Friday, May 13, 2016

God hates your feelings. And your reason.

I grew up in churches where obedience to God was emphasized, but compassion and charity was not. What was most important, the preachers and Sunday school teachers said, was doing what God said, as directed through the Bible, and that had little to do with being kind to people. After all, they would tell me, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you" doesn't mean be kind - it means to be Biblical. In other words, you should want people to tell you that you are going to hell unless you repent - it's what's BEST for you!

That means that the story of the fishes and loaves wasn't about pooling our resources so that we can care for each other; it was about Jesus being divine, as shown through his performance of a miracle. The story of the good Samaritan was just a skit for Vacation Bible School - I'm not sure I ever heard it talked about from the pulpit. Every sermon I remember was about just one thing: accept Christ as your savior, and you get everlasting life. Accepting Jesus was more important than any behavior. or feeling. The churches I attended as a child held no canned food drives, built no homes for the homeless, collected no money for people without healthcare insurance. Charity was never discussed in my family home, beyond helping family members that were ill. What was oh-so-much-more important was prayer and having the capacity to witness for Jesus to neighbors and co-workers and friends.

I'm catching up on reading through a stack of New Yorker magazines, and am just now reading about how Megan Phelps-Roper turned against her church - the Westboro Baptist Church. The article notes:

Church members disdained human feelings as something that people worshipped instead of the Bible. They even had a sign: “GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS.” They disregarded people’s feelings in order to break their idols.

It was like something clicked in my head - I remember that message from my youth, though it was said in more quiet, firm tones, not screaming, and not quite so explicitly: we are sinful, and feelings are a product of that sinful nature - only obedience can save us. If we're comfortable and happy, then we're not true Christians!

I hear my Christian friends lament that the Westboro Baptist Church aren't really Christians, because members have such hateful messages and seek to make people feel awful at funerals for loved ones, but the reality is that, based on a literalist view of the English-language Bible (which is, of course, the language Jesus spoke), they have a doctrinal basis for their hate.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me;
Matthew 10:37

Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Revelation 12:11

In their view, being a Christian doesn't make you happy, doesn't give you peace, doesn't make you feel better - if those things happen, you are actually worshipping an idol - your heart - not following the Bible. Being a Christian should make you uncomfortable or happy or peaceful. If you aren't hated for being a Christian, you aren't really a Christian!

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Matthew 10:22

An unjust man is abominable to the righteous, And he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked.
Proverbs 29:27

Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at His word: "Your brothers who hate you, who exclude you for My name's sake, Have said, 'Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy.' But they will be put to shame.
Isaiah 66:5

Then will they hand you over to be persecuted and killed, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name.
Matthew 24:9

If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.
John 15:19

And you will be hated by everyone because of My name.
Luke 21:17

By your patient endurance, you will gain your souls.
Luke 21:19

And that's just some of the Biblical fuel that makes the members of the Westboro Baptist Church do what they do. Are they not doing exactly what the Bible tells them?

Indeed, it was my feelings of compassion and sympathy and wonder, and my reason, that turned me away from Christianity and all other religions. It was reading the Bible, and many of the verses I've just quoted, that made me decide to delve deeper into the origins of the Bible, to read, read, and read some more, and ultimately, all that knowledge helped me to embrace my atheism instead of trying desperately to cure it. And I've been so much happier as a result, so much more whole, so much more peaceful, so much more connected to the world and my fellow humans - which, of course, goes against what the Bible teaches. My morality comes from balancing my feelings and my reason, from believing that all people have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, because that makes sense, that benefits everyone, that makes the entire world a better place to live for everyone - including me. I don't rob or kill people, or steal, not because of the state's laws, and not because of the Bible, but because I know it will hurt people, and I don't like hurting people. By contrast, helping others feels good, sometimes in a selfish way, sometimes in a healing way for myself - I am healed through kindness to others. Admittedly, there are a few atheists that are nihilists, and therefore, rejecting God means rejecting morality, but most atheists are moral atheists, as university philosophy professor Louise M. Antony notes: "we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others." We moral atheists are therefore puzzled by Christians and other people of faith who say morality comes from God. As Antony asks, "To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgments is true unless God exists. That seems to me to be a remarkable claim. If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.? There’d be nothing wrong with torture? The pain of another human being would mean nothing?" It's no wonder that atheists are motivated more by compassion that people of faith.

It's not easy to live life without dogma. My morality and values are challenged, and I must do a lot of thinking, a lot of exploring, to come to terms with these challenges. My feelings are sometimes in conflict with my reasoning, with logic, and I can't just read some scripture and get an absolute answer - I have to research and consider what I'm learning. I often feel like a lawyer looking for past judicial rulings to make a case. If you think that sounds so much harder than following a religion, consider this from psychologist Dr. Darrel Ray: "If these teachings were simple and clear, then there would not be 38,000 different denominations and branches of Christianity all saying different things."

My morality tells me that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are engaged in abhorrent behaviors. My morality tells me that these people are despicable. But Christians, the scripture you say you believe in agrees with their actions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Contradictions lead to happiness

A 6th generation Mormon, Jeremy Runnells had expectations and plans of living in the Church of Latter Day Saints for the rest of his life. However, in February 2012, Jeremy experienced a crisis of faith. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a Mormon Church Educational System Director to share his concerns and questions about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as Letter to a CES Director, and very quickly went viral on the internet. The CES Director responded that he read the "very well written" letter and that he would provide Jeremy with a response. No response ever came.

You can download the letter from this web site (click on "download the PDF" when you get there - it's a free download).

I found this letter - and the silence from the Mormon church - so hauntingly familiar. I had very similar, specific questions when I was in my teens and was realizing I just wasn't really believing what I had been taught all of my life by Christian churches, that I'd never believed it. The number of Bible contradictions - such as the examples listed here and here - I was realizing for myself were mounting. The cruelty and violence, the misogyny against women were disturbing me in particular, and no one had answers to my many questions and observations - they just kept telling me to "accept" and that I would have answers "some day." I was made to feel bad for my many questions and statements that I felt nothing people assured me I would feel if I said things like, "Christ, I accept you as my savior. Live in my heart." I might as well have said abracadabra over and over.

When I was trying to be a Christian, deep joy was always out of reach. Happiness was oh-so-fleeting. I was afraid of my own emotions, because I was being told I shouldn't be upset no matter what horrors in life I might encounter, no matter what happened in my life or anywhere in the world, because God had a plan, and to be upset was to doubt that plan - in other words, children being raped, people being slaughtered, villages and cities being destroyed by natural disasters, people dying slowly from the most horrible diseases you can imagine, and all other suffering was a good thing, a divine thing, and I would just have to hope and trust there was a reason for it all. God Makes No Mistakes and God is Good All the Time. And I was supposed to seek out other Christians as friends, specifically, and avoid non-believers. In fact, many people said I was to seek out only certain Christians - no Catholics, no Mormons, maybe not anyone that sprinkles instead of dunks...

When I quit trying to believe, when I embraced that life-long doubt in a magical invisible all-powerful friend who allowed, or caused, misery, life very slowly started to get better. No one was allowing tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters to kill millions of people - those things happened, without any meaning behind them other than weather patterns and geological realities, and there were all sorts of things we, humans, could do to mitigate the damage. And there were all sorts of things we can do to reduce horrors visited upon humans by other humans. And God hadn't abandoned or ignored me as I prayed every day, desperately, for an end to the abuse in my family - there is no God, and I needed to find help to get out of that situation and live a very different life than I'd grown up in.

And I got to be kind to everyone, no matter their beliefs. I got to pick friends and associates based on the character they showed - the kindness, the understanding, the care - not their proclaimed religion. I get to embrace humankind, the brotherhood of man, as a species, as a family.

And I got to hope, in a way I never could before, because I knew there was no omnipotent sentient entity with some master plan causing everything in the world, helpful, glorious or harmful - instead, the world was full of endless possibilities, some of which I could control, some of which I could influence, and all of which were real.


Why I love being an atheist

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

true religions & justifications for domestic violence

I recently came across the article "Do You Feel Trapped by Your Faith? When spirituality and domestic violence cross paths " via As I've had friends who were victims of abuse by husbands and fathers and were told that it was "God's will" by their church pastors, that it was their own fault that they were subjected to abuse, I was very interested in reading this article.

At first, I had high hopes: Julie Owens, identified in the article as a domestic violence advocate and educator who specializes in educating leaders of faith communities about domestic violence, is quoted as saying "Many religions support traditional, sometimes rigid, gender roles. Survivors often hear things like ‘Pray for him,’ ‘God hates divorce,’ ‘It’s your cross to bear,’ or ‘You need to work on your communication skills.’ The focus of the faith leader is often ‘How can we get [the abuser] some help?’" It's nice to see a person of faith admit that this happens, and that this puts the person that is being abused at further risk. She also notes that many abused women have been taught that men should be viewed as superior to women, that physical abuse is a normal part of a relationship, that by improving their own behavior, the abuse will stop, that abuse is a test of their faith in God, etc. And she condemns these teachings. Great!

But then the article says, to get help, a woman that is a victim of domestic violence should first "Look to the true teachings of your religion." The implication is that these true teachings of a religion contradict the justifications for spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence.

Um.... news flash: no one agrees on what the "true teachings" of any religion are. The Church of Christ across the street from me believes that the "true teaching" of Christianity means that musical instruments aren't allowed in their church, and that people going to any other type of church aren't real Christians - it's a church that does not believe in ecumenism. Meanwhile, the Methodist Church across the street from that church plays all kinds of instruments during its services, and its minister and congregation are happy to do joint activities with other churches. Of course, neither church supports marriage equality, so just go four blocks away, to the United Church of Christ church - they have long supported marriage equality!

So... which one is keyed into the "true teachings" of Christianity? Depends on who you ask.

Digging deeper into the theology and history of Christianity, Islam or Judaism - or any other religion, for that matter - can actually lead a person to more theologically-based justifications for even harsher behavior towards women. Finding out more about the earliest believers of a religion, the earliest versions of texts, etc., can provide the basis for savage, even bizarre treatment of wives and daughters. Following the advice from the article could actually convince a woman to stay in an abusive relationship - because, like it or not, it's God's will, because the "true teachings" of your religion say so!

Here's my advice: any person or religion that tells a woman that a magical, invisible, all-powerful deity wants her to experience violence, domestic or otherwise, is shit. It's crap. Run! That is NOT anything you should listen to, ever. Don't go to that church or temple, do NOT listen to anyone going there.

If you need a theological justification for better treatment for women from a male family member, you may need to change religions. For sure, you are going to have to abandon any belief in taking sacred texts literally - there's no way to hold on to literalist beliefs and believe that domestic violence against a woman is not somehow justified. There are versions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions that do not believe there is any justification for physical abuse or subjugation of women, that believe any scripture or Hadith that says so is flawed, a reflection of human prejudice rather than anything divinely-inspired. To find such sects, you're going to have to do some deep research. I suggest you start by making a list of churches or temples or other groups that ordain women - they will be less inclined to believe men ever have a right to abuse a woman than other churches.

But you can also consider that, perhaps, it's time to dump religion. There is hope, wonder, joy and empowerment all available without religion. Secular humanism, for me, is about benevolence toward fellow humans - about kindness and equality. Learn about an ethical philosophy centered on the best of our humanity - on compassion, fraternity, human equality, human rights, philanthropy, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance, mercy, and more, without any belief in the supernatural.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Things you think are in the Bible, but aren't, & what early Christian practice was really like

I'm very fond of I know - it's a total clickbait site, and it can be quite dickish. But often, the writers really nail an insight or story in a no-nonsense, fact-based way.

Two pieces on the site are particularly awesome to me. One is called "5 Stories Everyone Assumes Are in Bible but Arent." I already knew that these five stories aren't in the Bible, but Cracked does such a good job of breaking it down simply and directly. In summary:
    #5. Sodom And Gomorrah Getting Destroyed For Homosexuality (they weren’t, at least not according to scripture)
    #4. The Seven Deadly Sins
    #3. Purgatory
    #2. The Prostitute Mary Magdalene
    #1. Satan, The Lone Enemy Of God
It's so much fun correcting a Christian I'm arguing with on these points. "Show me in the Bible where it says that." And they begin to scramble... hilarious. I do the same thing with Muslim friends that say the Koran says dogs are filthy. In fact, it doesn't say that - Sura 18 is a story about a dog that honors canines for their protection and loyalty, and recognizes them as members of the family.

Another Cracked article I like very much: "5 Secret Things You Won't Believe About Early Christianity." And it's true: most of the Christians I know refuse to believe this about early Christian practices, those that took place in the first 300 years after Jesus supposedly was on Earth. In summary:
    #5. Women Played A Huge Part In Church History (and were entirely written out)
    #4. Early Christians Spent An Unhealthy Amount Of Time Fighting About Dicks
    #3. The First Church Services Were More Like Lavish Parties
    #2. The New Testament Was Conceived By A Heretic (Marcion of Sinope) Who Thought God Was Also The Devil
    #1. Jesus Was A Shapeshifter?
They forgot one of my favorites to bring up to Christian friends: the Nicean Council's prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and during Pentecost. Standing was the normative posture for prayer at the time of the First Council of Nicea, and it still is among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Kneeling was considered most appropriate to penitential prayer, as distinct from the festive nature of Eastertide and its remembrance every Sunday. So, next time you're in church and everyone kneels, start shouting, "Heretics! Apostates!" Good times...

I blame the First Council of Nicaea in 325 BC for solidifying non-Biblical anti-women views as official Christian doctrine, leading to the horrific religion-sanctioned oppression of women that permeates most Christian sects to this day.

Would Cracked dare articles such as "5 Things You've Been Told are in the Koran, But Aren't"? or "Things About Early Islamic Practices That Would Get Them Called Heretics Today"? I wish they would.

The more you know...

Friday, January 8, 2016

the hijab is NOT about "privatizing sexuality"

I got really upset last night watching The Daily Show. Dalia Mogahed, of The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a "nonprofit think tank which produces research on American Muslims and Muslim communities around the world," said that the Hijab is about "privatizing sexuality." As in - because she wears the hijab, her body, her sexuality, are off-limits to men. And that means that, if a woman doesn't wear a hijab, hey, anything goes! And that's no doubt what the men who attacked women in Cologne during New Year's Eve celebrations this year were thinking.

That's not only an offensive idea for women, it's a sexist idea about men. It's the idea that men are somehow incapable of controlling themselves around women who aren't wearing a hijab, women who are sexualized, that because of how those women are dressed, how they are walking, how much makeup they have on, etc., men just can't control themselves and must go after that sexualized bod. Anyone who claims that has NO scientific biological basis for that claim. Men are just as capable of not acting on a feeling of sexual arousal as women. If a man is incapable of restraining himself when he is feeling sexual arousal for another person in his presence, then he needs to get into therapy, stat.

How a woman is dressed is not an invitation for sex. Not in the USA, not in Germany, not in Afghanistan, not in Saudi Arabia. It's reprehensible to think otherwise.

I have no problem with a woman wearing a hijab, or a chador, if that's what they want to do, and if she is doing it as HER choice - no family members or community forcing her to. I think hijabs can be quite beautiful. I've worn a head scarf when I've been abroad sometimes, not because I had to by any law, but because it was the societal norm, it made me feel more comfortable in that particular society, and because I was trying to convey my respect for the community where I was. I've covered my head in Eastern Orthodox churches and Catholic churches for the same reason. But I wonder: would a Muslim woman who believes that I, a non-Muslim woman, should wear a hijab in those communities for all of the reasons I've stated, herself choose not wear hijab in a community for the same reasons I've given for wearing one - because not wearing one was the society norm, because it would make her feel more comfortable in that particular society, because she wanted to convey her respect for the community where she was?

I am as disturbed by a woman being forced to wear a hijab by others as I am by a woman who really wants to wear it but is afraid to because of reaction in public. If a woman wants to wear a hijab, or even a chador, in the USA, and that's what she really wants to do, I'm absolutely fine with that. I saw a woman wearing a chador at the grocery store where I live, and knowing she was Arabic (I heard her speaking), and probably the only Arabic woman in my community at that moment, I made a point of walking over and speaking to her in my pathetic Arabic. Oh how her eyes lit up, how happy she was. I was greeted like a long lost friend - she took my hands and just kept saying, "Welcome! Welcome!" I almost cried. I want her to feel welcome in my community - I want anyone to, hijab or not.

I don't want any woman wearing any particular type of covering - or not wearing something, including a hijab - because family, friends or society forces them to. I dream of a world wear all women, anywhere, can wear anything they want.

But let's be clear: the idea that a woman who is not wearing a hijab is somehow asking for sexual advances is offensive. The idea that a woman who is wearing a mini skirt is asking for sexual advances is offensive. The idea that a woman wearing a tight shirt is asking for sexual advances is offensive. Is this is me wanting an idea of the West to be adopted by the world, then, okay, yes, that's what I'm doing.

I am NOT sexualized because I don't wear a hijab. A pox on Trevor Noah for not challenging Dalia Mogahed on that point.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An atheist's thoughts on Donald Trump

I could write a scathing critique of Islam, based on my reading of the Koran, my reading of Hadith, my studies of the history of Islam, my readings of articles and speeches by Muslims, my experiences in countries with large populations of Muslims and the activities of people that say they are Muslims - and not just extremists, like members of Daesh or Al-Queda or the Taliban. Scathing. In all sincerity.

I could write a scathing critique of Christianity, based on my own experiences in various churches and with thousands of Christians whilst growing up in the Bible Belt of the USA, my reading of different translations of the Bible, the history of how the Bible was compiled and edited and mistranslated over the centuries, my readings of articles and speeches by Christians, and the activities of people that say they are Christians - and not just extremists, like members of the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church or Jerry Falwell or Franklin Graham or Rick Warren. Scathing. In all sincerity.

I could write a scathing critique of other religions, based on similar criteria.

I'm an atheist. I see all of the ways religion creates misunderstanding, fuels fears, discourages thought, divides people, inspires people to hate and to act on that hate and to feel justified in acts of hate. It's my hope that humans eventually reject religion, all religion, in favor of universal moralities based on humanism, value of our environment, value of knowledge, and love of the arts and sports.

So please know where I am coming from when I say that Donald Trump is disgusting. His call for a ban on all Muslims coming to the USA is fascist, it's Hitleresque, it's un-American, and it must be condemned by anyone with any shred of sensibility - particularly Republicans and Christians in the USA - with no qualifications whatsoever.

what USA mass shooters have in common

Whether young and white, old and white and Christian, or young and Muslim, the men that shoot up or bomb schools, movie theaters, women's health clinics, military bases or recruiting offices or special events in the USA have a lot in common:
  • they believe they are absolutely, positively, morally righteous / justified in their actions and their violent feelings of hate
  • they are consumed with anger and hate - it dominates at least some aspects of their life (family gatherings, activities outside of work, conversations with friends, what they watch on TV, etc.)
  • they believe they must commit this act of violence, that it is essential
  • they love guns - they have experience shooting a variety of guns, and they greatly enjoy shooting guns 
That's the profile of mass shooters in the USA. Yes, there was a woman that murdered people in San Bernadino, but, so far, she's an exception - though I've long feared an armed woman walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic and opening fire.

What frightens me is that I regularly see people, the vast majority of them men, with this profile on social media in the USA. There are many thousands of men in the USA - mostly Christian, but also Muslim, Atheist, probably Jewish as well - that fit this profile. Many thousands. Many of the men that fit this profile - including mass shooters - also hate women in particular, blaming, women for the problems of the world - or, at least, the problems that they, the haters, are having (unemployment, lack of money, lack of a social life, and lack of sex).

I'm not the only one that sees these patterns.

I'm an atheist, but I never assume someone is bad, or stupid, or both, just because they are a member of a religion. And I never assume someone is good just because they are an atheist. But there is a profile I do fear.

Since this profile transcends religion, since religion seems just an excuse for men's murderous impulses, how in the world do we address this?

I don't know...