Monthly Archives: September 2013

See You at The Pole Wednesday

Sh*t. I almost forgot. Our principal sent us reminders that tomorrow, at 7:00 a.m., is the annual See You at The Pole Day.  Christian students will meet at the flag poles on public school campuses across the nation and pray.

That’s super-nice of this principal, considering I’m pretty certain that he wouldn’t do this for just any event.  (And for those of you living in my town, perhaps you know who “he” is.)  It sort of feels like an endorsement of his religion, but it is his school, and in his school, he’s god. Wait. Wrong movie.  He’s not god; he just gets to promote god.

Sigh.

I’m sure not everyone has received a reminder, and I just thought I’d give you a heads up in case you were wondering why the kids (but hopefully not the administrators–hint, hint) are gathered around the flag pole. No, it’s not a group dance lesson. It’s “…all about young people, desperate for God, inviting Him to intervene and make “His kingdom come” among their friends, in their communities, and in our nation.”

So, if you’re at school at 7:00 a.m. and feel inspired, give a honk, wave or hold up your own special symbol in support of everyone’s right to free speech.

 

The Three Scariest Words

I found this article about the three scariest words, “I don’t know,” particularly interesting. What got my attention was this story from a surgeon:

“A surgeon tells about the time when, as a new intern, afraid to admit unfamiliarity with a procedure and ask questions, she plunged in confidently — and made an incision four times longer than the patient had been told the scar would be.”

I’m not going to even start to think about all the mistakes that are brushed under the operating table or stitched up, but now I DO know to opt for the middle-aged doctor.

What’s relevant to us is that, perhaps what differentiates those of us who don’t believe from those of us who believe, is that we are comfortable with the answer “I don’t know.”  I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know why we are here. I don’t know if anything happens when we die.

It seems at first that those who believe in God confess they don’t know either. We don’t know why God allowed this to happen. It’s not for us to know. It was God’s plan.

But this is not admitting to not knowing. It’s simply stating, “We know the answer is God.” We don’t need the answer, for someone bigger and stronger (albeit unwilling or unable to show this) holds the answer for us.

Believing that God knows all means that we don’t have to discover answers that we might not want to hear: life is not fair; people can be cruel; guardian angels don’t exist; heaven is a myth. There is a certain fear in the realization that, holy sh*t, no one is in control here. It’s just us on this planet, alone, and we’re at each other’s mercy. We are responsible for doing the right thing, even though no one is watching. And sometimes there is no reward in doing what is right–just a salve to our conscience.

By postponing indefinitely the difficult process of thinking through complex and oftentimes painful experiences in life, we avoid more emotional discomfort. Sometimes it’s a lot more comforting to think that God is holding the answers for us because the truth can be painful, because living with the unknown can be uncomfortable.

This is why we need to tell our kids from the time they are young that it’s okay not to know. Think about and focus on questions. They’re oftentimes more interesting than the answers. If we can teach our kids when they are little to be comfortable with not knowing, there won’t be shame in not having the answers. (Until they go to school, of course.) This way, too, they can be open to all possibilities.

Realizing that we don’t know the answers to life’s biggest questions can be a sign of emotional strength, for it is much scarier to walk a tightrope with no safety net. The three scariest words can also give us the most strength.

Who’s the fairest of them all?

What is it with the French? We’ve embraced their French manicures and French twists, but they turn up their noses at American pageantry?

The French senate recently approved a ban on pageants for girls up to age 16, with fines of up to two years in prison and a $40,000 fine for adults who pimp and “hypersexualize” little girls.

The French, whose pageants are toned down versions of America’s beauty contests for girls, don’t want reality shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and Honey Boo Boo. They don’t want their girls to obsess over body image, makeup or dress. They want their girls to grow up with a healthy sense of who they are and what they can accomplish–with their brains, not their faces.

It doesn’t get more un-American than that.

I know; you’re probably thinking, here in ‘merica, where it’s our right to do what we want with our kids, this sort of nonsense would never fly. Parents would be so pissed that their god-given rights were infringed upon. These pageants, after all, are all about the girls and doing what’s best for them, right? We should allow our toddlers to choose the activities they want to do–like sitting, standing and parading around for hours under the critical eyes of strangers. At least, that’s what Mommy thinks.

Opponents believe that penalties are too high. They see nothing wrong with girls being “princesses for a day.” It helps them overcome stage fright and make friends. That’s exactly how we get our boys, who are little princes in training, to overcome their stage fright and make friends. Right?

If you’ve been a girl or if you have a girl or if you are breathing, then you know what this obsession does to the culture of girls. It doesn’t help them make friends. It helps them make frenemies. When we teach our girls to compete for the title of “who’s the fairest of them all,” it pits girls against each other. We could spend all day on examples from middle school and high school. We could spend a week on examples from college and beyond. And women objective themselves and other women just as much as men do as the beauty pageant culture continues well into adulthood. You see it at clubs, parties, even the gym. When an attractive woman walks into a crowded room, it’s often the other women who are watching and rating her, inspecting for flaws and strengths. Do you ever hear men commenting on what another guy is wearing, that his stylist gave him a shitty dye job or that he must have fake….um….biceps because they just don’t look real?

So, I think the French have got this one right, and perhaps we should embrace their sensibilities on this issue. It’s the girls who pay the price when they get older and realize that they really are not princesses and that life is not one big beauty contest.

PS  Kudos to Pope Francis for bringing the church into the modern world. We should all love this guy.

 

 

Sameness

I realize that I spend a lot of time pointing out the differences between “us” and “them,” between those who believe in god and those who don’t. Truth is there’s hardly any difference between us. We’re 99.5% or more genetically similar to our neighbors.  (Although we’re also 80% genetically similar to cows.)

Our intangible thoughts and beliefs make us unique but not markedly so. At the end of the day, the atheist reads her child a bedtime story and kisses her goodnight.  The Christian still worries about the kid that bullies his son.  And we are all horrified at the murders, child abuse and rapes that happen here or across the world. When there is a crisis, we all want to help. So I should celebrate more often the ideas and the people who bring us together.

I came across this tribute to Irene Sendler, known as the female Schindler.  She was not as well-known, but she was even more of a hero. As a Roman Catholic social worker from Poland, she risked her life to save 2,500 Jewish children from deportation to concentration camps.  Her story is amazing, and if you have time, you will not regret reading this moving account of her life.

I love what Sendler said in one interview:

I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality.

When it comes down to a time of crisis, I’m confident that we’d all jump in and help, too, no matter our views about god.

In late 1943, Sendler was caught by the Gestapo. When she refused to expose the underground network that helped rescue the children, her interrogator ordered that Sendler’s arms and legs be broken. She was then taken into the woods, where she thought she would be executed. (She was saved and lived out her life in Warsaw, but she did not think of herself as a hero.)

This is what she said a few months before she died, which is reminiscent of our attitudes after 9/11:

‘After World War II, it seemed that humanity understood something, and nothing like that would happen again….Humanity has understood nothing. Religious, tribal, national wars continue. The world continues to be in a sea of blood.’

But she added: “The world can be better if there’s love, tolerance and humility.”

Ironically, she did not summon forth her god to make the world a better place. She realized that all we need are those things that we humans have the ability to control here and now.  I’d say we’d all agree on that. It’s something we can teach our kids every day in the way that we reach out or talk to those we know as well as those we don’t know.

The intention of this post is simply to say: No matter your belief system, I recognize our sameness, too.

Entertainment

For your viewing pleasure, fellow nonbeliever Theresa shared this movie preview, “God’s Not Dead,” which will be released in 2014, hopefully not across the nation, but probably here in the south. If god’s not dead, maybe they’ll offer proof that he’s in a coma or just stepped away for a few million years to use the can.  If you read the link godsnotdead, you might be tempted to think the movie is about god snot, but no, it won’t be that funny.

Theresa also shared with me another interesting link, one that will both scare and entertain you: 6 reasons NOT to send your daughter to college. (For woman was created to make babies and take care of the family.)  The site claims, “There is almost no common man’s material on the true teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and family.” So these two Catholic men are it. They’re the answer, and it’s scary not because these folks are out there talking but because they have their own kids that will be raised like this. And they will go to school with our kids.

Here’s a funny snippet from the article, though there are quite a few funnies. I thought it was ironic that they’d have an educated woman doctor commenting, but after a little research, I found that it’s the male version of “Kim.”

“Is a degree worth the loss of your daughter’s purity, dignity, and soul?  Catholic OB-GYN Dr. Kim Hardey notes that a woman is naturally very observant of a man’s faults as long as she is in a platonic relationship with him.  Once she becomes sexually active with him, she releases hormones that mask his faults, and she remains in a dreamy state about him.”

Don’t forget women: We’re just hormone-controlled Stepford wives. I’m not sure what the proper “dosing” requirement is to keep us in the “dreamy” state (daily?weekly?) but be sure to talk to your (male) doctor about it.

(Thanks, Theresa!)

 

“U.S. Decries Assad but Crosses God’s Red Line”

That’s the title of an essay in the Dallas Morning News by Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist in Dallas. As an aside, this is the same church I mentioned earlier in the year that opened its new and improved 3,000 seat, super-sized church-theater-business at a cost of $130 million. Jeffress, it seems to me, is not the kind and loving Christian he pretends to be but rather a shrewd and glorified god henchman.  I’ll let you read his opinion piece, if you desire, but he has no place, really, bringing his god, his judgment and his views about abortion into this fray with Syria.

I’ve heard Mr. Jeffress say this before: we need to “reclaim God’s absolute and unchanging moral law.” I know….It makes us wonder if he’s even read the Bible. If he had read the OT, he’d know that his God has committed plenty of acts that are now considered immoral to our society.

If he had read the Bible, he’d surely open his state-of-the-art church to the homeless in his city. After all, God’s house, which enjoys benefits from the taxpayers, is not in use at night nor during most days, and there are plenty of folks who need shelter in Dallas.

If he had read the Bible, he’d know that all the times he speaks of knowing God’s will and intentions, of playing god’s mini-me, was a big no-no. He’d know not to judge gays. He’d know not to judge other believers. He’d know not to speak for God like this: “Think about this one time in heaven God was sitting up there with his sketch pad and he said, ‘you know I’m going to design human beings and would it be fun of they started doing this together with one another,’” Jeffress explained. “God dreamed up sex, He thought it up for our enjoyment, He gave us the equipment to enjoy it with.”

Did he now? I thought God added “equipment” right after Adam and Eve showed their naughty side–as punishment–just as the snake lost its legs.  Gee. I guess the Bible is all about interpretation.

If Jeffers had read anything about the history of religion, he’d know that the Catholics and the Mormons and even the Muslims he criticizes are all relatives of his Baptist church, all variants of the same “cult.” (He seems to love that word.) It’s kind of ironic that, in tearing down the separation between church and state as Jeffress desires, he aligns more with the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith that he scorns.

Robert Jeffress is the reason why you and I continue to have these dialogues. He’s the reason we want religious leaders to stay in their churches. So every time he gets the urge to shame Americans, every time he wants to fortify his private army at the expense of peace in the populace, every time he sits in his ivory chapel and proclaims judgment on the people below, we don’t have to hear or see him. He has his very own (very extravagant) soapbox with his very own mini-me’s who will nod and clap and cheer. That should be more than enough.

I tried to understand this man, the leader of our nation’s oldest megachurch and the shepherd of 10,000-plus apparently content sheep here in Dallas. Really, I did. I figured if so many people liked him, he must be somewhat likeable.

I’m sure that’s what folks said about Bashar Assad, too.

Guilty

I received an email that asked me to address the issue of guilt.  Why do we feel guilty when questioning or rejecting religion, especially when children are involved? This person lives in Utah and is part of the LDS tradition. I know that many of you can relate to this topic, so I encourage any suggestions or feedback you have. How can we overcome guilt? Why do we feel this way?

Most religions, especially Christian-based, tell us that we are dirty, sinful things. For those of us born into religion, we are inculcated from our first breath with what our parents and their parents have learned. God is good. His children are bad. Jesus saved us (sort of) from the choices Adam and Eve made (but we really didn’t deserve to be saved anyway). We are told over and over and over again that we are unworthy, that our desires make us bad boys or bad girls. We learn to feel guilty as soon as we have awareness.

We’re asked to believe these religious tales without any basis of fact. If god, Jesus or any other character in the bible were on trial, they’d be dismissed for lack of evidence. Religion is exempt from questioning. For someone brainwashed and immersed in a religious way of life, it’s normal to believe in magic and the supernatural. It’s normal to accept and believe in some implausible stories (God, Satan) while rejecting other unbelievable stories (Santa, Casper).

Why do we feel guilty when we admit that religion doesn’t make sense? It’s definitely not because we’ve done anything wrong; on the contrary, we’ve done exactly what we are supposed to do in questioning the things that are outrageous and illogical.

Another reason we feel bad is that we have to reject the teachings of our parents, whom we were taught to obey and respect (honor thy father and mother), and we know this disappoints them. We have let down our family, our friends and our religious neighbors. We worry what others will think. No matter our age, we are approval-seeking creatures.

I felt bad when my kids were little because I wasn’t taking them to church, as my mother had taken me, as her mother had taken her. Instead, I chose for my kids what they would do on Sundays–and that didn’t include god. I knew that if I didn’t take them when they were little, I’d miss that window of opportunity to make them believe in things that rational adults would never believe in. But then I started thinking about it: Our parents chose for us, too, by taking us to church. They chose to indoctrinate us. I was worried that my kids “would miss out on something,” that they wouldn’t fit in, that they would resent me for raising them differently, but what they were missing out on was a big dose of brainwashing that would make them believe they are shameful creatures who needed the approval of a man they couldn’t even see, hear, feel or touch. They would miss out on feeling “loved” by a God who doesn’t show love. Why should I feel bad about doing what I thought was best for my kids? My choices made sense for me and didn’t hurt anyone.

Guilt is not necessarily bad, having served an evolutionary purpose—it was a mechanism that encouraged us to play nice, to make choices that were good, not just for us, but for the group. When we yell at our kids, we feel guilty because we know that we lost our cool, that we are scaring our kids. But guilt too easily attaches to places where it doesn’t belong, and it’s sticky and difficult to remove. We feel bad when we think that we haven’t done enough for our children—when we’ve done plenty. We feel guilty when we have to place an ill parent into a nursing home—when we couldn’t possibly care for him at home. We feel guilty for not volunteering enough—when we have so little time left to care for ourselves. The list is long, and there’s not much rationale behind our feelings, only that there was some standard we had set for ourselves, and we didn’t meet it. Then we worry what others will think or feel (most of the time, though, they haven’t even thought about it).

Perhaps the best way to remove guilt that has no business in our brains is to recognize it for what is it: harmful, useless, shackles. It’s a good idea to ask why we feel bad. Who or what was hurt?  Are we just afraid that we will let a parent down or that a friend will be disappointed in us?  Are we afraid that, if we let go of our belief, god will smite us? If so, look at all the people who don’t believe or who believe in a different god. They’re all still here. They’re healthy and happy and Satan-free. One of the most freeing experiences, actually, is to let go of religion and fear of retribution from god. Perhaps it’s scary to think you’ll be “on your own” without a safety net, but, in life, there really aren’t any safety nets. The closest you’ll have is the network of people around you.

So if you don’t want to go to church with your parents on Sunday, say “no thanks” and let go. Don’t think about it again—life is way too short to spend any of it feeling guilty about letting others down. You were polite; you did the best thing for you and your kids. As parents, we don’t want to teach our children how to feel guilty, to say “yes” just to please others. If we’re doing the best we can, trying to harm no one and just live a good life, it doesn’t matter if we believe in an invisible deity. Super-heroes and stories of super-human feats are great for entertainment, but they don’t save us, they don’t keep us safe and they don’t have a place in our lives outside the movie theater.

God is an atheist

I want to address a remark that a commenter left here a few days ago. This commenter, who was, unfortunately, banned from this site until he can participate civilly, offered an interesting topic for discussion. He said, “Without God defining moral boundaries, there is no meaning to “honest” “integrity” “fair” words, only what meaning you give, and that is without value.” In other words, humans are not capable of defining right and wrong; we need god to do that for us.

This idea suggests that, if you believe right and wrong are defined by “god’s fiat” (as Bertrand Russell said), then for god there is no right or wrong. He has arbitrarily—and subjectively—defined the moral code for Homo sapiens. If god has no point of reference, no moral compass, no savior, no god of his own, then he himself, according to this logic, cannot be deemed good. Having no belief in god, he is also, like many of us, an atheist.

This idea that god defines words for us also ignores the fact that early man was not capable of identifying or understanding words such as “honest,” “integrity” and “fairness.” These moral precepts have grown and evolved as man has, as we’ve developed language, critical thinking and social skills. At what point would god have passed these principles on to man? While living in caves? The Dark Ages? The Renaissance? Modern times? Isn’t it more likely, as an evolutionary study of humans and their society reveals, that humans have evolved not only physically and intellectually but also morally? I think so. Our history shows us that we continue to define and refine our moral boundaries, and as a result, we are now living in one of the safest, least hostile periods in the history of the world, with, I might add, more rights and freedoms for the individual than ever. And if our morality is evolving, then this suggests that there was no original designer with a master plan. Etymology further supports that our ideas and words continue to evolve; like humans, languages have their own histories.

The disconcerting thing is, if god, the spirit from myth who we cannot hear, see, feel or smell, has decided for us and communicated to us what honesty and fairness are, then it is also possible for the supposedly omnipotent being to change the meaning of these words at any time. After all, if he makes the rules, he can also bend, break and redefine them. I’m not sure how he would communicate this to us, but then, I’m not sure how he would have communicated this to humans to begin with. Remember, too, that before man believed in one god (thanks to the Jews), he believed in many.

Because of our anthropocentrism, many believe humans are the only creatures capable of morality. Yet as researchers like Frans de Waal have found, we are not the only species that show moral behaviors. If morality is not unique to man, then what does this suggest about god? Does he communicate moral instructions, in each species’ language, to those animals capable of living in groups? Has he written specific software for each creature? Or is it more likely that those animals that live in groups have developed their own codes to help them survive and thrive on a hostile planet?

This is how many nonbelievers see morality. Our moral compass has been created by our ancestors and continues to be refined by new generations. And this is a good thing, for it helps us (or I should say, most of us) live together peacefully and cooperatively.

I suppose that it is possible that there was a first cause; perhaps a god spit earth out into the universe with the intent of seeding the planet with life, and then left us here to carry on. But it seems impossible that this god defined morality for us, given our history and following the lines of logic that lead not to a deity, but to humanity.

For those who want to tie morality to a supreme being, that’s your choice, of course. I just want you to know that many of us believe good does not need god. A supreme being was not necessary to develop our moral code. We can live, support and protect you, without a dictate from a mythological man. This is what we are teaching our children: we are moral animals, and we have a duty to continue evolving as individuals and as a society.

As always, I welcome a discussion from those who believe and those who do not, and if polycarp50 is able to comment rationally and respectfully, he is welcome to join us.

Have a happy Sunday and a relaxing, safe Labor Day.