Tag Archives: growing up godless

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.

Forgiveness is Over-Rated

One of the disturbing aspects of Christianity is that babies are born sinners and need forgiveness right out of the chute. In the eyes of God, the innocent child requires and receives the same forgiveness and pardons as the jailhouse convert. Yet there is no sense of justice if a newborn and murderer can both reach heaven through God’s unconditional absolution, if forgiveness is doled out like little uniform candies in a Pez dispenser, no matter the crime or offense.

It seems to me that the Christian God and his followers exercise poor judgment in forgiving people this way. Indeed I do not think our children should forgive everyone of everything because it encourages them to be doormats and victims. Preachers who counsel battered wives to forgive and endure abusive marriages are not magnanimous Christians but are perpetrators, too, just like the abusers.

Perhaps it is better to teach our children that, when people show us who they are with their words and actions, we should listen. They are telling us what makes them tick, and it’s not personal. If a person causes us harm or hurls insults (Donald Sterling), it stems from a flaw or an insecurity within him or her. If necessary, retribution for crimes or hurts are made through fines, confinement and estrangement.

This idea guides my life. When someone has treated me or others badly, when I see that a person is abusive or unkind, I choose not to have a relationship with him or her. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been reciprocally unkind. On the contrary, I believe in being cordial and keeping the peace. But I do not have to share my time or resources or foster a relationship with anyone—relative, stranger, coworker or neighbor—who would bring dysfunction or cause harm to me or my family.  

I try to live so that I don’t need to give or receive forgiveness from myself or anyone else. There is peace this way. There is no anger, no sense of victimization, no need for revenge. It is simply making choices to do the right thing and to surround myself with people who bring no harm or deception. Sure, we all hurt each other sometimes, but small, occasional hurts can be tolerated and fixed.

What does forgiveness mean to you?

 

Inheriting God

Your mother may not only make you nervous, she may also make you religious.

I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a while now. With the “Heaven is for Real” movie newly released, it seems a perfect time for this discussion.

The nascent field of behavioral epigenetics suggests that your mother’s experiences—even her diet—may have an effect on your temperament and predispositions. Previously, genetic changes were thought to occur only when the fetus was developing. But discoveries over the past decade by geneticist Moshe Szyf and neurobiologist Michael Meaney show that the experience of our parents and grandparents, and those ancestors before them, may be imprinted on the genetic material that’s passed along to offspring.

For example, if your grandfather was traumatized by war as a child or by an abusive, alcoholic parent, the fear he felt may have “scarred” his DNA. Not only could he have been an anxious adult, but he could have passed on a predisposition towards anxiety. While his DNA remained unchanged, a chemical known as a “methyl group” could have attached to his genes, turning on or off certain behavioral and psychological traits.

Interesting, eh?

Szyf and Meaney’s research answers the question, “Why do two people behave differently?” What causes one to be an optimist and the other a pessimist, for example?

But it also seems that there are additional implications of these studies. What makes one person predisposed to skepticism and another blindly devout? Is the tendency to fear authority imprinted on our genes? Could grandma’s childhood stress from a punishing, puritanical God or parent be imprinted on our genes? What about memories? Is it possible that déjà vu is an ancestor’s memory?

I don’t have the answers, but this new research certainly suggests that these genetic add-ons might hold the answer to why one sibling believes and another does not. It also might help us understand why a four-year-old boy has knowledge that his mom miscarried another child before he was born.

Then again, perhaps he just overheard his parents talking.

At the very least, I suspect this research holds a key as to why some folks have tendencies to blindly believe while others seem to have skeptical natures.  I will end here, short of suggesting that the devout may also be “cured.”

What are your thoughts on the genetic possibilities of belief?

An Interview and A Challenge

Check out my interview with Parents.com Kristen Kemp. She asked some great questions, such as “What does it mean to grow up godless, and how can we teach morality to our kids?”

If you haven’t seen this article yet from FFRF, here’s an interesting “Easter Challenge for Christians” that I thought you guys might enjoy. Using the Bible, you’re asked to write down exactly what happened on the day that is now celebrated as Easter. You might want to share it with your older children so that they understand one of the many flaws of the Bible–and indeed, one of the flaws of human memory in retelling any story. If you share it with religious family this weekend, well….tread lightly and make sure you get the eating in first.

If any of you are interested and live in the area, I’ll be at this Barnes and Noble on Saturday for a book-signing.

For those of you with an extra day off this weekend, enjoy the time with family and friends!

God Loves You. God Loves You Not.

 

We’ve all heard these ubiquitous sayings before: “God loves you unconditionally.” “He loves you so much he sent his only son to die for you.” (Wait, what? I thought we were all his sons and daughters?) “He gives his love freely.” “He will never leave you.” “He will love you eternally.”

But let’s be honest. “God” doesn’t love you. And if you’re a believer, you don’t really love God.

It’s you that you’re loving. You love a projection of yourself.

(I can hear it now: You can’t tell me how I feel!)

Right. How I feel. It’s all about the self. Those feelings humans call love—the affection, excitement, longing or desire–they’re an intangible cocktail mixed by the chemical bartender in your body. They don’t go anywhere or serve any purpose other than to motivate you to meet a need, to incite you to actions or behaviors that will preserve your body and perpetuate the faceless, voiceless genes inside.

I know. It’s all become so complicated.

The commercialization of love over the past few centuries has made the concept lucrative and even more convoluted. Think of the many businesses that thrive on love: wedding planners, jewelers, greeting card companies, florists, churches, divorce attorneys. It’s big business.

Religion is no doubt the biggest—it’s been reaping the rewards for thousands of years. It employs a god or gods, along with an entire cast of loving-inducing characters, including, but not limited to, Mary, Jesus, the Saints and guardian angels. Religion sells hope, community, comfort and, most importantly, love. God is really the only “person” who loves you unconditionally; no matter what you do or say, he loves you.

(Well, he still might send you to hell or a holding tank. Forever. Where you will be tortured. Forever. But never mind that.)

You can always count on God right? You just have to talk to him, and he listens. Well, my pillow listens, too, and responds in the same way as God.

Most people know that we cannot have a relationship with Prince Charming or Cinderella. These are imaginary people. They’re the embodiment of our wishes and hopes, our ideal selves. Relationships are only born when two conscious, breathing people have similar feelings in parallel. Does it make sense to “love” God?

Even more problematic, how would God love us as his “children”? If he were real, he’d simply be loving his own creation, not his offspring but his product. We would not be any more a part of God than a painting is a part of an artist, than Frankenstein’s monster is part of Dr. Frankenstein.

This way of looking at love may seem very dark and sinister, but it’s not. It’s nature’s genius at work. It’s how we protect and honor ourselves and our fellow man.

Understanding gives us power. From this perspective, love is not fickle or blind. We’re recognizing that what binds us is not the feeling of love but the commitments, duties and obligations we have for each other. Love is a reasonable and rational process of how we meet our own needs as well as those around us. It is not abstract; it is a feeling that inspires concrete actions. We can see and hear love. It means that we keep our word; we speak softly and kindly; we honor the commitments we make.

Love is about us, but also, not about us. We have an obligation and a duty to make the world a better place, to be our best selves and to continue to progress as a species in both our understanding of our psyches and of our place in the world.

God loves us not. But we are no better or worse for it.

St. Patty’s Day & Other Things

If you’re interested in my book, Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids without Religion, it will be available April 1st.  Here’s the Goodread’s link, which is having a book giveaway. For any of you around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, there will be a book signing at a Dallas Barnes & Noble in mid-April. I’ll give more details later.

I wanted to send out a thank you to this blogging community, to everyone who shared something for the book and to those who have shared their experiences here, having struggled–as I have—with living in a religious town. Communicating with all of you has helped me feel a lot less isolated.  I hope it’s helped you, too.

Onto other religious things….Happy St. Patty’s day (especially to the O’Sullivan’s)!  I thought a little trivia might be fun. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

Do you know why it’s customary to wear green on this day? Green represents the shamrock, which St. Patrick supposedly used to illustrate the concept of the trinity to Irish pagans. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For us, it simply represents see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. (Ok. Maybe not.) Three has been a special number for thousands of years, representing triple deities to ancient religions and mythologies, and the Trimurti of Hinduism.

When I was a kid, I used to seek and find 4-leaf clovers, believing that they’d bring me luck yet unaware that the mere idea I was alive to pick them was my greatest luck. I’d pluck them from the stem and press them in a heavy book (ironically, the bible).

What do the four leafs symbolize? Faith, hope, love and luck. In a religious context, the fourth leaf is supposed to represent God’s grace. Funny that being lucky and being “blessed” are the same thing. I am lucky to be alive. I am blessed to have food and shelter.

If you were watching Cosmos last night, you realize that this fourth leaf is a mutation. (Not Intelligent Design, thank you Neil deGrasse Tyson!) And you also know that, if you were to pull that mutant plant out at the roots, you could grow more lucky shamrocks for yourself and your friends. Mankind has been unwittingly playing god for thousands of years.  Now that we understand this, God is quickly receding from humanity’s view.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, my friends. We’re alone in this universe, but luckily, we have each other.

 

Get to know your atheists

Here are some interesting numbers from an article titled, Conjuring up Our Own Gods:

8 in 10 Americans believe in angels
1 in 5 of Americans have experienced ghosts
1 in 7 have seen a psychic
3 in 4 Americans believe in something paranormal
4 in 10 believe houses could be haunted

Holy sh*t. That’s a lot of folks who believe in the supernatural.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the reason why a few scholars believe that we are hard-wired for believing in things we can’t see:

“….the fear that one would be eaten by a lion, or killed by a man who wanted your stuff, shaped the way our minds evolved. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more likely to survive if they interpreted ambiguous noise as the sound of a predator. Most of the time it was the wind, of course, but if there really was danger, the people who worried about it were more likely to live. That inclination to search for an agent has evolved into an intuition that an invisible agent, or god, may be there.”

Wait, what? Did I miss something here or does this researcher jump from point A to point D. If I’m a cavewoman who is afraid of being attacked by my neighbor in the next cave, then I’m worried about the physical threat I know. It is a huge stretch to say that this fear of danger (a helpful thing) developed into “an intuition that an invisible agent, or god, may be there” (not a helpful thing). Yes, I’ll buy that only the paranoid survive, but there’s a reason why our presidents are surrounded by armed guards and not ghost-busters.

Like children, the human race has had its developmental milestones. At some point, man looked to the sky to figure out where all the wet stuff came from. We see our children do this when they become aware of the world around them. Perhaps, early man thought, there’s a person up there since people can make water when they cry.  Maybe we can ask that person to please stop dumping all this cold, wet stuff on us.  I use this example because some humans still say this. I have heard a religious mother tell this to her child when it was raining: god is crying because he is sad; he doesn’t like what people are doing.

It would also make sense that humans don’t all develop at the same rates, even though, as a species, we know where rain now comes from. So some of us have outgrown god.  Some of us still need–or just want–god. And some of us continue to use god as a tool to harvest followers. I’d say a certain senator from Texas (ahem, Ted Cruz) is a living, breathing god-king. Maybe he prayed with Rick Perry for rain. Mr. Cruz (looks suspiciously like the devil)

Back to the article, these researchers also found out that, if some folks (like this guy named Jack) work really hard, they can “create thought-forms, or imagined creatures, called tulpas.” You might wonder if this is how Lars and the Real Girl was conceived.

Luhrmann says, “The mere fact that people like Jack find it intuitively possible to have invisible companions who talk back to them supports the claim that the idea of an invisible agent is basic to our psyche.”

Ummm. Not so sure about that.  Isn’t this what many of us did as children? We created imaginary friends or playmates? Yet when we mature to adulthood, we know that our imaginary friends do not exist; they cannot talk to us. We outgrow them. So perhaps these believers haven’t finished developing or perhaps they are mentally ill or perhaps they become writers who realize that they can vividly imagine characters for their stories.

But the following quote from Luhrmann is the reason I sat down to write this. Many people don’t understand what it means to be an atheist: “….just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are atheists who have prayed for parking spots.”

I find this terribly insulting to those who don’t believe. If you reject the god myth, and you understand that praying for trivial things like wins for football games illustrates just how self-centered humans can be, why would you pray for a parking spot? Who does that, for godssake?

To top off her assumptions, Luhrmann writes, “Secular liberals sometimes take evolutionary psychology to mean that believing in God is the lazy option. But many churchgoers will tell you that keeping God real is what’s hard.”

That’s funny, right? I doubt that many churchgoers think they need to work to keep their god real. And I’ve never heard a secularist say that believing in god is lazy. IMO, it takes more work to believe, both physically and emotionally.  You’ve got to groom kids early to believe; you’ve got to constantly refer to your preferred religious text for answers. You’ve got to go to church and Sunday school and watch Fox News every day to continue the reinforcement. There’s a hell of a lot of energy that goes into living fearful lives, trying to please an invisible god and judgmental preachers. But there’s got to be a payoff for the energy expended, and religion does seem to bring comfort to many.

If we were to look at religion from the child development angle, we’d see that religion is delaying development by reinforcing the idea that the world doesn’t exist without us, that we will live forever and ever.  Yes, we disappear after our bodies are gone. The world doesn’t.

While believing in god does take work, living without god, takes courage.

I’m sorry for picking on Luhrmann today–usually I enjoy her writing. I think that she took the lazy way out here: perhaps she should have interviewed some real-live atheists before she wrote this piece.

Believers are atheists, too.

I’m signed up to receive notifications when there’s a comment on the CNN iReport that brought some of you guys here. And I do a lot of eye-rolling when I read the comments, especially since many believers don’t get it: We don’t believe in God, so there’s no use in trying to prove what a great guy he is.

But the following comment, which I’ve heard many times here and in other places, is the type of accusation leveled at nonbelievers that makes us yank our hair out, strand by strand:

“I am a non-believer” is an incomplete statement.  While you may not believe in God, you do believe in something, someone, or yourself.  It is humanly impossible not to ‘believe’ in something.  Wonder how your ‘non-beliver’ belief object would stand up to the type of scrutiny you placed God under?

Well, duh. Of course, agnostics and atheists believe in something. We believe in things that are grounded in man’s experiences, which are based on the facts we know. For example, I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. I believe exercise is good for the body. I believe anthropogenic activities affect the amount of GHG in our atmosphere. I believe in my abilities to address stupid comments such as this. I believe that our Christian society does not encourage people to question, to think outside the box. Is that better?

So I’ve now been caught believing in something–many things, actually–and the author of the comment is right. I should be very, very clear for people who don’t understand: I’m a non-believer in religion and in God.  But I’m not really putting “God” under scrutiny if I don’t believe he exists–just as one cannot put Barney or the Easter Bunny under scrutiny because they are not real. But, wait, we can put Barney’s creator under scrutiny. Now….(tap, tap, tap on my chin) who would that be?

Who created Barney? Man did. (Actually, woman did.) And we can scrutinize the people who put words into Barney’s mouth, who dress him, who have made Barney into something that first existed in their own imaginations.  Right? And Barney is “real” now only because he exists as a fictitious character.

As for the “non-beliver” belief object” (not my typo), that’s a little vague. Is this commenter suggesting that, in place of god, I have another object I worship? If so, let me just suggest that, for nonbelievers, we don’t feel any sort of emptiness in our lives without god. It’s not like when your dog dies and you want to run out and get another—god was never our pet. We don’t miss him.

I’m writing this on behalf of all of us who do not believe in god because, in addition to the comments above, we also hear this a lot: “Atheism is a belief, too.” Well, ok then. It’s a belief that there’s no proof to believe in a god(s), that it is not logical to believe. So we believe that it is not logical to believe.

If people want to label atheism “a belief system,” we now run into the problem that every person on this planet, living or dead, is or was an atheist. You don’t believe in my unicorn? He does exist! He runs fast as hell, he changes colors and he’s about the size of an atom. If you don’t believe in my unicorn, you’re an atheist. All believers are now atheists. It’s that simple.

There. I feel better now. I hope you do, too.