The Free Will to Make Changes

“Life move’s pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you can miss it.” -Ferris Bueller

It’s been a busy month and next year looks like it will be even busier as something I’m working on for a big career change appears to be working out. I’ll get to work abroad if it does. We’ll get to experience more of this “pale blue dot” and do more to enjoy the variety of life that is available to us humans on this planet as it slowly spins in this little corner of this vast universe. Life is for living and we intend on living it up as much as we can. Otherwise I fear for falling into the ever present cycle of work and home. It begins to wear a rut in our existence as we move through repeated patterns of the same activities and experiences over and over. Every now and then when I notice it happening again, I shake myself awake and take a look at pictures of far away lands and remind myself of my place and perspective in the universe. As far as I know, we only have this one life and I know I have the free will to make changes to how and where I live it.

pale blue dot

I recently read some articles about Sam Harris’ interesting view on Free Will that he put in a very short book. Basically he says that free will is an illusion. When it comes down to it I believe you either act or you don’t and it is a free will choice to make changes or stay with the status quo. Even if the environment around me and the structure and chemicals of my mind really adds up to my choices just being derived from all of that instead of from “me”… well, I still think the choice between “do” or “wait” is the free will we can exercise. Even if we are predetermined to the actions we take when we act, we still have to choose to act. Maybe I was already destined to seek to change jobs but I feel like I had to actively take my recent actions for this path instead of passively waiting for something to happen to me.

In contrast, my religious brother seems to be a bit more passive with life and I often wonder how much he sits back and prays for good things to come to him instead of seeking them out. I believe he can change his path in life simply by doing something, anything, instead of wishing with prayers for the universe to bend to his will through an imagined god. He looks to a mythological super being instead of using whatever free will we have to move within the universe to achieve whatever he wants. I think it’s pretty self-centered and egotistical to expect any aspect of the universe to do anything for us since there’s no true evidence or knowledge that it does or should.

On a final note of changes, my oldest child is 19 and has decided he doesn’t want to continue with college at this point after a lackluster first year of it. He now plans to move to another state with a cheaper cost of living to start his life now. Fortunately he has a pretty good head on his shoulders, a good bit of money saved up, and I think he’ll do fine taking care of himself. He’s given his 2 weeks notice at work here and plans to move out after Labor Day. Yep, it’s been a busy month so far and it probably won’t slow down anytime soon as my little family with our nomadic spirit acts upon that trait. I’ll try to post things about agnosticism as I see it when I have a chance. You may hear more crickets than mumblings as we ramble on through our lives without knowledge of gods. Such things are beyond us and ultimately unimportant for us to live good and meaningful lives on this planet.

Led Zeppelin – Ramble On

Leaves are falling all around
It’s time i was on my way.
Thanks to you i’m much obliged
For such a pleasant stay.
But now it’s time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way.
For now i smell the rain
And with it pain
And it’s headed my way.
Ah sometimes i grow so tired
But i know i’ve got one thing i got to do

ramble on
And now’s the time the time is now
To sing my song.
I’m goin’ ’round the world,
I got to find my girl, on my way.
I’ve been this way ten years to the day, ramble on,
Gotta find the queen of all my dreams.

Got no time to for spreadin’ roots,
The time has come to be gone.
And tho’ our health we drank a thousand times,
It’s time to ramble on…..

I Fell From The Sky

I sometimes joke that I wasn’t born and that I mysteriously fell from the sky one day. It’s a bit of a play on the tall tales like the stork bringing babies or finding them in cabbage patches. I sometimes tell my children that they also fell from the sky and I think I do that because it makes it sound like they’re more unique than a simple combination of me and their mother. However, they definitely have characteristics and traits of us in them that let me know they are clearly a product of our physical human bodies. They don’t have their own spark of life and humanity that is completely separate and apart from us. If I were to imagine that the essence of our being was something supernatural like a soul then I would imagine they wouldn’t adhere to a physical ancestry like I see in my family.

I have to rely on the universe around me for any clues it may reveal concerning the truth in what my fellow humans tell me. I’m told by some people that we have an eternal soul, but then our personalities appear to be dependent on our genetics. Our individual creations are physical and the idea of our souls always existing doesn’t match what I’ve experienced. I can’t take any stories from my ancestors as an unquestionable truth just as everyone that comes after me shouldn’t take my words as an absolute truth regardless of how many or how few people concur with any of it at the time. Eventually the real knowledge may be found and believed for what it is.

Soul Surfer

Last weekend my daughter asked me to take her to the movie Soul Surfer. I was a little wary of the religious aspects of it since she’s still working through her own beliefs, but it wasn’t a bad movie for a 14-year-old girl working through depression regardless of religion. The story of determination and hope outshines any messages of faith it had so I think it’s a decently positive movie for nonbelievers as well. The times they touched on religious belief may be comforting for believers and eye rolling for nonbelievers, but for this nonbeliever they didn’t try too hard with the attempts to associate real world events and human strength to a godly purpose. I think it’s a story about believers without necessarily trying to spread belief. I know I would have hated watching this movie for myself but maybe I’m less critical because I did it for my daughter.

If you don’t know it, it’s a movie based on a true story about a surfer that survived a shark attack but lost an arm. The family rightfully thanked the friend’s dad for what he did to save Bethany more than they thanked their God for saving her. It saddens me when believers give all of the credit to the supernatural and don’t give any credit to the efforts right here on Earth. If you’re going to believe in gods then I still expect you to acknowledge the efforts of humanity since I’ve never seen the gods work without our “help.” Even when it comes to the inevitable question of “why bad things happen to good people?” the answer is the same as you’d get from any human with or without religion. Sometimes things just happen and there is no reason we know for it. They try to suggest that there was tie to an unknown purpose and possibly that was to serve as an inspiration to others. However, the inspiration we can get from Bethany’s strength is for anyone to be inspired by without or without gods.

It was the challenges faced by Bethany and how she dealt with them and overcame them that was the topic of discussion for us. We talked about depression being my daughter’s shark or maybe even her arm loss. We talked about how something that seems so hopeless and terrible at the time can be overcome and there really is a reason to continue living and continue working to be better than our current conditions. We talked about how Bethany and my daughter both have help along the way to survive but ultimately it was Bethany’s strength, determination, and desire to do more and better that made her the better person she has become. Not once did our talk bring up god, religion, or anything supernatural because it wasn’t necessary for the conversation. Not everyone needs such things to give them hope. My daughter felt a little hope and a little happiness to see a fellow teenager girl overcome and triumph. It was a good moment and I hope things like this can provide some amount of help while we work through overcoming her depression. The movie may not have touched my “soul” but it was a nice moment with my daughter that through her it touched my heart. I wish for Bethany’s strength for my own daughter and anyone else that needs it.

Depression

I haven’t posted in a while and the reason is depression. It’s not really about me even though I haven’t been feeling as mentally well myself because of this. Our teenage daughter has been diagnosed with clinical depression. You may think of depression as just a feeling but it’s an actual medical condition where your own body and mind is working against you. “True clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a long period of time. The exact cause of depression is not known. Many researchers believe it is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which may be hereditary or caused by events in a person’s life. “ Major Depression from NIH

The situation has been getting worse and worse with raging hormones and the move to high school as some personal life events that could be impacting her. However, she’s described it as a feeling of deep sadness that can’t be shaken no matter how good or bad life is going. It’s such a sadness that caused her to think terrible thoughts and engage in self harm which could have had a disastrous ending. She’s also been hospitalized and is working with various medications to help her with this disorder. This is an ongoing issue but we’re hopefully done with the self harm and risk of suicide. I know it has only been the fact that her mother and I have been watching over her and intervening in her activities is the reason why she is still with us today. I implore any of you parents that are dealing with similar situations to read up on depression and get your loved ones actual help from medical professionals if it’s so serious that they need that.

Since this is an agnostic blog I will get to that tie-in now. Earlier in the dealings with this problem our daughter started to try all sorts of things to feel better. One of her best friends is very active in her Methodist church and invited our daughter along so they could spend more time together. Our daughter ended up joining the church and now considers herself a Christian with a healthy amount of skepticism as she tries out belief. She enjoyed the youth activities at the church even if many things were confusing to her as a former nonbeliever. We didn’t agree with religion as an answer but we didn’t criticize or talk negative in any way about it since it was a choice she was making to use it as another tool to help herself. I do believe the social aspects of church are healthy and useful to many people regardless of the truth of religion itself, but like everything else she was trying it didn’t help her depression and she continued suffering until it turned into self harm and other issues that forced us to seek medical help.

Atheist Children?

I’ve found another good article from a USA Today columnist. The article is Am I raising ‘atheist children’? and starts with a simple and perhaps proud proclamation of ‘I am an atheist’ and explains how that came to be as always being nonreligious. Personally, I went from Catholic to Atheist to Agnostic in my belief.

‘We are nothing’

I never describe our family as “an atheist family” (I prefer to say, “We are nothing,” as in not part of any religion), and I reject the notion that my kids are automatically what I am. I think that keeping them open to all the possibilities is more important than telling them what to believe in.

I know a lot of religious families who say they are a Christian, Jewish or Muslim family. And they are. They have traditions, rituals and celebrations that define what they are. They pass those things to the children, along with belief.

Most young children accept what their parents tell them as true, whether it is the existence of Santa Claus or Jesus Christ. It is important that children understand what their parents believe, but it is also important for children to know about all the options out there. This is tricky if a parent is a true believer of a religion and feels that her way is the only path. But how can children question openly when they are taught that there are absolute truths in belief?

My family doesn’t have a shared religion just as this country does not have a religion. I’m Agnostic, my wife is an unbeliever without want of a label, my son claims Atheist, and my daughter is loosely identified as Christian since she’s 11 and goes along to get along. I’m waiting another year or two before really discussing religion with her since I know a parent’s view and word has power that could be viewed as brainwashing in my opinion. I want her to experience society a bit more first before sharing my own belief in depth. I’ve primarly answered questions with more questions just as the closing of the article touches on. I want my children to develop their own religious identities in their own way so they can truly say their belief is their’s alone. I don’t see any wisdom in having the belief of your ancestors just because of where you were born and who you were born from.

Free will

Part of being a good parent is allowing our children to become whatever and whoever they become. Watching my children explore the ideas that are out there and grapple with the many, often conflicting, religious views in the world is exciting. They bring new understanding to things — not only for themselves, but for me as well. If my daughter came to me and told me she was joining a church, I would ask her how she reached her decision. But that would be my approach with any of the big decisions in my children’s lives. Questioning puts us all on a path to greater understanding.

As my children navigate their teenage years, I know that the understanding will be harder to come by. The questions will get tougher. The answers won’t always be what I want to hear.

But I’ll keep asking, and I’ll encourage my kids to be open and questioning. They might not end up like me, but I’m at peace with the idea that they will end up as themselves.