Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Atheist Creation Story: The Story of Life

Hey Y'all, 

   Some of you might have heard I was working on a book. The Story of Life is a bilingual, evolutionary creation story, written in an oral storytelling style. A fuller introduction is available on the website:

   The book is currently self published on Lulu (click here to see it) . You can check out a free pdf of the full text or get the paperback for $15. Either way, be sure to let me know what you think of it!

   As part of the release of The Story of Life, I'm also announcing a sort of art contest. If you're inspired to paint, draw, doodle or even photograph something after reading, send it to me and we'll start compiling a collection that will eventually become an illustrated series. There's more info on that on the website as well.

   Read it slowly - the world didn't create itself in a week.

   Andon Olea Zebal


Hola gentes,

    Acabo de terminar un proyecto que nos ha tomado 4 billones de años. El Cuento de la Vida es una obra sobre nuestros orígenes evolucionarios escrita como historia oral. Hay mas información sobre el cuento en el sitio de web:

    El libro esta auto-publicado en Lulu (picale aqui para verlo). Puedes ver la historia completa gratis en un formato digital o obtener el libro por $15 (no estoy seguro si el systema funcione en Mexico).

    Con el estreno del libro tambien annuncio un concursito de arte. Si El Cuento te anima a dibujar, pintar, o hacer una obra en cualquier medio visual, mandamela y empezaremos una collecion que terminara en una serie ilustrada de El Cuento de la Vida. Hay mas informacion sobre ello en el sitio de web.

    Leelo lentamente - el mundo no se creo en una semana.

    Andon Miguel Zebal Olea

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Heaven and Hell

One of the lame things about admitting to yourself that most of what we consider "supernatural" is a lie is that you can no longer count on the afterlife to effect justice on those who deserve it. In other words, Hitler didn't go to hell, he just shot himself in a bunker and that was it. No matter how much horrible shit he did, his life simply ended and he ceased to be. Of course those last few minutes before he shot himself must have been grueling, but they were no where near what the man deserved.

I bring this up because I was eating dinner today and the woman whose house I'm staying in said that she hoped the C.E.O. of Massey (basically the Exxon Mobil of coal companies) would burn in Hell, if there was a hell. She's somewhere between an Atheist and an Agnostic, as I found out after we all watched Religulous together a few months ago. That comment got me thinking about justice, especially since I myself had made a similar comment about Bernie Madoff just the other day. Upon hearing about the way Madoff's massive pyramid scheme had bankrupted several major charities, I exclaimed: "That man is gonna burn..."

At the time, I justified it to myself by thinking that I had meant in a secular sense. That is, he's gonna get burned in court, or he's gonna burn in jail, or something like that. Truth is, that is not what I meant at all! During and immediately previous to uttering that sentence, I temporarily believed in postmortem punishment. So here's the problem: belief in punishment after death makes us go soft on people that need to be punished here and now, in the real world. If we, as a people, really believe that bad people will go to hell when they die, it becomes more acceptable to allow them to continue behaving badly.

The issue is similar to an argument that Bush II continually made throughout his presidency: that future historians would judge in ways that we cannot in the present. The argument allowed him to do "unpopular" (read: immoral) things while claiming that he could not be punished or even admonished in the present. By passing his own punishment into the future, he avoided it in the present.

Despite the obvious absurdity of this argument, we make similar pronouncements all the time. When we talk about how bad people will "get whats coming to them" without helping the process along, we engage in the type of magical thinking that allows bad people to continue to do bad things. The truth is, mass murderers, moutaintop removing CEOs, and really terrible presidents are not going to hell. Which makes it all the more important that we make sure they "get whats coming to them" while they are still kickin'.

To end on a lighter note, here's what I found when I googled bush's historian arguments:


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Mentions Non-Believers!!!!!

Ok, so I was at the inauguration yesterday, in an enormous crowd of wonderful people, listening to Obama's inaugural address. Inbetwixt all of the cheering and emotion, Obama said something that I would have, sadly, never expected.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.
I jumped up and the air and yelled "Woohoo!" at this mention, this recognition, the first I have ever run across and definitely the highest official acknowledgment of non religious people I have ever heard from an American politician. In the crowd, I was alone in my cheer, and promptly looked around but found no one to share it with. I know, though, that thousands of others cheered with me across the globe. If you missed it, check it out at 14:25 in the video below, and feel free to jump up and yell with me:


Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Belief System: Radicalism

One thing that really annoys many of my friends is that I am what you might call "radically anti-radical." I understand the value of radicalism, of course, in pushing the envelope and being the cutting edge of what it means to be an environmentalist. Its just not for me.

In College, I watched as what had been a "radical" environmental club, the Student Environmental Action Coalition or SEAC, transform itself into a pragmatic, solution-focused group. Not only did the group grow from 5 to 10 people to more than 100, but we have instated a Green Fee, planted a campus organic garden, and given every incoming freshman a Compact Flourescent Light (CFL) bulb. The individual campaign meetings in this group are now larger than the original group was!

The difference between pragmatism and radicalism, as I see it, is a focus on what can be done now rather than what should be done. A good and relevant (to me) example comes from sustainable forest use. While a radical environmental group might call for an end to all forest use, pragmatic groups are trying to reshape forest industries so that less damage is done to the regenerative capacity of the forest.

A couple of summers ago, I was zip-lining in the Costa Rican rainforest. In order to create the zip-line course, the adventure group we were with had cut swaths wide enough that one could swing around on the line and not hit any trees. While we were there, a friend remarked on how much disturbance and fragmentation this caused to the forest. There was no question that the forest was severely damaged by the zip-line course. However, one look at the pineapple plantations one plot of land over revealed that the choice was not between a pristine forest and a disturbed forest, it was between a disturbed forest and a pineapple plantation. When radicals criticize eco-tourism as "Greenwash," they need to understand that tourism is often the only thing keeping local people from simply converting pristine systems to agriculture.

Another example that will get some folks talking is the difference between becoming vegan and searching for sustainably (and ethically) raised animal products. Which will change the conditions in which animals are raised? Is it better to eat a veggie burger or grass-finished beef? I tend to believe that in terms of actually changing the meat industry, searching for "good" meat creates a demand for better practices. As long as the only two alternatives people see are vegetarianism or factory-farmed meat, meat producers will simply write off vegetarians as lost customers but never actually change their practices. If the subset of people who would normally become vegetarians instead began demanding ethically produced meat (and this is starting to happen), these products would become more available and demand would spread to people who would never consider vegetarianism but who otherwise care for the Earth and its animals. This is pragmatism in action, increasing the base of support for a cause by making it more accessible to "normal" people.

Before the past election, I was involved in a massive voter registration drive by As I went around trying to register people to vote, I repeatedly and inevitably ran into people who were "too radical" to vote. Disgusted and appalled, I tried to understand these people who decided that voting, the end product of not just one, but several, radical movements, would make them "complicit with the system." How could one be an activist and not vote?

It seems that the issue of purity is central to the distinction between pragmatism and radicalism. The idea of personally not participating in the system that one disagrees with permeates radical thought. The problem is one of scale. I believe that except in extreme circumstances (dictatorships, fascism, etc.), participation in the system is essential to changing it. So is the idea that some change is always better than no change. Many radicals see what I think is a false choice between a perfect change and an imperfect change. More often, the real choice is between imperfect change and no change at all.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Prayer

Great post Erica! It was getting lonely around here.

So in another passive aggressive move (see this for background if you care) my mom got me to say grace at the dinner table tonight. I was put on the spot, especially since my grandmother was there. I thought about it for half a minute and then said something like this:
We pray and we hope to the consciousness inside our heads that we have a better year coming up. We've started to see a bit of change this year, and we hope that things get better and that we see some real improvements in the world. Amen.

Not exactly eloquent, but I did manage to do a prayer without invoking anything explicitly supernatural, so I was proud of myself. I'm pretty sure I meant to say "conscience" rather than "consciousness" though, and it would have sounded a lot less new-agey if I had.

Merry Christmas Everyone! (I'm not being sarcastic, I actually do love Christmas)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Generic Season's Greetings

I figured the Atheist's Log would be the best place to vent about the Christmas season. While I do like that Christmas seems to be getting more and more secular, it's also getting more and more materialist and consumerist, which isn't a good thing. Additionally, the Christian right always seems to go bonkers all over Christmas, as if they don't even realize that Christmas is a syncretic holiday, just like many aspects of Christianity exhibit syncretism. It really bothers me that the Christian right isn't interested in scholarship, science, or facts; it is more interested in maintaining power, placing guilt trips, and manipulating its way in the government. I feel that a true Christian scholar would study the origin of the religious texts and traditions and recognize that paganism has had vast influences on the religion. Yet modern-day fundamentalists want to ignore this simple fact, as well as the separation of church and state. The way I see it, there is no way to represent every single religion equally and fairly, so the government should represent none. There should be no presidential recognition of the national Christmas tree in Washington DC. It is merely a disgusting display of discrimination. And the fact that the biggest religious diversity we've had in a president was Catholicism instead of Protestantism is just a gross demonstration of the US of A's intolerance. People seem to think that they can remain politically correct by representing a variety of religions, but the fact remains that there are so many religions and so many interpretations of those religions (and then there are the atheists with no religion! what do we get??) that it is better to refrain from political public displays of this sort. Even at the College of William and Mary where there is a traditional Yule Log Ceremony (an obvious shout out to the pagans, right?) the students tried to represent every religion. The Christians spoke first, of course, quoting the Jesus birth story from the Bible (but wait, wasn't Jesus born in the spring?), then students representing the faiths of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and the holiday of Kwanzaa spoke. But I, as an atheist, felt left out. And what about an acknowledgment to the pagan tradition of Yule Log? Oh, that tradition was read later, but only as a reminder of the rules of the event, like where to rub the sprig of holly. Is no one willing to recognize the lies and hate mongering that is Christianity? Before realizing other religions were represented at this Yule Log Ceremony, I yelled something like "Fuck this Christian shit! This is a pagan holiday!" causing the woman in front of me to turn around and give me a look.

I am willing to exchange gifts around Christmas; it is a nice gesture and, to be honest, with so many people celebrating the Christmas holiday, there is no escaping it. But I am not willing to believe "little baby Jesus" was born in a manger on December 25 to a virginal Mary. Because it isn't true. And any quick look on the Internet would show that Christianity borrowed greatly from existing traditions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Belief System: Waste

I hate waste. That sentence basically sums up this part of my philosophy, but I'll go on so I can explain some of the repercussions and practical principles that come from it.

When I talk about waste, I'm not just talking about the obvious physical waste that everyone can see. Of course we should recycle, reuse, compost, and reduce the stuff we use. At the same time, there are many kinds of waste besides the physical: wasted time, wasted potential, wasted mind power, wasted space.

I see all sorts of waste all around me all the time. For example, there's school. At every level, assignments are used mostly to further the students themselves. Many of these assignments, with a few modifications, could be exported to the "real world" and actually affect it. For example, rather than make students write a report on, say, National Parks in the US, you could get them to make a Wikipedia article on protected areas in Western Australia, most of which don't have articles yet. This way, rather than the report rotting on a desk, it can become part of the growing body of knowledge being built in this amazing resource.

One principle that I try to live by based on this whole hating waste thing is "Use what others might not." For example, if I see napkins that someone left on a table at a restaurant, I'll use those rather than get new ones from the dispenser, because those napkins will probably be thrown out. I don't know for sure that other people won't use them, but they might not, so I might as well use them.

Another principle is to use what you've got until its unusable (in terms of stuff, not nature of course). This is the reason I still carry the wallet I got when I was 14, even though the zippers are broken and the window for my ID is gone. As long as I can stuff a bill into it, I'm gonna keep on using it.

Its extremely easy to get carried away if you take any principle to far, and I'll talk about how I keep myself from doing that in my next post.

Peace and Plants