I’ve gone splat against the wall, my darlings. Today’s been so full of outrageous political bullshit that I’m overwhelmed, and I’m too tired to digest it. Feels like that closet you’ve been chucking stuff into for decades, and you’ve just watched some program on freeing yourself of clutter. You troop off to that closet, fired with zeal, yank open the door, go “Oh my fucking god, where do I even begin?” and slam the door again. Only in my case, the stuff came out like a tsunami and smashed me into the drywall. Owies.
So I’m going to sit here, eat cheesecake, and ‘splain why that big red A is hanging about the place. You’ve been duly warned. If you’d rather indulge in some meatier fare, you could try Carpetbagger’s “Senator Hothead,” wherein the question is asked, “In the event of a crisis, do we want a leader known for his rage-induced tirades and unstable temperament?” Or skip over to the New York Times, which has finally noticed that Bush authorized “The Torture Sessions.” Glenn Greenwald has a “Major revelation: U.S. media deceitfully disseminates government propaganda,” which I skimmed for Happy Hour. He’s not as nice as I was. Secher Nbiw asks the “10 Debate Questions John McCain Will Never Be Asked.” And I can always recommend Digby’s Hullaballoo as a smorgasboard of outragey goodness. In fact, while I was pulling the link for that one, I saw Tristero’s taken to telling the young ‘uns that “Torture Is Always Immoral.” I couldn’t agree more.
Can’t get enough of Expelled-bashing? Try Thoughts in a Haystack. There’s a plethora of great stuff up just since yesterday. It’s the go-to place for a good, hearty laugh at IDiot’s expense. And Evolving Thoughts has a wonderful little fable that meshes beautifully with my own views, so of course I adore it.
Right, then. Don’t say I didn’t give you alternatives.
I’ve recently reconnected with some cherished friends from long ago. We haven’t talked in years. Last they knew of me, I was headed down to the Valley of Death the Sun to get myself a degree. I was officially agnostic, I talked a lot about the voices in my head (yes, my characters do chatter at me), I didn’t give two tugs on a dead dog’s dick for politics, I’d been leaning toward a strange amalgamation of Zen Buddhism/Taoism with a smattering of Odin, and I was officially agnostic.
Next thing they know, I’m up in Seattle with a big red atheist A splashed in the sidebar of my blog, bitching about politics and creationists.
My, how things have changed.
I am, indeed, officially an atheist now. It was a little hard to deny after I calculated my God Delusion Index and came up with a 5. I answered exactly one (1) (uno) question Yes:
5. Do you believe that a deeply contemplative act such as prayer or meditation can result in knowledge or understanding not attainable through ordinary thought?
I don’t believe, I know. Read too much about altered states of consciousness, I have. Studied Zen Buddhism and actually sort of understood some of it, didn’t I? Get into that “zone” where I’m not writing a story, I’m taking dictation, right? Even heard stories of scientists struggling with thorny physics problems and not getting the answer until they stop thinking and fall into a reverie. I’d go look up the particular story I have in mind, but I’m sitting here with some cheesecake, yammering at you lot, and I can’t remember the book it’s in, so it’ll have to wait.
But all of that’s human. And that’s what I realized. For all of my love for mythology, fairy tales, bizarre (to Westerners) philosophies, I’m not a believer in anything but the human imagination.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped looking for the divine. Stopped caring so much whether it existed out there or in here. I’ve become an odd creature, able to believe six impossible things before breakfast, but simultaneously knowing they’re nothing more than imagination. That doesn’t make it any less delightful. That doesn’t mean I love the stories less.
If anything, it’s more incredible. Actual existing supernatural beings would be a yawn. No more fantastic than the chair I’m sitting in. Bo-ring. Rather diminishes humanity in the bargain, if you ask me.
But imagination, now. That’s really something. That’s huge. That’s us. We did that. Incredible.
Let me just tell you a little story. There’s a point to it, I promise.
Many years ago, in Flagstaff, I took a smoke break and walked outside. I was busy lighting up and looking at the pine trees in the lot next to our building, soaking up the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing. And something caused me to turn around. Some sense of being watched. I look over, and I see the gray cinderblock walls through a mist of rain. And they’re shading into stone. And there’s a very young man with longish black hair sitting there, against the side of the building, huddled with his arms wrapped around his knees. The rain is dripping from his hair, and I’m still standing in brilliant, dry sunlight.
I just stand, and stare, shocked. I think I recognize him. I haven’t thought of him in years. “Nikki?” I finally say, and my voice is thin, full of the same sort of disbelief you’d feel upon turning around and seeing your travel-phobic friend somehow behind you right in the middle of Rome.
He looks up, slowly, and nods. Just once.
“I guess it’s time to write you, then.” It never matters how shocked I am. Snark is second nature.
He smiles at me, the rain streaming down his face, and then a squirrel dropped from one of the trees and gave me a jolt. I looked back, and he was gone. But the image never faded, and a character I thought had no place or purpose in my world was suddenly central.
Crazy, isn’t it? But things like that happen to authors. Other people see Jesus in their toast, we see our characters in random places, so real and immediate we could touch them, feel living flesh beneath our hand. It doesn’t matter that they come from so deep in our imaginations we’re not conscious of their residence there. To us, they’re real. And that’s why I understand people clinging to gods. To them, their god is real. To each our own.
That still does not give them the right to try to convert me. Doesn’t give them the right to pass judgement. Let’s be clear, there. I’m not going around preaching the advent of Nikki, the autistic wunderkind and trying to force him into the classroom, so I’d appreciate the same courtesy in return. People have a choice in what fiction they read, and it’s a very personal choice what fiction they choose to believe.
People may get the impression, reading the rants on this blog, that I have no patience for religion. And often, I don’t, because religion gets pretty obnoxious. It’s not the faith itself, so much, but the way people react to it. They push, I push back. It’s the way of things. That shouldn’t give the impression that I’m out to end religion. I don’t want to end it any more than I’d want some complete bastard to come take my characters away from me. Unless, of course, I start forcing their literal truth on folks.
s done some incredible good as well as incredible evil. I’d like to see less of the evil and more of the good, actually. We’ll talk more about that sometime, but for now, I just want to give you two words: Mother Theresa. Yes, I honor those whose faith leads them into a life of sacrifice and service for the poor and sick. I appreciate them, and I wouldn’t want to see them go, any more than I want to see biology crippled by misguided notions of piety.
I understand how comforting faith is. Another story, brief: on September 11th, 2001, when I’d just seen the video of the Towers crashing down, I remember standing with my hand on a cubicle wall feeling as if the entire world was ending. The future fell away in a gaping, black chasm. Some people reach for gods in those moments. I just heard the voice of one of my main characters, saying with calm conviction, “We survived. Dana. We survived this. Don’t worry.”
I know she’s not a voice from the heavens. I know she’s a voice from deep within me. And that doesn’t reduce the power of that moment one iota. It still resonates. I wouldn’t have made it through that day without the certainty her voice gave me. And she was right. We did survive.
Do you see what I’m saying, you religious folks? Science doesn’t threaten God. As long as you don’t cling to the need for your gods to be objectively real, science can’t touch them at all. Science hasn’t done shit to kick my characters out of my head. They’re still in there, taking up space, saying outrageous things at inopportune moments and making people who’ve never encountered a writer before reach for the nice white jacket with the long sleeves and fashionable buckles.
Science can never minimize the power of the human imagination. The only thing that can do that is insisting that everything in our imagination has to be really real. We place such severe limits on its power and scope when we do that. I did my characters the same discourtesy, once. I nearly smothered them. Then I became an atheist, and they can breathe again. I can feed them with all sorts of new ideas, because they’re not limited to the idea I had ten years ago. Heh, look at that, they’re evolving, and they’re better than ever.
So that’s it, in a not-so-tiny nutshell. The whole reason for that A. It’s there because I have a God Delusion Index of 5 and a universe in my head. It’s there because I refuse to limit my very human and extremely entertaining imagination. It’s there because I don’t need to be anything more than a human being evolved by chance, in a cosmos that’s revealed by science to be more awesome than anything I ever imagined.
It’s there because it sets me free to experience it all.
*Update: Really did go splat, there. Forgot the title. My, oh my.