Archive for the 'Life' Category

Hell yes.

Red belt

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Corner of Gardeners Rd and Tunstall Ave

Speaking of praying for parking spaces…

Earlier today I remembered a piece of trivia from my Former Life as a Christian. I should mention, what follows is distinctly in the “random blog post about some crap nobody else will be interested in” category. You have been warned.

When I was at university, one of the well-honed routes I used to drive to get there (before the M5 was finished) included a particular set of traffic lights, going east on Gardeners Rd and turning left into Tunstall Ave:

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What made these particular lights interesting was that they had an uncanny habit of being green when I got to them. Sometimes they’d turn green just as I pulled up. Now, you might put this down to being synchronised with an earlier set of lights, or being turnoff from a fairly major road to a dinky side street that probably wouldn’t stay red for long, and the logical part of my mind knew this. But somehow the superstitious part of my mind convinced me that it was Meaningful, and that it would be a Bad Sign if I ever had to stop there.

Don’t try to find the logic in that, there isn’t any.

The strangest thing about it is that it wasn’t even in line with my Christan beliefs. We put superstition under the “witchcraft” clause of Galatians 5:20. (Where’s the line between superstition and acting in accordance with the will of an invisible entity? I dunno. That’s a different discussion.) But there’s a drive in the human mind to find meaning in pattern, and it is strong with this one.

I do remember that the lights were red one day. I vaguely recall something bad happening later that day, but I can’t remember what it was, and I only realised later, and I’m pretty sure I could have found something negative on any given day if I’d tried hard enough. And it’s possible that I’ve misremembered it entirely. Hmm.

If I’d met myself at uni, I probably wouldn’t have liked myself very much.

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Merry Christmas

We’re in my parents’ place in the Blue Mountains. It’s raining very slightly, and there’s a mist over everything. There’s a tree outside that’s covered with a light-coloured moss, and the dew on that almost sort of makes it look like snow.

This is about the closest to a White Christmas we’re ever going to have in Sydney. :)

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Spiritual pornography

Want to hear something funny?

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be part of the ICOC, which wasn’t particularly well-liked as churches go. The internet had (and still has, although much of it is out of date) loads of information from ex-members, cult experts, more traditional evangelicals, and everyday conspiracy theorists about its abuses and bad practices. A quick search for “ICOC” would quickly send up alarm bells for anyone who was willing to look.

Unsurprisingly, we were encouraged not to read such nonsense. There was even a semi-standard term for it – “spiritual pornography”.

At the time of writing, a Google search for “spiritual pornography” turns up, in its top ten entries, four pages related to the ICOC (one in the context of Islam, of all things), a rant about churches that lack substance, two about the Mormon church, one about The Da Vinci Code, and two about Harry Potter. Yeesh.

Speaking of Mormons (and on a related topic), I remember one time, maybe a couple of years after I joined the church, when I ran into a couple of Mormons on campus – or immediately outside the gate, as I think security kept them off the actual property. This was at a time when I was starting to educate myself about Christian history, other denominations and so on (always from ICOC-friendly sources, of course), and I saw this as a good opportunity to learn about someone else’s point of view first-hand. I met with them a couple of times, and they put me through what seemed to be a pretty standard spiel, which wasn’t very convincing, but was quite educational.

I mentioned this to a couple of people at church. They were shocked that I’d spend my time doing something so obviously harmful to my spiritual health.

The funny thing about this was that we did exactly the same sales pitch as the Mormons (although pushing a different product) all the time. We were constantly accusing people of not being open-minded if they couldn’t spare a few minutes to sit down with us and talk about the bible. Apparently this argument only worked in a seller’s market.

Plenty of people have suggested that religions protect themselves by making people scared of listening to differing opinions, convincing them that it’s really easy to be corrupted. Such people go on to say that the truth doesn’t need protection from criticism, and that the only reason to be afraid of hearing other opinions is if you’re worried they might be right. Any idea that needs to be insulated like that, and collapses as soon as people start to question it, is almost certainly wrong.

I can say wholeheartedly that I’ve seen this process first-hand. I was kept away from anti-Christian and anti-ICOC material for most of the time that I would have called myself a Christian. The first time I took the opposite view seriously, it turned me into an atheist within a few months.

The most convincing aspect of all this is that it doesn’t work the other way around. As an atheist, it doesn’t worry me at all to read Christian material. I have a bible sitting next to me on my desk. I’ve read books on Christian apologetics, and re-read stuff that I’d previously read as a Christian; it’s annoyed me sometimes, but it’s rarely made me doubt. I feel like I have a much more robust, defensible view of the world now, and I don’t need to insulate it.


Rosemary update

If I’m gonna update regularly, then I’m sorry, but some posts are going to be about boring minutiae of my life. This is a blog, after all.

So it’s time for an update on my rosemary plant! Here are before and after photos (or rather, “three months ago” and “this morning” photos):

Three months agonThis morning


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Merry Christmas – yeah, you heard me…

Well, it’s about 3 hours to Christmas here in Sydney.

As an atheist, there are a few things I could have said there to avoid mentioning Christ. With a bit of adjustment to the date, I could have substituted Midsummer (not Winter Solstice, we’re in summer down here, although you wouldn’t know it from the rain we got today), Cephalopodmas, Winter-een-mas or Festivus; or I could have skipped it altogether. (Xmas would be an ineffective choice – the letter # has been used to represent Christ almost since New Testament times.)

However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, in Australia at least, Christmas isn’t a particularly Christian thing anymore. It’s a family and gifts and food and wine and holiday thing. Johann Hari makes the point that the materialist taking-over of Christmas is not necessarily a bad thing – and although I reserve judgment on that specifically, the fact that the whole country grinds to a halt for a supposedly Christian holiday and it doesn’t have any significant Christian effect on most people is, on the whole, probably a positive sign.

As in many things, Richard Dawkins sums it up nicely (quoted from here, although I know I’ve read it somewhere else):

So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

My thoughts exactly. Merry Christmas everyone.

I’ve taken the next couple of weeks off, and I plan to use it to, among other things, get the “blog regularly” mentality hammered into my head once and for all.

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Over the last year or so, we’ve been cultivating a bit of a herb garden. It’s nothing brilliant, but it’s given us enough basil and mint to be able to keep them off the shopping list.

In that time we’ve killed quite a few plants. Now, if you believe what people who actually know something about plants say, rosemary is a dead simple herb to grow. In fact it should be virtually unkillable.


Our first attempt to grow rosemary failed when Tina decided she needed some of its leaves for a roast. Our garden was left with what could best be described as a rosemary stick. Our second attempt was possibly overwatered (rosemary is supposed to like it dry), and died after getting some kind of white covering that may or may not have been a fungus. Our third attempt appeared to be underwatered – there’s a difference between “liking it dry” and “turning greyish-brown”, apparently. Our fourth attempt was from seeds, which I never saw again after they went into the soil.

Today I planted our fifth attempt. I’m working on a theory that some of the previous ones didn’t have enough room to spread their roots, so this one is in a bigger pot than I think is naturally warranted. I haven’t decided yet whether to give it a bit of welcome-to-your-new-home moisture before leaving it dry. We’ll see.

Updates as they come.

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Fatherly absence

Just noticed something funny.

I was reading this post at Boxed Treasure, and his comment about “not rebelling against a parental figure” jogged something in my memory. In Apologetics class, we learnt that people project their relationship with their father onto God. So if someone thinks they’re upset with God, they’re really just upset with their father. Nietzche and Hitler apparently both had bad relationships with their fathers, which proves it. An atheist is presumably someone who doesn’t believe that their father exists.

I’m just passing this information on.

It occurred to me that yesterday’s post about Dad not telling me about the Christmas party makes me a wide open target for anyone wanting to do an amateur psychological assessment of the root cause of my disconnection from God. Once I even described the uselessness of prayer by asking why God “hasn’t returned any of my calls” (I was trying to pick a fight with a Christian at the time).

There. All the incriminating evidence is on the table. I’m interested to hear what anyone makes of it.

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McLeish Estate

My uncle’s winery has been raking in a few awards lately, particularly for their 2005 Semillon. Quick bit of publicity – if you happen to find yourself in Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley for whatever reason, drop into McLeish Estate on DeBeyers Road. Tell ‘em I sent you.

McLeish Estate Jessica's Botrytis Semillon awards

Here endeth the plug.

Tina and I drove up yesterday to see them (and their wine, of course) on a bit of a whim. Virtually no planning went into it. The first thing I find out after saying hello to my aunt is that the family Christmas party was happening back in Sydney. They weren’t there because the cellar door was too busy. I wasn’t there because Dad hadn’t bothered to tell me about it.

Yeah, November is a bit early for a Christmas party. My family’s like that.

Now, admittedly I haven’t called Dad for a while, but in my defence he’s pretty deaf and his hearing aid doesn’t play well with the phone, so calling him “just to say hi” tends to be a bit futile. We had dinner with him sometime around Fathers’ Day, and if I remember correctly, we were planning to do it again when he came down to Sydney again in December. In hindsight, this seems like it would have been an opportune moment to mention that there’d be a Christmas party in between. Dad’s my main source of information for his side of the family, so if I was going to hear about it from anyone, it would be him.

Although, come to think of it, my brother didn’t tell me either. Hmm.

I’m not particularly annoyed, but it’s amusing. You sort of expect your parents to be on top of things. I’ll call him in a couple of days and laugh at him.

Oh, one more thing, before leaving the topic of wine. Iron Gate Sweet Shiraz. I’m not going to say anything else.


Where am I?

Okay, I haven’t posted for… wow, over two weeks now. That’s pretty impressive.

I spent a fair bit of time working on the story of how I became an atheist, partly spurred by Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist putting out a call for such stories. That stalled a bit when I tried to work out how much personal detail I wanted to go into, and especially how much I should say about other people. It’ll be up soon, hopefully before the second round of Frank’s collection (Part 1 is already up).

A lot of stuff has been happening in the last couple of weeks, which has sapped a bit of my free time. I’ll write about some of it soon. One of the things is an upcoming Hapkido grading, which is tonight.

Decay has not set in just yet.

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