Monthly Archives: June 2013

I’ll Pray for You

Something a little less controversial is on the menu today.

Fellow blogger, Lisa Morguess, recently wrote about the people you and I encounter in our lives who say, “I’ll pray for you.” (Thanks for sharing this, Lisa!)

Her take is that, if a believer wants to pray for someone, well, that’s fine. Go ahead and do it, but don’t publicize your intentions. If praying works, then it will work regardless of whether the believer makes his noble act known. To tell someone who doesn’t believe that you’re going to pray for him anyway, can be offensive to nonbelievers. It’s basically saying that I discount your views. I’m going to do what I think is best for you.

I get that. And I agree. There are some folks that think we (nonbelievers) just don’t know any better. We need to be saved. But I also think that some folks just say, “I’ll pray for you” in the same way that they say “bless you” when a person sneezes. They want to make a human connection, to tell people that they care, to tell people that they are concerned for them. It’s a verbal hug of sorts, and it’s connecting in much the same way as smiling at a stranger or shaking a hand.

I think that some believers just don’t have the awareness or language to use in certain situations. They’ve been taught or conditioned that, when in distress, to say “I’ll pray for you.” What they really mean is, “I’m thinking about you, even though I’m without the power to help. (But I’ll ask my master for assistance.)”  Nonbelievers, while not new, are relatively new on our nation’s stage. Our primarily Christian citizens aren’t used to us speaking up or demanding a part in their morality play.

Perhaps we can help our religious friends and neighbors get there by saying things like, “I don’t believe in God, but I appreciate your kind thoughts.” Or, “Thank you for thinking of me.” To confront them would cause disharmony. On the other hand, to accept this religious hug encourages good will between two groups of people who are now at odds. We’re not saying, I need your prayers; we’re only saying, I recognize your intentions.

When a dear friend, who knows I’m agnostic, told me she was praying for me through difficult times, I told her I appreciated her concern and her good intentions. Her prayers don’t hurt (or help) me. But they made her feel like she was doing something useful, and she was letting me know that she cares for me in the way she’s been trained for 40 years. I imagine that, had I told her not to pray for me, I would have hurt her feelings.

This is my approach, which is not right for everyone. I find group-think very valuable in presenting many options. How do you handle experiences like this when someone offers to pray for you? How would you tell your children to handle this?

Recommended Pages

A friend from high school suggested that I like a page called, “North Carolina Values Coalition,” which just goes to show that the definition of “friend” on FB is nothing like the definition of a friend outside of social networking.

It has occurred to me that there’s nothing quite as “un-value-like” as an organization that claims to promote family values, which, of course, just means a group of conservative church-folks forming a coalition to push their own agenda. The religious right is good at that, at forming groups to criticize, condemn and complain about what other people are doing. If you need proof of who is running the show, take a look at their website. (Be sure to read their “values” and their “strategy.”)

The first thing I noticed when I viewed the North Carolina Values Coalition page was that it was mostly addressing one issue: abortion. The second thing I noticed, which I’m sure you guys already know, is that, for people who claim to love fetuses and all of God’s creatures, they are the most vulgar, hateful group I’ve ever seen. If you need proof of that, too, check out the stones these nice followers in Christ are throwing at Chelsea Clinton for expressing her views. In the absence of intellectual horsepower, name-calling seems to be their only option. Of course, no one on this FB page addressed the most important issue associated with limiting a woman’s choice: If the fetus is saved from the evils of abortion, whether he is healthy or disabled, who is stepping up to the plate to care for him until he is 18 or older?

(Silence.)

Which brings me to the next point, an article I read recently about a woman who had an abortion at 23 weeks, a woman who struggled mightily with her decision. Whether a woman is terminating a pregnancy because she cannot afford a baby or because her boyfriend is in jail or because the baby is not developing properly, who are we to judge? It is clearly a personal struggle for women, and it’s a burden on her body, even when conceived intentionally and out of joy.

Why would we let our personal feelings get in the way of someone else’s decision that does not even remotely affect us? An abortion seems like a horrible experience, an experience that, apparently, sticks to your conscience forever. I have no idea, if faced with an unwanted or difficult pregnancy, what I would do, but I sure as hell would not want some stranger making me feel even worse. I wonder what percentage of pro-lifers have actually had abortions themselves, and now, with a guilty conscience, feel that this is their cause.

This coalition–and others like them–claim to be pro-parental choice. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we want government out of our lives, except when it comes to pregnant women. Unless you’re saying, “We want government out of our lives, but we (God’s crusaders) want to stay in your life.” You can’t say, “God tells me not to judge,” and then try to bully others into making choices that you would not necessarily make for yourself. Of course, either way–in judging others or in physically preventing a woman from entering a doctor’s office–you’ve just stepped into “God’s” shoes. And for those of you who live where I do, I’m sure you’ve seen the right-to-lifers (and their embarrassed children), standing on the corner of Eldorado and Highway 75, picketing Planned Parenthood. Pathetic.

What I don’t understand is the vehemence with which some of these folks fight to make choices for someone else’s fertilized eggs when there are children in need all over the world. Hungry children. Sick children. Abused children. Children caught in the crossfire of war. The Catholic Church is one of the loudest voices, and it makes sense that, once upon a time, they wanted to fill their churches with as many babies as possible–that was the church’s future source of revenue (or potential pool of priests and nuns).

But, why, when so many children born today will not grow up to be Catholic or Protestant, do the religious work themselves into a frenzy? There is no Biblical support to suggest that saving fetuses will buy you a ticket to heaven.

I guess that’s why we need groups like North Carolina Values to throw a bone for its followers to chase after. They make people feel useful, feel purposeful, without giving them real responsibility. Every organization needs something that unifies its members, even if it just means getting into everyone else’s business while ignoring your own flaws and limitations and hypocrisies.

Oh, and about FB. I suggested a page, too, for the first time ever. I sent my “friend” a recommendation for the Freedom From Religion page. I’m sure the devil made me do it.

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.

Discipline without God

How do you discipline without God? A reader had mentioned that this would be a good topic of discussion. (Sorry it took me so long, Charity!)

No doubt it is easier to discipline if God’s got your back. You can tell your kids that, even when you leave the room, even when they are off with their friends, God is always watching and judging, ready to damn them to hell forever and ever. It sounds silly to you and me, but if you think of the behavior modifications made through the threat of “Santa’s watching you!” then you know that God can be used as a weapon, too. For a while, that is.

This is a weak morality structure, which exists externally rather than internally. It needs constant reinforcement and threats from parents, who have to mete out judgment and punishment on behalf of The Invisible Boss. It becomes even less effective when kids realize that they always have been and always will be dirty sinful things who will ask for forgiveness over and over and over again. And, of course, they’ll always be forgiven and saved because Jesus loves them.

With a little more effort, we can teach our kids to regulate their own behavior without using heaven as a carrot or hell as a threat. We ask them lots of questions like this, “Is that the way you should behave? Are you being fair? Does fighting with your brother make you feel good or bad?  Can you resolve this? When is being kind better than being right?”

We don’t try to shame them or judge how they feel—only guide their actions towards more appropriate behaviors. Unlike religion, our message is not: you need me because of your flawed nature. Our message is that growing up is about learning, and I will help you the best I can. As parents, we’ll make lots of mistakes, but what redeems us is that we love our kids and are trying our best to grow good kids.

Here are just a few suggestions—and if you have anything to add, please do. If you don’t have kids, or if your kids are grown, please feel free to jump in with your observations/feedback.

  1. Before we discipline ask, “Would I want to be disciplined for that?” If we accidentally broke something, we wouldn’t want our boss or spouse yelling at us. If we broke something because we were kicking a soccer ball in the house—and Mom told us to stop—then of course, reparations must be made through chores or through cash.
  2. Point out consequences of actions. “When you broke the rules, you broke one of my favorite things.” “When you fought with your sister, you hurt her feelings and made her cry.” Some of the worst offenses cause harm that cannot be seen.
  3. Let them help you decide on a punishment. “How do you think you should be punished for taking your brother’s toys without his permission?” “Do you think you should write a letter of apology for talking disrespectfully to me?”
  4. Remind them that responsible behavior warrants more privileges. And less responsible behavior warrants fewer.
  5. Parents have a hard enough time being honest, and it’s natural that, at some point, every kid will lie. You can explain how this affects you. For example, “I will have trouble believing you the next time.” You can tell them how it affects society, “You weaken the value of language.”  They also undermine their own self-image when they are not their words. One of my favorite tools to use was asking my kids to write a letter of apology or asking them to write a one-page essay on why one should not lie.
  6. For kids who seem to get into trouble a lot because they have so much energy, rather than send them to their rooms, send them around the block for a run. I learned this from another mom who has five boys. She’d stand outside like a drill sergeant, watching them run round and round the block until they were worn out. We’re animals. We were born to walk, to run, to move. It makes sense that, if we are bound all day long, we’re going to get rambunctious, even grumpy. I found that my kids ended up in a better mood when they exercised.
  7. Help teenagers set their own boundaries. What bedtime is a reasonable on a school night? How much sleep do you think you need? If they wake up tired, rather than say, “I told you that you needed more sleep than that, ask them what they can do so they are not so tired the next day.”
  8. Offer a lot of positive reinforcement by recognizing good behaviors. Thank them for doing the right thing, for helping their siblings, for being responsible in school, for helping someone who needed a hand.

These are just some suggestions we can do to put the responsibility of doing the right thing and of making good choices on our kids. No, God won’t love them and give them the fast pass to that place called heaven. Instead, they’ll love themselves because they are good people, and you’ll be proud of them for making good choices.

 

VBS

A fellow blogger and nonbeliever has a dilemma. I’d like to pose his question to our community since I know that not all will agree with my answer and may be able to offer alternative ideas for Jason. The same solution does not work for everyone.

Jason writes about the Vacation Bible School (VBS) dilemma for his 6-year-old here. His wife thinks it’s harmless for their daughter to attend this summer; he thinks it’s not as innocuous as it seems, that it’s brainwashing disguised as fun. Should he allow her to go or stand his ground?

Here are my thoughts:

As many of you know from my blog, my ex-husband is Baptist and has taken my kids to church on and off for over 10 years. (My youngest was 2 and my oldest was 5 when we split.) I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t bother the hell out of me that my ex- was taking my kids to all these things when he knew I was agnostic and didn’t want to indoctrinate the kids. (My views bothered him, too, understandably.)

So I had to take a different approach since I didn’t have any input when it came to time spent with Dad. However, I think it’s worked out pretty well for us–or, at least, for how I wanted my kids to approach religion.

When they were young, my kids went to all the churchy things, including a laying on of hands for a troubled elementary school girl. (That was a real eye-opener for them.) When they came home, I’d asked them all sorts of questions. “What did you think about your experience? What did you learn? Does that make sense? Do you see any similarities in believing in God and believing in Santa, the Tooth Fairy or Unicorns? Can we have fun with characters that are make-believe (think: Mickey Mouse)? Can we scare people with things that are make-believe (think: witches and ghosts)? Do people have to believe the same things? Why or why not? How do we know what someone tells us is true? What questions do you have? Do you ever make up stories? How will your friends know if what you tell them is true or not?” These are the questions (and many more) I’ve asked over the years, and my dialogue with my kids still continues. I try to ask them more than I tell them, especially as they grow older. They don’t want me telling them what to do nor what to think.

I agree with one of Jason’s commenters–his daughter will be exposed to religion and God throughout her life. My kids certainly were. His daughter’s friends will talk to her about religion–as may teachers (a fact for us). I also think that his wife made a good point–their daughter will start learning now what this whole religion thing is about. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and if he can help her think things through now, she won’t be drawn in by its mystery or by the appeal of the occult. He can sit down with her each day after VBS and talk to her about the stories she’s learning. Tell her that, throughout history, there have been many similar tales. He could tell her (now or later) about the history of religion and how it developed: Early man used god(s) to control other men, to bring order to his world, to explain his surroundings and to calm fears, his own as well as others. Religion has been used for power and control and personal comfort. But man cannot answer the big questions it asks: How did we get here. Where are we going. Who made all this sh*t.

Most of our knowledge is hearsay anyway. So this can be a good learning experience for his daughter because it will teach her to think about what she is learning at school, too. At age 6, I don’t think that a stance either way (to go or not to go) is going to make much of a difference. Unless this VBS dilemma becomes a huge, scary issue, one that Mom and Dad argue about,  she’s not likely to have strong associations. Brainwashing is cumulative and takes many years of unchallenged indoctrination.  I think this would be a great time to start her thinking about the topic of religion.

I happen to agree with Jason that VBS is a sneaky way to slip God in on the sly–with all the friends and fun and talk of love. But I look at it this way: When his daughter starts to drive and has a permit, he’ll be there to teach and guide her. That can be true now, too: Jason can be there to guide his daughter and to prevent her from falling for religion. With his help, her destination won’t be belief; it will be understanding, knowledge and skepticism.

What are your thoughts? VBS or no VBS?

Graduation Prayers

At the big graduation ceremony last night, my family and I were sitting behind the cross lady, who was wearing one on every piece of clothing and accessory she had on, even her sunglasses. That’s a huge cross ring she sports on her finger. The big (stupid) question I had in my mind as I sat in one of DFW’s biggest Baptist churches was, “Were they or were they not going to start this thing off with a prayer?” I know. Dumb question. It’s like asking, “Do Christians like crosses?”

The way our district gets around the whole prayer thing is simply by having a student say one. As I was looking around at all the bowed heads, listening to the prayer, I wondered how would I feel if I were Jewish or Muslim? I know how it feels to be a non-believer. It feels a lot like I’m watching a Disney movie. It feels somewhat surreal to be seemingly the only person who doesn’t believe. You know those scenes in movies where time stops and the main character walks around checks everyone out? That’s how it feels. It feels like you’re not even part of the show. But if I were part of this movie where God is the leading character, I wouldn’t be offended by prayer anyway. God is God. He’s the same no matter the flavor of religion you like, no matter what you call “Him.”

I wondered how many people in the vast audience were wondering the same thing as me, though: How can so many people believe this sh*t. You’ve got to think in a crowd that big that there must be other nonconformists. Was I offended? Not at all. These people don’t know any different; they don’t know any better. No prayer? It doesn’t even make sense to them. My brother, of course, knowing my stance, let out a loud “Amen” at the end. (sigh)

The next speaker was the class president. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes through her speech. Her entire 4 minutes or so was dedicated to God and to her reading of the Bible. She quoted scripture. She talked about Bible stories. David never gave up. David never disconnected from God. God showed me this. God taught me that. Let God lead the way for you, too, she told her peers. Blah, blah, blah. I hope each of you believes and has faith as I do (because, of course, her way is the one true way). I am so wonderful. I love all my friends. (She took the time to individually thank six or eight friends.) Because, you see, being trained all her life to think that God has a special plan for her, she was now living out that special plan and letting the world know how special she was. She couldn’t help herself. The student body stood up and applauded her (the only speaker to receive such accolades), and I waited expectantly for her to receive her academy award.

The next two speakers, who also happened to be the number one and two graduates in their class, did not mention God once, and in fact, though they briefly thanked their parents, that was the extent of the personal nature of their speeches. They spoke to the audience as they should: let me share with you what I’ve learned and how it can apply to you. You have to wonder if intelligence gives people an awareness that not everyone likes vanilla ice cream, that some don’t like ice cream at all. And you have to wonder if intelligence gives people an awareness that they are part of a really big production that includes the entire world and not the only character in a one-man show.

So the moral of my story is this. If you want a standing ovation, just talk about God, the celebrity nearly everyone can relate to. But don’t let the applause be a gauge of the quality of your speech. A really good speech, with insights that apply to many, not just one, may just be too lofty for others to understand.

What Color is Your Underwear?

A little housekeeping: First, go to Atheist Census and be counted. Then scroll down and look at the demographics of nonbelievers. You’ll find it interesting. If you don’t want to fill out the info, you can still scroll down and see the stats they’ve gathered.

Second, Dale McGowan is writing the forward to my book, and I am very honored. He is the author of a great book called, Parenting Beyond Belief. Check him out here (also, on the sidebar).

I know many of you have children still in school, and now, with the end of the year approaching, life is frantic, tiring, stressful. After school is out, many of us will go through our children’s notebooks, saving a handful of papers and tossing the rest. Such a waste, really, all those trees, all the chemicals used in processing.

As I culled my younger kid’s papers, I found something interesting at the very end of his history folder. At the beginning of the year, the teacher had asked the students to tell a little about themselves. The first question was, “What are your religious views, and how do they affect your life?” This is a difficult question for our kids to answer. You and I know that it’s something that should not even be asked–but good luck making an issue of that in Texas. Your kid will have a scarlet letter, and your name will be recorded in a little black book of whiney parents. (Seriously.) But it’s a question they are going to be asked many more times in life: What is your religion? And their answer may change many times throughout their lives.

My son has told me before that he is embarrassed to say he is an agnostic. He tells me kids talk to him all the time about their church or about God. I think he’s especially worried about two (cute) girls who ask him on a regular basis to check out Young Life and their Bible Studies.

So, my kid wrote this: “I am Christian. I believe that you should always be respectful and kind to everyone. Religion doesn’t really affect my life. I feel it is very important for you to believe in what you want to believe in.” In other words, I call myself a Christian, but that’s it. I believe we should be kind and respectful to people. It shouldn’t matter what you believe in.

As I’ve said before, I don’t care what my kids decide to become when they grow older, after they’ve given thorough consideration and study of religion, its history and its various belief systems. But I think it’s our job as parents to make sure that the decision is theirs and that they understand the pressure society places on them to believe the same way, to think the same thoughts, to watch the same TV programs, even to dress the same. Some kids will be better than others at saying, “I’m not like you, and I’m ok with that.”

Maybe this teacher didn’t mean anything by asking this question front and center. Perhaps this history teacher simply wanted to know who she would be dealing with in class, so she could tailor her lectures. I’m not sure. I do know that, while she wears a cross around her neck, she also curses like a proverbial sailor and allows the kids to break the school’s “no eating in class” rule. It’s funny, though, that she can ask our kids about their religious views, yet I would feel very uncomfortable asking her the same question. To me, it’s almost like asking, “What color is your underwear?” It’s such a personal question that it should not even be asked unless you’ve been on more than three dates.

As parents, we can’t shame our kids for hiding behind Christianity; we can only continue to talk with and educate them at home, to encourage them to keep searching and to be as real as they can as often as they can. That, perhaps, is something they will not learn while they’re in school.

Exodus

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, according to church leaders.

Any church that plans to give up sponsorship of the Boy Scouts because of the new anti-discrimination policy should be stripped of tax-exempt status. In fact, they should be required to tithe 10% to an organization promoting tolerance and education.

I’m not going to mention that these churches are being hypocritical and judgmental and anti-Christian–and that they are setting a horrible example for all children. I’m not going to talk about how these bullies point to a select few Bible verses as the “proof” that “God” doesn’t approve of gays, yet the church is full of adulterers and women who have had sex before marriage who, according to the Bible, should be stoned.

I’m not going to say that these churches who threaten to drop Scout sponsorship miss the whole point of the Bible, of religion, of what it means to be Christian.

All I’m going to say is, as a taxpayer and citizen, I do not want to support discrimination.

Let’s take away the special tax privileges we’re giving to these churches and invest in education and green energy instead.