Poet and essayist Ananda Selah Osel, whose work is published on The Eloquent Atheist, was recently interviewed, and during the process offered his perspective on atheism and how it influences his life and writing. In the end, the interviewer chose to focus on other matters when writing-up Ananda’s interview, but offered his comments on atheism to us, and so we are publishing them, knowing that his ideas, even at their most radical, can be assessed and appreciated by our readers.
Q: You’ve mentioned that your consider yourself to be an atheist among other things. Do you believe that poetry is spiritual in nature? Isn’t there some kind of universal truth embedded in your poems?
A: No, I don’t believe it to be spiritual in nature. In-fact, it is nothing in nature. You don’t need it to survive, it’s not essential in any imaginable sense. In my case, poetry comes out of me like others might write in their journals. The words are just that – words that describe feelings – nothing more, nothing less; and the fact there on a page in a special order does not give them special meaning. As far as universal truth goes I don’t think that’s an important thing in poetry. The important component of a good poem is to bring to light the obvious thing that no one else seems to notice. You don’t have to be a genius to do this. You just have to pay attention to what is going on around you.
Q: I read somewhere that you’re a Buddhist. Is that true, and if so isn’t it hypocritical of you to criticize religion so unsympathetically?
A: If your definition of a Buddhist is someone who puts stock in the Buddha Dharma then I guess I’m a Buddhist. I do not belong to a Buddhist church or even associate in groups with other Buddhists. But, I accept Buddhism for this reason: it is the most sophisticated method by which the mind, under it own power, can transform itself. Buddhism is not a religion of faith. It is not a religion at all. It’s an atheistic philosophy. There is not god, no worship, nada. The esoteric teachings of Buddhism are the most well formed tool we have for discovering the power of our own consciousness. Christianity for example is not similar Buddhism in any meaningful way. It is based on an ancient barbaric text, which offers no clear insights and no rational basis for its propositions. Much of the bible is self contradictory, even to the childish mind. Just the simple notion that god created men, purposely made imperfect and then punished them for there imperfections is ridiculous, not to mention an horrid joke. Take the purpose of faith. Why do you think Christians need it? What is it? It is certainly one of the most basic and repeated concepts in the bible. It is, in-fact central to the entire religion. The fact is this: faith would be useless if the text made any logical sense at all. You only need faith because you lack evidence. Do you need faith to know that day changes into night, or that your body decomposes when you die, or that the ocean has fish living in it? Certainly not. The faith you need in order to believe even a fraction of what you’ll find in the bible is tantamount to the faith you’d need if someone handed you a candy bar and told you it was a rocket launcher. This lack of rational thought and critical objective thinking is not required of Buddhists.
Q: What kind of impact do you personal beliefs have on your writing? Doesn’t it help to see things from both sides of the coin?
A: Yes, it does. I was raised in a Christian household. I was taught to have faith in god, to have faith in Jesus and so on and so forth. I was read bible stories and indoctrinated into the faith easily because I was an impressionable child. Nevertheless, I believed it. I ate it hook line and sinker and savored it on the way down. The point is, I’ve seen the other side and I have to tell you, it wasn’t pretty. So yes, my beliefs influence my writing but I certainly haven’t made poetry my atheist manifesto. The impact of atheism on my poetry is minimal. It takes no more precedent then what I did yesterday or the day before last Tuesday, or how many people died at the hands of hot lava last year.
Q: As a poet and an atheist you must write about your beliefs, at least sometimes. Have you had problems getting atheistic poems published in the mainstream presses?
A: Sometime I do write about atheism, but more often than that I write about the negative impact religion has had on the collective society. As you might guess when you criticize the core beliefs of the majority you get shut out of a lot of press opportunities. Nine out of every ten people you meet have had their brains pounded to mush by this culture. I don’t expect them to be sympathetic to my atheism, my nihilism, or anything of the sort. Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t submit my work to a massive publishing house. I have to hope that there is someone there who can see through all the whitewash. There usually is not. I understand that. I realize I’m in the minority and I’m fine with it. I’m proud of it. It’s sort of like Black Power, only with atheism.
Q: So, what advice would you give other atheist writers that have been turned away from the mainstream press?
A: I wouldn’t give them anything. They have to figure it out for themselves. I’m not a teacher. I hardly know anything about anything. They can go to the Safeway and stuff copies of their atheist poems in cereal boxes or just throw them up in the air and see where they land for all I care.
Q: So, you don’t care about spreading the word, helping out your fellow writer?
A: Not in the least. You’re not going to change the minds of the masses with poems. You need something stronger, something like guns or maybe LSD. Have you ever read one of those pamphlets the religious nuts hand you on the street and actually followed up on it? Not likely. It’s not different from the other perspective.
Q: So you don’t have hope for the spread of atheism?
A: I’m not concerned with the spread of atheism per se. I’m concerned with the spread of logic, rational free thought, and civility. The rest will work itself out, probably.
Q: You’re known for using very vague language in your poetry. Is that intentional or are you holding back for more personal reasons?
A: I write that way so the reader can make up their own mind in regards to the nouns. I might write something like “the thing was over there, and down that way”. The words do not need to be perfectly precise if the narrative is strong. This is also a good way to let the poem breath. What I mean by that is that it gives the reader a break from the poem, a break from the writer’s ideas, and gives the reader a sense of their own creativity. “That thing that fell off that other thing” can now become anything the reader wants. People like that, it makes them feel good and it’s easier on my imagination.
Q: I once read a poem you wrote called “Interrupting God”. In the poem you tell a story about a deeply compassionate man, who never does wrong and is a model for other men. What were you trying to convey in that poem?
A: I was talking about how terrible “god” is. If this existence is god’s sublime dream I would hate to see her nightmares. Basically the man in the poem keeps interrupting god by doing all the right things, acting logically and thinking for himself. And I don’t know if you’re aware but that kind of shit really gets on god’s last god dammed nerve.