“I’m a believer, I’m a Christian and I’m right…”

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Recently I received this statement in a text message.  The text came from, what I thought was, one of my closest friends. We have known each other for years, she was at the hospital the day I gave birth to Arabella and just a few months ago I watched her marry her long time partner.

I have often used her as an example of why you should not be afraid to tell your friends that you are an Atheist. Just as if it were yesterday I can see us walking down the street in Pittsburgh’s south-side when I first mentioned my Atheism… she turned to me a little stunned and said “you’re an Atheist?”, I said yes, then she replied “wow, well I guess I like Atheists”. She was my proof that believer and non can mutually respect without judgement… unfortunately that is no longer the case.

What started out as typical conversation turned into a lecture on how I could never understand her beliefs. That I will never be able to relate to her because I “haven’t seen his work or don’t recognize his work”.  She spewed out your typical “God is good”, “Faith is strong” and admitted believing in the virgin birth, the trinity, Jesus’ ability to heal the sick and that  God is still here with us.

I thought we could bring in the reigns, I asked her if she worships all Gods or if she was just revisiting her Catholic roots… reminding her that if she doubts any deity she is agnostic/atheist to them and therefore could see my point of view, even if she chooses to disagree with it… she wouldn’t answer the question and simply said “I don’t understand Atheist stuff… cause I believe in God”.

I tried explaining that it is ridiculous to say she can’t understand Atheism, at least from an academic stance but only received responses like “I can’t understand it because it doesn’t make sense to me, I believe in God”.  Honestly, at this point I felt like I was feeding a troll on a fundamentalist debate page… it was a sad moment.  Then she said to me “I believe in God… you can’t take that away from me Allison… No one can”… this is the only thing we’d agreed on all day.

I explained that I would never want to take away her right to believe and wondered how she could have completely wiped from her memory how respectful I had always been towards her faith. I remember going to the Catholic mass when her mother died, holding her hand while she shared beautiful fantasies of her mother safe in heaven… I never used those moments as a chance to question her or ridicule her and even at this very moment I still stand by her right to believe… though I question the cost that might come with this newly developed faith.

The final gauntlet was thrown down with the firm statement ” I’m a believer, I’m a Christian and I’m right”. Everything after was dodged with the response that it is something an Atheist cannot understand… boy was she right about that. After a little more discussion I received five messages in a row all stating “I win”. I imagined a child with their hands over their ears trying to block out the reasoning words of a parent. It was just a sad moment- I asked what she felt she won? Fear? Oppression? Hate? but “I win because I have faith” was the only thing she would say.  The conversation ceased for several hours until she messaged me stating we could no longer be friends… I told her it was unfortunate. She told me that I will never win (because I don’t have God).  I’d say we both lost.

So this certainly isn’t the first time I have lost a friend over God, but it is the first time it mattered. What is funny is that while she is praying for me to be saved I am here just as worried for her, if not more so since I don’t have a God to put on the job.

 

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We celebrate Christmas and that is okay…

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Another Christmas has come and gone with new memories, familiar traditions, surprises and a feeling of wonder that anyone with kids who celebrate the holiday can relate to.

Year after year I fight the urge to voice my frustrations with both believers and non-believers when it comes to the holiday season. Believer A says “I’ll say ‘Merry Christmas’ and I don’t care who doesn’t like it!”. Non-believer B says “I better not see city workers taking down those lights- that is the government choosing one faith over the other!” Believer C wants to “Keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas” while Non-Believer D screams “YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE A YULE LOG- THAT BELONGS TO THE SOLSTICE!”. You know what I have to say to all of this….  GET OVER YOURSELVES!

Funny enough by saying that I unite them- suddenly I am the problem with Christmas because I don’t believe and I still celebrate. I get bombarded by accusations from some died hard nons about not being a true Atheist if I have a tree, some decorations or maybe an “Elf on the shelf”. Then I get attacked by the holier than thou believers that I have no right to celebrate the birth of Christ because I don’t worship God… Lucky for me I didn’t ask anyone for permission, and I certainly don’t need the way I live validated by anyone.

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I refuse to allow anyone to use their beliefs to impact how I raise my children. Rich and I were both raised by moderate Catholic families who celebrated Christmas every year. We were both taught about God, Santa, the spirit of giving and the importance of family togetherness. With the exception of an instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” there wasn’t anything explicitly religious. Continuing now with our own children we follow similar traditions, none of which require God to enjoy.

This year we had a beautiful tree, old ornaments mixed with new… a custom “Dawkins A” ornament placed next to one featuring a picture of my daughter with Santa and solid lights to minimize my risk of photosensitive triggered seizure. We introduced our “elf on the shelf” for Arabella- we named him “Hitch”… we will use this story as a fun part of the holiday, but not as a threat of punishment from Santa (google the story and you’ll understand better). I sent out roughly 100 holiday cards, a reminder to our friends and family that we love them. The cards we received covered the archway from our living-room to dining room, this will be the last decoration I take down.  I baked cookies and cakes, some traditional and some new ones as well… it turns out that making cupcakes that resemble the “bumble” is not as easy as I thought it would be. Holiday movies play non-stop in our home from 12/1-12/25 (the cheesier, the better). Even our rubber ducky manger made an appearance this year.

Christmas eve was filled with family, food, drinks, gifts and love- it is a nice opportunity to get everyone together and I look forward to it each year. Christmas morning was filled with magic. Most of this comes from watching Arabella experience everything from a completely different perspective than she had last year. As we waited for her older brothers she danced around the room with our puppy, Zdeno, waiting to see what was going to happen next. She was much more excited to see her brothers open gifts than to open them herself (this will surely change as she gets older) but once she caught a glimpse of her new toys her smile lit up the room.

 

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Even with all of this my Christmas gift (or as Rich says, his gift) took center stage. After the kids finished opening their gifts Rich approached me, got down on one knee and presented me with a ring, asking if I would give him the gift of being his wife. As you might imagine I said yes without hesitation. Though the institution of marriage has never been critical to our relationship, the declaration of love and commitment meant more to me than I ever could have imagined.

So yes, we celebrate Christmas, and yes- it is okay. December 25 may not signify the birth of Christ for our family (and it isn’t his birthday anyway… sorry had to get that in here somewhere) but it does stand for family, giving, happiness, celebration and most of all love.  I hope you all had a wonderful December, no matter what you did, and I wish you all the best in 2016.

 

 

My dinner table is not your pulpit

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There seems to be a lot of buzz going around concerning a certain “Dear Prudence” question. The writer asked how to handle her Atheist husband who thinks the Thanksgiving dinner table is the appropriate place to vent his feelings on religion to an Episcopal family… in my opinion he is completely wrong.

I grew up with an Atheist father and brother- the rest of our brood fell somewhere on the spectrum of the Catholic church. I can still picture my  grandparents house filled with family on Thanksgiving and hearing my grandfather give the blessing over our meal. Despite my disbelief in God, I never once even considered using this as a place to plant my soapbox. Perhaps it is that I love my family more than I dislike religion, but I never viewed our family table as my pulpit… and I tell you from the bottom of my heart, I would give anything to hear my grandfather give the blessing just one more time.

Family traditions are sacred. Whether they are rooted in religion or not is irrelevant. Taking the time to purposefully disgrace them is despicable and this Atheist does not support such behavior. Rich and I may be the “Couple of Atheists” but if he ever threatened to shame my family over something like a religious gesture during the holidays, I would do a lot more than ask the internet for advice, and I am sure he feels the same. Both of us have believers in our family. People as close as parents all the way to the friends that are our chosen family. They know our views and sometimes we do engage in a little debate, but not on the holidays and certainly not with the objective to disrespect and belittle one-another.

Just imagine that there might have been someone on the edge of reason sitting at that table with him. Someone questioning God and searching for an alternative. I would imagine that seeing the behavior of this “angry Atheist” and what the reaction was would only make them cling tighter to the security blanket provided by God.

I am not saying that you have to agree with someone’s beliefs, but if you are a guest in their home you need to find a way to separate the believer from the belief and show them the respect that a loved one deserves. Saying grace at the dinner table is not forcing their beliefs on you, it is observing the traditions that they practice. No one is forcing you to be at that table. No one is forcing you to pray. By using the holiday table as a chance to proselytize you are just as bad, maybe even worse than the people you are disgracing.

So to the wife of this Atheist, I am sorry that he disrespected your family and ruined their holiday. If he decides to make this a tradition, please let your loved ones know that this is not the typical behavior of those in the Atheist community… it is the behavior of an asshole and unfortunately you will find those types everywhere.

The Christian battle against “God’s will”

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For most parents the death of a child is the most destructive, tragic, unforgivable situation they can imagine. Each day we send our children out into the world doing our best to ensure their safe return… but there are never guarantees in life. Children die every single day, from illness, abuse, accident… sometimes at the hands of their very own parents. When I read a story about an “accidental death” such as a child being run over by their own parents vehicle, or a parent leaving their child locked inside a car to burn from the inside out… my heart breaks for every person who was touched by that child’s life. I start thinking about all of the ways that it could have been prevented, I run through scenarios in my head where I would find myself in a situation similar to theirs and prep myself with an arsenal of ways to keep my child safe. I don’t claim to be a perfect parent- the majority of the time these accidents are not a matter of malice but simply human error… we are not without fault and thus have to continue our education even when we feel like we know it all.

It is when we become complacent that accidents like this occur. The intellectual, secular side of me knows that the way to make an impact is to get as much information into the hands of parents as possible. If you go to bed each night and pray that you make it through another day without killing your kids you are essentially doing nothing and thus putting yourself one step closer to failure. I was inspired to write this when a debate came about in a parenting group concerning the legal side of a child dying from being locked inside of a car. One person cited the website Kids and Cars, this site shares tips, techniques, and heartbreaking testimonials from parents who have suffered the loss of a child through an automobile related accident.

I spent hours reading these stories, I don’t recommend you do this because it will rip your heart out. As I worked my way down the list I realized a common theme. There was an abundance of parents who were comforted by the loss because it was “God’s will”. One woman even stated that she knew God planned for her baby to “bloom on earth to blossom in heaven”. These reactions don’t surprise me because believers will use “God’s will” to justify anything from the death of the child to getting the wrong sandwich at the delicatessen. No issue, big or small, is within their control- there is a reason for it and it isn’t for them to question.

So here’s the rub… the same parents who are not questioning “God’s will” and have made peace that their child was only brought here to die a tragic death are apparently not as confident in his plan as they seem to be. I say this because many of the parents ended their story by stating they are now going to dedicate their life to making sure this doesn’t happen to other children. Okay, from a secular stand point I am thinking “What a wonderful way to honor their memory, educating others, well done!”…. but wait a minute believers, you cannot go double dipping. According to you this accident was unavoidable, it was part of the plan before your child was even born, so why are you trying to rebel against God now? How arrogant to think that you can go out and change his plan. If God wants these children to die, well it looks like there is nothing you can do to stop it.

One of the stories that clearly displays the contradiction was written by a mother who tells us that her child was “created for eternity“. At just over 6 months of age this little girl was killed when her father left her in the car. You can use the link to read all of the details, but basically it was a classic case of a change in a routine causing a tragic mistake. The mother explains that though she did question God at times she knows that it happened for a reason stating “my faith & belief in God tells me Mika’s life & death was written in God’s plan long ago.”. She tells us that she praises God for keeping her husband out of jail, keeping the rest of the kids together and for helping to get their truck back (so they can sell it)… to her these are all examples of the power of prayer. She tells us that all of her family, her pastor & “church family” and even people they’d never met were all praying together on the day the father went to court, and the prayers are the reason that everything came up roses.

She goes on to say that this could happen to anyone and that she needs to raise awareness and that sharing her story could save a child’s life. As an Atheist I think that all of those things are great but if you are a Christian are you really able to think it is true?  Can it happen to anyone? Not according to the believer, as was said earlier, it happened because God made it so. If God decides who will live and who will die, does any amount of awareness to the issue really help? Had these parents learned more about car safety would God have changed his plan and spared their daughter’s life? These are terrifying questions that just illuminate the dangers of religion and a true faith in God.

Now let’s look at it from another angle. What happens when the act that caused the death is purposeful. Should the person be punished by the law or is it once again “God’s will”? In another story from Kids and Cars a woman discusses how her babysitter left her child locked inside the car while she went shopping. The babysitter stated that he was sleeping and she didn’t want to disturb him, then left not one but two children alone in the car for 2 hours. She was sentenced to 13 years in prison for this act, being released after only 8. The charges were manslaughter, criminal abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child. One thing that she did not receive was praise for helping to fulfill “God’s will”. In this case, what was previously seen as a message from the lord was now revealed for what it is… a tragedy.  I believe this woman should have been punished, in fact I don’t think 13 years is enough to make up for the death of a child. Is there any punishment that fits the crime of taking a life so young they never even saw their first birthday? I don’t think so.  You could make an argument that it was still just an accident. That leaving the child in the car was an intentional act but killing him was not. If this is so should the church, pastor and community have been praying for her to be spared a prison sentence just as the previous family had? Should it all have been viewed as a divine act that allowed them the honor to see one of God’s children return home after their work was done. No, of course not. Endangering a child to the point that it results in death is the ultimate crime. Whether it be a forgivable accident, an unforgivable act or straight out malice the result is still the same. A child has died and they will never come home.

If we allow God to serve as justification we are doing a disservice to our children. If we continue to pray when we need to act we will never truly be able to protect them. I cannot imagine the intensity of the pain that is felt when you lose a child, and I hope that I never do. If you need “God’s will” to get you through another day, I won’t try to stop you. Just please, whatever you do don’t push it onto others in an attempt to avoid the truth of the matter. The reality is that sometimes in life terrible things happen and we never get to find out why. Reality may not always be what you want, but it cannot be willed away.

The wounds of racism

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It started with a video from BuzzFeed and spiraled into an anger fueled bullying session where I was ganged up on for not being racist. I was stunned when I saw the original post come up in my news feed. I don’t collect friends on Facebook so the people I interact with are typically people I know well. I met the OP (we will call her “T” going forward and each participating person has been assigned an initial as well) at the beginning of the year in a general Pittsburgh group. We’ve spent time together at a local park as we have children who are only  months apart in age. I never felt that we had much in common, but I didn’t know the extent of it until a few days ago.

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I have plenty of outlets in which to discuss my views on religion, politics and other hot topics- so when it comes to using my personal face book account I don’t typically make waves, especially when it comes to my local mommy friends. I always say that unless it is something that could potentially harm my child I am willing to turn the other cheek and this blatant display of racism was more than enough to make me speak up. I see bigoted views being spewed by adults as dangerous to our youth and it is one of the things I refuse to let slide. Now I am going to include screen shots of exactly how the conversation went down, I apologize in advance for the incredibly offensive meme they used as well as the racial slurs, generalizations and inaccurate stereotypes- these do not in any way represent my views and these people have since been removed from my life.

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By the time I noticed that T posted the video three comments had already been made. When I saw that one of the comments was “Niggers are always pulling the race card” I absolutely had to watch the video and find out what all of the fuss was about. The video 24 Questions Black People Have For White People included some questions that were clearly in jest (why do you always make such horrible decisions in horror movies?) and others were very serious (“Why does talking about race make you feel so uncomfortable?” ). They made valid points concerning black stereotypes- as I would soon learn many of the questions posed in the video pertained to the people I was talking to and  fit perfectly with the conversation that was about to take place.

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Before we get into the blood and guts of my terribly uncomfortable Facebook conversation I want to point out what all of this started with. While you scroll through the images and read the conversation it will be easy to forget that every hateful word is based on nothing more than an assumption. T saw the video and decided that if there were to be a companion video of “24 questions white people have for black people” that it would “blow up into a big racist thing”. By the end of the conversation I was being told over and over that the video in the OP had nothing to do with the issue at hand, which leads me to believe they may not have even watched the clip. Nevertheless, to use a hypothetical situation to show how an entire race would react to confrontation is racist in itself and probably not the best way to make the point that you aren’t a bigot.

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Once the conversation started to roll I could tell I was dealing with a deeper level of racist than I originally thought. Though I knew T’s husband P (the one who used the N word at the beginning) had issues I didn’t realize that T was right beside him on it. I find it worse that she kept insisting she was not racist, that she doesn’t see people by the color of their skin, that she is sick of black bashing and white bashing but then over and over made terrible comments… I really couldn’t believe what I was reading. First she said that African Americans need to “get over” slavery and start acting like decent human beings. She asked why black people think she should say “hi” when she sees them and that if she could ask 24 questions one would be why they don’t have to wash their hair for days on end or why they never have to tip at a restaurant. During all of this her friends B and J were backing her up- when I pointed out that she was continuously contradicting herself and that making generalizations about an entire race is dangerous, one of the friends actually said “I didn’t see her bash a race I saw her speak the truth”. I attempted to step away at that point because I was feeling physically ill over the comments and it was clear that they were not going to be persuaded to see the error in their own thought process. Just when I thought I had said goodbye to T I received a notification that another of her friends had joined the conversation and this was when it turned into a bullying session fueled by racism and hate.

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Suddenly the conversation was a blurred mess using skin pigmentation and race interchangeably, saying that this “racial shit needs to end” and calling me “retarded”, uneducated… it seems her friend Z was under the impression that I was black because he asked T “Can black people be basic bitches” (because being a “basic bitch” is a white stereotype) to which T responded “she’s not black. Idk why she’s even getting so bent out of shape!!”. Well in case anyone reading this is curious why this Caucasian woman was so upset it is because this behavior is DESPICABLE! Witnessing jokes about the deaths of innocent African Americans, seeing someone refer to their own relatives as their “colored family”, having “Black Lives Matter” be brushed off as if it is a passing fad… these are just a few of the things that outrage me.

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I thought perhaps they were just going to continue among themselves making irrelevant personal attacks. This is something I can ignore. If a man who has to hide behind his screen wants to call me names, have it sir, no skin off my back… but then I saw it, a meme I won’t soon forget. An image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose with the text “Go be a nigger somewhere else”… this made my blood boil. Her friends began posting the N word over and over and T took it upon herself to point out that I was the only person bothered by the use of this word. I replied to her with “Well, I guess I’m the only one who isn’t a nasty bigot”.

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The conversation finally ended when her family saw the post, W is T’s aunt, and she is an African American woman. How unfortunate that she had to find out through Facebook what her family really thinks about people of a different race. I cannot imagine what it felt like to see all of that unfold. I can only hope that by seeing the pain her words caused her family T will reevaluate her personal agenda. She will see that black lives do matter and that expressing hatred towards others is not simply exercising your right to free speech but making a potentially dangerous and live altering choice. At one point Z said that he feels bad for my child having to be raised by me, well I feel the same for their children. Growing up in a family who hates is dangerous for a young child. Telling them that God created us all equal and then speaking of an entire race as if they are second class citizens is confusing, harmful and sets the child up to a future where they lack a basic understanding of civil rights and inability to empathize with the challenges others may face. Rich and I plan to raise Arabella to show people the respect they deserve and to celebrate our differences rather than use them as tools of oppression. I hope that things work out between T and her family- but only time will tell if the wounds of racism can fully heal.

it takes more than a meme to be a mom

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Every morning I start my day making choices on how to best care for my family. I am constantly reminded by my stepson’s mother (we will call her D )that I didn’t give birth to the boys and therefore they are not my children. Well she is right that I didn’t give birth to them but she is wrong that about me not being their mother. Whether you want to insert the “step” in front of it or not- the job description is the same and I take it seriously. Since I have known D she has been an absentee parent. Giving herself up to “God” to try to justify her abusive actions while succumbing to the temptation of alcohol addiction has been the forefront of her place in our lives. Thanks to facebook parents like D are able to put up a facade so outsiders don’t know what is really going on. Meme after meme is posted each day, whether it is a cute little poem, a bible verse or “A PRAYER for my son” the “likes” are dished out and mommy gets a pat on the back.  Well let me tell you something- those poems and prayers don’t meaning anything unless your actions back them up. Posting a poem about how tough it is raising kids isn’t the same as making sure they wake up on time in the morning. cooking a favorite dinner at night,  being an active part of their education, knowing that something is wrong just by the look in their eyes and being the one who helps make it right again. I may not get “likes” from hundreds of cyber-friends, but I get a “thank you” from my children and that means a hell of a lot more.

Your belief in God does not make you a better parent than me. In fact it might very well make you worse in many ways. If you abuse your child or neglect them it is because you have strayed from god. If anything happens to my children I take personal responsibility for it I’m the one that is responsible for their needs. If you believe in God you probably think well whatever happens is God’s will but that’s because you are naive and probably shouldn’t be trusted to take care of yourself… let alone a child. In the church community you probably say “it takes a village to raise a child” but that village is only as strong as the values of those who participate. If it is God you look too guidance for, well I “pray” that the rest of the village is wiser.

Our children don’t need love and acceptance from God, they need love and acceptance from their parents. It isn’t love and support from God or the church that their children need,  it is the love and support of a family. A prayer won’t get them to a doctor when they are ill or heat the house in the dead of winter. If you are too selfish to give your kids your all- no strings attached… then perhaps your meme was wrong and God does give you more than you can handle. No worries though, this Atheist is here to pick up the slack… all day, every day… and I do it out of love for my family, not out of fear of God.

 

Beliefs and Their Effects on our Children: An Elaboration of My Talk at PASTAH Con.

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I would first like to say what a privilege it was for Allison and I to be speaking at the Third Annual PA Atheist/Humanist Conference alongside so many great speakers and entertainers, as well as being a part of the organizing committee. We met many amazing people and made some new friends. It was a wonderful experience for a cause we are passionate about. The show of support was very encouraging. This was our first speaking event together (and my first ever in my life). My part was on belief, and with limited time, I couldn’t really get into much detail. It’s a topic I feel strongly about and want to expand on it a bit in this blog. The main point I want to stress is that what we teach our children will affect the way they will interact with the rest of the world, and this is paramount for a promising future. This starts with what we believe as well.

 

There is this notion that beliefs are not to be criticized. In fact, it is even considered an insult. I want to argue here that beliefs are not sacrosanct and it is a mistake to treat them as such. Beliefs are not benign and they need to be questioned or we commit ourselves to willful ignorance and to suffering the resulting consequences without hope of bettering ourselves or our situation. We must acknowledge that what we believe can have a profound effect on others and on society as a whole in a variety of ways. They influence our behavior and our actions such as in the way we vote, what medical treatments and procedures we seek for our families, what careers we pursue, and how we view the world and treat others around us. Beliefs can have many positive effects, while others have very disastrous effects. Just look at how profoundly damaging racism, misogyny, and homophobia have been. It is for reasons like these that questioning and challenging the beliefs that shape our world is essential for us to flourish. I think that nothing is more important to continue this progress than what and how we teach our children.

 

As W. K. Clifford argues in the Ethics Of Belief, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”[1] Now even if you don’t fully agree with this hard rationalistic approach, we can clearly see how believing in things without evidence would make us more and more credulous, and that we would ultimately pass this tradition of credulity on to our children. We can appreciate the importance of adopting the sentiment of David Hume that “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence”[2] as a way to avoid believing in the wrong things and falsehoods. But it is not enough to say we shouldn’t believe irrational things. Nobody thinks that they do. We don’t make a habit of believing things we don’t think are true. Therefore we must peel back the surface of our beliefs, even if they appear to be good, and take a look at what is at the core and why we hold them. Because we don’t live in a vacuum and ultimately they will have varying degrees of influence on the next generation.

 

This is where I find most religions to be among the most potentially harmful, and even dangerous, kinds of belief anyone can hold. The majority of them are generally dogmatic and inherently divisive in nature. The first thing we need to recognize is that religious beliefs go quite a bit deeper than just believing in something like ghosts. Even at their best, these religions make some pretty lofty (and dubious) claims that are absolute, are purported to be beyond our understanding, and are to be accepted on faith. This is why they deserve extra consideration in our critical analyses of beliefs. They create a worldview that dominates practically every aspect of the believers life. It’s more than simply holding a belief that a God exists, it’s about what we’re told, and what we tell others, about this God. There are a lot of other ideological commitments and dogmas that accompany whichever one of these religions we choose, or as most often the case, have foisted onto us at a young age.

 

First, to get a better perspective of how these beliefs take hold, we need to take a critical look into how religion is taught to children. In the case of Christianity, we needn’t look much further than the children’s bible and those specifically selected stories made into appealing coloring books that conveniently gloss over the horrible parts. Here we find that Moses always looks happy, they picture Lazarus springing from his grave with a smile on his face. All the animals fit on the arc comfortably and are also smiling. All the while omitting the passages that we would, by todays standards, consider shockingly immoral or nonsensical myth. This is done intentionally. After all, how could stories like Moses ordering the slaughter of thousands of people by God’s command be spun into the teachings that God is all good and merciful without a heavy dose of indoctrination? Or to ignore the fact that the historical credibility often ascribed to the story of Noah’s arc is simply absurd? It’s easier to disguise the immorality,  contradictions, and inaccuracies we find when carefully selected passages are redacted in such an ingratiating fashion before being introduced to children. By the time they are confronted with these issues, they’re already groomed to accept that nothing is impossible for God, and his will is just and such a sinful world is deserving of punishment. Naturally, children seek their parents approval and respond positively to the praise they receive from reciting these passages and singing the hymns. All containing the message that God is good and is to be worshiped. They are literally taught to be sheep. This belief demands worship and obedience. They are told they must be humbly acquiescent to this God as his word is absolute, and above reproach. God is good simply by virtue of being God. The problems associated with this kind of thinking goes largely unchallenged due to this taboo we have circulated about questioning beliefs. Before long, children are making their own excuses for their religion much in the same way as the adults that nurtured this belief have. It’s a cycle of indoctrination that is designed to keep going generation after generation.

 

But what is it about these religious beliefs that carries such a potentiality for harm? As pernicious and undermining as these religions foundational totalitarianism is, what’s even more damaging is the way humanity is portrayed and how they ultimately foster a negative and despondent view of ourselves. I think it is in this that allows for these totalitarian doctrinal beliefs to go unchallenged to begin with. The stories like that of the fall have been a great burden on our understanding of the human condition and an insult to our most basic human dignities. But for as troubling as most of us should find the doctrine of Original sin, imagine what it does to the mind of a child. Then there’s the detrimental effects caused by the churches unhealthy views on sex and sexual identity that leads to many misconceptions and anxiety, and even self loathing. What about the damage done to their self esteem by being told that their only redeeming value, and their very self worth, is found in God? A God without which there is no redemption. They are doomed to hell unless they accept the “salvation” offered to them. To gain the favor of this God, they are told to overcome their unclean, sinful human nature by living every day according to a biblically virtuous standard that can never be achieved. A standard that itself is repressive and impractical. Their only validation of goodness as a person is in how closely they live in accordance to God’s word. Then there’s the grotesque way guilt is used to shame our children into submission. Nothing quite accomplishes this like the doctrine that we are all so fallen that Jesus had to die a horrible death because of a sin in which they are indirectly culpable of. Can we think of anything more detrimental and destructive to our children’s development?

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How is it that devout believers can claim that promulgating the belief that there is no meaning to this life without God is anything but abhorrent? It is an inherent feature of the belief that is part and parcel to how it comes to dominate the believers life. We often find the life degrading belief in a greater afterlife in paradise for those who worship and an eternal torment for disobedience, along with the belief that God’s will must be obeyed above all else, behind the most extreme behaviors. This is the undeniable result of fervent religious piety clashing with reality. Early signs of the psychological consequences caused by these faith-based beliefs can be seen in the disturbing images of children in tearful prayer for forgiveness of sins they aren’t even aware they are guilty of. Pictures of a child holding a Qur’an in one hand and an AK-47 in the other. Of children in Israel cheering the bombing of Palestinian citizens. These teachings are the very foundations of fundamentalism and these images serve as proof of just how this indoctrinated irrationality manifests itself in the most disturbing ways. Yet time and time again religion is exonerated of any blame. Terms like “extremism” and “fundamentalism” are used in an attempt to distance these acts from their religious roots. But it simply can’t be ignored any longer that the same faith that served as the foundation for these atrocities, and the violence we see today, is from the same holy books used to inculcate our children.

 

Moderates of course, charge that this is just picking the most extreme examples, and that this is from a literal interpretation of the bible, and they’re right. But why not pick these examples? Why not look at the bible literally? But it can’t be denied that this is the brutal history these beliefs left behind, by people who professed devotion to the same God. Again, these traditions came from the same books. We will find that any “moderation” that leads us away from these manifestly exclusionary, and often brutal, traditions are ultimately rooted in the core values we find in our own inherent humanism, not in a better understanding of the holy texts. My point is, we must shed light on the possible dangers of these beliefs and ask why would anyone take the risk of exposing their children to this? But we must be honest here, many supposed moderates claim to more moderation than they actually are. We see examples of this everyday. One prime example is in the way supposed “moderates” attempt to disguise religion as science in an attempt to proselytize to our children. Over 40% of Americans deny that evolution is scientific fact and want creationism taught in schools. It is such an issue that it is affecting the way schools teach science in some states. Children are taught to disregard actual science that is contradictory to their holy book and adopt faith driven pseudoscience just to appease a religious belief. I can hardly call this moderation. And when we consider the overwhelming number of Christians that oppose same sex marriage, we can safely assume the same immoral and vile message of “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is being taught to their children. These beliefs are based solely on what the bible tells them about the nature of reality. This IS fundamentalism! It is not moderation and it is irresponsible and immoral. There is real political pressure over these biblical issues. To deny this is to ignore the problem. An exemplary case in point is the much publicized case involving Hobby Lobby. Their fight for “religious freedoms” has become their fight to oppress other people’s basic human rights and liberties. The whole religious political endeavor breaks down to an attempt to establish a Christian hegemony[3]. The bigotry, willful ignorance, and subordination that accompany it are the very things we need to protect our children from, not embrace.

 

This is why our beliefs must be critically analyzed and be open for reform should new information come to light. Something religion seems very reluctant to do. If we truly value human flourishing and improving the human condition for generations to come, we don’t want our children to carry on these dogmatic beliefs. We’ll never achieve the kind of society that strives for these goals if we inculcate our children with guilt and fear, or by destroying their dignity or moral identity. To strengthen our moral character and we must first rid ourselves of the absolutism promulgated by religion. We should not be telling our children what to believe, we need to teach them critical thinking skills and how to reason. We teach them to understand the views of others and how to have open, honest dialogue. And if sincere moderates, who are motivated by the same goal of human flourishing, wish to be part of the conversation and effect real change, then they ought to be welcome. The door should always remain open to allow for a comprehensive arena of ideas. However, the dogmatic beliefs in a supernatural authority must be left out and with it, the demeaning demand of servitude and worship that only promotes the denigration of humanity. As must the idea that the bible is the authoritative final word on all ethical matters. This belief in a totalitarian divine authority is in stark contrast to the robust plurality and diversity needed for moral growth and is counter-intuitive to any ethical system where the focus is on human values. Ideologies of this kind only shut the door to conversation. History shows that when our values come strictly from a holy book, we see just how true Voltaire’s famous quote “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”[4] can be. So the underpinning questions that need to be addressed are, what tangible benefit could possibly be had by imposing these religious beliefs onto our children that could not be far better served through secular means? How would our children be better prepared to answer the difficult moral challenges that lie ahead than to have values grounded in human dignity, respect, and reason? My answer is that there isn’t and they wouldn’t. So, given the potential for such great harm, just what reason is there to hold such irrational beliefs in today’s era? I think we’ll find that most attempts at answering this will point to childhood indoctrination. Our children deserve better because they are better than what the bible tells them, and they are capable of wonderful things due to the goodness within them. It’s our duty to help them unlock it. That’s what I believe.

 – Rich

 

Notes:

[1] William Kingdon Clifford, The Ethics Of Belief, 1877

[2] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

[3] Paul Kivel, What is Christian Hegemony?, http://christianhegemony.org/what-is-christian-hegemony

[4] Voltaire, Questions sur les Miracles à M. Claparede, Professeur de Théologie à Genève, par un Proposant: Ou Extrait de Diverses Lettres de M. de Voltaire

A Uterus from Nothing (part 8)

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1 month old

 

 

Arabella has arrived! It is exactly one month since the birth of my baby girl and finally I am able to sit down and share our story with you. The past month has been one of the best, maybe the best, of my entire life… but as seems to be the case for this entire journey, the road was not a particularly easy one.

It was July 19 when I first started feeling minor contractions that were different than the Braxton Hicks I had been feeling for months, the pain was mainly in my back and something just didn’t seem right. I went to labor and delivery on the 20th and they said it was too early and were about to send me home when a gush of fluid (like the kind you see in a movie) came out. I was quickly moved to a birthing room and the process started. The pain in my back began to intensify and then I began having full blown back labor. The pain in my back was so intense that I could not even feel contractions in my stomach, just my back. It turns out baby girl was facing backwards and her head was resting on my spine. She was unable to drop into my pelvis and so I could not dilate properly- I was given pitocin to try to rectify the situation, but it just wasn’t working. After about 8 hours of this, the doctor suggested they preform a cesarean section, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to happen. However, as soon as it was explained that it was not only best for me, but for my child, I consented to the procedure. The spinal block was administered and the procedure began. I remember while being in a twilight like state and looking into Rich’s eyes, that it was astounding that I had such options. Once baby was safely out of my abdomen they began to put me back together. I was not able to hold baby immediately, so her first skin-to-skin was with Rich. I was still on the table in a similar position as you typically see with Jesus on the cross. Within 20 minutes I was back in my room and breast feeding- and that has been her favorite activity ever since.

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1 day old

I was surprised at how many people seemed saddened by my situation. I received many apologies, some going as far as to say it was a shame I was unable to “give birth”. For the record, that is a bunch of b.s. . Sure, natural birth was not an option but I am thankful that medical science was there to intervene. I still feel that I birthed a child that day and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Since my Atheism was not known by the nurses, residents and physicians I received many comments about my “little angel” who is “such a blessing”. I did not use this as an opportunity to chastise them for disrespecting me and my lack-of belief. Anyone who has read my blogs will already know that is not my style. Instead I thanked them and thought, she may not be a gift from God but she is a gift from the medical community. From the moment I conceived to the moment I delivered medical science was involved. I could not have done it without the perseverance of doctors, researchers and scientists. So I thank you all for my baby girl- you have changed my life.

As Arabella grows I hope to pass on to her the secular values that I hold so dear. I want to show her that just because someone may feel differently than you do, it doesn’t make them a bad person or a stupid person, it just means that they have had a different journey than we have. I want her to know that bashing those who believe is never the answer, but taking the time to hear them out and educate them is likely to go a long way. People always ask what we will do if she decides to take a different path than we have and chooses to believe. Well the answer is that I will respect her, I will love her, and I will only expect the same in return.

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A Uterus from Nothing (part 7)

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As my pregnancy is coming to an end I find myself reflecting on the experiences I have had and the things that I have learned. I cannot cover all of it, so I am picking the top two. First, when you are pregnant, people have no filter towards you. They will comfortably make comments about how you look, what you are doing, what you might potentially do once baby has arrived and sometimes you just have to ignore it. More importantly I learned that not every mention of religion is meant to be insulting. Some people just don’t know how to express themselves without a religious undertone. Miracles, blessings and even prayers can be appreciated by the secular, if the good intent is clear. Here, let me give you a few examples of what I have encountered.

While attending a book sale at our local Half Price Books a man approached me and said “Do you know anyone who is pregnant?” I assumed he was teasing me since the bump was quite obvious at that point. In jest, I replied “nope”. Then he went off on a rant about circumcision. The rights of a man to not be mutilated. The carelessness of parents who choose to risk infection on their sons. I interjected, letting him know that he didn’t have to worry- I am pregnant with a little girl and that I certainly do not condone female genital mutilation. This was not sufficient. He was relentless. Coming at me insisting there is never a valid reason, religious or otherwise.  I eventually just had to find Rich and leave. The topic of circumcision is so controversial that many of the internet groups I am involved in (concerning pregnancy) have banned the topic. So having a complete stranger approach me and feel that they could preach their views was surprising. I did not witness him engage anyone else in this type of conversation, but for some reason my baby bump made him feel it was ok to spill his guts on this particularly hot topic. 

Another strange situation occurred at a local McDonald’s restaurant. A woman came up to me and made a remark about how I look like I am about to burst (it’s true!) and then touched my belly without asking. I politely backed up at which point she removed her hand and went into a story about her mother’s at home abortion. That’s right, as I was waiting to order my plain chocolate milkshake I had to hear about how good it is that I chose life… that it is sickening when people overstep God and take life into their own hands. The story was disgusting and I won’t go into details, but the overall point was that she was filled with resentment that she could have had a sibling if only her mother had followed God and chose life. I am not sure why I didn’t stop her preaching as I had with the man at the book store, maybe I was just in shock, Once again, someone felt that my pregnancy gave them carte blanch to say anything and everything that they wanted… and once again, I walked away without a fight.

Those examples are extreme and certainly don’t represent a regular day in my 39 weeks 2 days of being pregnant. Overall this has been the most incredible experience of my life. It has taught me so much about myself and at times restored my faith in humanity. One of the most beneficial things I learned was not to sweat the small stuff…specifically tolerance of random acts of religion…  seriously, it made my pregnancy much more enjoyable. 

For instance, there have been countless moments where strangers and friends alike have referred to Arabella as a “blessing”. I know some of my fellow Atheists would find this insulting, but I do not. For what a “blessing” is meant to represent, it is actually quite a compliment. Whenever someone would say that I would simply agree because to me, becoming pregnant truly is a gift, the only difference is that I don’t believe it is a gift from God… but why split hairs and start a fight when we are just celebrating my beautiful baby girl. 

Another moment that religion decided to sneak into my pregnancy came around the time of the baby shower… in the form of Noah’s Ark themed gifts and wrapping. I received at least 3 presents in gift bags with colorful animals on an ark (No Noah) that read something along the lines of “welcome baby”. I also received an adorable gift set that included a first year photo frame, first foot print/hand print frames and a special holder for the birth certificate. They all feature the ark and animal pairs (again, no Noah). I love the gift set and cannot wait to fill it with Arabella’s big moments… and to be clear I find absolutely nothing offensive about it at all. 

I have also had people pray for me and the health of my baby. They have prayed for a safe gestation and delivery. I know that they do this out of love and true concern for Arabella and I. Yes, I agree with the secular masses that praying is a useless act that doesn’t really mean anything… to us.  To them however it is meaningful and they are just saying “I wish you well” so why start a fight.  

There would be a great difference if the person calling Arabella a miracle added that she is a miracle of God and it is our duty to teach her his ways. If the person buying the Noah’s ark gift bag happened to fill it with rosary beads and a bible- this would be a reason to speak up. If the prayers that were being offered were meant to save my soul as well as the baby- asking that we lose our heathen ways and learn to follow God, I would absolutely tell them that they are out of line. None of these examples, or anything remotely close came into play throughout my pregnancy. 

I made the choice to embrace this experience all that it had to offer. When someone would mention my blessing or miracle, this just opened the door for me to educate them on exactly what advancements in medical science were able to do for me- how we created “a uterus from nothing”.  It has been an amazing ride and I have loved every moment… next stop, the arrival of my daughter.

 

Out of Context

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“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”- Mark Twain

 

It can often seem like a mugs game to bring the bible into question during discussions with Christians. It never fails that when I post a verse from scripture that I think supports my argument, I’m immediately charged with taking that verse out of context. The arguments that ensue tend to deteriorate quickly and often frustratingly run in circles. When giving a critical analysis of Christianity in general, the religious faithful are quick to accuse me (and all atheists) of not doing my homework. But this is especially the case when I dare to tread on holy ground, which is the bible itself. It’s as if they assume I was never a Christian (which I was), never read the bible (which I have), and am just being exposed to it for the first time (which I haven’t). The general consensus among Christians seems to be that merely being a non-Christian automatically disqualifies one out of hand from accurately citing the holy book. This careless, outright dismissal proves to be little more than a dodge and it doesn’t excuse the believer from demonstrating this supposed misrepresentation.  

 

It’s confusing at times to know exactly what is meant by “taking it out of context”. Take the story of Elisha’s journey from 2 Kings[1] for example. It’s hard to imagine how a passage stating that God sent two bears to massacre forty two children in gruesome fashion for mocking Elisha’s baldness could be taken out of context. Not to mention how nonchalantly this terrible event is treated and how casually the story moves on. It was as if the children getting torn apart was a mere bump in the road. As if it was hardly worth mentioning. What else are we to interpret from this? In what other context could this be taken? It can hardly be disputed what those words say here. According to the story, either God sent bears to maul forty two children or not. Any extraneous interpretation the Christian wishes to read into this doesn’t do much to make the story less vile and horrific. When Christians offer a different “interpretation” to this story, what they are doing is offering more than the words say. Whatever addendum is made, however many excuses are made, the context is pretty clear. When confronted with the merciless brutality of a passage like this, they often instead focus their attention on finding a way to establish some moral meaning behind it, which ultimately proves to be too big a boulder to push in this case, or they argue that it was badly mistranslated.  

 

Translation is a tricky bit of maneuvering that seems to be the preferred tactic for the more indefensible passages found within the bible, as it is for the passage referenced above.[2] While I don’t doubt that there are occasional mistranslations interspersed throughout the bible, scholars and historians still debate over this very topic, we can hardly say that this alters the context as currently presented in such a significant way as to warrant disregarding entire passages on a whim simply for the purpose of recreating them to appear more acceptable or reasonable. Nor does it account for all the versions of the bible circulating today that translate these passages in a very similar way. Lest the Christian wishes the conversation to regress to the very origins of the bible. At which point it may be the case that we ought to disregard the entire bible altogether. This, of course, would leave the Christian at quite the disadvantage and hardly seems to be their intention. So instead of conceding the bible, many shamelessly commit themselves to an act of intellectual dishonesty and create their own “translation”. And in doing so, they in effect become the ones taking verses out of context, and in the most disingenuous manner, I might add. Tailoring the bible this way is not only indecorous of the Christian, but also immoral. The attempt to hide the horrific nature of this passage, and many others like it, by assuming translational errors ultimately can’t salvage the bible from failing to uphold what we would consider to be the most basic of humanities and common sense. Furthermore, what the Christian fails to realize is that this “lost in translation” argument creates far more problems for the believer than for the skeptic. The biggest one being that they have effectively stripped their bible of any practical reliability, and along with it, any argument for biblical inerrancy.

 

As I stated earlier, being a non-Christian seemingly disqualifies one from accurately referencing the bible. Maybe the problem is in how “accurately” or “correctly” is applied here. Historical implications aside for a moment, the meaning here appears to be supernatural. The Christian often claims that the only way to truly understand the bible is to believe in God, because they believe the bible is the word of God. So, according to the Christian, it stands to reason that if one doesn’t believe in God, then one won’t be able to interpret the bible correctly. Along with the obvious objection of circular reasoning, as well as being a thinly disguised attempt at unfalsifiability, it fails for another very big reason. One that I see as being the most difficult problem for the Christian to overcome. This is the problem of the many various denominations of Christianity. They all believe and interpret the bible differently in some key areas. All claiming the same justification from God. To put this into perspective, just think about how many millions and millions of people claim, and have claimed, that the bible is the word of God. And how millions and millions of these same professed believers disagree with other believers, who are just as sincere, on some significant points. The thing they all have in common is they all claim God assures them they are right. They also have the same explanation as to why the others are wrong. To try to account for every interpretation that is accepted as truth by the vast number of denominations would be far too exhaustive and it isn’t the non-Christians responsibility to do so. My business isn’t to sort out all these doctrinal disputes. It’s as if skeptics (atheists especially) are being saddled with the burden of needing to know every interpretation of every denomination just to even mention the bible in any critical manner. And when we fail to satisfy this imposed burden, the charge of misinterpretation and atheistic bias is assumed justified. But then this would mean the individual believer must also know all the varying interpretations as well. For the believer to be excused this, then they must concede that their own claim to “biblical truth” could not have been from the the same exhaustive search that they hold the non-christian to and either accept that it isn’t necessary or admit they could be wrong. All these problems the believer is now faced with not only render their original objection moot, it sheds light on the shear volume of inconsistencies contained within the bible, and as we see, thus further expounding the Christians own problems…

~ Rich

 

[1] 2 Kings 2:23-24 (NIV) 23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

 

[2] Apologists frequently attempt to re-invent this passage as if Elisha was being attacked by a mob of young men. In it’s original Hebrew, while the word na’ar (boy or youth) could mean “young man”, it is paired with the qualifier katan which means “little” or “small”. Translating literally as “small boys”. And they are telling him to “go on up, baldhead” or “get out of here, baldy” and Elisha turned around to curse them. This indicates that they were behind him and taunting him, not blocking his path or threatening him.