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I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult, and obsessive.  I think it takdes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good. ~Barbara Streisand

I turned SIXTY this past September.  That’s a big 6 and an 0.  Six DECADES of life.  And I still feel like I’m 17 with the whole world at my feet and eternity to explore it in.  As my birthday approached I became increasingly reflective, contemplating the past and what I have accomplished and musing about how much time I had left to accomplish anything,; whether I could accomplish anything that mattered,  and what I wanted that to be.  What kind of legacy did I want to leave behind?  How could I be the best me I could be?

These musings were very private and personal so they didn’t get written about.  At least not for public consumption. They consumed a great deal of time and energy and as a consequence this Blog and many other things were neglected.  It was a downright obsessive compulsive period that lasted much longer than I would have thought  but in many ways I am glad I took those long months off and engaged in more than a little self indulgent navel gazing.  It was good for me because I realized that I had been shambling  through life like a tumbleweed blown hither, thither, and yon at the whim of whatever breeze blew the hardest.  I need to focus.  I need to narrow down what I will give my precious little available head space  and physical energy to and set some goals.

I don’t usually make formal New Years Resolutions because when I do  I usually set such lofty goals for myself that I can’t possibly live up to them.  But then that leads to vague, unfocused rambling semi-goals  that are seldom really productive.  Every year I do choose a few  new to me things to learn.  Usually something difficult and something not so difficult and something easy. I really enjoy learning to do new things and I have learned a lot of things over my lifetime.  I’m proud of this ability and I’m proud of the many varied interests I have.  I think it keeps me young and my mind alert.  (I may be kidding myself about that part.)  Most of all it means that I am very rarely bored.

However, where I get into trouble is my expectations for myself.  For instance last year I vowed to learn to play bridge and I did learn the basics but bridge is a complicated game and there was so MUCH to learn that I became overwhelmed so I quit.  I wanted to be able to jump into a game with people who had been playing Bridge for years and be competitive.  I was not content to BE a beginner.  And that is my hubris.  I expect too much of myself.  I’m too competitive.

The same thing happened when I decided to learn to crochet before my daughter was born.  I didn’t just want to learn to crochet, I wanted to crochet her coming home from the  hospital outfit and when I was a couple of months along I chose a lovely and not too complicated  pattern. I managed to accomplish learning how to crochet and I did manage to make my daughter’s coming home outfit before she was born but I didn’t learn some things that were essential for crocheting a truly lovely garment.  And my disappointment in my effort led me to quit putting in any more effort to learn.   I couldn’t do it perfectly so I didn’t want to do it at all.  I realize now that it really was too hard to learn more than the basics  all by myself.  What’s more, I wasn’t willing to do the dull practice of crocheting simple scarves and hats that didn’t require complicated turns and counting stitches to get to the point that I could point with pride at what I had made. If I cannot produce a garment that looks as if it had been made by someone with 20 years of experience crocheting then I lose interest.  I want to be an expert in 3 easy lessons.

Of course that doesn’t  happen.  My expectations for myself were and always have been too high.  If I can’t be an instant expert, leftover tapes from my childhood begin to play in my head and I  abandon whatever didn’t come easy immediately.  So this year, late in life, I have decided to learn how to lower my expectations and learn something difficult one baby step at a time and not let my failure to be perfect at doing it right away get in my way. After all, over the years whenever I wanted a new scarf or a hat, I have picked up the yarn and needles and crocheted one and now people see my work and offer to pay me to crochet for them.  I have finally become an expert in scarves and hats. I’ve decided after all this time to learn to be a beginner. Not so difficult things usually comes pretty easy for me so I felt that the key to correcting this flaw in my character was to break something down into its simplest components, to begin at the beginning  and become an expert in one small piece at a time before I allowed myself to move on the the next small piece.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions.

1.  Find a teacher to teach me how to do something difficult the right way and quit expecting myself to be able to learn new things without help.

2. Accept that I cannot become an expert in something until I have finished the business of being a beginner.

3. Put my ability to be obsessive to good use and learn to deal with the boredom of the repetitive details of being a beginner until I have ceased to be a beginner at step one before I move on to step two.

4. Do allow my compulsive nature to jump ahead to what I consider  the “fun stuff”  ruin the process of learning.  Learn to accept “failure” and frustration as part of the process of learning.

5. Relax and enjoy being  the best me I can be.

These are the new things I want to learn this year:

Making good light fluffy cream Scones

The Korean alphabet

Understanding and using Linux terminal  command lines

Oh, and one more resolution:  BLOG about my experiences

.

 

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 

 

 

 

 

Magnolia Trees at sunset in the Arboretum Longnecker Garden, Madison, WI.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

Flowering trees framed by crab apple blossoms arranged by gardeners in The Arboretum Longenecker Gardens in Madison, WI.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

modern sculpture native rock

Modern sculpture from native rock Mifflin and Carroll Street, Madison, WI.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 


We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further.  ~Richard Dawkns



Fundamentalist what?   Yeah, you read that right.  I consider myself a fundamentalist atheist and this blog entry is part explanation of what that means and part rant about how believers misuse the words atheist and atheism.

Recently, I have been involved in yet another annoying conversation about what it means to be an atheist on a forum I frequent at Delphi Forums. It is annoying because some of the theists, aka believers in gods and goddesses, and one annoying agnostic participating in the discussion about religion are determined to claim the right to define what I and the other atheists on the forum believe about their (the believers’) gods and why. It is annoying because when those of us who ARE atheists speak up and disagree with their assessment of atheists and atheism we are dismissed as if what we think about ourselves and our beliefs is irrelevant. 

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying I have been an atheist for over 25 years. This is not a position I took easily nor one I continue to take lightly. Suffice it to say that the road that led to my disbelief was difficult and emotionally draining.

My lack of belief in gods and goddesses may be the most definitive aspect of my persona because it effects every other aspect of my life to one degree or another. My lack of belief in the Christian god in particular colors my thoughts about my roles as a human being, a citizen of Wisconsin and the USA in general, a woman, mother, writer, political junkie, etc., etc. It is annoying as all get out to be told that I MUST believe ABC to claim the distinction of atheism by people who are determined to portray atheists and atheism in the worst possible light.

One of the most egregious claims by believers is that ALL atheists, by default, positively deny the possibility of the existence of gods or goddesses and claim to know without a doubt that NO higher power or supreme being exists in the universe. This leads to the next ridiculous claim that an atheist’s beliefs requires just as much faith as a theist. These theists (and one extremely annoying agnostic)  often go one step further and claim that atheism is just as much of a religion as any Christian sect or denomination such as Catholicism or Southern Baptist or religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or Islam.

All of these claims are absolutely untrue. There is only one criteria to be an atheist. That is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses.  Let me say that again.  The only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses and that is basic or what I call fundamentalist atheism.  Why fundamentalist?  Because a simple lack of belief is fundamentally what makes an atheist an atheist regardless of any other position they take on gods and goddesses.

Lack of belief does not equal the complete denial of the possibilities that could be true. Gods and goddesses could exist. They might even actually exist. I know quite a few atheists online and offline. Very, very few of them actually claim that they do not believe that gods or goddesses could or even might possibly exist. I certainly don’t.

However without knowledge that they do, atheists such as myself simply cannot believe they do.  For us, belief requires knowledge that is based on verifiable, objective, empirical evidence–material things that we can experience directly through our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). The preponderance of a lack of such evidence for any of the gods and goddesses posited to date certainly makes me skeptical that any exist but there is no evidence that would cause me to know that none exist and substantiate a claim that they do not.   So I don’t make such a claim.

It is true that some atheists will positively state that gods do not and cannot exist but they are few and far between.  Theists who claim that atheists who completely deny the possibility that gods and goddesses exist are correct when they say that that position takes just as much faith on the atheist’s part as their own belief.  Since faith is belief without evidence, any atheist who states uncategorically that there is no god is basing his or her beliefs on faith (belief without evidence). However, since the vast majority of atheists do not take this position, theists are being disingenuous in applying such criteria to all atheists or they just don’t understand what atheism really is.

As for the assertion that atheism is just as much a religion as any other theological belief, that is just plain bunk. To quote Penn Gillette, one of my favorite atheistic celebrities, “Atheism is a religion like NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.” Aside from our lack of belief in gods and goddesses categorizing atheists into neat little boxes based on our beliefs is like herding cats. We have no creed or dogma that all atheists must subscribe to in order to qualify as an atheist aside from that simple fundamental lack of belief.  There is no umbrella organization that all atheists could or would join that would represent our lack of belief.

Part of the confusion and the cause of these misconceptions is that the people who do believe in a god(s) or goddess(es) and make these claims can pull out a dictionary (or several) and point to the definition of atheism found in it. For example:

 

Onelook Dictionary atheism

 

 

noun

the belief or theory that God does not exist

more…


Provided by Macmillan Dictionary


 

Quick definitions from WordNet (atheism)


noun:  a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods
noun:  the doctrine or belief that there is no God

 

Theists who want to argue that atheism is a religion requiring faith  will completely ignore the “lack of belief” definition if that is even included in the dictionary they consult and focus on the belief, theory, and doctrine parts of the definitions. Unfortunately, while I am very fond of dictionaries, I have to make the assertion that the popular desk dictionaries on the market and online can be and often are wrong. They are good guidelines for understanding the way language is used by a social group or culture but they are not the end all and be all of definitions.

You’ll notice that the Onelook website has links to 47 dictionaries that define atheism. Most of them will contain very similar definitions of the word atheism or atheist. Very few pay attention to the etymology of the word or the way in which atheists define themselves which is where the truth about what being an atheist means is to be found.

Cheap modern desk dictionaries record the popular usage of words and since the majority of the populous tends to be theistic, atheism is defined on their terms and not by atheists themselves. Unfortunately a really good dictionary like The Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is terribly expensive even online. You would probably be able to find an unabridged dictionary at your local library (my local library will look a word up for you if you call the reference desk) but very few people have ready access to one. Luckily for me, for the purposes of this essay Austin Cline includes the definition from The Oxford Dictionary on his About.com website.

 

Oxford English Dictionary

atheism: (from Greek atheos, “without God, denying God”) Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. Also, Disregard of duty to God, godlessness (practical atheism).

First the etymology of the word is very plain. It stems from the Greek theos or the feminine thea which simply means gods or goddesses(Thea was one of the Titanic Greek Gods, mother of the dawn, Eos, the sun, Helios and the moon, Selene. Reference:Theoi Greek Mythology) Being a theist means to believe in the gods and goddesses. According to Robertson’s Words for a Modern Age,  adding the prefix “a” to make the word atheism simply changes the meaning to without belief in gods or goddesses: (a=without + theos = gods). Atheism is simply a lack of theism much as asymmetrical means a lack of symmetry.

More importantly, the way atheists define and describe themselves should be given primary consideration. They are, after all, the ones who have come to the conclusion that they cannot believe in gods and goddesses. Netizen_J, a self-described atheist who also posts at the same Delphi Forum  I do, eloquently puts it this way:

 

Failing to believe that a deity exists is NOT the same thing as believing that no deities exist. KNOWING that there is a paucity of actual evidence FOR any deity is not the same as a BELIEF that no deities could possibly exist.

 Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

 

Austin Cline, a philosopher who writes for About.com,  has published an entire series of articles dealing with the definition of atheism and the myths about atheism that exist versus the way atheists define themselves. His personal definiton of atheism can be found in his FAQ.  Cline includes a couple of pages of definitions of atheism by more prominent atheists on About.com’s  website. My favorite is from Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist:

 

It turns out that the word atheism means much less than I had thought. It is merely the lack of theism […] Basic atheism is not a belief. It is the lack of belief. There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god — both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter […].


 

Absence of belief (fundamental atheism) requires no faith because it leaves the question of whether or not gods and goddesses exist open. There is no positive denial that gods and goddesses cannot exist. Just a simple assertion that the atheist lacks the belief any gods or goddesses do. The reasons for that lack of belief are about as varied as the Christian sects and denominations that exist but generally it includes the fact that there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence for gods and goddesses. There is no dogma, philosophy or creed connected to the absence of belief that every atheist must subscribe to.  There is no umbrella organization an atheist could join even if they wanted to that requires any adherance to a set of principles or guidelines to be a member so it does not qualify as a religion.

What do I mean when I say I am an fundamentalist atheist? Very simply, I lack belief in any of the gods and goddesses that have been posited to date because there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence that any of them do exist. That is the fundamental criteria for atheism, in my opinion. It is the only thing that all atheists will agree on.

I’m not wedded to atheism—should someone actually provide such evidence I would happily change my stance and become a believer/theist again. Most atheists would. Do you have any?

 

 

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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