Tag Archives: agnostics

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.

 

“Atheists ‘Prove’ Existence of God With Worship of Nothing “

“Atheists ‘Prove’ Existence of God With Worship of Nothing ”

This was the title of an essay that I was going to write a post about (thanks Kathy!).  Yeah, just by the title, you can probably tell this was neither well-written nor well-thought out. In fact, it would just confirm your suspicions about some Christians. And I don’t want to waste my time or yours on pointless,  inflammatory,  juvenile,  attention-seeking drivel.  (Whew. I feel a little better now, at least!)  You must surely be tired of me addressing these asinine antics from believers who just want to provoke us.

Instead, I’m going to list the things that are worthy of  our time and attention, and I hope you’ll add to this list , too, so we can move forward instead of just spinning our wheels arguing with half-wits (sorry, I cringe to use that word, but some folks just are).

1.  Work to keep god and religion out of public school classrooms and books, unless it’s for educational purposes (see #2).

2. Teach comparative religion courses in high schools so that our kids understand where all religions came from and why.  This will help improve tolerance for kids of all beliefs.

3.  Stop religious agendas from seeping into policy making.

4.  Help vote into office more atheists, agnostics, naturalists and secular humanists.

5 .  Get old laws off the books that discriminate against nonbelievers, such as this one here in the state of Texas: “”No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

6.  Expect churches to be held to the same taxation standards as other businesses.

7. Enlighten people (as gently as possible) who believe we  1. have no hope;  2. have no morals or  3. can’t be meaning-seeking creatures without a mythological god(s).

8.  Strive to be a great example for our kids by not pushing our views on others while also expecting appropriate boundaries. (No, it’s not okay to insist that Intelligent Design be part of our biology texts. And, it’s not okay to recruit our kids when our backs are turned. That sort of stuff….)

What else have I forgotten or overlooked?

Texas Don’t Know Science

I’m getting a little embarrassed to identify myself as a Texan. Can’t we shut up already about creationism, intelligent design or whatever we’re calling it these days? It seems a handful of folks on the Board of Education are making us all look like yahoos, and they’re holding the majority of normal Texans, if there is such a thing, hostage to their radical religious beliefs.

In November, Texas will be finalizing biology textbook choices that high schools will use over the next decade. Because we’re such a large market, we have a lot of influence over what goes into the books, books which other states buy, too.  Some folks on the Board of Ed want to teach creation “science;” some say they just want to “analyze” (read: refute) evolution.

Really, there should be no debate. The law is clear: no creationism, no intelligent design in our science textbooks or classrooms. Period. But there is still room for us to teach these beliefs in our own home or in a private school. There’s just no room to force this faux scientific theory on all of our children.

And it’s best this way, for it were subject to the same rigorous standards and scrutiny of science, then we’d have to acknowledge the following:

1. Through Intelligent Design (ID) we discover that the creator of our species did not do a very good job. In the blueprints for mankind, he or she left a lot of room for error. So much, in fact, that one in 33 babies are born with birth defects. Through other design flaws, even more children will develop cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and thousands of other potentially life-threatening illnesses and diseases.

2. Through ID, we discover that the creator did not think things through. He put us on earth with all sorts of creatures, bacteria and other organisms that can eat us, attack our brains and disable us. We cannot breathe in water and will drown if submerged for too long. We can tear. We can break. We can suffocate. We cannot tolerate temperatures that are too hot or too cold. We need to recharge and refuel constantly, and certain foods will make us sick or cause death. We are hobbled by colds and viruses every year.

3. He did not create us all equally, not even close. Some of us are born with advantages that others don’t have: some can run faster, some cannot run at all. Some can think better, some cannot think at all. Some are beautiful, some are not. Each of us has a different shelf life.

4. The inconsistencies in our physical designs are not features. Our variations have caused us to exploit, marginalize and enslave our own species.

5. The intelligent designer was not able to create an efficient machine. Our species takes in more sustenance than is necessary and must transport its waste away from its home in order to avoid illness and disease.

6. The intelligent designer left us vulnerable to the weakest part of our brains. Our emotions interfere with and oftentimes override logic. Ego and insecurity and anger can cause us to commit horrible acts against others, even ourselves. Our neural pathways can meltdown, resulting in various behavioral and emotional problems.

7. The intelligent designer did not leave any instructions; he has offered no warranty. This creator does not hold himself accountable for his mistakes. There have been no apologies, no new releases and no product updates to amend some of the design flaws. In the United States, this would not be acceptable. He would have been sued and shut down.

I’m not suggesting that there are no signs that point to a higher intelligence. But these signs could also be pointing to something (or nothing) else; for example, to an even higher intelligence that doesn’t make mistakes. Could our immediate designer be just another Frankenstein, another scientist with his very own planet to experiment with? Einstein realized that space is not emptiness. It’s flexible and stretchable like a skin. Maybe we are the innards of a great designer. What happens when our universe stops expanding? Will there be another Big Bang?

There are many things we just don’t yet understand, but we don’t have to settle for speculations and explanations that don’t really make sense just so that a few of us can keep our kids tethered to their Bibles.

If we want to bring a belief system like creationism into our texts or schools through any sort of guise, we should also acknowledge that, through this “theory,” there are other implications that don’t fit with our current views of God. If all this seems a little silly, perhaps the opponents of evolution should take a closer look at what they’re asking all of us to swallow.  If God is to remain intact as an “intelligent designer,” we should not force him into places where we think he belongs.

Dilemma

The other day, I met this really nice woman with whom I have a lot in common. Or, at least, she thinks we have a lot in common. And from the outside, we do, although as soon as she wished me a blessed day, I knew otherwise. But she wanted to exchange numbers and set up lunch.

Fine.

So we set up a time to meet, and I realized that as a nonbeliever, I have to make a decision. Actually, we all have to make these decisions every time we meet a potential new friend—or even a prospective girlfriend or boyfriend. Do we tell people early on in the relationship that we are atheists, agnostics or humanists and risk alienating them immediately? Do we wait until the friendship is well into its third trimester and allow the truth to come out naturally? There is always the chance that we will be able to demonstrate through our actions that those of us who don’t believe in god should not be feared.  On the other hand, they may continue to be friends with us while holding us at arm’s length like a poopy diaper, thinking “ewwww.” Or should we continue to hide who we are? After all, it’s nobody’s damn business what we believe about gods, demons and spirits, alcoholic or otherwise.

Unfortunately, a couple of times, after I’ve come out to friends that I’m not part of their club, they’ve been cordial, but different. Definitely distant. It’s like we’re now wearing masks of ourselves with a permanent smile. Of course, that’s not friendship. And clearly, it never was a friendship. Friends shouldn’t like you because you’re their twin or their mirror, unless, of course, they’re extremely insecure and need constant reinforcement.

On the other hand, I also get it that some folks just want to be friends with people who are like them because life outside the box is just too damn scary.

So I’ve decided that I will carry on as usual. I’m not going to make an issue of religion or wear my beliefs on my proverbial sleeve. If the topic comes up, I’ll be honest. I won’t hide the truth about who I am if confronted.

If this turns out to be a deal breaker, as it has with some of my previous friends, then the truth is, that says more about them than it does about me.  They’re doing me a favor.  I wouldn’t want a friendship with someone who judges me on my gender, my skin color or my lack of belief in the story of god.

That’s my two-cents. What’s yours?

“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.

Sexual Satisfaction Survey

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

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

In a talk this week,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewards and Justice

I really appreciate that everyone who comments here, regardless of what she or he believes, is so supportive and respectful of each other. I know we don’t always agree, and that’s a good thing, but in a forum like this where you could hide and say some awful sh*t, people have been so gentle with each other. (That includes you, too, Joe K.) Thank you for giving me faith in my fellow man over and over again.

If you’ve sent me an idea to write about, I really appreciate all your suggestions and will address your questions or issues as soon as possible (if you’ve asked me to do so publicly). I think that it makes for much more interesting discussions when topics and questions—and answers– come from readers.

Molly, who is Catholic and is a regular here, asked about the atheist perspective on tragedies. The deaths of the firefighters in Arizona were a terrible loss of life, and Molly wonders this:

 “…How [do] atheists deal with this type of sacrifice or death? Now, I am not claiming that atheists can’t be sacrificial or selfless or don’t “do the right thing”… but I mean in an extreme instance where someone has given their life for someone else or died for a worthy cause… how is that person’s life (and death) “rewarded”? (I don’t like the word “rewarded” here but I couldn’t think of an alternative…)

Giving your life for another is the ultimate human sacrifice.  Both believers and non-believers can probably agree on that.  But if the end result for these men is the same as another guy who, lets say, committed suicide after a life of crime, abuse, murder, rape, and addiction…. then how is there any “justice” in that?  What’s the point?  (Again, don’t love the word “justice” but couldn’t think of an alternative…)”

If you don’t believe in God, what is the point in giving your life for another person or higher cause? If you’ve lived your life in service to others, yet you suffer and die the same as a serial killer, what’s the point?

I once read this short story—years ago when I was a teenager—about a man who was riding on a train, eager to get to his destination. Along the way, he passed so many beautiful things: bucolic scenery, charming towns, children playing, couples kissing. Yet he was so engrossed in his destination that he missed all of the life between his journey’s beginning and end.

For us who don’t believe in God or an afterlife, the reward is here, now. Doing nice things for others is rewarding, and it can be contagious, too.  We won’t receive any sort of prize in return, but the act itself feeds our idea of who we are (yes, LT, I see that’s ego there). It makes us feel good–well, most of us–so “doing good” is, in a way, both a beneficial act for society and a selfish act for ourselves.

But there is no ultimate justice. Some times life is just not fair. That’s a fact. There is no one Judge to right all wrongs at the end of our lives. As much and as often as we can, we have to make sure justice is served for each other. We will always fall short.

I think that people who do dangerous jobs, such as firefighting, do so because they like the fact that it is risky (there is an adrenaline rush there) and because they like the social rewards these jobs bring. Our communities look at firefighters as heroes. That’s a reward in and of itself. Little boys (and sometimes girls) dream of one day being a firefighter. They play dress up and wear fire hats and clothes during Halloween.

It was an awful loss to society in losing these men, but they didn’t suffer long. Their survivors are the ones who will suffer for a long time. Although the firefighters are dead and have reached the same end as a rapist or murderer—they chose the life they wanted, and they knew how it could possibly end. Their destination came sooner than expected, but I suspect—and hope–that they were enjoying their journey.

The reward was their life–to live it as they wanted. There is no point to life. Nature’s goal for us is simply to propagate the species. We’re free to design our own lives and define our own meaning. We can choose to do good deeds. Or bad. The universe is indifferent—only man cares.

What about you guys? What are your thoughts? What’s the point in doing good deeds if your life ends in the same way that a criminal’s does?

Thanks, again, Molly, for the interesting question.

I hope everyone has a safe and fun 4th of July.

Recommended Pages

A friend from high school suggested that I like a page called, “North Carolina Values Coalition,” which just goes to show that the definition of “friend” on FB is nothing like the definition of a friend outside of social networking.

It has occurred to me that there’s nothing quite as “un-value-like” as an organization that claims to promote family values, which, of course, just means a group of conservative church-folks forming a coalition to push their own agenda. The religious right is good at that, at forming groups to criticize, condemn and complain about what other people are doing. If you need proof of who is running the show, take a look at their website. (Be sure to read their “values” and their “strategy.”)

The first thing I noticed when I viewed the North Carolina Values Coalition page was that it was mostly addressing one issue: abortion. The second thing I noticed, which I’m sure you guys already know, is that, for people who claim to love fetuses and all of God’s creatures, they are the most vulgar, hateful group I’ve ever seen. If you need proof of that, too, check out the stones these nice followers in Christ are throwing at Chelsea Clinton for expressing her views. In the absence of intellectual horsepower, name-calling seems to be their only option. Of course, no one on this FB page addressed the most important issue associated with limiting a woman’s choice: If the fetus is saved from the evils of abortion, whether he is healthy or disabled, who is stepping up to the plate to care for him until he is 18 or older?

(Silence.)

Which brings me to the next point, an article I read recently about a woman who had an abortion at 23 weeks, a woman who struggled mightily with her decision. Whether a woman is terminating a pregnancy because she cannot afford a baby or because her boyfriend is in jail or because the baby is not developing properly, who are we to judge? It is clearly a personal struggle for women, and it’s a burden on her body, even when conceived intentionally and out of joy.

Why would we let our personal feelings get in the way of someone else’s decision that does not even remotely affect us? An abortion seems like a horrible experience, an experience that, apparently, sticks to your conscience forever. I have no idea, if faced with an unwanted or difficult pregnancy, what I would do, but I sure as hell would not want some stranger making me feel even worse. I wonder what percentage of pro-lifers have actually had abortions themselves, and now, with a guilty conscience, feel that this is their cause.

This coalition–and others like them–claim to be pro-parental choice. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we want government out of our lives, except when it comes to pregnant women. Unless you’re saying, “We want government out of our lives, but we (God’s crusaders) want to stay in your life.” You can’t say, “God tells me not to judge,” and then try to bully others into making choices that you would not necessarily make for yourself. Of course, either way–in judging others or in physically preventing a woman from entering a doctor’s office–you’ve just stepped into “God’s” shoes. And for those of you who live where I do, I’m sure you’ve seen the right-to-lifers (and their embarrassed children), standing on the corner of Eldorado and Highway 75, picketing Planned Parenthood. Pathetic.

What I don’t understand is the vehemence with which some of these folks fight to make choices for someone else’s fertilized eggs when there are children in need all over the world. Hungry children. Sick children. Abused children. Children caught in the crossfire of war. The Catholic Church is one of the loudest voices, and it makes sense that, once upon a time, they wanted to fill their churches with as many babies as possible–that was the church’s future source of revenue (or potential pool of priests and nuns).

But, why, when so many children born today will not grow up to be Catholic or Protestant, do the religious work themselves into a frenzy? There is no Biblical support to suggest that saving fetuses will buy you a ticket to heaven.

I guess that’s why we need groups like North Carolina Values to throw a bone for its followers to chase after. They make people feel useful, feel purposeful, without giving them real responsibility. Every organization needs something that unifies its members, even if it just means getting into everyone else’s business while ignoring your own flaws and limitations and hypocrisies.

Oh, and about FB. I suggested a page, too, for the first time ever. I sent my “friend” a recommendation for the Freedom From Religion page. I’m sure the devil made me do it.

Happy Mom’s Day

peaceloveMy kids always ask me what I want for ______ (fill in the blank with Mother’s Day, birthday, Christmas), and every time I tell them the same thing. Don’t get me anything. I don’t want stuff. Write me a letter and tell me what I’m doing right. Yet every time, I get a store-bought card with someone else’s words (and being boys, they are not so much into words as into the funny noises the body can make). So, either I’m not doing anything right or my kids are trying to tell me that they don’t like to write. Seeing that I used to make them write book reports over the summer and critiques of commercials they watched on public TV, I get that. When you’re a mom, you just never know if what you’re doing is right. Sometimes great ideas turn out to be mistakes. Sometimes mistakes turn out to be great ideas. I now know that forcing my kids to write did not foster a fondness of it.

A good friend of mine once said, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make with your kids, as long as there is love in the home and your kids feel it, that makes up for everything. That’s what I’m counting on to cancel out all the times I lost my temper or dropped the ball. That’s what I hope is true for all of us, stumbling through life, just trying to be the best mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends we can.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there who are working hard to develop a product (kids) that will make a better future for everyone. And thanks to all the men who encourage us.

Peace, love, hope and hugs.

Holy Communion!

One more thing today….It’s a little strange that some Catholics believe that, “Catholics who promote gay marriage should not try to receive holy Communion.”

…the archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron, said Sunday that Catholics who receive Communion while advocating gay marriage would “logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.

Let’s get this straight. The church is riddled with priests who either participated or covered up pedophilia, and they can take communion and give it, too? Then there are the annulments granted (for a price, of course), birth control, and the usual sins (some of them deadly) pardoned over and over and over again. Whether you’re a priest leading mass or you’re a parishioner sitting in the pews, isn’t everyone rejecting what the church teaches on a daily basis? I mean, Jeez. They’re making my head spin with the hypocrisy here.

It seems to me embracing two people who love each other–and who are harming no one with their love–should not be considered sinful. But who am I to say? I’m just a lowly woman who wouldn’t be allowed to offer up my voice even if I did believe.

So, who doesn’t “double-deal”? I just don’t understand. Does accepting gay marriage somehow emasculate the church? Through communion, Catholics believe they are actually eating another man’s body. How gay is that?