Religion, Misogyny, and Politics

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

It’s not surprising that Donald Trump’s biggest fans are the religious right. After all, they also believe that a Jewish carpenter saved their “souls” from the sin that Eve caused, that the womb is public property, and that women are Madonnas or whores. And this oppression is not just from Evangelical men, but also, sadly, from the women.

Religion still keeps us enslaved. I’m pretty certain it’s what drives the misogyny behind the hatred for Clinton. What seems to be the right’s major objections with Clinton? She is too driven. She has wanted to be president since she was little. She forgave Bill. She smiles too much. She doesn’t smile enough. She doesn’t look presidential. Yet it’s okay for a man to be driven, to dream of being president as a child, and to have orange hair, a big belly, and small hands that he can’t keep to himself. The double standard, not just held by men, but also by women, is disappointing.

So what is so unforgivable about Clinton? She used a private email server (at the time, not illegal), which created a security threat. She apologized, admitting poor judgment. She dropped the ball in Benghazi, causing the deaths of four Americans (never mind that incompetency from the Bush administration sent us into a baseless war, killing more than five thousand Americans and creating instability in the Middle East). What are her other fatal flaws?

I cannot think of any. She has a long, impressive resume of public service as an elected official and as a civilian. She is smart, qualified, experienced, and level-headed. Everything we’d want in a president. And yes, we want experience, just as we’d want an experienced surgeon to perform a complex operation. 

Many Americans say they want the country to be run as a business (errrr….a business that can make laws, such as outlawing abortion). I’d be a little nervous if my CEO had incurred such ginormous losses, but that’s neither here nor there. I mean, we can just declare bankruptcy, right? Greece is fine–as long as you don’t live there.

Businesses are created to turn a profit and to cut costs. Government pensions? Pffft. The new management doesn’t honor obligations like that. (Whew!) If we ran America like a business, we wouldn’t have to pay taxes. Instead, every citizen would pay to use services and amenities. We’d pay to drive the roads that take us to our homes, to use the fire and police departments, the FDA, the EPA, the schools, and the airports. No more subsidizing food, utilities, or housing. No more tax breaks for homeowners. No, businesses don’t give shit away. They cut corners and jobs and pay their CEOs fat salaries. They’re not in the business of helping, nor of giving away their goods and services.

And our girls? Do we want them to grow up in the shadow of a president who believes that, because a man has power and fame, he can grope and kiss and do as he wishes to women (under the age of 35)? Do you want your daughter to be told she’s fat or ugly or stupid? Do you want a business or a government to decide tell her she cannot have birth control or an abortion? Of course not.

We all need to get out and vote this year—we need to mobilize as the Evangelicals have done in past elections. We cannot leave this election in the hands of the evangelicals. While many of us say they don’t want more of the same, they don’t want another politician or that they’re so sick of an ugly election season, America has had a few years of prosperity now, and Clinton would ensure this continues.

 

Guest Post: Women Beyond Belief

Friends,

Below is a guest post about an upcoming book on women and atheism. I look forward to reading the book after its release.

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“High school was difficult for me—I was so uncomfortable when people would ask me what church I attended or which denomination I was in. When I would tell them I was an atheist, they looked at me as if I’d committed an atrocity. “You don’t believe in god? Why?” I was constantly asked in school. When I told them my reason, they judged me. They questioned my morals and said they wouldn’t trust me, all because I didn’t believe in this transparent being called god. It was crazy, the questions they would ask me. If anything, I thought, I should be asking the questions. Why are they believing in a being that they can’t see, feel, or hear?

Not only was it tough as a teenager being an atheist, but being a black one made my life even tougher. The community I come from is very religious, and my sister and I were the only atheists on our block. They weren’t open-minded, so it was uncomfortable for me when they would talk about Jesus or god. Being a black atheist is like being an African elephant almost. I can count how many black atheists I know personally: me and my sister.” Taressa Straughter

Taressa Straughter was raised Pentacostal but gave up her religion as a teenager. She speaks openly about her atheism and was the recipient of a scholarship from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2015. She is one of 22 women who have written essays about their journeys away from religion in “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion” edited by Karen L. Garst. This book can be pre-ordered on Amazon and will be available in bookstores October 1.

Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v.Hobby Lobby in 2014. This decision said that because of its religious views, Hobby Lobby, a craft store, would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst stated. Once again, religion has influenced the laws of our land. Politicians cite their religion in supporting restrictions on abortion, banning funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other issues that are against women.

The first leaders of the New Atheism movement that arose after 9/11 were men: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. They came with backgrounds of science and philosophy. They launched a renewed effort to show people how destructive religion can be and how all Abrahamic religions are based upon an Iron Age mythology, borrowing from other mythologies of the time.

Dr. Garst wants to add a focus on women and the role this mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” And she is right. More and more women atheists are speaking out. And as we all know, if women leave the churches, they will collapse. As more women leave religion, more children will not suffer the shame and guilt associated with most major religions.

She has received support with reviews by Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, Peter Boghossian, Sikivu Hutchinson and other atheist authors.

We encourage you to check out Dr. Garst’s blog at http://www.faithlessfeminist.com and to pre-order this excellent book.

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For Families in Hiding

science picSometimes, atheists email me from parts of the world where apostasy is a serious crime. It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must be to live in a society where, if you don’t believe in god or religion, you or your family could be put to death. When I hear these stories, it makes me realize how lucky so many of us are to live in countries where we can choose to believe or not believe. While things are not perfect, our battles are small in comparison.

This short post is for those families who must hide. I, as I’m sure many do, admire your bravery. You are not alone. There are many parents like you, both near you and far away.

So you ask: How can you raise your child or children as logical, free thinkers without bringing harm to them?
Be sure to read to them – a lot – about all sorts of topics, from all different points of view. Include them in discussions about politics, history, about how things work. Teach them about types of logical fallacies.  Teach them how to question  in their reasoning. Teach them to play chess. Teach them your morality. They will follow your example. They will learn what is important from you and what is not. Stay the course. You’re doing the right thing, the best thing for your children.
Friends and readers — if you have ideas for parents who are raising their kids to be humanists in countries where they could be put to death, please share your suggestions. We’re all in this together, no matter where we live.

Book Review: Grace without God by Katherine Ozment

Grace without God is one woman’s search for meaning, belonging, and purpose without religion. The author, Katherine Ozment, interviews expert after expert in an attempt to answer some of life’s big questions. The reader follows her along to these interviews as a proverbial fly on the wall.

About halfway in, I struggled to finish reading, for Grace without GodI became increasingly frustrated by the rose-colored religious glasses through which the book is written. Although dozens of experts were interviewed, there was no examination of the underbelly of religion, no balanced analysis of *why* religion and belief can also be a problem. Sure, in modern America, religion can offer a warm, fuzzy place to hang your hat. But there is no mention of the harm that religion has also brought into the world, of the terrible damage and fear it brings daily. There’s no mention of the shame many believers feel nor of the exclusion and loneliness people feel who are different, even though they sit in the pews week after week.

The premise for Grace without God is that living without religion makes us no more than driftwood afloat in an indifferent world. (Which is true regardless of what you believe.) “Could my family and I find valid alternatives to all the good that religion gives?” Ozment asks. The entire book is a long yearning for “…a religious moral grounding, timeworn rituals, and a community… “ Even in the last two pages of the book, the author writes, “Occasionally, I take myself to church…..Beneath the cavernous vaulted ceiling, only the sound of our voices lifting up, I feel at once infinitesimal and valuable beyond measure.”

For Ozment, living without religion is a problem. For me, living without religion is a solution.

Perhaps the most frustrating sentiment was expressed here: “The truth is that belief in a supernatural god or gods works exceedingly well when it comes to cultivating morals within a group. We act better when we feel we are being watched, as by a God.” All I could think was: suicide bombers, Catholic priests, hate crimes, a truck in Nice, France. These folks all thought god was watching them.

There is no mention that the morality created by religion is a superficial, selfish structure, one in which believers do “good” only because someone is watching and only because they are promised with the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. In some religions, believers don’t even “do good;” they “do bad” over and over and just ask for god’s forgiveness. Or, worse, they “do bad” under their god’s supposed direction. What kind of morality is that? Western religion tells us that we are born sinful as the offspring of parents who disobeyed God. So much for a loving, forgiving God. It also tells us that all we have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness when we’ve had impure thoughts or committed crimes, no matter how many times. All these points are overlooked in the book, with the idea being that the loss of a religious community is unnatural and problematic. Yet from where I’m standing, it is not unnatural and problematic to take religion and belief out of our lives, it is unnatural and problematic to force them in.

Having said all this, we all realize this is just one person’s opinion (mine). Maybe I don’t “get” this book. Maybe I have no love left for the institution of religion. There are folks out there who might really enjoy, Grace without God. There are folks who might love it. The prose is well-written, and it could be a good read for someone on the fence about whether to leave religion or not, someone who is not quite sure what they believe or if they have the fortitude to go it alone. However, it might also help some of those believers remain in their religion.

*This review was not paid, although I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for giving my feedback. I am a full-time employee of a technology company and do not work in the publishing industry.

How to Help Kids Navigate Religion

One of the hardest things I struggled with was, “Do I tell my kids what I really think about religion or do I let them discover how illogical it is for themselves?”

I went back and forth on this because I thought, well, if I tell my kids that I don’t believe and point out the inconsistencies in religion, then they’ll never have a chance to believe. It’s like never giving them a chance to believe in Santa. Once you understand that religion doesn’t make sense, you’ll always understand this. I know, I know. There are folks who say, “But I *used* to be an atheist. And to those folks, I say, I *used* to believe in Santa.  After decades of understanding how the whole Santa thing works, you just cannot go back unless 1) you never stopped believing in Santa, or 2) you’re lying to yourself about what Santa and the Christmas machine really are.

So what *do* you tell your kids about religion? After a short time, I came to understand that I need to tell them, “This is what other people believe. I do not believe this because it doesn’t make sense.” I’d tell them why and ask them, “Does this make sense to you?” I’d use as examples Bible stories or other outrageous claims, such as “God saved me from getting on the plane that crashed.” Really, I’d say to my kids? Why was that person so deserving, and why didn’t God save the innocent children? Prove me wrong, I’d tell them. Help me understand something I do not understand, that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes they’d try. Oftentimes they said, there was not a way.

On the other hand, you’re left explaining why smart people do believe. And this is something that I’ve also struggled with because even I can’t figure it out. I’ve told my children that people are afraid of many things, but especially of the unknown. They are afraid of dying and of not knowing what will happen to themselves or a loved one. They love the lives they have — and their families. This is all very understandable, and we should have compassion for people, but it doesn’t make them right. It only makes them human. Remember the comfort you got from your security blanket or your stuffed animal when you were little? Well, some adults need external “things” to comfort them when they’re scared. It makes them feel good to hold onto something, but you know that something—the stuffed animal, for example—can’t save you. Well, in the same sense, believing in God feels good and safe. But God—who has no corporeal existence and is just a wish or belief–doesn’t save you.

Now I know that this doesn’t leave much room for kids to develop religious beliefs on their own, but if you think about all the times you’d have to withhold information, tell your kids “I don’t know,” or outright lie about the existence of God, you’ll see that there’s a lot of deception that goes on in “allowing” kids to choose to believe.

Will I be disappointed if my kids one day choose to follow a religion? Of course not. I just won’t be disappointed with myself for encouraging them to follow some mythical rabbit down a hole.

This is what has worked for my family. If you can offer feedback on what to tell kids, please share your experiences.

 

We Don’t Need “Saving”

This post is in response to an email I received a few weeks ago. I’m changing the name but the email, in its entirety, can be found below my response.

Dear Christian,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I was inspired to write, in large part, because you said in your email, “I feel that your blog runs people in the wrong direction (quickly) whether you know it or not.”

I will talk as openly and as forthright as I can. People who read blogs like this are searching for their “own kind,” for others who question, who have doubts, who think that something just isn’t right with the whole religion thing. This is one of the many places we hang out.

I am not writing to tell you that you are wrong. In the end, you cannot prove your god any more than I can disprove her. However, is God likely? No. Probable? Of course not. Possible? Sure. And so are flying pigs. If God *is* possible, I think it is sheer arrogance to speak on her behalf, seeing that she isn’t present…and hasn’t been for billions of years. I know, I know, you have the “word of god,” which somehow entitles you to be a mouthpiece for this supernatural being who has shown an awful lot of dislike for the creatures she supposedly created. Well, I have an old book, too, and it says nothing about Adam, Eve, and the other fantastical characters in your bible.

Seeing that atheists do not show up in your church and try to talk your congregation *out* of belief, I’m not quite sure why you folks show up where we gather and try to talk us *into* belief, unless, of course, you think there are brownie points to be earned in saving “souls.”

I believe in the concept “live and let live,” so if you want to believe in your fairy tales and superheroes, and you are not hurting anyone, then good for you. Belief is your security blanket, and I will not try to yank it from you. You have books to recommend? That’s so funny. Everyone has books for us to read, and yet, we are probably the most well-read bunch on the planet.

You say that you keep coming back here, that you find these conversations fascinating, even though you’re not comfortable. May I suggest that you’re energized by the intellectual honesty of these discussions? Perhaps, like us, you recognize the fact that god doesn’t make sense but you’re afraid, so you hold tight to an ego that says, “I am human. Special. Chosen. Loved unconditionally by God. Therefore, I will never die.”

The parents and other folks who read here are brave. It’s not easy to face and accept mortality, that there’s no “big plan,” that we live and die here, on this planet. If we’re lucky, we appreciate this fact and enjoy the short time we have. Sure we could sweep reality under the rug and pretend, but are you really living if you have to lie to yourself, if you have to live in fear that this invisible, deaf and mute god might reject you or harm you at any moment (think great floods and fires)? Do you find it rewarding to argue a position that is indefensible? To hold tight to religious dogma that has brought so much trouble throughout the world and throughout history?

You pray for me? Don’t waste your time. It’s silly. You think it’s going to get you into god’s good graces? Can you prove that? Can you show even a tiny sign that your heaven is “out there”? Of course not. Why don’t you do something for your fellow man instead? With that time you’d use for prayer, volunteer. With the money you give to a church, help others. We put our money where our mouth is. You should, too. The meme to the right explains it all: “God is for you,” meaning god is literally a thing for you and for your emotional neediness.

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Hi Deborah,

I wanted you to know that your blog is exceptionally hard for me to read.  Personally I feel that your blog runs people in the wrong direction (quickly) whether you know it or not.  Regardless of my discomfort though I keep coming back to it.  I find the “other side” of the Religious (?) discussion fascinating.   I’m not really sure if Religious is the right word to use in this context.  Anyway my real reason for writing is to recommend 2 books for you:
1) Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes – By: Nancy Pearcey  (the fact that you’re mentioned in the book makes me believe you probably already own a copy.  It’s the reason I found your blog to begin with )
2) The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing, and Why – By: Phyllis Tickle
Finally I wanted you to know that I’m praying for you.  I do believe in a Heaven, and for admittedly selfish reasons I hope to have conversations with you in Eternity.  Which is a really funny concept because eternity encompasses everything (including now).  I hope this isn’t our only correspondence.
Thanks,
Just Another Christian

The True Mystery of Easter

If your kids have ever asked, “What is Easter?” you’ve probably struggled—like me—with how to tactfully explain this odd holiday. To nonbelievers, it’s a day of renewal and rebirth. Maybe you indulge in chocolate bunnies or color eggs. But to many—too many people–it’s a crazy tale unlike any other. God sends his son to pay for the sins of his prototype humans, Adam and Eve. Because Eve(l) was such a naughty girl, lured by a talking snake to violate God’s rules, all of mankind was sentenced to the death penalty. Not exactly a fair God. But, wait, in the ultimate sacrifice, God sent his own son (read: we’re not his children, no matter what the song says) to suffer, die, and rise from the dead so that we may….suffer, die, and rise from the dead, too? Not sure how Jesus was *literally* supposed to save mankind, but the story claims Jesus died so we can live.

Easter makes no sense.

It’s a constant battle of logic between believers and nonbelievers. In an op-ed today in the NY Times today, the author, William Irwin, writes: “It is impossible to be certain about God.”

This is a conversation atheists often have with believers: We cannot claim with certainty that God does not exist. And it’s true. We cannot answer definitively any of the big, important questions such as what was here before the big bang, what drives the force of evolution, and what exists in the rest of the universe. Yet atheists can claim with near-certainty that God does not exist. The story of the big guy in the sky, listening to our prayers, tinkering with our world (or not), is just as possible as dragons, leprechauns, and monkeys flying out of ….. our bottoms.

So, what is Easter? Around the third century, a group of old men determined it would be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It was the perfect day for planting the food ancient societies needed to sustain them.

Thankfully, we are far removed from those laborious days of growing crops for our families, but why so many of us still believe in crazy myths is truly a mystery.

A Q&A

Hello. I hope that 2016 has started off well for you.  Damn the years click by fast. I would love to know what everyone has been up to, if you feel like sharing below. Work has been busy for me; I feel as if life is dragging me behind it, and I’m just trying to stay up on my feet. But always, I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and this amazing opportunity to be on planet earth and have consciousness.  

A couple of weeks ago, I did an interview with an Italian on-line magazine, Parte del Discorso. You can read the Q&A in English (or Italian, if you are fluent).  I thought the questions were good–and relevant to secular parents, especially those who (like me) were raised Catholic. It’s always interesting to read how the US is perceived. 

I’d love to hear what is going on in your lives.  Happy Sunday!

Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

This post is about two topics. For starters, I’m honored that Nessun Dogma published my book in Italian this month, making it the first secular parenting book in Italy. I hope there are many more secular voices to follow. While I’m on the topic of gratitude,  I’m honored and thankful that Sterling Publishing thought I had something worth sharing. Most of all, I’m honored that people take the time to read this blog–so thank you for reading and for the interesting comments and conversations we’ve had over the years. That ends my secular prayer for Sunday, October 18th.

Another thing I’d like to share today. Working in the corporate world again, I look at things differently than I did a decade ago. I see young kids, fresh out of college; I see the employees close to retirement, looking weary. Having kids who will go into the workforce in the next few years, I think, “What skills do my kids need in the business world, if they choose to go there?” Working hard and team work are still important, but creativity and problem-solving are more important than ever, no matter what your job function is. With many jobs becoming automated, creativity is still something that humans have that computers do not. It helps to be able to look at the work flow and see how everything fits together, and how things could fit together differently. Creativity and logical reasoning are not skills that the schools are particularly strong on nurturing. In fact, public education discourages kids from creating their own solutions. I remember this struggle in math class with my older kid. Sameness is valued over uniqueness.

What we need to do is teach our children how to couple creativity with problem solving. This is something we can nurture at home by asking our kids to solve problems or to consider the many possibilities in solving problems we have. For example, the vacuum doesn’t start? Why not? What are all the possible reasons? How could we fix it? Is there more than one way. Let them try to figure out why and how.

Playing chess help kids problem solve because it’s a game of logic and strategy. Also, reading–a lot–helps. Reading creative works as well as magazine and newspaper articles about many different topics helps expose children to a variety of ideas across many knowledge bases. If your child is too young to read complex material, you can play this game, which I used to play with my kids. Start with a banana. At about a year old, I’d ask my kids, “What is this?” (holding up a banana). “What is it used for?” I’d ask. “Food?” What else? “A smile.” (Put the banana in front of your face like a smile.) “A telephone?” “A frown?” “Decoration?” You’d be surprised by the answers kids come up with. But you can use this game to start kids thinking, and you can apply this idea with about any household item. Looking at ordinary things in new ways is the basis for problem-solving.

Because we have such easy access to so much information, what we know is not nearly as important as how we think about what we know.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share them!

The Invisible People

As I was sitting at a Counting Crows concert last night, I saw a young man in his early twenties walking down the aisles, carrying a mop. His head was down, and he dutifully followed another man, clearly his supervisor, who was pointing to spills, vomit, and other suspicious-looking liquids on the floor. As thousands enjoyed music, drinks, and friends, this guy cleaned up our collective mess. All night, he was led from spot to spot like a work horse, invisible to the majority of us.

We like to think that the U.S. is a democracy where anyone can become anything. In some sense this is true. But for the large majority of us, our destiny is shaped while we’re still in utero: by our genes, hormones, and parents’ social status. This is not new news, but many forget that, for the kid whose parents are barely making ends meet, a job cleaning up messes might be the best he can do, or it might be the best he can do quickly.

Some moms and dads can barely help themselves, and they don’t have the influence or resources to help their kids. I help my teens financially in many ways that other parents cannot. My husband has helped family members get high-paying jobs that they were not qualified for. These are examples of advantages that we neither earn nor deserve, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. And it is one reason that we should pay a living wage or better to those folks who are not born with the same advantages and opportunities, to the folks who work into the night cleaning up messes or who wash our cars in the heat of the day or who help build bridges in cold weather. It is the reason why mentoring programs are so important and why nepotism not only hurts the health of a business but also unfairly takes opportunities from others.

While hard work does indeed factor into success, whether you become a janitor or a white-collar employee has a lot to do with serendipity.