Category Archives: Uncategorized

Another New Year

First, I wish everyone health, happiness, and peace in the New Year. Second, I would love to hear how you and your families are doing.

Things are good for my family and me. I’ve always been careful with what I write about my kids, recognizing that readers are not just fellow atheists, but also frenemies, acquaintances, and strangers. But my kids are out of high school now, so I don’t worry about a backlash or about some religious kook trying to convert them. They don’t face the same pressures that they once did attending public school in Texas. In fact, it seems as if atheism is much more acceptable now, although perhaps we just have a new enemy in Isis, so those who are atheists or non-religious are not a threat. I’d be curious to know if others are still having issues in the school or on the playground.

My kids are doing well. I keep my fingers crossed that both boys will continue on their respective paths and not get into trouble or derailed in any way. I try not to read the news and see all the terrible things that can happen – – or the world we will leave our children.

At work, I rarely hear talk about religion or church. Occasionally I hear my coworkers say they feel “blessed”, which, to me, simply means they are thankful or grateful. My neighbors don’t talk about their church or ask which one I attend. Faith seems to be waning.

I don’t feel as if my family or I missed out on anything by not having faith. Being an atheist brings a tremendous amount of freedom. I’m not worried if god approves. I decide what’s right and wrong. Yes, that’s subjective and elastic, but so are the morals of “god” and his believers.

I don’t care what others think of me, which is pretty damn liberating. How many people worry that they’ll say or do the wrong thing and someone—god or a friend–will judge or dislike them? Those are shackles we put on ourselves. If there’s one thing I learned from being atheist, it’s that it just doesn’t matter what others think. I don’t need approval – from anyone. And when I screw up, I can forgive myself.

There’s no sense of betrayal and there’s no reason to rage against the universe. There’s no god to play favorites, there’s no puppet master deciding who gets rescued and who doesn’t. Shit happens and that’s just all there is to it. When people are harmful, it’s up to us to deliver justice and hold others accountable. I work hard and try my best; sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.

On the other hand, as an atheist, I understand that there are certain obligations that come with being human and with the awareness that all we have is each other. I’m obligated to be courteous to my fellow man, even to those I don’t like. It doesn’t mean I must have relationships with those folks, but when I’m cruel or unkind, I only show who I am, not who they are. Being kind doesn’t mean that I approve of someone’s actions or that I like who they are, it only means I extend the civility of a sentient being.

These are the things I hoped I’ve passed onto my kids. As they grow older, I they’ll fold their parental influence into the people they become. I hope I will continue to see kids who are not afraid to live without god, who can define who they are and yet be good, content citizens of the world.  I’m pretty sure the next few decades will bring new generations that have shed religion.

Religion, Misogyny, and Politics

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

It’s not surprising that Donald Trump’s biggest fans are the religious right. After all, they also believe that a Jewish carpenter saved their “souls” from the sin that Eve caused, that the womb is public property, and that women are Madonnas or whores. And this oppression is not just from Evangelical men, but also, sadly, from the women.

Religion still keeps us enslaved. I’m pretty certain it’s what drives the misogyny behind the hatred for Clinton. What seems to be the right’s major objections with Clinton? She is too driven. She has wanted to be president since she was little. She forgave Bill. She smiles too much. She doesn’t smile enough. She doesn’t look presidential. Yet it’s okay for a man to be driven, to dream of being president as a child, and to have orange hair, a big belly, and small hands that he can’t keep to himself. The double standard, not just held by men, but also by women, is disappointing.

So what is so unforgivable about Clinton? She used a private email server (at the time, not illegal), which created a security threat. She apologized, admitting poor judgment. She dropped the ball in Benghazi, causing the deaths of four Americans (never mind that incompetency from the Bush administration sent us into a baseless war, killing more than five thousand Americans and creating instability in the Middle East). What are her other fatal flaws?

I cannot think of any. She has a long, impressive resume of public service as an elected official and as a civilian. She is smart, qualified, experienced, and level-headed. Everything we’d want in a president. And yes, we want experience, just as we’d want an experienced surgeon to perform a complex operation. 

Many Americans say they want the country to be run as a business (errrr….a business that can make laws, such as outlawing abortion). I’d be a little nervous if my CEO had incurred such ginormous losses, but that’s neither here nor there. I mean, we can just declare bankruptcy, right? Greece is fine–as long as you don’t live there.

Businesses are created to turn a profit and to cut costs. Government pensions? Pffft. The new management doesn’t honor obligations like that. (Whew!) If we ran America like a business, we wouldn’t have to pay taxes. Instead, every citizen would pay to use services and amenities. We’d pay to drive the roads that take us to our homes, to use the fire and police departments, the FDA, the EPA, the schools, and the airports. No more subsidizing food, utilities, or housing. No more tax breaks for homeowners. No, businesses don’t give shit away. They cut corners and jobs and pay their CEOs fat salaries. They’re not in the business of helping, nor of giving away their goods and services.

And our girls? Do we want them to grow up in the shadow of a president who believes that, because a man has power and fame, he can grope and kiss and do as he wishes to women (under the age of 35)? Do you want your daughter to be told she’s fat or ugly or stupid? Do you want a business or a government to decide tell her she cannot have birth control or an abortion? Of course not.

We all need to get out and vote this year—we need to mobilize as the Evangelicals have done in past elections. We cannot leave this election in the hands of the evangelicals. While many of us say they don’t want more of the same, they don’t want another politician or that they’re so sick of an ugly election season, America has had a few years of prosperity now, and Clinton would ensure this continues.

 

Guest Post: Women Beyond Belief

Friends,

Below is a guest post about an upcoming book on women and atheism. I look forward to reading the book after its release.

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“High school was difficult for me—I was so uncomfortable when people would ask me what church I attended or which denomination I was in. When I would tell them I was an atheist, they looked at me as if I’d committed an atrocity. “You don’t believe in god? Why?” I was constantly asked in school. When I told them my reason, they judged me. They questioned my morals and said they wouldn’t trust me, all because I didn’t believe in this transparent being called god. It was crazy, the questions they would ask me. If anything, I thought, I should be asking the questions. Why are they believing in a being that they can’t see, feel, or hear?

Not only was it tough as a teenager being an atheist, but being a black one made my life even tougher. The community I come from is very religious, and my sister and I were the only atheists on our block. They weren’t open-minded, so it was uncomfortable for me when they would talk about Jesus or god. Being a black atheist is like being an African elephant almost. I can count how many black atheists I know personally: me and my sister.” Taressa Straughter

Taressa Straughter was raised Pentacostal but gave up her religion as a teenager. She speaks openly about her atheism and was the recipient of a scholarship from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2015. She is one of 22 women who have written essays about their journeys away from religion in “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion” edited by Karen L. Garst. This book can be pre-ordered on Amazon and will be available in bookstores October 1.

Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v.Hobby Lobby in 2014. This decision said that because of its religious views, Hobby Lobby, a craft store, would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst stated. Once again, religion has influenced the laws of our land. Politicians cite their religion in supporting restrictions on abortion, banning funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other issues that are against women.

The first leaders of the New Atheism movement that arose after 9/11 were men: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. They came with backgrounds of science and philosophy. They launched a renewed effort to show people how destructive religion can be and how all Abrahamic religions are based upon an Iron Age mythology, borrowing from other mythologies of the time.

Dr. Garst wants to add a focus on women and the role this mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” And she is right. More and more women atheists are speaking out. And as we all know, if women leave the churches, they will collapse. As more women leave religion, more children will not suffer the shame and guilt associated with most major religions.

She has received support with reviews by Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, Peter Boghossian, Sikivu Hutchinson and other atheist authors.

We encourage you to check out Dr. Garst’s blog at http://www.faithlessfeminist.com and to pre-order this excellent book.

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For Families in Hiding

science picSometimes, atheists email me from parts of the world where apostasy is a serious crime. It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must be to live in a society where, if you don’t believe in god or religion, you or your family could be put to death. When I hear these stories, it makes me realize how lucky so many of us are to live in countries where we can choose to believe or not believe. While things are not perfect, our battles are small in comparison.

This short post is for those families who must hide. I, as I’m sure many do, admire your bravery. You are not alone. There are many parents like you, both near you and far away.

So you ask: How can you raise your child or children as logical, free thinkers without bringing harm to them?
Be sure to read to them – a lot – about all sorts of topics, from all different points of view. Include them in discussions about politics, history, about how things work. Teach them about types of logical fallacies.  Teach them how to question  in their reasoning. Teach them to play chess. Teach them your morality. They will follow your example. They will learn what is important from you and what is not. Stay the course. You’re doing the right thing, the best thing for your children.
Friends and readers — if you have ideas for parents who are raising their kids to be humanists in countries where they could be put to death, please share your suggestions. We’re all in this together, no matter where we live.

Book Review: Grace without God by Katherine Ozment

Grace without God is one woman’s search for meaning, belonging, and purpose without religion. The author, Katherine Ozment, interviews expert after expert in an attempt to answer some of life’s big questions. The reader follows her along to these interviews as a proverbial fly on the wall.

About halfway in, I struggled to finish reading, for Grace without GodI became increasingly frustrated by the rose-colored religious glasses through which the book is written. Although dozens of experts were interviewed, there was no examination of the underbelly of religion, no balanced analysis of *why* religion and belief can also be a problem. Sure, in modern America, religion can offer a warm, fuzzy place to hang your hat. But there is no mention of the harm that religion has also brought into the world, of the terrible damage and fear it brings daily. There’s no mention of the shame many believers feel nor of the exclusion and loneliness people feel who are different, even though they sit in the pews week after week.

The premise for Grace without God is that living without religion makes us no more than driftwood afloat in an indifferent world. (Which is true regardless of what you believe.) “Could my family and I find valid alternatives to all the good that religion gives?” Ozment asks. The entire book is a long yearning for “…a religious moral grounding, timeworn rituals, and a community… “ Even in the last two pages of the book, the author writes, “Occasionally, I take myself to church…..Beneath the cavernous vaulted ceiling, only the sound of our voices lifting up, I feel at once infinitesimal and valuable beyond measure.”

For Ozment, living without religion is a problem. For me, living without religion is a solution.

Perhaps the most frustrating sentiment was expressed here: “The truth is that belief in a supernatural god or gods works exceedingly well when it comes to cultivating morals within a group. We act better when we feel we are being watched, as by a God.” All I could think was: suicide bombers, Catholic priests, hate crimes, a truck in Nice, France. These folks all thought god was watching them.

There is no mention that the morality created by religion is a superficial, selfish structure, one in which believers do “good” only because someone is watching and only because they are promised with the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. In some religions, believers don’t even “do good;” they “do bad” over and over and just ask for god’s forgiveness. Or, worse, they “do bad” under their god’s supposed direction. What kind of morality is that? Western religion tells us that we are born sinful as the offspring of parents who disobeyed God. So much for a loving, forgiving God. It also tells us that all we have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness when we’ve had impure thoughts or committed crimes, no matter how many times. All these points are overlooked in the book, with the idea being that the loss of a religious community is unnatural and problematic. Yet from where I’m standing, it is not unnatural and problematic to take religion and belief out of our lives, it is unnatural and problematic to force them in.

Having said all this, we all realize this is just one person’s opinion (mine). Maybe I don’t “get” this book. Maybe I have no love left for the institution of religion. There are folks out there who might really enjoy, Grace without God. There are folks who might love it. The prose is well-written, and it could be a good read for someone on the fence about whether to leave religion or not, someone who is not quite sure what they believe or if they have the fortitude to go it alone. However, it might also help some of those believers remain in their religion.

*This review was not paid, although I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for giving my feedback. I am a full-time employee of a technology company and do not work in the publishing industry.

How to Help Kids Navigate Religion

One of the hardest things I struggled with was, “Do I tell my kids what I really think about religion or do I let them discover how illogical it is for themselves?”

I went back and forth on this because I thought, well, if I tell my kids that I don’t believe and point out the inconsistencies in religion, then they’ll never have a chance to believe. It’s like never giving them a chance to believe in Santa. Once you understand that religion doesn’t make sense, you’ll always understand this. I know, I know. There are folks who say, “But I *used* to be an atheist. And to those folks, I say, I *used* to believe in Santa.  After decades of understanding how the whole Santa thing works, you just cannot go back unless 1) you never stopped believing in Santa, or 2) you’re lying to yourself about what Santa and the Christmas machine really are.

So what *do* you tell your kids about religion? After a short time, I came to understand that I need to tell them, “This is what other people believe. I do not believe this because it doesn’t make sense.” I’d tell them why and ask them, “Does this make sense to you?” I’d use as examples Bible stories or other outrageous claims, such as “God saved me from getting on the plane that crashed.” Really, I’d say to my kids? Why was that person so deserving, and why didn’t God save the innocent children? Prove me wrong, I’d tell them. Help me understand something I do not understand, that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes they’d try. Oftentimes they said, there was not a way.

On the other hand, you’re left explaining why smart people do believe. And this is something that I’ve also struggled with because even I can’t figure it out. I’ve told my children that people are afraid of many things, but especially of the unknown. They are afraid of dying and of not knowing what will happen to themselves or a loved one. They love the lives they have — and their families. This is all very understandable, and we should have compassion for people, but it doesn’t make them right. It only makes them human. Remember the comfort you got from your security blanket or your stuffed animal when you were little? Well, some adults need external “things” to comfort them when they’re scared. It makes them feel good to hold onto something, but you know that something—the stuffed animal, for example—can’t save you. Well, in the same sense, believing in God feels good and safe. But God—who has no corporeal existence and is just a wish or belief–doesn’t save you.

Now I know that this doesn’t leave much room for kids to develop religious beliefs on their own, but if you think about all the times you’d have to withhold information, tell your kids “I don’t know,” or outright lie about the existence of God, you’ll see that there’s a lot of deception that goes on in “allowing” kids to choose to believe.

Will I be disappointed if my kids one day choose to follow a religion? Of course not. I just won’t be disappointed with myself for encouraging them to follow some mythical rabbit down a hole.

This is what has worked for my family. If you can offer feedback on what to tell kids, please share your experiences.

 

A Q&A

Hello. I hope that 2016 has started off well for you.  Damn the years click by fast. I would love to know what everyone has been up to, if you feel like sharing below. Work has been busy for me; I feel as if life is dragging me behind it, and I’m just trying to stay up on my feet. But always, I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and this amazing opportunity to be on planet earth and have consciousness.  

A couple of weeks ago, I did an interview with an Italian on-line magazine, Parte del Discorso. You can read the Q&A in English (or Italian, if you are fluent).  I thought the questions were good–and relevant to secular parents, especially those who (like me) were raised Catholic. It’s always interesting to read how the US is perceived. 

I’d love to hear what is going on in your lives.  Happy Sunday!

Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

This post is about two topics. For starters, I’m honored that Nessun Dogma published my book in Italian this month, making it the first secular parenting book in Italy. I hope there are many more secular voices to follow. While I’m on the topic of gratitude,  I’m honored and thankful that Sterling Publishing thought I had something worth sharing. Most of all, I’m honored that people take the time to read this blog–so thank you for reading and for the interesting comments and conversations we’ve had over the years. That ends my secular prayer for Sunday, October 18th.

Another thing I’d like to share today. Working in the corporate world again, I look at things differently than I did a decade ago. I see young kids, fresh out of college; I see the employees close to retirement, looking weary. Having kids who will go into the workforce in the next few years, I think, “What skills do my kids need in the business world, if they choose to go there?” Working hard and team work are still important, but creativity and problem-solving are more important than ever, no matter what your job function is. With many jobs becoming automated, creativity is still something that humans have that computers do not. It helps to be able to look at the work flow and see how everything fits together, and how things could fit together differently. Creativity and logical reasoning are not skills that the schools are particularly strong on nurturing. In fact, public education discourages kids from creating their own solutions. I remember this struggle in math class with my older kid. Sameness is valued over uniqueness.

What we need to do is teach our children how to couple creativity with problem solving. This is something we can nurture at home by asking our kids to solve problems or to consider the many possibilities in solving problems we have. For example, the vacuum doesn’t start? Why not? What are all the possible reasons? How could we fix it? Is there more than one way. Let them try to figure out why and how.

Playing chess help kids problem solve because it’s a game of logic and strategy. Also, reading–a lot–helps. Reading creative works as well as magazine and newspaper articles about many different topics helps expose children to a variety of ideas across many knowledge bases. If your child is too young to read complex material, you can play this game, which I used to play with my kids. Start with a banana. At about a year old, I’d ask my kids, “What is this?” (holding up a banana). “What is it used for?” I’d ask. “Food?” What else? “A smile.” (Put the banana in front of your face like a smile.) “A telephone?” “A frown?” “Decoration?” You’d be surprised by the answers kids come up with. But you can use this game to start kids thinking, and you can apply this idea with about any household item. Looking at ordinary things in new ways is the basis for problem-solving.

Because we have such easy access to so much information, what we know is not nearly as important as how we think about what we know.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share them!

The Invisible People

As I was sitting at a Counting Crows concert last night, I saw a young man in his early twenties walking down the aisles, carrying a mop. His head was down, and he dutifully followed another man, clearly his supervisor, who was pointing to spills, vomit, and other suspicious-looking liquids on the floor. As thousands enjoyed music, drinks, and friends, this guy cleaned up our collective mess. All night, he was led from spot to spot like a work horse, invisible to the majority of us.

We like to think that the U.S. is a democracy where anyone can become anything. In some sense this is true. But for the large majority of us, our destiny is shaped while we’re still in utero: by our genes, hormones, and parents’ social status. This is not new news, but many forget that, for the kid whose parents are barely making ends meet, a job cleaning up messes might be the best he can do, or it might be the best he can do quickly.

Some moms and dads can barely help themselves, and they don’t have the influence or resources to help their kids. I help my teens financially in many ways that other parents cannot. My husband has helped family members get high-paying jobs that they were not qualified for. These are examples of advantages that we neither earn nor deserve, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. And it is one reason that we should pay a living wage or better to those folks who are not born with the same advantages and opportunities, to the folks who work into the night cleaning up messes or who wash our cars in the heat of the day or who help build bridges in cold weather. It is the reason why mentoring programs are so important and why nepotism not only hurts the health of a business but also unfairly takes opportunities from others.

While hard work does indeed factor into success, whether you become a janitor or a white-collar employee has a lot to do with serendipity.

 

Things Not to Say to Secular Parents

Oh brother!I found this list I started working on called, “things not to say to secular parents.” So I’m going to discuss a few here in hopes that it might help other parents.

Over the years, I’ve always been a little surprised by the responses from people when I tell them I’m not raising my kids to believe in God. Interestingly, many of the comments and protests from believers are remarkably similar. Yet all of the comments are just as remarkably uninformed.

Here are my responses to some of those questions and comments:

  1. “If something happened to one of your kids, you would want to believe they are in heaven.”

No, actually I would not want to believe this. Let’s say heaven does exist: not only is it dark and cold beyond words, there is absolutely nothing to do. Forever and ever. You exist in an eternity without a physical being, without a mind and you’re sharing the same living space with ex-boyfriends, ex-wives, bosses you didn’t like, and crotchety neighbors. No, I don’t want my children to live on in a perpetual nothingness. I’d want to know that they thrived on this planet, with as much awareness and love as they could stand. I’d want to know that they enjoyed every second of their short visit here. From where I’m standing, heaven is merely ego’s wishful thinking. Heaven is here. Heaven is our awareness that being here is a good thing.

  1. “But you believe in evolution and science. Those are beliefs, too.”

I believe in science, but that is different from saying, “I believe in God.” I believe in science means that I put faith in the people and institutions that are doing the work, that I have confidence in their methods. I could do the math or science myself, if I had the time and the education. But you and I cannot specialize in everything. We cannot do all things. So we must trust that others are doing their jobs, the same jobs that we could do, using the same methods that we were all taught and have agreed are worthy of our trust and confidence. These things are provable and repeatable and verifiable across the scientific community.

“I believe in God,” as many philosophers have noted, is an existential claim that is made when the thing believed is unrealistic, unproven or highly unlikely. There are other such claims: I believe that eating more burgers before conceiving will create a boy baby. I believe that kissing a frog will produce a prince. I believe in the tooth fairy. Vampires. Leprechauns. Water nymphs. God.

  1. “Belief in nothing is still belief in something.”

This is one of those puerile platitudes that just is not true. I don’t believe in unicorns. Do you? No? Is that a belief in something? If so, what?

Many Christian apologists will insist that atheism is a “belief system” or a religion, too. This is simply an attempt to equalize the two, to bring unbelief on the opposite side of the equation from religion, which is a belief system. If, believers postulate, both sides are “beliefs” and if one is free to choose from two separate–but seemingly equal–systems, then it standardizes religion. Religion is now logical like math and science. Science and math now require a leap of faith. Belief and unbelief are simply one of two choices that any reasonable person can make. This is not logical. One person’s belief in God cannot create two religions: theism and atheism.

This concludes my Sunday rant. I should note that, in spite of all the religious silliness I’ve encountered, I adore Pope Francis. He is a great example of a humanist.

Please feel free to add your, “Things not to say to secular parents” below.