Mar 272015

Some time after my father died I held an estate sale. This was last summer, in 2014. Some people will tell you to not attend your own estate sale, but I chose to stay at home and sort of seclude myself in my room. A woman whom I had not seen in many years showed up, and we spent time catching up. Though I’d been in Montana taking care of my father since 2012, I had no contact with this woman, as I didn’t find her on Facebook, Twitter, or the internet at large. I didn’t even know if she lived in Missoula.

After the estate sale I stayed in Missoula taking care of things until early September. I quite enjoyed spending time with my friend, whom I’ll call “C” just as much as I had back in the 80’s. Back then I’d discovered that C was quite a fan of astrology. This was before the internet enabled easy access to skeptical resources, and I had no quick rejoinder to her claims. This time around, she didn’t promote astrology as much as “electromagnetic sensitivity.” She made interesting claims, including that cell phone or wi-fi antennae installed on top of one of the large dormitory buildings on the University of Montana campus were adversely affecting the mental health of University district residents. This was the primary reason I had not re-connected with C during my time in Missoula: She was essentially frightened of electronic devices such as computers and cell phones. She spent very little time online. At one point she showed me a small black plastic box with two small metal plates that were perhaps 5mm in diameter. She asked me to guess what it was. I thought it might be a sensor of some kind, perhaps for galvanic skin response, like a “lie detector.” Yet there was no output, no speaker, light, or gauge that would display information. My guess was wrong, and she told me it was a “healing” device of some sort, that it was powered by a battery and produced a small current. She would hold it against her skin for a “healing” effect.

While she and I had various even-tempered disagreements about Catholicism and mysticism, I really didn’t argue the point about “electromagnetic sensitivity” simply because I knew virtually nothing about it. But things came to a weird climax on this issue one summer night.

We were walking through a field in Missoula, discussing weird stuff. Evidently she had not heard of the vaguely Fortean case of the severed human feet that had washed up on ocean shores of the Pacific Northwest. As I was telling her about this I remembered there was a Wikipedia page about this. I realized I could simply ~show~ her that this was a real thing, using my Samsung S4 mini smart phone. I pulled my cell phone out and started to look up the page on Wikipedia. We had been walking through a field between a street and an athletic field. The field was not planted grass, but it appeared to have been mowed, as it looked to be short wild grass stubble. C stood next to me looking at my cell phone, which was inside an Otterbox two part plastic shell. She may or may not have been lightly touching me as she stood beside me. I can’t remember. Suddenly she recoiled violently from me, and told me she had been “shocked.”

Several thoughts went quickly through my mind. My first reaction was to consider she had picked up a “static” charge by walking on the dry grass stubble. I also noted that I did not get “shocked” as I would if she picked up a static charge and touched me. I thought that maybe she picked up a small burr in her shoe, or her clothing pinched her. Perhaps she contacted something on my belt…

I said nothing, as I was still taking in this weird encounter. Perhaps I failed to be empathetic at that moment, as I suppose I could have honestly told her “I believe you.” But she launched into a defense of her behavior on the grounds that it was rational. “You just don’t know about electromagnetic sensitivity.” “There really are people who suffer from this.” I simply listened to what she was saying, as she had positively concluded that my cell phone “shocked” her.

Ultimately, I don’t know what caused her reaction. Perhaps she experienced a sudden nerve pinch or contacted a foreign object that had stuck to our clothing. But it wasn’t my cell phone. The attribution of her reaction to being “shocked” by my cell phone is pure delusion.

This was an epiphany of sorts for me, as it was one of those moments in life when you realize that this was not some prosaic interest in a woo subject but a LIFE DEFINING DELUSION. Her own irrational fear of electromagnetic radiation created a limitation on her freedom and power to thrive socially in the 21st century.

As I say, I never did argue the issue of “electromagnetic sensitivity” with her. With something like that, where does one even start?

 Posted by on 03/27/2015 Growing Up In Montana, Personal History Tagged with:  Comments Off on The Shocking Discovery
Mar 212015

Previously on this website I’ve recounted how Ivan Sanderson investigated large anomalous tracks in Florida claiming they were made by a 15 foot tall penguin. Sanderson was also known as a proponent of the biological reality of the sideshow exhibit known as the “Minnesota Iceman.” My impression from these two incidents was that Sanderson was excessively credulous.

Recently on Facebook I encountered a number of comments about Sanderson from Ron Pine. With his permission I’ve reprinted those comments, which suggest a deeper problem with Sanderson than simple credulity. I asked Dr. Pine to introduce himself.

My background is as follows: I am a mammalogist whose primary interest is taxonomy. I have also had a lifelong interest in cryptozoology and various other “fringe areas” (as an out-and-out skeptic). My BA is from the University of Kansas, my MS from the University of Michigan, and my Ph.D from Texas A&M. I have conducted field work in 20 countries, sometimes as an expedition leader, for various natural history museums, and named a number of new species of mammals. I went on my first, official, scientific expedition, which was to Mexico, when I was 19. At 22, with only my bachelor’s degree, I led an expedition to Kenya, for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. My youth and lack of degrees must have set a still-standing record for one given such a role. At the time that I was being made aware of what was going on with John Napier, Ivan T. Sanderson, and J. Edgar Hoover, I was a curator of mammals in the Smithsonian Institution.

Here’s a story that I don’t think has ever found its way into the annals of Bigfoot lore, although I’d like to see it picked up somewhere. I have previously written a bit about this in a Facebook thread of Jay BizarreZoo Cooney’s. Back when John Napier and I were at the Smithsonian, the “Minnesota Iceman” was getting a lot of play in the media. The “Iceman” had been manufactured in such a way that it appeared to have suffered one or more bullet wounds. Amazing as it may seem, J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, which was then located just across the street from the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, where we worked, thought that an actual human homicide might have played a part in the “Iceman” exhibit, and asked us what we thought. Napier, as the museum’s primatologist, got the job of replying. Because Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans had examined that “Iceman,” but only through the ice, of course (hmmm, I wonder why the exhibitor didn’t take it out of the ice so that people could see it better), Sanderson was asked to supply what information he could about the thing. Heuvelmans had named it as a new species, Homo pongoides. Sanderson wrote a letter to Napier and Hoover, saying that the “Iceman” was a fake and that, among other things, some partially decomposed dog tissue had been involved in its construction, to give it the realistic odor of an actual dead thing. (For the mammalian taxonomist, this would make Homo pongoides a nomenclatural “junior synonym” of Canis familiaris.) Sanderson never admitted any of this in any of his published writings, which is one reason that I regard him as a charlatan. I know about all of this because Napier shared with me all the correspondence between him and Hoover and Sanderson. The account of all this, as given in Napier’s book “Bigfoot” is totally different from what you have just read. I assume that this is because it would have been a very bad idea to portray the very, very powerful Hoover as being credulous and because Napier didn’t want to write anything critical of Sanderson, who he seemed to regard as a friend and for whom he had more respect than Sanderson deserved. Also, the correspondence was all supposed to be confidential. Wikipedia also gives a somewhat different account

In Sanderson’s autobiographical book “Animal Treasure,” which took place in West Africa, he reported seeing an eagle-sized, black, batlike animal flying with its mouth open and revealing a semicircular row of teeth. The local, tribal people were represented as being terrified and fled when he mentioned having seen this apparition. No such animal exists. In the same book, he reported a skink (that is to say, a kind of lizard), that produced an unearthly, eerie whistle, “I have never met a louder sound caused by an animal” he wrote, and he likened this sound to “a really powerful fog-horn.” The lizard exists, but it is mute. In one chapter, he reports an extended period he supposedly spent one evening, watching a steady parade of myriad kinds of forest rats and mice, gamboling, and playing with one another in the most delightful fashion. As one who has spent his career in large part devoted to studies on tropical rats and mice, including such work in West Africa, and who knows that one will seldom be so lucky as to see even the streak of a running mouse, it’s quite clear that this was a fabricated story. There are also some things I could mention in his later books on the times he spent in the field, but he had apparently caught on by that time that you shouldn’t lay it on too thick, so they are less egregious.

It made me sad when I got to be old enough and had had enough field experience myself to catch Sanderson at his prevarications, because, as a young kid, I regarded him as the person I’d most like to emulate in my own career, as a result of reading his books about his animal collecting in the tropics, “Animal Treasure,” “Living Treasure,” and “Caribbean Treasure.”

 Posted by on 03/21/2015 Bigfoot, Hoaxes, Personal History Tagged with:  Comments Off on Ivan Sanderson the Charlatan
Mar 162015

I remember reading John Keel’s book Strange Creatures from Time and Space when I was about nine or ten. I believe I was already familiar with Bigfoot, but Keel’s book introduced me to many more strange cryptozoological entities. Fascinating stuff, especially for a child, but eventually I became very skeptical of most cryptozoology claims, particularly Bigfoot.

Cryptozoology differs from UFOlogy in that animals must follow the laws of evolution. Claims that Bigfoot is a “shape shifter” or “interdimensional being” are marginalized and shouted down within the subculture of “respectable” cryptozoology. This is in opposition to UFOlogy, in which UFOs can be anything at all, nuts and bolts space ships that defy the laws of physics or interdimensional vehicles that got here via worm hole. UFOs can be any size, shape, or color. They can be single or many. UFOs are sort of like gods, in that they can be more or less anything you want them to be!

I had an anomalous animal sighting once, and I believe it’s worthwhile to write down an account of the experience. It occurred while driving at night. I had parked my truck the night before in front of my house. At the corner is a raised concrete traffic circle, intended to “calm” traffic. I think vehicles are supposed to go around it in a counter-clockwise fashion, as seen from above. But it’s a small intersection, a big traffic circle, and my truck has a large turning radius. I sometimes take the sort cut and turn left without going around the circle.

On this occasion I did just that; I turned left without going around. It was windy, but not raining. There are street lights in the neighborhood, so visibility was decent. In front of me and to my right I saw what I believed to be a black rat scurrying across the road, from left to right. For a moment I was upset, as no one wants rats in the neighborhood. But then I realized it wasn’t a rat, that it was much too round. Then I thought it was a raccoon, maybe a baby raccoon, but it was sort of hemispherical, and had no tail. Perhaps it was a turtle, but I’d never seen a turtle move that fast, or in a way that I was witnessing, which was a sort of side-to-side oscillation. My problem was that the sighting was brief, and I had to divert my attention to safely turning the car in the intersection. Had the event occured even ~slightly~ differently, I would to this day be claiming I saw a particularly weird animal that night. Perhaps a new species!

But I had JUST enough time during the event, which was over and done in a matter of seconds, to actually figure out what it was. It was a small black plastic bag, propelled by the wind, which JUST HAPPENED to be fluttering in a way that I initially perceived as a living animal.

I often make the comparison between UFOs and objects in the roadway. I sometimes call them “UROs” or Unidentified Roadway Objects. I see them all the time! Was that a dead animal, a piece of cardboard, a piece of tire, a rag, a dirty shirt, a piece of metal, or something else entirely? There is a common feature seen in both UFO and URO sightings: They are often brief and unexpected. Had we been given more time, better optics, or a chance to examine whatever it was up close and directly, we could most likely discover what it really was. This also illustrates why anecdotal evidence comprised of eyewitness accounts is not hard scientific evidence: It’s simply too easy to be mistaken, misperceive, or misremember what we saw. I certainly did for a moment or two during my sighting!

 Posted by on 03/16/2015 Personal History, Pseudoscience Tagged with: ,  Comments Off on A Strange Creature From Time and Space
Mar 122015

I was never very much of a sports guy. By “sports guy” I mean someone who either follows organized sports passionately or participates directly. I’ve dabbled in lifting weights, skateboarding, bicycling, and jogging, all of which can be competitive, but for exercise rather than competition. At various times I’ve played tennis and table tennis, both of which I find to be great fun. I enjoyed watching the Seahawks win, at least up until the time they didn’t win. I was quite smitten by the UFC when it started, for multiple reasons. On one level it was pure violent spectacle: THERE ARE NO RULES! On a more sublime level it seemed like a genuine scientific experiment in which the competing claims of the various disciplines of martial arts could be tested against one another. I still watch it from time to time, but my interest in coughing up the pay-per-view dollars has waned.

Growing up I developed a sort of anti-jock mentality. My father taught law at the University of Montana, and was very critical of the emphasis on University sponsored sports. Honestly I’ve never followed the arguments carefully, but suffice it to say I was indoctrinated from an early age that organized sports were not the highest and most virtuous human accomplishments. I still hold that belief. When I was in about the third grade I gained weight, though by today’s standards I’d be quite “normal.” For whatever reason I was not “naturally” athletic at that time. Childhood being what it is this difference quickly becomes a stratification of human value. I was the kid with the big vocabulary who was really into science.

By the time I was in about the 7th or 8th grade I was playing lots of table tennis with my friends. I quite enjoyed that, and became competitive, at least with my other friends who played. I spent a fair bit of leisure time doing this, at least until I was in college when drinking beer in bars became more profound.

Several years ago I discovered that there was a table tennis club in Bellevue. It was sort of expensive, but I drove there almost every night. Being that Seattle has a large Asian population, the club was chock-full of VERY good players, almost all of whom were vastly better than me. Nevertheless, I was able to find people to play with that had a similar level of skill, which made things fun. In a setting like that, it becomes genuine exercise!

At the time I was employed in a metal fabrication plant in Seattle. During the lunch hour we would set up a table tennis table and play. Since a bunch of guys wanted to play, we would always play doubles. One Russian man was about as good as I was, and we were the top two players. We were never team mates. Sounds like a fun way to spend the lunch hour, doesn’t it? Yeah, except for the intrusion of what I’ll call “sports mode.”

I had a supervisor who was a genuinely good guy. He was smart, and unlike most of the pipe fitters and many of the welders, he was not an ex-con. He was an excellent boss, and saw to it that I was allowed to progress as a welder. His management style was not “hard ass” like the man he had replaced, which was a very welcome change. At lunch he would play table tennis with the rest of us, though he was not particularly good. He partnered with the Russian pipe fitter. What began to make playing un-fun for me was that he would transition from mellow, decent, boss into “sports mode” which is my name for “talking trash” or “talking shit.” He would find some rumor or personal scuttlebutt to talk about during play to “rattle” me. I found this weird and off-putting, as I always thought of table tennis as one of those games like tennis in which you intentionally ~compliment~ your opponent; “nice shot” you say…

So at this point I need to apologize for why this essay is not simply an account of petty aggrievement. On a fundamental level, what makes participation in sports fun? Yes, winning is fun, but it’s entirely possible to have fun IN THE MOMENT during the game, rather than simply at the end. Biomechanical actions like exercise and sports can act as platforms for the meditative experience of “flow.” I can get into this state while walking, at least some of the time, for moments at least. Sam Harris uses the example of surfing, and the same can be said of many sports. The “runner’s high” may be a matter of the intense focus on the biomechanics of motion, and the enforced concentration on the joints and muscles. The swing of a tennis racket or table tennis racket that results in a well placed shot can be a moment of “flow.”

Yet our society embraces, to various degrees, the very behavior that is antithetical to “flow” which is “trash talk.” You see this openly in martial arts like the UFC or boxing. Muhammad Ali is venerated for his skill at this behavior. It’s openly celebrated in the NFL. Ronda Rousey of the UFC appeared as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter “reality” TV show. She defeated her opponent Miesha Tate in a climbing contest. As she reached the top she screamed out to Tate “Fuck You!”

Instead of arguing whether this behavior constitutes “good sportsmanship” I offer you a thought experiment instead. Imagine that you’re married, or that someone close to you is cooking dinner. You hover over them in the kitchen and “talk shit.” You create imaginative scenarios in which they ruin the food, by a variety of means. You second guess how much of certain ingredients they use. You question their esthetic judgement in the utensils they own and use. You mock the biomechanics of how they use a knife. “Hey, don’t cut yourself!” You berate their knife sharpening skills. And so on. Now ask yourself, does this promote human thriving? Loving human interactions? Does “sports mode” in the kitchen allow someone you care about to enter the state of “flow” and experience moments of meditative bliss?

Lest I be dismissed as a sports-hating egghead, why have we as a society tolerated the denigration of athletic fun through “trash talk” in a way which we would not tolerate in other spheres of human behavior? I simply like moments of “flow” during exercise and competition, and wish the same sort of joy for those with whom I participate. I think “sports mode” is bullshit.

 Posted by on 03/12/2015 Growing Up In Montana, Personal History Tagged with:  Comments Off on Sports Mode
Mar 072015

I’ve been an atheist for many years now. I’m always curious to learn how other people have changed their minds and lost their belief in god or gods, so possibly my own story might have some resonance with others who have experienced similar things. I find it useful and meaningful to gather my recollections and write them down into a narrative form.

My mother, maternal grandmother, and brother were Lutherans. My father was an atheist but he never discussed it openly. I recall sitting on my bed as a child and listening to my mother trying to explain that I had a “soul” that survived death. I can’t recall if she mentioned Jesus at this juncture. At some point I started attending Lutheran Sunday School. I have mostly warm and fuzzy memories of this, mostly being told of New Testament stories about how Jesus was a super cool guy. I attended various church social functions, and became friends with a boy named Rex, whose parents were friends of my parents. Sometime in high school I was assigned by the pastor to attend to the electronic machinery used to transmit the main Sunday church services via telephone line to a local radio station. This involved turning volume knobs that controlled which microphones were on and off at different times during the service. It was DEADLY boring, but I said I would do it, and I did.

Sometime when I was about a freshman in high school I attended confirmation classes. This was a more advanced sort of theology than Sunday School, and involved studying Luther’s catechism. The class was run by the pastor of the church. Classes were at night, and the boys in the group would sometimes play table tennis in another room before classes. One night we saw the pastor walking across an outdoor catwalk toward us, probably to gather us for class. We ran away down a hall. We went through the church toward the meeting room. He intercepted us as we walked down the hall and was uncharacteristically angry. Later in class he physically picked up the mildest, most mellow boy of them all by the shirt and yelled in his face. It was unreal, seeing this revered pastor turn into an instant asshole. But I continued with the class, and eventually took a communion or two.

Not surprisingly, I had friends who were not Lutherans. One was a very athletic boy named Jeff. His parents were fundies, members of the local Pentecostal church I believe. I’d attend services or meetings with him sometimes. I had another friend named Greg who was a member of an organization called “Young Life” which was a youth oriented program.

One time Jeff, another friend named Steve, and I attended a “revival” meeting held in the auditorium of a local high school. Lots of sermons, of course, but the climax was speaking in tongues! Not surprisingly this sort of blew my mind. Whatever was going on required an explanation. I recall asking the assistant pastor of the Lutheran church about this. He sort of blew off the question, saying something to the effect of “we really don’t do that.” This answer did not satisfy me. If Lutherans didn’t speak in tongues, why was that? Did it have scriptural justification? If the Lutherans were right, why were the fundies wrong? How did the fundies make a mistake? What’s really going on here?

Other events began to make me question my indoctrination. I never really read comic books as a child, except for Mad Magazine. I remember discovering Jack T. Chick tracts at the Western Montana Fair. Numerous churches would have display booths, and one was giving out these tracts. This was a VASTLY more passionate version of Christianity than I’d been exposed to! I was particularly taken with the anti-evolution tract Big Daddy. Although I’d always been very much drawn to science, I was convinced by the arguments in this tract! I had something of an epiphany one day though, as I was walking home from high school with my friend John, who said something to the effect of “Matt, you’re a scientific sort of guy, I can’t believe you take this creationism stuff seriously. It’s total nonsense.” It was this bit of cognitive dissonance, this burr under the saddle, that got me thinking more seriously about the issue. I was very fortunate though, as I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov and had read many of his popular science books. I just happened to read his account of entropy, and how creationists mistakenly asserted the earth to be closed system. This was really shocking to me, as I realized that the refutation of this trope must be know to the creationists, yet they persisted. Why wouldn’t they change their minds when shown how they were mistaken?

On another front, I became curious about faith healing. My friend Jeff had exposed me to the notion that faith alone could cure illness. One day I went over to his house, and he complained that he had a cold, or was otherwise under the weather. His mother began to explain the notion of faith healing to me, and I sat and listened. At one point she “laid on hands” on Jeff, probably much to his embarrassment, in an attempt to cure him. Again, a moment of severe cognitive dissonance occurred, as at the time I was a huge fan of Houdini. Jeff’s mother claimed that Houdini may have effected his escapes because he was in league with the Devil! I was sort of willing to roll with the faith healing stuff, but the Houdini claim was insane! How could otherwise rational people believe such nonsense?

Being long before the World Wide Web, I had no idea how to find out information that would resolve these intellectual conflicts. But I got sort of lucky, as I had read James Randi’s book The Magic of Uri Geller. I wrote to Randi, saying how I thought of him as a modern day Houdini. I asked him about faith healing. I did not hear back from him for a very long time, but eventually a type written postcard arrived in the mail. Sadly I no longer have this artifact. His postcard read something like this: “Matt, sorry for taking so long to write. People who are not cured by faith healers don’t complain, they’re dead! Read a book by Dr. Nolen on faith healing and your questions should be answered.” Who was “Dr. Nolen?” To the library! I figured out that “Dr. Nolen” was William A. Nolen, author of Healing, a Doctor in Search of a Miracle. I read the book and decided that faith healing was probably a scam. I began to think Christian fundamentalism was misguided and full of crackpot ideas.

I was also lucky to have been exposed to a high school biology class which taught evolution. Sadly the instructor had to apologize and defend the teaching of real science before he could even teach real science! We had a teacher’s assistant who patiently addressed the trope I’d read that “the eye is too complex to have evolved.” What impressed me most was simply that the science was comprehensive, rational, and based on solid evidence, whereas creationism seemed to me like simply a set of drive-by criticisms, which failed on close analysis. By this point in my life I was convinced that at least the Christian fundamentalists were completely full of shit.

A huge turning point in my final abandonment of theism came by reading Ambrose Bierce! My father had a copy of the Devil’s Dictionary which I found strange and amusing. Bierce was relentless in his witty criticism of religion. The outstanding feature that I got from his book was that our species has embraced MANY religions over time, ALL of which think they are the ONE TRUE RELIGION. Most are gone now, and thought of as “mythological.” It dawned on me, even as a high school kid, that religion was unlike science in that it had no empirical methodology to resolve disputes. That the Christians couldn’t resolve amongst themselves whether speaking on tongues or faith healing was valid or bogus was just the tip of the iceberg. Theists couldn’t even resolve amongst themselves whether God was one, three, or many. Religion has had thousands of years to resolve these schisms, yet it only gets worse with time, not better, in that it only becomes MORE schismatic.

The final blow was discovering Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian in the University of Montana library. Such an impudent and shocking title! As well as helping me shuck any final vestiges of theism, it was a great introduction to critical thinking and philosophy. It was amazing to realize that propositions could be true which don’t refer to material reality, as scientific propositions do. Statements can be true or false by logic alone.

Not surprisingly, this turn of events did not escape the attention of my mother. She already hated my veneration of rock music, and now chose to start arguing the God question more or less incessantly. My first year of college was painful, as I felt socially isolated, sexually frustrated, and was struggling academically. It became so bad that I turned to a counselor / psychiatrist at the University. In retrospect, I think his advice was worthless and all I recall was that he smoked a pipe in his office. That summer I had a job doing maintenance at a motel. The bitching from my mother became so bad that I decided to leave home. In retrospect, I think I underestimated how shocked she was that I had become an atheist. I think I still underestimate how shocking it is for most theists that some people would be openly atheistic. I’m lucky to live in a place like Washington State instead of the Bible Belt or the Middle East.

I actually did leave home. I packed up my gear, told my mother I was leaving home, and moved into a room I had rented. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would finish college, but I planed to economize on food by eating beans and rice. Later that day I came back home with my friend Dave, and my father confronted me. He forced my hand, and I had to admit to him that my mother’s bitching had become so intolerable that I had to leave home. We chose to compromise, and I moved into the dormitories on campus. So my “leaving home” lasted only a day, but it really did happen, which attests to how threatening atheism is for some people.

My brother had always been cold to me. He was a hard-core Lutheran, and now he completely shunned me in his own version of “Good Christian Love.” I think he was a closeted homosexual, and he eventually drank himself to death. Over the years he would deliver to me his perfunctory greeting to me then say nothing else.

In retrospect, I would have given my left testicle to have had access to the internet at that time. Imagine simply reading the Wikipedia entry on atheism! Imagine being able to watch Sam Harris videos on YouTube! Imagine reading blogs devoted to eviscerating creationism, or Jerry Coyne’s responses to Christian apologists! I’m firmly convinced that the growing secular belief amongst today’s youth is partly due to the ease with which one can use the internet to answer vexing questions about religion.

For years I thought of atheism as more or less a nerdish intellectual fascination, sort of like mastering a Rubik’s Cube or being into prime numbers. 9/11 changed that for me, as it obviously did for many other atheists. Certain forms of religious expression are so utterly toxic to our species that it becomes entirely rational and moral to criticize it openly.

Growing up is hard. I can’t imagine how much unnecessary pain I would have endured had I stayed religious. I recall feeling deeply ashamed when I developed sexual feelings, because I’d read the part of an interview with Jimmy Carter in which he claimed that having “lust in his heart” was sinful. I’ve heard accounts, particularly from ex-Catholics, which describe VASTLY more emotionally toxic feelings in young adulthood. Would my brother have become an alcoholic if he hadn’t taken the homophobia of Christian scripture seriously? I don’t know.

 Posted by on 03/07/2015 Growing Up In Montana, Personal History Tagged with:  Comments Off on Becoming an Atheist