Not Much Of A Joiner

An attorney at the firm asked me today if I’d found any groups in the area since moving here that I wanted to join. The Wife has done well in this regard, having found a Toastmasters group that she likes. I’ve not. I also got asked today in a phone call with my folks back in Tennessee what I’d been up to lately.

The answer was “more of the same,” in essence. I find my work is pretty well consuming during the day, and my teaching activities keep me pretty busy in the evenings. With a new online class starting Tuesday, I’ll have some early-morning teaching work in my future, too.

Of course, I do have hobbies — writing this blog is a hobby. Writing generally is a hobby. I’m a news freak, so I obsessively read news websites and watch shows for current events and politics. And yes, there are days that the majority of my news consumption does come from watching the Daily Show. When properly motivated, or more often on the weekends, I cook nice meals, which is a very enjoyable thing to do as well as one that can produce scrumptious food. Every once in a great while, The Wife and I even try and build things; I have an incomplete project out in the garage for her right now. For pastimes, I can goof off with a computer game or play with the critters. (I would not call these things “hobbies.”) So it’s not that I lack for things to do; far from it.

And most weeks, I have dinner with friends from the firm, the newspaper, and the Zendo, followed by a half hour or so of meditation. There is fellowship there, and a few moments of peace and mental calm which seems to be quite helpful in a variety of ways that are difficult to quantify.

Last weekend, The Wife and I went house hunting. We also played Trivial Pursuit (I won, but she did quite well and could have beat me with better luck on the dice) and Scrabble (neck and neck, and she won in the end). We enjoyed these things enough that we bought more games and will go house hunting again in a couple of weeks. (Well, The Wife loves house hunting; I am indifferent to it but I like seeing her happy and I like spending time with her.)

It’s just that this seems like it’s about all I do. There’s enough variety in these things that for day-to-day, week-to-week existence, I feel that I’m not stuck in any kind of a rut or that this list of activities is monotonous. But when asked questions about what’s been going on in my life, it seems like there is a relative constancy of response. I’m working, I’m teaching, I’m writing, I’m cooking, I’m spending time with my wife and my pets. Which is, after all, pretty much what I did last week.

Now, I do miss our group back in Tennessee. It was a good mix of people, who were all friendly and smart and interesting. We had diverse enough interests that there was always something new, as well as enough common ground to have a communal identity. The fellowship counted for as much as the exchange of ideas. I would like it very much if there was a similar sort of humanist or rationalist group here in the Antelope Valley, but I’ve seen no evidence of one yet. Nor have I seen evidence of a group that does the kind of teach-one-another activities that were so intellectually stimulating.

The time I tried to go to a book club I found that it had been cancelled.

Is the Antelope Valley simply not very intellectually active? This seems unlikely. There are a wide variety of people who live here, many with high levels of education and undoubtedly a diversity of intellectual interests. But they don’t seem to form any real groups.

Not being religious, or even a believer at all, I wouldn’t feel right joining a church. The fellowship is great, but I’d be a big old hypocrite to claim belief where there is none, and as soon as someone in the church learned of my atheism, I’d be looked at very differently. No, better to let the church people have their churches and for me to go my own way.

We talked about some service or community groups, like Rotary, Kiwanis, or the Chamber of Commerce. All of these are of somewhat limited utility, too — my colleague found that each of these got boring after a relatively short time. Chamber of Commerce is good if you want some drinking buddies; Rotary or Kiwanis would be OK if you want to do some charity work or community service but I can see how it would get old fast.

I’m hardly exceptional in this regard. People across the country are working harder than they have in the past, spending more of their free time at home, and spending less time in organized groups or clubs. The Wife and I try to have people over for dinner at least once a month; sometimes that turns in to a bigger deal than I would like it to be but it usually works out okay in the end.

I’m blessed with a rich, full, comfortable life, with many friends both old and new and lots of things going on. So what if I’m not much of a joiner? There is little doubt in my mind that in later years, this will seem like a happy, good time in our lives.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. You are really an atheist, huh? I guess I can understand being agnostic — not being sure — but being sure there isn’t a God, seems a tougher sale to me.Anyway, you have an interesting blog, I think. We are not all that unlike each other — attys, center right (me a little more right than center), seem to have a lot of the same interests. Do me a favor. Move yourself into the agnostic camp. At least keep an open mind about it. I think the least little crack can bring God’s grace, and if you are right, leaving the door cracked a little won’t do you any harm. And if I’m right, it might do you a lot of good. A variation of PAschal’s wager.Good luck to you and I’ll be back around.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, palinurus. I consider myself a “weak atheist” in that I lack an affirmative belief in the absence of a diety. Rather, I see no evidence for the existence of one, and belief in such a diety therefore appears to be nonsensical. You have come to a different conclusion, perhaps because you perceive different evidence than I, which is cool with me.Pascal’s Wager is incomplete, in that it assumes a choice between Christianity (particularly that sect of Christianity in which a sinner is saved by belief alone) and atheism. If it is theologically safer to believe than not, this still does not answer the question of which deity in which to place this fear-driven and insincere “belief.” There are many options. What’s more, once that decision is made, which sect’s practice of that religion is the correct one.What’s more, it’s also a false choice. Assuming I were to take Pascal’s Wager and believe, my outward observance of faith would not sincere and instead is motivated solely by fear of punishment (or, perhaps conversely, by greed for the joys of Paradise). Now, either the deity is omniscient, or He is not. If he is, He will know of my hypocrisy and punish me for it, obviating any benefit I might have gained from the worship. If He is not omniscient, then a choice to believe in the Christian deity (who is identified as omniscient) will also earn me punishment rather than reward, because I have made the wrong choice of deities to worship. So a believer who is motivated by Pascal’s Wager is really trying to trick one god by worshipping another. That doesn’t sound like a safe wager at all.Religious faith is an emotional experience and at the end of the day, it is not subject to rational, logical analysis. I don’t use logic to determine that I love my wife. My guess is that you’ve had this emotional experience of faith (or belief, or grace, or whatever you want to call it) and that gives you a different world view than mine. I don’t claim superiority over you because we are different in that respect, which is only one facet of a person. To each their own, I say. So I do hope you drop by and comment again.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I have always thought the insincerity factor of Paschal’s wager to be a problem myself, which is why I said a “variation” of the Wager. By being open to grace, I suppose I mean not slamming the door on the possibility of God’s existence, an action that seems even less warranted to me than blind faith. You are, of course, correct. Ultimately, it depends on something happening — I’ll call it grace. But if I am correct that it exists, it doesn’t exist just for me. So remaining open to it, in the sense of saying, “it might be true, haven’t seen it myself and won’t believe until I do” to me is a lot more intellectually honest (and seems to be where you really are) than those who are adamantly atheist: “cannot be true, is not true.”CS Lewis once advised people who don’t believe, but would like to (which may not be you), to start out by acting like they do believe. While on the surface it sounds hypocritical, I think he means that by starting to act like you believe, you open the door to grace. That’s all I am saying — leave the door open, and it sounds like you do. You seem to love life, in a serious way, too much to be the bitter angry man that I see in a lot of the hardcore atheists I have known. To me, there is a lot of evidence — we’re lawyers after all — that it all might be true, even if it has its roots in things we cannot explain logically –like the love you feel for your wife — things that we cannot explain, but are certain exist. These things argue, to me, in favor of believing, or at least in favor of believing there may be things that can be explained by something we don’t understand. For me it was the start of believing that the things we don’t understand are tied into a Thing that might be a being who actually knows I exist and gives a damn. Anyway, I am not theology major (which explains perhaps why I have some modicum of faith). I don’t claim any superior knowledge or moral superiority, though I do love to rail. I’m no prophet or genius. And I have doubted too.I appreciate your thoughtfulness about this and will be back to check in. And thanks for stopping by my new blog; I just posted on Biden’s recent flap. He’s one of my favorite hobby horses, and I love to beat on it. Not very Christian of me……

  4. I knew it. Even the smarts guys get their news from:”And yes, there are days that the majority of my news consumption does come from watching the Daily Show.”Busted– You couldn’t possibly be an atheist you spell God with a capital G.Have you posted anything on global warming?

  5. 1. My use of capitalization was intended as a token of respect for my correspondent, who was obviously a believer, and to engage the implications of Pascal’s Wager and its implicit reference to the Christian deity. I would also capitalize references to other deities, for instance to Isis, Pele, Krishna, or Quezacoatl.I try to grant respect to those whose opinions and world view differs from me. But unfortunately, a common response by believers to this respect is an attack on the sincerity of an atheist’s world view, which has motivated other atheists, like Richard Dawkins, have begun taking less respectful approaches to the dialogue between the faithful and the skeptical. Alas, it seems that disagreement must be accompanied with sneers and insults these days in order be accepted as genuine. So, my anonymous correspondent, if that’s what you need to really accept that I do not believe, here you go. (You asked for it; to my other faithful correspondents and readers, this is not directed at you.)I’ve never understood the “there is no such thing as a real atheist” argument. I could just as easily argue that there is no such thing as a Christian; after all, to be a Christian is to accept a personal relationship with God and/or Jesus Christ, entities with whom no Christians alive today have ever actually interacted, other than in what can be most charitably described as desperate hallucinations inspired by sickness, poverty, despair, or some other powerful psychological motivator.I can’t be a real atheist? Atheism is, definitionally, the lack of belief in the existence of a diety. I lack a belief in the existence of a diety. Therefore, I am an atheist. What’s so difficult about that concept?Again — I do not believe in ANY form of supernatural entity, whether it be Jehovah, poltergeists, Zeus, magical elm trees, or The Force, because there is as much evidence for the existence of any of these things as there is for dragons, flying saucers, or Bigfoot. So if there are no real atheists, what would you call someone me, then? Whatever other word you come up with, it needs to be stronger than “agnostic.” After all, you would likely not consider yourself “agnostic” with respect to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But as far as I’m concerned, the FSM is every bit as likely a candidate for the position of creator of the universe and steward of personal salvation of nine billion humans as is Jehovah (or Jesus or Allah or I Am Who Am or whatever other name you care to assign the diety commonly worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims).Reference to a collection of fables, fairy tales, myths, and stories about faith healers, told by and to a tribe of eastern Mediterranean bronze age nomads who settled down and eventually got conquered by the Romans, is not going to persuade me otherwise. You’ve no doubt read pleasing stories about Zeus and Hera and Hercules, but you likely dismiss them as myths. There is no objective evidence that stories about Moses, Jesus, and Noah that distinguishes those stories from Greco-Roman mythology.Nor will I rely upon the commands of an ancient warrior-god in the sky, or the incantations of magicians appealing for the favor of that god, to aid in my discernment of moral right from moral wrong. It would be a terrifying world indeed if the only thing keeping you and other Christians from murdering, stealing, raping, or attacking those who offend you is fear of divine retribution as opposed to recongition of morality and the rights of other human beings.2. I have not fully formed an opinion on global warming and admit that I’ve not pursued the subject enough to have done so. It seems to be a distinct possibility, but I don’t know enough about the science or even the evidence to form even a preliminary opinion based on the expertise of others. From what I’ve been able to tell, environmental scientists are engaged in a significant debate regarding the subject, and the majority view among them is that global warming is a reality, but I don’t know enough about the science to tell whether the minority view has any merit to it. So I won’t claim that there is such a thing as global warming but I won’t deny it, either.I’m not sure what the existence of global warming would prove, either. Anectodtal evidence, such as reference to particular incidents of extreme weather phenomena, does not prove anything one way or the other; there were severe hurricanes, floods, and droughts before the world industrialized. And it’s not entirely clear that if there really is global warming going on that it is necessarily caused by human activity; there seems to be substantial scientific evidence of climate fluxuation in pre-industrial times. But, there is ample evidence that many kinds of human activity, even seemingly moderate amounts, can have a dramatic and generally deletorious effect on the enviornment. Complex modern chemical manufacturing and the massive scale of 20th century industrialization couldn’t possibly have made this situation any better; the best we can hope for is that our effects on the environment have been minimal.I think we should protect the environment, even if the phenomenon of global warming is never confirmed or even if it is debunked. While I dislike the idea of governmental intervention in commercial activity, there seems to be no other way to prevent our economic activities from destroying the common resource of a reasonably clean environment, so I grudgingly accept the necessity of the government engaging in environmental regulation, and there’s plenty of work to be done for other reasons — preservation of slowly-renewable resources, minimizing public health problems caused by pollution, and preventing the unnecessary exctinction of irreplaceable species.

  6. … not intended as making funI hope you are writing a book.At least you’re open to the global warming debate, but don’t let your true feelings known in chambers.

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