SPAM and a New Site

You guys have probably figured out that someone with too much time on their hands hacked into my account and sent out a post about the Netherlands this morning.

Haha. So funny, right?

It was posted on a separate cached page, so you won’t actually find it on the blog.

I am upgrading the site, and I hope that it will have a lot more to offer.  So, I’m sorry for the spam this morning; I will be back to posting again soon.

Talking to Kids about God and Church


It’s been a while since we discussed how to talk with young children about God. Someone recently asked me to address this question. As always please feel free to add your thoughts at the end.

Even if we’re not raising our kids to believe, they will still hear about God. They’ll have questions. A lot. They’ll be curious. God is mysterious, just like monsters under the bed.

When our kids ask us about God, it’s good to ask them first what their thoughts are. “What or who do you think God is?” If kids are asking us questions, they’ve no doubt heard their friends—or perhaps a relative–talking about God.

“God is love” or “God made everything” are statements that a lot of young children will hear and repeat. We can ask our kids, “What does that mean, ‘God is love’? How do people show their love? How does mom and dad show their love for you? How does this God you hear about show love? Does it make sense that God made everything? Who made God?”

We want to keep it simple, yet help our children think through these ideas on their own. It’s best if we don’t make belief seem forbidden or mysterious. We want them to come to their own conclusions. Otherwise, like the preacher’s child who is drawn to what is prohibited, our kids may be drawn to religion for the wrong reasons.

We also want to be careful that we don’t give them language that they will then repeat to their friends. “My mom said that God isn’t real and that people who believe are stupid.” Although I’m sure some of us think this way on occasion, we don’t want our kids to alienate their friends or grow up intolerant of other world views. Young children often parrot what their parents tell them, and that’s why they’re so ripe for programming with dogma.

If your kids are like mine, they will continue with the God questions for many years because they hear a lot of things at school—things that are scary (about the devil or God’s wrath) and things that make God seem like a superhero (he helps everyone), which is an attractive concept for kids.

Kids might ask why people believe. The best response I’ve found is to tell kids that people believe because they want to or because they’ve been told to believe. Believing in God is a choice, whether believers understand this or not. It is a way that many people deal with the world and the fears they have. (“Relax. God’s in control.”)  Just as children have blankets, stuffed animals and imaginary friends, sometimes adults use “God” to help them cope. They pray to God, which means that a person will say out loud or think thoughts in their head and hope that this “God” can hear them, even though there are billions of people in the world. You might ask your child how prayer helps to solve problems and if there are better solutions to prayer. (Here’s an interesting video about what kids pray for.)

Some people believe praying helps and some people do not. But everybody has certain things that they do when they get sad, angry or scared. It helps to share with kids what you do when you feel sad or afraid. Do you call your friend? Get a hug from a loved one? Go for a walk or a run? Meditate? Cry?

I also told my kids that I won’t tell them to believe in things that 1) don’t make sense and 2) have no proof to accept as true. Examples are: 4-leaf clovers bring good luck. It’s bad to open umbrellas in the house. Witches, goblins, monsters, angels, fairies (insert other myths) are real.

There is one thing that I stressed a lot to my kids. They knew that Santa was a fairytale from a young age while many of their friends believed St. Nick was real. I told my kids that they should not tell or argue with friends or classmates about these things. Their friend’s parents were bringing them up to believe in Santa and/or God. It’s not our place to tell them what to believe. God should not be talked about on the playground or in school unless it’s in an educational context, and even then it can be tricky. Regardless, we don’t want our children to have the nation’s religious battle on their shoulders.

Another question our kids might ask is, “Why do people go to church?” As we know, there are now some churches for humanists, atheists and skeptics, but the majority of our kids will know Christians. Here’s how we might address this topic: People go to church because they like to be around other people. Just as there are book clubs and sports teams, some people like to share their interest in God. In some churches, they listen to talks, they pray and they sing. When people pray, they hope for things–happiness, peace or help with a problem. It’s sort of like wishing upon a star. Again, we might also ask our kids: “What sort of things could you do if you have a problem? Talk to mom? A counselor? A friend? Write down what is bothering you? Ask others for help?”

These are my thoughts. Talking about God with our kids will not be a one-time discussion. It will most likely be on-going because, like a superhero, God is everywhere. We want to make sure our kids understand that just because a friend believes in something does not make it real or true. Skepticism and critical thinking will be important skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

The (In)Efficacy of Prayer

In response to the request for prayers from the family of the 9-year-old who tragically shot her instructor in Arizona, I posted this, which I think many of you will understand:

Dear God: 

As a compassionate American, I was asked to pray for the family of a shooting victim and well as the children affected by the accident. I’m not sure what the hell you’re supposed to do about this, God, or what it even means to pray, but first, a little background.  (Read the rest here.)

GUEST POST: Religion in France by Patricia O’Sullivan

Patricia O’Sullivan, as many of you know, is a regular part of our conversations here on this blog. (She’s also a novelist.) She has written an interesting post about the religious environment in France. I don’t see the U.S. approaching the level of secularization that France has achieved, but I think most of us hope for this.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Patti!

__________________________________________________

In the summer of 2013, our family moved to France for a year. Although we are not religious, we enrolled our children in Catholic schools that had experience dealing with international students. A few months into the school year, I overheard my kids discussing how there was less talk of religion at their French Catholic schools than in the public schools they’d attended in Mississippi. How could this be possible?

All schools in France must teach the same curriculum as set by the ministry of education. Religious schools are no exception to this rule. Thus, classes in religious education are outside of the curriculum. Younger children in religious schools are often required to participate in religious education, but my children, one in middle school and the other in high school, had the choice to opt out.

In 2004, France’s National Assembly voted to ban religious symbols at school, namely those students and teachers might wear such as a cross, a Star of David, or a head scarf. Nine years later, the minister of education implemented a secularization charter, reaffirming France’s commitment to secular education and a secular state. The charter bans teachers and staff from talking about religion to students and opens up all course subject matter to “scientific and pedagogical questioning.” Students may not be excused from lessons that question the teachings of their religion (such as evolution and sex education), teachers may not refuse to present lessons that do the same.

Because the charter was approved while we were in France, I posted an article about it on social media to share with friends and family back home. Their responses, most of them negative, really surprised me. Some of them, written by people who either work in public schools or have children in public schools in the U.S., expressed shock at the ‘religious repression’ in France. I explained that the French viewed the policies as a way to protect the integrity of education and to protect children from unwelcome attempts at proselytization, but the folks back home didn’t buy it. In fact, one friend wrote that keeping God out of the schools was harmful to children.

Many Americans are familiar with the concept of ‘cultural Jew’, a term used by Jews who don’t attend synagogue or even believe in God, but who take part in select traditions as a way to remain connected to their heritage. France is similarly ‘culturally Catholic’. Church bells ring out on Sundays, many holy days are also bank holidays, and bakeries do a swift business selling special breads and pastries associated with Catholic saint days and other holy days. From mid-December to early January, town plazas are decorated with Christmas trees (but not nativity scenes) and the sidewalks and pedestrian malls are crammed with hundreds of colorful booths where one can buy foods, crafts, and gifts for Christmas. In addition, many of the most popular tourist attractions in France are Catholic churches, abbeys, and shrines. However, over a third of the population of France is not religious, and of the 40-50% who are Catholic, only 4.5% of them attend mass regularly, and fully half of all self-identified Catholics in France say they don’t believe in God. The French have somehow figured out how to keep the holidays, the foods, and the monuments to religion while getting rid of all the rest.

Muslims in France (the next largest religious group) are much more likely than Catholics to maintain their religious beliefs, but they get little support from the government in this. Neither of the two Eids are bank holidays, civil servants may not wear religious clothing (like a headscarf), and women are forbidden from wearing face-covering garb in public.

Before WWII, France had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. In recent years, rising anti-Semitism in France has resulted in a growing Jewish exodus from that country to more welcoming countries, particularly Israel.

There are so many ways I could conclude this post, but I’ll focus on two points: It would seem from the example of France that people like cultural traditions, but dislike religious authorities telling them how to conduct their lives. And when people don’t feel coerced to put up a religious front, many of them abandon religion. On the other hand, there are those who feel the pull of religion despite a lack of cultural or state support for it. The thing is, when people are allowed to choose, their belief, or unbelief, is a more honest reflection of who they are. I’m not holding France up as a religious utopia (particularly for non-Catholics), but I learned to appreciate there how a nation can hold onto its cultural and religious identity while truly allowing people the choice to believe or not believe.

Patricia O’Sullivan is a teacher and novelist who lives in Mississippi with her family.

 

 

The Satanist and The Communion Wafer

This story was just too good not to share.
A Satanist in Oklahoma City planned to use a stolen communion wafer in a “black mass.” He wanted to exorcise Christ and infuse the devil. That’s pretty amusing to people like us, right?
In all fairness, I don’t think stealing the Catholic church’s sacred host was the right thing to do. I know: we think it’s all silly stuff, but church peeps don’t find it funny. They’ve encountered this theft of the host for hundreds of years, and it’s a grave sin. During medieval times (not to be confused with the entertainment eatery), some congregants would remove the host from the church and take it to their sick relatives; they would sprinkle it over their gardens to help crops grow; they would sell it or they would use it to cure animals. For this reason, priests started placing the hosts directly on the tongue during communion. I suspect the Church just didn’t want the average Joe or Josie to have The Power.
Seeing that humans no longer believe in alchemy and magic powers, I’m not sure why the Catholic Church still believes that humans can summon JC into foodstuffs. I’m also not sure why the church needs to lock up the communion wafers once they are god-infused. Isn’t God mighty? Why does he need protection in a locked tabernacle until it’s snack time? You mean, God can’t even defend himself? Wow. How the hell could he create the world in six days or answer prayers?
It’s funny to think that an all-powerful God can be summoned by lowly, sinful humans into the stuff we eat. You wonder why the light hasn’t come on: Hey, Father Joe. Can you guess who the God really is in this picture? 
It’s also funny to me that you or I can walk into any church tomorrow and pocket the host. We don’t need a license or certificate to walk up to the altar and stick our tongues or hands out. We don’t look any different from our Christian friends. Sure, we’re not supposed to do this, but there’s no law against walking into a church and participating in its rites.
There are many Catholics who say, “I don’t believe in all that transubstantiation hooey.”

Great! Then my question is: Why do you believe in all the other hooey?

GUEST POST: No Thanks to God by Lisa Morguess

One of the best things about this blog is meeting so many like-minded people. I really appreciate knowing there are others out there who share many of the same experiences and frustrations. We can relate to and understand each other. This is a big relief for those of us in communities that put so much trust in God, rather than in the people around them.

Many of you know Lisa Morguess. She recently had an experience that every parent fears. And she encountered responses that most of us, while we understand, find, at times, bothersome. Read on…..And thanks, Lisa, for sharing this with us!________________________________________________

NO THANKS TO GOD

My six-year old son disappeared while we were on a family vacation recently (I wrote about it here).  Without our knowing it, he slipped out of the condo we were renting for the week up in Mammoth Lakes, a small rustic town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  That he has an intellectual disability (Down syndrome) made it all the more terrifying; I was absolutely frantic when I discovered him missing.

It is a testament to the influence of social media in my twenty-first century life that after we called 911, I grabbed my phone and quickly typed on Facebook, “Finn is missing. We are up in Mammoth Lakes and he got out of the condo without us knowing. He’s been missing for close to an hour. Everyone is looking, including the police. I have never been so afraid in my life. Please think good thoughts for us.”  It seems ludicrous in hindsight that I gave a second’s thought to Facebook, but I guess I just needed people to know what we were dealing with; I needed to rally my support network.

Replies of support poured in.  It was not at all surprising that many of them were of the “I’m praying for you” variety, though most of my Facebook friends know that we are atheist.  I know they meant well.  I know that for people who believe in god, that’s the best form of support they can offer.  I was grateful for all the kind words, for knowing that people cared about my son’s well being.

In truth, though, I couldn’t help but think of my friend whose two-year old son wandered off several years ago and was found in a neighbor’s swimming pool.  He did not survive.  My friend was a devout Christian at the time, and I have no doubt that many, many heartfelt, gut wrenching prayers went out for her son all those years ago.  A lot of good they did.  My friend, who has struggled with her faith over the years, but who still believes, offered words of support to me that day that pointedly did not include prayer.

What flitted through my mind in the face of all the prayers for us was, “What if Finn isn’t okay?  What will you tell me then?  That it was just god’s plan?”

After being missing for about an hour and a half, Finn was found – wandering in  a mobile home park a couple of blocks away (and across a semi-busy road).  There really aren’t words to express my utter relief – it took a long time to pull myself together.

I let everyone on Facebook know that he had been found and that he was safe and unharmed, and then the “Praise God,” and “God was watching over him” comments started rolling in.  Again, I know that people meant well, and I was grateful for their caring.  But at the same time, it irritated me that the credit was going to the invisible puppet master in the sky.

This is one of the very biggest things about Christianity that bothers me: the selfishness it inspires.  People believe that when things work out well for them, god has smiled on them, god has granted them favor because they are worthy.  The problem with this thinking is that, logically, it would follow that when things don’t work out well for people, god has deemed them unworthy.  So this God of Goodness plays favorites.  Or at least he plays head games.

How could anyone believe that there is a merciful, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient deity who was looking out for my son that morning?  (Why would a god who demands worship watch over and ensure the safety of a boy whose family are non-believers, anyway?)  What makes my son any more deserving of looking after than any other child?  What about my friend’s son?  Was god asleep on the job that day?  Or is he just a total asshole who toys with people for sport?  In order to believe that my son got special treatment from the Big Guy that day, then one must acknowledge that he gives an awful lot of people the shaft.  But you never, ever hear Christians acknowledge that.  To explain it away as “the mysterious ways of God which we mortals are not meant to understand” is just a cop out.

I had the same frustration a few years back when my husband was battling cancer and so many people were praying for us, and when he went into remission, it was all thanks to god.  Why would anyone believe that, if there were a god, he would smile upon my husband over other people battling grave illnesses?  How was my husband any more deserving of life and restored health than anyone else (especially since he doesn’t even believe in god)?  What about all the people who die from cancer every day?  But that belief, that one can convince god to intervene on someone’s behalf, is, deep down, a belief that people who receive god’s good favor have somehow earned it – and if you believe that, then you must also believe that misfortune and unanswered prayers befall those who are not deserving.

To many, I have no doubt that “miracles” like my son being found safe and sound are just more proof of god’s loving presence.  To me, it’s just more proof that there is no god.  We got a lucky break that day, thanks to nobody but the good people of Mammoth Lakes.

About God’s Plan….

If you don’t believe in God, it’s hard to understand the logic of those who do believe. Here’s a good example. Thanks to Stephanie for sending the link.

A respectable, well-loved Anglican priest was murdered by a stranger. Family and friends of the victim repeated this weary mantra: “God’s plans are perfect. Even this one.”

Stephanie raised the question many of us ask: “How can average everyday folks believe in that way?”

It doesn’t make sense to claim that God is good, yet his “plans” include premeditated murder, pain and suffering. Good guys don’t make bad things happen. They don’t orchestrate some of the most heinous acts known to man. They don’t decide which men will suffer and kill themselves and which nations will war, dragging innocent men, women and children into their mortal combat. If God plans evil acts, whether passively or actively, then there is no moral source of good upon which religion rests.

Houston, we have a problem. (This is nothing new to us, right?)

So why does religion persist?

For one, it’s a mutually-symbiotic cultural meme that has survived by wrapping itself around the individual’s ego. The ego is fragile: It wants to live forever. It’s easily frightened. It fears the loss of itself. Religion is an institution that pacifies believers, reassuring them that life will continue in some other space and time. When a theist fears for her own death, when she cannot sleep, prayer, like meditation, is a lullaby that will soothe her into sleep with the hope that God will fix all problems, that heaven awaits. In a sense, believers have not attained the emotional independence of adulthood. God acts as a father figure upon which theists lay their problems to be solved.

Religion is also a coping mechanism. Grief, such as the murder of a loved one, is so emotionally devastating that projecting one’s pain onto God helps the sufferer avoid dealing with the intensity of the sorrow. There is pain not only for the loss of loved ones, but also for the part of ourselves that dies with the person who likewise loved us. Through belief in God, there is loss, but it’s only temporary. Family and friends and even pets will be reunited in heaven. (Of course, who would want to spend an eternity with Uncle Joe and your friend who won’t shut the hell up?)

Those of us who don’t believe can certainly understand the need for relief from tragedies and the fear of our mortality. Yet still, we wonder how seemingly intelligent people believe in these illogical concepts?

A few centuries ago, science attempted to prove the existence of God. But as humans began unraveling some of life’s mysteries, God could not be found. Religion, too, has been evolving; it mutates and changes, growing less mystical as science has pushed God and the heavens further out into the universe.

Science deals with facts; religion deals with feelings. There are those of us who refuse to let our feelings get in the way of understanding the world and our insignificant place in it, and those whose egos will not allow them to embrace their common sense. On some level, they must surely know that God falls into the same realm as Thor, Santa Claus and leprechauns. They refuse to be intellectually and emotionally honest about the reasons why they remain committed: God brings hope, comfort and relief.

IMO, it’s more honest to admit that belief doesn’t make sense, that it’s like love: it makes theists feel good, but it’s not logical. And oftentimes, the relationship is like an abusive marriage: when bad things happen, believers make excuses for God; they stick around just hoping life will get better because they’re too afraid to leave.

People believe not because it makes sense, but in spite of it.

That’s what I see from where I’m standing. What about you?