tangents & minutiae

musings of one who is easily distracted

Month: February, 2013

Happy Birthday Anaïs Nin

“Where the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws.” 

November 1941


I have a few questions.


Excuse me, I have a few questions.

1. When did it become socially acceptable for women to be called “females” by anyone beside law enforcement and  misogynists?

2. Why don’t we dance more?

3. Why do we accept the mediocre?

4. Why isn’t Spring here yet?

5. Why does my corgi Cooper carry a giant plush bone and pace around the living room whimpering? Why does he do this after dinner and at no other time?

6. Why does it take so freaking long to be accepted or rejected for a peer-reviewed article? It’s been SIX MONTHS! I’d like a shot at tenure before I die.

7. Why are there no cool rolling backpacks for adults? Though I am considering this one.

Why being an atheist is hard sometimes.

Pink Goose

Being an atheist with terminal cancer is hard. There is no supernatural being to plead to intervene on your behalf. You can’t “give your troubles” to anyone. It’s just you, the doctors caring for you and the people who love you. Which is not a bad thing, but it does require facing the future as a human being and not a “child of god.”

When I was a child, my toy animals protected and comforted me. They kept me safe, accepted my tears and held my secrets. It seems to me that the idea of a deity or saint does the same for people who believe. When confronted with a crisis, these figures could be appealed to and would perhaps interviene on their behalf. It must be such a comfort to honestly believe that miraculous power is genuinely available to you (if they agree to help.)

(my favorite toy was…

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“You never know!” but yea, I do.

Okay, once again I will preface this post by identifying myself as an atheist. And I will be talking about a problem I’ve been having with some truly well-meaning religious people.

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, people have told me that they “know I don’t believe, but..” they’ve prayed for me because “you never know?! right?” Uh, right. I’ve never been a fan of Pascal’s Wager, the proposition that even if it makes no sense and you don’t believe in any god, you should make yourself believe, because, hey- what if you’re wrong?

When someone tells me that they prayed for me, even though they know I don’t believe, what they are saying is “My belief is right and you are wrong, but I like you, so I’m going to make myself feel like I’m helping you by thinking about you.” I realize that their intentions are good, even when they are essentially doing nothing.

Last year we lost a member of our family to metastatic leiomyosarcoma. The prognosis was terrible when she was first diagnosed, but she sought out the best treatment at the Mayo Clinic and lived over a year longer than her doctors predicted. As her disease progressed, her husband maintained a blog to keep all of us posted on how she was doing. The process of losing his wife tore him apart, but the progress and stasis her doctors achieved, he attributed not to science but to the power of prayer. When we sent messages of support, we told them that we loved them and thought about them all the time, but never mentioned prayer. It started becoming clear that our refusal to say that we prayed really started to bother him. He wrote this on his personal blog:

Prayers on the behalf of others are uttered to a Divine Creator who presumably has the power to heal and comfort the mind and body. Mere humans can’t do this to the extent that the Almighty can, so why not bring out the heavy artillery if you really care about a friend? While one might feel a bit of comfort from the “thoughts” of a friend, why would anyone in real trouble settle for the relatively impotent “thoughts” of a fellow human being if they could receive a blessing that originates from the petition of a person kneeling in prayer?

What most religious people don’t understand is that while it is kind and well-meaning, to pray for someone who does not believe is the same as the “impotent ‘thoughts'” of a fellow human. I appreciate the love being expressed by the thoughts people send my way, but I’d rather you wrote me a letter, or invited me out for coffee or donated to fight MBC or even volunteered for your local cancer society with me in mind.

Having cancer for a year and MBC for two I’ve learned that the thoughts of my fellow human can be freaking amazing, and the potential for kindness is unlimited. But don’t pray for me ’cause “you never know,” since if there were a controlling deity, it gave me the cancer in the first place.


If I hurt of offended anyone, it wasn’t intentional. I know we atheists have to walk a fine line in expressing our opinions when there are believers amongst our friends. To make up for any insult or hurt feelings, here’s a corgi puppy. They always make me feel better.