Monthly Archives: July 2013

Children Taking a Different Path

I invited Molly to write a post. Since she is the minority (but well-respected) voice here, I thought it was only fair. Thanks, Molly, for taking the time to share your thoughts and for providing a great topic to discuss:

Children Taking a Different Path

I was flattered when Deb asked me to write a post and thought I would stay true to her blog vision and talk about parenting. Of course most of us have different beliefs and often don’t agree on certain topics, but I think we all want our kids to be happy, healthy, safe, kind, and contribute positively to the world. We probably also want them to share our beliefs. For me, it would be difficult to have my children fall away from the Catholic Church. I imagine likewise, you would be saddened if your children fell away from Atheism.
While Atheism is on the rise among adults who choose to leave their current religion (thus the overall number of Atheists is growing in the U.S.), some data indicates there are low retention rates for children raised in an Atheist home. Of course, all religious groups have a percentage of population that fall away. To capture a few, the report stated Atheists have a 30% retention rate, Jehovah Witness a 37% rate, Buddhists a 49% rate, Catholics a 68% rate, Mormons a 70% rate, and Hindus a 84% retention rate. The report is referenced here.

Now please don’t misconstrue this post is a “dig” at Atheism for what appears to be a low retention rate among children raised in Atheist homes. That is absolutely not my point and it’s certainly not a competition. A 68% retention rate for Catholics doesn’t exactly have me bursting at the seams with pride (and what percentage of that 68% are even “active” Catholics…). The link I shared is from an Atheist site and he picks apart the data anyway. I just wanted to use the report to discuss the prospect of your children leaving your belief system, and how you would handle it.

My questions for you are as follows; and I would love to hear your perspective:

1. What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?
2. Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?
3. And most importantly, how would you handle this?
(These same questions can be answered by any believers too, i.e. in the event your child should leave your belief system or abandon the belief in God entirely)
Question 3 is particularly difficult for me. I wouldn’t want to encourage my children to leave the Catholic church but I also wouldn’t want to alienate them as so many of you have said you felt alienated by your families. Since many of you are first-generation Atheists, you will probably be the first people to face these situations or answer these questions. Just curious on your thoughts.
Reposting.

God as a Placebo

I read with interest an article about Dr. Mark Pool, a highly-regarded heart surgeon in Dallas who prays with his patients. He claims that no one—not even those who don’t believe—has turned down his offer to pray before surgery.

Well, duh. If you need open-heart surgery, and you’ve been referred to this guy by your family doctor or by your insurance company, are you going to tell him, “Hell, no. I don’t want you to summon the invisible man to help you do your job, doc!” If Pool believes that a 2000-year old historical figure named JC is guiding his hands as he performs surgery, then he might also believe that you are a follower of Satan. Would he be less interested in saving one of the enemy’s foot soldiers? What if someone answered, “You could make a believer out of me if I wake up after this surgery?” Would he work harder to save his patient?

In all fairness, according to the plethora of Medscape articles I’ve read over the past couple of years, this is a serious topic for both physicians and patients. People who believe seem to be more at ease when a doctor prays. And doctors who believe seem to think prayer really does work. (Keyword being “think.”) Sometimes I wonder if that’s all it takes. However, studies have found that:

“First, intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred after CABG [coronary artery bypass graft]. Second, patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer.”

In other words, believe whatever the hell you want, but prayer is simply like taking Xanax. It might be calming to the patient, but it has no effect on the actual outcome of the surgery. (The study states, “We have no clear explanation for the observed excess of complications in patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them.”)

There was another physician interviewed for this article. Dr. Rohan Jeyarajah, also prays with his patients. He says, “We have to be careful about being in a position of perceived authority and not overstepping that bound. This is like a teacher-student relationship. There’s a chance you could be inappropriate.”

Wait, what? Anyone other than doctor is a student, an amateur, a neophyte?

On the contrary, we are customers, and doctors, as evidenced by the bills they send to us, are running a very lucrative business. Just as we would not expect a pilot, a dentist, an attorney or a professor to put his hand on our shoulders and ask that God help guarantee success, we should not expect a doctor to do this.

No, you would not see this crazy sh*t in any other profession, but I suspect that all patients tolerate this because specialists are small in number and because people just want to get better, no matter what kind of crazy belief system the doctor holds. What some doctors seem to forget is that they are medical professionals, not faith healers, and we are their paying customers.

I have been to a doctor who is very religious, and I must admit, that I am a little wary. What educated man or woman believes that there are spirits helping out in the office or the operating room? Do these doctors have such little faith in themselves?

And this is where we may find the only benefit for those of us who don’t believe in god. If a doctor truly believes that god is on his team, that god is working through him, then perhaps he has just a little more confidence in his skills. For an atheist doctor, maybe he or she is not as confident. After all, they would be aware of the truth: we all are fallible, fragile, flawed–no matter how much education we have. A doctor who doesn’t believe in god knows that it’s just him and his staff and the patient, and he’s counting on his team, his education and his experience to do his job successfully.

So for some doctors, it seems, god is simply a placebo.

What do you think? Would you trust a doctor who wanted to pray before your or your child’s operation?

If Jesus Went to College

*Warning: This material is meant only for entertainment. If you are god-fearing in any way, please stop reading here.

I was going to write about the idea of redemption and Carlos Danger, but then I don’t really like to write about things that are being discussed over and over and over again. I figure better women than me have already tackled the topic.

So when I woke up in the middle of the night (bad dreams and maybe thunder), I started to think about my kid leaving for college soon. Then I started thinking that I sure wish I believed in a god or goddess so that someone could watch over him and make sure that he doesn’t do any of the really stupid sh*t that freshman do, like drinking into oblivion or getting into a car with a driver who’s had too much mead. And then I thought, hell, if Mary were sending Jesus off to college, this would be an entirely different experience. (Again, this is just for fun, so don’t send any suspicious packages to my home.)

I wonder this:

As Jesus left his house, would he wave to Mary and say, “Don’t cry, Mom, I’ll send messages through Gabriel!”
Would he ride his ass to school, piled high with creature comforts or would he show up, in Jesus-hippie fashion, with just the clothes he slept in and his Mayfair glasses?
Would his friends ask him to turn water into wine beer. How damn convenient would that be when it was late and the keg was tapped out?
Would Jesus share his test answers with his slacker friends, who stayed up too late partying and didn’t study? Jesus always knew the answers, right, even before he learned them?
When Jesus was short on funds, would he ask God to send money, then suddenly say, “F*ck it. He’s never lifted a finger in the past. I’ll call my mother.”
Would Jesus woo co-eds by healing the blind? By walking on ice water? (I swear! It’s not frozen!) Would he tell girls, “It’s just my dad that has hang-ups with nudity?”
Would Jewish students be his frenemies since he’s both a Jewish preacher and King of the Jews?
When he’s getting busy with his girl and she yells, “Oh, God!” would he stop and say, “Yes?”
If his girlfriend gets knocked up, would he say, “Come on, baby. Life doesn’t really begin until you’re out of the chute!”
Would he tell his friends, “Hell, yes, I’m bigger than Steve Jobs. I’m creating Christianity!”
At Christmas, would he get pissed that everyone else was getting gifts, too?
Would he police the eateries to make sure that everyone is giving thanks before breaking bread?
When he sees one of those t-shirts that says, “I’m God’s favorite,” will he be honest and say, God doesn’t have favorites. He abandoned us all on this hostile planet and now he won’t even talk to us.(Talk about passive-aggressive!)
Would Jesus bring his pet opossum, who taught him everything he knows about playing dead (See! I was just kidding!)?
Would he enlighten his friends: “No, no. You’re taking this too seriously. The rapture doesn’t mean you’re literally transported some place. Think: le petit mort”

Add yours: ____________________________________.

Happy Friday!

Goals

I have to admit, when I started blogging in 2003 about raising kids without religion, it was really out of frustration. It was personal. It was selfish. I wanted to be heard, wanted to connect with others who might be experiencing the same things.

Why am I still here? I have a couple of goals. One is to help our country move to a place where religion is completely and securely tucked away into homes and churches. The more we speak up and insist on this religious etiquette, the better. The second is to desensitize people to “our kind,” to let believers know we are not to be feared. And third, I want to somehow, in some little way, help change the abusive relationship we have with our planet.

As I see it, we are, as a species, a lazy, messy and self-centered group. We want to live in the burbs and drive our trucks and cool our big homes. We throw away the shit we get tired of, even if it’s in good condition. We buy too much food and either waste it in landfills or on our waists. We want new stuff when we already have enough. I know–I’m part of the problem. And I’m trying to change–by buying green energy, bringing my own to-go containers to restaurants and conserving energy, plastic, water and stuff in general. I try only to buy what I need and encourage my kids to do the same. I set my thermostat high in the summer and leave it low in the winter. I have a long way to go.

If you are a right-to-lifer and you care about saving “unborn babies,” then you should care about climate change. Anthropogenic activities are clearly changing the composition of our air. We’re making our planet much more habitable for plants and much less habitable for animals. The earth is not going to disappear. It will continue to adapt with or without us. We are in an on-going war with every organism for survival in an indifferent universe.

There are so many other really important changes we need to make. We need to reconfigure our cities so that we live, work and play in the same area. We need to stop using so much plastic, which comes from petroleum. We need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, especially coal, which is one of the dirtiest of our energy sources. We need to build as many net-zero energy buildings as possible and reclaim as much water as we can. We can mount solar panels on more homes, as silicon supplies allow. We can make each home into a little energy factory, adding windmills to properties that have the space and selling any unused energy back to the grid. We can build more bike lanes on our roads and bike more often. There is so much to do. I hope that many will help, including my kids who are, no doubt, tired of hearing me talk about this.

I’d also like to take a look at our churches, which sit empty for a large part of the week. How can we better utilize these buildings? How can we make them more energy efficient? Can we consolidate faiths under one roof through building-share?

Leaving it “to God” is not going to work.

So these are my goals. What are yours?

Sexual Satisfaction Survey

So today, in the Dallas Morning News, I read: “Those who worship God weekly have the best sex.” How convenient–and on a Sunday no less. I can hear it now: “Honey, grab the kids and your wallet, we’re going to church!”

This conclusion came from Catholic researcher Patrick Fagan, senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a conservative group of lobbyists who push their views on the rest of America Christian organization. You can check out their site, and you’ll even find that they take prayer requests along with your donation.

In a talk this week,

Fagan told Christians in attendance that they “have to claim a place that’s very different in sexuality – and that by the way is very superior, even in matters sexual.”

Superior, even in sexual matters? How very Christian. I won’t get into every single slide, but if you look at this talk you’ll find some extremely strange and convoluted claims. (And what’s up with the slide that singles out black men and their “retreat from marriage?”)

Who determines what a stable marriage is? And why the hell is this researcher basing his conclusions <a href="” target=”_blank”>on a survey of 2,500 Christians from 1992? (This is a “high quality face-to-face survey with approximately 2,500 adults, aged 18 to 44 years (the most sexually active part of the population).”

The thing with statistics is that you can bend them into all sorts of shapes. This just seems to me like a bit of Christian propaganda. Attend Catholic Church on a weekly basis, and you will have a strong marriage and a great sex life. It’s a win-win for the church and the members (no pun intended).

In the very, very old days, there were men and women, rutting just like men and women today. There were no engagements or weddings or divorces.

One day, man started acquiring property, and he wanted to ensure that his property was being properly passed along blood lines. Since there was no such thing as paternity testing, a vow before god was the next best solution. Marriage made us artificially (or perhaps superficially) monogamous until death. As a secondary, and no doubt unintended, benefit, marriage also protected women in their most vulnerable state.

I’m just not sure how marriage and religious attendance relate to coital happiness, and Fagan offers no theories about that. How does God figure into all this? I mean, wasn’t he the one that got angry with Eve for her curiosity? Wasn’t he the one that made us all wear clothes, for godssake?

I noticed that no one in the course of this research bothered to ask the nones, the atheists, the agnostics–only believers. Isn’t it obvious that it’s better not to attend church on Sunday so that you can have more time for sex. Since no one asked us, I’ve made up my own survey. Don’t try this at home by asking your friends and family. They may not appreciate the humor:

1. Do you feel ashamed when you take off your clothes or do you feel “freed”?
2. Do you think sex is for procreation or recreation?
3. Do you think you enjoy sex more than your religious neighbors? Can you prove it? (If not, no worries.)
4. Would you enjoy sex more if you thought God, Jesus or angels were watching you get busy? (Wait, isn’t this spiritual voyeurism?)
5. Do you feel guilty after you have sex, as if you’ve let someone down, or are you just happy that you had the whole experience?

I’m not seriously taking a survey, but I am serious about the silliness of Fagan’s report. This scantily-clad “research” is really a sales pitch for Catholicism.

Parenting Info

If you live in the northeast, there’s a secular parenting conference called, Raising Kids to be Good Grown-Ups, on Saturday, September 21st. Dale McGowan will be one of the guest speakers. For more info, check out this site: http://www.secularparentingforum.org.

I mentioned this a few years ago, but it’s worth repeating. The science channel has a great program called “Through the Wormhole.” It’s one of those shows that can open up meaningful dialogue with the kids.

I’ve told my children that they are free to choose what they believe, so this series helps them develop their own opinions. Some say, “Well, as a nonbeliever, you’re indoctrinating your kid, too.” Not really. As those of us in this position know, to teach our kids to believe in god and follow a certain religion would require us to teach them things that are only hearsay, things that we do not believe, things that do not make sense. As parents we can make our kids believe in anything–flying reindeer, magical bunnies–so it’s our responsibility to teach them not so much what to believe, but how to learn and think on their own.

The Business of Church

Here’s an interesting article about taxes and churches.

This is the gist if you don’t have time to read: “The deductibility of donations to religious organizations creates a discriminatory religious subsidy. One is free to donate to the religion of one’s choice, but government support of these donations burdens every American, even the non-religious, with support for the faith industry.”

I agree.

Here’s one way of looking at it. Churches are businesses, too, and they have financial goals, special interests and goods that are exchanged, albeit intangible. When you give money to a church, you are receiving a few things: hope, community, inspiration, motivation, a moral structure, a “spiritual home,” forgiveness, life coaching.

The rest of us have to pay for these services from secular businesses. So should a preference for belief in a god allow some taxpayers to deduct their payments (donations)? Nonbelievers, no doubt, would like to deduct the cost of their yoga classes, therapists, marriage counselors, personal coaches and club memberships.

Sure, some monies donated to churches do eventually go to charities, but the bulk of the income received from the community is used to support the club church and “grow God’s kingdom.” A really big question comes to mind: why does God need petty solicitors if he’s omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing and other-worldly? Why does he even need money to spread his word? Doesn’t it make sense that if there’s one true god who created man, we’d be preprogrammed to know exactly who or what god is just as we’ve been preloaded with all this other software, such as how to smile, when to sleep and what hunger and fear mean? Wouldn’t there be consensus?

I know. I digress. But the point is, the business of church is just that. A business. They help people “spiritually,” yet they receive payment (call them tips, if you must) for their services, and they should not receive special tax consideration.

Unlike you and me and many of our local businesses who have to pay taxes on our income and taxes on the property we own, churches do not. Aren’t megachurches and millionaire preachers reason enough to change our laws? This special treatment has allowed some of God’s head salespeople to reap huge rewards. (Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Kenneth Copeland, etc, etc.) Imagine what sort of soup kitchens they could run if only they lived in modest homes and drove modest cars.

And one more thing–churches that spread prejudice rather than the Christian values they supposedly subscribe to (ahem, Westboro) should not only pay taxes, but also a penalty. The rest of us don’t want to subsidize hatred and, in fact, would like to discourage it. Preachers who abuse their power should be required to tithe 50% of their earnings to a fund that promotes humanism.

To make a long story short, I sure hope the tax code is reformed so that we (all) don’t continue to subsidize the preference to believe in God.

What’s the Point

I went to Market Street the other day to grab some groceries. The lady who works behind the coffee counter, the one who is always chatty and smiling, stops me for a bit. Where have I been? How are the kids? Did I know she’s finished with Bible school? (Oh joy.)

Yes, sometimes I listen to her tell me about Bible school. She’s been taking classes now for two years. Did I know, she tells me, that I can be a minister, too? (Is that right?) I don’t need a divinity degree. I can minister to people every day by spreading God’s word and being a good Christian. Any one can. Did I know that?

Of course my husband is staring at me, wondering why the hell I don’t tell her to bug off. I bit my cheek so as not to bust out laughing at the irony. This is a woman who is so excited to be on Team Jesus and so clueless, that I wondered, What’s the point? Why not let her talk? Who is she hurting? She’s just trying to do the best job for Jesus that she can. She’s not a threat to me. I thought about the time I worked in a courtroom, and the DA and judge let a man just rattle on and on because the more he talked, the more he incriminated himself.

I ask myself this question a lot. I mean: A LOT. What’s the point? We’re all going to die. Every one of us. Our species will die off. Our sun will burn out. So what’s the point in anything any of us do? Shakespeare won’t matter. Neither will Newton. I sure as hell won’t.

So it seems to me the point is only what we’re doing in the moment. Am I doing my part to make this a good ride for those around me?

Now. I’ve known this woman for years. Probably five or six, maybe more. I don’t know. Time runs like one, big river. This lady has always been so kind, so sweet. She’s so excited to be around people and to help anyone. She seems simple and means no harm. So I smile and tell her I have to grab some groceries.

But as I’m on my way out of the store, she calls to me again from behind the coffee counter, on a crowded Saturday afternoon, right there by tables of customers drinking their Joe, and she says, “Hey! What church do you go to?” She’s wide-eyed and expectant, ready to show me how the ministering thing works. I hesitate for a bit, wondering if I should even answer. This might change things between us.

“I don’t,” I said. She really starts to get excited because now she knows that I am a free agent.

“You don’t?” And I laugh, “No, I don’t.”

She’s really watching me, and I realize that perhaps I’ve underestimated this woman because she picks up on something and lowers her voice a bit as I’m walking by, “But you’re a believer, right?” I stop, with my back against the door, facing her. Here’s my moment of truth. I always say be honest. I teach my kids this. I tell them, don’t volunteer information, don’t be confrontational, but be honest. So I tell her, “No, I’m not.”

“You’re not a believer? Then what do you believe in?” Several customers have stopped what they are doing and are watching me. I laugh uncomfortably.

“I believe in people. That’s it. I believe in just doing the right thing, and I believe that most people are good.”

“I just can’t believe it. I never knew,” she said. She looks a little confused or surprised or maybe both. “Really? I just never knew,” she repeats.

I thought about telling her, “Well, you never asked, did you?” But that would be cruel. She’s just like so many other Stepford Christians I’ve met along the way, assuming that their way is the only way. Then she says, “Well, you act just like a believer. Did you know that? You really do.”

I’m not sure if she was trying to convince me or herself. Or maybe she was wondering, like I was, if she was giving me a compliment or an insult. Of course, I want to tell her, “Well, you act just like a nonbeliever. Almost. Except for the evangelizing part.”

She follows after me to tell me that a lot of the Christians she knows don’t act like one. “They don’t have Christian behavior.” She gives me examples. I don’t tell her, “Yeah, we (on this side) already know that. It’s old news.” I just listen to her because this lady just came to a realization on her own that is so much more powerful than me telling her: nonbelievers are okay. You cannot differentiate from the outside who believes in God and who doesn’t. Maybe next time she strikes up a conversation with someone, she won’t make the assumption that everyone is a Christian.

She’s been desensitized a bit. She’ll go home and tell her husband and her kids and maybe some of her teammates. Not believing in God isn’t so scary after all.

So that’s the point.

Recruiting

Just a short post for you today instead of a long-winded one…I wanted to share an e-mail that Shanan W. sent (thanks, Shanan!). Church folk can come up with some funny sh*t. I’d like to know how successful billboards and other signs are in recruiting church members. (It must have some affect or churches wouldn’t spend the money on them.)

Shanan writes, “Just wanted to tell you a little story about my daily commute and the crazy sign I have to endure while sitting in traffic every morning. Calvary of Phoenix took over a strip mall right off the freeway several years back. They put up one of those ginormous digital display signs that they can program with all sorts of quippy sayings that are broadcasted for the captive audience that is the morning rush hour commute. A couple of my “favorites” that I see daily are:

From the “hipster” corner… “God answers knee mail.” “When your life needs a reboot, remember, Jesus saves.”

Then there is the egotistical… “When it comes to heaven, it’s who you know that counts.”

And the guilt-driven… “God forgives you. Yes, even for that.”

Well, apparently, neither hip, nor egotistical nor even guilt-driven was working well for them, because today, it was: “If you’re living like God doesn’t exist, YOU HAD BETTER BE RIGHT!” Yes, all caps.

What is it with religious people and the blatant use of fear as a motivating tactic? And what is it with the people who read that and go… OMG, I’d better get in there?!! I mean, it turns my stomach. It’s blatant scare-tactics. It’s manipulation on the basest of levels.”

 

Book Review & Atheist Churches

I just finished reading, Hope after Faith, by Jerry DeWitt. It’s an interesting read, especially for those of us who were—or still are—part of “more reserved” religions like Catholicism. The book answers the question, “How did a minister become an atheist?”

Mr. DeWitt is a former Pentecostal preacher from Louisiana who, over the span of 25 years, lost his faith in religion and then in God. He reveals the slow and painful unraveling of a belief system that had been a key part of his identity since childhood. As he tells his story, we also see how the people he met along the way influenced him, and how changes in what he believed about God brought about changes in his relationships with his wife, his coworkers and his community.

I know a few of you came from the Pentecostal faith, so you already know that, in order to be “saved,” three key things must happen. DeWitt explains:

But back then I was young and naïve about Pentecostal doctrine, which requires that one repent, be baptized in water and baptized in the Holy Ghost with the “evidence” of speaking in other tongues. All of theses requirements must be met in order to be saved…

Speaking in tongues is a key and distinguishing part of the Pentecostal faith. For those of us who’ve never had this experience, it seems a little “mysterious.” (Okay, that was a euphemism. Perhaps a better word is “crazy.”) But DeWitt grew up believing that, “…for one to believe that they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise—that the person must provide supernatural evidence of that fact, demonstrated in an act like speaking in tongues.”

You wonder how people can believe these things, and then you wonder, how do they stop believing these things?  Some folks seem to have so much further to travel than others.

Though the book does not talk about the secular services in Baton Rouge that Mr. DeWitt now leads, we learn that he has always enjoyed preaching, and the connections he made with his congregation. All his life, he had worked hard to be a minister: “I had endeavored for so long to have an esteemed place in the community that to suddenly to be at the very bottom of the community was truly crushing.” When he came out as an atheist, he had emotional clarity. I love what he wrote here:

I could minister to people, I could be in their lives, all without pretending that I was someone who I wasn’t or pretending to know all the answers. For me, religion had become like embracing people with a hazmat suit—every emotional connection had occurred with that bulky suit on. Now I could help people without any layers of pretense.

It’s worth a read to see how a man of such intense faith takes the long, emotionally arduous road to atheism. Along the way, he also finds the answers to questions we all face as nonbelievers: How can we feel like a valued part of society? How do we cope with “fear, anxiety, depression and rejection”? How do we find “hope after faith”?

Another reader of this blog recently sent me this story about Godless Churches, noting that an atheist church would be a nice thing for her and her family to attend.  Perhaps the near future holds the growth of these “churches” that offer community and connections for those of us who feel marginalized.

How do you feel about a weekly service or meet-up for nonbelievers?