Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our strength

So I came across this article recently in one of my news feeds, and it bugged me. And then I saw it on Facebook, and I saw some other things (like a quote from Dan Fincke on Facebook), and it's all congealed into some impressions and thoughts that I want to get out there. Note that I'm not necessarily making a direct rebuttal to that article, nor am I intending to.

We are better, we are stronger, than we often seem to think. That's the main thought that I have. It's a thought I've had before, and it's doubtless one I'll have again. That article seemed to be to be talking down to the homeless, the poor, the starving, and the addicted. It implies that without a faith in God, those of us in the worst places and situations would have no hope, and that we're incapable of dealing with a universe that allows such unfairness.

I've been homeless, poor, and starving/food insecure (I've avoided addiction, except for tobacco). And I've lacked faith that entire time. I was and remain completely capable of dealing with it. So can the people that article talks down to, whether they realize it or not.

God almost certainly doesn't exist. Yet people who have faith routinely claim that it was the strength God gave them that let them get through the worst times of their lives. To which I routinely respond in my head, "No! Don't denigrate yourself! That strength was in you the entire time. You are stronger than you think!" Of course, it's not just from within the person that such strength emerges. The support of friends, family, and others who care can lift us up when we find ourselves struggling. Recently, scientific research actually found a statistical correlation to the idea that when believers pray (and even some non-believers), there's an imagined social interaction taking place that can act in a similar manner to having the support of a friend.

...the authors had an elegant methodological question: will people who pray be able to avoid the depleting effects of emotion suppression and not show a deficit on the stroop task? In other words, will prayer give them the cognitive strength to perform well on both these challenging tasks?
Indeed it did. Participants who were asked to pray about a topic of their choosing for five minutes showed significantly better performance on the stroop task after emotion suppression, compared to participants who were simply asked to think about a topic of their choosing. And this effect held regardless of whether participants identified as religious (70 percent) or not.
Why? The authors tested several possible explanations, but found statistical support for only one: people interpret prayer as a social interaction with God, and social interactions are what give us the cognitive resources necessary to avoid temptation.Past research has found that even brief social interactions with others can promote cognitive functioning, and the same seems to hold true for brief social interactions with deities.
This does not rule out the possibility that prayer has other effects on resisting temptation, and the spiritually inclined could see the hand of God as another causal factor here. But as the holidays approach, it reminds us all of where we derive so much of our day-to-day strength. Interacting and connecting with the people around us.
Social interaction. People around us. Connection. And our own inner strength. That is how we survive. That is how we get better. That is how humanity improves, as individuals, and as a species.

I got off the streets because of other people, other humans, giving me a helping hand when I needed it most. God had nothing to do with this. I've survived depression multiple times (including recently) for the same reason. They added their strength to mine, and it was enough.

And to everyone who thinks they only improved because of God? Stop denigrating yourself (and your supportive loved ones).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thoughts on choice

Today I hit the snooze button several times before fully waking up. In that last cycle before waking up, I was, as one does, dreaming. I'll spare you the full details, partly because they don't matter, and partly because I don't remember them.

In this dream a young woman was passing through a lobby or something of her workplace, when she passed one of her superiors having coffee with what was apparently potential clients. Her superior (Allan Harper from Two and A Half Men, though don't ask me why) stopped her, and proceeded to verbally berate her in a rather cold, bully like manner regarding her hair and outfit.

She was wearing a purple striped outfit, and her short cut blond hair had purple tips arranged so as to form spiky little stripes circling her head. This was apparently normal for her, and had been totally fine until now. As Allan said, "that sort of thing may have been ok when Carolyn was here..." The young lady was shocked, and looked like she'd been hit in the gut.

At which point, one of the potential clients steps in, and gives a verbal beat down to Allan, pointing out that her hair is irrelevant to her work, that he admires her independence, and "never forget that her choice to be independent represents a sacrifice of being normal, and the benefits that she might get by conforming to society's notions of normal," and if Allan wanted their business, he'd shut up and let her work.

My snooze alarm woke me up at that point, but this time I was thinking, so I stayed awake. That idea of choice representing sacrifice was running through my head. I think there's something to it. Any time we make a choice A, we block ourselves from choice B, sacrificing what might have been. Sometimes it's pretty damn minor, like last night for me. I chose to go to my local Freethought group's happy hour, instead of staying home. I got good conversation, good pizza, decent wine, and gave up a few more hours playing Skyrim. Not a bad sacrifice.

Other times, it can be more consequential. What job do you take? How do you spend limited amounts of money? Do you try getting time off from work during the holidays to see family, or not? But it's always a choice (though it doesn't always feel like one), and it's rare that we can get both A and B.

Just a thought for the day, I guess. You folks have any thoughts on this?