aaaand we're back.

Aikido camp was pretty good. It felt like a mellow, low-energy year, both in general and for me particularly. I've been busy running around doing stuff, and my body's a little stiff, so I only trained 1-2 classes each day (though I did train every day). I spent a fair amount of time hanging out in my room (which was 15-20F cooler than outside) reading, and some socializing. People always talk about how the week of training has a transformative effect on your aikido; it never has for me, even when I've more fully participated, but there are also relationships to be renewed and nourished, and that's the more important thing.

I showed up late, on Monday morning, because Kat and I went to the Feather River Campout, at Spanish Creek Campground just east of Twain, CA. It was a lovely weekend spent with more pals than expected, since Ann, Jason and Maiah showed up as well.

Last week I went into the library, and picked up Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great. I'd avoided it because of the subtitle ("How Religion Poisons Everything"), thinking it would be an irritating screed; and while it's a good solid rant, it's backed up by so much evidence and reasoning, and written with such passion, that it really grabbed me. In a sense, because he's more widely-read than I am, and I haven't spent much time thinking about the argument, I'm not qualified to argue with him.

(Neither are most of the people on Amazon who gave it a negative review, it seems; one commenter offers insight that is both intellectually void and patently false:

Athiests think they are the most "open minded" of men, and that those who have any faith are old fashioned and close minded. They fail to see that they are the close minded ones, not accepting what the overwhelming majority of humans have believed for the many thousand years they have been around. Athiests go against human nature. They are like anorexics, who refuse to take part in what would keep them alive. Religion (yes, religion, not just a belief in God) is a need, it cannot be dispensed. We need it like we need air, food, and water.
But that's neither here nor there.)

I think I fundamentally agree with him, though, in that basing your worldview on premises that are either obviously false (e.g. that a scripture is written by or inspired by a deity) or unfalsifiable (e.g. god exists, especially in the form you think it does) hampers your ability to really understand the world as it is. And ultimately, uncovering the truth through reason and experience is The Big Thing that's always been important to me, as far back as I can remember. Theory doesn't fit the facts? Throw it out. We should hold spirituality to the same standard: if it doesn't enable us to understand ourselves and our world, throw it out. Ultimately, I think I left Christianity because I had grown up to a point where I became willing and able to take a stand on the issue: the intellectual contortions required had always bothered me quite a bit. (For the record, though Zen isn't quite a religion in the usual sense, I will happily abandon it if I encounter something that works better. Amusingly enough, Buddha himself said not to follow his teachings if they didn't accord with our experience.)

Now I'm reading Letter to a Christian Nation, which is also fun:

Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammed in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the belefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammed are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam. The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn't it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn't it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is previsely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.
That's sort of the core of the problem, right there.