Monthly Archives: January 2014

Progress

This mapmap is interesting because it shows where taxpayer money is used to fund schools that confuse creationism with science. The biggest offenders are just a couple of states, the same states where it’s okay to marry your first cousin or your siblings, I think.

It’s not so good that taxpayer money is used to mis-educate our kids. But look at all the areas of the country where this is not happening. I was surprised. It seems to be localized to one section of our nation. Maybe, save for Tennessee and Louisiana, we can consider this progress.

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Da Laws! Mishpatim 2014

Check out writer/comedian Aaron Freeman’s short video on “GratiJews!” Have a great weekend, friends!

GratiJews!

This week the GratiJews wax thankful for the myriad laws that make our lives smooth and predictable. I swim without fear of guinea worms or piranha or the strange South American fish that swims up a man’s penis and can only be removed by a procedure too horrible to conceive. We love traffic laws and, though it’s not mentioned in the video, we adore the law of gravity, even though gravity itself remains just a theory. We hope you have had a tremendous week and that this is the best Shabbat of your life!

View original post

Guided Evolution

Have you heard of it yet? Guided evolution. It means that God is at work overseeing the adaptation and natural selection of every plant and animal species. In other words, he continues his work-in-progress with every generation, never quite getting it right. It’s another subterfuge, another way to sneak God into science.

The problem that some theists have with evolution is not that the theory is “incorrect,” but that the theory does not need a creator to explain so many of the big questions we have about life; for example, why are we here. Ultimately, it is an emotional response to evolution that causes conflict, a desire to have explanations for the unexplained, to feel comforted by the familiar promise of God. Life is now “objectively meaningless”! That is the crux of the issue.

So how does a theologian reconcile evolution and faith so that God can still keep skin in the game? Well, he claims that the two are compatible. Check out Professor Alvin Plantinga’s talk here if you’d like to learn more. Plantinga claims that, because scientific theory doesn’t address whether or not evolution is guided by God–or any other mythical character, I might add—he can be brought in as an add-on to existing theory. I suppose this means you and I can add-on anything we’d like to any theory or scientific law. So I’m proposing that we “add on” a goddess and give her the reins in evolution. I’m thinking a woman would do a much better job with the whole childbirth thing and the excruciating pain women must suffer.

It’s also relevant to note that there is no mention of God’s great hands in the theory of relativity or the law of gravity either. It seems to me if you’re going to add him on as a rider to one scientific theory, he should be attached to all of them.

We should also examine what Guided Evolution fails to either recognize or acknowledge. Theology supports the idea that God is 1) perfect, 2) omnipotent and 3) all-knowing. So tying God onto to the back of evolution’s mighty engine reduces God to nothing more than an inept tinkerer. I mean, for chrissake, are you telling me that, after all these human iterations we continue to be plagued by the common cold and the flu? God cannot master the process of meiosis so that errors do not occur?  Seems to me that our human tinkerers have done a much better job with small pox and IVF. I’m sure you guys can come up with quite a few more examples of how God has failed as a scientist, mechanic and creator. After all, he’s left us prone to disease, organ failure, birth defects and pesky viruses and bacteria. Hell, a lowly mosquito can still take us out.

And here’s another thing. If god has his big, clumsy hands guiding the evolution of every species, then why is the world such a hostile place? Why is there so much damn suffering in so much of the world? Plantinga, of course, did not have an answer in his presentation. He falls back on the crusty cliché: “It’s not for us to know.” (You guys saw that coming, right?). The idea of a hostile planet does not reconcile well with the idea of a loving, merciful, just–and present–god. If god’s here fiddling with the world, guiding our adaptations, and he’s choosing not to alleviate suffering, then either our conception of god is wrong or we’re delusional.

While a believer may not read the bible as a collection of facts, there are certain underlying premises that one must accept for belief: that god is all-knowing, not clueless; that god is powerful, not powerless; that god is omnipotent, not impotent. If you believe that your god is the creator of all life, that he created us in his image and that he is perfect in all regards, then you cannot also believe in a second explanation of evolution, which would invalidate the Bible. God either created Adam and Eve “in the beginning,” or he’s been stumbling along in the dark, guiding our creation. You cannot have two true answers to the question: how did we get here?

And Guided Evolution is catching on. In this January 9th column titled, “Evolution is not a matter of belief,” the author writes:

“….despite the way it’s often discussed by creationists and anti-religion zealots, evolution says nothing about the existence of God. A scientific concept backed by an overwhelming amount of supporting evidence, evolution describes a process by which species change over time. It hazards no speculations about the origins of that process.”

Well, hello. Perhaps that’s because we do not yet know, and science does not wish, hope or make ridiculous guesses.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 40% of Americans don’t believe in evolution–they still believe that humans were created by God in their present form. Of those who do believe in evolution, about 25% believe god is the driving force. Only 16% of those surveyed believed that humans evolved from earlier species through an unguided process.

We have some work to do, and that is, making sure that religion doesn’t tack itself to evolution like a tail on a donkey. God should not be added-on simply to help some folks feel better about questions we have not yet answered.

I have nothing against religion. It just shouldn’t be wedded to science. It belongs in church, not our educational system. I don’t want creationism or ID to be repackaged as Guided Evolution.

Guest Post: Misleading Silences

Before I introduce our guest post, I wanted to mention that Shanan’s brother-in-law was able to qualify for the surgery he needed. A sincere thank you to all who spread the word or contributed in some way to help Shanan and her family.

Today’s guest, Carrie, shares an experience many of us have had: losing a friend over religion.  One of the most frustrating aspects is that we accept our friends as they are, but sometimes, when they find out that we don’t believe, they’re not nearly as accepting of us. Has this happened to you? Do you have friends who don’t know that you’ve stopped believing?  Thanks to Carrie for allowing me to share her post here.  She is raising her three kids as secular Buddhists in Oregon, and she blogs at The Reluctant Atheist.

_____________________________________

Last year I lost a friendship I had had since we were 12 years old. I made a crack about someone misbehaving in her religion, and she went off the deep end. It was then I realized–she still thought it was my religion.

Being a non-believer, unless you’re a militant atheist, means keeping your mouth shut–a lot. My parents don’t know I’m a non-believing Buddhist (secular Buddhist) because they are very old, and would be crushed if they were told I no longer believed in God. The same goes for many of my elderly relatives. Simply put, they don’t have enough time left to work through their grief over my non-belief. In this case, my silence is a kindness. Not because I don’t want to be truthful with them, but because I know them, and I know what hurts them.

People in my community don’t know because I live in a small town, and I’ve instructed my kids to keep mum, as well. Shunning is alive and well in America’s small towns. Just ask anyone who’s gay in the South. And, to be honest on that front, I’m not sure casual acquaintances should really be delving into each other’s spiritual lives. Frankly, I think a lot of the problems people are having is because their opinions are so “out there.”

But this woman–I’ll call her Sally–this was a different thing. I met her in middle school, and we stayed friends all through high school, marriage(s), children, everything. And over the last few years, she and her husband have been swinging really far to the Right, politically, to the extent that during the last presidential election, her husband unfriended me because I was putting up pro-Obama posts on FB. Once he added me back, all seemed semi-well, although I could see her right-wing opinions gaining steam. I realized that was not a topic we wanted to talk about. Still, there was plenty of other things to talk about: we each have three kids, we each work out of the home, and there was the past. Decades of the past. And all went okay until I made that crack. And it wasn’t even directly to Sally. She had somehow found a third-party thread that I had made a comment on days before.

When I saw the ferocity of her message to me, one thing was clear: I couldn’t fix this without un-becoming who I am. After a few months to ruminate, I did send a lengthy email to her husband, (who had told my husband he hoped we wouldn’t stay mad at each other much longer) laying out exactly who we are. And we’re not bad people, by the way. Non-believers, yes. Cynical, yes. But known where we live as the work-hard-for-the-community family, or the give-the-shirt-off-their-backs family. Because we (don’t) believe the way we believe, we understand how urgent each day is, and how important it is to improve something each day, whether it be the lot of a shelter dog, a friend who needs help renovating his house, getting some food to the food bank. We KNOW each day is precious and finite, and we don’t want to waste a single one. And, to be fair, they’re not bad people, either. I was never angry with my friend for her outburst because I understand the power of the paradigms many people operate under. Some of my friends are in religions so enmeshed that if they dared defect, they could lose their spouses, their children, their extended families, and for darned sure their friends.

But this was the first time it had happened to me. Sure, I had stopped moving forward on some newer friendships because I could see how it would go if I was honest. I could hear the disdain for non-believers in their voices. Because my children attended a religious school (which is, by far, the best in the area), they assumed we were believers, too. And, to be fair, I didn’t correct them. But at the same time, I have never lied about being a believer, either. I just kept silent.

Which is what I had done with Sally. Through summer vacation visits religion just wasn’t discussed. Since then, I have been posting more about my Buddhism, and my non-belief via subtle things that pop up on FB. They’re the parts of Buddhism anyone can agree on, but as they rack up, I am seeing who is still here, who is falling off. Honestly, I haven’t noticed that much of a difference. One of my friends sent me a sand Buddha one holiday. I get likes from people whom I was getting along with better anyway.

I think what I learned is that with certain friendships, those that are cured by time, that are more than casual, I need to put out there who I am and then, ironically, take a leap of faith. Change is the one thing in this life that you can always count on. A friend you may have had for decades may simply go in a totally different direction than you. It happens. It’s sad. I have mourned the loss of friendships because it’s important to have people who knew you when you were a child, though it’s simply not always possible.

I thought Sally and I would be friends forever. I didn’t anticipate her sharp turn one way, and I’m sure she didn’t anticipate mine. I didn’t share my spiritual views with her because I knew the reaction I would get (which I did), but I should have. That part of the fault is mine.

Non-believers are often silent, not because they are ashamed of who they are, but because they are afraid of the reaction they’re going to get from believers. They have a history of rejection, either personally, or based upon how they have seen other non-believers treated. Or, they may not want yet another lecture or sales pitch on the error of their ways. Trust me, we’ve all heard it over, and over, and over again. Still, others stay silent out of respect for the beliefs of others, knowing full well that respect may not extend back the other direction. Oftentimes, we’re just tired. Tired of the assumption that non-believers don’t have morals or the ability to know right from wrong, or can’t find purpose in a finite life, or, or, or. It’s mentally exhausting. So many non-believers like me have decided to live their lives as an example.

And with all the lip service out there from people who act in a completely counterintuitive way, I think people of all beliefs could do a little more of the money-where-the-mouth is thing.

 

God and Fans

In its annual survey of religious beliefs related to sports, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 48% of Americans believe that God rewards faithful athletes with success and good health. This same time last year, that number was 53%.

Only 22% of Americans believe that God plays a role in determining the outcome of a sporting event. Last year, that number was 27%.

I’d say this trend is a bit of good news.

 

Blame it on your father

Well, if you are an atheist, agnostic, humanist or naturalist, you can blame it on your awful father. (Apparently, we are we still in the decade of ‘It’s all mommy and daddy’s fault.’)

The book, Faith of the Fatherless, first published 15 years ago, has been reincarnated. I suspect the publisher thinks that, given the current rivalry between the religious and the nonreligious, there’s going to be plenty of attention from people like me who will inspire people who are not like me—or you–to run out and pick up a copy.

*Big sigh.*

The gist of the book is that a child who has an absent, abusive, distant, unloving, weak or neglectful father will grow up and reject god. I’m pretty sure this would include every father at some point in his parenting career. No father—or mother–gets through parenthood without making one or two or many mistakes that could be construed as unloving, weak or distant, whether those mistakes are real or simply perceived,

I know, I know. This whole idea is vapid and terribly insulting to us. We are flawed. We lack proper parenting.  We’re like god’s little runaways.  Blah, blah, blah. (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”)

Keeping in mind that my goal as a nonbeliever is to promote peace, acceptance and understanding, I’m not going to insult anyone. I’m not interested in the war on atheism, religion or apathy. I’m not interested in war at all.

I do think, however, the following points are worth noting:

  1. When this book was first written, fewer than 4% of Americans identified as agnostic or atheist. Naturally, a handful of fatherless atheists represents a greater percentage compared to handful of fatherless Christians.
  2. Many Christians–no doubt a far greater number–grow up and have serious issues with their fathers: violence, abuse, neglect, estrangement. Whipping a child in god’s name or withholding medical treatment is no doubt abuse. Why haven’t these kids rejected god?
  3. Nearly 54% of black children live in households without fathers, yet according to Pew, “Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87% of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another…”
  4. Priests, preachers and pastors supposedly have strong attachments to their heavenly father and role model, yet they abuse, rape and cheat. I’m sorry. That was kind of off-topic.
  5. In other countries, secularization has been accredited to enlightenment and modernization.
  6. This assumes that atheism is a bad thing. Many of us believe that skepticism and atheism are signs of people who are questioning and reasoning.

It seems to me that author Paul Vitz may actually be onto something that even he’s not aware of. Perhaps the lack of pressure from absent fathers means that a child has the freedom to think for him or herself. Release from dogma. Isn’t this what we hope our children can achieve: the ability to think for themselves?  In families where the father reinforces the idea of god and the tenets of his religion, children may be more likely to grow up as unquestioning followers.

Regardless, in perusing the table of contents, I noticed the author has ignored (probably intentionally) one very important person: Jesus Christ. Wasn’t the world’s most famous Jew abandoned by his distant, neglectful, deadbeat father?

Actually, haven’t all believers been abandoned and estranged from their heavenly father?

A Father’s Right?

It’s a curious thing to me: once a sperm leaves a man’s body, he no longer has rights or claims to his genetic material until it re-emerges as a fully-formed human. This is evident in a recent case in Texas. Erick Munoz is the father of a toddler and an unborn baby or, more appropriately, a fetus. His wife, who suffered a pulmonary embolism a week after Thanksgiving, is brain dead, breathing with the help of machines. At the time of her “death,” her fetus was 14 weeks old. It was her wish that she not live like this.  It was her husband’s wish that he honor her request to die peacefully, along with their fetus, which suffered the same lack of oxygen and chemical cocktails as the mother.

But the state of Texas, being (as you know) right-to-life extremists, says no. The mother must remain on life support as an incubator. The baby will be carried to term–or at least until viability.  But what about Munoz’s wishes as a father? Apparently men have no rights when it comes to the production of babies, and this is something that seems to be overlooked.  A man can contribute the raw materials, but after that, it’s up to either the woman or the state to determine what becomes of the fetus.

This makes no sense. If a woman is incapacitated and unable to make these important decisions, the next in line should be the father, not the state, not the politicians and not the doctors, who, no doubt, would not like strangers making these choices for them either. Yet it’s the father who will suffer, watching his wife act as incubator to a fetus that most likely has serious health and developmental issues, too. He knew his wife’s wishes. She was early in her pregnancy. If the child survives in poor health, Munoz, now a widow, will have the burden of caring for a healthy toddler along with a sick infant.

You might be thinking, “But the baby could be born perfectly (and miraculously!) healthy.” To which I would answer, “Perhaps. But the decision, the suffering and the risks are not yours to make.” Or you might be thinking, “Is it right to let a fetus die simply because it suffered brain damage?” And the brutally honest answer is, yes. It’s not only right, but also fair and natural in the grand scheme of life.

In Texas we complain that the government does not belong in our business. Those of you who live here know that. Hell, Rick Perry even vetoed a law that would prohibit drivers from texting while driving. So Texas will make certain that you have the right to text, even if you can harm people. But if you only want to make a choice that affects you and your family, then apparently the government becomes part of your family. You probably know, too, that Texas has—by far–the highest number of executions in the country. We’re pro-life, right?

It’s pretty clear to me that only two people are responsible for creating and raising a child: the mother and the father. In the absence of the mother, the father should have the same rights to choose as the mother would have had. If the child is born in a vegetative state, who will pay for the care? How will one parent have the time, energy and emotional stamina to raise a disabled child while he still has another mouth to feed, a mortgage to pay and Little League games to coach?

The father has a right to his own life, too. At the very least, the state and its people have no right to decide for him.

Atheists Don’t Need Exorcisms, Baptisms or Churches

They’re coming out of the closet, left and right. Atheists, agnostics, skeptics. My son let me know over the holidays that many of his friends have expressed their doubt now that they’re away from home. As our numbers grow, we become an important demographic. There is money to be made; power to be had. This article about a schism in “atheist church” movement suggests that atheists are falling prey to the same sorts of opportunists that live in the world of religion.

I was never quite sold on the idea of “atheist church,” and now I’m convinced that they’re a bad idea. IMO, if you want the structure and community afforded church, whether you believe in god or not (or aren’t sure), there is already a church in place: the Unitarian Universalist church. As Morgan wrote in an earlier post, this is a great place for families, too.

It’s one thing to organize to give religion the boot from government or from our schools; it’s another thing to organize and mimic religion so that we can have the warm and fuzzies without the most important, defining feature: god. It feels…well….counterfeit.

Here’s a few reasons why nonbelievers should not have a “church”:

  1. Churches are for worship. We do not worship.
  2. We reject church; we tell believers that their beliefs are not valid, so why would we pirate the business model from the very thing we’re rejecting?
  3. Churches teach and reinforce dogma. We have none.
  4. Atheism is the lack of belief. We don’t recognize god, saints, sacraments, the holy spirit, the divinity of Jesus, religious texts, spirits, ghosts or exorcisms. Churches, mosques and temples are the institutions which house these things.
  5. We don’t need a global or centralized “church” to promote morality, kindness, peace. We should be doing this every day, in every way. We should be supporting and uplifting each other every chance we get–not just for an hour on Sundays.
  6. We are not sheep; we don’t need a shepherd. We’re all leaders, living by one basic universal rule: The Golden Rule.
  7. The money used to support a “church” or assembly and its related expenses could be used to help others.

If we still feel a need to “congregate,” to gather or to socialize with others like us who live near us, we can form humanist meet-ups or skeptics clubs. But the last thing we want to do is emulate the very thing that we reject. We should put as much distance between atheism and religion as possible.

If you can…

Just a quick post today. Shanan Winters, who’s been a regular part of this community, asked me to send out a call for help. Her brother-in-law is very ill. He’s suffering from cardiomyopathy and needs a stem cell treatment to continue living. You can read more about his story here.

If you can help out—by contributing or even by just spreading the word—it would be a wonderful way to start the New Year and help one of our own. (There are buttons for sharing on the fundraiser page.)

Shanan, I hope your family meets its goals.

“Even the smallest act of caring for another person is like a drop of water -it will make ripples throughout the entire pond…”
―    Jessy and Bryan Matteo