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


Deluded and Immature

When I lived in New York, I knew two very talented and driven artists who had abandoned their children. One had left her son with her parents so she could move to NYC and pursue visual arts. The other had simply ditched his kid with his ex-wife, to devote his life to stage performance. Both told me separately (they didn’t know each other) that, had they stayed to raise their offspring, they would have killed themselves.

I always took the prospect of parenthood very seriously. I believed anyone who had a child needed to prioritize them, and if that meant giving up their so-called dreams, they were obligated to do so. I felt ambivalence admiring my friends’ works, when I learned they had abandoned children to create them. I believed their explanations were honest, that they may indeed have committed suicide if trapped in the parental role, which would have left their families even worse off. I judged them for not thinking this through before they had made innocent new humans to suffer their bad decisions. They were both young when got pregnant and impregnated, respectively, caught up in emotions and hormones and romance and a sense of fulfilling biological and social imperatives. Neither child was “accidental”.

Jordan Peterson recently said not wanting children is “either deluded or immature.” He is speaking primarily to young men, and maybe he’s right about them. He also asserts that many (most?) women are happier as mothers than in high-powered careers. He may be right. Most people seem to desire children, enjoy children, are attracted (maternally and paternally) to children, like being around children, and find children delightful and inspiring. Most parents discover a deep sense of meaning in their children, something they never experienced prior, to the point they see their lives before children as comparatively meaningless and empty. This is their main point of reference: a childfree adult is like a younger version of them that never grew up, because when they grew up they had children.

Not wanting children is socially difficult and alienating. Years ago, on the online forum, a woman asserted that only women are truly childfree. Men may not want children, but only women understand deeply what they are rejecting. 

My fertile years were marked by constant awareness of my difference. Not only did I have no desire to have a baby, I felt pronounced revulsion to the idea, and to babies themselves. I had no ill will toward them, but no maternal attraction either, and preferred to stay as far away from them as possible. I was acutely aware I was supposed to feel and behave a certain way around babies, as relentlessly demonstrated in media: to coo, stare adoringly, ask to hold it, and wistfully long to have my own. My real feelings were perverse and would horrify anyone around me. I internalized much of their hatred. Deluded or immature. What kind of monster would be repulsed by babies?

A woman, first of all. A man with a calling doesn’t need to experience that revulsion; he won’t lose all his energetic resources to reproduction, he doesn’t gestate, give birth, breast feed, or otherwise surrender to children as a woman must. If a woman has a calling – to use her full energies to reproduce culturally, rather than biologically – then whatever culture destined to come through her benefits from her psycho-reproductive resources. Any emotional inclination toward biological children is a threat to whatever Art wants to be made instead. A female artist is at much higher risk of abandoning or starving her creative potential for a child than a male is. And if she abandons her child instead, as my NYC artist friend did, the consequences are devastating and maladaptive.

Only women can be truly childfree.

My own choice to never have children was realistic and mature. First, I clearly had no orientation toward them. It was possible – probable, even – that if I’d had my own, my revulsion would have evaporated and I would have loved them deeply, sacrificing my creative pursuits. Would this have been a net benefit to society? Because I was realistic and mature, I understood children need committed love and sacrifice. Because I was realistic and mature, I condemned the abandonment of children. Because I was realistic and mature, I took my ingrained and unwanted revulsion of children seriously. Most available men desired children; my aversion vastly reduced my relationship prospects. I have never wanted children, but I have wanted men who wanted children. I have also wanted social acceptance and a sense of belonging. My revulsion of babies and parenthood denied me this. But I was realistic and mature enough to understand that however much I wanted the benefits of fitting in, suppressing my feelings (revulsion), my true orientation to parenthood (against it), and my calling (Art), would be dishonest and commit me and any potential family to misery.

I had a calling. Much as parents wonder how anyone can not want children, I marveled how others lived their lives without making Art. How could you have any sense of meaning without creating something beautiful and significant? How dull and empty the lives of non-artists must be. I eventually concluded that the meaning and order Art brought to my life, largely came from children in theirs. Which is how I came up with the idea of a psycho-reproductive system. Our biological reproductive systems are evident; we are shown diagrams of them in sex ed; but our psyches participate as well. 

Don’t forget the brains!

I first learned about how Cuckoo birds reproduce in Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype. Cuckoos don’t raise their own chicks; they hijack the psycho-reproductive systems of other birds, who find Cuckoo hatchlings so irresistibly attractive they feed and nurture them to the detriment of their own offspring. Dawkins points out the behavior of the unrelated birds, hijacked into the parental role, is an expression of the Cuckoos’ genes, which evolved and adapted to do exactly that. Hijacking an organism’s psycho-reproductive system can be a winning evolutionary strategy. I thought about my cats, whom I love with the maternal affection I’m supposed to devote to human babies. Clever cats! Clearly I possess a psycho-reproductive system; I’m not fundamentally devoid of maternal instinct. Mine has simply been hijacked by other species, which have evolved to do exactly that: cats are cute for a reason. I have no regrets.

Culture is also a living and evolving thing. Humans are not human without it. Our brains are made for language (a subset of Culture), and language is made for our brains. Humans raised in isolation, without communication through language and other culture, grow into sick stunted animals, if they survive at all, which they don’t. Culture is insufficiently studied as a life form; it’s commonly considered a product or creation of humanity, rather than a symbiote.

Culture hijacked my psycho-reproductive system — for which I’m glad, don’t get me wrong! I’m part of a proud tradition of humans who have devoted their lives to Culture, although it’s more frequently called God in this context. Jesus Christ was notably childfree, at least in myth. Beloved saints were childfree. In many sects, if one is called to the Church, they must remain childless (celibacy being the means to achieve this). Many social and cultural specialties demand energies otherwise reserved for child-rearing. For some, giving up children to pursue a calling is a sacrifice. For others, the calling – Culture – does what any clever living thing would adapt to do, and hijacks its host’s psycho-reproductive system for its own life support. Not having children was no sacrifice for me. Making Art – cultural reproduction – was a joy. It did not feel like a choice. 

The desire to reproduce, or not, is no expression of delusionality or maturity. Reproduction is a primal drive inherited from the dawn of Life. Humans live in symbiosis with Culture which, although relatively newer and not well understood, is alive, reproducing, evolving and adapting. In humans, biological reproduction entails sacrifice, especially of the mother: an enormous devotion of energy and time, and giving up competing dreams and desires. Cultural reproduction – Art – also entails sacrifice of energy and time and, in my case, of societal approval and a sense of belonging that would have been a great comfort. I will in some sense always suffer alienation from the majority of my species, as I do not share the basic, meaningful human experience of parenthood. Yet, I still seek ways to connect with and understand parents.

Most don’t return the favor. Maybe they’re deluded or immature.


Love Thine Enemy

I hated my parents. I hated my school. I hated the cops. I hated all authority. 

I hate anything that imposes limits on me, that gets in my way.

I hate disease, I hate that death is inevitable, I hate the laws of Nature. We all do. We all hate our parents, we all hate our Mother.

What goes up must come down. Hate that!

I hate that people form mobs and go after scapegoats. I hate that I have been a scapegoat, and may be again.

Hell is other people. I hate ‘em.

I hate suffering. Life is suffering.

And yet. See what happens when we overcome our limits?

See what happened when humans developed antibiotics, thereby evading a longstanding limit of Nature? Now humans overpopulate a still-limited planet, destroying vast swathes of wild habitat and species.

We developed industrial machinery, freeing ourselves from the limits of manual drudgery. Now we are captives of our own technology.

We domesticated animals and plants, freeing us from the vagaries of hunting and gathering. Now we lack purpose and meaning, as our animal instincts are continually frustrated.

We created writing systems, evading the limits of our very limited memories. Take that, Nature! Now we live in a mediated cultural hallucination.

Without limits, we create hell on earth.

We need everything we hate, to push against. We need gravity, to push against this Earth even though we want to fly. Imagine if we conquered gravity. Our muscles would turn to jello, our bones would weaken, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves as we floated about. Pushing, tension, resistance, opposition: we are built for this. We are built for limits. We are made for enemies.

Without enemies, who are we?

Children of parents who fail to set limits, who can’t tolerate their children’s hatred, become narcissistic monsters. 

Atheists wonder, if God is such an asshole in the holy scriptures, why do the religious praise and worship Him? God certainly behaves like an Enemy, what with the plagues and commands to violence and contradictory imperatives and impossibly confusing directives and nonsensical rules and vindictiveness and punishments. Thus, to love God is to love thy Enemy. To love thy Enemy is to love God. If God is all, He is evil as well as good, limits along with freedom, hate along with love. To know Him is to love Him, and hate and fear Him too.

I love mine enemies, for giving me something to hate. Without enemies, whom would I hate? Myself? That would be much worse. I’m built to hate something, better it not be me.

Children hate their parents, especially their Mothers. It is a natural phase. As I become more like the Mother myself, I am more able to love my hating self, and the hating others, all we hateful children, mine enemies. Love thy enemy as thyself: we, who know what hate is, already do. 



Hey TERFs and Trannies! That’s my signature greeting on Heterodorx, the new podcast I’m doing with Corinna Cohn. Our first episode was recorded Friday evening, after I’d biked 30 miles and hiked two, so I wasn’t at my most articulate. We had some technical issues, including my cat, Lola, rubbing her head against my mic, causing loud horrible noises we couldn’t remove due to recording everything on a single track. Our next episode should be better. Still, I like this first foray, and hope you listen.

Heterodorx podcast

Heterodorx web site


Collective Senescence

When I learn a new song – something I do unconsciously, every time I am exposed to new music – is some other song erased in my memory to make room? No. I seem to have unlimited capacity for memorizing music, even as my memory is like a sieve elsewhere. How does my brain do that? Does it re-use existing pathways, or create ever-more byzantine new ones? I imagine my mind’s architecture as ever-expanding fractals, filling the same space with more and more curves and crevices.

The older I get, the more byzantine my mind’s labyrinth, all to store the unceasing stream of new information. Now, when I forget the name of something, I imagine the word stuck in a crevice of the fractal. When I was younger and my pathways less intricate, there weren’t enough curves and bends for words to get caught. Now they snag on every corner.

What is information? In my life, it includes experiences. Every day is different; every day impresses new memories. Do the old ones disappear? Certainly my memories are difficult to access, especially names. But I know they’re in there somewhere. I’ve had deeply stored knowledge return to consciousness when revisiting geographical places, homes I’d been in before but never thought about since. If you asked me to recall my friend’s house in San Francisco between visits, I’d have come up blank; but revisiting, I knew where everything was. I took delight in long-buried memories flooding my consciousness as I rode a bus from the airport to the Presidio two years ago. Sometimes that visit felt like walking through my own dreams, geography and symbols shaped by my lifetime of accumulated experience.

Then there is the information of stories, words, music, numbers, images: Culture. Culture is collective, a living thing like a tree or forest that grows in the soil of human minds. Cultural information is experienced through exposure – reading, listening, tasting – and stored in everyone who experiences it.

How many songs will I store in my lifetime? How to even count? Some of them are surely buried too deeply in my mind to recall at will, but they are still there. All that information embedded in our minds’ labyrinths, that we are not aware of, is what Jung called the Collective Subconscious. Like the webs of biological life on this planet, they are too vast and complex for us to comprehend. We are only aware of a tiny bit at a time.

As I age, I find comfort in routine. Every day resembling the next makes memory storage easier. A curve of the fractal is already structured to store much of the day, with only a few details to be slotted elsewhere. Too much information at once can be traumatic. Moving house is traumatic for me, having to learn a new space. Moving to a new region is more so: having to make new friends, locate new food sources, learn new roads. Moving to a new country is more traumatic still, with new regulations, currencies, bureaucracies, and, most daunting of all for an older person, new language. All of these require new memory structures, new tunnels excavated in the catacombs. A young mind, like an “uncarved block,” takes this on with relative ease. An old mind has already been carved to delicate tracery, every branch with more branches, like the fragile intricate lace of an autumn leaf. Carve more into that, and you’ll tear a hole.

Even without trauma, the mere accumulation of experience over time leads, inevitably, to structural collapse. From the outside, this may look like senility. I increasingly believe that senility is an inevitable phase of consciousness. Live long enough, you will develop dementia. At least that’s how it looks from the outside; I don’t know what dementia is like from the inside, although I’ve read some reports from writers in its early stages. Surely some of the “blocks” our experience carves are more robust than others; a crumblier material may suffer early-onset dementia, while the most solid will die of other causes before their veins of memory fractals become too fine to sustain.

But what of our collective mind? We store information collectively too, as Culture. An ever-expanding human population is one way to increase storage capacity. But consider that many of us are storing the same things: the same languages (the number of living languages is decreasing even as the population increases), same songs, same movies, same stories. This is due to media. Literacy/writing was a great early cultural storage invention, allowing far greater numbers to be exposed to the same information. The printing press increased this exposure exponentially. Then phonographs, movies, radio, and television, leading up to, of course, the Internet, the greatest information-exposure system ever created.

Many of us, like me, spend hours a day “scrolling” information online. The density of words, pictures, and sounds is…well, it’s insane. Individually, I am storing this stuff; it’s shaping my neural pathways in ways I don’t know. I may not know exactly what it’s doing, but I know it’s doing something, accelerating the rate of tunneling of my memory labyrinth, increasing the complexity of my mental fractal. If I am wasting my attention on social media, it is because there is a cost: every stupid piece of (mis)information, adds that much complexity to my neural pathways, that much fragility to the overall structure, and brings me that much closer to senility.

Likewise, collectively, we have massively increased our exposure to information. Our collective memory structure, whatever it is, is collectively growing ever-more complex.

Collectively, we are becoming senile.

Complexity is fun (beneficial, desirable) for a while, but eventually and inevitably it leads to collapse. I’m not against complexity; it’s inevitable. Culture is a life form, and all life forms die. There is no way to stop this. Death is a consequence of life; dementia is a consequence of consciousness.