about this idea on life after death.

“Most People”

You know what bugs me? When people I talk to make blanket statements about human nature or “most people.” Them. The Other. I remember tons of “intellectual” conversations like this, where they’d say these things about how these “facts” about human nature were the reason x or y problem was so prevalent in the world, with the unspoken assumption that we weren’t like that. I’m talking about statements like this:

  • “The masses are stupid!”
  • “Humans are selfish by nature. They always want something in return!”
  • “People like that naturally tend towards hate.”
  • “Those people just want power and money.”
  • “Most people will blindly follow any leader they’re told to rather than think for themselves.”
  • “People are assholes!”
  • “All they care about is keeping up with the latest fashion and fitting in.”

Of course, the people who were talking about the problems weren’t like that. It was those people, the other, most people. I know I’ve been guilty of participating in these conversations too, especially when I was younger and inclined to agree vehemently with everything the people I respected said, as long as it wasn’t obviously Christian dogma. For a while, I saw nothing wrong with these kinds of discussions.

I think the turning point was when I realized that I’d never met any of “those people.” I can buy that I’d have a skewed sample size of the population given the kinds of people I tend to interact with, but not meeting any of “the general public” seems a little fishy to me. Where are “most people”?

I’ve come to the conclusion that “most people” are relatively rare compared to—well, most people. I’ve finally met one person who fits some of the qualities I’ve heard some people rant about—wanting to feel powerful, only doing something if he can expect something in return, wanting to seem richer than he is—but that’s one person, in all my life. I’m sure there are a few more people like him out there, but I highly doubt that it’s most people.

The squeaky wheel is the one that gets noticed. I can see how a few incredibly selfish people can cause a lot of trouble, and how their disproportionate influence can make it seem like there are more of them out there than there really are.

But one thing still doesn’t add up to me, one that probably bugs me more than anything else I’ve heard about “most people”—I’ve never met a person who can’t think for itself. I’ve never met a stupid person. I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t take in outside information, synthesize it in new ways, and generate its own ideas and conclusions. I’ve never met anyone who could do nothing but blindly parrot what others said—not even young children are limited to that logic.

I know that not everyone chooses to think critically and form a unique opinion about every issue. I don’t do it—it would be a waste of my time to do that, particularly with things I don’t care about like sports and celebrity gossip and designer fashion. But I have trouble believing that anyone—human or not—is incapable of forming its own ideas and opinions. I think if anything, that’s a fundamental part of vertebrate animal intelligence. It’s the prerequisite for making decisions.

It stands to reason that if anyone seems to be simply parroting everything they’re told, there’s something else going on, and it’s not stupidity. If I had to guess, it would be trying too hard to be agreeable with everyone they liked, just like I used to do. And that’s scary—that’s what gets people into dangerous, cult-like situations. It keeps people from learning new things about themselves, each other, and the world.

People shouldn’t have to be afraid or ashamed when they disagree with anyone. They shouldn’t feel the need to squash their own ideas back down or ignore that little tingle when something seems wrong. Disagreement is discussion; disagreement is science and philosophy and change. Disagreement is discovery.

Making and Keeping Friends

Something amazing happened a few months ago.

It was one of the most beautiful realizations I’ve ever had.

I’ve finally figured out how to make and keep friends.

I’ve gotten it down! Finally! Sure, I’m about six to eight years late, but hey, I’ve done it, and it’s paying off. Want to know what I’ve figured out? No? Okay, I’ll tell you anyway.

First, find the potential friends. That means you have to figure out where they are. If you’re me, that usually means finding places where people are generally accepting of weirdness and odd demographic groups. For me and most people, that also means finding places where people will have stuff in common with you. I can’t go to a bar or nightclub and expect to make friends, but I have found friends in band, my classes, LGBT groups, groups for disabled people, and places where “nerdy” types like to hang out. I’d probably have found friends in Pagan groups as well, but I haven’t had much chance find any in person people; usually when I meet Pagans in person, it’s through some other avenue.
Internet people can also make good friends for some people, although that’s a little more difficult. In person friends are easier for me because I can figure out if they’re actually my friends or not, but I’ve found enjoyable acquaintances from certain forums and Facebook communities as well.

Next, talk to the potential friends. I used to just hang around and wait for other people to talk to me first. That works fine for some people and I did make a few friends from people coming up to me and talking to me, but I realized that in the long run I was going to spend a lot of time being lonely if I didn’t start taking initiative. So I talk to people—if they’re having some conversation I’m interested in, or they’re playing some awesome video game, or they have a book or some sort of nerdy thing I like, or they’ve got some Pagan symbol or anything that catches my interest, and I feel like saying something, I’ll start talking at them.
More often, though, my way of starting talking to people is a little…different. A lot of times, I’ll see someone who has awesome hair or shoes and want to touch it. I know it’s not normal, but I’ve found that there’s no harm in asking if I can touch a stranger’s hair or shoes, and usually they say yes! Sometimes we go away from each other after that, but other times as an added bonus they’ll end up talking to me for one reason or another.

Get to know each other. Through talking, you’ll often find out if you have other interests and if you enjoy interacting with this person. If you’re me, this is also a good time to give them “the Autism talk.” I explain to these people that I have Autism (among other things) and that I often unintentionally offend people, and ask them to tell me if I upset them and what I did (and if possible, why it was upsetting and what I should have done instead) so that I can fix it and not do it in the future. This helps prevent future disputes, and usually people are glad to be allowed to tell me when I do something wrong.
This phase requires multiple separate interaction “sessions” and I’ve learned a few tips for doing this well.

  • Say hello when you see the person. I used to not do this because I have trouble recognizing people, but when I can recognize people I take advantage of this social skill because it shows interest.
  • Ask questions. Someone told me to do this a few years ago, and it is helpful. Apparently people like to talk about themselves, and asking them questions also shows them that you’re interested in them. A lot of times, Autistic people have a tendency to lecture, but asking questions helps us make sure we don’t bore the people with repetitiveness. Also, it helps you learn who the other person is and see if you really do like them.
  • Let the other person initiate sometimes. Don’t go up to the other person every time you see them and start talking to them. Wait sometimes and let them come up to you. It’s helped me a lot since I’ve learned it because it helps me avoid annoying people and make sure they want to talk to me. Think about it: if someone doesn’t want to talk to you, why would they go up to you and initiate a conversation? On the other hand, a lot of people won’t tell you to go away if you initiate, even if they really don’t want to talk to you. This helps you weed out the people who are just putting up with you.
  • Keep your life. By this, I mean that you should still be doing your productive, important things. Whatever they are (school, chores, work, family stuff, etc.) you can’t ignore those commitments, even if it means saying “no” to people sometimes. This may be momentarily disappointing, but people who are worth their shit will respect you more for honoring your commitments and showing that you have a life outside of them.

Become a “regular.” There’s a point where someone stops being a stranger and starts being one of those people who you talk to a lot. This can lead to varying degrees of friendship or, at the very least, a “friendly acquaintances” relationship. This takes multiple enjoyable interactions over a prolonged period of time. Mostly, I just keep doing what I do when getting to know someone, but with a few extra details.

  • Exchange contact information. I usually try to get Skype, email, phone number, and/or Facebook for all the people I collect before the end of a semester. That way, they don’t disappear and leave me disillusioned—and we can talk without being in person! This also makes it a lot easier to see if they want to talk to you since they can initiate whenever they feel like it. But be careful; some people will misconstrue asking for contact information as an attempt to date and become afraid of you, even if you’ve made it clear that you have an irrational fear of dating and would never try to do that.
  • Do stuff together. This one is kind of ambiguous because it doesn’t always entail friendship, but friendship always entails this. Even if it’s just getting lunch together or playing D&D between classes, you have to do things with people if you’re going to be one of their people. Other things I do with people include going to concerts, seeing movies, and hanging out at the mall. I don’t go to people’s houses or invite them over very much, but it’s also a good option (I’d do it if I could).
  • Be there for them. This may belong more in the next section, but I do this with people I’m not superfriends with too, so I’ll put it here. It’s important to be available when someone else needs emotional support. Sometimes they need to rant; sometimes they want advice; sometimes they’re just sad. I’ve learned that even if it’s something I don’t know much about, I can help people feel better by saying things like “oh, that sucks” or “I really hate it when that happens” or “I hope you feel better,” or by asking if there’s anything I can do to help. Even if someone’s not talking about something “personal” it’s good to do these things when they’re upset anything. I’ve learned that even if I’m listening and I care, it doesn’t help them feel better unless I demonstrate it in a way they can understand.

Keep the friendship going. At this point, it’s largely maintenance. This is hard but it can also be the most rewarding part. This is the part where you’re emotionally attached to each other to some degree and you know you’re there for each other. Keep up the stuff you’re already doing with them, with a few more things in mind.

  • Don’t cling too hard. This was probably the most difficult thing for me to learn. I felt like some of my close friends were drifting away, so I got the urge to try to be around them all the time. This actually makes them want to go away even more. When I finally figured this out, I stepped back and didn’t try to talk to them as much—kind of like with letting the other people initiate sometimes. Sure enough, they came back, inviting me to do fun things. Sometimes people become busy in their lives, but clinging harder only annoys them and makes them want to be away. If you let them come to you, you’ll have more fun together, even if you don’t end up seeing them as much.
  • Check in on them. If you don’t end up seeing them a lot, it’s good to sometimes send them a message and ask them how they’re doing. Be encouraging if something good is happening by saying things like “that’s awesome!” and “good job!” and sympathetic if something bad is happening (“that sucks!” and “I hope things get better!”). If you have an idea for doing something together and the means to do it (which isn’t always possible if you live in separate states or don’t have adequate transportation), it’s not a bad idea to invite them to do something together every once in a while.
  • Be a “good friend.” This means the conventional stuff that even Neurotypicals sometimes have to think about—the stuff you might see in an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Be a good influence, encourage them to do the right thing, be supportive when they’re happy, help them out when they need it, be caring when they’re sad, realize you’re accountable to them on a certain level, treat them the way they want to be treated, and DON’T take them for granted, among other things.

Now, there are a lot of details that I couldn’t put in here because otherwise I’d be writing a book. But this is the basics of what I’ve figured out I need to do to make and keep friends, and it works for me. Keep in mind that I don’t in any world pass as “normal” and that I still can’t read body language and facial expressions very well at all. But I don’t need to to be able to have friends.

…you guys probably already knew all this stuff unless you have social difficulties too. But I couldn’t just keep this inside—I’m proud of it!

What’s with this “Alive-Thing” Stuff?

I feel like one of the first things I should do here is explain that. It comes from my experiences with ego loss/ego death (more on that later) and my other spiritual and life experiences.

A few years ago, I had my first experience with ego loss–it’s this feeling you get, like an epiphany, where you realize that individuality is an illusion and everything in the universe is part of the same thing. It’s a euphoric experience for most people, where you realize that “connected” just doesn’t cut it. For things to be connected, they have to be separate, but this goes even deeper. There’s no connection because there is no distinction.

Think of it like a table with a bunch of legs. Where the legs touch the ground, they appear distinct. Further up, in the plane of the table legs, it still looks like they’re separate…but when you get to the plane of the table, they’re indistinguishable.

I think it’s like that with us, too–all things that have life appear to be individuals at first, but when you go deeper, there is no distinction. We’re just pieces of soul energy that are acting like individuals. I have a little of this feeling all the time, but I also realize that if everyone in the world were always experiencing ego loss, we’d all die.

I think the gods are just as separate and individual as we are–which is to say, they’re not. (I’m not sure if this makes me a hard polytheist or a soft polytheist.) Furthermore, I think that we’re made of the same “stuff” that they are; they’re just a lot bigger and a lot older.

I believe that when we die, the individuality dissolves completely and our soul stuff goes back in the “pile” and can be reincarnated into other beings, but not as the individuals we once were. Part of you could go into a plant and part of you could go into a bug and part of you could go into a star, if that makes sense. The idea of this loss of individuality disturbed me when I first encountered it, but now it seems like the only thing that makes sense.

So when I talk about being an “Alive-Thing” and other stuff being “Alive-Things” I’m trying to convey what’s really important–that everything is just a manifestation of the same stuff. Although individuality is helpful and applicable in day to day life, it’s really just an illusion, and you are just as much you as you are that tree outside or that bug under your desk or that duck you saw at that pond one time.

…well, that’s what I think, anyway.

Obligatory First-Post Post

Hello, people! I have decided to do this blog because I want to. I have a lot to think about and a lot to say and as usual, I don’t care too much if anyone sees it, but I don’t feel like keeping it inside and if someone did happen across it and it inspired thought or discussion, I wouldn’t mind.

I have a few fairly superficial things to “warn” you about: I am an LGBT Pagan with Autism and a few other mental differences. I am a lot more than this and a lot less, but I mention these particular demographic groups because I’m probably going to be discussing issues related to all of them at some point on here (I’ll probably end up explaining them each in more detail later because as we all know, things are a lot more complicated than those few broad labels). I see no point in just focusing on one thing, and all these things (among other things) have inspired thought in me.

Most importantly, however, I consider myself an Alive-Thing. All of you readers (if there are any) are also Alive-Things. Plants and fungi and animals and microorganisms are Alive-Things as well. I sometimes think walls and toilets and cars might be Alive-Things too, but I’m not sure. Whatever the case, that’s what I am and that’s what you are and that’s what’s underneath everything I do and say and think, all the time.