Category Archives: The Atheist’s Pulpit

One believer’s view.

Data-lust be damned!

The following quote is from Birdnote. I am SICK of datalust, sick of the belief that our curiosity supersedes the rights of other creatures to live unmolested. Damn these scientists. Let someone tackle them and strap a proportionate device to their heads because that would be “fascinating.”

“Tiny devices attached to the heads of frigatebirds revealed fascinating information”

Staggering along Memory Lane

I read reviews of books, movies, restaurants, even art. Often, I know I won’t read / see / visit the subject of the review, in which case I especially appreciate spoilers. (This is the only way I can handle horror stories.)


This morning, I read a piece in which two authors bandied about favorite books and authors in a genre I hadn’t heard of: fantasy noir. I followed leads to several references. One particular author had written a biography of Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America, among others.


I read several of Brautigan’s works in my (pre-)teens. I remember liking his stuff. (The biography looks good, too.) But there were a couple of works that didn’t come up in my search. And that led me to the realize I was thinking of another author: William Kotzwinkle, who wrote a book I *loved* at the time, Elephant Bangs Train (short stories). To this day, I think now and then about A Most Incredible Meal, especially when a celebration ignores a tragedy, which happens quite often.


But, what about Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle? I’d misattributed that to Brautigan, as well. I find now it was from an eclectic collection of poems by then-modern poets. Looking at the table of contents online, I don’t recognize any of the titles, but this one stuck through the years.


Learning involves building connections, particularly non-linear and tangential. We laugh at recalling minutia from decades ago while forgetting what day it is today, but to get a hint of what lies below the surface — the depth of knowledge and experience we might plumb — is a delight. The mind amuses and amazes. You’re never alone once you befriend yourself.   

Appreciating Connections

A tentative connection formed in my mind. One piece was a NPR story about CPE Bach, whom I had never  heard of. I felt the speaker’s appreciation for this Bach — I dare say, I appreciated his appreciation in a way that echoed later, with an article about an Edward Hopper picture I might not have looked at twice, certainly not with the eye of the reviewer, or his enthusiasm. Why, I wondered, do these pieces seem different from countless others I read every day?


Is my reaction connected to the way my neighbors speak to each other now? No longer the quick “how’s it going?” as we pass each other, but a more concerned “how are you coping?” paired with a pause and eye contact. Mind you, we are not “essential,” which is to say, we are comfortable and safe, so why the concern? What has changed — what’s gone or arrived that makes us appreciate … more.

It won’t end with us

If I were in my 20s, I’d be drinking in a crowded bar, thinking “so long, Boomers. Good riddance!” It’s true, we’ve left you a horrible mess. How can we ask you to sacrifice more to save our lives?


Understand, some of us tried to change the world for the better. Fifty years and more ago, we marched for the environment, for equal rights, to oust a corrupt president, and to end the war. We celebrated diversity, freedom, and peace. Some of that redounds to you.


Our biggest mistake was thinking the Enemy of Progress was Age. “Never trust anyone over 30,” we said. We didn’t understand: the Enemy of Progress is Concentrated Wealth. The Rich don’t have to be greedy and selfish. Some aren’t: Bill Gates, for example. But do you think the Trump kids and their spouses were progressive at any age? It’s wealth without compassion, wealth unable to share, wealth afraid, that fights progress. It defeated the Boomers (corrupting many of us). Unethical Capitalism and its Profiteers are your enemies. They’ll make you sick, sell you a cure, and bill your survivors for the funeral and commemorative plate.  


The other enemy we laughed off is religion corrupted by reactionaries. Do you think Jesus was anti-progressive? Hell, even the Pope is more progressive than Mike Pence. The unholy marriage of conservatism and church, funded by the Rich unwilling to share, has poisoned us all.


So, sorry for the mess. Sorry to ask you to sacrifice more and more of less and less. Odds are, your kids will blame you. Some things never change.


peace, mjh 

35 Years

My Mom died 35 years ago today. Life is short; death everlasting. Mom told Merri she knew I’d be angry about her death for a long time. Indeed, I was, but anger is a bitter memorial. She deserved better.  

They say funerals are for the living, but Mom would have liked hers. The turnout, the finery —  the hats! The Dixieland band playing a dirge as we rolled her coffin a mile down a busy street from the church to the cemetery, next to my Dad. My bear Teddy rode on her coffin. Patsy Coontz pleaded with me not to bury Teddy with Mom. (She’s long dead, now, too, but Teddy is with me.) 

The band was upbeat on the return to the champagne reception afterwards. It was a good send-off. 

That was more than half my lifetime ago. I’m older than Mom lived to be. I often mark this anniversary with a haircut — she loved my hair, as did I. The sacrifice is less each year. 

Chris Hobgood, the minister, said he’d visited my mother in her final days in the hospital. She said she wanted to talk about her funeral yet every time changed the subject. At the memorial, he read this poem, appropriate as spiritual metaphor lacking conventional religious imagery.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze,
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of her destination.
Her diminished size is in me, and not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes that are watching for her coming;
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“There she comes!”

(I’ve seen this attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher.) 

Though one of beauty and strength, she *is* gone forever and nowhere else. I believe death is absolute and final. Still, her mitochondria swim within me, and many of my best traits were hers. I’m grateful to her for more than just my life. And sorry she didn’t have more of her own.