Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Practice Makes Perfect...

I'm finding writing difficult. Specifically, I'm finding the mechanics of writing well (or at least coherently) difficult. 

I was regarded as a good writer at school. I did very well in my creative writing assignments, won a few awards for it and so on. Thing is, I haven't done it for over 10 years and I am - to put it mildly - rusty.
As part of my work I do a lot of writing but it is all of a technical nature. I do try and make it as elegant as I can within the constraints of whatever document I am trying to complete but it's still a different kettle of fish to this kind of piece.

I have also trained in various martial arts for almost 10 years now. One thing I have found to be fundamental to the process of learning a new art is that the only way to make the movements instinctive is to perform them over and over again. This is especially true when you are starting a new art in my experience. For instance, the basic method of moving across a space (say, to close distance with an opponent) in kendo is significantly different to the way a muay thai practitioner would do it. There is no simply 'walking' in either of these martial arts. The movements are reasoned and have a great deal of thought and practical experience behind them. The only way to make these movements a natural way of traveling across a floor or ring for you is to practice it. Over and over again. Usually under the watchful eye of an instructor.

I am also not a dualist. I believe that the 'mind' is seated in the physical brain. I fully admit that we don't understand how this works exactly right now but I believe we can see evidence for it in diseases like Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders and the way they fundamentally alter the people afflicted with them. Following this, I believe that the brain can be 'exercised' similarly to the body. In fact, I think the two are indivisible.

The point I am (excruciatingly) working my way around to is that I am hoping my writing will improve simply by the act of doing more writing and I apologise in advance for any ugly missteps. 

Regular Scheduled Programming...

My atheism is a recent turn of events for me. Hence, it occupies quite a large of portion of my thinking time. Well... apart from the time devoted to work and trying to figure out why the little Viking won't go to sleep.

The portion of my thinking that is concerned with atheism is still mainly busy with assimilation of some of the main arguments between theists and atheists. Not really for my own persuasion (although I'm open to interesting ideas if I come across something new) but rather to help avoid any 'um...I don't know' moments that may come up in conversations with theists. 
As well as being driven by a general desire to be able to articulate my position and respond to others' arguments clearly, there was also the specific fact that I was due to go to a dinner party last Friday being held by one of Mrs. Viking's friends who is a christian and a large portion of  whose guests were from her church.
As it turns out, I did get into a discussion with a christian there but her beliefs were very much at the 'liberal' end of the scale so there wasn't really much of a disagreement. In fact, our views on, for instance, morality were very, very similar. She just believed that it had to be derived from a supernatural authority to be valid. So a kind of christian humanist position I guess. If such a thing is possible.
Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable discussion and I found it liberating and somewhat exhilarating as this was my first excursion as an 'out' atheist with a clear idea of my own beliefs.

This notwithstanding, I don't really intend this blog to be solely concerned with matters atheistic. I plan to write on whatever takes my fancy really so the topics may be somewhat....eclectic.

Friday, 7 December 2007

So I made a blog...

Something that I have been meaning to do for a few years now but somehow never go around to. So why the sudden burst of motivation? Something that is all to rare for me unfortunately. Well, the contributing factors were numerous but the primary driving force was my acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that I have become an atheist.

I don't have any tortuous de-conversion story or atheist-in-the-closet drama to go along with this decision (at least not yet). I was raised in an extremely liberal although nominally christian family. I went to an also extremely liberal but church-affiliated school where I received what I believe to be a pretty good educational start in life. I had excellent teachers who challenged us and encouraged inquiry and free-thinking for as far back as I can remember. I went on to university where I pursued a BA with a focus on history and philosophy. I also did a few semesters at a theological college due to my (still extant) fascination with religion both organised and chaotic. I quickly realised that the members of this institution were not (unsurprisingly to a lot of you I'm sure) interested in the same open-minded investigation and discussion of christianity's origins and doctrines that I was and, as such, quickly decided I was sand in the gears rather than grist for the mill.

Following my university period came a good few years where religion played no significant part in my life at all. I worked, I studied, I fell in love and got married, I travelled etc. etc.
During this time, if asked, I would have probably responded that I was agnostic or possibly that I considered myself "spiritual" rather than "religious" but I would have gotten a bit vague after that.

Then, almost a month ago, my grandfather died abruptly of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. This came as a bit of a shock to all of our family as he had been extremely fit and strong physically (although suffering from deteriorating mental faculties for quite awhile). My grandmother on the other hand had been very ill with cancer for a long time and had had several episodes were she was not expected to pull through.
Mrs. Viking was in Australia at the time he died taking our new daughter (first child for us and first grandchild on my side of the family) on a grand world tour to meet the family. Specifically, the trip had been brought forward so that my grandmother could meet her as soon as possible in case her health took a turn for the worse and, in the worst case, died before she could meet her great-granddaughter.

So I was home alone. In a city where we've only lived for a few years and I have no real support-network or circle of friends like I do back home. Naturally, this leads to a certain amount of introspection. I began to critically assess my beliefs. I spent many hours in reflection. I wafted around the 'net looking for...I'm not sure what exactly, to be honest but what I found was a group of writers whose views (at least most of them) resonated for me with the clarity of a bell. To mention a few names:

Ebon at Daylight Atheism and Ebon Musings
The Exterminator at No More Hornets
PhillyChief at You Made Me Say It (Go Chiefs!)
The Chaplain at the Apostate's Chapel
The Spanish Inquisitor

This is far, far from a complete list but it is representative at least. These writers' positivity, optimism, rationality, hope, compassion, empathy and articulate pieces caused me to have, for want of a better word, somewhat of an epiphany: I do believe that this life is all we have. I do believe that this makes it infinitely more valuable and worthy of being treasured. I do believe that morals can be derived from nothing more than our shared humanity without the need for a heavenly watchdog waving sticks or dangling carrots. In short, a lot of pieces fell into place in my mind with a resounding thump.

Anyway, this post has rambled on a bit more than I intended and I need to leave it here for now. It's a start at least.