The Power of Doubt

god made me an atheist / and to glorify him i shall carry out his divine purpose / doubting

“God loves you more than you can ever love Him!” declares the guest speaker of my online cult workshop. I am doing the Twelve Steps with Big Book Awakening, a workbook, study method, and online community (or cult) of over 300 recovering alcoholics, drug users, compulsive eaters, “chaos creators,” and other literal and figurative addicts who attend weekly workshops like this one, in addition to supplemental workshops and homework groups. We are studying the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have been working on Step Four, “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” for six weeks now, and today’s topic is “self-defeating beliefs.”

i cherish the principal of anonymity / why / because i can't remember anyone's names

The speaker walks us through an “inventory sheet” of his example self-defeating belief: “God doesn’t love me.” He explains the detrimental effects this self-defeating belief has on his self-esteem, ambitions, security, personal relationships, and so on. Then, his stunning realization: it’s a lie! The truth is, God loves him very much! God loves each and every one of us, for he sent his only son Jesus Christ etc.

Since the start of this workshop five months ago, I have been intentionally, intensively, sincerely, and open-heartedly trying to cultivate faith in a Power Greater Than Myself. I envy this speaker the security and comfort he enjoys, because he believes in a loving God. But he has already alienated me, for as much as I would love to feel loved by an imaginary friend, my pesky need for truth keeps getting in the way. 

people may let you down / but god never will / that's because god doesn't exist. it's his best feature

‘The truth is, God loves me’ isn’t the Truth!” I later complain to a friend. “It’s a very nice belief, but God is unverifiable and unfalsifiable. The God of Jesus Christ might be a transformative concept, but it’s not in the realm of Truth!”

Born and raised an atheist, I keep returning to my lack of faith. I have been praying for faith for almost 40 years. I have my moments, but the desired faith never arrives. I am not like the Jesus guy, who I assume was raised Christian, left his faith, and came back. We always return to our childhood religion, don’t we? Well mine is atheism, and despite my best intentions it keeps pulling me back. Atheism loves me more than I can ever love it, apparently.

Being in an online cult, I haven’t been giving my atheism the respect it deserves. Instead I feel bad about it, feel Iacking. The best faith I can muster is suspension of disbelief, as when reading fiction or watching a movie. 

My fellow cult members are having their own come-to-Jesus moments during today’s Q and A, crying openly while confessing their minds have been blown by hearing the truth that God loves them so much. They too realize their doubts were just a pernicious lie. But my doubts aren’t lying to me. This stuff just isn’t true, and I can’t suspend my disbelief any more.

why do you believe in god / i have religious experiences / i have atheist experiences

What am I to do? I’m in a Spiritual Program. Step Two is literally, “came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and Step Three is “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understood Him.” But also I am required to be rigorously honest. 

I like being honest. I’m willing to “act as if” I believe in God, but to say “the truth is God loves me” is a lie. Worse than a lie, it’s blasphemy against capital-T Truth and its requirements of verifiability and falsifiability. Sometimes I say the Truth is my Higher Power, and I admit we can know very little about it. Other times I say God is an Imaginary Friend. As long as I know I’m imagining Her, I can imagine Her meeting all my needs for love and security and protection, all those ways my fellow humans fail me. But that’s a psychological strategy, not the Truth.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” — Philip K. Dick

If God is real, if God is the Truth, then I don’t need to believe in Her (or Him, It, whatever). Praying for faith is just making me crazy. “Let go and let God,” they say; how about I let go of trying to believe in God? The mere thought of giving that up sends me waves of relief.

i used to be a fuck-up / then i found god / now you're a religious fuck-up
Recovering addicts tend to huff God the way they huff inhalants.
They tend to see things in black and white; as page 53 of the Big Book says, “either God is everything or else he is nothing.” They go all in on the faith project. 

Active alcoholics have drinking buddies; recovering alcoholics have prayer partners. It’s all a great improvement over substance abuse, and I’m happy for them. They get high on God. But I can’t get high with them.

My cult workshop reminds me of being at a party where everyone is drinking and using except me. (A non-drinker, I am in recovery for behavioral compulsions, not drug use.)

i can't stop my compulsive ear chewing, so i asked god to help / that's totally irrational / irrational problems demand irrational solutions

At times I have tried very hard to enjoy alcohol and drugs, withstanding their horrible tastes and smells in pursuit of the alleged buzz. But as with my pursuit of faith in God, always I failed. At best I could pretend. 

At KROK, a Russian animation festival on a river cruise boat, I learned to “drink” socially by filling my glass with water and not telling anyone it wasn’t vodka. I could do that with God too, but why? Especially as my cult asks me to be rigorously honest, as well as faithful. Maybe I can’t be both.

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

My attempts to cultivate faith have brought me back to atheism. I am an Unbeliever.

But for an unbeliever, I sure cling to a lot of other beliefs. God may not be among them, but many of my beliefs are at least as untrue, and far more destructive.

Beliefs are heuristics, a word I just learned a few days ago: shortcuts for reasoned thought. They are essential for navigating everyday life, when there’s simply not enough time to reason out every decision. As much as I cherish my skepticism, I simply can’t be skeptical of everything at every moment. I must believe to function.

I have scrutinized my relationship to God, or the concept of God, for decades. I have scrutinized my atheism. I have tried to instill in myself a handy shortcut — faith, prayer — to help me navigate life, and it hasn’t fully taken. But you know what has fully taken, what persists in this alleged unbeliever’s head? Self-loathing, despair, and what AA calls “100 forms of fear.”

If someone doesn’t like me, I believe that something is wrong with me.
I believe I should change myself to please others.
I believe I should be different from how I am.
I believe I am defective.
I believe I am a bitch, a monster, a parasite, a witch, a failure, bad at choosing friends, abused, exploited, betrayed, crazy, neglected, obsolete, ruined, subhuman, unworthy…
And so on, into the 100’s.

Of course I don’t consciously believe any of this; I’ve looked at my fears before, I’ve “done the work.” But there they are anyway, sneaking back again and again, and there I am believing them without realizing it. 

this is how i think i should look / this is how i think i do look / how do i really look? no one cares!

My own stunning realization is, if I’m such an incorrigible atheist, I needn’t believe any of this nonsense. Unlike my cult’s Jesus-loving guest speaker, I don’t have to assert any contrary Truth; many of my beliefs are also in the realm of the unverifiable and unfalsifiable. Instead, I simply withdraw my belief. I don’t have to believe anything. I mean, I have to believe some things; as I said above, I need beliefs to function in daily life. But shitty beliefs, beliefs that hurt me? I need only doubt them. 

That is the Power of Doubt.

In slogging through BBA’s weeks of “fourth-step inventory” worksheets, I saw that I feel unprotected. It’s a bad feeling. The solution, I thought a few weeks ago, is to seek protection in God. I prayed for faith in God, for protection, and for faith in God’s protection. I got caught in the rain on a bike errand and thought, “God is protecting me.” I got wet. I thought, “God’s protection is permeable.” I developed an apologetics of God’s protection. I wasted significant brainpower on this, because honestly being unprotected scares me, and the Truth is I can’t protect myself fully, and God doesn’t actually exist (although I could still Act As If I have an Imaginary Friend, which would go a long way to alleviate my fears).

when you point your finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you

Then a few days ago I met the belief, “I am unprotected” with doubt, and it evaporated. I didn’t have to prove anything otherwise; I simply didn’t believe it. I reminded myself I am an atheist. I have faith in my atheism. 

“I am unprotected,” says my brain. “I don’t have to believe that,” I say back. And the fear slinks away from the power of my doubt.

Thus my doubt brings me to the same place I thought (believed) I needed faith to find. 

“Faith works for them that got it.” —Unknown

There are limits to my doubt, just as there are limits to my faith. Sometimes I got faith. My mind needs shortcuts and doesn’t have time to properly doubt everything. I still believe many things, and will continue. And the power of my doubt is not so strong I can rely on it constantly. I am an atheist, but one who lapses often.

Faith is a lapse of doubt, just as doubt is a lapse of faith. Doubt and faith are like left and right hands. I can get by temporarily with just one, but do so much more with both.

i used to be orthodox / then i saw that god both does and does not exist / now you're a paradox



Mimi & Eunice Recovery comix – read oldest to newest

Synaonon – what happens when 12-step programs go off the rails


Day at the Creation Museum

Moishe 'n' me
Moishe ‘n’ me

The Creation Museum in Kentucky is really a marvelous testament to what money can buy. A temple of Mammon, if you will. Designers and craftspeople work for money, not ideology, and the money here paid for some good ones. It reminded me a lot of Las Vegas that way.

You won’t learn much about the Bible here, since creationists really pick and choose. From an Old Testament perspective the whole place is outrageously idolatrous, violating the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth…” —Exodus 20:4-6 (KJV)

Finally, the Creation Museum is a magnificent monument to the limits of human psychology. Here it’s especially easy to see the extraordinary lengths humans go to to make some kind of PALATABLE sense of the world. I vastly prefer science to biblical authority, but even the best method of inquiry gets mashed through our squishy, emotional, fallible, fragile human minds. It’s easy to make fun of creationists, but we all have similar longings to understand the world, and there’s only so much cognitive discomfort we can handle before we just project on reality as we see fit.

Big ol' bible dinosaur at the entrance
Big ol’ bible dinosaur at the entrance
The Bible is authoritative, without error, and inspired by God. UNLIKE YOUR SILLY "SCIENCE" NONSENSE!
The Bible is authoritative, without error, and inspired by God. UNLIKE YOUR SILLY “SCIENCE” NONSENSE!

Continue reading “Day at the Creation Museum”



I just felt like making this font, so I did. I have no particular use for it. I guess making the hieroglyphs activated the font part of my brain, or something. It’s not a real font (I no longer have Fontographer software), just letter designs. If anyone wants to make a real, functional font out of this, lemme know and I’ll send you .ai or .eps files.


The SHOCKING photos that violated Facebook’s policies!

Update: The account is now unblocked, with this message from Facebook:

I’m so sorry for the inconvenience caused, there was a temporary misconfiguration in our photo review systems which caused a very small subset of users to be incorrectly enrolled in one of our checkpoints. There was no issue with your original photo, we have a combination of automated and human-review systems dedicated to keeping people safe, and a bug caused one of these systems to incorrectly enroll a small number of users into checkpoints.

We have since remedied the issue, and remediated all affected accounts. Please let me know if you or others are still experiencing any difficulties.


This morning I posted this adorable photo on Facebook:

Nut the cat hugging my face. Photo by Theodore Gray

Being a cute picture of a cute cat, it got a lot of “likes” and comments. A few hours later I followed up with this photo (accompanying text in the caption):

Another photo of Nut and me. Here you can see in more detail how Nut presses her face as hard as she can into mine. She does this all night, by the way. If I move my face away, she rearranges herself to grip the back of my head as tightly as possible. If I'm face-down on the pillow, she slides her paws under into my eye sockets and mashes her head into my ear. It's very cute but I don't think I could stand it every night.

Shortly thereafter, FB wouldn’t let me view my feed, instead giving me this message:

“We noticed you may be posting photos that violate our Community Standards. Help make Facebook better by cleaning up your photos and removing friends that post nudity or other things that violate our standards.”

Then it took me directly to all my photos and said,

“To keep your account active, please remove any photos that contain nudity or sexually inappropriate content. Check the box next to each photo you need to remove.”

I didn’t have a single dirty photo to check, so I checked none and then clicked the box that said, “I have checked all my photos that violate Facebook’s policies.” For that, I was rewarded with this:

“Because you uploaded photos that violate our policies, you won’t be able to upload photos for 3 days.

“If you have other photos on the site that violate our policies, be sure to remove them immediately or you could be blocked for longer. After this block is lifted, please make sure any photos you upload follow Facebook’s Policies.”

Followed by another checkbox that says,

“I understand Facebook’s policies and I won’t upload any photos that violate these policies.”

But I haven’t checked that box yet, because I really don’t understand Facebook’s policies. At all. Maybe Franz Kafka could explain them to me. Can you?

UPDATE: several hours later, I still can’t see my FB home page/news feed. This is what I continue to get instead:


We don’t like ignorant jerks either

It seems the same people who can’t tell the difference between fraud and copying, also can’t tell the difference between anti-social disregard for authors and copyright reform. Folks invoking my name in the Cooks Source scandal are as clueless as Judith Griggs.

As usual, Techdirt has the best article on the topic:

…Cooks Source Magazine copied one woman’s blog post and published it as an article, without asking her permission or letting her even know about it. They did put her name on it, but she only found out after a friend spotted it and told her about it. Where the story takes a bizarre twist is after emailing with the editor of the magazine, Judith Griggs, asked the original author, Monica, what she wanted. Monica suggested a public apology (on Facebook) and a modest $130 donation to Columbia’s journalism school. That’s when Griggs responded like this:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

That response not only shows a rather confused understanding of copyright law, but also suggests someone who’s kinda sorta heard arguments about why copying can be beneficial, and jumbled them all together in her head. Now, we’ve spent plenty of time over the years showing how content creators can be better off allowing their works to be copied, but even so, Grigg’s response appears totally tone deaf to what Monica’s actual concerns were. But here’s where social mores and reputational value take over. Monica’s story made it onto Reddit and it got picked up by tons of others, leading the Facebook page of Cooks Source to be filled with angry comments from people supporting Monica.

Read the rest here.