Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gazing (Into the Abyss)

(Reprinted in full from The Ester Republic)

One of the more prevalent stereotypes of atheists is just how damned angry they are. Far from being evidence of any spiritual incontinence, I usually attribute this phenomenon along the lines of the infamous bumper-sticker “If you’re not pissed you’re not paying attention.” Case in point being a recent upswell in the fame of one particular charlatan, Braco, an up-and-coming Croatian purveyor of woo who holds transcendent “gazing sessions.” These consist of The Great & Powerful Oz standing before a crowd of rapturous suckers and silently… staring… at them for only eight bucks a pop. This reaches previously unheard-of heights in swindling, as it is a classic song and dance routine: but instead updated without any singing or dancing. Genius! 

Braco’s chicanery includes the usual unsubstantiated claims of spontaneous and miraculous healings from incurable diseases such as epilepsy, cancer, PTSD and toothaches. The afflicted abandon their wheelchairs or exchange their crutches to buy even more of his merchandise, and his powers of duplicity extend to working even through mere photographs of the afflicted, who will henceforth become free of paralysis, shrink their tumors, even clearing up stuffy noses and acne. Attendees of gazing sessions report a “tingling sensation” and “warm suffusion of love,” which is similar to what comes over my dog upon taking it outside first thing in the morning. And then there’s also “a big bubble of love” which I don’t really want to get into here.

Not surprisingly many of the more vocal critics of Braco’s New Age flimflammery are from hard-core adherents of the more established cults and religions. These more experienced snake-oil salesmen are no doubt jealous of such competition, as there is an uncomfortable “Emperor Wears No Clothes” angle that effectively undermines the legitimacy of pastors and preachers. They recognize the threat behind someone who conducts a much more powerful sermon by just shutting the hell up (notwithstanding attending some Quaker meetings). Maybe I’ve become somewhat inured to the experience of giving lectures in classrooms at eight o’clock in the morning when it’s forty-below zero outside, but meeting anybody’s eyes is a miracle, and they typically paying thousands of dollars for their enlightenment.

But how does it hurt anyone to let them indulge in innocent rituals of supernatural placebos? And why are you being such a big meanie? But what’s not just personally offensive but one of the closest personifications of evil is the literal praying on the gullibility of people who, in many cases, have legitimate and sincere afflictions. This is the fraudulent trademark of these holy con artists, who swindle their living off the hard cash and naive hopes of their victims. It also obviously includes the majority of pious politicians, but that’s another cartoon. Instead, it would be a far better “miracle” to establish an intimate, meaningful connection with the person sharing your space right now. So unless you are reading this edition of the Ester Republic in the outhouse, put it down for a moment and try gazing at your loved one or companion across the table or room. Soon you will realize the inherent superiority of the print media, especially newspapers, at hiding from such weird behavior. Note this technique isn’t particularly effective gazing at the cat or dog… excepting in reverse when the food bowl is empty or the litterbox is full.

Point is, some simple quality time looking at the people in your life would be time far better spent than being scammed by any such self-anointed gurus. Thank you, you’re welcome – and now you owe me a beer at the Golden Eagle.


  1. Jamie,
    My experience as a life time atheist is just the opposite. It's the believers who are miserable.
    I once listened to an interview of a born again atheist and she commented on the bliss she experienced once she shed the perpetual burden of guilt.
    It was then that I learned just how lucky I've been.
    Wierd, isn't it,

  2. Agreed, and thanks for the reminder, my sarcasm detracts from that message of freedom. It requires an awful lot of mental energy and an astonishing level of convoluted coping skills to maintain the barriers to prevent cognitive dissonance between reality and fantasy.
    But dodging the divine bullet isn’t so much weirdness as maybe an aspect of existential self-awareness, which cuts both ways. Sometimes I also envy the comparative luxury of not having to think and question everything so much (though people that refuse to also make it much harder for everyone else on the planet). After the bliss wears off the responsibility for critical thinking becomes hard work. But it’s a lot more fun, and at times the results are funnier too. Like unicorn farts.
    And you still owe me a beer.

  3. Jamie,
    We owe you so much more than just a beer buddy. But, that's a debt I'd happily repay.

    You know, since you've been in school, your dog-gone vocabulary has gone through the ruff (Har Har)!
    Take care,

  4. Atheism brings a much higher level of responsibility than religious belief does, because now there is no cosmic being to make things all right. If you screw up and hurt someone it's all on you from beginning to end. Guilt is not a function of religious belief. If you have a value system and you let yourself down and you step on someone else, purposely or accidentally you just might carry it around with you for the rest of your life. Whether it takes the form of a scar or a brand you put on yourself unproductively or simply a little twinge that reminds you of your fallibility, some level of guilt hangs around anyone with a conscience. There's no eternal damnation or reward, but there's also no balancing spiritual force of any kind. The stakes are much higher then. People have made the mistake for centuries of trying to keep children in line with stories of gods and devils when they should have been breeding a good and worthy fear of hurting other people.

  5. Thanks, and you don't really HAVE to buy me a beer then. Now I feel guilty...

    But seriously, one of the valuable aspects of fairy tales is instilling a sense of morality - case in point being how I was raised on fables and myths - which conversely were also the underpinnings of my skepticism towards established religion later on in life. Whether from Aesop, Tolkien, Odin, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Blessed be thy Noodly Appendage) (R'Amen) telling stories serves an important mythological function in culture, and impart important lessons. Not so much a way to run a life though. Having personally experienced heavens and hells aplenty right here & now on planet Earth, any attempt to hold rewards & punishments over me based on any afterlife is irrelevant and laughable. Which is a healthy attitude when confronted with damnation or divinity.

  6. Many stories are told with a moral in mind even if they don't fit the recognizable mold of myths and fables. Some of them can be taken from what we call real life. Mostly, however, they're streamlined for the audience. They're just one way to try to instill values in a receptive mind.

    It all comes down to cause and effect. You may be strong and ruthless and choose to dominate your fellow beings through those qualities. You may be cunning and clever and try to prevail by guile. You may simply be very good at sneaking quietly and therefore think to survive as a thief. The list is as long as the story of every life, or nearly so. But embark on no path until you have considered the consequences and weighed the odds. Everything has its price. I concern myself with who might be enslaved on my behalf. This includes sweatshop workers in countries I will probably never visit and military personnel shoved into conflicts to support generations of flawed foreign policy. I worry about a lot of stupid shit that sensible people ignore as they furnish their own individual lives as best they can -- which is a major contributor to generations of flawed foreign and domestic policy. And so the wheel turns...