My wife doesn’t like that I call myself an atheist, but agnostic isn’t a religious preference, so I don’t like to tell people I’m an agnostic. See, agnosticism is really just a lifestyle of critical thinking and openmindedness–it says nothing in and of itself whether one believes in god or not. It’s a scientific foundation, a preference for evidence before drawing conclusions, a hesitation to take anything on blind faith. There are religious aspects to a lifestyle of agnosticism, but it is not exactly a religion.
And I think that atheism is. Yeah, I know a lot of people say that atheism is not a religion, that it’s the exact opposite, and I sympathize with the need to distance oneself from religion, especially if one has been abused with it for any length of time. But let’s just be logical and note that there are strategies for ascertaining beliefs (agnosticism vs gnosticism) and the end results of those strategies, the actual beliefs (theism vs atheism)
So if we put it on a graph, (a)gnosticism is the Y-axis, and (a)theism is the X-axis. The further to the left you go, the more you believe in higher powers. The higher up you go, the greater need for evidence before making up your mind.
I would be somewhere in the top right corner; there is no evidence suggesting that there is a god (that can’t be explained in a different way), but there is also no evidence disproving god. I’m not convinced that god exists and I’m not willing to take a leap of faith, therefore, I am an atheist.
But I try to keep an open mind and when I discuss the issue with my wife, I often think, “Well, certainly, god doesn’t have to be human, it doesn’t have to resemble us in any way and could very well defy imagination, so maybe there is a god that maintains nature in an ordered way.”
Or maybe nature is just nature and why call it god? Why do we give god these attributes of human emotion if it is not human? Why do we sometimes picture god as a giant bearded man in the sky?
I don’t believe in that god. It doesn’t make sense. For that reason, because I don’t believe in the god that most people (by my estimation) believe in, I call myself an atheist.
So I went on a mission trip to Mexico last week. My father-in-law is a Presbyterian Pastor. Everyone on the trip was Presbyterian. The churches we visited were part of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. There was a lot of religion in my life for that week. Some of it was frustrating, some of it was fine.
We painted a sanctuary, made friends, painted a mural, made some repairs to the old sanctuary walls, played with neighborhood kids–all in the name of god.
I’ve been at odds with myself quite a bit over the whole thing. Do I think it’s important for communities to gather together and develop bonds with one another? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that religion is the best social binder? No. Do I think god cares one way or the other that people worship it? No. Do I think that shared commonality between people keeps them closer and more likely to work together for the common good? Yes.
My main motivation for going to Mexico was to improve my conversational Spanish skills. Since I teach English to Spanish-speaking immigrants, I felt I could better serve and teach them if I could converse in their native tongue. I think I’ll improve the quality of life of my 8 or 9 students in a tangible way by improving my Spanish. I don’t think that’s selfish, even though it may have been a little misleading to my fellow mission workers who all think I’m a devout Christian.
And as far as charity goes, I think many missions are poorly planned. I think that having a bunch of unskilled laborers eating up all of the local food and slowly doing manual labor that takes work away from local laborers is probably a bad thing. However, the main point of this particular mission group is to improve relations between our countries, not to aid the poor or fix their houses (at least, as far as my experience shows). I wouldn’t be okay with mission work that hurt the local community in the name of god.
This is all to say that I had a weird week. I don’t think religious missions are the best way to build relationships, objectively speaking. Relatively speaking, they are the best option for me. I mean, what am I supposed to do on my own? Cross the border and just start making friends? Well, that’s fine and possible, but I’m just one guy and the number of people I can help with my friendship and particular skill set is finite. Having a larger organization at my disposal increases the number of lives I can touch. In a way, I am using the Presbyterian Church to further my own cause. Maybe there is a more secular solution down the road, but I don’t have that option right now.
Two men were yelling at one another just ahead of us. I shushed Huff’n’puff, and we hid behind a tree. The rain had just let up and I hoped our footsteps hadn’t been heard. I had a bad feeling about this.
“You can’t do this!” yelled one man, a balding, older person. He was so angry, a vein bulged from his head.
“And who are you to stop us? Hm? I’m a member of Team Rocket. You don’t fuck with us!”
“Team Rocket doesn’t exist,” claimed the
Dude declares himself a member of team rocket. SAys they broke up for awhile and got back together to pursue Giovanni’s ambition. He punches the townsperson in the face before standing guard at the town well.
Gold asks him what’s up, and the rocket guy claims to be protecting travelers from the danger of the well.
Gold goes into town, visits the Pokemon Center. He doesn’t want to deal with the Team Rocket stuff, so he tries to go to the Gym. A Rocket member blocks the door, advertising slowpoketails.
So Gold tries to go see Kurt about making some pokeballs out of apricorns. After all, he has 1 yellow, three green, three pink, and two black. Finds one white in Kurt’s yard. Takes it anyway.
Kurt refuses to make Pokeballs for Gold. He tells Gold about Team Rocket–an evil gang that uses Pokemon for their dirty work. They were supposed to have disbanded ten years ago, but now they’re mutilating Slowpoke for their tails! Kurt brandishes a katana and vows to give them a lesson in pain. Then he dashes out of the home.
Gold returns to the well, finding nothing but a bloody patch where the guard had been only an hour before.
To recount every minute detail of the next day and a half would be excruciating and unnecessary. I wouldn’t say it was an uneventful trip, only that it was mundane in the life of a Pokemon Trainer.
On day 1, I caught a Mareep. He was awesome and put up a great fight. Since I was some distance away from the Pokemon Center and didn’t want to use up my potions all on day one, I caught it with a Heal Ball. I named him Amps, and we did a lot of training that day.
But here’s the breakdown of Pokemon I killed on the way to Union Cave.
Rattata – 6
Zubat – 1
Bellsprout – 3
Nidoran male – 1 – Tough battle with Snaps
Nidoran female – 1
Mareep – 7
Poliwag – 2
Magikarp – 4
Goldeen – 1
Wooper – 1 – Tough battle for Snaps and Tiko
Pidgey – 2
Spearow – 1
The battles were all pretty easy–even against other trainers. The exceptions, of course, were with a male Nidoran, who gave Snaps hell (that bubble attack wasn’t cutting it.) and a Wooper, who soaked up the bubbles and spat them back out at Tiko.
Early on the second day, after a good rest, I caught a Hoppip. I had to use my one Great Ball since it kept using synthesis to heal itself. Great survival tactic on her part, but terrible when I’m trying to weaken her enough to catch her. I dunno why, but the nickname, “Huff’n’puff” seemed appropriate. She was cute. Whenever she followed me around outside her Pokeball, she would chirp and squeal at everything. Very chatty, very adorable.
Sometime in the afternoon, we reached a Pokemon Center just outside Union Cave. A waved to a fat guy in a pink shirt who had set up a little stand outside. The wave was meant to be friendly yet non-inviting, but he approached me anyway.
“Can I interest you in a Slowpoke Tail? They’re super delicious!”
“Sure, whatever,” I said, not believing it could actually be a Slowpoke Tail. “How much?”
“Only a million pokedollars.”
“No, really,” I said, feeling the twinge of hunger and realizing that I’d never tried Slowpoke before. “How much? I’ll take one.”
I pulled out my Trainer card. It buzzed–insufficient funds.
“Seriously? A million dollars? No one can afford that.”
“I don’t set the price,” he said. “And I was told you kids were loaded these days.”
“You aren’t from around here, are you?”
“Sorry. I’m from Kanto. Culture shock.” He threw up his arms in mock theatrics.
I nodded, frustrated that I’d have to wait in line for food at the looming Pokemon Center. At least there it would be free.
The next day, my trip through Union Cave, was a bit more exciting. I only caught one Pokemon, a Sandshrew I named Ricardo, but two of my Pokemon evolved. Snaps evolved into Wartortle and grew some fangs. Badass, right? He learned how to use bite, and I was tempted to go back and find a Wooper, just to reestablish my place in the food chain.
Amps evolved too–into a Flaafy. He lost some of his staticky yellow wool, but learned how to stand up on two legs. When he learned thundershock, things were really looking up.
Union Cave was pretty cool. It was well-lit, mostly by light that trickled in from above. A man who was practicing fire-breathing claimed to be the one casting all the light, but I seriously doubt it.
The path was clear and I found a few lost potions and balls and whatnot lying around the place.
So, an overview:
Sandshrew – 6
Onix – 3
Vulpix – 1
Zubat – 1
Geodude – 6
Machop – 1
Koffing – 2
Slowpoke – 1
Rattata – 1
Note that the Slowpoke was owned by a trainer, so I couldn’t very well cut off its tail and have a taste. I emerged from the cave to a huge field of grass, but it was raining pretty hard. That made training Huff’n’puff harder since synthesis didn’t seem to work as well when it was cloudy. Still, it was a successful day, and Huff’n’puff really came a long way. She started quivering with poison spores when I sent her into battle against the Rattata. I knew that would come in handy someday. She was proud of herself for learning it, too, as evidenced by the heightened chattering, the squeals of interest in whatever she saw on the landscape, and how she started to nudge me forward; she was begging for more adventure.
As the day came to a close, we saw the lights of Azalea Town filter through the treetops. Soon, we’d have a nice warm place to sleep and a new gym to face. I was excited, and so was Huff’n’puff.
However, when we climbed the last little hill into the town, we happened upon an altercation.
As soon as I left the gym, Professor Elm called.
“Gold! Howdy! How are you doing?” he asked.
“Pretty good. I just got my first gym bad–”
“Dandy. Really. Listen, I have something I wanted to discuss with you.”
“Yes?” I asked.
“I want you to carry that mysterious egg around. Who knows? Maybe it will hatch. Oh my science, look at the time. Listen, my assistant should have the egg at the PokeMart there in Violet City.”
“How did you know I was in Violet City?”
“Gotta go! Bye!”
The line went dead.
I liked the guy, don’t get me wrong, but he could be awfully weird sometimes.
Since Quartza and Tiko were both in good shape, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to go straight to the PokeMart. Quartza was still bounding along happily at her victory, and I thought she deserved a victory lap around town.
The PokeMart was painted blue on the outside and sat just a few blocks west of the gym. In no time, I was there. Inside it was clean and organized–a regular convenience store, by all standards.
A man in a lab coat greeted me.
“You must be Gold,” he assumed.
“Yes. And you are?” I didn’t recognize him. Actually, I thought Ed was Elm’s only assistant.
“I’m Ralph. I’m usually out running errands for Elm, so I hardly get to stop in New Bark Town before I have to leave again.”
“I see. Elm called me a minute ago, said you had something for me.”
“Yessir. You should recognize it, at any rate.”
I did. He produced the egg from his bag; it was as big as a human infant, only round and covered by a hard shell.
“Elm really praised your ability to do good work,” Ralph said. “So he is expecting to see great things from you. According to our research, an egg will only hatch if it’s kept in close contact with other Pokemon. Carry it with you and it should hatch in no time.”
“Okay then,” I said, gingerly placing the egg into my own bag. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“Great. I’ll take my leave then. Good luck.”
Ralph left. Then it was just me, Quartza, an egg, and a few window-shopping customers.
I perused the selection, but found nothing satisfactory. Then, on second thought, I decided to buy a few potions with my winnings. Wouldn’t hurt to have some on the road to Azalea Town.
The second I was out the door, however, I was approached by Geisha. She was stunning… in a teenage curious dream sort of way. Her jade-green silk robes shimmered in the light of the setting sun. Her white face and red eyes stole my gaze.
“Good day, sir,” she purred.
“Good… day. Um, to you too.”
She swished her hips and came closer.
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” she said, her voice breathy, “That you happen to have a…” she reached out, touching my shoulder with a single finger, “Pokemon egg.”
It didn’t occur to me how creepy this all was. How did she know about the egg? Why was she approaching me over it? Was there someone stealing it out of my backpack while I stared at her perfect porcelain cheeks? Was her rope parting slightly in the torso area? Affording me a fleeting glimpse at the pillowy heaven underneath?
“…trust you will take good care of it.”
“What?” I blurted out, suddenly aware of time passing.
“Excuse me,” she said, somehow blushing under all of that makeup. “I rambled. I meant only to say that your egg is very important. You must take good care of it, and we trust that you will.”
“You can ramble any time,” I said.
She giggled, a trained, perfected, impeccably timed giggle that struck my… lust buttons? I dunno, I’m not good with metaphors when staring at a Geisha.
“We will meet again,” she said.
I stood in the street, staring at the shimmering contours of her backside as the silken robe swished back and forth with her gait. Soon, she was gone, and I was left with only a very clear image in my mind.
When I regained my reasoning abilities, I tried to plan out the next leg of my trip. Falkner, as crazy as he was, said to go to Azalea Town. The creepy murder tree was probably still standing between Violet and Goldenrod City. I checked my PokeGear map. It was a long journey south to Azalea Town. Probably a day or two to the Union Cave, then a day of hiking through there and maybe another day between there and Azalea Town.
It was already late, so I couldn’t very well travel very far before nightfall. Though I was excited to get a move on, I decided to stay put, and spend one more night at the Pokemon Center.
Where I took a very cold shower.
My breath caught in my throat. I stepped out of the gym, looked at the building, then went back inside. Yup. Not crazy.
The gym was bigger on the inside. It went up at least four stories, but the outside suggested it was no more than twelve feet high inside. Was I about to travel in time, as well as dimension?
While I admired the intense change of scale, a man approached me. He was middle aged, but his hair was completely white. He wore sunglasses indoors, as well as a full suit: white suitcoat with black slacks.
“Yo, Champ in the Making!”
“You’re so flattering,” I said, still staring up, wondering. “I bet you say that to all the pretty girls.”
“You got me,” he said, chuckling. “But if it makes you feel any better, I think there is a champion inside all of us.”
Sure, I thought. Like Mom and her boyfriend. They’re real champions, I’ll bet.
“So,” I said, pulling my thoughts away from the impossible interior dimensions, the platforms overhead, and the circling birds near the skylights. “Who are you?”
“Me?” he asked, innocently. “I’m your coach. I’m here to give you some hints about what you’re up against.”
“Why would they allow someone like you inside the gym if you’re working against them?”
“Hush now. Don’t give me away.”
He smiled, as if privy to some inside joke–but there was almost a sense of fear in his brow. Maybe the sunglasses concealed his true intentions.
“Anyway,” he said, breaking the awkward silence, “You should know that flying has advantages over grass and bug-types. But they’re weak to Electricity–”
“And Rocks,” I interrupted.
“Very good,” he said, a smile spanning his face. “I don’t think you’ll have much trouble then.”
I felt the fluttering in my stomach, the fear of failure looming–
“Scratch that,” he continued. “You’ll be positively smashing.”
Despite being a stranger, his words motivated me. The fear abated, and I nodded and smiled at him, then stepped forward to the elevator.
As soon as the computer registered my weight, and the weight of Quartza, the elevator shot towards the heavens.
The scaffolding, a sorry excuse for sturdy footing, lead to the gym leader, who danced on a platform in the distance. How pretentious. It couldn’t just be a flat room and a guy at a desk who takes challenges according to his calendar?
Whatever. I stepped forward, determined to beat the leader and his two lackeys that stood in my way.
Their Pidgey and Spearow fell to Quartza’s massive thrown rocks.
It was weird to watch, but when I ordered Quartza to use rock throw, she would hold out a hand and it would reshape, forming a ball, then her fingers would form around the ball and she’d throw it–just like that. Rock turning to liquid, grinding and reshaping, then bam! She has a basketball-sized rock to throw.
And her aim was spot on today. The birds fell to the dirt floor far below, landing with a thud and splat.
I had to tell myself that I was only doing this to get to the Pokemon League. Every Pokemon I killed had to be mourned.
I took a moment with each trainer, but they didn’t have the same reverence that I did. I left them alone, hoping to have my badge by the end of the day, so I could forget about everything that had happened. The murder tree, the stupid tourist trap ruins, the creepy archaeologist and his stupid clipboard, and finally, the physics-defying Pokemon Gym. I wanted that stupid badge.
“Hiya,” said the leader. “I’m Falkner.”
“I know. It said on the door.”
“I’m going to show the world the power of bird Pokemon.”
I looked Falkner over. How old was he? 15?
“They say that you can clip a bird’s wings with a jolt of electricity–”
“And they would be right.”
“–but I’m going to prove that they can’t! I’m Falkner and–”
“You’re weird. How long has it been since you’ve had a decent meal?”
I may have been trying to intimidate him, but really, he seemed a bit… out of touch with reality. Call it a moment of weakness.
“Prepare to battle!” he cried, throwing a Pokeball straight up, where it released a Pidgey who fluttered in place for a moment before landing on Falkner’s extended arm.
I stepped aside and let Quartza hop to the center of the platform.
“Pidgey! Use sand-attack!”
The Pidgey dove off Falkner’s arm, flipping up to hover just in front of Quartza, where it kicked up a bunch of sand right into Quartza’s eyes.
“You little cheating twerp!” I said, hoping Quartza wouldn’t wander around blindly until she found the edge of the platform and a hundred-foot plummet. “Quartza, try a rock throw.”
To my surprise, Quartza was able to zero in on Pidgey’s mocking flapping feather beak and huck a boulder at it.
Down, down, down, the bird fell.
But when I looked up, Falkner already had his Pidgeotto out and standing next to him. Pidgeotto were quite a bit bigger than Pidgey, and they had these cool feathers on their foreheads. It almost felt bad to hurt it.
“Pidgeotto, use gust.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked, watching the blast of air hit Quartza. She looked around as if to say, “Funny place for a gentle breeze round my nethers.” and I ordered her to use rock throw again.
The rock struck the Pidgeotto square in the chest, knocking it off the platform. Both Falkner and I ran to the edge of the platform and looked down, but the Pidgeotto flew back up. Battered, bloody, and bruised, but better able to abandon alliteration–err, its shit was harmed, but alive.
“We can still fly!” cheered Falkner.
“Are you high?”
“The wind is finally with us! Pidgeotto! Use gust!”
Once again, gust was not very effective. I no longer felt bad about killing this remarkable bird–I was putting it out of its misery, dealing with this psychotic gym leader.
Like its predecessors, the Pidgeotto fell to a bone-shattering death.
“Aw,” sobbed Falkner. “My dad’s cherished bird Pokemon…”
“What?!” I asked. “You let me kill your dad’s Pokemon? What’s wrong with you?”
“Well,” he said, ignoring me. “I guess you earned it. Here’s your Zephyr Badge!”
He handed me a little pin.
“And take this! It’s a TM. Roost.”
He handed me a little device.
“And I suggest you tackle the other gyms as well. Head to Azalea Town!”
“Shut up. Come on Quartza.”
Quartza bounced along, proud of her success.
I’ll admit it. I was nervous about facing the gym leader. Falkner, they called him, the flying-type leader.
Was I capable of defeating him? Or was Quartza’s now-scarred face an omen of things to come?
I stood out in front of the gym for longer than I should have. The quaint, comforting city, with its ponds and trees and somber paint scheme–you’d think it would make me feel better, calm me down and help me face the challenge. But, alas, I was a victim to my own anxiety. I skipped town, heading west.
I don’t know what I planned to find, how it would help me on my journey, or why I thought skipping the gym would get me closer to proving myself to Mom’s boyfriend.
So I spent a few hours traveling west, only to be blocked by a weird tree in the middle of the road. The trees on either side were too thick and dark to consider going around, and the weird thing before me seemed intent on knocking my head off my shoulders if I got to close.
In fact, there was blood on its branches. What the hell? Was it a Pokemon? I didn’t stick around.
So I went south of town to look at the little tourist trap–the Ruins of Alph.
Inside, the office building was non-descript. Plain walls, aluminum floors–dusty from the boots of archaeologists–and there sat two display boxes where various fossils were on display. It seemed to be geared toward school kids on field trips.
I went back outside and followed the stone path to one of the buildings. Apparently, some ancient culture built the structures. Now, the insides had been renovated with electricity and proper lighting. I busied myself with a mosaic display: one of those “solve the puzzle to see the hidden picture!” things for kids.
But when I put the pieces in place, the floor underneath me collapsed.
I fell into the darkness.
“Ugh,” I winced, checking myself over for injuries. I was lucky that Quartza didn’t fall on me–that would have been the end of my story.
“Wow!” came a voice.
“Huh? Who’s there?”
“You solved the puzzle!” The voice grew louder.
A glow creeped around the corner; a lantern popped into view.
“You just might have the gift!” the man said.
When the light was close enough, I could see him. He was grossly unkempt, his eyes bloodshot, pupils dilated. I smelled his breath from ten feet away.
“Yes, yes you do!” he squealed. “I can sense it.”
“What?” I mumbled, picking myself up and dusting off.
“Here! Take this Unown Report! Catch Unown and fill it in! You’ll be brilliant.”
He thrust a clipboard into my hands. A grimy one at that.
“Yes!” he muttered. “Yes, he is the chosen. He will do the work.”
The crazy archaeologist shambled off into the void.
“Once again,” I said to Quartza, “An adult has outsourced his work to an unpaid minor. At least he offered to tend to my wounds after falling through the damned ceiling.”
I looked up; the hole was too high to climb back out.
“Who cleared this place for tourism?” I sighed. “Sorry, Quartza. I need to see.”
When Quartza was back in her Pokeball, I released Tiko. Her fiery mohawk would light the way.
“Yeah, we’re in a dark cave with crazy people,” I said in response to Tiko’s quizzical look. “Don’t hesitate to set things on fire.”
Tiko snorted as if to say, “Aye aye, boss.”
The underground ruins were uniform and unimaginative. The walls were lined with ancient writing and every few feet there stood a statue of a… was it a Rhydon? I couldn’t quite tell, but I thought I remembered seeing something on the news once about the Team Rocket boss using a Rhydon to quote/unquote “negotiate” with people.
Man, that was years ago. How old was I? 5? 6? That guy in the Pokemon center said it was ten years ago when they disbanded, so I must have been seven when it was over.
A whistling sound interrupted my thoughts. Tiko flared up, illuminating all of the walls.
In front of us floated a Pokemon. It was shaped like a circle, with one huge eye in the center of its glossy black body. Screeching, it released a weak jolt of electricity. Tiko shrugged it off.
“Kill it with fire,” I said, feeling that strange mix of fatigue and adrenaline.
Tiko had no trouble turning the thing into ash. It fell to the ground and we moved on. I realized that I was still carrying the grimy clipboard. It was labeled, “Unown Report” and had a few shapes drawn on the pages.
“Ugh, screw this.” I tossed the clipboard onto the smoldering ash.
After an hour of following the linear path, we encountered a ladder leading to light. It lead to a stone building near the Tourism Office that I visited earlier.
“Maybe this is karma,” I wondered aloud to Tiko. “Maybe if I just went to the gym like I intended I wouldn’t have had to deal with the creepy tree or the creepy dude down there.”
We headed back to Violet City, stopped for a minute at the Pokemon Center, then marched straight into the Pokemon Gym.