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“At-Risk,” or Imposing One’s Religious Views on Society

I hate Michelle Bachmann.  Okay, I know “hate” is a strong word, and I don’t even know the woman, but every time I see a snippet of her on television or read about something she’s said, I want to slap the shit out of her.

When did all these extremist nut-jobs start entering politics, anyway?  Has this always been the case and I just didn’t notice until the last decade or so, or is this a new phenomenon, possibly reflecting impending Armageddon?

Do you know that she not only believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that children of same-sex couples are “at-risk”?  Maybe you agree with these sentiments.  If you’re a Tea Partier yourself, or just a Republican, or perchance even just a Good Christian, you probably do.

Here’s the problem: first of all, without going into a big, long, ranty diatribe about the fact that “marriage” is a man-made institution and therefore there is no inherent definition; it is what society decides it is, and it has historically, and should continue to, evolve to reflect a changing society (remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that black people were by law not allowed to marry white people; and there was a time before that when black people weren’t even allowed to legally marry other black people!  Yes, indeed, right here in the Good Old U S of A).  This whole “marriage is between a man and a woman” bullshit is nothing more than thinly veiled prejudice cloaked in fake morality.  It’s imposing one’s religious views on society – nothing more, nothing less.  And it pisses me off.

Moving on to Ms. Bachmann’s other claim, though, that children of same-sex couples are at risk – how are they at risk?  What, exactly, are they at risk of?  She makes this claim, this vague but ominous sounding claim, and yet offers no specifics, and no facts, studies, or research to back it up.  Oh yeah!  I keep forgetting – she’s part of that special sector of society that gets to make ludicrous claims that have no evidence to back them up (um, have you heard about the invisible, all powerful guy in the sky who rules the universe?)!

I decided to do my own mini-research project.  Are children of same-sex couples actually “at-risk”?  Here’s a sampling of what I came up with:

How Do Children in Same-Sex Adoption Fare?

Same-Sex Couples and Same-Sex Couples Raising Children in the United States (It is interesting that this particular study notes that, “Many people in same-sex couples look like Americans generally. Individuals in same- sex couples raising children, however, do not fare as well as their different-sex counterparts: they are less affluent, more racially and ethnically diverse, and hence particularly in need of the legal, social, and economic benefits of marriage.” Note that this is a statement about the individuals in the same-sex couple itself, not a statement about that couple’s children.  Basically, though, people in same-sex couples don’t fare as well in society as their different-sex counterparts because they are not afforded the same rights and benefits as their different-sex counterparts.  In other words, they suffer, not because they’re gay, but because they are subject to discrimination.)

LGBT Parenting

Children of Lesbian Couples Do Just Fine, Studies Show

Children of Same-Sex Couples Do As Well As Other Children

In fact, I didn’t find a single article that supports the notion that children of same-sex couples are “at-risk.”  And for the record, my search queries were neutral: “How do children of same sex couples fare?” and “Children of gay parents.”

I have gay friends, and some of them are raising children.  I can tell you that they are just like us heteros: they buy groceries, they worry about money, they water their lawns, they wonder where to send their kids to school, they volunteer in their kids’ classrooms and attend PTA and Girl Scout meetings, they argue with their significant others, they complain about their extended families, they take their kids to the doctor, they take their kids to swimming lessons, they want to see their kids go to college and get married and have families of their own some day.  They are not “deviant” or “immoral.”  They’re people who generally have the same dreams and goals and values as anyone else – they just happen to be attracted to members of the same sex.  They are not raising their kids in any deviant or immoral way.

Let’s talk about the kids who actually are “at-risk” – as evidenced by history and various studies (and by at-risk, I mean at risk for things like depression, low self-esteem, teen suicide, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, eating disorders, dropping out of high school, and the like):

  • Kids of alcoholics
  • Kids of drug abusers
  • Kids of parents who inflict emotional abuse
  • Kids of parents who inflict physical abuse
  • Kids of parents who have unstable relationships
  • Kids of families who live in poverty
  • Kids who are subject to discrimination and prejudice
  • Kids who are bullied
  • Kids of uneducated parents
  • Kids of unemployed parents
In other words, kids who grow up in unstable homes.  And all of the above scenarios are rampant in heterosexual households.  If we really want to protect kids and eliminate all the “at-risk” factors, then we should, as a society, do the responsible and moral thing, and make pretty much everyone get sterilized when they hit puberty, let the human race die out, and be done with it.  After all, there’s always Heaven.
I contend that there is another sorely at-risk group: kids of parents with extremist, intolerant views.

Smoke and Mirrors

You know that scene towards the end of The Wizard of Oz, where the unmasked non-wizard is handing out the things to Dorothy’s friends that they’ve wanted most of all – courage to the Cowardly Lion, a heart to the Tin Man, and a brain to Scarecrow? That part of the story had me convinced for a while that L. Frank Baum must have been an Atheist. As it turns out, although apparently raised in a devout Methodist family, he and his wife later became Theosophists, of which I have very little understanding except that it appears to be more of a philosophy than a religion. Whether L. Frank Baum actually believed in a god or not is unclear, but in any case, I still think that that passage in the story is powerfully analogous to modern Christianity.

Show me a born again Christian, and I’ll show you someone who “found” god at a time of personal crisis, or who, at the very least, was existing in a state of discontent or searching for something
– something they were unable, for whatever reason, to see within themselves to that point. Unless a person is raised on Christianity and spoon fed its dogma from before they are wise or mature or discriminating enough to make practical judgments about such things for themselves, people don’t generally go looking for solutions to their problems or meaning to their suffering in the supernatural. In other words, I think that you would be hard pressed to find a non-believer who is content and has a reasonable degree of self-esteem whose head can be turned by promises of the divine or supernatural.

In The Wizard of Oz, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion spend the entire movie on a quest to obtain from the Wizard that which they long for and don’t believe they actually possess. Even after the Wizard is exposed as a sham and revealed to be not a wizard at all, but just a man with some fancy gadgets and a big curtain, our three friends hang onto the belief that he – and only he – can give them what they’ve been searching for for so long. In the end, the so-called Wizard (all powerful, all-knowing . . . hmm, sound familiar?) bestows on Scarecrow a paper diploma representing a brain/knowledge, Tin Man with a cartoonish and loudly ticking heart, and Lion with a medal representing courage and bravery. It’s a funny and touching scene, because we, the audience understand without question that these three had the traits they were searching for within themselves all along – they just didn’t realize it.

And so it is with finding god. I’ve met so many people who “found God” when they were at what they perceived to be their lowest points. “My life was a mess, in complete shambles, until I let God in.” I’ve heard it time and time again. It’s a beloved theme of novels and memoirs – people struggling terrible struggles and suffering awful ordeals of the body and mind, until god comes along and changes everything for them. Personally, these kinds of stories always leave me feeling disappointed, not inspired or enlightened.

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time was Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand, the true story of Louis Zamperini, a fighter pilot during WWII, during which he survived a plane crash, forty-seven days on raft floating in the Pacific ocean, and several years as a POW. Towards the end of the book, he finds god. I was disappointed. “Really?” I asked him in my head as I read. “You single-handedly fought off sharks! You improvised to survive starvation and hellish elements, torture and abuse! And then you found God?!” True, when he found god, he was at a very low point in his life, suffering from PTSD, alcoholism, a violent temper and a failing marriage. But clearly, as demonstrated time and time again throughout his life up to that point, he had vast reserves of fortitude and strength and wherewithal and smarts and survival abilities within himself – he just stopped believing in himself. And god and Christianity offered him everything he could no longer see that he had inside himself. It was like Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion all over again.

But really, what’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with people believing that their strength comes from outside themselves? The way I see it, what it really does is not make people stronger, but instead exploits and encourages their frailties. It’s an illusion, a crutch, and it encourages people to not see the best in themselves, nor to tap into the best in themselves. “I am nothing without God.” So this imaginary, invisible being in the sky who is unable/unwilling to provide irrefutable evidence of its own existence – it gets all the credit. I see something very wrong with that. And that’s not even taking into consideration the pesky habit believers have of doing everyone the favor of enlightening us so that we, too, can benefit from their illusions.

I believe in myself, with all my strengths and weaknesses, and in my fellow human beings, not the smoke and mirrors of religious faith.

Closed-Minded

The quality of the ideas and beliefs held by an individual or organization can be best judged by their willingness to be exposed to alternative ideas and beliefs, forcefully presented.  Only after such a fair hearing can an informed decision be made about the relative merit of each.

–Ernest Kinnie, PhD, Amoral Science – Brainless Religion

I have a theory that we’re all closed-minded.  At least about the things we feel very strongly about.

Take religion and faith.  I often post links to articles and books on my Facebook page that support my particular views on religion and faith.  Likewise, my Christian friends and acquaintances often post things on Facebook that support their beliefs.  Facebook being the social network it is, it goes without saying that people post things there intending to spread their word, their beliefs, whatever they may be.  The truth is, though, that I am pretty unlikely to click on any link that appears to support anything religious or faith-based, because I know it won’t resonate with me and it has a good chance of just irritating me, so what’s the point?  I assume, on reflection, that my Christian friends do the same with my links and posts relating to my views on religion and faith: they probably ignore them, knowing they wouldn’t like whatever point or message I might be trying to get across.

On a larger scale, what about all the books out there that either support or deconstruct religion and faith?  What’s the point of these books, really?  Generally speaking, people tend to seek out things that they feel confirm their existing convictions. They’re not looking for things that might poke holes in their beliefs – in fact, people pretty clearly try to steer clear of information that might support an opposing viewpoint.  I’m not exactly sure why, except that it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty frightening and overwhelming thing to consider the possibility that our own personal worldview might not be right. Not only that, but we want everyone else to see it the same way we do, because we want our views to be validated.

I don’t even think that these types of books – either books that promote religious beliefs or books that promote non-religious views – are actually written with the mass public in mind.  The authors must know that no self-respecting atheist is going to seek out Christian publications, and no upstanding Christian is going to look for a scientific or philosophical manifesto on the origins of the universe.  It seems that they are really intended for their own specific loyal audiences: religious books for people of faith, and non-religious books for us other folks.  Maybe there is a market for these types of books for skeptics and people on the fence about where they stand on matters of faith, but I suspect neither type of book would sway someone who isn’t already leaning one way or the other.

So why do we with strong views and beliefs continue to seek out information that only supports what we hold dear?  Do all of us really, secretly, way down deep inside, nurse some little nugget of doubt and we therefore need constant reassurance that we’re on the right path?  Or is it, really, that we truly do hope to convince others to see things the way we do because we’re that sure that we’re right?

Thoughts?

I Believe

“But, the Truth is that there is an order to this universe that did not happen by “chance”. You seem quick to use your “logic” as a reason to not believe but you also refuse/have no interest in seeking a truth (Jesus existence). So, why don’t you share with your readers exactly what you do believe. (as you have made it clear what you don’t believe) Who made you and this universe, why are you here and where are you going when your life here is done? Please share….”

The above was posed to me by a commenter.  My response here:

First off, concluding that “the Truth is that there is an order to this universe did not happen by ‘chance'” is only part of certain belief systems.  Where you see order, I see randomness, and yes, chance.

To say that I “refuse/have no interest in seeking a truth (Jesus existence)” is also an assumption, and a misguided one at that.  Is this the assumption one of a certain religious belief system makes when someone else does not come to the same conclusions they do?  I don’t see things the way you do, so that must mean I refuse/have no interest in seeking a truth?  That sounds pretty arrogant to me.  Maybe it wasn’t intended that way.

Again, as I’ve explained before, I came to the conclusions I now hold after  a lengthy process of analysis, examination, and soul-searching.  I didn’t adopt Atheism to be difficult or a rebel, or whatever some people might think – and I did not adopt Atheism because I was hurt by someone or felt let down by god.  The process of my Christian beliefs – which I held dear for the vast majority of my life – falling away took place during a very peaceful and contented time in my life.  It was not brought on by trauma or sour grapes.

And you might again take note that I have seen it from both sides – as a Believer, and as a non-believer.

So what do I believe?  Well . . .

I believe that science and physics have gone extremely far in explaining the origins of the universe and of mankind.  And although science certainly does not have all the answers, the answers it has come up with seem vastly more plausible to me than supernatural or divine answers.  I believe that it’s very likely that the universe started as something infinitely smaller than it is now, and through a process of expansion and combustion – having nothing to do with a divine force outside itself – became what it is now, and even now it is ever-changing.  Who made this universe?  Nobody.  It just happened.

Who made me?  Why, my parents did.  And their parents made them, and their parents made them.  And the whole lot of humankind came into being through a process of evolution.  By chance, this one planet in this universe evolved in such a manner as to be hospitable to life, and did actually spawn life, in the beginning – millions of years ago, as rudimentary one-celled organisms that over millenia evolved into all the various and wondrous species that are present today (and lots that are no longer present).

Why am I here?  There is no reason I’m here.  I’m here by chance, because a certain sperm belonging to my father fertilized a certain egg belonging to my mother, and the resultant genetic concoction ended up being me.  If the question really is, what is the point of my existence, and what is the meaning of my life, there is no point.  That does not mean that I believe life is meaningless – far from it!  But I believe we each create our own meaning.  My life and my existence are not part of some grander plan, so in that respect, there is no point.  I came to exist by chance, and my life is meaningful to me and to those who care about me.

Where am I going after my life here is done?  Nowhere.  I will be dead.  Finito.  My life is finite, as is every single life on this earth.  We are born, we live, and we die.  The end.  We have one brief lifespan, and it would be nice to think that everyone would make the most of that, knowing it’s all they get.

I believe in being a good person for the sake of being a good person: because it feels good, and it makes society work, and because I want to be treated in kind.

That’s what I believe.

Questions for you Believers: where did God come from?  Who made him?  What was he doing before he created the universe and the earth?

Is It Any Wonder?

Among the many comments generated by my post a few weeks back, More On Matters of Faith, in which I attempted to explain in an honest and forthright manner how I lost my faith and came to embrace a secular existence, is this exchange:

Deb says:

Lisa: I’d like to offer some non-Christian historical evidence that Jesus Christ is not a mythical person (as you refer to Him in your other blog); he really existed. There are several historical non-Biblical references by non-Christians verifying Jesus’ life and existence:
1. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, 3.3, XX 9.1
2. Publius Tacitus, Annals, XV,44
3. Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Pregrine, 11-13
4. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, “Life of Claudius” 25.4, “Life of Nero,” 16.2
5. Pliny the Younger, Letters to Trajan, X, 96, Epistles, X, 96
6. The Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a-106b
7. Thallus, Histories, III, and Phlegon, Chronicles quoted by Julius Africanus
These are a few of the more popular ones. You should also consider the fact that the entire world’s calendar is based on His life (BC and AD). You can argue you don’t believe that He is the Messiah and loves you (yes, you personally, Lisa), but to say he is mythical is unfounded. In your defense, however, perhaps you don’t have the benefit of these other historical fact points.

As for the existence of God, I too, like Addie, have a very close relationship with God, and yes, He talks to me and most people who will listen (no I’m not special or crazy, just open). In fact, He sent me here to you today to bring you this message; He put you in my heart and on my mind, so I Googled you and found your blog.

It saddens me to read about your beliefs. Why? Because you are missing out. You are missing out in your life now, and certainly for eternity. I understand that you are “fine with it.” Why do I care? Let me explain it this way. You are a mom (I am too) … you want the best for your kids … you care for them … you watch out for them … you nurture them … you love them. This is the way of God as well (before you jump in and ask “why is there so much suffering on earth, then?”, let me finish). He wants the best for you, yes you Lisa, and because we Christians understand this, we work with God to help deliver His message. God does not force Himself upon us; it’s up to us to accept His love and His gift of salvation through Jesus. This is why Christians care about people; it’s a reflection of God’s love. I agree with you that a lot of man-made religion and interpretation is messed up; God’s plan, however, is not messed up. We live in a fallen world, and for now, we must deal with suffering, death, pain, sorrow, and deceit (Satan’s greatest tool).

The authenticity of the Bible? Items taken out of context, like anything, can cause confusion and frustration. I’m not a Biblical scholar, but every time I learn something new in the Bible, I see more of the dots in the Bible connected … and more scientific evidence of its authenticity (the Star of Bethlehem, the Parting of the Red Sea, Sodom & Gomorra, Exodus guide, etc.). A closed mind and heart will not see or pursue these things – that is Satan’ will: to convince people God doesn’t exist, we don’t need Jesus, and we are all just fine.

Miracles? They happen every day. You’ve had a tough life, tougher than most. I’ve had a tough life; we all have challenges … some more than others. It’s up to us to decide how to respond to them and how to respond to God. Some people shut the door on God thinking He has forgotten them or thinking He doesn’t exist. Many times, it’s simply easier that way. Some people praise Him for providing the opportunity to learn, grow, and become strengthened. There was a time in my life when I had hit bottom, and I was truly tested. God sent me a miracle, and it was only recently that I have begun to see the miracle and how to use it for His glory. Let me explain: I have no musical training, but God began sending me beautiful music that I spontaneously compose (71 songs so far). This began years ago, but only a few months ago did I realize that this music aligns to Biblical Scripture – this is no random fluke. I have created 3 music videos so far … please check them out on my YouTube channel: wogdeb. God has gifted you, too. I read your interviews and blog posts; you are a very talented writer. Once you recognize and accept that this gift is from God (and not of your own doing as Satan would have you believe), you will begin to see so much more of God’s wonderful, giving, loving plans for you.

The bottom line is that God does love you, even if you reject Him. That is why He sent me to you today.

Love, Aunt Deb

~~

Lisa says:

Sigh. Posts like this just make me weary. Don’t you have better things to do with your time than Google people and try to push your beliefs on them? I’m sorry, but I’m just not interested in checking all the references you’ve listed that supposedly prove Jesus’s existence. References certainly are not proof. There are plenty of references to Santa Claus, to Big Foot, to the Loch Ness Monster, and to the Tooth Fairy, but we all know, of course, that none of those actually exist. Maybe Jesus Christ really did exist! I’m only saying that nobody is sure. Proof of his existence would still certainly not prove all the Christian assertions about him, that he was the son of god, that he rose from the dead, that god exists, etc., etc. If there were proof of any of that, it would be called “fact” and not “faith.”

I am happy with my life, I am fulfilled and grateful, and yet I do not believe in god. Why is it so hard for some of you to accept that? If you must believe that I am guided by Satan, then so be it.

Several things in your comment have me wondering if you actually are my “Aunt Deb.” If you are, I have to say that I find it even more disturbing and offensive than I might if you were a complete, random stranger, knowing that over the years I have made efforts to establish a relationship with my Aunt Deb, and it was never really reciprocated. So if that’s who you are, and you are now only pursuing me in order to convince me of your beliefs, I find that highly disrespectful to me as a person. I also see that you have signed up as a follower of my blog. While I am flattered that anyone would want to continue reading what I write, if you only want to follow in order to proselytize, please don’t.

~~

Deb says:

Dear Lisa:
Upon reflection, I realize my previous note to you was inappropriate, and I apologize for sending it. My goal was not to irritate you, and it was not intended to be disrespectful. We have no relationship, so it was not appropriate for me to engage in such a discussion; I was merely reacting to what I read in your blog. Albeit clumsy, I was sincerely trying to reach out to you.
Aunt Deb

~~

Lisa says:

How could it possibly be inappropriate if God called you to do it? Do you really not see how ridiculous it all is? Rhetorical questions; no need to answer. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes certain Christians look like a pushy, self-righteous, sanctimonious lot who think they have a monopoly on the truth and the way everyone’s lives should
be lived.

***

The last part of the exchange just took place this morning, and I am fuming.  First of all, this is a perfect example of Christian sanctimoniousness and – I’ll go ahead and say it – lunacy.  How many people in this world have made, and continue to make decisions because they are deluded into believing “God” called them to take such and such action?  How many of those decisions are potentially – or actually – life altering?  How many of those so-called divinely inspired decisions go south and ruin lives and relationships?  How many people quit their jobs and gave all their money away in anticipation of The Rapture recently, and historically many times over?  How many people sacrifice their savings to give to churches that promise them a direct line to God and salvation?  How many people take on circumstances they are not equipped to deal with because they believe “God” wants them to do it – only to have those circumstances turn tragic?

Of course, the exchange I’ve posted here isn’t that dramatic or carry the weight of life-altering decisions made in the name of God, but still, this person happens to be my aunt.  I would be bothered enough were it a random stranger or someone with whom I’ve had a casual internet relationship who came to my blog to preach their beliefs to me, but to know that someone I’m related to – my dad’s younger sister – and someone I’ve attempted a number of times over the years to establish a relationship with (we are geographically on opposite sides of the country, and have been for most of my life, which I’ve always assumed has stood in the way of our having any kind of close emotional relationship), only to be rebuffed (lack of interest? lack of time?  I have no idea), and then now to be pursued by her solely so she can attempt to impose her ideals on me – man, it pisses me off.  Is it any wonder?  Seriously, people.  And don’t give me any crap about her (or people like her) good intentions – it’s pushy and rude and self-righteous, and it harms me by violating MY right to live free from religion, religious dogma, and religious ideals.

Believe what you believe, and if it serves you well, then that is a wonderful thing.  But to think that the way YOU believe is the way everybody should believe, to impose your ideals on any other person – personally or by virtue of expecting public policy to reflect your religiously founded ideals – that is wrong.  And that is what makes me so goddamned angry about religion.

Religion

There is no greater social evil than religion.  It is the cancer in the body of humanity.  Human credulity and superstition, and the need for comforting fables, will never be extirpated, so religion will always exist, at least among the uneducated.  The only way to manage the dangers it presents is to confine it entirely to the private sphere, and for the public domain to be blind to it in all but one respect: that by law no one’s private beliefs should be allowed to cause a nuisance or an injury to anyone else.  For whenever and wherever religion manifests itself in the public arena as an organised phenomenon, it is the most Satanic of all things.

– A.C. Grayling, Life, Sex and Ideas

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

I’ve been seeing these big ads adorning the sides of buses around town for a while.  I haven’t given them much thought, and assumed they were advertising some upcoming blockbuster action movie (no, I’m serious).  The other day I was stopped at a gas station putting gas in my truck and another one of these bus ads passed through my line of vision.  I don’t know what made me take note this time, but I decided to investigate a little.  I pulled out my handy iPhone and did a quick Google search.  Silly me!  I thought it was advertising the next big action flic, but it’s actually warning us all of The Rapture!  Which is slated to take place just a couple of short days from now!

I can’t help but wonder how many people are buying into this.  I mean, I know plenty of Christians on a personal basis.  Are there people I know who are actually planning for Judgment Day to take place this weekend?  I’m sure there isn’t an unanimous consensus on this whole thing, even among Believers.  So do the Christians who are not buying into this see themselves as more rational and reasonable than the folks who have set aside their weekend plans (and I assume all future plans, right?) for The Rapture?

More than anything, these bus ads – and apparently billboards and other large-scale advertisements across the country – make me angry.  That’s right, angry.  You know, I could respect humble faith.  Little clapboard churches, quiet prayer, noble good deeds that didn’t ask for anything in return, including accolades.  But this loud, arrogant, vain, bigoted, intrusive, nosy faith?  I find it appalling and offensive.  These ads – as well as the gargantuan, gaudy monstrosities that pass for churches nowadays and the two-story-tall banners hanging along main streets proclaiming “JESUS LIVES!” – are a blight on the neighborhood.  Why must I endlessly be subjected involuntarily to your beliefs?

It’s appalling to me that our public transportation system would even take part in such a religiously slanted ad campaign.  But as Michael pointed out to me, the public transportation system is government-owned, which means they have some real First Amendment issues on their hands when faced with requests such as these.  Refusing would be a violation of the Constitution.  Man, what I wouldn’t give for a few tens-of-thousands of dollars to take out my own ad campaign.

This is fear-mongering and propaganda at its best.  It’s religious terrorism, and terrorism that my kids are exposed to just by virtue of living in a regular ol’ suburb of the United States of America.

CRY MIGHTILY UNTO THE LORD!  FOR HE IS COMING!

People have been predicting the exact date of the end of the world for centuries (okay, I know “The Rapture” is not the end of the world; the end of the world is apparently scheduled for either October 21, 2011, or December 12, 2011 – so you’ve still got some time, people), and, well, obviously they’ve always been wrong.  I have no doubt that this weekend will pass uneventfully (at least supernaturally speaking), and then what will the folks behind these ad campaigns be saying?  I also have no doubt that eventually, the end of the world will come.  But it will be at the hands of humankind’s greed and violence and utter failure to live and to treat each other the way that mythical figure Jesus Christ taught.

More On Matters of Faith

One commenter on my last post said, “. . . those of us who are not Christians may actually be non-Christian by choice.”  For me personally, it hasn’t been a matter of choice.  I hold firmly that we do not choose what we believe.  Belief is like an emotion – it’s something deep inside you that you can’t control – just like you can’t choose who to love (or not to love), you can’t choose not to feel grief in the face of loss, you can’t choose not to feel glad when good things happen – I strongly believe that you also cannot choose to believe or not believe – in anything.  Knowing that there is no Santa Claus, knowing that Earth is actually spherical and not flat, you can’t choose to believe otherwise.  Yes, you can choose what information you will look at to come to your conclusions.  You can choose to repress or fake emotions.  You can choose to adhere to certain prescribed tenets.  You can certainly choose how your behavior and actions manifest your beliefs and emotions.  But you cannot choose what you believe, way down deep inside, in your heart and gut.

I did not choose to become atheist.  I spent my whole life being taught the Christian messages, periodically attending church (well into adulthood), praying, and believing.  Believing that the Bible is the literal word of God, that the events and people that populate the Bible were real, literal, actual events and people.  Believing that God was real, that he listened to my prayers and cared about me personally, and that if I did all the right things, God would walk beside me in life and reward me in the afterlife.

I always had questions and doubts, though.  It all seemed so far-fetched.    Adam and Eve but no dinosaurs (despite hard evidence of dinosaurs)?  People living for hundreds of years?  Rising from the dead?  Parting of seas?  Virgin birth?  Eternal paradise or eternal damnation and hellfire?  But I always squelched the questions and doubts.  Because if you have an analytical, intellectual mind, that’s what you have to do to be a Christian – you have to repress the doubts and questions that are inevitably raised.  Because when you get right down to it, there are no good answers.  You cannot use the Bible as evidence of itself (“The Bible is true because it says it’s true!”)  You have to chalk everything up to faith, which is very murky and not fact-based (“I feel God’s presence, I see evidence of God in the beauty of the world, and that’s enough for me.”), or, if all else fails, the old stand-by: “God works in mysterious ways.  It’s not for us humans to understand.” You feel guilty for entertaining the doubts and questions.  So you do your best to squelch the doubts, and you pray harder.

That’s how it was for me, anyway.  There came a time, however, when I decided to go out on a limb and allow myself to really entertain those doubts and questions I had.  After all, I figured, my faith would be so much more meaningful if it could stand up to rigorous analysis and doubt.  Plus, if there was a god, he gave me a mind to think and analyze and doubt with, right?  So I allowed myself to really give some weight to all those questions I had had for so long.  If God was good and merciful, then why is there so much suffering in the world – suffering that has nothing at all to do with man’s free-will?  Why does religion tear people apart instead of bringing people together?  Why is it that God’s powers seem to be limited to what humans can achieve (God can heal an ear infection or provide someone with a new job or intervene so that someone longing for a baby can get pregnant, but no amount of prayer will make a legless man’s limbs come back)?  Did all that stuff in the Bible really happen?  So someone who is good all their life still can’t get into Heaven unless they’re baptized?  What about little children who die and never had a say in whether they got baptized or not?  And even if someone is baptized and lives a good, honest life, they still can’t get into Heaven if they don’t voluntarily accept Jesus Christ as their savior?  So my dad was probably burning in Hell, then, because he was agnostic.  I lost a lot of sleep over that one.

I looked high and low, I searched my soul (which I believe in, by the way; of course everyone has an essence that makes them their own unique person.  I just don’t believe in a soul that survives the body), I agonized.  And there were no good answers anywhere.  And there was plenty of evidence everywhere that supported very non-divine explanations for things.  I just no longer had the ability to chalk it all up to God’s mystique.  If it were all true, it wouldn’t be so hard to understand!  If it were all true, it would be easily understandable by all, it would be hardwired into us (one friend recently said that she believes it is hardwired into us, but some of us choose to ignore it.  Well, Muslims believe everyone is born a Muslim, too.  And what about untouched civilizations living in the rainforest who have never had exposure to the notion of Jesus Christ?  Is it hardwired into them, too?)  If the Bible were the actual word of God, there wouldn’t be so many ways to interpret it!

My belief started breaking down.  The Bible part of it was kind of the kicker for me.  As a Christian, I was taught that the Bible is the actual word of God and that everything in it is the literal truth.  But there are so many interpretations – every major religion seems to interpret it a little differently.  Could that stuff really have happened?  If it did, why doesn’t stuff like that happen now?  The big dramatic miracles?  And once you start doubting the authenticity of the Bible, the literal truth of it, well, the whole foundation for your faith begins to crumble.

I resisted for a while.  It really was not an easy process.  I tried to talk myself back into my old beliefs.  And it just didn’t work.  Because, I found, I could not choose what to feel, what to believe.  What I could choose was the label I applied to myself.  I started with Agnostic, because that felt a little safer and less radical than Atheist.  But it really wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t being honest with myself.  I wasn’t Agnostic – it’s not that I was unsure.  In my heart, I was sure.  I just no longer believed any of that stuff.  And finally, I let go of it.  And chose to call myself Atheist, because that most accurately describes my state of belief.  I do not believe there is a god, I do not believe in Heaven or Hell, I do not believe in the divine or supernatural.  And once I was honest with myself, I felt a weight lifted.  All the agonizing and rationalizing and searching for answers and never being satisfied with the answers/non-answers – it was gone.  All the guilt and feeling like I could never measure up to what God wanted of me was gone.  And I felt at peace with it, and I still do.

That is not to say my life is any easier or better than it was before.  My faith or lack of faith has made absolutely no difference in the quality of my life – except to the extent that in some ways I am a social pariah because Atheism is just not socially acceptable.  (And I have a suspicion that there are many more non-believers out there than we realize – even sitting in church congregations – who remain quiet about their feelings because they don’t want to suffer the backlash of “coming out.”)  In some ways, I guess it has made things a little easier: there’s nobody to be angry at anymore for all the injustice in the world.  There’s nobody to appeal to – and potentially have my pleas rejected by – to make things right.  It is comforting to me, in a strange way, to know that the universe is random, life is random; I am not a pawn in anyone’s chess game.  And this is all I’ve got – this life, this brief life.  When I’m gone, I’m gone, so I better make the most of what I’ve got.  Love with everything I’ve got, be kind and honest and compassionate because that’s how I want to be treated.

So the only choice I’ve made is to apply the label Atheist to myself.  For me, becoming atheist has not been the adoption of new beliefs, it’s been the falling away of beliefs.  I have not joined some fringe organization that requires a conversion process.  I don’t belong to a group that has special rituals to demonstrate our beliefs.  There are no Atheist holidays to my knowledge.  I’m not an official member of some group that has plans to convert everyone and take over the world.  That would be weird!  Oh wait . . . never mind.

I can never be a Believer again.  The questions and doubts have already been cracked wide open for me, and there’s no undoing it.  And I’m fine with it.

Matters of Faith

I woke up this morning with a sinking feeling, wondering “Did I go too far?”  See, I have my posts here set up so that they feed up to my Facebook page, and the discussion on my FB page concerning my post yesterday got pretty animated.  I have a few friends who are hardcore Christian, and they bravely took a stand in defense of their faith in response to my post yesterday.  And I am completely fine with that, I really am.  I am all for open discussion.  We do not have to agree on everything to get along, right?  Still, I am always very conscious of the fact that my friendships with people whose Christian faith is such an ingrained part of their identity are a little tenuous.  I always feel like one wrong move on my part, and I’m out.  Maybe I’m wrong about that – maybe that’s just me projecting my own bullshit.  Maybe my Christian friends really do accept me unconditionally.

Still, even though I feel it’s very risky of me to vocalize my position on matters of faith, I do it anyway.  Because I believe that I should be afforded the same courtesy to be vocal about my beliefs/nonbeliefs as the Faithful are afforded.

But of course, before it was all over, the discussion turned unpleasant.  I was told that “It would be nice if you could show some respect this weekend of all weekends.”  (Being that it’s Easter, a religious holiday that holds absolutely no religious or spiritual meaning for me, but I’m supposed to refrain from vocalizing my own beliefs, from raising valid questions, in honor of those who do find religious meaning in this weekend?)  I was ominously told that one day I will “stand before Him . . .”  I was accused of “indoctrinating” my children into Atheism.  And comments have come in directly to my blog today expressing pity for my children and the fact that they’re being raised without God.

I open myself up to this stuff merely by virtue of openly discussing my beliefs.  I do it knowingly, but it still rankles me every time.  I get the strong feeling that people can accept/tolerate that I’m atheist so long as I’m quiet about it.  Christians get to be as vocal about their beliefs as they want.  They get to post on their blogs and their Facebook pages praising the lord, asking for prayers for this and that, quoting bible verses, etc., etc.  And it’s all very socially acceptable.  But the moment I, an atheist, vocalize something publicly about where I stand on matters of god and faith, I can expect a firestorm in response.

I have faced A LOT of adversity in my life – less than some people and more than others.  I think of myself as a pretty resilient person.  I get through the hard times, sometimes falling apart, but always getting back up and recognizing everything I have to be grateful for.  That’s grace – being able to recognize and appreciate the good even in the midst of adversity and hardship.  I’ve faced some adversity as a Christian during my life, and some as an atheist, and I’m here to tell you that there’s been no difference in my ability to deal with things.  When I was a believer, I didn’t have any more or less strength or resilience than I do as a nonbeliever.

How arrogant it is of you Christians who think you have better tools of coping at your disposal than I do merely by virtue of your faith.  How arrogant of you to think that your life has more meaning than mine, more fulfillment.  Believers face the same rates of depression, divorce, financial difficulty, and crime that non-believers do (did you know that the vast majority of prison inmates consider themselves Christian?  Very few are atheist).  In fact, probably higher rates just because there are more believers than nonbelievers per capita.  How arrogant of you to think that your children are being raised better than mine are because you are teaching your children to believe in god, and I am teaching my children to think for themselves.  You cannot possibly demonstrate that your life is any better than mine, or that your children are any better off than mine are.  So it all boils down to the afterlife.  My poor children are being deprived of eternal life in Paradise because I’m not indoctrinating – yes, indoctrinating – them into YOUR belief system.

What a crock.  It makes me mad.

I feel for children who are taught that there is only ONE path to salvation, and that if they don’t follow that path . . . well, we all know the supposed alternative.

Don’t feel sorry for me or my children.  I have a wonderful life.  Yes, I have faced tremendous ordeals at times, but I experience love – giving and receiving – to the fullest.  I have a solid marriage to a devoted husband and wonderful father to my six beautiful children – who are all well-loved and cared for.  I have a nice roof over my head and plenty of nourishing food to eat and clothes to protect me from the elements.  I want for nothing.  I am raising my children to be honest and loving and compassionate.  Why would anyone be so arrogant as to presume they are in a position to feel sorry for any of us?

Get over yourselves already.

A Discussion About The Big Guy And His Son

With all the recent hullaballoo, Easter snuck up on me this year.  Seems like I was just saying to myself, “I have plenty of time to buy all the crap – er, treasures – for the kids’ Easter baskets,” and then suddenly, I went to Target to buy paper towels and cereal, and all the Easter stuff was on clearance!  I confess, I spent several long minutes considering the possibility of letting Easter slip by unnoticed this year, but I realized that the kids know it’s this weekend thanks to all the talk at school.

It brought to mind a question, though: why do we celebrate Easter?  I mean WE as in us, our particular family.  And then I thought, well, if the kids have expectations of Easter, be they baskets and bunny prints or otherwise, I think it warrants a discussion about what all this Easter business is about.  So Michael and I opened a conversation with Joey, age 8, yesterday, that went something like this:

MICHAEL: “Joey, what is Easter about, anyway?”

JOEY: “I dunno . . . bunnies and stuff, I guess.”

MICHAEL: “Well, you know, some people believe that today, which is Good Friday, is the day Jesus died on the cross for everyone’s sins, and that Easter is when he came back to life and went to Heaven.”

JOEY: “I don’t even believe in Jesus!”

ME: “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?”

JOEY: “I don’t know . . . it just sounds pretty crazy and made up.”

ME: “What about God?  What do you think about God?”

JOEY: “God isn’t real.”

MICHAEL: “How do you know?”

JOEY: “No one’s ever seen him, have they?”

ME: “So how likely do you think it is that some guy died, and then three days later came back alive, somehow got out of the cave he was put in when he was dead, and then rose into Heaven for everyone to see?”

JOEY: “Very unlikely.”

ME: “So what do you think happens after we die?”

JOEY: “I don’t want to think about that!”

ME: “Okay, but really, what do you think happens?  Do you think after we die we go to some other place, like maybe Heaven, or Hell?”

JOEY: “No!  Where’s Heaven?  Come on.  Where would it be?  Nobody’s ever seen it, have they?”

MICHAEL: “So what do you believe?”

JOEY: “Well, I believe in Santa Claus, that’s for sure!”

Okay, so his critical thinking skills have a ways to go.

***

This morning I had a discussion with Daisy, age 6, that went something like this:

ME: “So, Daisy, do you know why people celebrate Easter?”

DAISY: “Um, no, not really.”

ME: “Well, some people celebrate Easter because they believe it’s when Jesus came back alive and went to Heaven for everyone to see.  And some people celebrate Easter as a way to celebrate Spring.”

DAISY: “People can’t come back alive when they’re dead!”

ME: “Well, some people think that Jesus did.  Do you know who Jesus is?”

DAISY: “Um, wasn’t he a little baby and a little girl cried because she couldn’t find anything to give him?”

(Hmmmm, interesting.  No idea where that came from.)

ME: “Um, I’m not sure about that.  Anyway, some people believe that Jesus was God’s son, and that when Jesus grew up, he died for everyone’s sins, so that everyone could go to Heaven when they die.”

DAISY: “God isn’t real!  It’s just pretend, Mom.”

ME: “So what do you think happens after we die?”

DAISY: “That’s like bad thoughts that I don’t like to think about.”

ME: “Right.  But do you think that after we die, maybe we get to go to this really special place called Heaven?”

DAISY: “No!  It’s pretend, Mom!”

***

And there you have it, straight from the uncluttered minds of pure, innocent children.

***

It is interesting when you think about it, though (if you’re so inclined to . . .), that the natural inclination seems to be NOT to believe.  For kids who have not undergone long-term indoctrination, it’s a stretch, even for those inclined to believe in Santa.

It seems to me that if God were real, if Jesus were the way, the light, and the truth, it wouldn’t all require such a hard sell.  The knowledge would just be there within all of us, hardwired into our brains and hearts.  It wouldn’t require all these mental gymnastics to try to make sense of what is really, if you want to be perfectly honest, completely nonsensical and preposterous.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  John 3:16

Okay, but he could have begotten a hundred sons.  A thousand.  A trillion!  He’s God, after all – all powerful, etc., etc.  So he begets a son and sends him to earth to do good works and then sacrifices him to show us lowly humans how much he loves us.  Really?  Seems like pretty small potatoes for someone so big and powerful.  That’s like a multi-billionaire giving away a dime to a homeless person.  Big deal!

And Jesus?  He didn’t sacrifice his life.  He was a puppet.  God’s stool pigeon!  He was supposedly sent here for the specific and sole purpose of one day being brutally killed . . . and then reanimated, whereupon he would physically rise into the sky, the implication being that that’s where Heaven is located – somewhere out there in outer space.  There was no choice in the matter – it was all preordained.  If you believe the story.

And who wants everlasting life, anyway?  I mean, seriously.  When you think about it, really think about it, it’s kind of creepy.  When I was still a believer, this is one of the things I had a lot of trouble with.  The idea of living forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever – even in Paradise! – freaked me the hell out.  You mean it never ends?  Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever?  Wow.  No thanks.

I get the appeal of all this.  Generally speaking, the human race is terribly afraid of death – and of life for that matter.  It’s frightening to think that we might be all alone out here, completely at the mercy of a random universe.  That there actually might not be a point to any of this – except what we each choose to make of it.  It’s comforting to think that there is some omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent fatherly figure out there who cares about our well-being and is looking after us, that death isn’t so bad and scary because, wow, we get to go to this really awesome place after we die where all wrongs will be righted and there will be no suffering.  Yeah, that sounds really great.  I get it.  The fact that these notions are appealing and comforting, though, don’t make them real.

As for us, we’ll just keep recognizing Easter as a way to celebrate Spring and life.