Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why I love being an atheist

There are so many things I love about being an atheist, things that were not possible when I was trying to be a Christian:
  • The much bigger size of the universe, full of so many more possibilities. When I was trying to be a Christian, life and the universe had all sorts of boundaries and limits. The universe was SO small. I heard Christians dismissing science and what science was telling us about the size and age of the universe, and encouraging people to NOT explore science - things beyond the boundary of the Earth, things on a molecular level, and history beyond 6,000 years ago. People would say, "With God, all things are possible," yet, there seemed to be so many limits on possibilities for life. Now that I'm an atheist, the universe is HUGE, bigger and more complex than I could ever imagine, and I revel in how much there is to learn and discover.
  • I get to have any friends and associates I want. When I was trying to be a Christian, I was told that I should seek out the company of other Christians - and who was or wasn't a Christian was deeply debated. I was encouraged to avoid certain groups - atheists, sure, but also those that my Christian sect weren't really Christian (Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses...). I was told that a sinful, uncharitable Christian, seeking forgiveness after each transgression, was better company for me than a caring, philanthropic-minded, friendly non-Christian. When I expressed my doubts about faith as a young person, I had two friends tell me they could not be friends with me any more, that we couldn't talk anymore, because of my doubts - they had been told by their church leaders that a person like me - a doubter - was dangerous. By contrast, now, I can be friends with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Buddhists - and I am! I get to have a range of interesting, fun, lovely people in my life, regardless of their beliefs or doubts. I don't have to stop being friends with someone just because they aren't in my belief club - instead, I get to choose my friends based on the content of their character. 
  • No guilt for my doubts. I ask questions. A lot. When I was a pre-teen and teen, trying to be a Christian, questions about ethics, goodness, history and the origins of the Bible got me into trouble. I was chastised for asking questions, condemned for doubting, and discouraged from not just "believing." As an atheist, questions are celebrated, no one chastises me for asking for source material, and I get to be kind to anyone regardless of their religious beliefs or lack there of. 
  • Much less despair. To believe in God means having to either believe God allows children to be raped, or doesn't care that they are being raped. Either way, it means that he watches passively as children are forced into horrific acts from which many never recover mentally. Super magical friend supposedly has the power to stop such, but doesn't. Same for natural disasters that wipe out the lives of dozens, hundreds, thousands.... When I was a pre-teen and teen, trying to be a Christian, that thought that the God I was trying to believe in stood by while people suffered horrors, and that he could stop it all but didn't, made me crazy. I trembled at the thought of extreme misery inflicted on the most innocent, and that the God I was trying to believe in did nothing. The comfort offered by believers (God makes no mistakes, He has his reasons, He doesn't do anything to people they aren't strong enough to handle, blah blah blah), made me physically ill - I wanted to throw up every time I heard it. Still do. Now, I take comfort in knowing that natural disasters are, well, natural. I take comfort knowing that there is nothing personal in a hurricane or tornado or massive flooding or a non-preventable disease or whatever. And while I am still horrified at man's inhumanity to man, I also know that such happens because humans can be horrible, NOT because a magical, invisible being allows it, or even causes it.  
  • Humans get responsibility for their successes and failures. When a space ship successfully takes off and enters outer space, when a disabled plane successfully lands, when the surgery of a loved one goes well, I don't credit a magical invisible friend - I credit the people that made that happen. I love celebrating such things. Likewise, when a person makes a mistake, real reasons for that mistake can be sought: greed, insecurity, ignorance, etc. - rather than attributing such to a magical, invisible, evil entity. And that means so many problems seem so much more solvable - I don't have to beg a magical, invisible being for a cure for cancer but, rather, I get to support the many human-driven endeavors seeking a cure for such (and having some major successes regarding such). 
  • No guilt for sex. Woot!
  • No shame in being the woman I am. I am childless. I love my job. Many years, I've made way, way more money than my husband. Sometimes, I insist a decision go my way instead of my husband's (really, just sometimes). I read and study whatever I want to. I assert myself. I sometimes draw attention to myself (really, just sometimes). I curse like a sailor in adult company. I state my disagreement with men if I disagree with their point of view. I cut my hair. I dye my hair. I dress how I want to. I go anywhere I want to by myself. Many of these acts would get me stoned to death in some religions - and condemned in most of them. I love my life! 
Oh the joy and wonder that atheism has brought me, the happiness, the comfort... I love being an atheist!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No, You’re Not Taking Those Verses ‘Out of Context’

Ali A. Rizvi is a Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician, and musician who resides in Toronto, Canada. He has written an excellent blog, "No, You’re Not Taking Those Verses ‘Out of Context’," and it's a must read. Here's an excerpt:
    ...herein lies the problem: if there were a book that talked about Muslims the way the Quran talks about disbelievers, heads would roll. Literally.

    The primary argument we hear against critics and satirists of religion like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists—who satirized all religions, not just Islam—is that their speech “offends billions of people.”

    But what about the religions they’re targeting? The Abrahamic holy books—respected and revered by billions worldwide—prescribe the killing of disbelievers (Quran 8:12-1347:4; Leviticus 24:16); order their adherents to fight and enslave those with differing beliefs, a la ISIS (Quran 9:29-30, Deuteronomy 20:10-18); endorse wife-beating (Quran 4:34) and the stoning to death of non-virginal brides (Deuteronomy 22:20-21); order women to quietly submit to the authority of men (1 Timothy 2:11-12); and mandate the public lashing of fornicators (Quran24:2) and the killing of homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13).

    Who should really be offended here? If hate speech were really the issue, these books would be the first to go.
Here's the full blog.

I couldn't count how many times comments about atheists from Muslims and Christians have insulted me... yet, I'm still not calling for the death or punishment of anyone for offending me.

Monday, March 9, 2015

For Atheist Youth: It Gets Better

The It Gets Better campaign, started by Dan Savage, is a joy to behold: an effort to get the word out to gay youth that life does get better, and that no matter what you are facing now, you can get through it and not just survive, but flourish.

Gay youth deserve such a campaign, because they can be bullied in their own homes, not just at school or in public spaces. In small towns in particular, they can lack any sanctuary that will get them away from humiliation. The treatment they receive often goes beyond just parents or family members who aren't supportive; family members can threaten to withhold financial help to fully participate in school activities or to go to college or a university, they can keep their children from their friends, can they can threaten them with physical harm.

Many atheist youth can identify with the plight of gay youth. When a teen realizes he or she is an atheist, it can often mean having to live a lie for years, because to tell the truth results in oh-so-many negative consequences. That means going to church services and religious events, joining in family prayers and sitting quietly while the family members, friends and church members talk about the evils of non-believers and deride atheists as being un-American, immoral and incapable of being good. atheist youth are often in a situation where they don't dare talk about questions or emerging non-religious values, for fear of not only creating tense situations with family, at school or with friends - but also, being ostracized by friends, family - even an entire community. And, as an atheist youth, you may have to live that lie even after you turn 18 and move out, because you need your family's financial support to go to a university - or you join the military and realize just how Christian-based the US military is (just google harassment US military atheist if you doubt that).

Many atheist youth look at Damon Fowler, and how he's been treated by parents and his community, including his school, including TEACHERS at his school, and decide to remain quiet about their atheism, for fear of being subjected to similar treatment. Not every teenager could survive that.

So, atheist youth of America, let me tell you: survive these days at home with your parents, in a community that might reject you, or is already rejecting you, for your atheism, any way you can, because life DOES get better. You will eventually move out of your family's home, and maybe away entirely from a religious community, and you will not only create a home and a life for yourself where you don't have to pretend to be something you aren't, or where you won't be harassed for your lack-of-belief-in-the-supernatural in your own home (though you still may face that sometimes in public life), you will flourish.

You will meet people - religious and non - who won't criticize you for not believing in the supernatural and won't balk at the idea that you self-identify as atheist. You will meet people who believe in and celebrate science - including many religious folks who are able to accept scientific truths, like evolutionary biology, and be religious. Best of all, you will meet people who delight in our Godless reality. You will have friends who, like you, have a reverence for rational, independent thought, who delight in the joys of intellectual exploration and feel the rapture of scientific revelation - or just the thrill of finding out there is still so much more to learn. You will be able to say, I'm an atheist, and not fear being thrown out of your home, because it's the home YOU have made.

You will continue to have morals that guide your life and your actions. You will have a philosophy that isn't based on belief in the supernatural but, rather, the ongoing wisdom of humanity, that ever-compels you to do certain things in order to have meaning and joy in your life. You will live in a world no less wondrous than the one your family and community back home believe in - maybe even more wondrous, because it has no boundaries based on fear or self-imposed ignorance. You will be loved, even cherished - first, by your own self, and then by others. And life will feel so authentic!

For many years as a child, I not only went to church every Sunday, but also, weekly church choir practice and frequent church pot lucks - and, every summer,  to Vacation Bible School. I went because I had SO much fun at such - even as I kept waiting for the epiphany that Jesus/God was real, that he would, at last, reveal himself and I could stop doubting, and I could get all this comfort that everyone said would come with that epiphany. But the more I read the Bible and immersed myself in religious activities, the more questions I had. At first I asked them - and at first, the questions were simple enough, as was my mind, to be easily answered by the Sunday school teacher, a pastor or a parent. But the questions got more complicated, and so, when adults couldn't answer them, I started getting the you-just-have-to-accept-and-believe answers. Just have faith! I started to feel the tension in the adults and fellow students hearing my questions they couldn't answer, so I shut up. And I tried to do everything with even more passion - pray, sing, whatever - thinking it would cure me of my doubts and help me believe the way everyone else was telling me they believed. If I out-Christianed the Christians, I'd finally have that feeling and assurance everyone swore they felt, right? It didn't work.

I dared to voice my doubts about religion to just a few very close friends in high school - and I lost two friends over my asking questions. Those questions challenged my friends to question their own beliefs, and so they each told me that they had to break off our friendship, since they couldn't have a God-doubter in their lives. I was heart-broken - and, as a result, kept my lack of belief to myself until I went to university, where questions and doubts were welcomed by most of my fellow students. MANY years later, one of those two friends called me to apologize for breaking off our friendship. She said our conversation had haunted her for years, even as she attended an evangelical university. She was still a believer, but not at all the way she had been back then, and she noted how unhealthy it had been to remove everyone from her life that made her think and question. That phone call meant the world to me.

I never dared to express my doubts to family. I knew they would be broken-hearted. So I stayed silent.

Life got much, much better for me as an atheist after I left home and got out into the world. I have a nice career, wonderful friends - a mix of non-religious and religious friends - I volunteer, and I delight in the world in a way I never did when I was desperate to be a believer.

Life will get better for you too. I hope you can realize your strength, tap into it and get through your teens - and, eventually, be open about not only your atheism, but the sources for your values and joy. It gets better. I promise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Atheist group raises funds for charity in honor of murdered North Carolina Muslims

Atheists and humanists around the world, including me, have condemned the murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), his wife Yusor Mohammad (21), and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) in North Carolina.

Deah Barakat was pursuing his doctorate in dentistry at UNC Chapel Hill and planned to travel to Syrian refugee camps this summer to perform emergency dentistry for refugee children through the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS). At the time of his murder, Deah Barakat was raising funds for SAMS to equip the teams in the refugee camps.

Foundation Beyond Belief mounted a drive for SAMS in support of Deah's vision and in one week raised $20,125 for SAMS. Congrats, fellow atheists, secular humanists and other free thinkers for showing the compassion I have felt again and again from you all.

You can still donate to the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation!

Friday, February 13, 2015

No, I won't apologize - just as you won't

How is that so many Muslims that were outraged by calls for all Muslims to apologize for the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff are now calling for all atheists to apologize for the murders of the college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina?

I am horrified and disgusted by the murders of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

I'm also an atheist, and I feel no compulsion whatsoever to claim any responsibility for their deaths. None.

Atheism means just one thing: no belief in a god or the supernatural. That's it. There are nice people that are atheists. There are rude people that are atheists. There are humanitarians that are atheists. There are murderers that are atheists. Atheism doesn't drive any of those characteristics or actions.

I refuse to say the name of the man who murdered those three people in North Carolina - he doesn't deserve to have his name said. Anyone who would let their fury over parking or religion... or satirical, insulting cartoons... lead them to believe that they are entitled to murder is completely beyond my understanding.

I do find it interesting that the murderer's first ex-wife told The Associated Press that, before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a white, divorced, unemployed engineer on a shooting rampage, a film that was roundly criticized at the time as racist. She said, "That always freaked me out. He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all." Neighbors told reporters that the murderer was known for angrily confronting people over just about anything, from loud music to parking. One neighbor described him as prone to "equal opportunity anger" and she said that, last year, the situation got so bad that his neighbors organized a meeting "to talk about how he kind of made everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe." His Facebook posts show a far greater hatred of Christianity than any other religion.

This was SO much more than hating these students for their religion. SO MUCH MORE. But even if it wasn't, it's still beyond disgusting. No matter what the reason, it's horrific.

I'm gobsmacked that a person that said he supported marriage equality, abortion rights and civil rights for all races could, at the same time, be so full of arrogance, entitlement and hatred - but, then again, I'm also confused by people that say they are members of a religion of peace, or follow a "prince of peace," can murder people - and they do, frequently. Hatred can, apparently, eat away the heart of anyone, religious or atheist alike.

So, no, I'm not going to apologize for this wacko, just as Muslims refuse to apologize for the Charlie Hebdo murderers, the September 11, 2001 murderers, the Peshawar school murders, and on and on. Just as Christians refuse to apologize for the Wisconsin Sikh temple murders, the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Centennial Olympic Park bomber, the Spanish Inquisition, the mass killings of American Indians, the Nazis using Christianity to justify the Holocaust, and on and on.

Instead, I'm going to honor the memory of these three people by supporting the fundraising effort to provide urgent dental care to Syrian refugees that was launched by one of these murdered students. I'm going to support more gun ownership restrictions and speak out about the glamorization of gun ownership by the NRA and other groups - as tabulated by the Violence Policy Center, this was the 29th shooting involving three or more victims by a concealed handgun permit holder since mid-2007.

I'm going to continue to encourage people get a handle on outrage and fury - especially when they think they've been insulted. Being insulted is NOT being oppressed.

Peace, people. Peace.

Also see:

I get insulted. But I don't murder. 

Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pro-choice, LGBT-affirming, otherwise non-annoying religious groups on Facebook

I'm an atheist, but I express my support for progressive arms of various religions because, if people are going to believe in a magical invisible super friend, I hope they will also believe that such a super friend supports things like women's equality, marriage equality, etc. , and that he or she or whatever does NOT want followers to force religious practice on anyone. So I'm always on the lookout for religious organizations that fit that bill, especially on Facebook.

I also find it fascinating that the same religious teachings that many people use to justify the oppression of women, the murder of satirists, the bombing of health clinics, the enslavement of people, and on and on, is used by many other people to fight against such.

Promoting these organizations is a great way to counter fundamentalism; if believers in a magical invisible super friend can also see that there are alternatives to religious practices of intolerance, oppression and violence, maybe they'll join up - they'll be a lot happier. We all will be a lot happier.

Some progressive Christian organizations that you might want to like and follow on Facebook:
Also see this list from Wikipedia of LGBT-affirming churches

Some of the progressive Islamic organizations I have found and "liked" on Facebook are:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I get insulted. But I don't murder.

The images or statements promote ideas I find abhorrent. The images, or the statements, or the ideas, make my heart race. I can feel myself starting to shake when I see them or hear them. I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach, or slapped hard on the face. I’m outraged. I’m angry. I’m insulted. I’m demeaned.

Sometimes, I sit and seethe quietly. Sometimes, I have to walk away and try to calm myself down. Sometimes, I have tears in my eyes. Sometimes, I shake with anger so much I cannot hold anything in my hand. Sometimes, I can’t sleep that night. The images insult. They attack my dignity. They humiliate. They hurt.

My outrage is valid. My pain is real. And sometimes it’s not enough to just change the channel or turn off the TV, to close the magazine, to close the browser window, to unlike the Facebook page, to unfollow that Twitter feed, to walk out of the store, to walk out of the gathering. Sometimes, I respond. I write the person, or call the company, or sign a petition, and rally my friends to do the same, explaining why the image is insulting or painful or both. I work to make my point of view heard and understood, often joining a chorus of equally-outraged others.

Sometimes, the company or comedian or performer or politician or pundit apologizes. Sometimes, they don’t, but there is a noticeable decline in offensive images or statements. Sometimes, they are defiant, they double down, they present those offensive images or statements again and again, and so I boycott the company or person. I refuse to be a part of what they produce. Maybe others do too. And that means I can no longer watch or read something I used to enjoy.

Sometimes, I lose friends because of their disagreement with my outrage. Sometimes, I have to walk out of a home or church or business, never to return, and my life is altered, maybe forever.

What has me so outraged? I’m not going to say. It would be a LONG list. But what has me outraged is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to say that no group has a monopoly on outrage or pain from outrageous images or statements. And no insult justifies violence.

Religions get insulted. Ethnic groups get insulted. Communities get insulted. Women get insulted. Individuals get insulted. Bigotry can hurt. Sexism can hurt. Blasphemy can hurt. The pain is real. I get that. I've lived it. But that pain does NOT give you a right to harm someone physically. It does NOT give you a right to violence. It does NOT give you a right to kill.

I’m an atheist. I don’t live my life by religions texts, but by humanist beliefs that emphasize common human needs and rational, fair ways of solving our problems. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter what the Qur’an says about violence - whether it supports violence in return for insults or not - because I don't follow religious texts to live my life, and I refuse any efforts to force me to.

But it’s worth noting that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Qur’an both through direct instruction as well as per how Muhammad is said to have responded to insults. The Qur’an says the Prophet was called insane, a liar, a fraud. Through all this, according to the Qur’an, the Prophet never retaliated or called for these people to be attacked or executed. The Qur’an says to “overlook their annoying talk” and to “bear patiently what they say.” It instructs Muslims to avoid the company of those who continue their derogatory attacks against Islam. The Qur’an tells believers not to be provoked by those who seem to attack Islam, stating very clearly “let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice.”

For example:

 “When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our Signs, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.” – Qur’an 6:68

Also see Qur’an 2:256, 10:99, 18:29, 109:6, as summarized in this blog.

There’s another story about Muhammad, from Hadith rather than the Qur’an - some Muslims believe it, others don’t. But since belief in the story is widespread among Muslims, I’ll repeat it here: every day that Muhammad went to his mosque, a woman would come out of her home and throw her garbage on him. She didn't like his ideas, and this is how she expressed it. Muhammad didn’t respond. He just kept going to the mosque every day. But one day, the woman wasn’t there to throw things at him. So he entered her house to find out why, and he discovered that she was very ill. He cared for her and helped her recover. And he and the woman became friends.

Here's another blog about this legend.

My blog that you are reading is inspired not by the attacks in Paris, but the defense of the attacks. I’m reading comments that imply or outright say the murderers were “provoked.” As we say in my culture: BULLSHIT.

Like it or not, blasphemy is a human right. Insulting speech is a human right. Don't like it? Then you have two licit choices: get away from it so you do not have to hear or see it, or try to engage with those who are saying such to see why they think that way and if there is a way you can change their minds, through rational, peaceful means, to not say such things.

And before you say, "That's just not enough!", remember this: there is probably something you say or do or think that I find disgusting and/or insulting, every bit as hurtful as something you find disgusting and/or insulting. How would you feel about me trying to force you, through legal means or violent means, to not express that idea? You'd balk, of course.

Well, this is me. Balking.

One last thing: what I also find insulting is people who say, in trying to excuse the murderers and their supporters, "We can't expect everyone to embrace Western values" and "They were provoked because of how sacred they hold their religion." It's insulting to imply that respect for all human life and a belief in freedom of speech, even speech you don't like, is something unique to only European cultures and countries founded by such, that it's something not also cherished by people outside the West. It's insulting to imply that people outside of North America and Europe, or that Muslims, cannot grasp those values (if they don't already). And it's insulting because it implies that Islam is more precious than any other religion, deserving greater protection than any other religio - your silence over these anti-Semitic cartoons in newspapers in Muslim countries is deafening (meanwhile, if someone attacked any of these media outlets in the name of defending Judaism, I'd be saying all the same things now).

Also see: Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?