Monday, December 31, 2012

Seeking comfort with Mr. Rogers

In the last two weeks, several people posted this quote to their social media profiles. It's from TV personality and children's advocate Fred Rogers:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. quote

It's a sentiment that I have always taken comfort in when tragedy strikes. I'm sure that, as a Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers believed it was "God" that was spurning people into helping others. But I'm so glad he didn't say that in this quote, since Atheists like myself do the same after a horrific event: we look to see the people helping, or we jump in to help ourselves, and it gives us comfort. And we need comfort, just like anyone else - we're human. I tried to explain this in my last blog regarding The Atheist Response to Tragedy.

Why does seeing others providing help, and why does providing help ourselves to others, help us in a time of crisis? Because it grows, or restores, a belief in the capacity of humans to do good, to want to do good, something very much needed in the face of an inhumane act.

Every day, we do a hundred activities based on the assumed goodness of humanity: driving somewhere in a car and assuming that other people are going to drive safely, taking the bus and assuming other riders will intervene should anything dire happen, going to a doctor and assuming all staff will read charts correctly and listen as we speak, getting on a plane and assuming the pilot and flight attendants and mechanics will all be doing their jobs correctly, and on and on. Even the most diehard every man for himself person has to make these assumptions every day, over and over. The alternative is to build and stock a fortress, and never leave it, and live every day based on fear.

There is tremendous support happening right now to the many, many victims of mass shootings and natural disasters in the USA. Some areas are overwhelmed with support and offers of help. If you are looking for the opportunity to help, to feel some control over life, you might start in your own community: there are seniors that would love to know how to use cell phones or computers to connect with resources they need, games they would enjoy and people they love. There are parents of special needs kids that would love a sitter for a few hours so they could shop, go to a movie or sit in a coffee shop. There are kids that would love to go camping.

Here's how to find ways to do some good in your community - to provide comfort to others and, perhaps, to yourself:

Most Atheists don't believe in a soul - an immortal entity or essence that occupies your body and will continue after your body dies. So it would be disingenuous for me to say that helping others will restore your soul. But I can say that helping others will help you want to get out of bed every morning. It will help you build up a large storage of beautiful memories - and that can help you greatly when faced with tragedy or horrors created by humans or nature. It's worked for me - and Mr. Rogers. Maybe it can work for you too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Atheist Response to Tragedy

Oh, how I've cried. I've thought about the terror those little kids must have felt in their final moments, the trauma the surviving kids will always feel, the teachers and school administrators who must have felt desperate and shocked as gunshots cut them down, the police and firefighters who had to see those dead children and adults and work with families going through an extreme grief that seems deep and endless. And when I think of that, and see the news coverage, I have wept.

That's empathy. That's what most humans feel during a crisis like this - including Atheists and Secular Humanists. Empathy is not an exclusive trait of people who believe in an invisible, magical friend. Empathy is, to me, what creates and sustains caring people and societies. It is our empathy that guides us in decisions and actions at times like this.

Atheists / Secular Humanists have moments of despair and moments of hope, just like any other human. We seek comfort in the arms of loved ones, in holding our pets closer, in being kinder in little ways throughout the day. We seek reassurance of overall human goodness and signs of normalcy - we look at a woman coo'ing with her baby at a bus stop, a parent patiently talking to a child in a store about why he can't have THAT toy, an elderly couple holding hands, a teen ager opening a door for someone, and we see life and kindness going on, continuing - unstoppable. We see a choir singing, an out-of-shape person jogging, a neighbor wearing his cowboy riding duds because he's just been off somewhere riding a horse, and we are comforted. We remember times of profound human horror that we have studied - the Holocaust of WWII, the mass slaughter of various people in different times, slavery - and we see the amazing resilience of humans in the face of such, again and again. And we are comforted. 

We also try to offer comfort. We cook meals. We hold hands. We send cards. We say, "I love you. I care about you." We ask, "How can I help you?" We mow someone's lawn and buy groceries for a grieving family, without fanfare. We contribute to a college fund. Those things feel good to do. We have been on the receiving end of those acts in our own time of crisis, and we remember how it made us feel. We feel love for other humans, even humans we've never met, and we want to be a part of the kindness extended to them.

We wonder why the media interviews only religious leaders about how to handle this tragedy - why they ignore secular ethicists that have so much to offer in this time as well. Some of the most caring statements I've seen on Facebook and Twitter after this tragedy are by people I know are Atheists. By ignoring those that can speak about comfort and hope from a non-religious perspective, the media ignores the needs of Atheists in this tragedy - and, being humans, we need words of comfort and hope and acknowledgement just like anyone. 

Atheists are not burdened by questions of destiny, of why a supposedly omnipresent being was so NOT present to protect people from this horror, about any bigger "plan" for humanity that required this carnage, because we don't believe in such. That lack of burden is definitely a comfort in times like this. And instead of praying for the victims, we try to think of ways to prevent this from happening again - we look for things to actually *do*. We look at countries like the U.K., Germany, France, Australia, Spain and other places, where the number of homicides per capita, as well as the number of gun-related deaths, are so dramatically lower than here in the USA. We think about the psychology of the murderer, and what we can learn about that person's thought processes in order to prevent this from happening again. We wonder how to get better access to mental health services, and better awareness of mental health issues, for everyone - for the survivors, for the first responders, for parents of mentally-disturbed children, for EVERYONE. Also instead of praying, we may find solace in volunteering in our communities, to feel a stronger connection to neighbors, to feel a stronger connection to humanity, to all life on Earth, and to feel like we do have control over much of our lives. 

Atheists/secular humanists don't think poorly or unkindly of people who do find comfort in a belief in an invisible, magical friend. But many of us do cringe at people saying, "We survived because God was looking out for us," thinking about just how much that statement hurts parents who lost a child - they've just been told God wasn't looking out for their little one. We also cringe at the statement, "God called them home" or "this is part of God's plan," knowing there will be children now terrified because of those statements, fearing that same God will "call them home" soon, that his plan is for them to go through such a horrific experience. Those statements are tough for Atheists to hear, as we know just how much fear and pain they cause so many people.

We feel anger at statements like, "This happened because God/prayer was taken out of schools." This kind of misinformation creates hatred against Atheists - as well as those who are in a religious minority in a community. These statements are designed to create hate, and such are reprehensible at any time - but particularly now. It is absolutely legal for children to pray in public schools. There is no law whatsoever preventing anyone from praying in a public school. We are appalled that many religious people will use an event like this to demonize Atheists and spread this misinformation. We worry at the fallout that will come as a result, how many unkind statements Atheists and Secular Humanists and those in minority religions can expect to hear as a result in the days to come.

We're here, and we're grieving too. We are a part of the world, full members of the human family. Please don't forget about us. Please don't ignore us. Please don't demonize us. Let's all grieve and learn and help others together.

ADDENDUM: for parents seeking help in talking to children, see Parenting Beyond Belief.

Friday, December 14, 2012

You're humiliated. But you don't have to be defeated.

A man walked into a movie theatre and shot and killed a dozen people. A professional football player used a gun to murder the mother of his child. A young man walked into a mall in Oregon and fired a gun into crowds, killing two people. A man walked into an elementary school and begins shooting, killing dozens, many of them children. All this happened in the last few weeks - and one happened today.

And years ago, there was a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, and another school, in Stamps, Arkansas, and another in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and another in Springfield, Illinois, and another in Littleton, Colorado, and a university in Virginia, where young men who felt humiliated or persecuted decided to use guns to murder.

Yet, this is not a blog about gun control. It's a blog about humiliation. About being a loser. And about not using violence as a response to that.

It's an awful thing to be humiliated: to find out the person you love actually loves someone else, to be fired from your job, to be rejected by anyone, to miss an opportunity you've worked hard for and dreamed of most of your life, or to be belittled by anyone. It hurts. It burns. The pain is real. Your heart may race, your head or stomach may ache, you might feel like your body will explode, and/or you may feel like you are at a pit of darkness so deep you might never get out.

It can also hurt to hear your values belittled, your beliefs made fun of, your world view satirized, your culture mocked. It can hurt to know others are talking, smiling, even laughing, at YOU. The pain from being insulted can hurt like repeated slaps in the face or punches in the belly, no question. It can make you feel persecuted and victimized. It hurts. It burns. The pain is real.

I know what it's like to be humiliated. I've had my dignity publicly injured. I've felt like a loser - and known others have thought the same thing about me in those dark times. I've been alienated from people I liked because of the words and actions of others. I know that very, very real pain of humiliation. I've felt it many times. I bet I feel it again.

Being humiliated, insulted, offended, rejected, alienated - the pain you experience from that is real. And to feel anger, even rage, as a result of humiliation or rejection is completely natural. But to use those feelings to justify physical violence against anyone is an insult to humanity and does nothing - NOTHING - to improve your situation. To use those feelings to justify shooting up a school or a mall or a workplace or anywhere, to justify killing "infidels", to justify murder - it's reprehensible and far worse than any humiliation you have felt.

I've never been fond of the saying, No one can humiliate you without your consent. I think it denies the very real pain caused by very real words and actions, and creates an expectation that we all have to be Buddha or Jesus Christ or some other super hero. You are human and, therefore, you are going to feel humiliation and anger. That's natural. You are not a super hero.

A better saying, IMO, is that No one can defeat you without your consent. I have been humiliated, insulted, dishonored - but I have never been defeated.

A story that changed my life regarding humiliation was a parable about Gautama Buddha, the man that most in the West simply refer to as Buddha. The story: a man was constantly insulting and mocking Gautama Buddha, who, at last, said to him, "If you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, if that person refuses the gift, to whom does the gift belong?" The man answered, "It would belong to me, because I bought the gift, I am the original owner." Gautama Buddha smiled and said, "That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your insults. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the insults fall back on you. All you have done is hurt yourself."

I love that story. What I love about it is the power transfer - Gautama Buddha says that the person that refuses the "gift" of an insult becomes more powerful, better, than the person offering the insult. You insult me - and I win!

If you are a Christian, then consider what Jesus said, as quoted in Matthew 5:38 - 40: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well."

I never really understood that story, not really, until I heard the Buddhist story. I thought it was a blessed are the meek example, but in fact, I think it's another there is power in refusing an insult story. That makes me like it much better.

Another story I like about how to handle insults is regarding Stoics, from this blog:
    The Stoics actually welcomed insults, for two reasons.

    The first is best summed up by these words from Antisthenes (who was technically a Cynic and not a Stoic, but I digress)…

    “Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

    The idea here is that insults can act as signposts. If there’s a grain of truth to them, then they help point us in the direction of our faults and insecurities, and we can get busy working on those and improving ourselves.

    The second reason Stoics welcomed insults was because they believed they helped build a kind of immunity against criticism. A man who has been criticized regularly in the past is likely to shrug off future insults as no big deal, while a man who has never been insulted before will surely be left reeling when someone first likens him to donkey appendage.

And then there is the dignity and honor I've seen in so many people that have survived rape and torture. People who have been through unspeakable horrors, far worse than merely being insulted, and have no sign of defeat in their eyes - if they can do it, can't I? Can't you?

None of this is to say that you should have no response at all to insults. When someone uses language that I find demeaning, I will say to them something along the lines of, "That is demeaning. That is hateful. That is wrong." I'll never become unoffendable. But I hope that I always remember that I can choose my reaction to what is happening to me - and that choice can be what's best for me and have nothing to do with violence whatsoever. I work to channel my rage in such a way that I don't make the situation worse. I try to think, "What's best for me, now and in the future, regarding how I respond to this?" That reaction may words. That reaction may be to remove that person from my life. That reaction may be start a petition or otherwise bring a spotlight to what has happened. That reaction may be to go far away, on a journey where I can get perspective regarding what has happened. Whatever the reaction will be, it will be what's best for me - and, therefore, will never be about violence.

What about revenge? For me, the most important thing is that I recover, that I work to find my strength and dignity again, something that is ALWAYS possible - not that I hurt the person as much as he or she has hurt me. If I feel the need for revenge - and, yes, sometimes, I do - then my recovery and later success is revenge enough. For me to know that I have been triumphant over assaults on my dignity is my revenge - it is enough for me. I also believe being an asshole brings more assholes into your life - when Miss Celie says at near the end of the movie The Color Purple, "Everything you done to me already been done to you," I get that. I believe it about all the assholes of the world.

When you lose, when you are rejected, when you are humiliated, you will lose some friends - perhaps many. That's okay - ultimately, it is a gift to be rid of those people, because you don't want people like that in your life. The good news is that those that remain will be real friends. And if no one remains, then you get to use your new-found people assessment skills to make new, better friends who would never abandon you because you have been rejected in a job or a lover or American Idol.

If you want to hurt others, to shoot, to kill, it's time to get professional help. If you feel despondent, that there is no hope for your situation, that things will never get better, it's time to get professional help. There are people that are ready to talk to you, to hear your story, and to get you the help you need. Go to Google and type in the name of your city (if it's relatively large) or the name of your county or the name of your state, and the word crisis hotline. Do it again with the words crisis counseling. Most of what you will find will be suicide hotlines. If that's all you can find, even if you aren't feeling suicidal, call such. Say anything that provides information on the seriousness of your situation. An example,

"I am feeling a huge amount of rage. I want to hurt someone. Help me."


"I am so upset I'm shaking all over. I can't stand this feeling. I'm desperate. I need help, right away."

You may need ongoing counseling. You may need medication. Any of those activities are better than violence.

There is no honor in violence in response to feeling insulted or persecuted - none at all. It might make you feel better for a few seconds, but it will provide you no peace nor satisfaction long term. And to kill yourself afterwards just makes you a coward, worthy of all the insults that will be hurled your way in death.

If it takes selling all your worldly possessions and taking off with a backpack and tent, or a car and small trailer, and coloring your hair and changing your name and rejecting every person you've ever known up to this point in your life in order for you to completely distance yourself from the humiliation, in order for you to be a new person, a different person - do it. The stars won't judge you. The trees won't judge you. Lakes and rivers and streams won't judge you.

No one can defeat you without your consent. Don't be defeated. Go live, flourish, and pursue joy. That is always the wonderfully selfish and better choice than violence.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A quote from Dan Savage

I simply don't know how any reasonable person can look at all world religions, living and dead, and come to the conclusion that one particular tribe or prophet or science-fiction writer got it right and every other tribe, prophet, and science-fiction writer got it wrong.

Dan Savage, in his Nov. 7, 2012 Savage Love column.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quit trying to convert me!

What people say to try to convert me to their religion. My answer.
If you would read the Bible/Koran/whatever, you would see the light and come to God. I've read the Bible - twice from cover-to-cover, and different parts and chapters over many years, from the time I could read until - well, now. I've also read the Koran, as well as various Haddith. I've even read some of the Book of Mormon. And... I'm still an Atheist. In fact, the more I've read the Bible or the Koran, the more obvious it is to me that religion is all superstition and, quite often, bigotry and hatred. No thank you!
If you would pray and open your heart to Jesus/God, you would see the light and come to God. I prayed every day, probably twice a day, up until I was about 13. I felt nothing, my situation was never altered, but I kept doing it, because that's what everyone kept saying to do, and I was desperate for things to improve in my life. I would stand there in various church services and silently say, "Okay, Jesus! I'm ready! Come on down! I'm ready!" And nothing would happen. NOTHING. After I became a teen, I would pray just every now and again, hoping that maybe it would finally work and I'd feel the Magic Warm Feeling everyone said I would. Nothing happened. Once I stopped praying and, instead, started thinking strategically about how to address this or that problem, stopped looking for God and started looking and creating solutions, life became a LOT more manageable - even JOYFUL, something it never had been before.
Christianity / Islam / Whatever is the one, true religion. That's what you all say! Do you realize you all use exactly the same rhetoric to tout your religion's legitimacy? Everything I've heard about current religions could be said of cults of Zeus!
I just KNOW that Christianity / Islam / Whatever is the right religion, and I just KNOW that God exists - I can just feel it! Well, goody for you. Gut feelings are fascinating - and often wrong. I never had a gut feeling that God existed, FYI, so that made it a lot easier to stop the pursuit of a magical, invisible friend.
It's been God that's gotten me through the worst times of my life. He could do that for you, too, if you would just believe. Really - he got you through knee surgery or that divorce or the death of your loved one, but to that 10 year old girl getting raped in Congo and begging for his help, he says, "Too bad!"? Give me a frakin' break.
Without God, you will have no moral compass. Without God, I've still got values, ethics, a strong, passionate sense of what's right and wrong.
Without God, you will never know real joy or passion. That statement, or something like it, is one that people like John Shore and Oprah Winfrey repeat again and again. The REALITY is that I've known FAR more joy once I accepted my Atheism than I did when I tried to be a Christian. The joy I've been able to access, joy that I never felt when I was trying to be a believer, cannot be denied, even by you.
What will you do when Jesus comes back to Earth and Final Judgement happens? (FYI, both Christians and Muslims believe in this) That's like asking me what I will do when the aliens land their space ship on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Or what I will do when the zombies rise and attack. It's NOT going to happen! How can I have an answer to a situation that isn't going to happen?
You know I'm right. You just won't accept it. Sigh... the arrogance of this statement drives me more crazy than any of the others. There's no way to answer that kind of blind self-righteousness.
Who created the Universe? It had to start - it had to be created. There's only one possible answer: God! Who created God? He had to start - he had to be created. There's only one possible answer: Man!
God has to exist - how will we answer the question "Why are we here" without God? When you have an answer about why he kills millions of people, and permanently injures and tortures millions more, in endless numbers of natural disasters - and allows men to kill and torture millions more - let me know.
You need to quit questioning. Just accept. Bite me.

My responses sometimes get the statements to me to stop, sometimes not. I hope that they help some of my fellow Atheists out there respond to the ongoing efforts to convert them to whatever religion is being promoted. 

These efforts to convert you can be exhausting and insulting. They can leave you feeling attacked and drained. So when you need to recover from this nonsense thrown at you, I recommend 10 minutes at least on the I Fucking Love Science Facebook page. And wine. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yet another Christian leader ignorant about Atheists

Did you hear the one about the Anglican minister who said atheists have no reason for grief? I didn't, until Greta Christina blogged about comments by Rev. Gavin Dunbar, who argued that, unless you believe in God, you have no reason to care whether the people you love live or die, or even to love people at all.

Thank you, Greta, for saying what needed to be said - but I wonder if Gavin Dunbar even bothered to read your excellent comments. He obviously needs a LOT of education. He has no idea who Atheists are, our very real values and feelings. Is he ignorant - or willfully insulting?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

North Carolina votes for... what?

Yesterday, North Carolina voted to ban not only gay marriage, but all legal civil unions, including those of straight couples.

This does not strengthen marriage in North Carolina. No straight, religious, married couple in North Carolina is now going to be married longer, and have a more fulfilling, happy marriage, because of this vote. That's absolutely irrefutable.

Here's what this amendment does do:
  • If a gay person is admitted to a hospital and the hospital decides only family can visit that person, his or her same-sex partner cannot visit. It doesn't matter if that couple (yes, they can still be called a couple) has spent thousands of dollars and oh-so-many hours to have legal paperwork that says they will have this right if such a scenario presents itself. That paperwork is null and void in North Carolina.
  • If a gay person dies, the parents, siblings or children of that person - who that person may not have talked to in years - will have all rights regarding the funeral and burial. Regardless of any relationship that person may have with someone of the same sex, even a 20-year-old partnership, that partner can legally be excluded, entirely, from the planning - even from attending. It doesn't matter if that couple has spent thousands of dollars and oh-so-many hours to have legal paperwork that says they will have this right if such a scenario presents itself. That paperwork is null and void in North Carolina.
  • If a gay person gets a job that gives health insurance coverage to a spouse, his or her same-sex partner cannot get that coverage, under any circumstances. 

How does any of that make straight marriage stronger? It doesn't! In fact, straight Christians will continue to sometimes (often?) have relationship and sexual problems, will continue to sometimes (often?) have adulterous affairs, and often get divorced. This amendment does NADA to address those things.

By contrast, without this amendment - if you, North Carolina, allowed gay marriage - here's what would never, ever change:
  • If your church does not recognized gay marriage, it would still not recognize gay marriage. Just as a Baptist church is under no obligation to allow Muslim weddings, just as a Catholic church could refuse to marry to non-Catholics, your church would get to continue to refuse to recognize gay marriage. You can refuse to perform such ceremonies, you can ask such people to leave your grounds. That doesn't change no matter how marriage is defined.
  • You get to continue to be disgusted by gay marriage, just as I'm disgusted by child marriage, a marriage where there is more than a 30 year age difference between the partners, or religious marriages that require women to stay in abusive relationships. You get to continue to speak out about how you think it's awful, stand up and leave the room in a huff when someone says they support it, ignore people engaged in it, etc.
  • You get to continue to refuse to attend any wedding among any two people you don't think should get married, gay or straight.
  • Straight people like Kim Kardashian and Brittney Spears will get married for just a few hours/days.
  • Gay people would continue to live together, love each other, even hold hands in public.  
So what good did this amendment do you, straight married religious couples of North Carolina?

None. Zilch. Nada.

Consider this, voters of North Carolina: most of you are Christians. But you aren't the same kinds of Christians. In fact, some of you would say that some others of you are NOT Christians. I've heard Church of Christ people say no one else is Christian but them, I've heard Catholics say no one else is a Christian but them, I've heard Baptists say that neither Catholics nor Mormons are Christians, and on and on and on. You people loooove to debate who is and isn't a Christian. You would have gotten to do the same thing regarding gay people had you NOT passed this amendment: you would have gotten to continue to say, "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman and, therefore, those guys over there aren't really married." You would get to continue to believe that, with all your heart. But if you are an intensive care unit nurse, you would have had to keep that belief to yourself when a man came to your unit to see his husband - would that REALLY have been so hard? Are you going to feel better telling that man, "No! You cannot see him! Ha ha!" Is that really what Jesus would do?

Why should your religion - which I do not believe in, by the way - get to determine which loving, adult, consenting couples get to get married? You say marriage is something that is sanctified by God and was created for the purpose of having children - yet here I am, an Atheist who is not having babies, and I was allowed to marry. Are you going to try to take away my marriage now?

This was a vote that was driven entirely - ENTIRELY - by religious people, particularly and especially Christians. And it represents so much of why we Atheists find you just as reprehensible as you find The Gays.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Journey - becoming an Atheist

The journey from religious dogma to Atheism / Secular Humanism isn't one that goes from a place of comfort and certainty to despondency and hopelessness, as those that believe in a magical, invisible friend (or several such friends, for that matter) will tell you.

Rather, it is often a journey from a place of great discomfort and disquiet, a place of fear and and required prejudice, to a place of wonder, joy, acceptance, appreciation and exploration. This article in the New York Times maps such a journey.
    ...he rounded up favorite quotations from Emerson, Thoreau, Confucius, Siddhartha, Gandhi, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther King and more. From the New Testament, too. He put each on a strip of paper, then filled a salad bowl with the strips. At dinner he asks his kids to fish one out so they can discuss it.

    He takes his kids outside to gaze at stars, which speak to the wonder of creation and the humility he wants them to feel about their place in it.

    He’s big on humility, asking, who are we to go to the barricades for human embryos and then treat animals and their habitats with such contempt? Or to make such unforgiving judgments about people who err, including women who get pregnant without meaning to, unequipped for the awesome responsibility of a child?


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is your religion strong enough for science?

I subscribe to Carl Sagan Quoted on Twitter. Every day or so, a quote from Carl Sagan gets sent out. Here was one recently that I really loved:
“Any faith that admires truth, that strives to know God, must be brave enough to accommodate the universe.”
This quote really struck me, because it's something I've been thinking about a lot:
Fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalists Muslims, and fundamentalist anything, must say in their minds, "Oh, I trust this medicine that has been developed using the science of biology, and I will get on this plane and fly because of the work of people that applied the science of aeronautics, but I reject evolutionary biology, plate tectonics, and the laws of physics beyond the sphere of the Earth."
While I did, indeed, grow up in the Bible Belt, I was never discouraged from ignoring or rejecting science. It's one of the reasons I continued to attend church for so long despite not having the faith I was supposed to have - I didn't feel a God, but nothing was said against science in most of the churches I attended, and the pot lucks were so delicious - religion continued to accommodate the reality I experienced and everything I learned in school, and since I had no idea there was a viable alternative to attending church, I kept going. Maybe if it hadn't I would have embraced my Atheism much sooner.
I'm not worried about any religion or faith that embraces science. But the ones who don't absolutely terrify me - and defy all logic.

Basketball is my religion

Want to make a Kentucky Atheist angry? Show up at my door to proselytize during March Madness. WWJD? Not do that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Remembering Butterfly McQueen

Not many people know that Atheists / Secular Humanists played essential roles in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This article in USA Today reviews efforts to recognize the contributions of these Atheist civil rights workers, as well as efforts to focus attention on black Atheists in the USA over the years. Many recent efforts have been in conjunction with Black History Month (February), but efforts are ongoing. For instance, Norm R. Allen Jr. of the Institute for Science and Human Values, a humanist organization based in Tampa, Fla. has promoted recognition for African-American nonbelievers since he founded the group African Americans for Humanism in 1989.

But there's a name I'm not seeing in all these efforts, and it needs to be there. And that name is Butterfly McQueen.

Butterfly McQueen was "Prissy" in Gone With the Wind. That's all most people know about her, and goodness knows we've all imitated her famous line, "I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no

But there's soooo much more you should know about her.

I got an inkling that there was a lot more to this person than I had imagined when a friend of mine back in my home town, obsessed with Gone with the Wind, found addresses for various people who were in the movie and still alive, including for Butterfly McQueen. She wrote all
of them. Butterfly McQueen wrote back a terrific, full-page, hand-written letter that was so full of enthusiasm and charm and a geniune warmth and kindness. My friend had it framed. We gawked over it on more than one occasion.

I cobbled together information about her from various Internet searches a few years back, and I was shocked at what I discovered the more I read about her:

After playing maids in the movies, on TV and the stage over many years, McQueen took a break from acting and worked a succession of jobs, including as a taxi dispatcher, a saleslady at Macy's, and a seamstress at Sak's. She told The Guardian during a visit to Great Britain in 1989: "Any honest job I have taken." She returned to acting occasionally; I remember her from an "ABC Weekend Special", a really charming story called The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody that I adored. She also had a tiny role in Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford.

But she was also a continual student, taking classes at five universities and even reading Gone with the Wind in Spanish. In 1975, at the age of 64, she received a bachelor's degree in political science from New York City College.

And in 1989, she received the first ever "Freethought Heroine" award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation at its national convention in Atlanta, coincidentally held during the 50th anniversary of Gone With the Wind. McQueen had been a member of the Foundation since 1981. After brief remarks and a poetry recitation before that audience at the convention, she sang Paper Moon, accompanied by piano. I now can't hear that song without thinking of her and imaging her child-like voice singing that song. If I had a time machine, it would be one of the moments I would like to go back and witness for myself.

She told Gayle White, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Oct. 8, 1989): "As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion."

McQueen was raised a Christian, but questioned the value of organized religion even as a child - something I can most definitely identify with. She related one eye-opening experience with clergy as a youngster, when she was riding a train to New York and offered to share her lunch with two young preachers. Instead of taking "one sandwich and one piece of cake, they took the whole thing."

She also said Christianity and studying the bible has "sapped our minds so we don't know anything else."

She said she tithed not to religion but to friends and neighbors. This included "adopting" a public elementary school in her beloved neighborhood of Harlem, where she patrolled the playground, picked up litter and looked after the children. "They say the streets are going to be beautiful in heaven. I'm trying to make the streets beautiful here. At least, in Georgia and in New York, I live on beautiful streets."

"If we had put the energy on earth and on people that we put on mythology and on Jesus Christ, we wouldn't have any hunger or homelessness."

Sadly, she died of injuries suffered in a kerosene-heater accident at her Augusta, Georgia home on Dec. 22, 1995. And it surprised many people when it was revealed that she remembered the Freedom From Religion Foundation in her will.

Her life is fascinating, full of dignity, grace, compassion, a love of learning and a passion for critical thinking. If Black Atheists are going to be recognized, then let's make sure Butterfly McQueen is there as well.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why won’t the U.S. accept its atheists?

In God We Must
Why won’t the U.S. accept its atheists?

A terrific blog by
Posted Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012

In the history of Congress... there has only been one avowed atheist, Pete Stark, who has represented ultra-liberal Oakland in California since 1973 but only acknowledged he did not believe in a supreme being in 2007. Even he is a member of the non-doctrinal Unitarian Church, prefers to refer to himself as “non-theist” rather than atheist... This compares with at least six openly homosexual representatives.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

the arrogance of religion

I spent a week in Kentucky, caring for my 90ish grandmother. She's a lovely lady, wife of a Baptist preacher (my grandfather, now deceased). I helped her organize a couple of Vacation Bible Schools back when I was a teen - more than 30 years ago.

For my grandmother, being a believer is joyous. Religion is a celebration. It isn't something to bring a person down, to humiliate a person, to assert one's superiority over others. Had it not been for my grandmother, I probably would have embraced my Atheism much earlier. Even amid all that joy, that singing, that fun, I wasn't a Christian. But I kept my mouth shut, because I loved being around my grandmother, and I kept hoping I'd eventually feel that thing everyone else at church was saying they felt, that thing that makes you believe.

She doesn't know I'm a non-believer, and as that would break her heart, and she is in her 90s, that's how we're going to keep it. I'm not ashamed of my lack of belief, but I wouldn't hurt that woman for anything - let her last few years be without worrying about my immortal soul.

While I've been in Kentucky, my grandmother's sister-in-law died, and we went to the funeral.

And it was the worst funeral I've been in my life.

If I had been on the fence about Christianity, this would have pushed me right onto the other side of the fence, hitting the ground and running away as quickly as possible.

Three different preachers - including the woman's 17-year-old son - talked about just one thing: if you believe Jesus was the son of god, you go to Heaven, and you absolutely, positively cannot be happy without Jesus. One of the three asserted that all of the times he did something dangerous as a young person but didn't get hurt or die was because god intervened. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. So when all those other people die during a risky activity, is the magical invisible friend sitting on his hands?

The kid even said that all Atheists "know, deep down, there is a heaven." What is up with that, with that Christian assertion that Atheists don't really believe there is no god? I can assure you believers out there: I do NOT believe in any god. None. Zilcho. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't believe a heaven nor a hell. Really. Truly. If you want to believe in secret invisible friends and magical places, fine, but could you at least accept the fact that millions of other people do not?

It was an hour-long speech of arrogance, filled with interpretations of the Bible that can never be reconciled with scholarly and history-based studies of the earliest texts on which the scriptures are based - geesh, if you are going to take the Bible literally, at least use a more correct translation in English than the King James Version! And to top it off, they spent probably 15 seconds of the entire time actually talking about my grandmother's sister-in-law - I know NOTHING about her at all. Two of the three didn't even know the correct pronunciation of her name! One preacher told endless anecdotes regarding Christian conversions that he must use in his church regularly - he cried at the appropriate moments, as though he were on TV and would soon be saying, "So send in your donations so we can keep up our work..." The service was all about these two men posturing regarding their religion - not about this woman that had just died.

I have no doubt these men avoid all talk of science and facts and the history of Christianity, or that the 17-year-old will father children someday (as this is Kentucky, that will be soon) and he will pass on his arrogance to them, and work to keep them ignorant of any fact that would contradict his warped view of life and morality. I'm sure all three are delighted that the Governor of Kentucky gave a $43 million tax break to an anti-science, pro-"Creationist" museum while cutting education funds drastically. It disgusted me. And it made me ashamed to be from this state.

After the funeral, as I sat eating Chinese food with my grandmother, I thought about that awful sermon. And I took comfort, once again, as I do so often when I visit this state, that I am not a Christian. I remembered the incredible relief I felt in my 20s when I accepted my long-held doubt instead of being ashamed of it. I had never believed in the magical invisible friend, and in accepting that truth that I had always known, the sky didn't fall, the rivers didn't boil, I wasn't struck down by lightening (although it could still happen - I do go outdoors a lot), and that I still felt joy. A LOT of joy. I still felt inspiration. I still felt like singing and dancing. I still felt a sense of awe at the world. I experienced all the things men like those at that funeral said I could feel only if I were a Christian.

We got home and sang some hymns my grandmother loves. They were very joyful, full of love and comfort. She never referred to the funeral service. Neither did I.

Friday, January 6, 2012