27 August 2010


Yoko is coming to pick me up in about a half hour and we will all go to my second supervisor's house for dinner. I have transcribed two videos today, which isn't a lot, but I feel like I had a damn productive week. I did the following:
  • Finished French homework.
  • Submitted article to Discourse and Society.
  • Finished a bulk of my French final. Only studying for the speaking test remains.
  • Received epic email from applied linguistic god, Tuen van Dijk praising my work and saying the article was sent to Discourse and Communication instead, as it concerned CMC. Based on his email (I don't want to be too optimistic), it sounds like I may have a chance of getting it in. Discourse and Society is a Sage publication, an ISI journal. Ruth Wodak has been in it. Adam Jaworski. Theo van Leeuwen. These names mean nothing to you, I'm sure. Let's just say, very, very respectable scholars in the field.
  • Got my Birmingham essays and marked all of them in 48 hours.
  • Transcribed about 5 videos and organised my dataset otherwise (getting videos and comments in a form that I can add the transcript and put it into Atlas.TI quickly).
  • Finished 68.9% of BAAL presentation.
  • Ordered something for my sister, something I have been meaning to get for her since I did the shitty gift card thing again this year. I hate giving gift cards, I love getting them. I wish I could not have a deadline of someone's birthday to get them a present. I just want to get them what I think they might like whenever I think of it, regardless of what time of the year it is.
  • Ate little and exercised a lot.
What follows will probably be about being healthy and dieting, so eff off if this doesn't interest you: I am trying hard to get into the range of where I want to stay before I go to Scotland. This should happen and I am really planning heavily for surviving this conference without gaining weight. Already planning runs. Already thinking about the tea and coffee times and how I will avoid making a mess of myself. Silly? Yes, it is, but if I don't do this, I am going to gain back a ton of weight in just a couple of days because I will lose control at the drop of a hat now. I need, need, need to maintain this: it's the thing I have never been able to do my whole freaking life. Goal one of finishing a diet for the first time is well within reach. I can't throw it all away.

I hate explaining this to people in real life because the first thing everyone says is, 'You're not overweight.' Well, I am not now, no, but I was in- 'No, you weren't overweight, you were fine.' Well, it depends on how you judge that. I think BMI is a good measure and my BMI was 26 and- 'Oh, I don't trust those numbers.'

How do we decide what overweight is if we can't use simple scales and measures? Look, I don't have a bad body image. I think I look fine. I don't have a low self-esteem. All I want is to be well within a healthy weight. Like a BMI of 23, body fat percentage of 16-17%. I don't want to be close to being underweight. I want to be healthy, not based on someone's opinion of what healthy is, but based on an objective measure. Is that okay with everyone?

I'm getting worked up. I'll be done in two weeks and not have to deal with this anymore.

Otherwise things are okay. I am eager to go to Aberdeen. I am even more eager to get through October and the beginning of November, all the bills to be paid and trouble with passports and visas and traveling to Spain and starting the new school year. Once that's done, I can settle in: train rides to London on crisp Friday mornings. The walk through the woods to Middlesex. The pleasure of finishing a day of teaching and getting on the underground. The British Library. Oh, I am ready: take me now!

Okay, I killed 22 minutes.


Ah, Niigata in Autumn comes back to mind suddenly.


24 August 2010

Good things that have happened since yesterday

  • Opened second Cash ISA account, got credit card, and fixed annoying problem with bank account
  • Solved pedal problem on bike (needed to be tightened)
  • Found mobile phone (in backpack side pocket)
  • Ate delicious sausages and couscous made by Yoko
  • Ate delicious, low calorie granola made by Yoko
  • Planned endgame for diet
  • Got up and ran at 6 AM
  • Allocated essays from Birmingham for marking
  • Shoes starting to fit
  • Beautiful weather!
Still to happen today:
  • Eat delicious, low calorie couscous for lunch
  • Transcribe!
  • Finish proofreading D&S article and prepare to send off tomorrow
  • Go for walk, perhaps smoke pipe.

23 August 2010

Monday, Monday, Monday

I have not yet made it into this week yet. I got up at 5:30AM as per usual and decided to go with it. I have been making perfect oatmeal for about a week now: it makes me eager to get out of bed and go for it. I went downstairs and the washing machine was stuck, broken down again. I pulled out all the danged, soaking clothes and hung them up. But first, I made the most perfect oatmeal (they call it porridge here) and ate it out of the pan. It was perfect.

We had to go to the bank to open a tax-free savings account for Yoko and apply for credit cards. Then I went on to work and the girls stay back at the mall.

This weekend was fine too: we road bicycles and I ran. We went to Costco. I saw a very good film on BBC4 called 'The Market: A Tale of Trade'. It was a Turkish movie, in Turkish, obviously. Just a fabulous ending. Nothing is ever resolved in real life, why do we demand it of films? I like it when I'm left pondering something at the end.

I traded emails with my supervisors about my data set and I think I managed to make a case for it, one that they even find compelling at this point, which is a shock. And then I saw a job in the US that I could do, no problem. A teaching position at a small university in Statesboro, GA. I looked at Statesboro on Google maps and felt the pull. There was a Wendy's. Wendy's is a place you could just go to, I thought. How bizarre. I asked Yoko which she preferred, America or Japan. She thought for a second and said, 'Europe.' Well, me too. I guess. I would be happy in Statesboro for about a day and then I would start getting fat, find the job suffocating, and hate the boredom of life there. But it flickered in my mind a bit.

My weight loss chugs along and I am empowered to finish this time. I realised that in the past, I have just stopped my diet, but this time I am going to finish. The important thing to decide now is what that means. I think it means that I would like to be between 74-76 kgs. My average, not just hitting it once. I will do that first based on my morning weight, and when I achieve that, I will shift it to my weight after having dinner, which is usually between .5-1 kgs above my morning weight. I have to make it through my trip to Aberdeen without going crazy (already planning how this will happen) and then going to Spain. If I make it through the Spain trip and teaching the Friday afterwards without falling off the horse, I will have arrived.

I should also mention I will certainly be in Chicago for the Religion and Spirituality in Society conference in February. Got the okay from my supervisors and think it will be worth my time. Plus, I'll be home for my mom's birthday — first time in like eight years.

20 August 2010

Full speed ahead

I thought August was going to be a quiet month for me as far as my research went, but so far, it has been anything but.

After the initial frustration of not getting the essays to mark from Birmingham in the first week, I have gotten some of my 和 (wa) back: that is, I was able to focus on other things. This included revising my Language@Internet article, which has now been sent off and I feel positive about. Even if it doesn't get into that journal, the work that I have done with it will allow me to send it elsewhere. I also am getting close to finishing the article I am writing from my pilot study, and as I said before, I will be sending it to a big journal. It's good though: I have been looking carefully at another article from the same journal based on the same sort of analysis I am doing with a different dataset. I think I will be able to make a case for it, but we'll have to see. That will be done by next Friday.

I had a meeting with my supervisors on Wednesday that went really well too. Well, it started off a bit unnerving when we were talking about the end of my studies coming very quickly and what, pray tell, what I planning on doing after my PhD. Teach? Teach at a university? My one supervisor suggested I save up some money in case I can't get a job and I have to support my family for three or four months while I wait for my viva. No, I said, I will be on a plane to Japan well before that. I don't have family here. Don't have leave to stay indefinitely. No, if the shit hits the fan, we will have to go elsewhere.

Well, she said, hope for the best, prepare for the worst--Very good advice. I have stockpiled ammo, canned beef, and salt tables. We are also raising chickens to kill, if need be.

Well, then yesterday I had a very big breakthrough in thinking about my dataset. I had been looking at sort of loose connections between videos based loosely around how people were distinguishing between real and fake Christians (as they are called) or the religious vs. the saved. This was all fine and good, but I was having a had time seeing connections, meaningful, demonstrable, empirical connections between videos. I had one from February 2009. One from June 2009. One user appearing to respond to another user after three months. Very disjointed.

But I remembered an episode where the main person I am watching called some atheist 'human garbage' in anger, but it was a term he stood by and defended from scripture. Anyway, the initial video was gone, but all the videos around it, and his defensive of it again and again, were still up. The search term 'human garbage' gave me about 20 videos and looking around got me another 6 at least, meaning that I have the corpus of videos I need, I have direct connections between videos (as the use of the term ties them together), I have responses and responses to responses, I have atheists and Christians disagreeing and reinterpreting things, and I have people (atheists and Christians) quoting scripture to each other to defend themselves. I have the issues going away and re-emerging as something else. I mean, I have everything I want in a dataset, but mostly, I have a dataset that I can defend very easily as being tied to this term 'human garbage' that is both a category and a metaphor.

Oh, I am breathless just thinking about it. Basically, I have my dataset now. And that makes the endgame much, much more clear. We are talking about thesis chapters now, coming out of the articles I'm writing.

Otherwise, my body is feeling good. My shirt is feeling big today and I thought to myself, perhaps I don't want to lose so much that I have to go out and get new clothes. I was planning on going down another 2 or 3 kgs from where I am, but I'm not sure if I'm going to do that. I feel and look pretty good now, I think. What's one point of BMI, anyway. Well, 3 kgs is not a noticeable difference, I don't think, so my clothes should be okay. I don't want to look like I'm swimming around.

Interesting. This says that basically, if you can avoid heart problems and lung cancer, you really reduce your chances of dying here. How is it that 7 men in the East Midlands died of breast cancer? I didn't think we had breasts. Anyway, prostate cancer: now that is a bastard. Best to keep my prostate healthy.

19 August 2010


I have been working on my bike again. New handlebars and pedals. The bike is now an ideal mix of mountain, road, and comfort bike.

18 August 2010

Should be writing

Writing is one of the least rewarding occupations in the world. You have a moment of inspiration and suddenly you write for hours; you sit for hours, looking at one sentence, nothing coming. You write something and finish it, but it is not finished. It goes to a set of reviewers--they send back comments. You revise, send it back, and you get comments again. You revise, send to someone else, get their comments, revise again, and send back to the initial reviewers. By the time (and if) it is accepted for publication, it is just a shimmer of a thought that you had six months ago and you could really care less about it. There is no grand moment: you hit send on an e-mail, you see it in print, you have a cup of tea.

I'm not complaining: to essentially make my living off of writing is what I have wanted since I was like 12. I get very happy when I write a clever turn of a phrase, or I make something I am proud of. But those moments are few and far between.

All that to say, I am revising my Language@Internet article, hoping to avoid another revise and resubmit. Both of my supervisors have commented on a second article I'm writing, which is looking to become an empirical paper based on the pilot study I did this year. I had planned to send it to a small journal, but yesterday I changed my mind and decided to send it to one of the top discourse analysis journals. My reasoning went something like
  1. The worst that could happen is it gets rejected without comments. In that case I can send it to a smaller journal and I'll have just lost about three months.
  2. They could reject the article with some constructive criticism.
  3. They could ask me to revise and resubmit.
All of these possibilities are good and reading through their criteria for submission and looking at what the article is slowly becoming, I thought, you know, what the hell. We only live once. And, if by some miracle it gets in, I will have a huge gold star on my CV when it comes time to get a job. It's a journal that everyone will recognise as well respected, and I won't have to make any explanations about it.

So that's that.

My weight (the rolling average portion of it) fell below 81kgs, for the first time, meaning that my BMI is now 24.9 — officially healthy and not overweight. I have been under 81kgs for the last couple of weeks on a day-to-day basis, but my rolling average is always about 2kgs behind. Anyway, I'm already thinking about and planning how I am going to maintain this as I am quickly getting to the weight I was hoping to maintain. The weight comes off quicker, according to the numbers I have from the last year, the longer you do it. I will be just on the edge at the end of the month, and then will take another couple of weeks for the average to catch up. I will then have to find some way to introduce more calories into my diet without going overboard or (as weird as it sounds) enjoying it too much. I feel happy and content with the amount that I am eating now--I don't want to fall back into the trap of thinking that when I eat more, I am more happy. I also want to avoid any big fluctuations in my diet, eating 1,000 more kcals one day than the other.

15 August 2010

Best day ever

We had a pretty great weekend:
  • Ran Saturday (16 km) and today (14 km)
  • Road to Newport Pagnell yesterday (15.2km), scored sweet shoes for £8. These shoes are great. And I straight-laced them. Perfect.
  • Went to the mall.
  • Made pizza for cheap.
  • This morning we got up with the goal of going to the flea market.
  • We rode to the stadium where the flea market usually is and there was no flea market.
  • Not bothered, we got flapjacks and went to the lake.
  • Then we went to the garden centre and bought ham and bread and had lunch.
  • Rode home (30km altogether)
I have been thinking that one of the things I should do with my bike is get a handlebar with a rise so that I sit up more and have more stability. Yoko's bike has a handlebar with about a 1 inch rise so I put it on my bike and it was like a life-changing experience. So I went onto eBay and got a handlebar with a 2 inch rise. Along with my new pedals coming sometime tomorrow, I will have stability, visibility and fraternity. The bike riding is fabulous. My commute is going to be much better this year.

And the best news, the reason the day was so good, I found out I would be teaching two classes at Middlesex from October to April. This means financial stability and gained expertise. I am going to teach Empirical Studies of English in the autumn with Research Methods which I am really excited about.

This week I have to revise me some articles and have my first supervision in like three months. Hopefully this will be successful.

14 August 2010

New shoes

With a net loss of £4, I have finally, for the first time in like three years, acquired brown shoes that aren't between 1 and 2 sizes too big. They need to be broken in (they're so polished they look like they are painted), but I think we are going to be good friends.
New shoes

13 August 2010

Becoming a healthy French speaker

Let's not go overboard here though: not French speaker so much as 'person who has passed basic French'. That's me, that' s my goal. I am moving slowly towards that, finishing my last homework, starting to work on the final assessment, and preparing for the real challenge: the speaking final. Luckily, we have the questions beforehand, sort of, so I just gotta prepare. And I have gone ten working days of studying a half hour every day, so I'm happy with that.

As I am getting closer to my goal weight, I'm trying to change some things around to keep my weight at a healthy level for... well, I'm going to start by trying to get through September. Today, I ate twice as many calories as I usually do for breakfast and will do the same for lunch. Hopefully, this will solve my headache problems in the late afternoon and allow me to stop eating for the day around six, unlike what I have recently been doing, which is hardly eat anything all day and then try to keep myself from eating too much at night. The problem (well, not really a problem) is that from eating less, I feel full very quickly, perhaps too quickly sometimes. I need to get into the habit of eating five times a day.

It's hard though. I am realising a couple of things: how you feel, how you look, how much you weigh, and how healthy you are don't necessarily correlate. Ideally they do, but it's not always the case... I also realised that I have to relearn:
  • Being happy or celebrating should not correlate with eating too much.
  • Being with friends should not correlate with eating too much.
  • Eating one cookie (for example) should not be a less enjoyable experience than eating five cookies.
  • Going on vacation or to a conference or any other break in habit should not correlate with eating more.
I watch a lot of the big vlogs on YouTube from the States, and those people are always eating out and appearing to have a good time. I'm sort of jealous of it when I watch it. What does that say about me.

Christopher Hitchens is dying.

12 August 2010


Alright, today I tipped the scales at 79.7kgs: lowest of the year and first time under 80. Needless to say, I was pretty happy. I expect to rebound tomorrow, but for now, I'm quite happy.

11 August 2010


The first couple of weeks of August were supposed to be wicked hectic as I came back to work, did a little proofreading and had to mark essays from Birmingham. I thought I would be marking 15 essays, as I normally do, but they never came. It seems that everyone has received their essays, and the woman in charge of sending them off has gone on holiday. I am now short about £400, which is a big downside, but there is a nice upside which is that I don't have to do the work. The proofreading is done now as well, meaning I can focus on my research and my French studies. I am hoping, as I said a while back, that my life will be much simpler come October, when I have finished French and can focus exclusively on limited part-time work and my research. There is some chance the woman did allocate me the reports and then went on holiday without sending them. In that case, I will be able to do the work eventually, but that's a bit of wishful thinking.

Losing the money, coupled with the loss of the £29.99 to the Fast Fit station in Kingston, is not nice though and I'm already fretting about a flood of costs coming in October, between £300-500 for the car, £300 or so for our holiday, and another £60 for a new passport for Naomi. Yoko will also need a new passport and we will have to have the visas moved to the new passports, £170 plus the cost of Yoko's new passport, but this will hopefully be done in November. I am also, hopefully, teaching two classes at Middlesex from October and will also be receiving my yearly raise then too, so it will perhaps be okay.

I am not too bothered about it, certainly not like I would have been two years ago, and I feel like that shows a little bit of personal progress. Not a great deal, mind you — I am still micromanaging the hell out of the finances, but I am less stressed about it.

I decided to invest some more in my bicycle, in new £20 pedals which I have been wanting/ needing for a while. It's hard for me to tell what is a want or a need with my bicycle as it is my primary form of transportation and keeping it in good working order is important, but the things I have bought the last couple of weeks have been more about improving my stability and comfort; that is, things I could ultimately do without. The pedals have not come yet, but yesterday, I refitted the straps on my toe clips and rode on the dual carriageways today. Scary as hell, but I made it to work in 14:14, a new record for me. The stability is really good for my confidence when I ride. Much more control and much less stress.

I'm drinking this smokey tea: very autumn flavoured, very nice.

I am thinking about making a health blog a monthly thing with my charts and stuff, mostly for my own reference, but as I will have been weighing myself for a month tomorrow, perhaps I will put it up then and do the same in September. We have no visitors in August, so I will be able to keep my routine of eating properly and exercising. I'm still not sure what my goal weight is. Somewhere between 75 and 78 kgs, I imagine. I don't know, I'll have to see how I look and feel. I'm still paunchy around the edges, so I think it's probably closer to 75kgs. Hopefully, I will, after arriving there (sometime in the next month) be able to learn how to maintain it. That's the biggest problem: I can eat less than I need with the motivation of losing weight, or I can naturally eat more than I need without thinking about it. But I can't seem to find the happy medium. That will be the work of the autumn and winter: there would be no better feeling than getting to March and realising that I have stayed the same weight through the cold winter months.

Kids doing adult things

09 August 2010

( ̄へ ̄

That's the underlying message I'm getting from some reviewer comments I'm sifting through from the article I'm (re)writing for the third time.
The problem with the paper as it now stands, from my perspective, is that it draws on at least three different sets of literatures to frame its analysis, yet none of the framings are especially relevant to what the paper actually addresses in its data set.

The paper reads to me as though the author is trying to make a comparison for which they do not have sufficient data (either their own or others’), and so rely on very basic populist (mis)understandings about online and FTF interaction.

The very brief and bland conclusion reflects a larger structural problem with the paper.
I think I am going to be able to pull it out of the ditch though. I think.

A walk across campus in autumn

One of the many things I like about England is how soon autumn comes. Spring is long, autumn is long, and summer is about two weeks. Some people might find this disappointing. Not me. I love the touches of autumn already in the air, making me wax sentimental, as it reminds me of coming to the OU for the first time. Soon, I will have less time ahead of me than time behind me, I will be moving on to somewhere else. Now is the time to appreciate it.

The first walk across campus in autumn was always a big deal for me as an undergraduate. The summers were miserable because they meant working dead end jobs, trying to recapture some of the magic of high school without any success, and feeling like I was stuck. When I returned to Knox in the autumn, and I was putting everything together for the semester, there was a renewed sense of hope and purpose. The air felt right. Walking to the cafeteria for the first time. Seeing all of your friends. New used books. Everything was filled with potential.

Of course, things have changed — it feels different as I haven't been away from campus much this summer and what I have here is something slowly building day-by-day, without three months off. Still, today as I was coming from the library, the sun was shining and it was not hot at all, and I remembered my first couple of times on campus here. I remember how I felt like I had arrived, finally, after years of wanting to do something that challenged me. I remember the smells especially: the smell of the library, the smell of the leaves. I remember walking home to our little apartment and feeling that, although we were teetering on the edge, we were probably not going to fall and things were going to work out. I remember ideas as far as the eye could see.

Anyway, I'm glad that I have begun to create a life for myself in which I will have this campus walking experience, year after year, for the next forty odd years. I'm sure it will only get sweeter.

06 August 2010

Wasting money

Me: Oh hey, mechanic. I am having problems with my car. It shudders when it goes above seventy and when I stop. Maybe it's the alignment?
Mechanic: Yeah, I'll look at it.
(30 minutes later)
Mechanic: Okay, I aligned the right driver's side tyre. £29.99 please.
Me: Great, so the shuddering is fixed.
Mechanic: No, that's probably due to the buckled wheel on the back passenger side.
Me: Oh. (pause) So the problem's still there?
Mechanic: Yeah, you gotta replace the wheel. Gotta go to the dealer to do that. £29.99 please.
Me: Um, what now?

I wrote a curt e-mail that ends with this:
I am dissatisfied with this work because, first, I was not consulted before any work was done on the car. If I had been told that the work that was being undertaken would not solve the problem, I would not have agreed to it. Second, the work did not address my problem and there is no noticeable change to the problem I asked the technician to solve. I hope you agree that this is not acceptable.

I am requesting a refund of my £29.99 as I will have to take the car elsewhere to have the problem addressed.
I don't think I'm getting my £29.99 and I think that when I go to get the car serviced and MOT'd in October, I'm going to put another £500 into it. So much for saving money.

More adult behaviour

Today, I had my first meeting ever with an investment adviser. It was good, very enlightening, very useful. A bit depressing, but not as much as I thought it would be. The long and short of it is:
  • I want to buy a house in 2012. Well, first I want to get a job, but then I want to buy a house. I would like this house to be in the UK.
  • I would also like to stay in the country indefinitely, preferably with my wife and kids.
  • The UK Home Office does not want this, at least not yet. They may give me five years leave to stay. They may give me two. Don't have any clue.
  • Lloyds TSB, my bank, is happy to give me a loan, provided I pay it back before my visa expires. None of this thirty year business.
  • A three year loan from Lloyds TSB would have an interest rate of 14% and would max out at £15,000. The mortgage rate, if I had the right visa, the golden ticket, would go up to £150,000-200,000 and be about 4%.
  • Basically, no house for me.
This is okay: it means that we will likely do shared equity and try to get something that we can pay our 30 or 40% share with in cash. Or we can, as the adviser suggested, keep our rent as low as possible, save as much as possible, and when we are granted permanent residency, buy a house like the next day and put 50% down on it, or whatever.

It did give me an impetus to do a couple of things I've been meaning to do, including getting Yoko a National Insurance number (allowing her to work) and open cash ISAs in both of our names, giving us tax free savings. We will also get credit cards and overdraft on our account, not to use, of course, but to improve our credit rating. Apparently now I am ranked as 1 on a scale of 1 to 9 on risk (1 being the least risky). These are good things.

It also makes £10 seem like nothing. We are talking about thousands of pounds. Tens of thousands of pounds. Hundreds of thousands of pounds. And I'm like, should I get shoes that fit or not. Weird, right? Ah well: I think we got to this point being very careful and will continue to improve our house ownership chances by being careful. Onward and upward.

05 August 2010

The things we do to stay sane

I don't think I'm any more neurotic than the average bear really. I function well. I get my work done on time. I have several healthy relationships with normal people. I just want to get that out of the way for now, okay? My clothes, however, have been a bit of a trouble for me since I decided it was time to stop dressing like a fifteen year old from the suburbs. It all started when I was reading a GQ in a library in Niigata. I don't look like this, I thought, but I want to.

I have been trying to simplify my wardrobe down to only the most basic elements and no longer have three things I really like to wear and a bunch of clothes that I don't like to wear, but keep because I feel guilty about getting rid of them. Yeah, I know. It's weird. Anyway, the whole things seems simple enough, but for some reason it's taken me a forever to get all the bad blood out and realise that I can wear some things together and others I can't. Everything needs to have a place.

There have been signs of promise; that is, I have been mistaken for a European no fewer than three times this summer. This is the gold standard of dressing well in my book.

I've also changed one way I look at clothes: getting something new used to mean displacing something old. The new thing became the thing I liked to wear and the old one was relegated to the no longer worn pile. Now, I'm trying to get things that work together with everything I already have. A full supporting cast with no star. I'm giddy thinking about it.

For the first time since I set out on this path of simplified well-dressing, I think I have managed to get my wardrobe to that place. Ordered. Logical. Starting to become complete. It feels good. Damn good. Now to improve. I need a grey suit. I need probably one more pair of dark jeans. I need some more underwear. And a pink dress shirt, which I can't seem to keep to save my life. Ah. Yes. I feel better already.

04 August 2010


If you think Mei looks like she's about to eat this sand, then you're right.

03 August 2010

Bradwell Common


Getting my body back. I'm back down to normal levels and well on my way to dropping below 80 kgs for the first time in a year. Now, to maintain: this is what I need to master.

01 August 2010

The affordance of evil

The problem of evil has never been that much of a problem for me. My deconversion, I realised as I was preparing to explain it to someone who knew me when I was quite religious, began with not being able to accept the logic of hell and punishment, which I realised serves an essential role in the Christian faith. Without it, you are left discussing benefits and disadvantages of living a religious life, but this pales in comparison to a discussion of eternal damnation. When you question the hell myth, you get very quickly to the need one has as a Christian to have faith based on no evidence or faith in spite of evidence against what you believe. Once I was unable to maintain this narrative about hell, I was unable to maintain the god narrative: there was no need to make all the concessions it required if the fundamental thing it was promising to save me from wasn’t real.

I digress. The point is, starving people never bothered my conception of god. It always seemed to me that people who left religion because of the problem of evil (‘God wouldn’t have allowed X to happen’) were mainly angry and bitter. God had, in their minds, let them down, but that was a much different thing than god not existing.

Yesterday, Yoko was telling me a story about two children in Japan who died of neglect. They were 1 and 3 (Mei and Naomi’s age) so the story was especially difficult. We could imagine Mei and Naomi crying out and slowly starving as these two children in Japan did. The neighbours had heard screaming for weeks and called the police, but nothing was done. Then the screaming stopped and several months later, the smell of the bodies finally got the police in the apartment. They found the kids lying on top of each other: they had died holding each other.

I teared up when Yoko told me this and I can feel it again when I write it out. It makes me feel angry and then terrified and then terribly helpless. I want to get on a plane, go back in time and stop it. At any cost. Why hadn’t the neighbours done more? Why, why, why.

Here, the problem of evil is suddenly very real to me and I understand how the logic of the Christian god breaks down. God is omniscient, omnipresent, all-loving, transcendent, and imminent. God speaks to Christians. God guides them and brings them joy. God blesses them and cares for them. And god does nothing when two children starve to death. The response to this shouldn’t be, I’m angry with god. It should be, this conception of a god is illogical and silly. The patch, the apologetic answer here, tells a story about free choice, fallen people, and the promise of heaven. It talks about paradoxes and says that trying to understand god with logic is fundamentally flawed because god's ways are higher than ours. God remains loving and present in the believer's life, blessing them with good parking spots when they are late, but god cannot intervene as two children starve for months and months on end, crying out for help. This answer was sufficient to me as a believer, but outside of the belief that it is true, I can recognise the terrible weakness of the argument. The simpler, clearer answer to the question is: there is no transcendent, all-loving, all-powerful, imminent god.

As an empiricist, I have to accept the reality of the two children dying, too. I have to say that it is, in the religious sense, meaningless. It just happened. It will happen again. It is happening now. I may, if I am lucky, play some role in my life in helping alleviate a small amount of pain, but I am one small, tiny person in a system that I have no control over. I don’t have a story I can tell myself when something good or bad happens to me. I have to say, I don’t know — indeed, I can probably never know.

Obviously, I prefer the latter explanation for the same reason that I ultimately rejected hell. The mental gymnastics needed to animate an all-loving transcendent/imminent god are simply not acceptable for me: I didn't accept those gymnastics in other religions when I was a believer, why should I accept them for my conception of god? I am not angry with god for not intervening because there is no god to intervene. To be angry is simply a waste of time. I accept that this conception of god, from my point of view and my empirical paradigm, simply doesn’t exist.

So, what is there to do? I choose not to fall into despair, but I recognise that hopelessness is a potential problem with my worldview. The fact of the matter is, like I said, I don’t know, but I can still hold my daughters and appreciate their love. I can love them and my wife because it has meaning for me and be content not having an answer to the why question that would please a person of faith because the only answer that will please them requires a god. I am pleased with no answer for now.