The Spiritual Life of An Atheist

May 8, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Justice Agnostic

By all accounts May 1, 2011 was a banner day for the United States.  A team of Navy Seals stealthily invaded Osama bin Laden’s personal compound in northeastern Pakistan and fatally shot him.  Following President Obama’s lead, near universal acclamation prevailed that bin Laden was brought to justice.  Rowdy crowds cheered in the streets because justice had been done.  The next night Stephen Colbert threw a “long-awaited We Got Bin Laden party,” exhorting his adoring audience into chants of “USA USA USA” and playing snippets of the triumphal at Dorothy’s killing of the Wicked Witch of the West. 

In the next segment, Colbert’s guest, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, soberly explained that “the only bad news with” bin Laden’s killing “is that it really won’t change things all that much” because since 9/11 terrorism has been franchised.  Other commentators have noted that the Yemeni Al-Qaeda is in ascent, while bin Laden’s branch has been on the wane.

The United States caused bin Laden to suffer the ultimate penalty for his lethal crimes against its citizens.  This tit for tat is what the more boisterous members of the nation were celebrating.  Tit for tat is not just a schoolyard tactic.  It is an ancient impulse and potentially powerful strategy against a committed adversary.  Failing to respond in kind can embolden an adversary to further attack because they believe they can act with impunity.  Countering this effect is the logic underlying mutually assured destruction as a deterrent to nuclear war.  When commentators heralded the killing’s puncturing of bin Laden’s mythology, they were alluding to his seeming invulnerability to retaliation.  Until May Day 2011, bin Laden appeared to be able to attack the United States without consequence.

Was finally evening up the score against bin Laden justice?  By the ancient measure of retribution, yes.  On this scale, the United States gave bin Laden his due. 

But justice weighed only on retribution’s scale is a thin account.  Retribution between well-matched adversaries can spawn an escalating cycle of tit for tat.  Responding in kind can spur an adversary to additional attack out of vengeance or to prove they cannot be outmatched.  This is why the Obama administration warned of the increased terrorist threat following bin Laden’s killing.  Retributive cycles are wars of attrition, with the possibility of no side feeling vindicated in the end due to the losses inflicted.  Was the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud justice?  Is the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict justice?

To take the bold step of killing bin Laden in his compound, President Obama must feel confident that the United States and Al-Qaeda are not well-matched adversaries and that the United States can contain whatever retaliatory responses bin Laden’s killing inspires. 

President Obama’s presentation of the killing was equally strategic. In his announcement, President Obama invoked both justice and God, suggesting that not only might but also God was on the United States’ side.  No doubt bin Laden and his followers believed their bloody hands gripped God’s just sword.  Such invocations of divine justice are appeals to tribalism writ large.  The Obama administration’s decision to kill bin Laden was about geo-political strategy rather than divine right, and its public packaging similarly calculated.

Piling on the justice theme, a favorite media play was to interview a survivor of 9/11 about how the killing made them feel.  Most described a sense of closure, but some did not.  The off-script moments made the interviewers pause.  Justice brings a satisfied feeling, so the denial of closure undermined the storyline.  No follow-up inquiry was made. Perhaps the unobliging survivors longed for a richer justice than simple retribution, such as the restoration of peace, or felt the loss they had suffered could not be put right.  Is justice always, or even often, possible?

None of this is to say that the killing of bin Laden was not justified.  But that the United States was justified in killing bin Laden does not mean that his death itself constitutes justice.  Justice is a big word, much bigger than the death of one man.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson

April 24, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Celebrating the Life Cycle

We’re a month into Spring and children are searching out dyed eggs in backyards today.  That’s fun, whatever your stance on Jesus’s resurrection or Eostre, the Saxon’s Great Mother Goddess.  Who doesn’t love longer, warmer days, budding roses, scents of jasmine, or a toddler with a too-large-basket on a treasure hunt?

Life is a cycle of birth, maturing, demise, and renewal.  Easter, with its life-cycle theme, brings to my mind William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis”–which, in an earlier age of decent public education, I was taught in 10th grade and have never forgotten.  Bryant wrote “Thanatopsis” sometime around 1811 when in his late teens. 

Some of the lines that move me the most are:  

. . .Earth that nourish’d thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock,
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould . . .

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged by his dungeon; but, sustain’d and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

The complete poem is at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/thanatopsis.html.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson

April 3, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: The Longing for Real Connection

I watched a quite disturbing and excellent documentary the other day, The Secrets of the Tribe, about anthropology’s use of one of the last first-contact tribes on Earth in the 1960s, the Yanomamo.  One of the anthropologists who studied and lived with the Yanomamo, Ken Good, married a Yanomamo woman, had 3 children with her and brought her back to the U.S.  She ended up leaving him and returning to her village in the Amazon rainforest.  In the documentary, he said she told him, in essence, she did not like living within the walls of the nuclear family.  She missed waking up in the morning and being able to see all her fellow villagers from her hammock.

Living in such a physically open and close-knit community is difficult to imagine.  I grew up in a little town, not an urban setting, and I’m actually a fan of the single family home.  I like at least a 5-foot-setback’s worth of elbow room from my neighbors.  Having been raised with a particular amount of space and privacy, I would probably find life in a small, open village about as intrusive as the Yanomamo emigrant found modern suburban American living isolating.

When I was a kid, I knew almost all our neighbors.  A couple of older sisters, who my mother knew, lived down the street from each other, and I would go to their houses for milk and cookies sometimes–and to sell my lastest extra-curricular activity fundraising wares.  I was friends with both the girls who were my age who lived around the corner from me.

My mother still lives in the area I grew up, which is where she grew up, and where many people she grew up with still live or have returned to live.  As a result, my mother has relationships with people spanning 65+ years.  Such long-lived relationships are almost as difficult for me to imagine as a view of my whole village from my hammock.  My mother is a member of probably one of the last sustained-contact tribes in the U.S.

I have lived in the same house in the Bay Area for almost 12 years.  Many of my neighbors have lived here as long or longer.  I know some of my neighbors well enough to wave at them or maybe chat about the weather when we both happen to be out in our front yards at the same time, which is not very often.  No one spends time in their front yards.

In numbers, I feel confident that I know a lot more people than my mother does, even though I have lived just over half as long as she.  Living in the Bay Area and working at a large private law firm in downtown San Francisco for almost 13 years, I have come into contact with a lot of people.  (And that is not even counting grade school, high school (half spent in southeastern Louisiana and half spent in north central Louisiana), college in New York State, a 3-year interlude in Phoenix, and law school–the start of my now 16-year-long stint in the Bay Area.)  But the number of people I know really well is a handful, and the number of people I will have known for 65+ years will be zero.

I was not raised in a world where relationships were actual market commodities.  But I have worked in that world, and I think that world’s net is ever-expanding.  A recent independent film that satirizes this phenomenon is The Joneses, with David Duchovny and Demi Moore.  It wasn’t ever in line for an Oscar, but it is worth seeing.  It is an appeal for authentic human connection in an age where everything is about the sale.  It is ironic to watch Demi Moore, with her clearly plasticized (albeit still lovely) features, carry a movie with this message.

I have hated marketizing my relationships, to the extent I have managed to.  I don’t long for a return to the Edenic life of a small village without walls, but I do want to build relationships with people because they make me laugh or say insightful things or share my same quirky interests or just because.  And now I know I’m not alone in this longing, because someone has made a movie about it.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson

March 27, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Generosity and Cooperation Make Good Sense

We are beings imbued through evolution with a moral sense–a capacity to ponder and attempt to answer and even enforce our answers to complex questions of morality.  Evolution itself is an unthinking, amoral process that does not tell us what is a morally correct or incorrect course of action.  It explains how it is that humans, as social animals, have a moral sense and perhaps the rough parameters of that  sense.  Right and wrong are not Platonic forms suspended in a celestial sphere. They are value decisions we have to work out using our culturally refined moral sensibilities.  

The question of what is “moral” in any given circumstance is complex and reasonable minds can differ.  But some values are demonstrably more harmful (to ourselves, other individuals, society at large) than others.  Game theory tells us that we can create “win-win” situations through cooperation. Cooperative behavior begets trust, fostering a positive feedback loop of increasing trust and cooperation.

Cheating is sub-optimal because it prevents a “win-win” situation. You can trust others when you know they know they can trust you and you both know that the only way to the best outcome for both of you is to hang together. When you cheat against someone who can be trusted, you rob yourself of the best outcome you could have achieved for yourself.

But game theory also tells us that where we cannot trust our fellow participants, we are personally better off to cheat first. So, behaving in a cooperative manner is only “rational” under conditions of trust.  In the short-term, cheating can be in one’s “rational self interest”–if one believes that one is not likely to get caught or if caught, the benefit of cheating outweighs the cost of its penalty. But chronic cheating is not a very good long-term strategy because the more one cheats, the more likely one is to get caught and the consequences of getting caught repeatedly can be exile from the group. This of course assumes some order.

Conditions of distrust erode cooperation, creating a negative feedback loop of distrust and hostile self-interestedness.   There are many places in the world today where chronic cheating is a common strategy because there are not sufficient resources/institutions for catching and punishing cheaters. The living conditions in these places are undesirable and we acribe to them “lawlessness” and “chaos.”  After a certain tipping point, widespread, chronic cheating leads to living dystopias–a race to the self-interested moral bottom.  Think of the present day Congo.

The consequences for society of unimpeded chronic cheating and the terrible, disordered living conditions it fosters are a strong indicator that cheating is undesirable and chronic cheating is wrong.

The necessity for cooperation doesn’t come from a social contract. It comes from the inescapable fact of our social relationship to each other and the provable dynamics built into those relationships.  Our entire survival and reproductive scheme is based on belonging to a group. We call inveterate cheaters against the group “outlaws” and they become “outcasts.”  Because we live in social relationship with each other–not as a matter of theoretical contract, but as a matter of fact–good must encompass more than just consideration of one’s own desires and ends.

Maintaining cooperation in a society of strangers, such as the urban US, is a particular challenge.   There is no generally understood moral requirement to give a stranger aid.  Doing so is considered charitable, altruistic, heroic.  Even though giving a stranger aid is going above and beyond, there are good reasons to do so.  It may simply feel good.  Or you may recognize that society is better off if people are more often willing to give without expectation of direct reciprocation and you want to behave in a way that fosters the generosity and trust that benefits society.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson

March 20, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: The Signal Importance of Joy

Delight, gaiety, bliss are some of the meanings of joy, according to Merriam-Webster.  Joy and pleasure and happiness are all related but all distinct too.  Joy is powerful in its spontaneity and often exuberant, even when quietly contained.  Pleasure can be joyful but also more measured, mundane.  Happiness involves some of both.    Deriving pleasure from life more often than not is necessary for happiness, but persisting in a state of joy would be quite impractical.  We must make do with passing moments of the heady stuff.  

Joy is undervalued in maturity.  Maybe as we age our brains tend to lose their easy capacity for joy, and part of growing up involves giving up that lack of restraint joy can bring.  We associate joy with childhood and perhaps childishness.  Our joys become our most private moments as adults.    But, however diminished, the capacity remains and can be cultivated.  In his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven–a world-famous curmudgeon–composed one of the most complex, exhilarating paens to joy ever penned.

Paradoxically, our pursuit of pleasure can itself be an obstacle to experiencing joy.  We can become freighted down with effort and expectation, the pursuit of pleasure rendered a source of fatigue, disappointment, suffering.

To me, joy is like a beacon rotating in a lighthouse, allowing you to set a course by the flashes you can make out in the fog.

copyright 2011 S. Anne Johnson

March 12, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: When Mortality Stares Us in the Face

My heart is heavy at the loss of life and destruction from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Before the earthquake hit, I was thinking about the subject of mortality because I learned earlier this week that a friend was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer.

Mortality surrounds us.   We lose our grandparents and then our parents.  We lose peers.  We learn of close brushes with an early death–perhaps we experience one in our own lives, even if just the split-second veering from an almost certainly catastrophic car accident.  When we shelter pets, we sign up for the experience of having their deaths most probably precede our own, and if we love other animals a lot, we do this over and over again.

Some feel that, given ineluctable death, without God life is a cruel joke.  This is a framing problem, I think.  If one approaches life as an entitlement, it seems unjust when it is snatched away.  If one understands life as a time-limited privilege, death becomes a seriously sad but manageable fact.  In saying this, I am not advocating some stiff-upper-lip stoicism.  I am talking about a fundamental shift in thinking–and feeling.

The physical laws of our Universe which allow for life in the first instance also dictate its dissipation.  Under the second law of thermodynamics, i.e., entropy, things tend to disorder.  A good way to conceive of entropy is to think about an ordinary deck of 52 cards.  When you buy the deck the cards are ordered numerically within suits.  You drop the deck and the probability that it will fall into that order is infinitesimal.  That’s because there are exponentially more ways for the deck to be disordered than ordered.  So, ordering the deck takes a lot more effort than disordering it.

Ordered systems, such as living beings, are momentarily stealing order from the disorder through the expenditure of extra energy.*  Eventually however entropy will prevail, and we will all face the deaths of our pets and friends and family and ultimately ourselves.  This is not an easy fact, but neither is it cruel.  Life is in fact a privilege, not an entitlement, and we get the benefit of temporarily experiencing that privilege through the unique lens of our embodied human consciousness.  And what is death–that embodied consciousness’s coming to an end–like?  Most probably what it was like before your consciousness was born.  A great nothing.

None of this is to lessen the significance of the pain, grief and mourning we feel at loss.  Entropy hurts.  But it is possible without God to not rail against cruel fate or take pause in what dreams may come in the sleep of death.

*Metabolism is the biological mechanism that makes this consumption of extra energy possible in life as we know it.

copyright 2011 S. Anne Johnson

February 22, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Meaning from Materialism

A recent reader located my blog by inquiring “what gives meaning to the atheist or purely material minded person?”  I think this question reflects a common concern that strict materialism* takes the joy, color, sense of purpose out of life.  The harshly absurdist take of existentialist atheists like Sartre and Camus did not do us materialists any favors in correcting this bad mis-impression.

The simple answer is that atheists by and large find meaning in the very same things that theists do–their family and friends, personal activities and accomplishments, contributions to their communities.  None of these depends on a belief in a god or soul or superstition.

I am confident that my consciousness is embodied in my brain and will cease with my corpus.  I do not imagine that I will be reunited in some ethereal form with loved ones or participate in the world in any way after my death.  My “extinctivist” position does not dampen my sense of meaning in life.  It may in fact heighten it, as my life–and the lives of others–are precious in their fragility and fleetingness.

I believe in no mandates from on high.  No God imbues my life with some special significance.  I fully recognize my cosmic inconsequence.  I am one of billions of humans that have lived and will live, and humans are just one of millions of species that have lived and will live on Earth.  Earth is not the center of anything, not even our own solar system.  I am one little being in one tiny corner of what may very well be an infinite multiverse.  None of this bothers me a bit.  My life is just as important to me and my friends and family and community regardless of my/our cosmic insignificance.

Truth be told, contemplating the vastness of existence exhilarates, not depresses, me.  I feel quite privileged in being able to grasp the magnitude of the cosmos and how its unthinking mechanisms likely work.  And I’m grateful that indifferent evolution vested others with the math talents to figure it out.

Having read a lot of popular science, I know I am not the only one who finds the view from materialism beautiful, astonishing, inspiring.  Creation is a marvel to behold.  Life is a dear resource.  Our incredible consciousnesses enable us to take it all in.  Belief in God or eternal souls or magical occurrences are not necessary to experience the wonder of existence or meaning in it and our individual lives.

—-

*To be clear, by materialism I mean a non-dualist (i.e., no mind/body problem because mind emanates from body) philosophical stance that existence is physical and natural, not metaphysical and supernatural.  Materialism is an outgrowth of an empirical, or scientific, approach to life, which embraces knowledge based on perception and physical testing of our beliefs drawn from perception.  I decidedly do not mean materialistic in the common sense of what matters in life is money and fast cars.

copyright 2011 S. Anne Johnson

January 30, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: My Own Experience of Mindfulness

I am not a Buddhist.  In fact, I’m not much of a subscriber to “ism”s overall.  Mindfulness is an oft-used concept in Buddhism, sometimes also called present moment awareness.  From my experience, you can think of it as vivid presentness in being alive.  Language is quite inadequate for capturing actual experience, and these are all somewhat stilted words for an inexpressible, underlying state of mind.  But if you have experienced mindfulness, you can feel its absence and you most definitely welcome its reemergence.

I have practiced different meditation techniques and have developed my own variety of approaches, depending on whether I’m more calm or frayed or opti- or pessi- mistic at the time.  Presently, I don’t use mantras or mudras (although I have) and I don’t have officially sanctioned objects of meditation.  I have used my experience with formal meditation techniques to design my own self-tailored mental/emotional housekeeping.

Being in mindfulness is an exquisite privilege.  You get to experience what it is to be alive without your mind nattering on at you.  Buddhists refer to this nattering aspect of one’s mind as ego.  Experiencing one’s self in the world with one’s palavering ego faint in the distant background is a sublime, and not at all mystical, encounter.  And it is not an easy psychological state to maintain.  Thus, the meditative housekeeping practices.

The benefits of mindfulness are compelling.  No matter what your circumstance, you feel better.  Pain is less excruciating.  Fatigue is less wearisome.  Joy is less fleeting.  In a condition of vivid aliveness, questions about life’s meaning fade.  Enhanced empathy is a happy byproduct, and you feel less peevish and more patient.  I am confident that no one has committed harm from a state of mindfulness.

Jargon can be off-putting.  And mindfulness is not a condition that can be packaged and sold.  It is also not an escape from harsh realities.  Mindfulness does not diminish one’s awareness of poverty and crime and war and environmental devastation and just plain meanness in the world.  I’ve never entered a mindful state and become either Dr. Pangloss or Pollyanna. 

The image for my blog is a photo of my backyard Buddha statue.  I admire the statue not because I worship the Buddha but because he appears to me to be sitting in a state of mindfulness.  Seeing the image of mindfulness reminds me of how it feels and moves me both toward and deeper into it.

copyrigh 2011 S. Anne Johnson

January 23, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: The Foibles of Our Evolved Minds

The other night, the tilted, orange-tinted visage of the full round Moon smiled down at me.  And I caught myself smiling back.  Of course I know the apparent Lunar facial features are meteor-caused craters, and I tried to will myself to stop seeing two eyes, a nose, and a subtle grin.  I could not.  Even though I knew the friendly, if somewhat blue, face was not really there, I could not help but see it.  There’s a name for this psychological phenomenon–pareidolia (finding images or sounds in random stimuli).  In more lay terms, patternicity. 

Patternicity is just one of a veritable laundry list of cognitive biases built into our accidental minds.  To name just a few:

  • anchoring/focusing effect—favoring a specific fact or value over others as or more pertinent
  • attentional bias—giving greater attention to emotionally salient facts
  • the availability heuristic—judging the likelihood of an event by how easily an example comes to mind
  • the bandwagon effect—believing something because many others do
  • belief bias—judging the validity of an argument by the believability of its conclusion, not the strength of its logic
  • confirmation bias—favoring information that confirms existing beliefs or conceptions
  • hindsight bias—seeing past events as predictable
  • illusion of control—overestimating one’s ability to control events
  • illusory correlation— seeing a relationship between events where none exists
  • illusory-truth effect—recalling a false proposition as true merely due to exposure to it
  • subjective validation—believing information correct because of its personal significance
  • superiority bias—tendency to think one is above average

In “Absence of Mind,” Marilynne Robinson laments: “The self is no longer assumed to be a thing approached with optimism, or to be trusted to see anything truly.”  To Robinson, the “privilege of human selfhood” is “foreclosed when the mind is trivialized or thought to be discredited.”  It is disquieting to learn that one’s mind is not built to perceive things as they really are, but only adapted over eons by random mutations to perceive things well enough to survive to reproduce.  Modern psychological knowledge sheds whole new light on Plato’s cave allegory.  Sharing the same mental foundations, we are prone to similar illusory causal correlations (“superstitions”) as chickens, which can learn to wrongly associate a look over a shoulder with receipt of food.  What a lucky glance! 

Recognizing our minds’ actual pedigree and their native tendencies and limitations may discredit subjective authority but it does not necessarily trivialize the positive capacities of our remarkable, albeit flawed, minds.  Contemplate for a moment the fact that our minds have developed means to uncover and, to some extent, correct for their own built-in imperfections.  Knowing our mental foibles does not have to diminish us—indeed, it can enhance us.

On the other end, some (including scientists who should know better) too deeply discount the power of our hard-wired cognitive tendencies when railing against the ubiquitous phenomena of religious and superstitious belief.  Even in the most secular of European countries, people who eschew all belief in a spirit, god or life force top out at 33%. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism)

Of course, I am not proposing that atheists are wrong because we are not on the bandwagon.  But I do believe that it is unrealistic, even unscientific, to think that the majority of people across the world and into the future are going to overcome the general native tendencies of the human mind.  “Faith” has been altered and even diminished over the past several centuries, but the idea that it is going to come to an end sometime soon is simply not supported by the facts.  

My perception of the Man in the Moon was not a hallucination.  It was an individual instance of a widespread trick of the mind.  Neither are mirages hallucinations; rather, they are commonly experienced illusions.  The facts strongly suggest that humans in general are wired toward religious belief.  Religious belief is more mirage than delusion.   When addressing the issues raised by religious belief, we rationalists might want to keep this in mind.

copyright 2011 S. Anne Johnson

January 17, 2011

Spiritual Life of an Atheist: A Very Personal Note On the Necessity of Tolerance this MLK Day

There is an ongoing debate in the atheist community about the proper tone of our public discourse.  Some are quite understandably angry at the hate-filled nonsense fundamentalist theists can be wont to hurl.  The approach advocated is gloves off, let loose the harsh truths.  This is not my favored approach.  My comment to http://alstefanelli.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/when-diplomacy-and-tolerance-should-be-abandoned/ (and http://alstefanelli.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/by-definition-all-religions-are-scams/) is reproduced below:

I grew up in Louisiana, surrounded by very conservative Christians. I knew I was gay from early on in high school and every day on the way home, I had to pass a billboard that read, “AIDS–God’s Judgment Has Come.” I left Louisiana when I was 17 and have returned only periodically to see my parents. When I visited my mother in 2009, that same property had a billboard with a pair of glaring eyes that read, “He Is Watching.” I assume it was referring to some totalitarian, End of Days Jesus. No question that Big Brother Jesus would be the first to stone me for my homosexuality.

There is no geographic cure. The street where I reside in Oakland, California has a Samoan Mormon church at the top, and I have lived through two anti-gay marriage campaigns where the church vigorously opposed my right to marry. Some of the ugliest Prop 8 confrontations occurred in my neighborhood. Tensions were riding so high between the pro- and anti-factions, who were initially elbow to elbow, that the police separated us out onto opposite street corners. Before the police separated us, I feared for my safety a bit, and I am confident that there would have been blood otherwise. The anti-gay marriage folks shouted rude, insulting slurs about gays. I wore my throat raw shouting them down with positive slogans like, “Support love” or “Civil rights can’t be wrong,” etc. I never shouted an insult at them, no matter how personal and painful their attacks against gay people got, and believe me, they got ugly.

Every gay pride we have to suffer literal soap box preachers with bullhorns telling us we’re all going to burn in hell as sinners. Sometimes I shout back at them–things like, “Judge not lest ye be judged” or “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Do I feel anger at these people who monger very personal hatred against me for who I love? You betcha. When they are wishing me dead, or mocking my inability to sexually reproduce with my life partner, or calling me filthy, etc., I feel bilious hatred toward them.  I do not act on that hatred. I note it and I contain it and I move past it.

Tolerance does not equal silence. It means not responding in contemptuous kind. I do not tolerate and behave diplomatically or constructively toward those who publicly wish me ill and actively work to deprive me of rights for their benefit. I do it for mine.

copyright 2011 S. Anne Johnson

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