Religion, Vodou

Happy Vodou Christmas

“What do you want for Christmas?” she asked me.

“I don’t—”

I stopped. She raised an eyebrow.

“What?” she asked.

I was going to say I don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s an automatic response. But to my surprise I realized…

“Oh crap. I’m Vodou now. I do celebrate Christmas.”

From my Vodou ceremony Saturday night.

From my Vodou ceremony Saturday night. Photo by Drew Jacob.

Other People’s Holidays

I wrote last week about why the Bible isn’t part of my spiritual quest. That was mostly a mix of personal preference and philosophic reasons. Christmas hits a little closer to home.

If you’re not Christian, chances are high that Christmas sucks—or at least aspects of it do. There are a few reasons:

  • Christmas is everywhere.
  • Christmas is everywhere, and your holiday is nowhere. There’s no faster way to make someone feel like an outsider.
  • People actually get mad at you for not saying “Merry Christmas.” This is a small percentage of people, but when it happens it will ruin your whole day.
  • Unless you’re Jewish, most people don’t even know what your holiday is. You’re in that “and everything else” category. In many cases, people you love won’t remember its name even if you tell them.
  • Maybe no one will wish you a happy holiday till your holiday is over. (When you wish your Jewish friends Happy Hanukkah at the holiday party, you should know that it’s been finished for two+ weeks this year.)
  • Well-intentioned Christians remind you that “you can celebrate Christmas anyway.” I’m sure they all celebrate Diwali.
  • You may be compared to Scrooge.

I recognize that many non-Christians choose to participate in Christmas as a cultural holiday or for family’s sake, and that’s a fine choice. It’s one I’m personally uncomfortable with, and I’ve abstained from Christmas for a good decade now.

But my Vodou changes that. Vodou is quite definitely not Christian, but uses a lot of Christian elements as frosting. Saint candles, crucifices, some Catholic prayers—things that were absorbed during Slavery and are now tradition.

The Christmas Eve Bonfires at Lutcher.

The Christmas Eve Bonfires at Lutcher. Photo by Drew Jacob.

Bathing in Fire

Last Christmas Eve I arrived at the Temple at a run, almost late for the ceremony. I knew not many people would be there—Xmas and all—but it was a special occasion. I wore the usual white, but with a red head scarf. We were serving the Petwo, fiery and aggressive spirits whose ceremonies include live fireworks.

The Hounfo was cold, the cement floor chilled through by damp New Orleans air. One by one we sang in the Petwo lwa and their veves took shape in cornmeal on the floor.

Then the cauldron came out.

Our priests mixed together a cocktail of ingredients including rum and Florida Water. In went a spark and whoosh came the giant dancing flames.

And we bathed in them.

Reaching into the cauldron I dipped my hands into liquid fire, trickles of light running down my arms and flames leaping off of me. It felt pleasantly warm over my skin. To some people present it was old hat; for me it was a moment of awe.

After the ceremony it was late, but we packed into several cars and drove an hour to Lutcher, Louisiana for a centuries-old tradition: Christmas Eve bonfires on the levee.

It was one of the few times my House family did something together outside the temple, one of the most special nights of my time in New Orleans. I didn’t even think of it as Christmas, really.

But now I’ve been initiated and Vodou is one of my religions. I practice alone here in Texas, and it’s up to me to decide which elements of Christmas to borrow and absorb—just as our House has borrowed the Lutcher bonfires.

My own fire bath. Photo by Drew Jacob.

My own fire bath. Photo by Drew Jacob.

I’m not yet sure how I’ll celebrate Christmas this year. I do know it’ll be me, alone; no family, no girlfriend visiting, not even my roommate. I have a fantasy of getting a Nativity scene and replacing all the figurines with skeletons to make a Vodou Manger. What do you think?

There are a few copies left of my book about adventure. Get the last one quick!


The one religion that’s not part of my spiritual quest

Photo by Marko Rosic

Jesus Christ is not a very important religious figure.

Jesus is central in one out of 16 or five out of 43 major religions practiced in the world today. (In the first list I’m excluding “no religion,” “new religions” and “other” for my count, and in the second list I’m pointing to Christianity, Christian Science, Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Rastafari.) By that count less than 6 – 11% of religions consider Christ important. With nods from Baha’i, Islam and Unitarianism, the figure rises to a max of 25%.

Likewise, the majority of people in the world today do not follow any branch of Christianity.

Yet the teachings of Christ loom large.

My mentor Ken reminded me of this. I travel because I hope to meet the gods. Wherever I go, I seek out local traditions, study new faiths and worship new deities. Sometimes, like with Vodou, I commit myself to these traditions for life.

Ken pointed out a massive blank spot on my spiritual-quest resumé:

“How can you have a life quest to meet the [g]ods, study different religions, and completely bypass the Bible?”

Jesus and Me

I avoid Christianity in my journey (mostly). I have reasons, but not the ones you think.

Growing up, I never had a bad church experience. I wasn’t abused, was seldom threatened with Hell, and didn’t feel constrained by my family’s beliefs. This is thanks in large part to my mom.

But I dodge Christianity. Even in my practice of Vodou, which uses Christian trappings as décor over a much older faith, I hesitated before lighting my first saint candle.

And here’s why: I’m sick of Jesus.

It’s fair to ask, “If you’re on a spiritual quest, why don’t you study the Bible?” But that’s like asking someone who wants to see the world why they don’t visit all 50 US states first. If you’re from the US, the states are boring! Of course you can find something cool and new in America, but “travel” means China, Angola, Transylvania. The same is true for spiritual journeys: you have to get away from your roots.

There’s a big ol’ pile of Christianity all around me. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in a decade, but I’ll hear so many carols this month that they’ll be stuck in my head till March. And I could recite most of the Catholic Mass by heart. Christianity is my backyard. It’s… boring.

There are deeper reasons. I object to Christianity on theological grounds. For example, I think it’s unfair to promise people an afterlife that probably doesn’t exist. And I disapprove of the exclusive focus on a single face of the divine. It seems antisocial in a world with thousands of gods.

Yet the theological stuff is secondary to the very strong reaction I have at the thought of studying or practicing Christianity: a sort of guttural more of that

I’ve been fed Jesus for thirty years. (Literally, for 14 of those years.) Imagine going to someone who just left a Chinese buffet and saying: hey, you didn’t have the good stuff, why don’t you eat even more egg rolls? You might be offering the best egg rolls in the world, but right now your poor friend just needs a salad or a nap.

I think it’s important for spiritual seekers, especially Western seekers, to remember that there’s a vast mosaic of beautiful, vibrant religions that each have their own lessons to give. Some teach the same crucial lessons Jesus did—they offer powerful touchstones for a life of kindness, forgiveness, charity and peace. Others emphasize completely different lessons, ones that Jesus kind of left out, like how to fight for this-world change instead of embracing poverty, or how to find and pursue your individual purpose and passion in life.

As a polytheist practicing non-universal religions, it’s not odd to me that a spiritual person would pass on the Bible. It’s far more strange that anyone who’s not of Hebrew descent would bother to consult Jesus instead of their own culture’s forgotten sages.

I will eventually read the Gospels. My Christian friends who know me best all agree that I’ll really enjoy them—I actually look forward to it. But should they enjoy pride of place in a spiritual quest? I think that’s up to the questor.

Want a preview of my upcoming book on Adventure? There’s still a few left. Take a look and grab one while you can!


Principles of Good Religion

Photo by NYC Andre

Since 2006 I’ve participated actively in interfaith work, first on behalf of my polytheist temple, then as an organizer on a larger scale, and now as an author. Much of my travels are aimed at meeting and learning from leaders of other religious traditions—especially small, culturally rooted traditions like Vodou.

I’ve learned to respect and embrace traditions very unlike my own.

But I don’t believe that all religions are good. Like any broad group of human institutions, some are better executed than others, meaning they’re more effective at using their values to shape the world. And they don’t all have the same values.

That led me to adopt a set of Principles of Good Religion that I used in guiding my own temple. Eventually, a colleague asked me to share these at a large interfaith event. I was hesitant, because I didn’t want to insult anyone. But these principles don’t judge a religion by its beliefs—they judge it on the effect it has both on its followers and on society as a whole.

Here are the Principles as originally presented by my temple.

Principles of Good Religion

We do not believe our religion is the only right way, nor that religion should be fought over. We recognize certain principles that mark out helpful, compassionate religions. We endeavor to uphold the Principles of Good Religion which include:


There are many paths to spiritual perfection, and no one path has the right to overturn others. We hold public events so that people can learn about us, meet us, and participate if they like—but we never try to convert people to our religion. Those who wish to join us are welcome, and those who don’t are treated with equal respect.

Freedom of Belief

Even within a religion, people always have their own unique views on spiritual issues. Belief is a personal matter, something the individual decides based on their own experiences. Religion exists to bring the community together for celebration, not to enforce a unanimous belief.

Love of Diversity

We believe that people define themselves by their actions and their choices. People around the world have spoken with the divine for thousands of years, and all of their experiences are of value. We do not discriminate based on gender, sexual preference, race, or any other basis.

Supporting Spirituality

Religion is an institution administered by human beings. It involves buildings, jobs, financing and all the other things that make human society run. Yet the goal of religion must always be to support and encourage the private spirituality of each member. Spirituality must come before any institutional concern.

Respect for Science

Religious beliefs should be based on experience and observation, arising from the natural world. This is the same as the basis of science, and there is no reason the two must conflict. Religion should adapt as our scientific understanding of the world grows. No source of knowledge should be ignored.

(I would appreciate comment on any or all of these principles. How well do they actually work at differentiating positive “compassionate, helpful religions”?)


I Like Organized Religion

Photo by Eva Ekeblad.

“I don’t like organized religion.”


There are many ways to organize something. Good and bad ways.

The alternative is disorganized religion. I’ve seen it and it’s really worse.

When you have 10 or 20 people who all want the same thing, who want to do something meaningful, it’s a shame if they can’t organize. Not organized means: no one coordinates or plans, the ones best suited to leading are afraid to be leaders, the rest are anti-authoritarian and lash out at any suggestion no matter how good.

That’s not an improvement.

Organized is helpful. Goddamn Vodou is an organized religion, and it’s just about the most open-minded and friendly thing you will ever encounter.

I love organized religion.

Atheism, Philosophy, Religion, Spotlight

Mystery of Certainty

Atheist Witch.

This is an excerpt from an essay from Atheist Witch blog.

Some deny the reality of any experience or belief that cannot explained (but not disproved) through existing scientific frameworks, and assume anyone claiming otherwise to be either delusional, ignorant or lying. They would justify this by claiming that many people have been proven to be just that while highlighting the dangers of sacrificing “rationality” for the emotional comfort of religion.

What is ironic about this stance is that it actually shows a lot of emotionality and subjectivity.  With… pending mysteries in areas which are so fundamental, it seems silly to not even be open to the possibility of even very fundamental ideas that we have about the universe being completely turned on their head in the future.  It is also seems risky to attempt to usurp “rationality” or “objectivity.”

I personally am in the science camp. I suspect everything in our universe not presently explained by science can, at least theoretically, be explained by science one day. That’s because anything that happens in our universe, however arcane it may seem, can be observed or has effects that can be observed. With time and study we can understand any phenomena.

I believe there is nothing supernatural, period; even the mysteries of consciousness, divinity, and magic have some natural underpinning. We can understand them.

But that is an unproven philosophic position on my part. It’s a popular position today, but not the only reasonable position you can hold.

I highlighted Atheist Witch’s essay because it nicely showcases the very rational basis for maintaining an openness to the supernatural, even from a scientific worldview. There is no scientific basis for believing in the supernatural, but there is a reasonable basis for it.

This is why I can sit side-by-side with strong supernatural believers in the Hounfo, in the Neimheadh, or in any spiritual setting; I see them as intellectual equals. I consider that their belief has merit.

The full essay is titled “Embracing Mystery to Have Certainty.” I hope you will read it on Atheist Witch’s blog and let him know what you think.

Adventure, The Great Adventure, Travel

The State of the Adventure

Progress, Money, Health, Sex, Prep, Mission: Here is the State of the Adventure.

So Far

I set to cross two continents and meet the gods.

I started from the source of the Mississippi and went 1,800 miles to New Orleans, where I have been practicing Vodou.

In June I will embark once again, this time to bicycle to Texas. I will spend my time there training on sea kayaks. Then I’ll paddle down the Gulf of Mexico to continue the journey.

I. Progress and Pace

The pace of the journey is acceptable.

One of the biggest errors I made in communicating about the Adventure, at the beginning, was not talking about its slow and intentional nature. The plan has always been to allow for (a) taking time in communities to get to know the people and (b) meandering without adhering to a strict itinerary.

Many people tell me this is the “only” way to travel—not true but I feel you—but many were also surprised. They expected, essentially, a marathon bike/walk/paddle to the end destination. That is a different kind of adventure.

I do have pacing concerns. I had always planned to spend an extended stay in New Orleans, the first of many such extended stays along my route. Originally I pictured several months; I did not set a hard deadline, and it has bled.

New Orleans readers will laugh because this city does that (some local friends wrongly think I won’t continue on at all). But it was intentional. I originally planned to stay November – April in order to have the option to undergo Vodou priest initiation in April. That became extended because:

  • Initiations are more likely to happen in May than April
  • It would be unwise to rush to leave at the same time as initiating

So I extended my stay till June. And since there’s a major Vodou ceremony every Saint John’s Day (June 24), I naturally set my departure date at the end of the month.

That will amount to 8 months in one city. It’s disappointing for two reasons:

  1. Priestly initiations have been canceled this year, at least for this spring.
  2. This really is too long. I’ve developed a settled life and I don’t want to until I complete my purpose. I love New Orleans and maybe I will live here one day, but not now.

It’s hard to explain my feelings about settled life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. There’s a mix of temptation (to simply stay) and regret (that I didn’t come here earlier). Yet all the happiness I have here—all the friends and experiences—would not be in my life if I’d stayed in Natchez, Vicksburg, Memphis, St. Louis, Dubuque, Mexico City. All were temptations as different levels.

It seems insane to give up the happiest life in the world, but my lifestyle is one of exploration and discovery. The happy resting point is only fulfilling as one dot in a greater constellation.

So I would not be pleased with this 8 month stay in any case, and even less so since the initiation I came here for not possible. It would be easy to say I “stayed for nothing,” but I stayed for many reasons and it has been a joy.

The lesson I draw is never to put a secondary goal ahead of my purpose. The Adventure is my life: it is my bark. Long after I am away from the beeswax scent of the Hounfo, when my sisters and brothers are nowhere for me to clasp, I will have the journey and the journey will have me. How could I put one faith above that?
I am a journeyman priest. I will learn from many masters. Seek them out, initiate, give dedication and service. But the heroic way is my highest calling. It must always come first.

This lesson comes a little too late. When I leave New Orleans it will be nearly one year since I started. It may be nearly another before I leave the US. That puts a barb in my spirit.

As a touchstone, I believe my “extended stays” in a place should be about 4 months. Texas may require longer.

II. Money

I have increased my earnings and I feel confident in my income.

Earnings on the road were (barely) sufficient while bicycling. On arrival in New Orleans I plunged into a dangerous financial situation, but ultimately recovered.

In 2012 I earned a total of US $16,964 primarily from freelance writing. I love off my income; I do not have large savings.

So far in 2013 my freelance earnings are the strongest they’ve ever been, and I make over $2,000 per month. If the current trend continued I would likely make between $24,000 and $32,000 in 2013.

But the trend will not continue:

On the road I will be forced to give up some clients and scale back freelance work. It may not be as easy to build them back up once I arrive at my next extended stay.

Nonetheless I expect Texas to be easier than New Orleans for several reasons:

  • Cost of living is lower in Texas.
  • Less debt.
  • Stronger client portfolio (more diverse) means less danger from losing a few clients.
  • Experience handling New Orleans will make preparation easier for future extended stays.

Thus a second crisis is unlikely. The challenge is meeting additional financial goals, such as:

  1. Paying off remaining debt.
  2. Financing the sea kayak leg of the expedition.
  3. Earning enough to buy health insurance.

The last point is the most serious and many readers will likely be horrified that I am doing all this with no health coverage. Others will be completely unsurprised—not because it is acceptable but because it is the reality for most bootstrap travelers and much of the rest of the population.

I consider health coverage a medium-level priority because (a) I can go into debt to cover health costs if the worst happens, (b) once I get out of the US health care will be more affordable and (c) in any case there is no realistic health insurance plan for me after I leave the US. Policies for travelers exclude adventuring or sporting injuries, by far the most likely kind of coverage I would need.

So my financial goals for 2013 focus tightly on:

  • Paying off all of my remaining consumer credit card debt (about US $7,000) before December 31.
  • Outfitting the sea kayak expedition.

If I can successfully reach these goals I will consider health insurance a nice second priority.

III. Health

For 3 years I’ve worked hard to reshape my health, and the last year in particular has been challenging but helpful. If there are no injuries, I expect to be in better health by the end of this year than ever before.

(In this section I will often talk about my weight, but weight loss is not necessarily a health goal. If you eat a healthy diet with a lot of vegetables and exercise regularly, your health can be above average even if you are slightly obese. Conversely thin people can be very unhealthy.)

I feel like I spent the first 30 years of my life abusing my body and will spend the second 30 years taking damn good care of it. I enjoyed abusing my body but it’s more enjoyable to treat it well. Ultimately, I derive more satisfaction from vegetables, yoga and water than from sweets, bread or alcohol.


I desire to be thin because it increases range of motion, decreases the difficulty of endurance travel like bicycling or kayaking, and correlates with lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It’s also aesthetic and increases how much sex I can have.

I have found that I am one of the lucky people who can reliably control weight through diet. However there are thresholds.

For most of my life I have been at least slightly obese. Previously I looked and felt my best in college age 19-21 at 189 pounds. Throughout my 20s my weight increased with sedentary lifestyle, worse diet, heavier drinking and unhappy marriage/work life. My weight was between 240 and 260 pounds. I am 5’11”.

In 2009-10 I began to make changes to decrease my weight. By decreasing calorie intake I dropped to 215 pounds. Further weight loss became difficult, but more exercise helped get me to 200-205 pounds.

At that point I turned to healthy diet changes. Specifically I used a 4 month Chinese Medicine diet regimen that cut out carbs, meat, alcohol, gluten, and other specific foods. This resulted in substantial weight loss, which was not stable. After fluctuation I reached a stable weight of about 195 pounds.

By early 2012 in Mexico City I began to use limited alcohol intake and careful choice of foods (mostly vegetables/meat) as a de facto calorie control along with increased exercise (walking). I finally reached my old college weight of 189 and at the very thinnest, just as I returned to US, I reached 178 pounds, my lowest adult weight ever. It looked and felt good.

Since then weight has been very unstable mostly from frequent drinking and inconsistent sedentary/active lifestyle.

It has become apparent that with my normal habits my body “normalizes” around my old college weight of 189 pounds. Regimens and diet plans will not result in further, reliable weight loss.

If it is possible for me to lose more weight and keep it off, it will require lifestyle changes at a broader level.


Alcohol plays a role in the weight management outlined above but it presents special issues worth discussing.

I was raised drinking routinely and I adore alcohol. This is true in all aspects: the taste of good drinks, the pleasant sensation and its social role. It takes effort for me to choose not to drink daily.

(After extensive honest discussion with recovering alcoholics, as well as testing myself, I believe I am not an alcoholic and am able to control my drinking or abstain completely long-term.)

Additionally, weight loss interacts with alcohol tolerance. I’m used to weighing 250 pounds and easily consuming 4 or more drinks without feeling drunk; at 180 pounds just two drinks is a challenge.

Between weight loss and aging, hangovers can be severe and I no longer enjoy heavy drinking. This is particularly problematic since I now have no intuitive sense of what constitutes “heavy” drinking for me.

Finally, I am immersed in a culture of bacchanalia and the assumption in New Orleans is that heavy drinking is part of social activity and fun. I have discovered that my friends are (wonderfully) supportive when I choose not to drink, but it’s still hard to be in a drinking environment and abstain.

The result is that I am heavily focused on adjusting my alcohol usage. If I consume 2-3 drinks and stop, or pace myself at less than 1 per hour over long festivities, I find my reaction tolerable. Even at that rate I worry about the immediate recklessness of intoxication as well as long-term health effects.

In my ideal health world I would never drink. In my ideal aesthetic world I would drink freely for pleasure.


I greatly enjoy vegetables. I also enjoy carbs but I recognize that in many cases they are not a healthy choice.

Meat is a poor health choice. Killing animals for food is 100% ethical and I will never support a righteous vegetarianism. However for health reasons I would prefer a largely vegetarian diet.

Often I will snack on fruits or nuts and eat two meals of only salad per day. That’s one of the healthiest possible diets. When eating that way, I find it no problem to consume some sweets, carbs or meats each day.

However, I am caught in a back-and-forth. I can eat healthy and enjoy it for 2-4 weeks losing weight the whole time. Then I will get intense cravings for sweets, carbs, cream, meat and alcohol which lasts for 1-3 weeks and regain the weight.

My body has been in its slightly obese form for so long that is panics if I lose too much weight. It takes intense effort to continue healthy eating habits during these craving periods. It is part of why I believe I need to change habits at a broad level in order to continue transforming my body.

I no longer seek a “program” like the Chinese Medicine one. I can easily make dramatic changes to diet and achieve impressive results, but they erode afterward as the cravings set in. What I need are sustainable healthy habits I can maintain long term.

Presently I adhere to the “mostly salad” intake (which I enjoy) but I give myself free reign with a daily dessert and some light alcohol intake. My hope is this will bolster my willpower to keep my healthy habits during the cravings and, ultimately, change my habits and my body’s expectations.

Muscle and Exercise

I am physically strong and have no particular muscle-building goals. I value flexibility over pure strength.

I practice Ashtanga yoga five days a week and it’s wildly effective. It increases muscle, flexibility and my desire to eat and live healthy.


My health desires are to look like a lean athlete, which to me is an inspiring image, and to have the physical capability to perform extraordinarily when needed—either for my own survival or to help others.

By losing approximately 15 more pounds of fat while maintaining muscle and flexibility I will be in the fitness category that satisfies me. I believe I can do that before the end of 2013.

IV. Love

I have adapted well to the short term, passionate relationships of the road.

I value romantic love over one-night stands but have enjoyed both. I have sex frequently which is healthy and proper.

I sometimes wonder if, eventually, I will want a long term relationship. Right now I find the fatal nature of my short-term loves to make them sweeter—not only sweeter than a long term relationship overall, but sweeter than even its “honeymoon” phase.

I suspect I’ll continue to make love to many different women as I travel. I’ve become much better in bed and am a more romantic, relaxed man. I remain (often close) friends with the women I’ve loved. I believe they too are happy with our time together, and in turn that brings me great happiness.

V. Prep

My 1,400 mile shoes have done their time and need to be replaced.

Renting a furnished apartment in this country is stupid ridiculous. This country is not for travelers. I need to reach out ahead to contacts in Texas and have a network on the ground before I arrive.

I should probably get a new laptop.

The Giant needs a new seat, professional air pump, more hardcore tires, tire goo, new front light, and a lighter load. I will ship some stuff ahead so I am carrying less. I may install a sound system on the bike.

VI. Mission

The purpose of the Adventure is intact and succeeding. This is more than a way of life, it is a statement, a belief, and a credo.

The world is good; humanity is good; we can do amazing things; travel and you will find it.

The heroic faith is my religion and it has brought me to the very gates of Forever.

Thank you for sharing it with me.


The State of the Adventure will not be an annual report. It will be released between each major leg of the journey.


Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

Effective and Compassionate Atheism

This is an excerpt from an essay by Marcus Mann.

“To put it another way, atheists care very much about being correct and that when dealing with the most daunting problems in our collective life, it is of paramount importance that we are correct about the nature of the challenges we face. Atheists exhibit this value by revering the processes (rituals?) and institutions devoted solely to this value: the scientific method, education, and debate. It’s why atheists, including myself, are obsessed with “evidence.” I care deeply about this kind of empirical correctness and accord it a lofty position among the many other values I hold dear.

“But… I have to ask to what degree correctness crowds out other values important to me, particularly that part of me that strives to be kind. A helpful exercise then is to ask what intellectual role, on the level of belief and theology, does salvation play for the fundamentalist Christian screaming insults at a gay couple? What intellectual role does submission play for a fundamentalist Muslim suicide bomber? The answer, I propose, is that they are central ones. So too, atheists need to be wary of valuing correctness over the much more important values of kindness, sobriety, and pluralism.”

This essay was published on the blog “The Friendly Atheist” (which I don’t always find friendly). I was happy to read it, both because it highlights the work of my friend Chris Stedman and because I admire the compassionate view of the author. Yet I also find it terrible. No special soul searching should be needed to admit that kindness is as important as being right. Nor should it be radical to suggest respecting people despite their differences.

Yet interreligious respect is still in its infancy for atheism as a movement, and essays like this—or Chris’ book—are controversial among atheists.

When a movement does not support religious tolerance, I construe it as fundamentally against human rights. And that brings me great pain, because I likely have more beliefs in common with atheists than I do with most religious folks.

I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts.

Philosophy, Religion, Spotlight

He did not fear death

Photo credit: Twitter

This is an excerpt from an article by the late Roger Ebert, on the topic of his own death.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

…Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. “Faith” is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

And with Will, the brother in Saul Bellow’s “Herzog,” I say, “Look for me in the weather reports.”

Many people shared a touching cartoon of Ebert’s old friend Gene Siskel welcoming him to a movie theater in the afterlife. (I shared it too.) But, like me, Ebert didn’t believe in the soul or the afterlife. He neither expected, nor wanted, an eternity of movies and seeing old friends. 

Many people ask me how I can face death—or life—with no belief in a soul. “Easily,” is the answer, but it’s hard to say. These words, from a man who has now been annihilated, express it better than I ever have. 

I hope you will read the rest of the article here.

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you.