“Striving for a better world by adopting secular values that promote a strong sense of moral ownership with a focus on human dignity and respect and having the courage to embrace reason, critical thinking, and science as the keys to knowledge and empowerment. These are the core principles that we wish to pass on to our children for a promising future, and to serve as a defense against religious dogma and intolerance.”

Allison & Rich- A Couple of Atheists

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Posts written by Allison are more personal in nature, as she loves to get out there and interact with the public. Rich’s thoughts are much more intense and sure to make you think… no matter which you prefer, there is something for everyone.

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An Atheist Mother’s Positive Message for Kids (My response to Ken Ham)

Ken

I personally don’t follow Ken Ham on twitter, so I thank Luciano Gonzales for drawing attention to this ignorance and issuing the challenge for bloggers to reply. It’s funny that Ken Ham would question what type of positive message an Atheist could pass on to their children, because unlike religion a secular life is limitless. No one aspect is held back because of what someone else says is true. Every opportunity is available, and no God can tell you that you don’t have the right to learn. Living a secular lifestyle gives us the opportunity to show our child that there is a big world outside of our little community, and she should embrace every chance she gets to create a new experience.

We are not forced to teach our children that those that disagree with our beliefs are not as good as we are. That their lives are not worth as much because they do not follow the same path. No, instead we get to teach our children that it is these different paths that make it possible to embrace our differences and use them to expand our minds. We can teach them that by engaging someone new you open yourself to a chance to gain knowledge you may otherwise have never encountered. When you teach your child to have an open mind when meeting someone new they allow themselves the opportunity to have a wide range of people to influence their journey.  Unlike a believer that must engage, proselytize and if unsuccessful, move on. Atheists can choose who they want in their life without restriction and I can’t imagine anything more positive than that.

The positive message doesn’t just stop with one-on-one contact.  This freedom that we receive as Atheists allows us to teach our children that there is no limit on how much they can learn. When they go to school they learn facts, not falsehoods. We can let our children know that while they are exploring the world of science they are not confined to only those things that do not conflict with their religion. Secular children can research cancer treatments, rates of success, how treatment has evolved and what is to come without having to believe that Jane Doe was saved by a miracle of God and John Doe died because it was part of God’s plan. What is more positive than teaching our children that there is always a chance that things in life will change. You never have to give up because advancements in science and technology are constantly bringing in new information … it’s up to us as a society, not God, to find the answers.

A positive, secular message is also quite prevalent in politics. As soon as we can begin to teach our children about the legal system in our country we can teach them about justice and equality.  Instead of sending the message that people who hold different beliefs are automatically wrong and undeserving of the same rights as everyone else, we can teach them the truth. The truth is that it doesn’t matter how much money you make, the color of your skin, the gender you identify with, who you choose to love or your faith (or lack thereof). You are still an American and still deserve all of the freedoms are country was founded on. If we allow believers to use their faith to make our laws, we lose everything that this country is supposed to stand for. You may have the right to worship as you please, but you do not have the right to make it public policy and that is a positive message I will absolutely pass onto my child.

So if Mr. Ham really believes that a positive message is one that is built on discrimination, ostracization and dehumanization, I am proud to say that we disagree. The fact he thinks pushing this onto children before they are even able to question it, I cannot even comprehend. I will never teach my child to hate, teach her that there are limits to what she can do in her life and that she shouldn’t respect those that are different than she is. I will make sure to teach her that reason and critical thinking will get you much farther than blind faith. I will make sure she knows that she is responsible for the choices she makes and that the impact she makes on the world will be there long after she is gone… so she should try her best to make it a positive one.

 

Reflecting on the Jesus Question

“What Have I Changed My Mind On?” I was asked by my Christian interlocutor when I stated that I have in fact researched the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s a great question in general. One I probably haven’t reflected on in a while. It can be enlightening and something that I urge anyone who values intellectual honesty to do. However, I don’t think the answer I have is quite what he was expecting.

I had long since rejected the biblical stories of miracles and the divinity of Jesus. However, for years I just took it for granted that a historical person named Jesus was the actual person being referenced in the Bible and his life was chronicled in the New Testament. But when I started actually looking into it, I quickly found that the New Testament itself has some real problems that simply couldn’t be ignored if I was to remain intellectually honest[1]. And these challenges were fully exposed when I began reading the work done by mythicists[2]. The works of Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Earl Doherty provided convincing scholarly arguments to the mythicist position. When I cross-referenced these arguments with the work published by theologians and Christian historians, I found that the evidence for a historical Jesus is much weaker than I had ever considered. It became glaringly apparent that many of these Christian Scholars were simply writing in there own religious beliefs wherever these difficulties were found. They simply glossed over many of them as not being difficulties at all. Ignoring that from a historical standpoint, these issues are actually quite devastating to their particular reading of the history[3]. Given all this, I began to realize that the mythicist position has real credibility to it.

Another obvious problem I found was that most of the prominent biblical scholars are already believers in the divine Jesus and how this belief can be clearly seen to taint their investigations into the historical Jesus. Religious and supernatural language can often be found peppered throughout their work and miracles and/or the divinity of Jesus are commonly invoked to mask the dubiousness of their conclusions drawn. Not surprisingly, this goes largely ignored by christian readership. Such a grandiose presupposition (that Jesus is their God in human form) can’t help but to impose upon the very method by which they build their hypothesis. Historian Richard Carrier points out a number of these flaws in the methods used by these mainstream scholars[4]. These are methods that are not permitted (or at least not held as very credible) in other historical investigations, least not if the historian wants to remain credible as a historian[5]. Much like in other fields in science, the bias towards their deeply held religious convictions couldn’t be more obvious. An easy way to spot these biases is to read some of their investigations of other religions. Needless To Say, you won’t find any even-handedness in method there.

We can hear the bias (and profound ignorance) echoed in the rhetoric of the average Christian. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that “the resurrection is the best attested fact in history” or “there’s more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar” and nothing offered to support it. It’s simply just not taught that there is very strong evidence pointing to the gospels[6], and several of Paul’s letters, being forgeries. Or that many of these accounts were written well after the events supposedly took place. That there is evidence of scribal error, omissions, redactions, and not to mention a lack of contemporary outside (non-biblical) sources. While the majority of biblical scholars don’t much contest this, the general public seems oblivious. I too, was unknowingly influenced by such obscurantist rhetoric and misinformation. I grew up believing that the historicity of Jesus was a foregone conclusion and NO scholar disputed it (which in hindsight should’ve been a red flag). So I was quite surprised to find that there were, in fact, even prominent theologians that not only doubted the evidence for a historical Jesus, but actually argued against such a claim. Take theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer for example. He is one of several prominent christian scholars that argues that the quest for the historical Jesus is hopeless[7]. His work on this topic is never mentioned by these mainstream apologetic historians and go largely unknown in the Christian community.

But is this enough to cast the credibility of a historical Jesus into doubt? I think so. However, this brings me to the most significant issue that I have changed my mind on, and that is that the question simply isn’t that important of one. Not in regards to the claims of Christianity. Historically speaking, it’s not really a particularly interesting question, either. Let me explain…
First off, we can demarcate between a historical Jesus and a divine Jesus that performed miracles and such. The parts that ARE entirely myth are those stories of a divine Jesus (for reasons other than just the criteria we use for a historical, human Jesus). These dubious claims can be refuted wholly apart from a historical Jesus. So could there have been a person at that time claiming religious divinity, or claiming to be acting on behalf of the divine, that people found believable enough to follow? Sure, I don’t find that to be particularly controversial or all that improbable. We have countless accounts of such people doing that very thing, even today! Are there some stories in the Bible that are a reference this same person? Maybe, maybe not. We may never have conclusive evidence of this. But if we are to honestly engage in such an investigation, we must also consider that many of the stories in the Bible could be embellishments of what may have taken place. Perhaps to give Christianity a foothold? Seems plausible. Could many of these embellishments be borrowed from other myths? Of course. Given the evidence, this line of thinking seems highly likely. Or could many of these stories justifiably be complete fabrications with no connection to a single person? Absolutely!

The question is, without being weighed down by the baggage of the “divine”, where does this leave the historical Jesus? Well, it seems that when stripped of the exaggerations and embellishments of what very well could be references to a historical person in the character of Jesus, then we’re left with a quite unremarkable figure. Just one of many such figures in antiquity. The true “power”, influence, and interest surrounding Christianity is in the myths and propaganda of Jesus and not in the historical living human that people came to know as Jesus. Without the myths of the miraculous, then there’s just not much to talk about. I, like many, used to think that the existence of a historical Jesus was somehow one step closer to “proving” the existence of a divine Jesus and this was one step closer to proving God exists and to verifying Christianity. I came to realize that that is not the case. Jesus, a human, the son of a carpenter, a preacher and prophet from the ancient times, is not the what Christianity is built upon. Jesus, the son and lamb of God, 1/3rd of the trinity, the crucified and resurrected savior, is the foundation of Christianity. The existence of a historical Jesus has no bearing on the existence of the Divine Jesus of the Christian faith. It does not take us one step closer in any way to the existence of a god anymore than the existence of a historical Muhammad brings us any closer to existence of Allah and vindicating the miracle claims found in the Quran.

– Rich

Notes:

[1] I think it is uncontroversial to state it as philosophy professor Matthew McCormick does. He writes “…we have learned that a well-justified conclusion must be based upon a wide, objective aggregation of evidence followed by a balanced evaluation that adequately explores possible counter-evidence, alternative hypotheses, an error checking.” and then goes on to correctly point out that the process whereby the Jesus story was recorded and transmitted to us failed miserably on these criteria. The religious goal of fostering belief is at odds with the epistemological goal of believing only those conclusions that are justified by the evidence.” Atheism and the Case Against Christ, Matthew S. McCormick, p12.

[2] (Broadly)Those who argue there is not enough evidence to support a historical Jesus and posit that it is more likely that the whole story is a myth and no such person existed.

[3] In his book, Jesus is Dead, Robert Price systematically dismantles several of the most influential of modern biblical Scholars, such as N. T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, et al. Taking apart their arguments with surgical precision.

[4] Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist: A Historian Explains the Evidence That Changed His Mind – Richard Carrier
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwUZOZN-9dc

[5] Here Robert Price details the Historical Method and why these popular apologists, theologians, and Christian biblical Scholars are mistaken and why we can’t honestly reach the same conclusions they do.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITq6Cv-R8JM

[6] It is important to point out that the gospel authors we not historians, they were writing to serve their theological motives
The Case Against Christianity, Michael Martin – p38

[7] The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer
*It must be noted that Schweitzer challenges the secular view and the traditional Christian view.

Still proud

pride

Every year I march in the PRIDE parade with my local atheist group which to believers is probably the worst imaginable scenario. Just like I have believers scold me for pushing an atheist agenda onto my child I have also had people imply that attending PRIDE is promoting a gay lifestyle. Well first of all I don’t know what a gay lifestyle is. People are who they are and they live their life just like everyone else. Second, if they mean that I am promoting acceptance of the LGBT community, how exactly is that a bad thing? I want Arabella to be open-minded and supportive of people. I want her to see that we go to events such a PRIDE not just because we identify but also as allies. Rich is heterosexual and still attends PRIDE every year to support me and the rest of the LGBT community. I cannot imagine how people find something negative about this.

I believe it is never too early to start promoting love and acceptance of others. I am often asked if Arabella knows that I am bisexual and to that the answer is no, but only because she is four years old and the topic hasn’t come up. When she does show an interest I will gladly discuss it with her, though the level of detail I go in to will depend upon her age and maturity at the time of the discussion. I really don’t see how explaining that bi-sexual means that mommy has had relationships with both men and women could be interpreted as a negative thing, but then again I don’t comprehend irrational concepts.

I feel that being open with Arabella about who I am and what I have experienced will help us to start an open line of communication. I never want her to be afraid to tell me things about herself. As a teenager I wasn’t afraid of my sexuality but I also didn’t sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my parents about it. I have casually mentioned it to them as an adult but they seem pretty indifferent to it. I suppose the fact that I am not actively in a homosexual relationship, but instead in a heterosexual marriage has something to do with it. Though I will say that I 100% believe that my parents would have supported me had it been a woman that I decided to marry. They have supported me through every other choice I have made and have loved me unconditionally my entire life so I would expect nothing else.

I’m sure that people see me in my hetero-sexual marriage and wonder why I care so much about expressing my sexuality. Well for as long as I can remember I have identified as bi-sexual. Yes, I am in a hetero, monogamous marriage, but that does not change my sexuality. For some reason there is this concept that as soon as you are in a relationship with a man or woman you become gay or straight, but as is the case with most things in life- it isn’t black and white. Try to imagine if you entered into a marriage and suddenly you couldn’t identify as gay or straight you had to choose a new group because this one relationship was to define your entire being, that is how I feel when people say that being with Rich makes me straight, not bi. People do not stop feeling attraction just because they are in a relationship, the relationship just provides guidelines as to if you will or will not act on the attraction.

If I was to do a top 5 break ups (High Fidelity, get it?) I think that likely the number one break up would be the first woman I ever dated, and mainly because of the repressive, religious based fear that caused it to end. It took place in college. We’d know each other for a long time but were nothing more than friends until sophomore year. I won’t go into the mushy and eventually heartbreaking details other than to say that religion and politics were what inevitably ended our relationship. She was closeted due to religion and her family was incredibly conservative. She chose to not rock the bigoted boat that had been set to complete her life journey. Because of this reasoning, because it is too risky for it to even come out now, she doesn’t acknowledge me this day. We went our separate ways and moved on, met our husbands, started families- she went on to join a group of extreme religious radicals and I became part of “Couple of Atheists” so we couldn’t really be further apart in our lives. It is a shame that denying who you are has to be a contingent part of some religions. I am not saying that we were meant to be together or that things didn’t turn out for the best (at least here) but it saddens me to think that there is a part of her she can never express. Hopefully one day believers will accept that people are people. We exist on a spectrum and there is nothing wrong with living a life true to who you are. If your God doesn’t love you as you are, out and expressing yourself, well he doesn’t deserve your undying devotion. To hide your own truth just in case a myth turns out to be true is no way to live and I feel so sad for those that do.

So as another PRIDE month comes to an end I have to reflect on how lucky I am. Lucky that I am able to participate in PRIDE events as a bisexual, female, atheist without ridicule. Lucky that I am raising my daughter in a society that is finally beginning to understand LGBT. Lucky that I have been able to express my sexuality my entire life and grow from each experience. This is all part of what makes me who I am and the fact that I don’t have to hide those qualities is amazing. So many people are still repressed but hopefully acceptance will continue to grow and equality will be come the norm. Until then, let’s stay strong and keep marching.

Antwon Rose did not deserve die

This week another unarmed  black man was killed by a police officer, this time right here in my home town of Pittsburgh. From the massive protests taking over our city and the response on social media, it is clear that people are outraged. However, there are also some people that seem apathetic to it all, perhaps because it has become so common in the past few years. We can only hope this death will not be in vain if we make the demand change and don’t let this get brushed under the rug like so many other crimes committed by cops have been.

I cannot imagine the fear that is experienced when you fit into a demographic that is constantly being targeted. A friend of mine from high school made a powerful statement comparing the cops behavior to them trying to receive a prize “What’s on my mind? Being a black man in America!!! Why do I say this? The reason is because black woman men and children are being slain left and right and treated like we’re the biggest prize too shoot.” I had never really thought about it like that but he does make a point. The bigoted, irrational, emotion driven officers do seem to treat human life as the newest form of trophy hunting. In another group I saw a woman say   “as a white woman I wouldn’t run”. Well big fucking surprise there. White woman don’t have to run because the odds of them meeting a fate like Philando Castile did when he stayed in his car and was killed in front of his child are virtually zero. Anyone who wants to try to argue that young black men are not targeted is clearly ignorant to the world and needs to educate themselves before speaking out again.

I cannot even imagine the pain Antwon’s mother must be feeling. The thought of losing one of my stepsons is incomprehensible. A few years ago it was around midnight when we received a knock on the front door. There were several cops and my stepson standing on the front porch. It turns out that my 16 year old stepson decided to take a walk in the middle of the night and it just so happened that at the same time there were reports of people breaking into cars. We were living in Arlington at the time, anyone who knows the city of Pittsburgh will know that it is not the best neighborhood. Well the cops saw my stepson and ordered him to stop. He ran. Was he shot? No. Tased? No. Chased and tackled? Yes.  He was also not arrested, cuffed or seriously injured… he was returned to us safe. Don’t get me wrong, even as an Atheist I wanted to thank God that he was brought home to us without more than being a little sore and incredibly scared. Had an officer like Michael Rosfeld been on duty that night it could easily have turned out much differently.

I keep seeing people saying this is “anti-police” and this is just ridiculous. No rational person believes that all cops are bad. What people do see is that cops need to be held accountable. They cannot be judge, jury and executioner (dear lord, stop being the executioner). What we need is for it to be clear that a cop cannot break the law , just as a civilian can’t. If a cop commits a crime, he is held accountable, period. The type of officer who reacts this way is certainly not the majority. There are good officers out there and I am thankful that they want to protect the citizens. In my life I have had officers help me and was so grateful that I took the time to call the commander and make a statement as to how much their compassion meant to me. That being said, we cannot keep letting the bad cops tarnish the reputations of the rest of the force. The new recruits coming in year after year are seeing that they are not just enforcing the law, but are above it, and this will only make things worse. We need to find a way  to ensure that all officers are  mentally and emotionally capable, educated and equipped with not just a gun, but with cameras, audio and respect for human life. In this case the officer was a veteran. There were a bunch of headlines declaring that he had only been sworn in hours before this homicide took place- and while true, it is misleading. He had just been sworn in as an East Pittsburgh Police Officer but he had worked at other departments, including the University of Pittsburgh, for over  7 years. So this was not some freak rookie accident, he should have known how to conduct himself.

The protesting in Pittsburgh has been intense. It has gone on every single day since Antwon died. I have seen people complaining online that these protests are an inconvenience to them. That people blocking a road lengthens their commute. Well too damn bad for you. One of the most ridiculous things I witnessed was someone saying that we should wait until all the evidence is in before protesting… um…. there is a video of an unarmed kid getting shot in the back, what more do you need? Honestly, had a civilian not been filming the slaying of Antwon Rose all we would hear is that it was a car stop gone wrong and another trouble maker is off the street. Considering that the cars were not equipped with cameras and the officer wasn’t  wearing a body camera it would have just been his word. Even with the video we have people saying that we don’t know what happened before that video but guess what IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT HAPPENED BECAUSE HE NEVER SHOULD HAVE SHOT AT HIM. One of the most disgraceful things that happened was when one of the major Pittsburgh news stations decided to make headlines with a false narrative that there was a video of Antwon Rose committing a drive-by shooting and that gun powder residue was found on his hands. The Allegheny County homicide team had to speak out to say that all of that is false… but the damage has been done. Everyone reads the headline but almost no one sees the retraction. What was really pathetic was how many people seemed to be disappointed that it wasn’t true. It is like they just wanted it to be over, no justice necessary… but that is not how it works.

I don’t even know how to end this except to say that Antwon’s loved ones are in my thoughts and that I will continue to spread the word in hopes that it will bring justice. Keep exorcising your right to peaceful protest and know that there are lots of people supporting you. R.I.P. Antwon Rose.

 

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle[1]

Atheists cannot entertain deep intellectual thought exercises because they are close-minded.”[2] This is basically the charge I’ve been confronted with recently in several discussions. So I think I’ll take a moment to argue not only that it’s unwarranted, but that the opposite is indeed the case.

There is nothing about atheism that suggests one has to avoid thinking about such topics as gods. It just means that we’ve come to a conclusion about certain claims being made regarding a particular beings existence and (as in my case) the attributes typically ascribed to them. Take studying philosophy and science, their respective histories contain various concepts of God(s) dating back to the ancient Greeks. Many of the most influential early scientific works, such as Isaac Newton, contain mentions of a god(s)[3]. So to heed the words of Bertrand Russell, one must be willing to confront the absurd[4]. These are concepts that atheists have been exposed to and, more times than not, have thought about. Many have even accepted one concept of god or another at some point in their life. It’s not that atheists haven’t entertained such thoughts, it’s that most atheists have. We are not close-minded to new or extraordinary ideas and concepts, or even counter-intuitive ones. But that doesn’t mean that we should not separate the wheat from the chaff in the arena of ideas. Especially with respect to intellectual development and scientific progress. This is a necessary process for moving out of ignorance and not some dogmatic adherence to an ideology.

We see that given the dogmatic assumptions that typically accompany theism, it is actually the atheist that is open to new discoveries, and following the new evidence extrapolated from them, to where it leads. However, we recognize that there is no need to open the flood gates so wide as to lose our grounding in reality. We needn’t abandon our faculties to reason in this way. Nor do atheists need to shoehorn the whole of reality into a belief around one particular deity, as theists (of any particular faith) do. We needn’t abandon our intellectual honesty in this way. That is the epitome of the very thing the atheist is being charged with. I can think of little more close-minded than to start all scientific inquiries and philosophical investigations from the presupposition that one particular deity, with a particular set of attributes, conveniently the same one that the theist already believes in, is the creator and ruler of all. Also it just so happens that this particular deities divine instructions for living in this world comes from their particular holy book (again convenient).

It must be addressed that there is a bit of hypocrisy being exposed here within the theists camp. Does the Christian actively think that it is possible that his god doesn’t exist? Does the Muslim actively think that she may be wrong and Hinduism could be right? Are we supposed to allow for equal possibility for all god concepts to exist? To accept this nigh impossible. At least to anyone who has a basic understanding of the differences and similarities of the concepts of deities and the theologies that give them life.

What about just some vague, undefined “something”, as in, I assume, a powerful supreme intelligence that got it all started? Well, even with that, one must take on a lot of unjustifiable baggage. Assumptions about intelligence and consciousness become a problem as contemporary science and philosophy have a few things to say about the matter. Physics and cosmology have quite a bit to say about the universe and how it came about. Then there’s the problems of temporality and spatiality and the nature of what it means to “exist”. These matters are clearly not settled, but it shows that the conversations are moving further and further away from god talk. Could there be some as of yet undiscovered “something out there”? I don’t know because I don’t know what that “concept” (if we can allow the term) would entail. But I could conceive of there being something more in principle, whereas the believer cannot do so outside of their concept of god. And their god not existing is unthinkable, even in principle. It’s even seen as a failure or test of “faith” in many religious circles. But even if we accept such a concept as this unclarified and ambiguous “something”, is that what we are to call “god”? Will that satisfy the typical religious believer? I doubt it. I, on the other hand, like many atheists, am open to entertaining such ideas like of other forms of life elsewhere in the universe. I’m open to the possibility of a Multiverse. And I’m sure I’m not the only philosophile to give considerable thought to the “brain in a vat” problem. I can give serious consideration to moral dilemmas and truly look for meaning and purpose in life. I can think honestly about “gods”, without taking any of them on board or adopt any of their dogmas. I can entertain a great number of possibilities without being beholden to any.

And yet, all these things are restricted to the religious believer. Taboo even, to the more fundamentalist. Believing in a god essentially strips these subjects of thought of their value and relevance. Reducing them to a mere glimpse of a gods whim or fancy. The best religion can offer is the hope that their god will reveal a little bit more so our “feeble minds” can get a little closer to him. That doesn’t sound very open-minded to me at all. No, I say I am getting the full experience as science and secular philosophy fosters the kind of thinking that aids in fruitful “open-mindedness”. I’d argue that atheism is the best (and quite possibly only) position that can allow for the open-mindedness it takes to entertain these thought experiments and still maintain a grounding of rationality and commitment to intellectual honesty.[5]

– Rich

Notes:

[1] from Aristotle’s Metaphysics

[2] This was pretty much the gist of several different conversations I have had recently. Within those conversations there were statements like “atheist weren’t exposed (or willing to be exposed) to the idea of theism” and how this led to our “ignorance”. And how atheists are supposedly dogmatically holding to materialism and unwilling to consider anything other than some narrow, strictly empirical view of reality. Never to venture too far from our “master”, science (as erroneously described as basically our line-of-sight personal observations). And it is because of this we are missing out on the full experience of thinking about reality and to engaging in such philosophical thought experiments. So I decided to combine these conversations and attempt to address them all at once.

[3] Regarding these early scientists, it must be stated that god(s) was not used in any important, explanatory way. The concept of a god typically served as a widget at the limits of their understanding. We see this happening over and over again with vastly different concepts throughout the ages. From Zeus and other gods of polytheism to the monotheistic God of Abraham.

[4] “Whoever wishes to become a philosopher must learn not to be frightened by absurdities.” The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, p.24

[5] If one wants to object that rationality and intellectual honesty are somehow a hindrance to open-mindedness, then what good can being open-minded serve? It would seem that this version of “open-mindedness” would be detrimental. Like the saying goes, “so open-minded that your brain falls out”.

A Chrysalis Instead of a Crucifix…

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The other day I snapped a picture of my three year old daughter Arabella sitting in our office. It has been a joke between me and my husband that his little collection of  Freethought Today newspapers makes it look like our office is actually an FFRF waiting room. Well I tweeted out the picture and the description and one comment I received really stood out to me.

“Hmmm. Something the religious might do; expose their children to only one way of thinking & the literature supporting that. Sounds like indoctrination, to me.”

I was surprised to see this response because I felt that it was clear my post was meant as a joke. Then I started thinking about  the idea that simply exposing Arabella to non-religious texts would be the same as indoctrination through daily teachings from a holy book. Even if Arabella was able to fully understand the content I hardly think “FFRF defeats Gov. Abbott over Capitol nativity display” compares to “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me”.  If anything the FFRF text would be beneficial as it provided insight into the legal system and the constitution of the United States. Even taking Arabella to an FFRF convention or making her a “member” wouldn’t compare to the relationship between a church and it’s followers. Clearly the comment was non-sense and yet the concept is something non-believers are often confronted with when the topic of secular parenting comes up.

Our society assumes that since many people were/are raised with religion that a lack of religion leaves a void to be filled. I simply don’t see it this way. People have asked me many times how I will raise Arabella in an Atheist family and I find the question to be ridiculous. I just don’t believe that someone is taught to be an Atheist, but more that they are taught to follow God. People are not born with knowledge of a higher power so there isn’t anything to undo. Just like a Christian family would grow up skipping over all of history and traditions of Muslims, our secular family functions each day just like everyone else, except no restrictions from God.

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Instead of nightly prayers we have nightly books, right now we read and discuss bugs, planets, maps and dinosaurs. Instead of a crucifix she is learning about a chrysalis… and guess what, she sleeps soundly through the night. As the twitter post above shows it was suggested that as Atheists we could be exposing our daughter to just one way of thinking, but that isn’t the case in our household. Rich and I have a huge library of books covering nearly every perspective you could want. Though she may be years away from comparing the Purpose Driven Life and The Life Driven Purpose we also have a range of children’s books. Right there on her bedroom bookshelf sit I Found a Dead Bird, The Book of Myths and The Golden Book of God and I am happy to read all of them to her.

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See unlike children raised in religious families Arabella will have the chance to openly explore what various belief systems exist and why people find them to be true. We can hope that by teaching her critical thinking skills she will be able to understand the flaws that come with organized religions. At the same time I will not ever fault her for exploring and will gladly help her research any topic she finds interesting. I have no doubt that if she has a bunch of Christian friends that she will eventually ask if she can go to a youth group meeting. The answer will be yes as I do not believe in sheltering children from religion. I would simply use it as a chance to discuss the logic behind why we do not believe in God so that she can approach it knowing it is based on theory and not fact.

One of my favorite things about living a secular life is there are no limitations on what interests I can hold and what activities I can enjoy. I am thankful to be able to speak for myself, to treat people as I wish to be treated and to learn the natural consequence of life choices.  As Arabella gets older I look forward to watching her enjoy this freedom as well. I believe that secular parenting has an extra level of responsibility because unlike believers that can write everything off as “God’s word” or “God’s will”, you are the one that is providing the knowledge as well as the skills to use it.  Having the opportunity to teach my child kindness, love, dignity and respect without adding in God’s piece of the pie is a true honor for this mom.

What Haunts Me About the Religious Response to the Humboldt Bus Disaster

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April 6, 2018, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team is hit by a semi truck and countless lives are forever changed. Chaos was the word I saw used most to describe the accident scene. The mangled remains of the vehicles, the overturned load of peat moss and the bodies of the twenty-nine passengers scattered across the highway. From first responders to hospital staff and people across the world that were learning details as they became available… it was pure chaos. Fourteen passengers died instantly, two others in the following days. Injuries ranged from a few bruises to paralysis and only time will tell the level of mental anguish that is experienced by those involved.

The worldwide response to this tragedy has been overwhelming. A gofundme page that originally listed a goal of ten thousand dollars has, as of this post, reached nearly twelve million. Part of that likely comes from the fact that the hockey community is a tight knit group. Everyone from peewee leagues to the NHL were quick to spread the word that these families were going to need our help. I have asked myself what it is about the Humboldt Broncos tragedy that hit so close to home for me. Perhaps it is that I have always been a fan of the sport or maybe it is that I have two stepsons in the same age range of those boys who were on the bus… whatever the reason I have found myself compelled to spread the word on the Humboldt tragedy. I have my stick on the porch for solidarity and have kept up with each story as the details unfold. I have read dozens and dozens of articles in the past ten days and though most were optimistic and educational, there were a few people using the tragedy as a chance to push their own agenda and I find that to be very disheartening. One that was particularly difficult to stomach was written by Tim Challies. It was the epitome of everything I find wrong with this predatory behavior and so I had to respond.

Anytime there is a tragic event resulting in mass casualties you can rest assured that the mass proselytization will follow. People love to use loss of life as an opportunity to try to scare the vulnerable survivors into joining their cult. And I assure you, it is a completely different level as instead of telling people how amazing life is when you have Jesus they try to instill fear by insisting that death without God will be torturous. I cannot comprehend what type of person can look a grieving mother in the eye and imply that their child is now in hell because they just didn’t choose God in time. Many times I am able to simply brush off the absurdities of the radicals but when it comes to the death of a child the predatory behavior haunts me.

It haunts me that there are people out there just waiting to use a tragic event as a chance to scare people into religion. Young people doing the responsible thing and exploring all the different perspectives that the world has to offer are being pressured to chose blindly. Rather than being encouraged to educate themselves they are being threatened with a life, and after-life, of pain and punishment.

It is my hope that people both young and old will use a tragedy like that in Humboldt as a wake-up call that life is fragile. That they will take it as a reminder to spend time with your loved ones and appreciate the beauty of each day. It is my hope that people will see that every moment we have on this beautiful earth is an opportunity to gain knowledge and teach others. I hope that they will see that we are only allowed this one life and we need to make the most of our time. The things we do, the relationships we make and the impact we have on the planet is what creates the memory that will let us live on. I hope they are able to find pleasure in making the most of what time they do have, as we never know which day will be our last.

In the spirit of Holy Week, we will rise up

I remember being in junior high school when Kip Kinkle took a gun into Thurston High School, he shot 50 rounds, injuring 25 people and killing 2. I remember being a Freshman in high school when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris set multiple bombs inside of Columbine High School and when they didn’t work, the pair decided to shoot up the place instead. The Columbine massacre received far more attention than that of Thurston High, I speculate that is due to a much higher fatality rate, 13 killed and 24 injured, as well as the massive media exposure it received. Despite that they both made an impact on me as a student. Some of the smaller shootings that have occurred in the United States have been brushed off with little media coverage other than the local news. When you think of school shootings you likely think of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandyhook and now Stoneman Douglas, but this issue runs deeper than that. In fact in the 20 years that have passed since Kip Kinkle walked into his school with a gun and Nikolas Cruz chose to do the same, over 150 people have died from gun violence in our schools.

It breaks my heart to think that in 20 years we haven’t been able to reach an agreement and pass legislation that would help to keep guns out of the hands of children. Now, through the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas our youth are finally saying enough is enough. I am not sure why it took this long, but I am thankful it is happening now. The “March For Our Lives” was so inspiring. To see students rallying together and demanding action was truly beautiful, but now we have to stay strong.

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It is no surprise that this is bringing about a flood of counter-protest and not just from regular citizens but from the media and politicians. You can tell that the people are afraid of what regulation might develop as they are grasping at anything they can in an attempt to avoid the real issues. From Leslie Gibson calling Emma González, a “skinhead lesbian,” to Laura Ingraham taking to Twitter to poke fun at David Hogg over which colleges did not accept him. The behavior we have seen from many of the adults in position of power is disgraceful. I can only shake my head as I sit and try to figure out how I will explain this to my daughter one day.

Listen, whether you want to accept it or not these children are the future of our country. So you may fight them, call them names, try to destroy their spirit now, but you cannot stop them from growing up and becoming voters. These amazing children that we see marching for their lives in Washington DC will one day be serving in office, maybe even as the president. These outdated laws and flawed ways of thinking will eventually die out as fresh new minds enter into the world of politics.

You may have noticed that when Laura Ingraham made an apology to David Hogg it was “in the spirit of Holy week”. Not in the name of humanity, not because what she did was wrong and she was acknowledging it, but as an attempt at virtue signaling. Some people may fall victim to the theory that a belief in God makes you a good person, but it isn’t true. It is easy for people to slip religion in as a screen to try to make themselves look better, but anyone with a rational mind can see through it. As Michelle Obama once said “When they go low, We go high” so in the spirit of Holy Week, I suggest we rise up.

 

I just want to stop the bleeding…

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Several seizures, a few trips to the ER, numerous conversations with my OB/GYN, ultrasounds, medications… but no matter what I do the bleeding just won’t stop. I haven’t even had the chance to deal with my feelings because of how severe my physical symptoms have been. When I lost Lily I had a D&C with almost no complications but with Riley it seems that everything that can go wrong is going wrong.

People keep telling me God has a plan for me, that all of this is part of that plan and eventually I will understand… hearing this makes me want to scream. What the hell did I do to deserve the loss of two beautiful babies? What did I do to have to feel like I lose Riley over and over every time I experience one of the horrific events I mentioned above? I cannot comprehend loving a God, and putting all your faith in it and being okay with this type of pain being something you need to experience. No one should have to experience this and any God that believes babies need to die in order teach adults a lesson can go straight to hell.

Losing two babies in less than a year has made me reflect on a lot of things in my life and of course religion/faith is one of them. I know it would all be easier if I could just blame God and resign to the idea that  it was for the best, but I don’t see it that way. I have been putting my faith in science and have been hopeful that the medical community could give me some answers but unfortunately it isnt as easy as it sounds. All of the tests and procedures are expensive. The only thing my genetic testing showed was that I have two copies of the MTHFR gene mutation which turns folic acid toxic when you are pregnant… so that might be the cause of the miscarriages… but as is often the case with science we can’t prove it so we can’t declare it the answer. And my doctors can’t explain why I am still bleeding and suffering the blood clots… all they can say is that they must not have removed everything during the first D&C and that unless they go in and look again they can’t say for sure what is going on… unfortunately I dont have the funds for another procedure so I wont find out any time soon.

On top of the cramping, bleeding and clots I am also experiencing some very unpleasant side effects. I know most people don’t want to hear about this but honestly, it is a horrific fact of life that this is what happens when a baby dies while still inside the womb. I will try not to get too graphic because the situation, especially when you see it with your own eyes day after day is incredibly traumatic… For instance, the other day while at work I passed a mass that was about the size of a golf ball. It was so traumatic that I actually took a photo of it and texted Rich with a message of “OMG what is this?”. I ran downstairs to the ER (one benefit of working in a hospital) the doctor said it appeared to be a combination of tissue and clotted blood… but they couldn’t say for sure without tests, which I had to decline because that would have been insanely expensive and really what difference does it make? It would just break my heart more to know I was holdinh products of conception in my hand… and it certainly wouldn’t help me to move forward.

On top of everything else I am dealing with the fact that we don’t live in a perfect world and that health care in the US kinda sucks. Each D&C is over 8,000 and my out of pocket expense is roughly 1,500 per procedure. This is on top of all of the ultrasounds, ER visits, and the 1,000 ambulance ride that occurred when I recently suffered a grand-mal seizure. It isn’t just the financial strain it puts on our family that ticks me off, it is that every time I receive an email that a new bill is in I have to cringe because it is just another reminder that my beautiful babies are gone. We currently have a go fund me set up because, as embarrassing as it is, we cannot handle all of these bills. I have actually told my doctor that I cannot make any more appointments because we are not able to afford it. In addition, Rich and I have canceled our wedding because all the money has to go straight to the insurance company.

I really just need all of this bleeding to stop and I mean that in the literal and metaphorical sense. I know eventually the physical symptoms will end and someday the bills will be paid off… but when will I start to feel like me again?  I just don’t think I will truly heal until I can tackle the emotions I am experiencing and I don’t think I can delve into that until the external issues have been addressed. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to follow my journey, sad as it may be, knowing that there are people that care helps me more than you know.

 

*please feel free to share our link if you know anyone who might be able to relate to our struggle and would be interested in helping out

 https://www.gofundme.com/LilyandRiley/

hugs, blood and gene mutations…

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A month has passed since we lost our baby. I am still heartbroken and still bleeding. I received test results that show I have an MTHFR gene mutation which likely contributed to the miscarriage, I also received a hospital bill for 1020.93… that’s really about it as far as updates.

I sort of feel like I am drowning. Every day there is something else piling on top of me. Another piece of bad news… something else to try to handle so that I can keep things stable. I barely have any free time right now because I have been trying to work overtime to pay off all of the bills associated with the pregnancy and miscarriage. The only time I get with Arabella during the week is a few hours in the early afternoon when we are getting ready for the 30min ride to my dad’s house so he can watch her while I go to work… then I get home at 11:45pm and that is when I get to tuck her into bed. This is my favorite time of the day. Arabella gives me the biggest smile when I come in the door. She makes the most of those few minutes before bed time, showing me toys and chattering away. Then I hear “love you mama” as I squeeze her tight. Honestly, the hugs she gives me at night before she goes to sleep are truly the reason I wake up the next day.

When I read the test results on the MTHFR gene mutation I cried. It is so terrible to feel like you failed your baby. My rational mind knows that it was nothing I did and that there was no way for me to know about it and that even knowing it is still possible that I could have had a normal pregnancy and all of the other things people are saying. However in my heart, when I sit alone at night in the dark, it feels like it was my fault. I was able to keep Arabella safe for those amazing nine months that she spent in my tummy… why did I fail Lily and Riley? I have been feeling physical pain thinking about it. I get this sharp burning pain up my neck as all of my muscles tense up as I realize I will never again birth a child.

I know that writing all of this will cause me to be flooded with information on how MTHFR is very common and that I can absolutely have a successful pregnancy. I know that physically it is possible, but at this point I cannot take the risk. Emotionally I am strained. The loss of Lily broke my heart, losing Riley broke my spirit… I cannot even imagine what would be left of me with another loss. A lot of people have told me that now is not the time to make the decision to be finished… but the decision has been made. One of my dearest friends told me that “he” (pointing to the sky) will decide when/if I am done… I told her that if “he” can get past the vasectomy we are planning. plus regular birth control, she might make a believer out of me. Until then I am going to stick with science. Clearly the odds are not in my favor to have a healthy pregnancy. There are ways to treat all of the things that are wrong and I believe that moving forward and enjoying all that I do have is going to be the first step in conquering this anxiety and depression that are plaguing me day and night. The bleeding has to stop eventually… right?