Monday, January 20, 2014

Of god and poker

When you step outside the lives of believers and take a look at them from a rational perspective, you can see how the indoctrination has seeped into the non-religious portions of their lives, too.

For me, this was evident most recently playing poker with my family one Friday evening. As a youngster, my parents taught me how to play poker. No, wait, let me correct that for emphasis: My parents taught me the RULES of poker; they didn't teach me HOW to play the game. That would come years later when I fell in love with Texas Hold'em and wanted to win money playing it.

For 50 years, my parents have played what's known as ignorant poker, never using serious thinking when playing and just accepting what comes their way, hanging on till the bitter end because they always have eternal optimism that the crap they hold will somehow turn into a winning hand.

Sound familiar?

As you know, my parents are god-fearing Catholics, never questioning their religion or their beliefs. Despite hardship hitting them in the most inopportune times, they continue to believe their god is looking over them and his plan is what is guiding them, so why question it? They feel as long as they believe, something good will become of it in the end.

It's just like their poker mentality: Even though they were dealt a terrible holding, they continue with it, believing irrationally that they will hit that implausible hand to win the pot. When they do get a strong hand, they almost never capitalize on it, they never take charge. Rather, they are content to just be happy with what they have without rocking the boat.

I can't help but reflect upon this attitude and my eventual deconversion. There was a time when I played poker like them. I just took the cards I was dealt, never realizing the real route to winning was in strategy and critical thinking. When I wanted more from poker than to be a lovable loser at the table, I took the proactive approach, studying books from those who understood how to play the game properly and talking with others who were successful in the game.

That's exactly how I changed my life. When I decided the doubts I had about religion and god were too much to ignore, I didn't suppress them into some dark place in my subconscious never to be questioned. I was proactive, reading books that explored that stance, watching videos that didn't subscribe to indoctrination and miracle men and reading forums where others just like me shared their knowledge and stories.

Years ago, when I began winning consistently at poker, I tried to explain to my parents why I was winning and, more important, why they were losing. But they didn't get it. They believed luck was the most important aspect of poker and there was no reason to learn from me. I asked them why I win every time we played, and they just felt I was lucky ... all of the time. It was as if they were indoctrinated when it came to math and variance. I tried in vain, but in the end they just keep wondering, "What if?" as in, "What if I stick with these terrible cards and make a big hand?"

That is not unlike their attitude toward religion and god: "What if I were to give up on god now? I might go to hell, so I'll stick with this life where I believe an invisible dictator can read my thoughts, cares about what I eat and how I have sex with my spouse."

Just like they shut out understanding that poker is anything but a game of luck, they will never listen to rational thinking when it comes to religion.

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