Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rituals for Atheists (or anyone, really)

One thing I've been thinking about is if I didn't believe in God, what religious rituals would I retain? Or in other words, what does science have to say about religious rituals or values?

  • Spend time with family, get closer to family. This one seems pretty obvious. A common way to spend time with your immediate family is through family dinners, which are correlated with a lot of positive things, and have a pretty good effect on lessening depressive symptoms and helping children feel they have a stable environment. One problem with family dinner research is that it is hard to separate families who eat together from families who are middle- and upper-income brackets. This article explores the limitations of such research. There's also the BYU study about how daughters who played videogames with their parents exhibited more pro-social behavior and felt closer to their families. I like the Mormon tradition of having a night set aside to spend with families (Monday night is "family home evening"), and I think it logically follows that if you spend more time with your family, they will know each other better and feel closer to one another (whether or not your family members like being close to one another is up for debate though).
  • Gratitude. Being thankful for things in your life and for the things other people do for you is associated with feeling happy and optimistic and such. There's a time and place for cynicism, but personally I don't struggle with being a realist and I could use a dose of optimism some days. Daily prayers encourage us to be grateful, but if you don't pray, you could have some of the benefits of prayer by taking a little time each day to think about what you're grateful for.
  • Goal-setting. This isn't a religious ritual per se, but when I pray for something I feel like it's a goal I've set and I start to think of ways I can help make it happen. Of course, sometimes I pray for things I have no control over, but I think that the act of praying for something can make you more receptive to having ideas about how to help that desire.
  • Prayer. I'm not sure if you have to believe in God in order to pray. There are benefits to praying, like if you pray for your spouse or friend you are more likely to forgive them, and some people experience less pain. Maybe part of the relaxing effect of prayer is having faith that God is taking care of you, and that praying will help you in your life somehow. When I pray for someone, it motivates me to see things through their eyes and have more compassion towards them. I'm not sure what the secular equivalent to prayer would be--maybe meditation?
  • Knowing your family narrative helps adolescents have a fallback identity. In my religion family history work is part of our missionary work, since we believe that we can perform saving rituals (like baptism) on behalf of the deceased. Most people don't know very many dead people, so you start with your own family members. 
Those are a few I've thought about. I think there's probably a benefit of knowing other people who live near you (like the people you meet at church) and having adults other than family members interact with your children.


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

How unfollowing everyone in my Facebook feed improved my Facebook experience

A few weeks ago I got sick of everything in my Facebook feed. Everything was vanity. First I was only going to hide articles from other sites, because I decided I wanted Facebook for people news. Then I realized I was getting a lot of updates from people I didn't care about that much. So I went through all my friends and put them in groups, and unfriended a bunch of people I barely remembered. I felt sentimental about people I had met as a child and teenager though, so I kept most of my friends from my growing-up years, even though I have little in common with them (but I put them in a separate group).

But it wasn't enough! I was still getting stupid stuff in my news feed. So I unfollowed every last person in my news feed. Sometimes it was hard to unfollow someone, but I kept reminding myself that if I really wanted to know what someone was posting, I could always visit their individual page. As I started unfollowing people, friends I didn't even know were active on Facebook started popping up in my news feed (like my aunt!). I unfollowed everyone and soon I realized that my news feed could have an end. For good measure I unfollowed everything I had liked, and I unliked almost everything. It was such a relief.

Maybe completely breaking with Facebook would be good for me, but I like hearing little updates from my friends and family in our post-blogging social media world. Dividing my Facebook friends into groups was very helpful, because now I can choose who I want to hear from. If I only want to spend a few minutes on Facebook, I click the "family" friend group. If I'm bored I can explore the other groups, but I have to make a conscious decision to continue.

This method of sorting one's feeds has its pros and cons. I don't think anything is filtered this way, so I see everything any one person in the group posts, likes, or makes friends with. In some ways I like it better, because I can be sure that I'm not just in an echo chamber where I see what I like, and I can know that I'm not just seeing the most controversial posts.  But the ordering isn't based on when the post was made; if someone comments on a post it comes back to the top again. Redundancy of posts was one of the things I hated in my original feed, and I still have no way to fix this problem (although for my friends with blogs, I don't really read your feeds much anymore, I just read your blogs). I also wish that more of my Facebook friends would stop sharing pithy quotes and photos and start telling me more about how their day was or what they are thinking about.

But on the other hand, I've enjoyed reading articles my friends have posted in the past and using them as a starting point for discussion. The majority of the posts I read on Facebook are made by 3-4 people (if you post or share to Facebook more than once a day, you know who you are), and I don't feel like I am any closer to those people than the people who don't post much, but I might have more topics ready for conversation since you are on my mind more.

I don't think I'm done with Facebook experiments--some time I want to try commenting on everything in my feed, just because. And maybe there's a browser extension that can hide all the stupid "x is friends with y and likes z" I have in my feeds now.

Friday, October 31, 2014

baby vids

There's some video of my progeny laughing over on my family photo blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God may not be omnipotent

I've been inspired to examine my beliefs about the world and God, and I started on this process in part 1 of what may become an ongoing series. I find it frustrating to make assumptions, but as this Dinosaur comic illustrates, every one of us has to make assumptions about the veracity of our physical experiences and the reliability of our sensory input in order to try to make sense of the world and survive and stuff.

The other day I was singing "The Spirit of God," which at one point says "the knowledge and power of God are expanding." Wait. If they're expanding, that means they're not infinite! So we have an LDS hymn that basically states that God is not omniscient or even omnipotent. This makes God easier for me to understand, because otherwise, why would They put Their son through all that suffering if They could just change the rules with all Their omnipotence. God's desire to rear little souls makes more sense to me this way too, because then our experiences, when exalted, can expand the knowledge and power of God (maybe too much of a stretch?). God knows all the rules of the physical and metaphysical universe, but maybe They didn't make them, and at least can't break them. So the answer to my question of "why would God make such a ridiculous rule about the price for repenting of sin?" could be "God didn't make that rule."

There's a great speech by BYU's Dr. Paulson on the problem of evil that my sister recommended to me. In it, Paulson states:
[Joseph Smith's] revelations circumvent the theoretical problem of evil by denying the trouble-making postulate of absolute creation—and, consequently, the classical definition of divine omnipotence. Contrary to classical Christian thought, Joseph explicitly affirmed that there are entities and structures which are co-eternal with God himself. On my reading of Joseph’s discourse, these eternal entities include chaotic matter, intelligences (or what I will call primal persons), and lawlike structures or principles. According to Joseph Smith, God’s creative activity consists of bringing order out of disorder, of organizing a cosmos out of chaos—not in the production of something out of nothing.
Basically, he's saying that, according to Joseph Smith, God didn't create the world ex nihilo, but that he organized it out of existing matter (although there's still the question of where that matter came from). My husband Adam and I were talking about the limits of God's powers--there are all sorts of quotes about how God has power over all the earth and is outside of time--but there's room for interpretation in it. God knows our thoughts, God knows everything on Earth, God can make stars and planets, and "all things." But perhaps there's room for God to be "bound," not just by when we keep covenants, but in other situations like how Jesus had to suffer for all of our sins, and how God cannot look upon sin with the "least degree of allowance."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fall goals follow-up

Okay, time to follow up on last week's goals. Or you could look at more baby pictures!

Hot breakfasts

I ate hot breakfast every day for a week. Most mornings I had an egg on toast and some oatmeal with a banana and almond butter. The banana was sweet enough, and the almond butter added enough interest that I didn't feel the need to add more sugar. It felt like a lot to eat every morning, but I was trying to get enough calories. Since I've been breastfeeding sometimes I'll feel dizzy in the afternoons, and usually eating something helps (breastfeeding moms supposedly need 500 extra calories/day). I still felt dizzy one day though, so maybe it's more of a hydration issue.
a typical breakfast
I got tired of frying eggs, so I decided to try out the egg cooker my grandma gave me about a year ago. It's actually really handy! I loved how I could stick an egg on it and have a soft-boiled egg ~5 minutes later. Here's what it looks like:

The honeycomb part is where the egg rests (there are spots for seven eggs). Beneath it is a hot plate. You put a certain amount of water on the hot plate (determined by how done you want the egg), put the special dome on top, and it beeps when all the water has evaporated. It's quick and there's almost no mess to clean up either. It can also poach eggs but I haven't tried that yet. At first I thought having a one-trick appliance was stupid, but after using it every morning I grew to really like it. 

I want to continue eating hot breakfasts most of the time, because it isn't that much more trouble and I believe it is both cheaper and healthier. But I'm also okay with eating an occasional bowl of cereal, like this morning when I overslept and was in a rush to get out the door. I still want to try making a big quiche to gradually eat in the mornings, and I want to try some other oatmeal toppings, like cashew/coconut/sugar/hot sauce. I did try having my egg on my oatmeal one morning, and I thought it was gross. 

Vegetarian meals half the time

Eating vegetarian 3-4 nights/week has been really easy as long as I put it into my meal plan. This last week we had big pasta shells stuffed with feta, egg, and spinach, with tomato sauce and mozzarella on top (kind of like spinach lasagna). Last night I made dragon noodles with cabbage. And eggplant parmesan is on the menu.  

20 minutes of exercise

I want to continue doing abdominal exercises. My back still is sore all the time even though I've been taking Piper for walks in her stroller instead of using a baby carrier. I think I need to throw in some other exercises too though (probably elliptical).

No Facebook from 12-5

I did pretty well on this one. A few times I caught myself idly clicking on Facebook in the afternoon, but most of the time I closed the tab before it even loaded. I was surprised at how automatic my Facebooking had become. There were a few times where I had something specific to do on Facebook where I did go on, like "I'm going to look up how to spell that person's name and then close it." Sometimes I found myself looking forward to 5pm so I could check Facebook. I think it was good for me to limit my Facebook time though, because it forced me to work on other things, like organizing my pantry or making a big pile of computer parts to recycle. So I'm going to continue this one too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

reducing waste

I'm kind of enamored with the idea of zero waste, but I don't know if I could ever make that happen. I know, I know, I'm in charge of my own life, right? If I REALLY wanted it I would stop making excuses and do it. But I think if I had the goal for zero waste it would be overwhelming and I would give up. I know that I can make small changes though. I've been trying to reduce the amount of junk mail I get. Every time I get a piece of junk mail, I try to unsubscribe. I could just use catalogchoice, but I've come so far contacting individual companies that I'm not sure if I want to give my information out to another company. We have a lot more days where we simply don't get any mail, which I like. Every piece of mail I receive feels like a burden to recycle or file (but I do like receiving mail from humans!). The blog post I linked to made me look at packaging in a completely different way. We use materials that last hundreds of years (plastic) to temporarily transport things from one location to another. Also, recycling is awesome but it still uses a lot of energy and anything that is recycled is basically downcycled, meaning that fresh paper gets turned into recycled paper, etc.

I have been looking into composting because I know that's one way to reuse a lot of the things I put in the garbage. The thing with composting though, is that it feels so "go big or go home." You can't just compost a little. We could start a compost pile in our backyard, but I feel like since we will be selling our home in the next year I don't want to create any problems there. I looked into countertop composters as well and they all seemed very expensive to me (for a process that could occur naturally outside with a little preparation). One thing that does work is putting scraps down the garbage disposal. This page has some information about if it's better to put leftovers down the drain or in the trash. Basically, it comes down to if your wastewater treatment plant composts biosolids or burns them. In Provo they are composted. I sent a message to Spanish Fork asking about it, but I don't know yet (update: they do use leftover biosolids as fertilizer, hooray!). Spanish Fork also has a compost facility that theoretically accepts compostible waste. Simply putting our kitchen scraps down the drain would probably be the easiest thing for us at least.

I like the idea of reducing my waste because it seems like it works pretty well for reducing consumption of machine-processed foods, or encourages local consumption of such products. I have this pastoral image of biking to the farmer's market every week and buying all my food there (but half the year there isn't a farmer's market, and I'd still need to buy staples like spices and flour at a grocery store, and I haven't biked anywhere for a year).

One more thing I can do to reduce my waste is to simply buy less stuff, or at least when I buy things online, to consolidate my purchases to reduce the amount of packaging in shipping, and also to buy things used (like clothes?). I've also been trying to reduce the amount of stuff in my life, but I feel very attached to some things. And plastic is everywhere, and I'm not sure how much it's worth it to try to avoid it entirely. And tissues! I need tissues. I wash diapers for crying out loud but washing handkerchiefs seems so gross to me (would I have to bleach them?).

I don't have a specific goal for waste reduction yet, but I'm thinking about it.