January 06, 2012

Farewell to my best friend

It's wrong to have favourites but truth is we always do. Twyzle was a rescue cat from the RSPCA and it was girlfriends idea at the time to adopt. It was me who got custody when we broke up but Twyzle was the kind of cat happy with anybodys company. I loved him dearly, and cried a river when he died 6 weeks ago. But he was not my favourite.

Merv was a few weeks old when he was abandoned by a stray. His mother was discovered in a friends attic and she fled, stealing away most of the litter but leaving behind two runts. I raised Merv by hand, and needles to say he loved me in ways he could never love anyone else. Total trust, he was the kitten who never grew up.

When Twyzle died it felt as though his time had come, like a soul ready to move on to his next life. Twzle was eager to live beyond the boundaries of our four walls. Merv was the opposite. He had no interest beyond his home because everything he wanted was right here. A happier cat has never lived. His departure was sudden and reluctant, as though his soul was not ready to go. I was not ready for it either. Twyzke was ill for 12 months and had survived cancer, car accidents and a jaw reconstruction. I was ready for his death for the last ten years, and the day we put him to sleep after a fatal blood clot was relief. Sad, but ready. His time had come.

In the weeks since Twyzle died I found the company offered by Merv ever more valuable. He was filling the place of two souls now, and soaking up the love. Last night Merv suffered a debilitating blood clot as well, and I knew instantly what was to come. Both cats had developed hyperactive thyroids in their senior years, and despite reasonably effective drugs the likelihood of heart complications and clotting was always high. I had chosen to ignore the truth and hoped Merv would live forever.

It's hard to explain how losing a pet can create such emotional distress unless you've been there too. For the last 16 years Merv was always there. Every day he sought affection, endeared with his little attempts to communicate and bring a peaceful purr to my spirit. Not once when I found myself emotional or upset did he fail to come to my side and offer his companionship. I'll never know what he understood inside his little cat brain, but he often surprised me.

Merv was my favourite. I saved his life and for every extra day on this earth he thanked me for it. At my lowest points, which have been many, he came to join me and I was reminded that I got at least one thing right. I helped him grow healthy and happy.

Over the years Merv grew into a happier soul. He gained confidence, revelled in the love of new companions and found great peace in his small world. Who knew a creature so small could fill so much of the world with joy and love? I changed over those years too, learning to be a better person through the responsibility of his care, learning to gain confidence just as he did. Now that Merv is gone I feel a little of myself has gone too.

I wish I could have him back, I'm not ready to lose my best friend.



Twyzle Loves Merv...

When Merv Was Really Really Little...

January 03, 2012

The Atheist's Holiday

Myself and a few other atheists finished 2011 in a small regional town being bombarded by the life's work of people such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. At this point in history it still takes an unusually courageous individual to stand up and carry the argument. These men are not alone, but they have shouldered the burden.

2011 is a tipping point for the debate about reason over faith.

ABC television aired an interview with Richard Dawkins conducted by Andrew Denton, who took the opportunity to converse with one of our great intellectuals by asking him, "What star sign are you?"

Denton thinks he's smart, but it looks more like he's missing a few of the more useful bits of engineering that evolution has bestowed on our gene pool. Evolution should really be the topic here, and even Bill O'Reilly on the FOX network has been able to have that discussion with Richard Dawkins without resorting to idiocy.

O'Reilly will never be convinced that we live on a planet that was not designed by God, but he showed more respect for Dawkins and his message.

At the heart of the religious conviction that rejects the word of Dawkins and his kind is the idea that if we humans cannot explain it, then it must have been the work of God. He works in mysterious ways, so any mystery must be down to his presence. There was a time when science was unaware of why the stars filled the sky or the spherical nature of our planet.

Religion filled the void in those times. In a modern world where science understands ever more of our universe and the laws that govern it Religion holds dominance over an increasingly smaller realm of the mysterious. You have to suspend your belief in science to accept fully the word of most religions. And that is what angers Dawkins the most. All he wants is a fair playing field for the debate.

Intelligent Design is not a science. It belongs in the religious text, not scientific, as it fails every test of science you can imagine. A belief in God relies on 'faith', a conscious choice to accept beliefs in the absence of evidence. We learn faith from our parents and our culture, but the source of that faith comes from religion and politics.

Little wonder there are so many Gods to choose from.

Indeed to uphold a belief in one God you have to reject a multitude of others, and deny a good swathe of history as well. Science is not the only academic pursuit that gets locked in darkened room. History reveals the breath taking depth of religious forms that have come and gone, and the role religions have played when asserting power over people. Division of Church and state is a relatively new phenomenon in our world.

The fact that humans across the history and geography of our planet have been drawn to religion in all it's forms points not to evidence of God, but evidence of why we believe in a higher power. It is innate within us to look up the chain to the man in charge. Deep down we are just another form of pack-animal, and we'd rather pin the responsibility for our problems on someone at the top.

Dawkins hints at a very dark side of organised religion however, where we give our power over to others and in return we deny ourselves the chance to learn and understand. It's one thing to put your faith in God, it's another to let men in funny robes dictate your education. Libraries are filled with ideas and knowledge, and yet religion lets just one book dominate the exploration of understanding above all others.

You could argue that religions have very little to do with God, and that's the problem. In many ways they keep God at a distance from people, because the men who run the Church are the ones who speak on His behalf. History reveals a litany of men who either imagined or lied about the word of God to suit their own needs.

If God did exist wouldn't he be pretty dismayed with how his words are twisted and manipulated to suit the power hungry?

The arguments for why God is an inevitable construct of human imagination could fill a library, but then it too would look like a religion. Ironic. Science is not religion, it is a pursuit of knowledge on the basis that we are ignorant. The internet however is as close to a church as atheists can get.

It was pointed out to me during my Atheist's Holiday that the internet has changed everything for religion.

Go back a few decades and those who questioned whether God exists were a small voice in a big world. If you lived in urban Australia then your contemplation of such speculation was met by a church around every corner. You saw religion on TV and you saw cathedrals in the centre of your town. News readers would invoke reference to God on their sign off. God was everywhere, your heretical notions were insolent and naive.

Behold the internet, and there was much light. Instead of being a lonely figure in a religious world you were suddenly one of many. Literature like that of Dawkins was easy to access, along with some idea of just how many other people were thinking along the same lines. Suddenly that old church is the middle of main street no longer dominates the promenade, instead it just looks out of place and rather lonely.

The internet provided us with a way to share ideas without relying on the Church to guide the conversation. The tipping point draws near.

With the devil whispering sweet nothings into my ear we sat in front of the all mighty internet and rummaged through YouTube for fascinating conversation on the topic. We watched the debate between Hitchens and Shmuley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnMYL8sF7bQ), we relived a few other moments of Hitchens being interviewed in recent years (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uchPPbJep8g) and got a chance to see O'Reilly head to head with Dawkins even if only for a few minutes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ) and even Stephen Fry gets into the game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm1l7o-S8P4).

Ahh the internet, a genuine savior of the masses.