Category Archives: Tales from The Wise Sloth

Tales from The Wise Sloth: My UFO story

In the year 1999, I drove from San Marcos, TX to Sugar Land, TX to meet my girlfriend’s family. She had already made the trip a few days earlier, but I couldn’t go with her because I had to work. After my shift ended, I drove to Sugar Land alone, and I decided to take a more scenic route through the country instead of a major highway.

Around 11pm, I was driving down a  two-lane country road, about an hour outside of Sugar Land. There were no buildings or street lights in any direction, nor were there very many cars on the road. The sky was moonless, not that I would have been able to see it because of the low cloud ceiling. I kept glancing upward, because… well, I really like clouds, and it’s not very often you get to see a low cloud ceiling blanketing the sky in Texas. Usually mountain-sized clouds lumber across the gigantic, open skyline, high in the atmosphere.

That’s when I noticed something even more out of place. I kept seeing lights flash from the clouds above the field to my left. I couldn’t see any aircraft, but lights glowed through the clouds, as if something bright was flying inside them, obscured from view. It couldn’t have been an airplane, because I was keeping up with it driving 50 miles per hour. At first I assumed it was a helicopter, but when I looked closer, I realized there were nine lights, each a perfect circle. Six were arranged in a ring that rotated clockwise. In the middle, the other three lights rotated counterclockwise in a perfect circle. Every once and a while the lights would change directions in unison. Then the outer ring of lights would rotate counterclockwise and the inner ring would spin clockwise.

I strained my eyes to see the source of the lights, but it never came out of the clouds. I started to get the feeling the source of the light was either invisible, or it was being projected upwards from the ground like a spotlight, but the lights were travelling over corn fields and patches of trees. I followed the unidentified flying objects for at least half an hour, constantly almost crashing as I looked up instead of at the road. They stayed steady at fifty miles per hour the whole time. I kept waiting for them to suddenly accelerate and shoot out of sight, but they never did. The show ended when they veered North and moved away over farmlands where I had no road to chase them.

When I got to my girlfriend’s house, all I could talk about was the UFO I saw. She was intrigued for a minute, but she didn’t take it seriously and got bored with my ranting quickly. I was bursting with excitement, but I had no where to direct it. I didn’t have any video, since smart phones didn’t exist at the time. I wanted to tell the whole world about my experience, but since I couldn’t prove what had happened, there was no one I could convince.

A few months later, I joined the U.S. Air Force. After completing basic training in San Antonio, Texas and military trade school in Biloxi, Mississippi, I got stationed at Aviano, Italy, which has had its own share of UFO sightings. Some Italians believe there’s an underground bunker underneath the base that contains a crashed UFO and the body of at least one alien.

The base did belong to the Nazis during WWII, who dug miles of tunnels underneath it, but the American forces supposedly collapsed them all so enemies couldn’t use them to sneak behind the perimeter. So I suppose there could be large spaces under there nobody knows about, but I had a top secret security clearance, and my job took me to every building. I never heard of, or saw, anything to suggest Aviano has any secrets.

One Friday after work, I drove a car full of friends North across the Italian/Austrian border to the city of Graz to check out the night life. By the time we neared Graz, it was already dark, and there was a low cloud ceiling, which is very common in Austria. Not far from town, I saw the exact same pattern of lights shining down through the clouds, spinning in concentric circles.

My eyes bulged, and I shouted for everyone to stick their heads out the windows. They all got excited when they saw the lights too. I told them we were going to follow the UFO as far as we could, and they all agreed, not that I had asked. The chase didn’t last long, as we caught up to them hovering above a very fancy McDonalds restaurant, which had a spotlight on the roof projecting the circles across the bottom of the clouds.

All my friends mocked me abusively, as if they didn’t almost pee their pants when they first saw the “UFO” themselves. I deserved it though, and I continued to beat myself up for years afterwards. The worst part wasn’t the shame. I want to believe there are alien spaceships in our skies. For a few years I lived in a reality where that was a confirmed fact, but that magical time of my life ended in a McDonalds parking lot in Austria.

My story does teach something novel about our world though. If you’ll remember, the lights I saw in Texas were traveling at fifty miles per hour for half an hour, in the middle of nowhere. The only explanation is that some red necks put a spotlight in the back of their truck and went driving through the countryside freaking out motorists like myself. That’s fucking hilarious, and it’s almost as bizarre as alien space ships. I have to wonder how many other UFO sightings were caused by humans behaving absurdly and probably drunk.

If you liked this post, you may like these:


Tales From The Wise Sloth: The Time I Got HIV

In 2005 I was a Senior Airman (rank E-4) in the U.S. Air Force. My job title was 3C0X1, aka Communications Computer Systems Operator, aka all-purpose computer nerd. I was stationed at Sembach Air Base, which is located in Southwest Germany, about a twenty minute drive from both Ramstein Air Base and the Army’s Landstuhl Medical Center.

smoke break

Since Ramstein is the largest Air Force base in Europe, and Landstuhl is the largest military hospital outside the continental United States, this is where the military sends all the wounded soldiers from the Middle East. Several times a year, Sembach would have a blood drive due to the high volume of blood needed for all the incoming wounded soldiers. I love the idea of giving blood, but every time I do, my blood spews out so fast I get light headed, nauseous and almost pass out. They always have to elevate my head and put a cold pack on my neck, which is pretty embarrassing. However, that first world problem pales in comparison to soldiers needing emergency transfusions. So I did my duty and opened my veins for my brothers and sisters.

Another reason I’m hesitant to give blood is because I had hepatitis when I was four years old. It wasn’t sexually transmitted, and I recovered from it. Multiple blood tests have shown it’s not in my system anymore. I couldn’t have enlisted if it was, but I always worried my blood might be dirty. However, this didn’t stop me from giving blood, because they test every donation for diseases. So if there was anything there, they’d catch it.

Since the military had already tested and inoculated me for everything you can be tested and inoculated for, I didn’t give my blood donation a second thought until a few weeks later when I stopped by the base post office to check my mail on my lunch break. That day I received an official letter from the military, which I had to sign for. This was highly unusual. So my heart rate was a little elevated when I opened the letter. My mind raced, trying to guess what I may have gotten in trouble for.

The news was much worse than I imagined. To my horror, the letter said my recent blood donation had tested positive for HIV, and I needed to contact the medical squadron as soon as possible to have another test done to confirm the results. By the time I finished reading the document, my head was spinning and darkness filled my peripheral vision.

I went back to work and tried to go through the rest of my day acting like nothing was wrong, but my head felt like a black hole, as if everything good had been sucked out of my life, leaving an existential vacuum in its place. Nothing mattered anymore. I was no longer working towards retirement. All of my hopes and dreams were unreachable. There was nothing left for me to do but wait to die… and give the bad news to my family, friends and most recent sexual partners.

Unable to face reality, I let a week pass without contacting the medical squadron. I walked through each day in a daze, watching what happened to me from a thousand miles away. I made a list of my sexual partners, which wasn’t long. I decided who the most likely culprit to give me this horrible disease was, a promiscuous Air Force girl from my previous base. I obsessed over who else I may have accidentally infected by having any kind of physical contact with, which I knew wasn’t possible, but my mind was stuck in panic mode.

I’d already had my last will and testament drawn up by a military lawyer a year earlier. So I didn’t have to worry about that, but I spent dozens of hours plotting my final words and trying to decide what to do with the few years I had left. As I ate tasteless food or carried on pointless small talk with my coworkers, I thought about my regrets and everything I wouldn’t get to do in the future. I didn’t try bargaining with God, because that would have been pointless. I was already a dead man walking. All I could do was make the most of my fleeting time and try to cry as little as possible. Mostly I thought about those poor souls I’d infected and needed to hurry up and pass on the tragic news to.

I didn’t want to tell anyone my secret until I knew for sure I had HIV. Lucky for them, even though I was dragging my feet, the Air Force wasn’t. A female nurse called me at work and asked if I’d received an official letter recently. I said, “Yes.” The nurse asked me what it was about, and I replied I’d rather not say out loud. I knew my boss, whose office sat caddy-corner from my desk, eavesdropped on my conversations. The nurse asked me to say the first letter of the pertinent word, and I said, “H.” After confirming she didn’t need to break the bad news to me herself, she scheduled an appointment at Ramstein a few days later for me to give more blood for further testing.

On the day of the test I told my boss I had to go to Ramstein for a routine medical checkup. Twenty minutes later I sulked into the medical clinic. As a male nurse quietly drew my blood, I asked how accurate the initial test was. He looked me in the eyes and said in a meaningful tone of voice, “Ninety-seven percent.”

I went home that night and got drunk, as I’d done every night for the past week. Even with all the lights in my apartment on, everything looked dark. It was like living in the Twilight Zone, where the rules of the universe were different for me, and not in a good way. The only ray of hope my mind could latch onto was that there had been a mistake, but I couldn’t take a three percent chance of a fluke happening seriously.  I’d have better odds of winning the lottery.

Fast forward several more months of bleakness, despair and blood tests. As fate would have it, I did win the Twilight Zone lottery. A ninety-seven percent accurate HIV test means three percent of the people who take it, win an existential nightmare that ends with them receiving a new lease on life. I’ve had more STD tests since then, and they all confirm I never had HIV. Plus, all of my sexual partners from that time are healthy and alive.

Part of my brain tells me I should be mad at the world for giving me a false death sentence, but in the end, it was a blessing in disguise. I almost feel bad for anyone who hasn’t had to go through that. It’s so easy to take life for granted and let the years slip by without really thinking about what’s important or how you should spend what little time you have on Earth. I basically got my mid-life crisis out of the way at the age of 25.

People told me I was crazy when I immigrated to New Zealand at the age of 29 despite having never visited the country. In my mind, the risk of not experiencing life to its fullest outweighed anything that could possibly go wrong. I only spent three years in New Zealand, and during that time a lot of things did go wrong, but experience has taught me, you’re not having an adventure if everything goes right. And as a wiser man than myself once said, “The summer would not be so sweet, were it not for the winter.” When bad things happen to me, and those two pieces of wisdom don’t put things into perspective, I can always remind myself, at least I don’t have AIDS.

The other thing I took away from this experience is that it’s important to leave something good behind when you inevitably die. I don’t have any money to shower the poor with, but the one thing I do have is wisdom gained through often unpleasant experiences that I don’t want to be in vain. This is a big part of why I’m in such a mad dash to write as much as I can regardless of how little it pays. I hope my blog and books inspire, enlighten and entertain you. That’s all I need to take to my grave.

P.S.

Here’s a link to a free copy of my E-book, “Why: An Agnostic Perspective on the Meaning of Life.”

If you liked this story, you may like these other Tales From The Wise Sloth:


Tales From The Wise Sloth: The Time I Got Shot

When I was thirteen years old, I lived with my two brothers and my father in New Braunfels, TX. Our father was a rage-aholic who would scream at us for hours and spank us furiously with his thick, leather belt any time we broke the smallest of rules. As scary as it was living with him, my older brother was ten times worse. He was a bad seed from the day he was born. He literally stole baby bottles from the other toddlers in preschool. He tortured my twin and I emotionally and physically for years without having to worry about getting arrested for child abuse. Even though he was only thirteen months older than us, he was still too big for us to gang up on. Any time we ever did manage to hurt him in a fight, he’d go “Hulkamaniac” and pummel us, impervious to pain. We rarely told on him, because he would just beat us up twice as bad later as punishment.

One Saturday, my older brother and I were sitting in our bedroom while our father was away at work. I was happily devouring the contents of a carton of Whoppers, which was my favorite candy at the time. I was thoroughly enjoying this luxury, not even caring if I ate enough to give me a stomach ache.

Click to view image source

On the other side of the room, my older brother was playing with my Crosman 760 Pumpmaster BB gun. We all had BB guns, but mine was the most powerful. If you pumped it once or twice, you could probably shoot someone and it would bounce off the skin. If you pumped it fifteen times, you could kill a bird twenty yards away.

Click to view image source

He pumped it up seven or eight times and said, “Hey, Travis. Hold up that Whoppers carton, and let me see if I can shoot it out of your hand.”

Obviously, I told him, “No way. You’re going to hit my hand.”

He replied casually, “Let me put it to you this way, either you let me try to shoot it out of your hand, and hope I don’t hit you… or I’m going to beat you up and force you to let me do it anyway.”

Protesting or running wasn’t an option. So I reluctantly held the carton as high and far away from me as I could. I heard the gun fire, and felt my hand go flying backwards, letting go of the carton of Whoppers and spilling them everywhere.

Several thoughts went through my mind at that point. First, “Of course he shot me in the hand. He definitely did that on purpose.” Second, “I need emergency medical attention.” Third, “We can’t tell our father about this, because he’ll give us the worst whooping of our lives, ground us forever and take away our BB guns.”

With these facts in mind, I inspected my hand to see how bad I’d been injured. The BB entered the side of my palm, just below my pinky finger, and I could see a bump under my skin on the top of my hand, just below the middle finger, where the BB had come to rest.

I was relieved to see the steel ball just under the skin, because that meant I could cut it out myself by making an incision in the skin without having to dig into the muscle. Then there would be no need for an ambulance, and our father would never have to know what happened. So I went and found a pocket knife that one of us had won at a county fair earlier that year and took it to the bathroom sink, where I attempted to cut the BB out, but the pain was unbearable.

Losing blood and running out of time to fix the situation myself, I put the knife down and tried another approach, which to my surprise, actually worked. I simply pushed the BB out the way it came. With minimal effort, it popped out the side of my hand and rolled down the drain, leaving a blood trail in its path. Relieved, I put a Band-Aid over the bullet hole, wrapped myself in three heavy sleeping bags and laid under my bed for a few hours, shivering from blood loss and shock.

To this day, our father has no idea one of his children shot another one in their bedroom. It took my older brother a long time to feel guilty about what he did, but he grew up eventually, and we’re good friends now.

If you liked this story, you may like these:


This is how we live now: Part 2

I moved to Houston at the beginning of 2016 feeling optimistic about life, because I had a loving girlfriend and a new professional credential that would allow me to earn more than minimum wage. Little did I know, my year was going to be destroyed by ordinary people under ordinary circumstances. If you live near the poverty line, the same routine catastrophes are going to devastate your life over and over again until society makes some serious changes.

I won’t say what I do for a living, but I will say it it’s intellectually and physically demanding. I eat healthy, drink lots of water, take supplements and stretch daily, but my body always hurts somewhere. I endure it though, because I make $25 per hour, which is almost five times the minimum wage in Texas. Unfortunately, I can’t work full time, because I would live in constant pain until I suffered a career-ending injury. But I make enough money to survive and can spend a decent amount of time pursuing my passion of writing, which shouldn’t be too much to ask in life.

My employer makes about $1700 off the work I do every two weeks. Of that, I get to keep about $600, which covers my rent, utilities and cell phone. So I spend two weeks out of every month breaking my body just to survive until the next month. If I don’t have any fun, I can save about $500 per month, and since I spend most of my free time writing, that’s easy to do.

Rather, it should be, except every single month of 2016 I kept getting hit with major unexpected bills. The contract my girlfriend signed with her landlord before I moved in required us to pay half the cost of repairs to his dilapidated house. I had to replace my glasses, shoes, vacuum, and lawn mower. Now that I had a girlfriend, gifts became a mandatory expense at each major holiday. Every time I managed to save more than a thousand dollars, some disaster of the month would knock me back to the start.

My biggest recurring bill was truck repairs. I’d already spent $700 repairing my sort-of-new truck in Colorado. Even though the engine didn’t have many miles, it had spent almost 20 years baking in hot Texas summers. The tires and half the engine had deteriorated to the point of failure. After spending $1200 on repairs in the first half of 2016, the engine overheated and warped a head gasket.

Having been ripped off by enough mechanics to distrust them, I researched internet reviews until I found a place that presented itself as a good Christian business and had positive reviews.

I was able to have my truck towed there for “free,” because I get my auto insurance through USAA and pay an extra $2 per month for roadside assistance. $2 sounds like a good deal, until you realize, over the years I’ve been using them, I’ve given USAA $10k and never got anything in return other than a piece of paper that says I’m not breaking the law.

The staff at the mechanic shop were wonderfully friendly and made me feel like family at first. After the mechanic diagnosed the warped head gasket, the supervisor told me it would cost $2k to fix. Then he tried upselling me on replacing every other part under the hood. It would have cost $5k to fix everything he wanted, but the truck wasn’t even worth that much. In the end I agreed to spend an extra $1.5k on replacements, and I told him the only reason I couldn’t spend more was because I was flat broke and had to get a credit card through USAA to be able to cover the whole bill. So I could only get the most important parts fixed. He told me I should replace the radiator, but if I only had $1.5k to spend, I should fix other things first. In retrospect, he should have had more foresight.

As soon as I drove off the lot, the radiator broke. So I drove back, and told the nice supervisor what happened. He reminded me that he had recommended I replace the radiator. I reminded him I couldn’t afford to, and since I came in with a warped head gasket, he probably should have prioritized fixing the radiator. More importantly, if they’d diagnosed my problem correctly, they would have found out the radiator was busted before I drove it off the lot. So it would be harsh to make me pay the $500 they automatically charge any time they have to pull an engine out of a vehicle, which would need to be done to replace the radiator.

The supervisor told me there was no way to know the radiator would blow after driving it 1000 feet, and the fault is mine because, “I should have had more foresight to replace that radiator.”

After the fourth time he told me I should have had more foresight, I wanted to tell him, “You’re right. I didn’t have enough foresight to see you extorting me into six months of debt. If I’d known you were going to do that, I’d have broken my body working harder to prepare for the Christian ass raping you just gave me.”

He didn’t offer me any kind of loyalty discount. He just charged me $700 and acted surprised when I wasn’t smiling and laughing with him like family anymore.

I paid for everything on a USAA credit card, because a friend said it would lower my auto insurance, which I had noticed was higher than it used to be. When I checked my account, I discovered I’d never cancelled the renter’s insurance on my old house, and had paid $2k over the past two years insuring a property I didn’t own. Normally, that would be a bad thing, but USAA was gracious enough to refund me the money. In another lifetime I could have put that towards my retirement or used it to enjoy life, but it all went straight to back to USAA to pay down my credit card.

USAA didn’t have to refund me all that money. Most American businesses wouldn’t, but it didn’t surprise me when they did. In 2015 USAA distributed $1.6 billion of profits back to their customers. Every year I get a check from them for about $50 with a note that basically says, “We have too much money. Here’s some back.” In addition, their customer representatives are the nicest in the world. I’ve literally told people, “If you’re ever having a bad day, call USAA. I always feel better after doing any kind of business with them.”

I stopped feeling that way after a few months of putting all my disposable income towards my debt. Each month, my friends at USAA charged me about $50 in interest, which means I paid $50 per month to not have $4000. If I had less money, they’d charge me even more.

The leaders of USAA, and every other lending institution, are millionaires, who don’t need any more money. They could all stop working today and still live like gods for the rest of their lives. They know 50% of Americans live at the poverty line, all of whom need credit cards and loans to cover the cost of living in a country where every business charges as much as possible and forces those with the least money to pay the highest prices.

Economics is complicated, but it’s easy to calculate why half the country lives in poverty. Businesses charge their customers as much as possible and pay their employees as little as possible. That’s a simple recipe for bankruptcy. Charging people more money, the poorer they are, is a recipe for debt slavery. The problem isn’t that poor people are being targeted. It’s that everyone is being overcharged, and the only way to stay ahead of the game is for you to overcharge or underpay someone else. So everyone has to become part of the problem. The main reason we don’t stop is because we don’t even notice we’re doing it. Economic cannibalism is the only way of life we’ve ever experienced. So we assume it’s the way.

USAA and my mechanic may provide customers with vital services, but their business model is ultimately based on gouging desperate people. Jesus wouldn’t do that to veterans. Only someone who needs to seriously rethink their life would do that. Since everyone is guilty of the same sin, we all need to do some soul searching.

If you liked this blog, you may like these:

Macroeconomics

Microeconomics

Issues in the Workplace


How I became a Christian and then lost my faith

I was born and raised in the Bible Belt, specifically, Texas. In my community it was taken for granted that the Bible is the word of God. From the earliest age I remember going to church and saying this prayer before bedtime, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”

Other than going to church, buying Christian themed decorations and quoting a few select Bible verses, nobody in my community lived like Jesus or the Apostles. They lived like modern Americans, and I naturally adopted their lukewarm approach to Christianity as well. I tried not to lie, steal, lust, hate, miss church or masturbate, and I felt profoundly guilty when I committed these sins. Sometimes I prayed and put a few dollars in the offering plate at church. Outside of Sunday school I never read the Bible.

My real life revolved around going to school, trying to make friends, figuring out life and coping with the drama that the world throws at you. I had a very rocky childhood, and my life started sliding out of control before I got to high school. I started hanging out with the rejects, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, stealing, committing petty crimes, running from the cops, and listening to heavy metal music.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I did all of those self-destructive things because I was looking for meaningful connections to life. I hung out with the rejects, because they accepted me without judgment. I poisoned my body, because that was the only other thing outside of my friends that made me feel alive. I binge-listened to angry musicians, because they understood my emptiness and pain.

By my sophomore year I was basically never sober. The farther from sobriety I ran, the more I lost touch with reality. I lived in a dream land. Sometimes I danced through technicolor flower fields, but mostly I wandered in the dark looking for a lighted path that would take me back to the happiness and wholeness I felt as a child.

As my life spiraled downward, I had two near-death experiences on drugs and almost got arrested when a house I was doing hallucinogens at got raided by the police. Before things could get worse, my mother kicked me out of her house, and I had to move from Paris, TX, to my father’s house, eight hours away in Jourdanton, TX. The only Bible verse I ever heard my father quote was, “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”

Having lost all my friends and all meaningful connections in my life, my soul drifted in free fall. I felt like I was in outer space. I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I didn’t want to spend time with my father. So I stayed in my room and listened to songs that reminded me of my friends. The only book in my room was a copy of Nave’s Topical Bible, which listed Bible verses according to topic. Having a lot of anger at God and nothing else to do, I read what God had to say about love, hate and forgiveness.

I didn’t understand the context of any of the passages or the passages themselves, but they fascinated me. There was a murky message of love and salvation, both of which I needed badly. These thoughts percolated in my brain for months until I had the opportunity to go back to Paris and see my friends. We got together like old times and did drugs. It was refreshing but painfully nostalgic. At the end of the night, everyone else went to sleep, and I stayed up for several more hours day dreaming intoxicated visions.

That night I had a vision of God. His body was in the shape of a human but made of glowing love. He looked like one of the aliens on the movie, “Cocoon.”  We had a long conversation in which He told me I was loved and accepted. Everything is fine, and everything is going to work out. Life is important, and we all have something important to do with our lives. I could still fulfill the meaning of life. I just have to give up my hedonistic ways. So the next morning I threw away my cigarettes and quit all my poisons cold turkey.

I made up my mind that it was time to get serious about God. So I started going to church regularly, and I got a real Bible. I read the New Testament cover to cover several times. In 1997 I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior at a Billy Graham convention in San Antonio. A few months later I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church in Charlotte, TX.

I took my faith as serious as life and death. Everyone who knew me my senior year of high school knew that I was a serious Christian. I went to church twice a week, read my Bible, prayed to Jesus, invited the Holy Spirit to guide me and behaved impeccably moral even when no one was watching.

By the time I graduated high school I was convinced I should become a preacher. So I scheduled a meeting with the pastor who had baptized me, Brother Sewell. We met at a Dairy Queen and talked for about an hour. In the end, he told me that if there’s anything else I could imagine being happier doing than preaching, then I should do that. Reluctantly, I admitted, I would be happier teaching art or being a comic book artist than standing in front of a crowd, blowing peoples minds while begging for money once a week. So Brother Sewell told me to become what I wanted to become most.

I wasn’t a good (or rich) enough artist to go to art school, and I wanted to work in a profession that helped people directly anyway. So I decided not to go to seminary school and preach in a church. I would get a day job as a social worker helping the neediest of the neediest. In my free time, I would write Christian books and comics.

So after I graduated high school, I enrolled at the University of Mary~Hardin Baylor in Belton, Tx and majored in social work. I picked that school because it’s a Christian university with a reputation for being unapologetically serious about Jesus Christ. Every event on campus opened with a prayer, and every student had to attend mandatory church services. There were always student-led Bible studies going on somewhere on campus. Every student had to take at least one semester in religious studies.

I chose to take the hardest course they offered, a year-long, in depth survey of The Torah. I wanted to know every detail about how my religion came into existence, and The Torah was so boring and confusing, I figured this was my best shot at understanding it. I felt confident that if I could master the basics of Christianity then I could write the proof to end all proofs that would convince any Atheist that the Bible was the true word of God.

To my delight, my professor turned out to be a genius named Dr. Stephen Von Wyrick. He spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin fluently, and he spent his summers in Israel excavating religious ruins. The textbooks he taught from weren’t Christian propaganda. They were gigantic, rigorous, boring history books. Dr. Von Wyrick knew as much as a human being could know about the historical context of the The Torah.

He also believed wholeheartedly in the divinity of the entire Bible. So I’m sure he would be appalled by the fact that, more than anyone else, he was responsible for me losing my faith. He took my class through the Torah line by line and explained everything that was happening. He showed how to tell when different authors had written different passages within the same book. He explained how miracles could often be attributed to naturally occurring events. He pointed out where the authors had copied stories from other religions. The two most important things he taught me where how the Jewish theocracy and culture operated at the time. They were both barbaric and superstitious.

Once I actually read the Torah cover to cover, I looked back and realized I didn’t just read a story about God’s love and salvation. The original covenant God had with mankind, was for humans to slaughter animals on altars so God could bask in their blood. In return, God would kill the enemies of the Jewish state. The laws God commanded His people to follow were barbaric or trivial. The whole story was so chaotically thrown together, there was no hope of reconciling all its contradictions, scientific inaccuracies, mysticisms and psychotic moral codes.

Making sense of the Bible is even more difficult when you try connecting the Old Testament and the New Testament. Why does a perfect, all knowing, all loving God, write a book that approves of slavery and war. Then He changes his mind and writes a book that approves of slavery and love (most of the time)? But after saving everyone from having to please God with blood, now you have to please God by believing in His son, who is somehow also God at the same time, and maybe one other person/thing called the Holy Ghost.

I found a million holes in the Bible, and I couldn’t ignore them. They weren’t making me doubt my faith yet, because I believed the answers existed. I just had to find them. So I asked dozens of highly educated Christians to explain the gaping holes I’d found in Christianity. Without exception, every single person told me to, “Just have faith.” They couldn’t explain any of the problems and didn’t want to. This infuriated me, because if we didn’t understand the Bible, that meant we didn’t understand what we believed in. So when we witnessed to non-believers, we were telling them, “I don’t know what I believe in, but you have to believe it too.”

The further I looked for answers, the more I found myself piecing together an explanation of why the Bible is just a standard, archaic mythology produced by a primitive culture and not the word of God. This scared me to the depth of my soul. I was afraid God would send me to Hell for entertaining those thoughts, let alone believing them.

The more I dove back into the Bible to find the clues I’d missed, the more mythology I found. It was like watching a train wreck. I watched it until I couldn’t take it anymore. I shut my Bible one last time and let out a huge defeated sigh as I accepted the undeniable truth staring me in the face: Christianity is mythology, and I would never find salvation in it. Even then, it took me over a year to admit out loud that I’d lost my faith.

That happened at the age of twenty. It wasn’t until seven years later that I began writing down my argument for why Christianity is mythology. I’ve been posting those on my blog ever since. In 2015 I consolidated them into a stand alone E-book that you can purchase on Amazon. You can still read them individually for free on The Wise Sloth.

After leaving the church I didn’t think of myself as an Atheist. All I knew was that I was lost. If I had to label myself at the time, I would have called myself an Existentialist, or simply a searcher. Search I did. As depressed and disconnected as I felt, I wasn’t suicidal.  I didn’t know what life was for, but I knew a lot of trouble went into creating it, and I believed life was some kind of opportunity with some kind of potential.

Desperate for any glimmer of direction, I read most of the other religious books the world follows. Without exception, I found the same patterns of inconsistencies, incoherencies, inaccuracies, absurdities and culturally relative morals I’d found in the Bible.

Like the Bible, they all also contained useful information. You could even find patterns in some of their wisdom that different religions agreed on. I didn’t take this as evidence that God had a hand in every book, but rather that some morals are self-evident. If you were going to make your own religion, probably the first rule you’d pick is, “Don’t go around killing people.”

Simply proving mythological gods don’t exist, doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist.  Since I know that I don’t know the first thing about the universe, I’m not qualified to state emphatically that there is no God. The ingeniously elegant patterns in nature give me reason to suspect a higher force could have played a hand at creating the universe, but that force seems to have left us on our own to sink or swim.

I would like a more cut and dried answer to life’s questions, but the evidence seems to point to the conclusion that we’re here, and our lives are our responsibility to figure out using the tools we’ve been given. I’ve been trying to do that as best I can. I’m constantly updating my conclusions, which you can find listed below and on my Table of Contents:

The Bible is mythology

Christianity is bad for you and society

Churches and Christian Culture

Life

Agnosticism and Atheism

Thinking

Ethics

Personal Growth

Personal Behavior


My quest to find the meaning of life

Over the course of 10 years, I wrote a book on the meaning of life titled “Why: An Agnostic Perspective on the Meaning of Life.” I didn’t do it to get rich quick, or because God told me to or because I’m the smartest person alive. My motives came from somewhere much more down to Earth. To understand why I wrote this book, you need to know the whole story.

I’ve always been an introvert, predisposed to working alone on long projects, and I’ve always loved puzzles. At the age of 17 I made a conscious decision to make a hobby out of solving difficult logic puzzles for the fun and challenge of it. Originally, this consisted of completing puzzle books, which I did with varying levels of success. That got boring quickly though, because I was just rearranging words, letters and numbers, which felt tantamount to mental masturbation. I wanted to solve real problems that had useful implications for myself and hopefully the rest of society.

The first big challenge I picked was creating a perpetual motion machine. Although I failed to build a working perpetual motion machine, I don’t count the quest as a failure, because it provided me hundreds of hours of entertainment and valuable problem-solving practice. When that thought-experiment had run its course I started looking for a new one. It wasn’t long before the question of the meaning of life caught my attention.

The challenge started out as a game, but the more I thought about it, the more seriously I took the question. I considered myself a responsible person who followed all the rules and lived a successful life by modern society’s standards, but could I say for certain I knew the meaning of life? No. So could I honestly be sure I was fulfilling it. No. I was just expecting I’d nail it by chance; I was leaving it up to chance whether or not I validated my existence or wasted it in vain. For the first time it struck me that the meaning of life might not be a novelty riddle after all. It might be a matter of life and death. In fact, it might even be a matter of eternal life and death… and that wasn’t even the worst part.

What shook me even more profoundly was the realization that if I didn’t know the meaning of life then I couldn’t teach my future children what it is or how to fulfill it. I was leaving their fate up to chance as well. How could I do that in good conscience?

To my surprise I found I wasn’t playing a game any longer. I was waffling at a crossroad in life. Should I go down that rabbit hole or find a way to write these thoughts off and get back to my routine, comfortable life? I didn’t have to second guess myself for very long. Regardless of anything else, the bottom line was I was planning on become a parent, and I had a responsibility to my unborn children. A father’s job is to teach his children how to make the most out of life, and since I didn’t know the meaning of life I didn’t have an end goal to teach my children how to accomplish. I was going to have to find some kind of answer to the meaning of life so I could teach my descendants everything needed to know to have the best chance at validating their existence and making the most out of life.

Being a child myself at the time, I had no idea where to begin answering such an enigmatic question, but I knew history was full of people much smarter than me. I assumed/hoped one of them had already figured it out. So I started making trips to the library and book stores hunting for the book the master wrote his/her revelation down in.

Some of the things I read had promise, but without exception they were all flawed in one way or another. Most of the self-help books were oversimplified and based on emotion more than logic. You could sum up most of them in the phrases, “The meaning of life is a good cup of coffee.” Or “Love everybody.” Nice sentiments but vague to the point of being useless.

The books written by self-proclaimed spiritual gurus tended to ramble incoherently and not be based on any kind of evidence whatsoever. The authors just said, “This is the answer,” and expected the reader to accept their mystical conclusions without asking for any logical or empirical proof.

As for Western philosophy… I know I could get crucified for saying this, but I would describe most of what I read as nine parts academic masturbation and one part insight. For all the amazing and useless things I read, I never found a systematic, logical, empirically valid explanation of the meaning of life.

And then there’s the world’s religious books. The first problem they pose is that most of them claimed to be the final truth on life and state it is foolish, arrogant, or outright immoral to question them let alone believe in any other belief system. So even if I quit searching for the meaning of life and bet my soul on any religion, I would still be committing blasphemy according to multiple other self-proclaimed holy books. This concerned me deeply, because I don’t want to go to Hell. If blasphemy is immoral, then I don’t want to commit it, but we’re all in a no-win situation. In the end I figured, if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you may as well do your best.

All things being blasphemy, the way I chose to commit it was to put all the religious books I could find to the test of empirical and logical truth. Without exception, they all contained historic and scientific errors, textual problems, absurdities, contradictions, and incoherent moral codes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been written about each religion, attempting to explain their mysteries. But Occam’s Razor can explain all of them in one sentence: All the religions humans have created are mythologies.

If that’s true, it creates as many questions as it answers. How was the universe created? What defines ethics? Is life meaningless, or is the purpose of life simply beyond the grasp of human intelligence?

The last question bothered me the most. If it really was true that we can never know the meaning of life then that would mean we have one, but can never sure if we’re succeeding at it. Does that mean we were never meant to fulfill it? Would that mean, for all practical purposes, life has no meaning? Are our lives nothing more than pieces in a cosmic game of Periwinkles? Are we not important?

My inability to answer any of these questions drove me to existential depression. I tried to act like nothing was wrong and continued going to work and socialize with friends but found it hard to be enthusiastic about anything since it seemed nothing we did mattered in the long run.

Walking through my tiny corner of the universe, I couldn’t shake my suspicions that it would be absurd for life to exist without a purpose. Surely there had to be a reason why such a complex universe full of complex living beings existed. So as I went through the motions of life I continued to think about and observe the world around me hoping to find the clues I’d missed.

On my way to work in the mornings I passed by a large oak tree, and I’d often stop to stare at it and ask myself, “What are you doing there Mr. Tree?” One day I was studying Mr. Tree when I found the clue I was looking for. The tree contained patterns. The branches weren’t geometrically organized, but there was a pattern to how trees in general look. Then I looked down at myself and found patterns in my body. We can recognize humans from other animals because our structure follows the same pattern. Skeletons follow patterns. Heredity follows patterns. Biology is all about patterns. For that matter, so is the rest of nature: gravitational pull, chemical reactions, and mathematical equations. These all behave according to patterns which reflect phenomenally elegant order in the universe.

It would be illogical to assume that everything in the universe behaves according to predictable patterns, but life (and all the patterns it contains) came into existence on accident. It’s no more an accident for life to exist than it is for water to freeze. The universe was meticulously designed to produce living beings. The immeasurable level of detail in the design of the universe isn’t an accident.

Atoms, molecules, solar systems and DNA are so ingeniously designed that I can’t discount the possibility an intelligent God created them. If that’s true, then why does God let bad things happen? Does/should God answer prayers? How do you learn about an absentee God of science? Do you even need to know God, or were we put here to do something else?

I wanted to explore these questions, but a voice in the back of my head kept asking, what if I’m wrong about religion, and there really is an angry, jealous God?  If I ever claimed to figure out life for myself, would I be punished? Would I go to hell? Were humans not meant to think for themselves? Why would God create children who aren’t supposed to think for themselves?

With or without God, is it still impossible (or at least too difficult) for humans to figure out? If the question can be answered, who’s smart enough to do it? Could I do it or should I leave it to the professionals? But who are the professionals? What would make someone qualified/disqualified to find the meaning of life anyway? Do you need a doctorate degree, a Nobel Prize, membership in a high IQ club, or at least published book under your belt before you’re certified to… ask questions?

I lost sleep asking myself these questions. I knew if nobody else had life figured out, then I’d have to do it on my own, but I didn’t think I could or should for all the reasons stated above. But then again, not trying was as good as suicide…and in the case of my potential offspring I was responsible for, manslaughter. This infuriated me. I kept telling myself, “This is insanity. It doesn’t make any sense.” Then, after a long night of tossing and turning in bed, I finally let myself admit the simple and obvious truth of the matter. It was insanity. It didn’t make any sense because it was illogical.

There may or may not be a God. We’re all just stranded in this big, elegant universe. We’re so lost we don’t even know how lost we are. If God’s out there, we’re left on our own to sink or swim. We don’t know the difference between right and wrong or if there is one. There is no instruction book. All we can do is figure out life for ourselves.

Whether we know or will admit it, everyone does this. We look at everything around us and come to our own conclusions. So I said, “To Hell with taboos,” and made a decision to consciously do what I’d already been doing all along. I’d figure out my own systematic, logical explanation of the meaning of life. The point wasn’t to create a book to publish. It was to create my own personal guidebook to life. 

Having decided that, I turned my attention to the enormous task of figuring out where the hell to begin. Ask yourself, “What is the first thing you need to do to answer the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’” That’s a riddle within an impossible riddle. When I posed it to myself, I felt completely dumbfounded, but in that boggled, fuzzy state of mind I had a moment of horse-sense clarity. I realized if you want to answer any question, you need a step-by-step guide to answering questions.

So I went back to the library and the bookstores and read a stack of books on logic and problem solving. I learned a lot of useful things from those books, but I didn’t find the streamlined guide to answering questions I was looking for. So I looked back over everything I had learned about thinking and boiled it down to a neat list.

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Gather data
  3. Identify the variables you have.
  4. Identify the variables you don’t have.
  5. Sort the data.
  6. Apply formulas.
  7. Ask sub-questions.
  8. Question your answer.
  9. Apply the solution.

I spent years applying these steps to the question of the meaning of life and piecing my conclusions together in this book. I included a detailed breakdown of my method of problem solving in Chapter 14 since everything you’ll ever do in life will be the product of questions you’ve asked yourself. No matter what the meaning of life is, it involves problem solving since everything does.

If you read “Why” you’ll see how I applied these steps to the question of the meaning of life. If you just want to know the final conclusion I came to, read the next paragraph for the spoiler:

Regardless of whether or not God or an afterlife exists, or even if there’s no meaning to life at all, the most logical thing a living being can do with their brief time here is fulfill their potential. If that sounds anticlimactic, it’s because the most interesting part of the question, “What is the meaning of life?” isn’t “what,” it’s “why.”

This book isn’t the final answer on life. God didn’t reveal it to me. It’s just the conclusions I’ve come to that I base my life around. If you read my book and find even a single sentence lacking I hope you don’t dismiss all my observations and conclusions. Takes what you find to be true, and leave what you don’t. If you have a better answer, the world needs it. I need it. The way I’ll measure the success of my book isn’t by how many people believe me but by how many I inspire to ask questions.

You can download “Why: An Agnostic Perspective on the Meaning of Life” for free on Smashwords. I also have a few other E-books listed for free there, and I have some other books for sale on Amazon. You can find a list of all my books on the E-book page of my website, The Wise Sloth.

If you’re wondering what else I’ve done with my life, here are some more stories from my past:


My quest to build a perpetual motion machine

“A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical machine that can do work indefinitely without an energy source. This kind of machine is impossible, as it would violate the first or second law of thermodynamics.”

Despite the fact that it’s impossible to build a perpetual motion machine, many have tried, and all have failed, including me. This is the story of how and why I attempted the impossible.

Two events happened when I was seventeen years old that led to my decision, but in order to understand why those events mattered, you should know a little bit about me. The Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator says I have an INTP personality, and while that test isn’t perfect, it gives a pretty accurate description of me:

“INTPs are marked by a quiet, stoic, modest, and aloof exterior that masks strong creativity and enthusiasm for novel possibilities. Their weaknesses include poor organization, insensitivity to social niceties, and a tendency to get lost in abstractions. “

I’ve been that way my entire life, and like many other INTPs, I’ve also always had an affinity for puzzles. Growing up I was fascinated by riddles, chess, cross word puzzles, magicians and Celtic knots.  So when I walked into my high school Economics class one day and noticed some student had left a print out of a chain-mail E-mail on the chalk board tray that contained a logic problem the E-mail claimed only 5% of the population was smart enough to answer, I greedily stole the paper and took it home with me. It took me five hours to solve the problem, and to be honest, I got a little conceited over my victory until I realized I was naive enough to believe statistics in a chain mail.

The puzzle was hard, but it wasn’t that hard. This made me want to know what my limits really were. So I bought a bunch of puzzle books and worked my way through them with varying levels of success, but after a while they all got boring. I was just rearranging words, shapes and numbers.  My actions felt tantamount to mental masturbation. I wanted to solve a really hard puzzle just for the fun of it and to test myself, but I wanted to do something that mattered.

This is the state of mind I was in when the second event occurred. I was sitting on the living room floor drawing while my father flipped through the television stations. He stopped it on PBS, which was playing the first episode of Stephen Hawking’s Universe. I watched in awe as Professor Hawking’s sci-fi voice took me on a tour of the evolution of scientific innovation. He amazed me with tales of scientific geniuses who had the ambition and audacity to solve the fundamental riddles of the universe. I’d heard of Galileo and Isaac Newton before, but until then I hadn’t put them on my list of personal heroes.

I watched the rest of the series as PBS slowly aired them. Then I went to the mall and bought the series on VHS with money I’d earned working as a projectionist at a small town, three-screen movie theater.  Every time I watched the tapes I understood a little bit more, but that just made me realize how little I really knew. I wanted to solve unsolved mysteries, but I knew I was never going to solve the problems cosmologists are working on today. Even if I could, I hate math. I wished I could have been born in Copernicus’s time. Back then a clever fellow could make historic discoveries with a few lenses and mirrors without using much math. By the time I was born all the easiest scientific questions had already been answered.

Feeling discouraged, I did some Google searches for unsolved scientific problems and stumbled across an article on perpetual motion. It hooked me immediately. Here was a real world logic problem that could have a profound potential impact on humanity as well as my self-worth.

I bookmarked every site on the internet that even mentioned perpetual motion, and almost every one of them stated, with varying degrees of belligerency, that anyone who attempts to build a perpetual motion machine is stupid. I understood the reasoning behind the warnings, but they’re a little short sighted.

Would these same critics ridicule anyone who attempted to solve the world’s hardest crossword puzzle? Time enjoyed is never time wasted. There’s no reason to judge people who want to try to solve theoretical logic puzzles, even when that entails building a useless machine. There are far worse hobbies a person could have, like trolling aspiring inventors on the internet. I knew from the beginning there was at least a 99.99% chance I’d fail, but the worst possible outcome is all my efforts would only amount to me having fun and practicing my thinking skills. If anyone laughed at me for that, then that’s their problem.

After ignoring the Internet’s warnings, I set a goal to design a machine that isn’t a true perpetual motion machine; it would break down eventually, but it would generate enough electricity in its lifetime to make the cost/benefit analysis of building it add up.  The problem with this goal is that it means the machine would have to generate more energy than it uses, which is even more impossible than building a machine that can run without losing energy.

These facts didn’t intimidate me, because I learned the secret to solving impossible problems from Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek: Cheat.

If I couldn’t beat the rules, I would just work around them. Instead of building a machine that runs on its own power indefinitely, I would power it with a relatively inexhaustible energy source like gravity, buoyancy or magnetism. I hoped I could direct them in a novel way that tricks them into behaving counter-intuitively yet technically sound. These are my designs:

simple ramp perpetual motion machine

My first idea used magnetism and gravity to pull a metal ball up a ramp. Just before reaching the magnet it would fall down a hole, and roll down a ramp back to its starting point and repeat the process. This idea probably wouldn’t work, because the magnet would just pull the ball over the hole.

gear ramp perpetual motion machine

I thought you might be able to solve that problem by attaching a mechanism that uses the force of the ball to push a lever that either moves the head of the magnet away or pushes the ball away from the magnet, allowing the ball to fall down the hole.

piston pump perpetual motion machine

If that concept worked, you could replace the ramp with a vertical shaft and replace the ball with a piston.

trolley ramp perpetual motion machine

Magnets wear out eventually though. So I came up with a design that only uses gravity as the power source: Attach wheels to ten identical rolling weights that basically look like trolley cars. Connect each trolly with identical length strings so they’re all connected in a circle. Put the trolley chain on a long, winding ramp that they roll down. At the bottom of the ramp is a steep vertical slope  that leads back to the top of the ramp. The idea is that as long as more trolley cars are rolling down hill, pulling the car behind them, than there are trolley cars being lifted from the end back to the beginning, then the descending cars should lift the ascending cars.

bouy ramp perpetual motion machine

One problem with the trolley car idea is that it creates a lot of friction. I hypothesized I could improve the idea by turning it upside down and submerging it in water. Instead of using weighted trollies, connect a ring of hollow bouys following a long, winding path up to a steep decline, where they would be pulled down to their point of origin by the higher number of rising buoys.

magnet wheel perpetual motion machine

I wanted to come up with a design that involved a spinning wheel, since that would make it easier to generate  electricity. So I drew plans for a wheel with angled magnets that repel off other magnets anchored outside the wheel. I bought a hamster wheel and $100 worth of magnets, and proved that this idea doesn’t work. The force from the external magnet that pushes one internal magnet away will prevent the next incoming internal magnet from passing the field of the external magnet.

The wheel could spin if you could turn the magnets off until they’re in position to repel. You could create this effect easily using electromagnets, but that would use more electricity than it produces. The wheel might spin if you could block the magnetic field until the magnets are in position to repel, but I don’t know of any material that blocks magnetic fields.  The wheel might also spin if the magnetic fields could be redirected with ferromagnetic metal or you used a mechanism to push the external magnet away until the internal magnet is in place to be repelled.

Even if those plans did work, they still used magnets. It would be better to have a wheel that’s powered just by gravity. In order for weights in a wheel to spin the wheel indefinitely, there would have to be more weights pushing counterclockwise than clockwise. I hoped that could be achieved through the use of two ramps.

At the age of 19 I tried building this wheel using paper and straws. It didn’t work. So I took the spokes out of a bicycle and replaced them with cardboard rectangles and golf balls. The balls kept getting stuck and bouncing away until the cardboard bent. So I bought two Erector Sets and made a more stable wheel. I never could get the weights to stay on track.

Having spent hundreds of dollars and hours, I finally decided I didn’t have the engineering skills to build anything. To this day, I still can’t put Ikea furniture together without it being wobbly and crooked. So I gave up trying to build a perpetual motion machine and got on with my life. I’ve thought about paying someone to construct my designs, and I would, but I’m not convinced any of these designs would actually work. Someday when I’m old and have more disposable income, I may pay someone to build all of them so I can decorate my foyer with them.

Even if they don’t work, they would make interesting steam punk decorations. They’d be good conversation starters. You’re welcome to use and profit from my perpetual motion machine designs in any way you want, free of charge.  They’re free domain.

P.S.

My quest for meaningful puzzles didn’t end when I quit working on my perpetual motion machine. In fact, part of why I lost interest is because I had moved on to the next puzzle: the meaning of life.

If you’re wondering what else I’ve done with my life, here are some other stories about my past:

Here are some books I’ve written:

 

 

 

 

 


%d bloggers like this: