Monthly Archives: August 2014

GUEST POST: Religion in France by Patricia O’Sullivan

Patricia O’Sullivan, as many of you know, is a regular part of our conversations here on this blog. (She’s also a novelist.) She has written an interesting post about the religious environment in France. I don’t see the U.S. approaching the level of secularization that France has achieved, but I think most of us hope for this.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Patti!

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In the summer of 2013, our family moved to France for a year. Although we are not religious, we enrolled our children in Catholic schools that had experience dealing with international students. A few months into the school year, I overheard my kids discussing how there was less talk of religion at their French Catholic schools than in the public schools they’d attended in Mississippi. How could this be possible?

All schools in France must teach the same curriculum as set by the ministry of education. Religious schools are no exception to this rule. Thus, classes in religious education are outside of the curriculum. Younger children in religious schools are often required to participate in religious education, but my children, one in middle school and the other in high school, had the choice to opt out.

In 2004, France’s National Assembly voted to ban religious symbols at school, namely those students and teachers might wear such as a cross, a Star of David, or a head scarf. Nine years later, the minister of education implemented a secularization charter, reaffirming France’s commitment to secular education and a secular state. The charter bans teachers and staff from talking about religion to students and opens up all course subject matter to “scientific and pedagogical questioning.” Students may not be excused from lessons that question the teachings of their religion (such as evolution and sex education), teachers may not refuse to present lessons that do the same.

Because the charter was approved while we were in France, I posted an article about it on social media to share with friends and family back home. Their responses, most of them negative, really surprised me. Some of them, written by people who either work in public schools or have children in public schools in the U.S., expressed shock at the ‘religious repression’ in France. I explained that the French viewed the policies as a way to protect the integrity of education and to protect children from unwelcome attempts at proselytization, but the folks back home didn’t buy it. In fact, one friend wrote that keeping God out of the schools was harmful to children.

Many Americans are familiar with the concept of ‘cultural Jew’, a term used by Jews who don’t attend synagogue or even believe in God, but who take part in select traditions as a way to remain connected to their heritage. France is similarly ‘culturally Catholic’. Church bells ring out on Sundays, many holy days are also bank holidays, and bakeries do a swift business selling special breads and pastries associated with Catholic saint days and other holy days. From mid-December to early January, town plazas are decorated with Christmas trees (but not nativity scenes) and the sidewalks and pedestrian malls are crammed with hundreds of colorful booths where one can buy foods, crafts, and gifts for Christmas. In addition, many of the most popular tourist attractions in France are Catholic churches, abbeys, and shrines. However, over a third of the population of France is not religious, and of the 40-50% who are Catholic, only 4.5% of them attend mass regularly, and fully half of all self-identified Catholics in France say they don’t believe in God. The French have somehow figured out how to keep the holidays, the foods, and the monuments to religion while getting rid of all the rest.

Muslims in France (the next largest religious group) are much more likely than Catholics to maintain their religious beliefs, but they get little support from the government in this. Neither of the two Eids are bank holidays, civil servants may not wear religious clothing (like a headscarf), and women are forbidden from wearing face-covering garb in public.

Before WWII, France had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. In recent years, rising anti-Semitism in France has resulted in a growing Jewish exodus from that country to more welcoming countries, particularly Israel.

There are so many ways I could conclude this post, but I’ll focus on two points: It would seem from the example of France that people like cultural traditions, but dislike religious authorities telling them how to conduct their lives. And when people don’t feel coerced to put up a religious front, many of them abandon religion. On the other hand, there are those who feel the pull of religion despite a lack of cultural or state support for it. The thing is, when people are allowed to choose, their belief, or unbelief, is a more honest reflection of who they are. I’m not holding France up as a religious utopia (particularly for non-Catholics), but I learned to appreciate there how a nation can hold onto its cultural and religious identity while truly allowing people the choice to believe or not believe.

Patricia O’Sullivan is a teacher and novelist who lives in Mississippi with her family.

 

 

The Satanist and The Communion Wafer

This story was just too good not to share.
A Satanist in Oklahoma City planned to use a stolen communion wafer in a “black mass.” He wanted to exorcise Christ and infuse the devil. That’s pretty amusing to people like us, right?
In all fairness, I don’t think stealing the Catholic church’s sacred host was the right thing to do. I know: we think it’s all silly stuff, but church peeps don’t find it funny. They’ve encountered this theft of the host for hundreds of years, and it’s a grave sin. During medieval times (not to be confused with the entertainment eatery), some congregants would remove the host from the church and take it to their sick relatives; they would sprinkle it over their gardens to help crops grow; they would sell it or they would use it to cure animals. For this reason, priests started placing the hosts directly on the tongue during communion. I suspect the Church just didn’t want the average Joe or Josie to have The Power.
Seeing that humans no longer believe in alchemy and magic powers, I’m not sure why the Catholic Church still believes that humans can summon JC into foodstuffs. I’m also not sure why the church needs to lock up the communion wafers once they are god-infused. Isn’t God mighty? Why does he need protection in a locked tabernacle until it’s snack time? You mean, God can’t even defend himself? Wow. How the hell could he create the world in six days or answer prayers?
It’s funny to think that an all-powerful God can be summoned by lowly, sinful humans into the stuff we eat. You wonder why the light hasn’t come on: Hey, Father Joe. Can you guess who the God really is in this picture? 
It’s also funny to me that you or I can walk into any church tomorrow and pocket the host. We don’t need a license or certificate to walk up to the altar and stick our tongues or hands out. We don’t look any different from our Christian friends. Sure, we’re not supposed to do this, but there’s no law against walking into a church and participating in its rites.
There are many Catholics who say, “I don’t believe in all that transubstantiation hooey.”

Great! Then my question is: Why do you believe in all the other hooey?

GUEST POST: No Thanks to God by Lisa Morguess

One of the best things about this blog is meeting so many like-minded people. I really appreciate knowing there are others out there who share many of the same experiences and frustrations. We can relate to and understand each other. This is a big relief for those of us in communities that put so much trust in God, rather than in the people around them.

Many of you know Lisa Morguess. She recently had an experience that every parent fears. And she encountered responses that most of us, while we understand, find, at times, bothersome. Read on…..And thanks, Lisa, for sharing this with us!________________________________________________

NO THANKS TO GOD

My six-year old son disappeared while we were on a family vacation recently (I wrote about it here).  Without our knowing it, he slipped out of the condo we were renting for the week up in Mammoth Lakes, a small rustic town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  That he has an intellectual disability (Down syndrome) made it all the more terrifying; I was absolutely frantic when I discovered him missing.

It is a testament to the influence of social media in my twenty-first century life that after we called 911, I grabbed my phone and quickly typed on Facebook, “Finn is missing. We are up in Mammoth Lakes and he got out of the condo without us knowing. He’s been missing for close to an hour. Everyone is looking, including the police. I have never been so afraid in my life. Please think good thoughts for us.”  It seems ludicrous in hindsight that I gave a second’s thought to Facebook, but I guess I just needed people to know what we were dealing with; I needed to rally my support network.

Replies of support poured in.  It was not at all surprising that many of them were of the “I’m praying for you” variety, though most of my Facebook friends know that we are atheist.  I know they meant well.  I know that for people who believe in god, that’s the best form of support they can offer.  I was grateful for all the kind words, for knowing that people cared about my son’s well being.

In truth, though, I couldn’t help but think of my friend whose two-year old son wandered off several years ago and was found in a neighbor’s swimming pool.  He did not survive.  My friend was a devout Christian at the time, and I have no doubt that many, many heartfelt, gut wrenching prayers went out for her son all those years ago.  A lot of good they did.  My friend, who has struggled with her faith over the years, but who still believes, offered words of support to me that day that pointedly did not include prayer.

What flitted through my mind in the face of all the prayers for us was, “What if Finn isn’t okay?  What will you tell me then?  That it was just god’s plan?”

After being missing for about an hour and a half, Finn was found – wandering in  a mobile home park a couple of blocks away (and across a semi-busy road).  There really aren’t words to express my utter relief – it took a long time to pull myself together.

I let everyone on Facebook know that he had been found and that he was safe and unharmed, and then the “Praise God,” and “God was watching over him” comments started rolling in.  Again, I know that people meant well, and I was grateful for their caring.  But at the same time, it irritated me that the credit was going to the invisible puppet master in the sky.

This is one of the very biggest things about Christianity that bothers me: the selfishness it inspires.  People believe that when things work out well for them, god has smiled on them, god has granted them favor because they are worthy.  The problem with this thinking is that, logically, it would follow that when things don’t work out well for people, god has deemed them unworthy.  So this God of Goodness plays favorites.  Or at least he plays head games.

How could anyone believe that there is a merciful, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient deity who was looking out for my son that morning?  (Why would a god who demands worship watch over and ensure the safety of a boy whose family are non-believers, anyway?)  What makes my son any more deserving of looking after than any other child?  What about my friend’s son?  Was god asleep on the job that day?  Or is he just a total asshole who toys with people for sport?  In order to believe that my son got special treatment from the Big Guy that day, then one must acknowledge that he gives an awful lot of people the shaft.  But you never, ever hear Christians acknowledge that.  To explain it away as “the mysterious ways of God which we mortals are not meant to understand” is just a cop out.

I had the same frustration a few years back when my husband was battling cancer and so many people were praying for us, and when he went into remission, it was all thanks to god.  Why would anyone believe that, if there were a god, he would smile upon my husband over other people battling grave illnesses?  How was my husband any more deserving of life and restored health than anyone else (especially since he doesn’t even believe in god)?  What about all the people who die from cancer every day?  But that belief, that one can convince god to intervene on someone’s behalf, is, deep down, a belief that people who receive god’s good favor have somehow earned it – and if you believe that, then you must also believe that misfortune and unanswered prayers befall those who are not deserving.

To many, I have no doubt that “miracles” like my son being found safe and sound are just more proof of god’s loving presence.  To me, it’s just more proof that there is no god.  We got a lucky break that day, thanks to nobody but the good people of Mammoth Lakes.

About God’s Plan….

If you don’t believe in God, it’s hard to understand the logic of those who do believe. Here’s a good example. Thanks to Stephanie for sending the link.

A respectable, well-loved Anglican priest was murdered by a stranger. Family and friends of the victim repeated this weary mantra: “God’s plans are perfect. Even this one.”

Stephanie raised the question many of us ask: “How can average everyday folks believe in that way?”

It doesn’t make sense to claim that God is good, yet his “plans” include premeditated murder, pain and suffering. Good guys don’t make bad things happen. They don’t orchestrate some of the most heinous acts known to man. They don’t decide which men will suffer and kill themselves and which nations will war, dragging innocent men, women and children into their mortal combat. If God plans evil acts, whether passively or actively, then there is no moral source of good upon which religion rests.

Houston, we have a problem. (This is nothing new to us, right?)

So why does religion persist?

For one, it’s a mutually-symbiotic cultural meme that has survived by wrapping itself around the individual’s ego. The ego is fragile: It wants to live forever. It’s easily frightened. It fears the loss of itself. Religion is an institution that pacifies believers, reassuring them that life will continue in some other space and time. When a theist fears for her own death, when she cannot sleep, prayer, like meditation, is a lullaby that will soothe her into sleep with the hope that God will fix all problems, that heaven awaits. In a sense, believers have not attained the emotional independence of adulthood. God acts as a father figure upon which theists lay their problems to be solved.

Religion is also a coping mechanism. Grief, such as the murder of a loved one, is so emotionally devastating that projecting one’s pain onto God helps the sufferer avoid dealing with the intensity of the sorrow. There is pain not only for the loss of loved ones, but also for the part of ourselves that dies with the person who likewise loved us. Through belief in God, there is loss, but it’s only temporary. Family and friends and even pets will be reunited in heaven. (Of course, who would want to spend an eternity with Uncle Joe and your friend who won’t shut the hell up?)

Those of us who don’t believe can certainly understand the need for relief from tragedies and the fear of our mortality. Yet still, we wonder how seemingly intelligent people believe in these illogical concepts?

A few centuries ago, science attempted to prove the existence of God. But as humans began unraveling some of life’s mysteries, God could not be found. Religion, too, has been evolving; it mutates and changes, growing less mystical as science has pushed God and the heavens further out into the universe.

Science deals with facts; religion deals with feelings. There are those of us who refuse to let our feelings get in the way of understanding the world and our insignificant place in it, and those whose egos will not allow them to embrace their common sense. On some level, they must surely know that God falls into the same realm as Thor, Santa Claus and leprechauns. They refuse to be intellectually and emotionally honest about the reasons why they remain committed: God brings hope, comfort and relief.

IMO, it’s more honest to admit that belief doesn’t make sense, that it’s like love: it makes theists feel good, but it’s not logical. And oftentimes, the relationship is like an abusive marriage: when bad things happen, believers make excuses for God; they stick around just hoping life will get better because they’re too afraid to leave.

People believe not because it makes sense, but in spite of it.

That’s what I see from where I’m standing. What about you?

“EBOLA DOC’S CONDITION DOWNGRADED TO ‘IDIOTIC’”

“EBOLA DOC’S CONDITION DOWNGRADED TO ‘IDIOTIC’”   This was the headline from an article written recently by America’s beloved Christian conservative, Ann Coulter. Otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West to the rest of us.

I do not like to pick on my fellow females, but she has asked for a verbal lashing after she vomited up this column here yesterday. Take a read and then we’ll talk.

You might know that I’m not a big fan of mission trips. All those goody-two-shoes who think they’re off to see the miscreant heathens when, in reality, they just want to score some brownie points with the guy “upstairs.” However, this trip is different. Brantly and Writebol were helping their fellow man, who are desperately in need of their expertise, at the risk of their own health. If their motive to help is because god called them to do it or they’re getting paid or they just want to help, it doesn’t really matter, does it? They knew they’d be putting their lives in danger in order to help others. Now I know many of these Christian folks believe they’ll have special protections as part of god’s sales force, but the fact is, they’re still willing to take the chance to help others. They’re better men than me. So kudos to them, no matter what they call themselves or what they believe in.

Speaking of names we call people, Brantly and Writebol aren’t the types of Christians Coulter says would be “called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots” in the US. No, those types of people wouldn’t be brave enough to reach out and help; instead, they’d be on the media circuit waving their blond hair about and spewing more hate.

Ebola has been around for a while—since 1976. There have been 1,711 cases this year with 932 deaths. That’s about a 56 percent death rate for the year. It’s a nasty virus that causes high fever and hemorrhaging. But it’s not an airborne disease and human transmission, according to WHO, is spread: “from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.”

What did Jesus say? Help thy neighbors. Don’t judge. Share. Be kind. Those sorts of things, right?

I find it very f*cking hypocritical to say, “If he [Brantly] had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”

What does Coulter care about helping the uninsured? She doesn’t. She has worked against mainstream acceptance of the ACA, which has brought many of the uninsured into the safety net of the system. So saying that Brantly should have helped here at home rings really, really false. As in, ahem, bull shit.

Here in US, even in the poorest towns in our nation, we still have more than most of the world—and, for certain, access to a better healthcare system and infrastructure. All of us have access to emergency care. So I get that these folks wanted to help where they are really needed.

Liberia, which was colonized by the US and was modeled on our government, is having a humanitarian crises. They need the rest of the world. Should kindness have boundaries? Doesn’t humanism supersede nationalism in times like this? It’s not only missionaries who are helping. The CDC, the European Commission, the Red Cross and many other charities and nations are donating funds and personnel. Spain is preparing to bring home one of its sick.

These are the things you hope humans do for each other, no matter the reason. This is what you hope our hospitals, our charities and our government do for citizens in need. Bringing home our own when they have gone abroad to help the world is what America should do.

For chrissake, this is what your Christ would want, Coulter.

Guest Post: The Lord’s Followers Giveth to Themselves and the Lord’s Followers

I hope that everyone is having a great summer. If there are new readers who joined after my talk at the Fellowship of Freethought, welcome! I hope you will contribute to these discussions.

Derrick suggested that I solicit guest posts from our community of readers. I would love to share this platform with others who can offer their unique perspectives on the frustrations, challenges and/or solutions of living in a theist nation. Some of the best discussions on this sites have been the result of guest posts. If you are interested, please shoot me an email at kidswithoutreligion@gmail.com.

I appreciate Derrick starting us off with a great read that definitely resonates with me.  I look forward to reading the comments!

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The Lord’s Followers Giveth to Themselves and the Lord’s Followers
Taketh from Others

First, go read this article.

If anyone asks why atheists get so fed up with the religious world,
this is a good list to present them. Atheists suffer systematic
discrimination. There are still eight states in the US with laws on
the books preventing atheists from holding public office.

Theists seem to do everything in their power to stigmatize (and the
irony of that word is not lost) atheists. What they fail to realize is
that atheists are doing nothing more than standing up for their rights
as much as theists demand theirs. However, when atheists do it,
theists claim it is an attack. Theists want to believe that atheists
are trying to take something away from them while failing to admit or
realize they are the guilty party.

Most atheists do not care if theists want to believe in god. It is
their prerogative to believe. In fact, it is enshrined in the US
Constitution that the government shall not impede their right to
believe. Atheists are simply requesting that theists respect atheists’
right to not believe and to stop shoving beliefs down atheists’
throats. Christians believe atheists single them out, but it is
actually the reverse. Many christian sects are imbued with a
missionary tenet telling them to go out and convert. In the dark and
middle ages, this got taken to the extreme (just ask the jews about
The Spanish Inquisition). This continues in the modern day, and all
one has to do is look at Warren, Michigan, as an example.

One would think by this example it is only the laws against murder in
the US that keeps people like this mayor from actually burning
atheists at the stake. Here was a case of atheists simply asking for
equal access and to have their rights respected only to be met by a
public official who refused.

Theists tend to believe in their right to propagate their religious
beliefs willy-nilly in public places. All one needs to do is do an
Internet search about christmas displays or displays about the ten
commandments (too many links to list). Once more, theists get bent out
of shape when atheists ask for equal access. The question must be
asked why one group believes it should be favored over another. Why do
only theists get to make public displays? Part of the reason lies in
the fact they are fighting for the hearts and, more specifically, the
minds of the young. Theists would do everything in their power to
completely disparage and demonize (yes, irony again) atheists in order
to stop the young from questioning theists’ position of power. Simply
asking someone if such-and-such a belief is true is viewed as an
attack. This is why of late theists started playing the victim card.
They are trying to win by sympathy and not by logic. Anything that
questions their position of privilege is deemed hostile, and it seems
to them that looking wounded is better than appearing reasonable.

Atheists just asking for their rights to be respected must, if the
above is true, be seen as an attack. Hence, theists by nature must do
what they can to suppress atheists. It is not atheists who are really
hostile toward theists, but most often the other way around. When
atheists get tired of getting kicked around and start standing up for
themselves, theists are doubly offended. The basic act of telling them
to stop trampling atheist rights is an effrontery. To allow theists
an equal and free voice jeopardizes the very heart of theist
institutions. Ultimately theists are fighting against democracy and
freedom. This may be what they cannot tolerate the most about
atheists: atheists are all about democracy, equality, and freedom.

­ Derrick

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)