Category Archives: atheism

The Threat of Not Caring

For those of you who can look at a swastika or a confederate flag and say “Why can’t people just let it be?” I have been thinking: maybe you haven’t had the experiences I have had. Maybe you don’t know the things I know. Here is why we can’t “let it be.”

The Nazis imagined a purified society ruled by what they thought to be a master race. They tortured, mutilated, stole from and murdered millions of people. Not as part of some other plan. The genocide was the plan. Maybe you didn’t know. Maybe you didn’t read the Diary of Anne Frank when you were twelve years old. Maybe you didn’t identify with the young Jewish girl hiding with her family during World War II. Maybe you didn’t read the epilogue, horrified to learn that she died in a concentration camp. That her father found her diary afterwards, read what she wrote about how she still believed people were good, and decided to publish her private thoughts so people all over the world could understand what we lost when Anne was murdered. Maybe you didn’t have that experience.

Maybe you didn’t grow up as a non-theist, being told several times that you were going to burn in hell, as I did. The first time it happened I was six years old. I heard the threat implied by those words: you’re not in the in-group, you’re not good, you’re not worthy. It’s not quite “I’m going to kill you” but more “If someone else killed you, I wouldn’t mind.” I mean, after all, if my soul is damned, why should anyone bother to protect my corporeal form? This is why a belief in the supernatural is so dangerous – it allows people to believe and do terrible things. Every time I meet a new person, I wonder: if they knew I didn’t believe in any supernatural beings, would they see me as less human? Would they care if someone murdered me for it? I am constantly reminded, by the passive assumption that Christian=good – or, at least, that religious=good – that I am seen as less human than other people. Maybe you haven’t had that experience.

I am not a person of color, so I don’t know what that’s like. But here is what I imagine. Seeing a confederate flag in a public place says to me: you are not wanted here, you are not in the in-group. It’s not quite the threat of “I’m going to kill you” but rather “if the police shoot you, I won’t mind.” The flag is not an offense. It’s a message. And the message is: white=good. White is best. All others are less than. Not quite human.

Being reminded that you are seen as not quite human is terrifying. As a human, I rely on other humans to support the environment I survive in. If they reject me, I will die. If they ignore me, I will suffer. If they exclude me, I will not thrive. And any monster may come to take me. A Nazi. A white supremacist. A fundamentalist Christian. A frightened cop. An angry young man who defines his self worth by sexual conquest. Poverty. Disease. Starvation. Any of these monsters could take me, and people won’t mind.

That is why we can’t be quiet. Why we can’t brush aside cruel remarks, or fascist symbols, or racist flags. It has to be called out. In my case, I’m asking: “Will you care if someone kills me? Am I human to you?”

Things you can do if you don’t understand:

  • Read the Diary of Anne Frank, a murdered Jewish girl whose spirit survives.
  • Watch the film Night and Fog, a documentary about the Nazi concentration camps.
  • Listen to a talk given by a holocaust survivor.
  • Read a first-hand account of the horrors of slavery in the United States. Consider that people were born into slavery under our system. Families were forcibly separated. For generations.
  • Read the books 1493 and 1491.
  • Read the book Lies My Teacher Told Me.
  • Ask a Jewish friend if they have ever received death threats. They have.
  • Read about Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who was beaten and murdered for offending a white woman.
  • Read about Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay.

It matters what people think. It matters what people say. It matters what ideas we promote or condone. It matters that public figures are equating a movement explicitly devoted to kicking non-whites out of the country with a movement devoted to highlighting the inhumane treatment of people of color. They are not two sides of the same coin. They are not simply competing theories or opinions, like a disagreement between environmental protection and resource extraction. One is about dehumanizing people, and the other is about re-humanizing them.

BLM might well have called themselves “Black Lives Matter, right? Right? Right….?” Either way the answer has been a deafening silence.

The Nazis gassed people in chambers. It took a while to die. People tried to claw their way out. Their fingernails broke off and stuck in the walls. Sometimes, the Nazis threw emaciated people into mass pits, before they died. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. People.

People did this to people. Ordinary people did this. And not that long ago. And in a culture not far different from our own.

American soldiers took German civilians afterwards into the camps and confronted them. The American soldiers were horrified. Adult men weighing 70 pounds – walking skeletons. Mass graves. Murdered children. The Germans acted like they didn’t know. But it was worse than not knowing.

They just didn’t care.

Nothing

The opposite of life isn’t afterlife. It’s nothingness. Emptiness. Silence. There are no ghosts, no spirits, no living regrets. People created hell to comfort themselves. It was easier to imagine an eternity of punishment than an eternity of not being.

We Feel It Too

I wonder if one of the misunderstandings between theists and atheists comes down to another semantics issue, i.e. what it means to feel the presence of – and to love or worship – the divine.

Theists feel, I imagine, a sense of powerful emotion at the complexity, beauty and mystery of life and the universe. This feeling is only somewhat captured by the English word ‘awe’. Perhaps this feeling is what theists describe as ‘God’.

I’m here to say: we feel it, too.

Atheists are not empty, soulless shells, cooly assessing our lives with logic.

I look at the starry nighttime sky and feel at once minuscule in comparison to its massive indifference to me, and yet intoxicated by the realization that I am one with something so wonderous and vast.

I look through a microscope and am overcome by the complexity of life at both the macro and micro scale. I am awed by the thought that my body is made up of countless cells, individual lifeforms working in harmony to create the illusion of me.

I look at geologic formations and struggle to comprehend the monstrous scale of time, the workings of physical forces over billions of years, shaping and reshaping our reality.

I watch my children sleeping and feel the power of the connection between us, the sense of an almost tangible link that is our relationship, something that we co-create together.  I love them, I love me, and I love us.

When you speak of God, I think maybe I know what you mean. Only the words get in the way.

10 Things Every Good Atheist Should Do

Catholics have their sacraments – among them baptism, the eucharist, penance and marriage. Muslims have the Five Pillars of Islam, including the Shahadah (profession of belief in Allah and acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet), salat (daily prayers), zakāt (charitable giving), sawm (fasting during Ramadan), and the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). Hinduism recognizes four stages of life – student, household life, retirement, and renunciation – during which people would be expected to have different pursuits and contribute in different ways.

Most religions and philosophical systems have rules of behavior, rites of passage, goals and commandments. Taken together, these can be seen as rituals for a sense of shared community, for celebrating and acknowledging important changes in life, and as best practices for maintaining a healthy self, healthy family and healthy community.

Recently I’ve been wondering what a secular version of such a system might look like. Obviously the whole idea of rigidly subscribing to a set of life rules is out the window. But I think most people (atheists included) find that the “rules” of other religions resonate with them, because they acknowledge or address things that we all have in common.

The idea of giving back to the community certainly has appeal. This is captured nicely in the ubiquitous bumper sticker phrase “Practice random acts of kindness.”  Improving oneself is always good – “be all you can be.” Many people make New Year’s resolutions – to be better, or kinder, or to appreciate life more. These are all nice secular examples of rituals that can bind us and guide us in life.

Here are a few ideas I have had about acts that atheists/secularists/humanists/skeptics/whatevs can perform to achieve the goals of being better people and leading positive, purposeful lives:

  • Donate blood. With this one easy act, you can potentially save the life of another person. Donated blood has a limited shelf life, so donate as often as you can. (For more information, see American Red Cross.)  Likewise, you might consider registering to be a bone marrow donor. Some religious adherents have beliefs that prevent them from donating blood or marrow, so as atheists why not step up to address the need?
  • Be an organ donor. The idea is simple: if you are dead, you won’t be needing your organs anymore, but they could save another person’s life. All you have to do is notify your DMV that you want to be an organ donor. You should probably also notify your family that that is your wish, in case the hospital asks for their approval at the time of your death.
  • Have an Advance Directive. This is a document that makes clear what your wishes are for end-of-life care. For example, you may not wish to be kept alive on ventilation or have a feeding tube if you are in a persistent vegetative state (“brain dead”), or to have your heart restarted if it stops. If your mind is gone and not coming back, your family will be left in the position of having to make a decision about whether to let you live or let you go. That can be a very difficult decision for a family to make, and can even drive a terrible wedge between family members who disagree about how to handle the situation. Don’t leave your loved ones in this terrible situation – make your wishes clear by writing an advance directive.
  • Write a Will. A will is simply a document that makes it clear how you want your property and wealth to be handled once you have passed away. For most of us, the best reason to have a will is to save your family a lot of trouble. Many people have multiple marriages, and disagreements between children of a first marriage and the second spouse can lead to very hard feelings after a death in the family has already left people in a raw and vulnerable state. Don’t leave it for your family to fight over. Make your wishes clear. Related to this: you should document how you would like your remains to be handled (i.e. burial, cremation, etc.), so that your family is not left arguing about that either.
  • Volunteer. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities, but one with huge impact is to volunteer at your local public school. Public education is one of the key foundations of society, and is critical to a functioning democracy. If you want to make the world a better place, help educate the next generation. Educating is not just a job for teachers – it takes an entire community. Teachers love having volunteers, the children benefit from the extra attention, and as a bonus, you get to learn so much, too.
  • Help Other Parents. It is really, really, really hard being a parent. And trust me, sometimes society can be very parent-unfriendly. Parents need support, and a lot of it. This is doubly true (or quadrupely, really) if they are a single parent. On the really easy end of the scale, you can do things like not glaring at people when their children scream in public. It is impossible to control a child’s behavior – you can influence it, through routines, bribes, rewards and punishments, but you can never really control it, any more than one adult can fully control the behavior of another adult. And importantly, children are still learning. They don’t know all the rules, don’t have full control of their emotions, and aren’t as good at hiding what they’re feeling as adults are. So, be a mensch, and when you see a kid going crazy in public, help the parent out – make funny faces, or give them a little toy while they’re waiting in line at the airport. Say something nice to the parent, whose blood pressure is probably through the roof. If you see a toddler slip out of their parent’s hand and bolt for traffic, grab them by all means! If you see a teenager misbehaving, don’t be afraid to speak up (“Hey kid, knock it off.”) Parents can’t do it all by themselves, and expecting them to leads to all kinds of problems. So help a parent out, and be part of a better future for all of us.
  • Be a Good Parent. If you are a parent, do the best job of it you can. You don’t have to be perfect, but you should take it seriously. Loving your kids is a great start, and most parents have that down, but it’s not nearly enough. Take classes, seek advice from other parents, ask your kids how they think you’re doing. Treat it like a job – one that you want to do really, really good at. If you are good at it, the rewards are both immediate for you and your family, and ongoing for society.
  • Take Time (Be Balanced). Many religions emphasize this, and they are right to do so, because many of us would never take time for ourselves if we weren’t told to. Often we feel like we need permission to relax and reflect.  It’s good to work hard, and I’m not even going to put that in this list, because I think most people naturally want to work hard and be productive. Another way to capture the concept is with the word “balance”. Try to achieve balance in everything you do. It’s good to exercise, but too much of it will shorten your life. It’s good to rest, but too little exercise will shorten your life, too.  It’s important to work hard and get things done, but it is equally as important to reflect on what you have done or the effect it has had, or on what you plan to do and the goals you hope to achieve.
  • Share Your Stories. Tell people about your experiences. Write them down. You will be amazed at the value that your descendants and friends will find in such memoirs. Keep your knowledge alive in the people around you. When a person is gone, we all suffer the loss of their unique contribution and insights. Share whatever you can while you are here.
  • Make Something. It’s not enough to just live. I appreciate a good hedonist, I really do. But even hedonists strive to achieve something unique with their lives (“the world’s longest chocolate bath!” or whatever). Make something, do something, grow something, have children, write stories, write a song, teach someone, build a wall, a garden, a business, a nation… something! Ray Bradbury put it best in Fahrenheit 451:

“Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

  • Appreciate the Beauty and Complexity of Life. I mean really look at it and feel it and think about it. Stand in awe of the immense complexity and beautiful patterns of the universe and be grateful that you have the capacity to appreciate it.
  • Be a Good Steward of the Environment. It should really go without saying that we should all take care of the environment that sustains us. So, just as your mother taught you to keep your room clean so that you would be able to find your stuff, you should strive to take care of the resources that we all need to survive.  The universe is vast, but this little spaceship we are all riding around on called planet Earth is small and has finite resources available to it. Likewise, it is composed of systems that are interdependent, and changing one variable often results in other changes that may be less desirable (collateral damage). Think about the impacts your actions have, and strive to minimize your ecological footprint.
  • Learn. Be a lifelong student. As children, we dedicate several hours a day to learning new things. There is no reason that adulthood should be any different. Be receptive to new information, new data, new perspectives. Occasionally challenge your own assumptions. Visit a section of the library you have never been to before. Learn a new language. Challenge yourself. Learning is an endeavor that is its own reward.

I know that wasn’t 10 things. Ah well – you get the idea. I could add more. It’s good to be humble, to give thanks, to appreciate people, to listen, and to be compassionate. But some of these things are just so obvious that they hardly need to be listed. You should have learned them in Kindergarten, right? And maybe the above list is obvious, too. What can I say – I like making lists.

Cheers.

Grace

When I was about six years old I went to a sleep-over party at a friend’s house. We watched movies, made paper cranes, slept in sleeping bags, and had a grand old time.

In the morning, we all piled into the kitchen and sat around the dining table. My friend started passing the cereal around, and we all poured our corn flakes into our bowls. Next came the milk, and after a good dunking, I grabbed my spoon and set to.

Suddenly the table was quiet. I felt seven pairs of eyes on me, and looked up to see the girl across the table glaring at me like only a self-righteous six-year-old can do.

“What are you doing?” she said coldly. “We haven’t said grace yet.”

I was stunned. I thought “saying grace” was something people only did on TV, on that show Little House on the Prairie that I watched religiously because I had a big crush on Michael Landon.

“You guys actually say that?” I asked, looking around the table for some support. Everyone was quiet. I was on my own.

The girl across the table felt she had some duty towards me, clearly, because she followed that up with this: “You’re going to burn in hell.”

After that, we ate our corn flakes in silence. I was pretty happy to go home when the time came. It was a long time before I did another slumber party at a friend’s house.

At school I had a similar encounter. There was a girl in my second grade class, who was about the meanest person I have ever met. I know what you’re thinking: how could a seven-year-old be that mean? I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe she was a budding sociopath. All the girls were terrified of her, and she had a way of looking at people that made you feel like you were being stabbed with her eyes and needed desperately to be elsewhere, fast.

One day I got to feeling sorry for her, because I saw her sitting on the playground all alone. In a sudden childish insight, I realized how friendless she was, and that if I wasn’t so afraid of her, I could do something about it. So, I walked up to her and said “Hey, you want to play with me?” She glowered at me and said simply “I can’t play with you. You’re an atheist. You’re going to burn in hell.” I thought about that for a moment. Then I said “Wait, so, you’re saying that if I don’t believe in God, I’m going to hell?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” she snarled.

I considered this. “So, you’re going to heaven?” I asked. “Because you do believe in him?”

“Of course,” she snapped.

I reasoned logically that if people like this girl, who were mean and cruel, were going to heaven just because they believed in something, and that if people like me, who were nice and tried to do good things but didn’t believe, were going to burn in hell, that I’d rather be in hell anyway away from monsters like her.

I told her as much, and we never spoke again.

Other kids throughout my childhood were not so blatant, and took a more compassionate approach. “Kirsten,” said one friend, “I wish you were a Christian, because I want you to go to heaven. You’re such a nice person.”

“Well, it’s too bad you’re God has such silly rules then,” I would say. I didn’t let it bother me. Many of my friends were religious, but most were not devout. They regarded religion as somewhat annoying, and church was this boring thing you had to do every weekend. My friend Abbie (bless her) once said to me “I have no problem with the ten commandments, except for that part about ‘honor thy parents’. That’s bullshit. They should have to earn it.” Abbie got along fine with her parents for the most part, but she was too smart to buy into something that didn’t make sense.

Many of my friends “found” religion as teenagers, when they were trying on new identities for size and felt they needed some sort of moral compass. At least one friend stopped seeing me after a somewhat heated debate we had that ended with her saying “I just don’t think I can be your friend anymore, Kirsten – we’re too different.” I felt betrayed. I also began to feel increasingly lonely. Everyone else was part of this secret club, and I wasn’t welcome to join, unless I was willing to say I believed something that I didn’t. I couldn’t make myself believe it, and I couldn’t bring myself to lie. I just wanted to be a good person and have people accept me for that, and if they couldn’t, to hell with them.

When I was about fourteen, I had an experience that helped temper my perspective on religion. I was taking Tae Kwon Do, and I had made friends with several members of the adult class that my brother was in. One woman in particular took a liking to me, and started asking me pointed questions like: “how come your eyes are always so dark and ringed, Kirsten?” I explained how I had trouble sleeping well, and had pretty bad allergies. She said I should be taking vitamins, and I kind of shrugged it off. I didn’t think much of vitamins – they seemed like snake oil to me.

She brought me a huge bottle of vitamins at the the next class. I was flummoxed. She hardly knew me and here she was doing something really nice, quite out of the blue. I said as much.

“Well,” she said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in doing good things for other people.”

“No,” I said, “It’s not because you’re a Christian. You would be a nice person even if you weren’t a Christian. You’re just a good person.”

She adamantly but politely disagreed, saying: “My belief is the reason that I am the person I am today.”

I decided to shut my mouth about then, since she had after all done something so nice for me.

Afterwards, this little conversation resonated in my head. I thought about the self-righteous kids in school who had told me I was going to burn in hell, and how they had made me hate Christianity and religion in general. And then it dawned on me that they were just kids, and that I had become prejudiced through the silly actions of a few very young people who after all didn’t know much about their religion anyway. They were just repeating and oversimplifying what their parents and ministers had told them. Children do tend to see the world in black and white, even when adults try to teach them to see the subtleties.

Over time, I found coping mechanisms for hanging out with religious people. For the most part, I keep my mouth shut about religion and we get along just fine. It’s hard to find any middle ground about something so emotionally charged.

As an adult, I once asked a close friend who is also quite religious if she seriously believed I was going to burn in hell. We both laughed, and then she said “better not ask.” Oh, I thought, I guess I won’t. We can be friends anyway, and I like to think that she knows I’m a good person and just respects my decision to be whoever I need to be. I can handle that… graciously, even.

The Pelican

From about age nine to seventeen, I sang in choirs regularly. I truly loved singing with a group of people. When we were all synchronized and on key and the acoustics were just right, the hairs on my arm would stand up. It was a wonderful experience, being part of something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

One thing I did not enjoy, however, was the type of music we sang. As a kid, I sang in the Heart of the Valley Children’s Choir in Corvallis. It was a community choir, not affiliated with any church or religious organization. However, the vast majority of the music we sang was Christian songs, and usually with very overt Christian messages (not just your “Yay, Christmas!” variety). In the Corvallis High School choir, we sang a large number of Christian ditties as well. In both cases, the directors were careful to mix in a few Jewish songs (I liked singing in Hebrew) or African songs so as to make it appear like there was some real diversity in the song selections. But the main pieces – which we spent most of our time rehearsing – were Christian pieces.

My best friend, who stood along side me for most of those long years of choir, was Jewish. We shared a disdain for singing about crap that we didn’t believe in. Her solution was to replace some of the words in clever ways that no one could hear, but that would give us a good laugh – for example, she changed the words of one song from “keep so busy praising my Jesus” to “keep so busy praising my genius”. These small expressions of protest really kept my spirits up during many long practice sessions. (Don’t even get me started on the song with 72 “halelujahs” and one “amen” – and no other words at all.)

There was one song in particular that we sang in the HVCC, called “The Pelican”. It was a challenging piece, with tricky timing changes, many parts to the harmony, funky pauses, and words a bunch of 10-year-olds would not normally know. We spent a lot of time practicing it. It is etched in my memory – I still remember all the words to this day.

When we learned this song, I remember talking to my friend about it. We both thought it was kind of creepy. At the time, I don’t think either of us had a clue what it was about. Here are the lyrics:

The Pelican

‘Pelicanus’ is the word
for a certain breed of bird
who truly is a crane;
Egypt is his domain.
There are two kinds there-of;
Near to the Nile they live;
One of them dwells in the flood,
the fishes are his food;
The other lives in the isles
on lizards, crocodiles,
Serpents and stinking creatures,
and beasts of evil nature.
In Greek his title was
Onocrotalos,
which is longum rostrum said
in the Latin tongue instead,
Or long beak in our own.
Of this bird it is known
that when he comes to his young,
They being grown and strong,
He does them kindly things,
And covers them with his wings.
The little birds begin
fiercely to peck at him;
They tear at him and try
to blind their father’s eye.
He falls upon them then
and slays them with great pain,
Then goes away for a spell,
leaving them where they fell.
On the third day he returns,
and thereupon he mourns,
Feeling so strong a woe
to see the small birds so
That he strikes his breast with his beak
until the blood shall leak.
And when the coursing blood
spatters his lifeless brood,
Such virtue does it have
that once again they live.
Know that this pelican
signifies Mary’s son:
The little birds are men
restored to life again from death
by that dear blood
shed for us by our God.
Now learn one meaning more,
revealed by holy lore:
Know why the small birds try
to peck their father’s eye,
Who turns on them in wrath
and puts them all to death.
Men who deny thy light
would blind God’s blazing sight,
But on such people all
His punishment will fall.
This is the meaning I find:
Now bear it well in mind.
— from an Anglo-Norman Bestiary of 1120 by Philippe de Thaun; this version from Things of this World by Richard Wilbur
(Taken from http://www.arsisaudio.com/cd121N.html with some corrections.)

Remembering this experience, I just can’t help but wonder: why the hell did the choir directors choose this song? How could they possibly think this was an appropriate song for little kids to sing? My friends and I enjoyed the challenge of learning to sing it, just like we did with other difficult pieces. But I sure wish now that I could purge this sickening song from my memory banks. It’s in there forever. I guess I need to get my old friend to help me replace a few words. :)

What would Brian Boitano do?

Since I live in a Christian culture, there are unsurprisingly a lot of Christian cultural habits that are hard to shake. I don’t like to act like I’m a Christian when I’m not; it feels very dishonest, and I highly value honesty. However, there are times when I don’t want to make a scene either. How do I fit in while maintaining my integrity?

Some things are easy to deal with. I say “gesundheit” instead of “god bless you”. It’s a perfectly good German expression meaning “good health”, and it allows me to counter a sneeze without being all in-your-face about how I don’t believe in a god. Some people look at me funny when I say “gesundheit” but no one has ever been offended, so that’s good.

Other things are much more difficult, and I am often at a loss to know what to say. What should I say when a coworker has a family member in the hospital? I am sure not going to say “My prayers are with you.” But that is what at least half the folks in my office wrote on a recent card to a coworker. I was … without words. I had no handy platitude to fall back on.

A common thing to say in such situations is “let me know if you need anything,” but I kind of hate saying this, too. It puts the onus back on the person who is having trouble to actually ask you for help, and chances are they won’t ask, even if they really need it. They will assume you are just saying that to show that you care. If I am sincere in a desire to help, I will say “what can I do to help?” because that shows that I really mean it. If I don’t mean it, I won’t say it.

It is likewise very difficult to know what to say when someone has died. I am sure it is hard for everyone in such circumstances to know what to say. But the religious person can always fall back on “our prayers are with you.” That is also pretty presumptuous – what if the person you are saying this to is not religious? Now they are upset and offended.

I shouldn’t be so harsh. It’s hard for everyone in such situations to know what to do, or what to say. But a little sensitivity goes a long way. I would rather say nothing at all, than say something hurtful.

There are other situations that require a bit of thought, if you are not religious. Weddings and funerals come to mind. Our solution was to have a fake wedding (we called it a celebration) and then get married officially in the courthouse. If I had it to do again, I would skip the fake ceremony and just do the courthouse and maybe dinner with close family. I just felt so compelled to have a proper wedding, even though I didn’t want any part of it to be religious.

I have never had to arrange a funeral, but I can only imagine how hard this will be, especially with the added aspect of being an atheist. People have a certain expectation when it comes to funerals, no matter what the faith (or lack) of the deceased.

There are other land mines, of course. Holidays are a pain. If I told people that I wasn’t celebrating Christmas because I was a Muslim, they would be very understanding. But if I just say “I am not celebrating”, just ’cause, they really don’t get it. And many people assume that means I am free that day to join in with whatever they are doing. Easter is the worst example of this. I can’t think of a more useless holiday. It’s pretty easy to dump. But I’d better plan to be doing something else that day, or I’ll be roped into something I don’t want to do.

It’s awkward being a parent who isn’t religious. I want my children to be critical thinkers and not take a dogmatic approach to things, but children tend to be a bit black-and-white about everything at first. And while my children are learning to be a bit more subtle, I hope they don’t offend other children unnecessarily. I have already had to break up one religious argument between my daughter and a cousin. Sigh. They are six, they have more important things to worry about!

Anyway, I’m looking for some creative suggestions on how to navigate this Christian land without pissing off its other inhabitants.

Homeschooling

I was looking for a site with resources for humanists, and instead stumbled across this site for Christians who want to fight humanism in schools:
http://www.thebible1.net/biblicaltheism/resourshum.htm

Wow, now I really understand what the fight about education is really all about. I can’t decide if that site is funny or sad. I guess I’ll go with funny. It’s funny that these folks see the teaching of values absent a mythology as a bad thing. Is it bad because it proves you don’t need religion to be a good person? I guess I’ll have to read that long list of books to find out.

You know, I wasn’t thrilled with public education, but if it did anything to inoculate me against Christianity, I am eternally grateful. Thank you to all my public school teachers who showed me that you can transmit values without lies. Good on you.

Oh also, blatant error on that site: humanism is not a religion. It is really quite devious on the part of the site’s author to refer to Humanism as a religion, because then they can contrast it with Christianity. The real contrast is between a value system based on reason and open inquiry versus a system based on arbitrary dogma. It doesn’t sound so good when you put it like that.

It Just Is

I realized the other day that theists and atheists have something in common – we both are willing to accept that things can exist without any explanation.

Theists believe the universe was created by a creator. But they don’t explain how the creator came into being. Thus, they are content to believe that something vast and complex can exist without understanding how it came to be.

The same is true of atheists: we believe the universe can exist without having any idea how it came to be. We may even accept that it has no origin, or that it’s origin can never be known or explained.

So if theists are okay with accepting that God can’t be explained, why not take it one step further and accept that the universe may “just be”? No creator, no purpose, no meaning, no explanation… it just is.

At least we can all agree to appreciate it (I hope).

I Hate This Guy

There is this guy that a lot of people I know love and worship. I so don’t get it. Here are some things I really hate about this guy:

* He is a rapist. He impregnated a woman without her consent. I don’t care if there was no sex; if you take some sperm and inseminate a woman without her consent, that’s still a violation, even if no penises were involved.

* He is totally unfair. He blames all people for a crime that only two people perpetrated against him. He’s still pissed about it even though it happened ages ago, and he blames people who weren’t even alive when it happened, even newborn babies.

* He is arrogant. Because he thinks he’s more important than me and other humans, he gets to behave according to a different standard. I have to be behave better than him? Sorry, if he’s the boss, he should be held to the higher standard.

* He is judgmental. At some point he’s going to come down here and judge us all, and the “bad” folks won’t be saved from eternal damnation, even if their only crime is that they’ve never heard of him.

* He is neglectful. He kicked his children out for disobeying him.

* He is spiteful and unjust. His punishments don’t fit the crime. When his children disobeyed, he didn’t even try to talk it over; he just expelled them.

* He is murderous. He thinks blood sacrifice is a solid idea. He intentionally sacrificed his son to (somehow) purify the sins of other humans. Not only is this idea INSANE, it’s cruel and horrible to even think about. Who would do this to anyone, let alone their only son?

* He is confusing. He left us a bunch of stories that are supposed to tell us how to behave, but they are full of allegory and symbolism, are difficult to interpret, and even internally contradictory. Then, he allowed our languages and cultures to change so much that we can no longer fully understand what was meant. He never came back to clear things up.

* He is discriminatory. He only revealed himself to one group of people. He told them they were the chosen people, more holy than all others. But then he changed his mind and encouraged his followers to spread the word. Why didn’t he spread the word himself, to everyone? Why not just reveal himself to every human, throughout time? Why just in one time and one place? Also, he never revealed himself to millions of people who lived and died in other places (like the Americas) or at earlier times.

* He is capricious. He punished all humanity for a slight, but doesn’t punish rapists, murderers, child-molesters, etc. These folks go about their daily business without so much as a wrist-slap from him. But he punishes other people on apparently random whims – like when he killed all the first born children in Egypt. Oh yeah…

* He is a mass-murderer.

* He is jealous. If I worship somebody besides him, he thinks that is about the same as murdering someone.

Seriously, why would I even want to hang out with a person like this, let alone love or worship him? He’s a total douche. If I saw this guy on the street, I’d definitely stay away, and maybe call the cops. I sure as hell wouldn’t invite him over to dinner or encourage my kids to pray to him. Who would? I mean, unless you think praying to mass-murdering fuckheads is a good idea?

Note: if you believe in some sort of God that doesn’t fit that dude in the Bible, good for you. But you can’t believe the Bible is true, then, because let me tell you: that God is a total dick!