An assortment of jugglers, priests, activists, socialists, atheists, buskers and conspiracy theorists

…  and I only walked down one and a half streets.

Sin, hellfire, death and bloody foetuses — some of the cheerful topics mentioned on O’Connel Street on a daily basis. In fairness, that’s not the only stuff happening.

O’Connell Street — not my photo

I go into town quite often, and I see a lot of loud people on the side of the streets of Dublin. As a lover of music, I am always delighted by buskers. Even those with a lack (or over-abundance) of volume or skill will elicit a smile, and deserve it. Busking takes courage, which I know as someone who tried once. Just once. And drunk guys are scary even in the middle of the day when there are two of them and one of you and you’re already a little bit scared shitless. Also, I’m a really small woman who frankly at twenty still considers herself a child in the world. So: huge props for anyone with the guts to put themselves out there. Even if you’re rapping, or break-dancing, or juggling, I massively respect your will to perform, and I think you ultimately make town a much more awesome place. Please continue. Don’t forget to be awesome, my friends.

However, I wouldn’t be fond of the charity hounds that are really hard to avoid on Henry Street on a Saturday. I mean, I respect that your charity is quite possibly lovely, and that perhaps you’re a volunteer and giving your time to help others. Or, if you’re getting paid (I know people who have a harsh view on this, and am a bit sceptical myself), then for all I know you really care anyway and might just really really need the money and who am I to judge? Not the worst thing you could be doing. You’re just freaking annoying. And you really need to understand that while I feel quite guilty every time I pass … how am I possibly supposed to pick a charity? I have limited funds. And if I give money to the blind, then I’m not giving money to cancer research (for example). And in that case, do I just give the money to the most aggressive salesperson? Because that seems a little … off to me. But either way, while I really dislike being approached by you, I don’t actually dislike you personally.

Then there are those on the street who I view with full disapproval. And no, I’m not talking about drunk people and drug addicts (frankly, while a little wary, I’m sure they’re getting enough disapproval to be getting on with). No, I’m talking about the guys (and yes, always guys for some strange reason) who stand on a box with a megaphone and declare to the street that we’re all sinners who are going to hell. Those people really piss me off. I’m not religious. You may have noticed. Religion frankly doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but that’s OK because if it did I wouldn’t be an atheist. And I’m sure my atheism doesn’t make sense to a lot of people either. We’re not all the same. Tha’scool. Peace and love and all that. However. Hell always seemed to be the most hateful concept imaginable. Especially for those who believe in an all-loving God. Burning for eternity? Really? Either God condemns us/doesn’t save us just ’cause we’re not giving him enough attention (is he five?), or else you think he’s dispensing justice and that I truly deserve eternal hellfire, despite the fact that I try very hard to live good life. And that, I think, makes you a really crap human being. Monstrous, actually. What happened to compassion? Second chances? Redemption? Why do I feel like the person you make Christ out to be would not approve of this? He loves us all, apparently. That’s some seriously tough love, darling.

So yeah, I sort of despise these people. And the fact that people like them are still influencing the politics and social issues of Ireland, my country, is both heart-breaking and deeply unsettling. And this is not me ranting against religion per se. If you want to hang out on the streets singing religious songs and telling everyone about God and Christ and love I will not begrudge you it. I will not believe you, but I’ll think you’re probably a nice person. I just can’t stand those who spread needless hate. It makes me feel vaguely sick inside. It makes my heart hurt. It makes me weep for the children you raise to believe in this hate, who will turn that hate on others or on themselves, or will turn away and be hated by you. I don’t really understand. I’m not sure I want to.

Of course then there’s the anti-abortionists (I have to say, Pro-Life is the most incredibly loaded term I’ve ever heard, for various reasons. I will not be using it), who make me pretty angry. I’m not saying you need to get an abortion. I’m not saying you have to vote for it. I’m not saying you even have to approve of it, though I could give you a few reasons why you should. What I am saying, is that the scare-mongering, dogmatic, idiotic mis-information you constantly spread with your disturbing flyers is simply horrible. You’re lying to people. You’re emotionally black-mailing people when you send your small children to hand out flyers about the death of foetuses and rape. Not to mention indoctrinating your children. They have no idea what they’re handing out, the amount of hate they will get for handing people things like that. And then there’s the terrible parenting involved in dragging your children into your political, dogmatic, fundamentalist agenda, which is completely inappropriate (bringing up rape? Seriously?). Then there’s the fact that YOU JUST LET A CHILD WANDER UP TO STRANGERS in the middle of O’Connell Street (handing them highly controversial leaflets)! A street which I have seen many druggies and drunk people on. And while someone is either arguing with you or praising you for spreading God’s Law, someone could kidnap or injure your child. So you’ll protect unborn life, but not the child in front of you? It seems really illogical.

*deep breath*

This just really upsets me, and if you get a dirty look after attempting to give me a leaflet, I … I can’t even say I’m sorry. I might be judgemental. I don’t really know you as a person. But I know one thing about you, and I hate it. I hate what you’re doing to this country. I try not to hate you. But it can be hard. I can be very judgemental, and I’d like to be better, I try to be better. But when you tell people that abortion is murder, you judge them too. You upset people who you don’t know, you hurt them. You know nothing about why they did it, you’re just giving them a label that is untrue. Murderer. I’d probably cry if someone called me that, and I don’t even kill spiders on purpose (there was an accidental incident or two when I was trying to catch some spiders to release into the Wild. A story for another time).

However, while there was the usual hoard of anti-abortionists hanging around with their distasteful flyers, I was positively delighted to see a stand representing Atheism Ireland right beside them. I clung to their stand like a raft of reason in a sea of ignorance. I had a really interesting discussion with one of the guys handing out stuff. They had print-outs about humanism and secularisation and such. I’ll have to write something about my opinion of them once I’ve done more research. While I am a proud atheist, and a firm humanist, I didn’t agree with everything we discussed, but I firmly follow their goals of secularisation of state-funded schools, secularised teacher-training, non-religious oaths for presidents and judges and legislation that is completely without Catholic control beyond the vote of individual Catholics along with every other Irish citizen.

One of the fellow-atheist’s complaints that I disagreed with, however, was that religious people waste their time focusing on an afterlife that doesn’t exist. I’m honestly of the opinion that as long as they’re not wasting anyone else’s time, or hurting anyone, then … why not? If it might bring them comfort of guidance or whatever (though I do believe that their children should get to choose what they believe for themselves). I might not believe in it, but not everything worth believing in is true. I for one very much valued the (embarrassingly long) period of time that I believed in Santa Claus. I like to think about magic. I don’t actually believe in it, but I wouldn’t consider it a waste of time either. As long as religion promotes love and not hate, I can’t dislike it. Anything that makes the world a little kinder, a little more accepting, can only be good. I don’t think you need religion to be good. I don’t think religion makes you bad. And I think good deeds only done for heaven aren’t really good at all. If your religion makes the world better (and I mean by reducing the pain and suffering of people, and helping them to have a chance at health and happiness, not fulfilling the strange agenda of people who died over 2000 years ago — by which I mean specifically the writers of the Old Testament, but also various more recent people), then good. If your cynicism, your atheism, makes the world a sadder place … why promote it? I’m an atheist, but first and foremost I’m a humanist. I believe that we have to make this world good, and I want to work with anyone who will help with that. If your atheism becomes nihilism, the meaninglessness feared by Nietzsche a hundred years ago, then why spread it? I believe that we do not need a god. That there is no god. But we can help each other, and that is what we should do. Because we are each of us human, and have value if only because we feel pain and feel pain for others.

So, I’m going to look up atheism Ireland, and see what kind of message they spread. But regardless, I was very much pleased to see people from my side of the fence about. We can’t find any middle ground or compromise if we only ever see one side out in the open.

So, buskers? Keep on busking. Music is good for the soul.

Atheists? Stay positive. Let’s make life better, shall we?

Theists? Believe in love, and a god who loves. Because you deserve a god who returns your unconditional love — and those around you deserve it too.

Those happy Irish Buddhist guys? Keep dancing if that’s your thing. You seem lovely.

Charity muggers? I like you a lot more when you’re not obnoxious. I won’t give you money anyway. If I give money, it will be because I rationalised it and looked up charity info, not because you were chatty. Hope you find a more fun job.

Scare-mongering anti-abortionists and hell-obsessed preachers? Please just go away. You make me really sad, and kind of scared of the future of this country.

Photo is not mine. Opinions are. However, if you think I made a particular generalisation or unjust comment, tell me specifically why it was unfair and I’ll either defend my choice of words or apologise and revise. My aim is to become less ignorant, not stick to my guns to the point of obnoxiousness.

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Atheism and Christmas

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I am terrible at dealing with cold weather, but there’s something very cosy about Christmas (don’t talk to me about January. Ugh, January …). I like the traditions. I like giving my friends and family gifts. I like receiving gifts. I adore the warmth inside houses, the warm, filling food, the hot drinks, the alcohol, the general excuse for good cheer. However, I’ve been told that atheists don’t appreciate Christmas in the same way that Christians do. This is true, it doesn’t mean the same thing — which isn’t the same as it meaning less.

Once, a friend of mine — a very good friend of mine, who I consider one of the most awesome people I shall ever meet — told me that atheists should not celebrate Christmas. I’m not sure if she was offended that I professed to love the holiday, or if she thought that only good, Christian children should receive presents (for being so pious all year long and suffering through church). Either way, this made little sense to me, and I was made more frustrated when I attempted to complain about this and, several times was met with, “Well … she’s got a point.”

I’ve probably thought a lot more about this than she has in the years since. I think it was probably some pet peeve of hers, and I took it deadly serious in a way that it may not have been intended. But no, she does not have a point.

Christmas is, it is true, a holiday named by Christians (shocking, I know). However, it has traditions suspiciously similar to those of the Roman mid-winter holiday (the feasting and lights, for example), which occurred on the darkest day of the year (22nd of December, I believe), pre-Christianity. Also, it is distinctly unclear if Jesus Christ was born in winter. There are different hypotheses. It seems likely that the Christians took a holiday that all were celebrating anyway, and renamed it. Which is OK, it’s a nice time to have a holiday (when all is dark and cold), and you’re celebrating your saviour’s undetermined birthday at a time convenient to you. That’s fine. However, telling me that the mid-winter holiday, in which there is light and warmth and feasting during the darkest, coldest time of the year, is exclusively Christian … that’s sort of bullshit.

“But Kate,” you cry, “you can have a mid-winter celebration, you just can’t call it Christmas.”

*cough* None of you were saying that? I’m just being defensive? Possibly. But anyway, in rebuttal:

If I go around saying ‘Happy Atheism Day’ around about December the 25th, most people are going to give me funny looks. Some will just be confused. Some will laugh. And someone shall be deeply offended. “HOW DARE YOU TRY TO REMOVE MY CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTH OF CHRIST,” they’ll thunder in indignation of my re-naming of their faith’s most important day, and in shock that I would proudly announce my beliefs (because I MUST be challenging their own). So you see, I can’t win.

Also, would that mean I can only give gifts to fellow atheists? Who share in my non-existent holiday? That’s kind of sad. Some of my best friends are not atheists. I wish to have the same holiday as them. I want to show them how much I love and appreciate them. I want a beautiful tree hung with lights, a warm fire, spectacularly nerdy gifts (of which I’ve already received one *_* — a Snitch necklace. Be very jealous), hot food. I like the traditions. I like the Christmas Carols. I was in my school’s Carol Service almost every year for 6 years. I like to sing. I love the harmonies. I do not believe in the Christian God, but I do not regret this. I do not feel that it is justified for me to be excluded from this for my lack of believe, in what is becoming an increasingly commercial and secularised holiday anyway (not that I like the commercialism too much … gets on my nerves. I love when people make gifts). I think, if you try to exclude me, it cannot be because of rational arguments, but because my being an atheist offends you, and you think I should not have nice things because of this. Also, if it truly offends you … That’s not my problem. I’m certainly not offending my own lack of beliefs by participating in the season’s celebrations, so … *shrugs*

So we can all celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, mid-winter, Humanism Day, whatever. Why not? Celebrations are great, I love them. Happy Holidays, folks.

Discworld coinage and a Snitch necklace. Doesn’t get much better than that, folks

Note: I recently received a Sunshine Award from the lovely Lily Wight (who runs a really cool Lord of the Rings-based blog here on WordPress). Go check out the awesomeness. Also, I watched the Hobbit. I loved it. Had so much fun. There were criticisms, and it wasn’t as good as LotR, but still wonderful 🙂

Snitch necklaces and similar can be found here, for those interested 😉

The gift of words …

“We read to know we are not alone” ~ C.S. Lewis*

When I was five, I hated reading. I loved stories, but others had to read them to me — it was just too much work. It was so much easier to just make up my own stories (and act them out using my hands — my parents are still talking about this, for some reason).

That all changed with one book. My brother read the first Harry Potter to me (he was only eight at the time — retrospectively I’m really impressed by his patience), and then refused to read out the second.  So, if I wanted to find out what happened next to Harry and his friends (who seemed so brave and cool, being a whole 11 years old) I would have to, horror of horrors, read the next one myself.

I like to tell my brother that he created a monster, but really he gave me my love of reading, which I think has defined me as a person more than anything else in my life, except perhaps for my family. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that I would have discovered the joy of literary endeavour anyway, but I don’t think as soon, or with such a passion.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” ~ John Green

I think the most important thing about books is that they can be an insight into the mind of the Other. An insight into a mind completely unlike your own unlocks thoughts, and the realisation that everyone thinks, just as you do. That everyone remembers and dreads and hopes and dreams. That the same thoughtless fury that provokes your own harsh words can be why others lash out — books taught me that the villain can be human, and that the hero can be flawed. They taught me that my own flaws must be recognised and overcome. And even better when you discover a like mind, a kindred spirit, and realise that you are not some bizarre abnormality for thinking the way you do.

“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.” ~ John Green

I was not a neglected child, by any means, but we all have our hardships, and I found solace in the stories of others, feeling like Matilda as I escaped to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Time City, the amazon and even rural Britain. Books made me think about the world, and its complexity.

The first time I truly began to think about my own morality, or my own possibly passive immorality, was when I was 12, and read a heart-breaking book called Is Anybody Listening by Larry O’Loughlin. Almost anyone in my class who read this book seemed to say, “It was good, yeah. Sad, though.” I cried at least once an hour for about two days. It made me think of horrible things happening in other places, it made me think about how privileged my own existence was, and it made me feel achingly guilty for the fact that I ever forget this, or ever ignore the suffering in the world.

I came to realise that, in fairness, I was only 12, and there’s a limit to what a 12 year old can do. A cause for current guilt is that I still don’t do a lot to help in various matters. But if ever I make any sort of difference or impact in this world, I think it will be because of that book, and others like it that I stumbled upon in later years.

Another advantage to reading: people often assume that I’m smarter than I actually am, and I attribute this directly to a rather good vocabulary. You really don’t need to be smart to have a good vocabulary, you just need to read a shit-load of books. But this can be a serious asset when writing essays or engaging in debates — if eloquent and verbose sentence construction is second nature to you, you will be able to more accurately convey your precise meaning and thoughts. So, on a purely technical level, reading helped me with my writing and those silly comprehensions they make you do throughout secondary school. Also, good knowledge of English can help with comprehensions in French, or Italian, or other Latin-based languages. They can have very similar roots.

So yeah, reading is good from that aspect. But I think the true value will always be emotional, historical and intellectual. Books taught me to think in the way I do. Books taught me why others might think in the way they do. They taught me about historical events — not with dates, but from psychological and sociological perspectives (Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Good book). Books were my first peek into philosophical thought.

The Discworld series (by Terry Pratchett) taught me folklore, sought out the absurdities in both foreign and familiar cultures, taught me the beauty of parody, and taught me that no matter how silly a character, or how flawed a person, they have the ability to inspire with their own quiet determination. Also, for comedic works, Pratchett’s books contain an astounding amount of philosophical insight — no, really! (A philosophy lecturer of mine even quotes Discworld from time to time).

The Lord of the Rings (by J.R.R. Tolkien) taught me that heroes can come from anywhere. That bravery, especially in the face of fear, is far more admirable than physical strength or worldly knowledge (especially Samwise Gamgee — my hero).

“Sam: It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
~ The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) taught me the strength of the will, the strength of the imagination, the desperate need for it in the darkest days.

And Harry Potter … well, Harry Potter teaches me new things every time I read it. Honestly. It taught me to re-evaluate my first impressions. It taught me the importance of forgiveness, the value of friendship, the bravery of necessity, that people are people no matter where they’re from or what gifts they possess.  It taught me that

“It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ~ Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling).

These lessons cannot be undone, and nor would I want them to be. Sometimes they were hard to learn (the tears — good god, the tears), but they’re important, and I will endeavour to always remember them.

This post is about books, but by no means do I wish to ignore other media of expression, I simply express that which had the most profound effect on me. Graphic novels can also be powerful (Sandman by Neil Gaiman, and Watchmen by Alan Moore are very much recommended). Films, while falling short of books in some areas, surpass them in others (Groundhog Day. Don’t even get me started. Everyone should see that film). Art, photography, plays and poems (Emily Dickinson’s where it’s at) all help to shape the world, and describe it in a way that our own minds cannot.

Tonight, I am going to a Harry Potter quiz. 14 years and infinite re-reads later, it’s still one of my favourites.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

A little doodle depicting one of my favourite quotes of all time …

*Attributed to C.S. Lewis in the film ‘Shadowlands’ — my lazy researching (by which I mean Googling) did not verify whether he actually said that.

Thoughts on Perception

Sometimes I wonder if others live in the same world as I do. I mean, even in a purely physical sense, we could actually be seeing different things and no one would know. Colours, for example. We could all identify that chair over there (cue hypothetical chair) as being blue … but what I learnt as ‘blue’ might be what you think of as ‘purple’ if you saw it through my eyes. We don’t have a purely objective way of viewing colour. And that baffles me, frankly.

Yes, I actually hunted down a picture of a blue chair … just in case you were confused, or something …

So, there’s definitely wriggle room over physical perception … so it surely all gets a whole lot fuzzier once we bring the mind into it. ‘Cause as we know, people’s minds all seem to work veeeeeery differently. I, for instance, am terrible at the sciences. I mean, I’m interested to a certain extent (and can very much see why they would be so intensely fascinating) but if I even try to delve one layer beyond basic knowledge of a phenomenon … you lose me. Completely. I zone out. I don’t understand. And then someone else tells me philosophy is a waste of time and I yell, “NO NOT MY BABY,” and … yes *cough*

So, different minds work differently. We’re wired differently somehow.

But when we descend to, say, moral issues … this can become a problem. Am I wired ‘right’? I mean, how do I know that my reasoning isn’t just another example of how my mind works differently? Does the same reasoning even make sense on a purely objective scale? Because I would have said, originally, that colours were, technically, objective. I mean blue’s blue and nothing more can be said about it, right?

“Perception is created and twisted so quickly.” ~ Louis C.K.

And this can frustrate me, because I wonder if my arguments are wasting everyone’s time. Is it that we’re both obtusely refusing to submit to the other’s reasoning (they, of course, are in the wrong …) or is it actually that it could never make sense to us? I will never know how things work in someone else’s head (I don’t know how things work in my own head, let’s be honest).

Other times I wonder … is reason the exception to this subjectivity? I mean, there’s always a point you come to where reason can go no further (why is happiness good? Um … it just … is?) and if someone doesn’t agree with that … well, nothing more can really be said. But a lot of the time I think people just don’t think about things. This is possibly extreme arrogance on my part — that I’m suggesting I’ve thought more than others. But some people don’t think. And others think way more than I do, I know. I think we’re all learning, though some don’t like to admit that. I mean, five years ago I held opinions that I really think are awful now. We all have prejudice, we all suffer from lack of experience about something. We all make mistakes. We all learn.

“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” ~ Samuel Butler

So, if I make a mistake, if I offend someone with this blog … please forgive me. My learning process is slow and stumbling, but I do my best. I want to be a good person.

But keep in mind … if you disagree with me, there’s also the chance that your learning process is the one that’s behind the times.

For example, if you try to tell me that homosexuality is evil or that I will burn in hell for atheism or … I don’t know. Things like that. They will earn you a condescending head-shake, if not rage.

… I never claimed to be a good person, just that I try 😀

Sorry, this was a rant, a ramble, a spewing of thought into the abyss. Carry on.

Though by the way … if you, like me, find science vaguely interesting but too difficult to study, Hank Green’s ‘Sci-Show’ can be really informative and hilarious. Or just watch them anyway, they’re just awesome. Also ‘Crash Course’ is great — learning history with John Green. Yay knowledge!

… I’m oddly enthusiastic about learning, sometimes. The world is a crazy interesting place. Just sayin’.

Any thoughts? Do share …

Morning

I woke up this morning to streaming sunlight.

The air seemed so clear, it was amazing. I never realise how dim the world can look until I see how beautiful it could be. The sky was clear and blue, bitterly cold, and the rising sun was white and gold, making the trees black silhouettes as the light peaked through them and blinded me.

The grass glittered with a slight frost, which melted to dew within half an hour.

I went outside, I closed my eyes, and I breathed deep.

“The perfect moment is now … be glad of it.” ~ Terry Pratchett

Image

I’m sorry for such a short post, but … that’s really all I need say.

The photo is mine. The quote is Sir Terry Pratchett’s.  The place is Ireland.

This is a relevant song: ‘New Morning‘ by Bob Dylan (sung by Darren and Chuck Criss, because it’s my favourite version, but there’s this for the purists — and ’cause Dylan is awesome).