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


Credit is Due (The Attribution Song)

High res video, audio (song), and stills at Crossposted at

Always give credit where credit is due
if you didn’t write it, don’t say it’s by you
just copy the credit along with the work
or else you’ll come off as an arrogant jerk

Always give credit where credit belongs
we know that you didn’t write Beethoven’s songs
pretending you did makes you look like a fool
unless you’re Beethoven – in that case, it’s cool

A transparent system makes cheating unwise
the simplest web search exposes your lies
no one wants their reputation besmirched
which happens to liars when they are web-searched

Proper citation will make you a star
it shows that you know that we know who you are
Plagiarization will only harm you
so always give credit where credit is due!

Mimi makes a copy of a Beethoven Symphony with a giant copy machine. Trouble starts when Eunice erases Beethoven’s name and writes in her own. This makes Eunice look like an ass. Searching the Internet (itself a giant copy machine) confirms that Eunice is a liar. Eunice realizes her mistake and corrects it, but by then everyone’s moved on – her plagiarism is barely a blip in the spread of correctly-attributed cultural works through copying.

Whenever I speak about Free Culture at schools, I’m asked “what about plagiarism?” Copying and plagiarism are two quite different things. As Mimi demonstrates with the giant Copy Machine, copying a work means copying its attribution too:

just copy the credit along with the work

When people copy songs and movies, they don’t change the authors’ names. Plagiarism is something else: it’s lying. If Copyright has anything to do with plagiarism, it’s that it makes it easier to plagiarize (because works and their provenance aren’t public and are therefore easier to obscure and lie about) and increases incentive to do so (because copying with attribution is as illegal as copying without, and including attribution makes the infringement more conspicuous). American Copyright law does not protect attribution to begin with; it is concerned only with “ownership,” not authorship.  Many artists sign their attributions away with the “rights” they sell, which is why it can be difficult to know which artists contributed to corporate works.

I chose Beethoven to illustrate how copyright has nothing to do with preventing plagiarism. All Beethoven’s work is in the Public Domain. Legally, you can take Ludwig van Beethoven’s songs, Jane Austen‘s novels, or Eadweard Muybridge‘s photographs and put any name you want on them. Go ahead! You’re at no risk of legal action. Your reputation may suffer, however, and you definitely won’t be fooling anyone. If anyone has doubts, they can use that same copy machine – the Internet – to sort out who authored what. Lying is very difficult in a public, transparent system. A good analog to this is public encryption keys: their security comes from their publicity.

The song says “always give credit where credit is due,” but in many cases credit is NOT due. For example, how many credits should be at the end of this film? I devoted about two and a half seconds to these credits:

Movie and Song by Nina Paley
Vocals by Bliss Blood

But I could have credited far more. In fact, the credits could take longer than the movie. Here are some more credits:

Ukelele: Bliss Blood
Guitar: Al Street
Recorded by Bliss Blood and Al Street

What about sound effects? Were it not for duration constraints, this would be in the movie:

Sound Effects Design by Greg Sextro

Every single sound effect in the cartoon was made by someone. Should I credit each one? Crash-wobble by (Name of Foley Artist Here). Cartoon zip-run by (Name of Other Foley Artist Here). And so on: dozens of sound effects were used in the cartoon, and each one had an author. What about the little noises Mimi & Eunice make? Not only could the recording engineer be credited, but the voice actor as well (as far as I know, these were both Greg Sextro).

I included a few seconds of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the end, which I didn’t credit in the movie.  Should I have? Why or why not?

I could credit the characters:

& Special Guest Appearance by
Ludwig van Beethoven

I could be more detailed in crediting myself:

Lyrics and Melody by Nina Paley
Character design: Nina Paley
Animation: Nina Paley
Produced by Nina Paley
Directed by Nina Paley
Edited by Nina Paley
Backgrounds by Nina Paley
Color design by Nina Paley
Layout: Nina Paley
Based on the comic strip “Mimi & Eunice” by Nina Paley

And the funder!

This Minute Meme was funded by a generous grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

I didn’t even make a card for the Minute Memes logo. Should that be in there?

I used a Public Domain painting of Beethoven for the Beethoven character, which is by Joseph Karl Stieler.  Who photographed the painting? Who digitized the photograph? Is credit due here?


The ass drawing also came from Wikimedia Commons, where it’s credited to Pearson Scott Foresman. But who actually drew it? I have no idea. I doubt that Pearson Scott Foresman could even legally claim the copyright on it to “donate” to Wikimedia in the first place, but there they are, getting credit for it instead of an artist. That’s because copyright is only concerned with “ownership,” not authorship.

File:Ass (PSF).pngThen there’s the software I used, good old pre-Adobe Macromedia Flash. Should I credit the software? What about the programmers who contributed to the software?
I also used a Macintosh computer (I know, I know, when Free Software and Open Hardware come close to doing what my old system does, I’ll be the first to embrace it) and a Wacom Cintiq pen monitor. How many people deserve credit for these in my movie?

Mimi and Eunice themselves were “inspired” by many historical cartoons. Early Disney and Fleischer animations, the “rubber hose” style, Peanuts, this recent cartoon, and countless other sources I don’t even know the names of – but would be compelled to find out, if credit were in fact due. Is it?

And so on. It is possible to attribute ad absurdum. So where is credit due? It’s complicated, the rules are changing, and standards are determined organically by communities, not laws. I had to edit the song for brevity, but I kind of wish I hadn’t excised this line:

A citation shows us where we can get more
of all the good culture that Free Culture’s for

Attribution is a way to help your neighbor. You share not only the work, but information about the work that helps them pursue their own research and maybe find more works to enjoy. How much one is expected to help their neighbor is determined by (often unspoken) community standards. People who don’t help their neighbors tend to be disliked. And those who go out of their way to deceive and defraud their neighbors – i.e. plagiarists – are hated and shunned. Plagiarism doesn’t affect works – works don’t have feelings, and what is done to one copy has no effect on other copies. Plagiarism affects communities, and it is consideration for such that determines where attribution is appropriate.

At least that’s the best I can come up with right now. Attribution is actually a very complicated concept; if you have more ideas about it, please share.


Censorship Vs. Copyright

I’m crossposting this from Mimi & Eunice today because it is one of my best ever and I’m impatient for everyone in the world to see it.

They're totally different!

What distinguishes
Copyright from Censorship?

The profit motive.

There’s one more day to back the Mimi & Eunice’s Intellectual Pooperty minibook project! The above comic won’t be in it, alas, since I just drew it yesterday and the book is already at the printer. But there will be 40 other fine selections from the IP category, in full color.


Help me choose 40 Mimi & Eunice IP comics!

Regarding my Kickstarter project:

My current task is to select the 40 Mimi & Eunice IP cartoons the minibook will contain. You can sift through the whole IP category here. My current list is below, but it can change. If there are any real winners that aren’t on this list, please let me know by posting its URL in the comments. And please let me know what losers are on my list I should drop, to make room for better ones. Thanks!