Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cowards and Christmas music

Today, on my Facebook feed, a friend wrote:

I'm so happy to see all of your children's holiday performance photos...but sad that I'm in <<NAME DELETED>> County Schools and we can't do such a thing as we might offend someone... Since no program is done, the atheist children are well covered.

Her friends jumped in, deriding us horrible ole' Atheists for taking away all celebrations of the holidays in schools.

Let's be clear: if this public school system in Tennessee really doesn't have any holiday music performances, it's because the decision-makers in that school system are lazy, cowardly and misinformed. It's NOT because of Atheists, nor because of the other groups, like Catholics, Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, who also sue public school systems that use school activities to promote a particular religion.

Any public school in the USA can have a program of music, dance and/or skits in December that includes Christian music - it just shouldn't be ONLY Christian music. As the Freedom From Religion Foundation notes, "Nine Christmas songs and one 'Dreidel Song' does not a balanced concert make."

As noted by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development): Religious “neutrality” does not mean hostility to religion nor ignoring religion. "Neutrality means protecting the religious liberty rights of all students while simultaneously rejecting school endorsement or promotion of religion."

It's this simple: a public school concert should not be a constant advertisement for a religion. A school concert that features well known relgiously-themed Christmas carols as well secular songs such as "Deck the Halls," "Walking in a Winter Wonderland," and "White Christmas" (and, even better "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer") is going to meet the standard of celebrating various aspects of the season without endorsing any one religion. Even a winter concert of nothing but devotional music by Brahms, Hayden, Verdi and other classical music legends and no secular choices at all would probably not be challenged as promoting one religion but, rather, be seen as educating and celebrating historical European classical music, and as a way for the student performers to improve their classical music skills.

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to sing along to "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," followed by Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas from the Family". That's how I roll at Yule Time. And if you want to come sing Christmas Carols at my house, bring it - I've got some chocolate for ya. Just don't expect me to convert.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are all volunteer firefighters religious? Of course not.

In this blog Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language, the blogger explores the issue of religious volunteers in a group that doesn't officially identify with a religion making other volunteers feel unwelcomed. The example used is a Facebook group that is supposedly for all volunteer firefighters. In response to the religious message, which is meant to inspire, the blogger asks:

"Can you imagine if the administrators posted a message that assumed all volunteer firefighters are atheists and, if they aren’t, they should be? If a message was posted saying that the best way to handle challenging situations in life was to NOT believe in a god? Can you understand how that kind of message would be completely inappropriate for a group for all volunteer firefighters, not just religious ones?"

And speaking of volunteering, here is a list of Group Volunteering Suggestions for Atheist and Secular Volunteers - places where you will be welcomed with your time and expertise to help others!

Monday, November 25, 2013


Thankful, as an adjective, means to be pleased and relieved. To me, being thankful is demonstrating appreciation for good things. It's something humans have done for a few millennia, building an endless number of rituals around such.

I don't need a deity to feel grateful to - to be thankful, to have gratitude, needs no belief in an invisible super friend.

As I noted earlier this year, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, including how the traits of altruism, compassion, empathy, and mindfulness transcend religions and contribute to happiness. The importance of gratitude is one focus of their study. Scientists are finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
A few years ago, I decided to start sending thank you notes. I send them via formal stationary or via a simple postcard. Some people have gushed to me how they have made them feel - others have never mentioned them. But I do them, regardless of any comment I may or may not get, because I want that moment recorded and acknowledged, for myself and the other person. I want to demonstrate, clearly, that I valued that thing or moment. And it really, really makes me feel good.

Also a few years ago, I made a commitment to write at least two good reviews for every bad one I write on Yelp. I've actually far exceeded that margin. One place I wrote a bad review for saw all my good reviews and worked to correct the problem because they could see I wasn't just a curmudgeon.

And then there's my victory dance: for getting a discount airline ticket, or a refund of some kind, or for making a flight I was convinced I was going to miss... if I'm going to stomp about and lament a missed flight or poor customer service, I'm going to get happy for when things go right - much to my husband's embarrassment at times (dancing in public does that).

Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday1 to me. I like the focus on people being together, rather than on gifts. It transcends any religion. I've experienced the day far from my family, hundreds, even thousands of miles away, and that feeling of welcome, of kindness and of celebration for being together is something I always cherish.

So, for what am I thankful? For 2013, I'm grateful for:
  • the patience, love and support from my husband
  • the continuing health and vibrant nature of my 17 year-old puppy
  • the time I got to spend with my sister and nieces this year
  • the kindness of the community in which I live
  • my financial stability
  • the paid work I got in 2013
  • the stamps in my passport, even the latest one for a trip that was a disaster
  • all national parks in the USA
  • my motorcycle
  • the Affordable Care Act (but not the web site!)
  • the natural beauty all around me
  • the choice to buy a house seeming to be the right one
  • Benedict Cumberbatch 
  • a release date for Sherlock in the USA
  • Nathan Fillion on Twitter
Savoring life is good for you - science says so! If you don't feel gratitude, but want to, then go through the motions of gratitude - write thank you notes (even on sticky notes), send an email thanking someone for something, write a positive Yelp review for a restaurant, a hair salon, a car mechanic, a lawn service, a store, or other business you have patronized. Going through the motions can cultivate the emotion of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

1: The word holiday probably comes from the Old English word hāligdæg, which means holy day. Here, I'm using it to mean day of celebration and recreation and no work.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I don't like your church, but I might like your church goers

The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, recently published a blog about Stephen Colbert being one of the headliners at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner this year, in honor of the former New York governor and Roman Catholic luminary. In it, he noted:

Colbert, as a devout Catholic, may be one of the only people who can rip on the Church’s foibles as its leaders look on with joy. That’s a power I hope he takes full advantage of while he can. 

If you watch the Colbert Report, you know that Colbert has been incredibly hard on the Roman Catholic Church via his show, taking very sharp, unflinching jabs at it regarding its treatment of women, its wealth and its coverup of pedophilia, to the point that you can tell he's made his audience uncomfortable (gasps rather than laughter).

Yet, the reaction from Mehta's readers was hostile, with endless criticisms and incredulity about Colbert being Catholic.

The vast majority of the actions and policies of the Roman Catholic Church absolutely disgust me. Since I wasn't raised Catholic, its rituals are rather meaningless to me, and so I have no nostalgia for them. Its wealth is vomit-inducing - while I can appreciate the architecture of various Roman Catholic Churches around the world, I can't ignore the gold and silver, the sculptures, the multi-million dollar ornamentation. And I also seethe at how often the Roman Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to criminal, even deadly behavior, from crimes against humanity during Western Europe's colonization of the world, to the Holocaust, to the the workhouses (slavery) of Ireland, to the Rwandan genocide and on and on and on and on.

But I also don't judge individual Catholics any more than I judge someone from a country with a government that commits atrocities. I have been thankful that so many people around the world have been kind to me, a USA citizen, despite what the USA military or government has done to their country. I love my country, but I'll be the first to give you a long list of things about it that disgust me.

Like most of my Roman Catholic friends, I bet that Colbert sees the failures in the Roman Catholic Church as failures of humans, rather than his God. I also bet that he's benefitted hugely from his membership in terms of emotional support in times of crisis - his father and brothers were killed in a plane accident, and if you've ever lost a close family member and been a part of a religiously-inclined community, you know how amazing that very sincere support and love can be - I speak from experience, as an Atheist that was overwhelmed with the support of my Bible Belt community when my father died. I think he's stayed in the Roman Catholic Church, despite the horrors that he readily acknowledges and continually criticizes on his show, because of the support he and his family has received in their (his family's) worst time, because he credits that church with his sense of social justice and compassion, and because of the faction within it that works so passionately for social justice and engages in activities like setting up homeless shelter, helps illegal immigrants, etc., as well as the faction that is against Rome's policies regarding women and birth control - I think he wants to be one of those people that wants to be a part of the compassion it can promote but also work to change it (much like Jimmy Carter stayed an active Baptist for so long, trying to offer an alternative to what his church's convention was saying).

Maybe it's a little like why I have stayed a citizen of the USA, and stayed active in government, voting, working for candidates and joining local government citizens' committees: while I'm disgusted oh-so-often by the actions my government takes, I don't want to leave it to the people who want to take away women's rights, discourage minorities from voting, start wars, etc. I want it to be something that helps everyone. And it won't be that if everyone that's disgusted with it refuses to be a part of it to help change it.

No, I don't like the Roman Catholic Church. At all. But just as people abroad haven't said horrible things about me for remaining a citizen of the USA, despite drone strikes and invasions of other countries and people imprisoned for years without trial, I'm going to cut you some slack for remaining in whatever community of faith you're a part of. It's your words and actions that are going to win me or lose me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fellowship & caring communities

I live across from a Methodist Church. The parsonage is right across the street from my house. My husband and I have hosted the minister and his family for a cookout and we've run back and forth between the houses when one of us has run out of sugar, or when we've made a particularly impressive batch of cookies, or there's just too many tomatoes from the garden.

They know we're Atheists. I'm sure that bothers them on some level - both the husband and wife are ordained, and as such, they must consider it their business to be bothered by such a thing. But they never make it an issue, and I appreciate that. And they drink beer, in contrast to the Baptist ministers I grew up with, and don't think Harry Potter books are Satantic, and aren't trying to get science out of schools, so how can I not dig them?

There are two people in our neighborhood with mental disabilities that go to the Methodist church together. I speak with them a few times a week. One lives in a group home, and I'm pretty sure it's a very good one and that he is well taken care of. The other lives in a house that has been converted into apartments, and it's a slum - the porch is about to fall in, the porch is covered in discarded toys and furniture, and I don't even want to think about conditions inside. She should probably be in that group home as well, but that would mean giving up her two dogs, and she would never do that.

I worry about them, but realized the other day that I don't worry too much, because I just assume that the community at the church will take care of them if anything bad happened. I know that church will bring them food if either were homebound, they would collect money if either of them needed help paying a doctor's bill, and if they didn't show up at church for a Sunday or two - maybe even just one - someone is going to call on them and make sure they're okay.

I don't miss religion. I don't miss trying to be religious. I don't miss the misinformation or denial of science. But there is one thing I miss: the intentional caring community.

I know not all communities of faith are loving: I know that there are churches that have turned their back on people in need: someone divorcing, someone with HIV/AIDS, someone who has married a person of a different ethnicity, and on and on. I know there are churches that are more about raising money for the preacher and his family than caring for each other in the congregation.

That said, I do admire communities of faith where congregation members really do take care of each other. And I also worry about people that don't have caring neighbors or caring co-workers, or aren't a part of social networks that have a lot of caring people in such that will pass the hat for a member, colleague or neighbor in need. I know a lot of people that no longer believe in God but still go to church because they love the social and caring aspects of their church... and the potlucks... and they don't want to give that up.

I walk my dog every day, twice a day. If I see a garage sale in my neighborhood, I go - not because I need anything, but just to have an excuse to interact with a neighbor. When someone new moves in to our neighborhood, I bring that person a bottle of high-end olive oil, my business card and welcome note. I say hello to absolutely everyone I pass while I'm walking in the neighborhood. I don't like all of my neighbors - a couple I find particularly annoying, per late night noise and bumper sticker messages that frighten me. But I know almost every neighbor in a two block area by sight, and many by name. That's why I do all of those things - I want to know them, and I want them to know me.

Why? Because I want to know if that guy walking out of a house nearby and putting things in a car belongs to that house. Because if I haven't seen a neighbor in a long while, I'm going to ask if others have seen him or her, and I might even knock on the door. Because if someone is bedridden, I'm going to take them a meal.

And because I hope they will do the same for me. I admit it - I want to know I have a community that has my back. I also do it because it contributes to making my neighborhood an even nicer place to live -  I tend to introduce neighbors who have lived just two doors down from each other but don't know each other's names. If I'm having a problem with a neighbor - say, loud music - it makes them much less defensive than when I walk over and ask for it to be turned down.

I also volunteer for a couple of area nonprofits. I do it because of how it makes me feel. And, I admit it: I do it because I want more members of my community. And because I'm hoping for more potlucks in my life.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg of New York University says vibrant, tight-knit neighborhoods could fare better in a disaster, according to studies:

We always talk about the physical engineering that we need to protect cities, and systems and people during crises. We have failed to recognize the significance of our social infrastructure, the way in which communications matters, the way in which our relationships with neighbors, and family and friends matters; the way in which our neighborhood can protect or imperil us, depending on where we are.

I think this is a practice Atheists should embrace. What if Atheists became known for, in addition to not believing in God, as: those people that know everyone in our apartment building or the block, the ones that will bring you soup when you're sick, the ones that will call the police if we hear you screaming, the ones that become volunteer firefighters and join police auxiliaries - the ones who care, not because we share the same beliefs, but because we are humane.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Satanic Suffering

I hate to see people suffer. I hate to see animals suffer. When I hear that someone has died - family, friend or stranger - my earliest thoughts always include, "I hope the death was quick. I hope they didn't suffer." I think the same things about animals dead on the road or on my plate.

Why? Because I have empathy - too much, according to my husband. I sometimes cry at the idea of people suffering. I cry over what's dead on the side of the road. I don't like anyone or anything to be in pain. I just don't.

Being an Atheist, I don't ask questions like "Why did that young person get struck down with that horrible disease before he'd even made it to high school" or "Why did that tsunami wipe out thousands and thousands of people in slow, painful deaths all at once?" We, as humankind, do our best to prevent and cure diseases, and we've done an AMAZING job wiping out many of the causes of early death and ongoing misery for so many, many people - but our biology's mysteries are endless, and maybe, while we will always discover new preventions and cures, there will always be things out there that kill the young, and even cause their suffering before death. It's not evil - it just is. For me, the whys went away when I embraced my Atheism, leaving me in much more peace than when I was trying to believe, though still distressed at the idea of suffering.

Do I believe in evil? Yes - I believe people can do good things, like helping other people, or they can do evil things, like rape and kill people. What is the source of evil? Same as the source for good: us. Humans. We're capable of both. There is evil in the world, and it's made up of various combinations of superstitions, arrogance and ignorance - with the occasional psychological illness thrown in there, like sociopathy.

When I was a kid, I believed in Satan. I believed there was this being ready to do me and my family untold harm. I believed in hell. I believed if I died and still didn't believe in God the way I was supposed to, despite trying oh-so-hard to do so, I was going to be tortured forever. I was taught this by various adults and children around me. Two books by the same author, The Late Great Planet Earth, and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth were frequently talked about by other kids at the Methodist church my family sometimes attended. The world was going to end soon, I thought, and I was still unsaved, because I still didn't really believe in God, so I was going to SUFFER FOREVER! I cried myself to sleep at night out of terror and anticipation of the pain. Through many tears, I prayed and begged for God to please enter my heart and take away this fear.

Until one day, the fear stopped. Almost at once. I was sitting on my bed, trying to sort out all the contradictions in the Bible and among different Christian sects and on and on and it just hit me, BOOM - there cannot be a devil. There just can't. It's completely, utterly illogical. If God was all the things everyone was assuring me he was - all-merciful, all-loving, all-caring - then there just could NOT be a hell. I just sat there on my bed, stunned at my conclusion. I kept it to myself. But wow, did I ever start getting better nights of sleep. And the more I questioned and let go of the religious ideas being pushed at me, the better I felt.

Parents who teach their kids that Satan exists are terrifying their children, not helping them. It's emotional abuse - there is just no other way to describe it. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of children, right now, terrified, as I was once upon a time, that a magical, invisible, extremely powerful being is out to get them. There is nothing - NOTHING - to be gained by telling any person, child or adult, that his or her suffering comes from Satan. What a despicable thing to tell anyone! It's crippling manipulation that is nothing short of reprehensible. It's nothing short of evil. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Talking someone out of the big bad

Antoinette Tuff talked a gunman out of killing police officers and getting killed himself. She did it with calm, with carefully-chosen words, and with sincerity. In interviews, she has said she meant it when she told the gunman she loved him. She's also credited her words to two things: the training she's received from her church regarding how to counsel people in distress, and God.

I celebrate this woman's abilities in that horrific situation. I wish she gave herself more credit - I wish she didn't believe that a magical, invisible friend took over her body in that moment, because, for people that may be trying to believe in that but have doubts about their faith, they will very probably find themselves despondent when such a moment comes and magical invisible friend is no where to be found - and that happens far, far more than believers will admit, because it just doesn't make for a compelling TV interview.

Interesting to note that Ms. Tuff did NOT use references to God or spirituality in that moment of crisis - she did not say, "You're in God's hands and he will make it better for you", for instance. And it's a good thing she didn't, because such statements can actually further inflame someone emotionally. Such references could very well have lead to tragedy.

If you are interested in learning skills to be able to deal with immediately stressful, even dangerous situations when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis - the person is in a moment of despondency, and may hurt him or herself or others - there's a Mental Health First Aid course you should check out. It's a 12-hour certification course that takes two days to complete, and the certification lasts two years. It's available in the USA, in Australia (where it was developed originally) and some other countries. It won't teach you to cure mental illness. It will teach you to deal with a crisis situation where a person is having an emotional breakdown, to help them get to a place emotionally where they will be willing to accept appropriate assistance, and it will give you the information you need to direct them to that immediate assistance. My Mental Health First Aid training was very much on my mind as I listened to Antoinette Tuff. I listened to her put into practice so many of the practices suggested in that training.

Compassion and empathy are not the unique, proprietary domain of people that believe in a god or gods. Also, some people tap into such feelings easily; others must work to cultivate those feelings, particularly in times when another person angers, humiliates or threatens them.

All of this has made me think about a scenario I've played a few times in my mind: of getting kidnapped while doing work in a developing country. Could I make statements, with sincerity, or with the most convincing performance that I was sincere, to someone intent on doing me harm? Could I humanize myself to a person intent on doing me harm? I know I wasn't able to do it when I faced a situation where someone was trying to kill me - he's now on death row, having killed someone else. I survived because I ran. And, no, I still don't think about that person with kind thoughts.

Still, I work to cultivate my compassion and empathy. I look for opportunities to be kind because I know that, most of the time, the immediate result is something positive: a smile, another person's gratitude, a good feeling for myself, etc. It's much harder to generate those emotions when those immediate results are no where to be found, when opening yourself up to doing something nice opens you up to an insult or being taken advantage of. It's hard to show compassion or empathy when someone is being a jerk - or a threat. I won't even suggest that, when the neighbor's teen son wakes me up at midnight with loud music that I'm feeling any compassion or empathy AT ALL. And even if I rehearse a scene in my head where I smile and ask, I often still end up with the Look of Death and make a demand. And then I feel awful and can't get to sleep because I'm tee'd off.

But I keep trying. It's easy to recognize the differences between myself and someone else, and often much harder to recognize what I have in common with someone who believes I should have less legal rights because I'm a woman rather than a man, or because I'm not a member of that person's religion, or believes it's okay to rape children or kill animals for fun. It's been impossible at times to force myself to think about someone who wants to kill me seeking happiness in his/her life. I know that every person has known sadness, loneliness and despair - but I also know that there are people that delight in the pain and suffering of another human being. The only way I can tap into any feeling of compassion for a person bent on hurting others is to think of them as severely mentally ill and, because of that severe illness, incapable of knowing happiness. Because I do believe that happiness is out of the reach of a person that delights in hurting others. Triumph, conquest, domination - these can feel good, no question, and I enjoy such at times myself, particularly during Scrabble. But I really don't believe they are, alone, a path to happiness.

That's how I work on cultivating compassion and empathy. How about you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I "do good"; Why I try to be kind

I'm an atheist. And I try to do good. I try to be kind.

Why do I do nice things for other people? Why do I try to be kind - especially when I've got an impulse NOT to be kind? Because:
  • It feels good and puts me in a good mood if I'm not in such already.
  • I hope someone will do that for me when I'm in need.
  • It often puts a person that is receiving the kindness, or observing the kindness, in a good mood, and maybe it will inspire that person to do good for someone else.
  • I want a neighbor or co-worker to like me.
  • It makes me feel like I have some control over a little part of my day or life. 
  • Not doing something nice for someone, on purpose, makes me feel guilty, like I've let down my fellow humans. 
  • I like humans (most of the time), and animals all of the time (except mosquitos).

Why do I volunteer for nonprofit organizations? Because:
  • It feels good.
  • It makes me feel like I have some control over a little part of my day or life. 
  • There's a cause I feel passionately about, and I want to be a part of that cause.
  • The volunteer task sounds fun.
  • I want to understand a particular issue or activity better. 
  • I'm angry about something, and volunteering makes me feel like I'm doing something about it.
  • I think the other volunteers might be fun. 
  • I think a particular task or association with an organization will look good on my résumé or help me network with people who might want to hire me.
  • It gets me free tickets to a theater, dance or singing event I'd really like to see but can't afford.
  • I want to be a full, invested member of my community. It makes a community or place feel more "mine." 
I don't help others, or volunteer, to please a deity. I don't volunteer to get into a better after life.

Where does the impulse to do good come from? Not from a deity - certainly not from the same deity that compels its followers to rape and kill non-believers.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, including how the traits of altruism, compassion, empathy, and mindfulness transcend religions and contribute to happiness. The center notes that:

Compassion is a fundamental human trait, with deep psychological and evolutionary roots.

In short - we've evolved to be good, and goodness keeps our species - and our world - thriving.

Also see: Groups for Atheist and Secular Volunteers / Philanthropy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The power & the glory of hope, WITHOUT a God

I was suicidal twice in my life.

The first was when I was 10 years old or so, and had realized just how screwed up my family was:  an alcoholic, emotionally-abusive, narcissist, paranoid, cheating Dad who couldn't hold a job and lost money hand-over-fist, and a mother who silently tolerated - and, therefore, approved - all of it. I saw no future for myself. I had no idea how a person really became an astronaut or a writer or an actress, I thought I was doomed to have to work in my Dad's business du jour (he talked about me doing so), and I knew I wasn't pretty. Life had no hope, no possibilities for happiness. What stopped me? My sister. I had a plan for how to off myself all set, but when I really thought about the consequences for of her, of how it might affect her later in life, I couldn't do it. The idea of harming her with my own action repulsed me on every level - isn't that what my parents had done to me? I decided, instead, I'd move away some day and just disappear, as far as they were concerned. Which, indeed, is kind of what happened... day-to-day, it was books and this new-fangled "cable TV" thing showing old movies and TV shows I'd never heard of but delighted every part of me that got me through it.

The second time was when I was away at university. I was 19, with the same family situation at home, but now, I had committed some colossal mistakes that I don't want to detail here, and the pain was overwhelming. I lost a lot of friends over my situation - nothing cleans out the play pen like someone being seen as a "loser" or a "downer." I was desperate for the pain to stop. What stopped me from offing myself that second time? I was in a play at the time, and felt that I needed to finish it - I'd seen what happened when someone dropped out of a play a week before opening, and there was no way I was going to do that to my fellow actors. The idea of them hating me mortified me. Once the play was over, I was in a different place emotionally - things were still painful, but some great friends I didn't realize I had in my life, along with some new friends, got me through it.

Religion played no role in helping me in either of those occasions. None. God was no where to be found. I looked for him when I was a child and facing those demons: I prayed, I begged, I pleaded, I went to church and Vacation Bible School and even got baptized, hoping to get some help. None came. Instead, it was reasoning and thinking and considering the consequences of my acts that got me through that pain. By the second time, I had embraced the term agnostic, and though I would have been totally open to the idea of some kind of divine intervention to help me, none came; my resiliency came from hard work on my part, and those friends I hadn't realized were so wonderful until my time of need.

I haven't been suicidal since. Even when I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early 30s, following the suicide of my father and getting dumped and betrayed by a person I had thought I would marry, I wasn't suicidal. I was down - oh, how I was down! But I never thought about suicide as a good or desired option. What changed? Part of it is that I have worked very hard to design and sustain a life for myself where exposure to toxic people is kept to a minimum. Instead, life has lots of healthy moments that I work regularly to create - I always have a dream to pursue, large or small. I celebrate good times, even just really happy moments. If a relationship isn't going well, I think about it, I analyze why it is, I think about what I can and can't do about the situation, I think about what I want to change, and sometimes I have to change, and sometimes, I have to walk away.

I listen to music I love, go to see movies when I want, read voraciously, sing in my house, in my car, in my yard, always have a dog in the household, have catnip on the back porch to attract neighborhood cats, work in my garden, ride a motorcycle, travel, and laugh and laugh with my husband. I make time to do all that. I create strategies so that I can guarantee those things happen. I don't wait for things to change magically, I don't hope for divine intervention, and therefore, I'm never, ever disappointed that Jesus has decided yet again not to help out - because I left that desire to believe back in my early teen years. There's a freedom and a comfort and a universe of possibilities and hope that I never, ever had when I was trying to believe in God.

In short, I taught myself to hope and to look for opportunities and choices to help make things better. I mourn what I lose, but also consider the new options a clean slate or an empty page brings me. I experience pain, but I also know that I have means to lesson that pain. I have power and hope I never had when I was trying to believe in God.

If you are hurting, get help: start by talking with your doctor. If you don't have health insurance coverage, contact your county's mental health department, or even just the health department, and ask what mental health services are available for someone experiencing whatever it is you are experiencing: depression, drug or alcohol abuse, addiction, compulsive behavior, etc. Look online for support groups in your area addressing your circumstances. If part of the reason you are hurting is your financial situation, look online for nonprofit financial counseling in your area (your credit union may have classes). Go to the library and read books that address your situation as well. Walk, every day.

You do have options. You can teach yourself to hope.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Atheist tells women they should approve sexist photos

A post from Skepchick / Rebecca Watson "to illustrate my ongoing point that there are too many atheists (/skeptics/humanists/freethinkers/etc) who value their ignorant, messed up idea of what 'free speech' is way, way more than respecting women as more than objects."

"This is probably the tenth example I’ve seen this week of atheist men being overly sensitive and crying every time someone points out that it would be cool if they treated women like people."

I love motorcycle riding. It's a passion. I'm particularly fond of traveling by motorcycle.

But I'm not fond of most of the motorcycle gatherings out there. They seem to either have way too many bare titties for the "entertainment" of the audience, or they are über Christian and/or patriotic. And sometimes both. It's adorable to hear the same people defend all the naked women imagery at their events become outraged over nudity by men at gay pride parades - naked women good, naked men bad bad bad.

You would think a Facebook group called "Free Thought Motorcyclists" that bills itself as a community for atheist / secular humanist motorcyclists would be a perfect place for women atheists motorcycle riders, because you would think people on that group, that claim to be rational and focused on humanist philosophies that stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems, would want ALL atheists / secular humanists to feel welcomed on that group, and, therefore, would never post photos or comments that objectify women, or perpetuate sexist or racist stereotypes - and if such was posted, would post a severe condemnation, affirming that all members, including women, should be respected.

Sadly, as this story shows, you would be wrong. Atheists can, most definitely, be sexists. As Rebecca Watson has tried to illustrate so many times.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gay marriage? Yes. Polygamous or polyandrous marriage? Nope.

I believe in marriage. Not the Biblical view, where a man can marry dozens of women & take on a few handmaids as well and women have to be subservient - the evolved one, where marriage is an EQUAL partnership between two people and establishes a family - and that family may be just two people. I believe it's a real commitment, not something you do for a party or on a whim. Marriage is a legally binding contract and provides the married couple very generous financial and cultural benefits - that's to encourage the formation of families, even if that family is just two married people, and people living in families are healthier and less of a burden on society as a whole, statistically speaking. And I believe every adult should have the right to marry, to enter into this very special commitment with another person if they so choose, this formation of family.

I've been in this fight for marriage equality for a looooong time, and that early & ongoing support has cost me friends & at one point put my life in danger. But it sure feels good to be on the right side of history.

I've blogged before about why do Atheists get married.

So now the question - do I support polygamous or polyandrous marriage?

No. I see nothing wrong at all with polygamous or polyandrous relationships. While it's not something I would ever choose, if it's something you want to do - go for it!

But I don't support polygamous or polyandrous marriage. Here's why:

While polygamous marriage is Biblical marriage, it's also one that, as practiced even today, with or without state recognition, usually leaves the women involved at a profound legal and cultural disadvantage. Unlike gay marriage, polygamous or polyandrous relationships put women in those relationships at a severe disadvantage - she is NOT equal to her husband nor to other wives. I do not want that unequal treatment called "marriage" codified in the eyes of the law. If you want to call it that in your own eyes, in your own church, fine. Lots of people in one-man-one-woman marriages live their lives in such a way where the woman is subservient to the man, but IT IS NOT CODIFIED IN THE LAW; should a woman in such a marriage ever want to assert her EQUAL, legal rights in that marriage, she's got the law (but probably not her church or mosque) on her side.

What would make me change my mind about polygamous or polyandrous marriage?

  • Seeing lots of long-lasting, committed polygamous or polyandrous relationships all around me, where those involved were healthy, happy, and personally prosperous - where such standards are the norm, not the exception, in relationships with multiple partners.
  • Getting lots of invitations to 10 year and 20 year anniversaries of polygamous or polyandrous relationships like I've just described. 


By contrast, I see lots and lots of long-lasting, committed gay relationships all around me, where those involved were healthy, happy, and personally prosperous, and where the partners are EQUAL in decision-making.

When that changes, when I stop seeing women at a profound disadvantage in polygamous or polyandrous relationships, and when I see such long-lasting, committed multi-partner relationships all around me - proving that they really are marriages - I'll change. But for now - no.

My other blogs on on marriage:

North Carolina votes for... what?

Why do Atheists get married?

Should I be allowed to marry?

Gay marriage no, child marriage yes?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stephen King knows horror, but not how Atheists think

I decided to start this blog when a Christian blogger I thought was a pretty decent guy, and often downright reasonable, posted a blog entry called What Atheists Have Dead Wrong About Religion.

As I read the blog, it dawned on me that he really has no idea what an Atheist is. None. I started reading his previous posts and further realized that, as much as I didn't want to believe it, this guy is just like most other Christians: he lumps all non-Christians, including Atheists, into one category -- and we're all secretly miserable because we don't share his faith in his particular magical, invisible friend.

I responded to his blog specifically in my own blog, What Religious People Have Dead Wrong About Atheists.

That blog from two years ago came back to me when I heard Stephen King talking to Terry Gross on her show. You can hear it for yourself (around the 15:45 mark) or read it here:
“I choose to believe [in God]. … I mean, there’s no downside to that. If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, ‘Well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar,’ and you have to wonder about that guy’s personality — the big guy’s personality.”
Here we go again...

Mr. King, the stars, sunrises, sunsets, bees pollinating crops and flowers - this and more brings me, an Atheist, joy and wonder and amazement. I marvel at all of the variables that have brought the world to this point - the forces of evolution, the forces of plate tectonics, the forces of physics in the universe. And I marvel at the specifics and the generalities. I marvel at what I understand and, even more, what I don't, when it comes to all of the beautiful thing in the world. And I became so much more in awe and wonder of it all when I embraced my Atheism - it freed me from the oh-so-limited thinking of people such as yourself.

I no longer wonder how a God can allow babies to be raped every day - every minute. How a God can allow people to be slaughtered, en masse, by other people or by a storm, a hurricane, an Earthquake, etc. That's the downside of choosing to believe in God - you have to believe that he or she or it watches all that horror and does NOTHING. You have to believe your God is a perverted sicko. I was washed clean of that confusion and anger when I embraced my Atheism. While you and others say sickening things at those moments such as, "It's all a part of God's plan," things that must tear apart those who hear such and are in so much pain, I look for ways to help, ways to respond, and ways to prevent. I accept that I cannot prevent every horrible natural act that the Earth or the cosmos may throw my way, but I don't accept man's inhumanity to man. I look at what I can do, what I can influence, and I do my best to act. I don't wait for an invisible magic friend to decide, based on people's desperate prayers, that maybe he'll do something about it. Instead, I embrace my responsibility as a part of the human race to do all I can.

As Hemant Mehta said in his blog on this same subject, "Letting God take credit for all of that just cheapens it all — it makes everything just a part of someone’s blueprint instead of something that turned up naturally yet came together beautifully."


Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Deists, whatever - please stop lamenting about what Atheists don't get, don't understand, don't enjoy in this incredible world of ours. Stop telling me I don't feel joy or wonderment. Stop telling me I don't enjoy life and the world. Stop telling me that there is no mystery or poetry in the world for me. You're wrong - on all of these points. Life is a rich tapestry for me, an Atheist - a tapestry of mystery, wonder, joy, poetry, excitement, confusion, pain and comfort. Unlike you, however, I have no borders in how I have to think about it all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Love is logical. Love makes sense.

I haven't updated my blog since December 2012 - until now - not because I didn't have lots to say, but every time I was moved to write, I would open up my blog, see that post about Mr. Rogers, and think, yeah, that's really all that needs to be said now.

I wrote that December blog in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook and the Clackamas mall in Oregon. Since then, we've had the Boston bombings and the latest, deadly tornados in Moore, Oklahoma. The words from Mr. Rogers just seemed right to keep up as my latest post.

I'm finally writing today is because I'm so moved by Democratic Representative Juan Mendez, of Tempe, Arizona, who was tasked with delivering the opening prayer for the May 21 afternoon session of the Arizona House of Representatives. In his "invocation," he said "This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love... Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'"

Here's the full text of his speech.

as my secular humanist tradition stresses

It gave me chills to read not only his beautiful words, but his affirmation that, indeed, we have a tradition. And it's a tradition based on love and full understanding.

Love is logical. Love makes sense. Valuing other people, feeling affection for humanity, being kind to others - all this makes life more than bearable; it makes life wonderful. It gets us through the tough times and it makes the good times glorious. It creates community - and community is what allows us bounce back after shootings and terrorism and natural disasters.

Sometimes love comes naturally, and sometimes, you have to work at it. But, indeed, "For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."


UPDATE: Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the statements offered by Rep. Mendez at the beginning of the previous day's floor session wasn't a prayer at all, so he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in "repentance," and about half the 60-member body did so. "When there's a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don't ask for time to pray," said Smith.

So, yeah, Atheists, SHUT UP. Rep. Smith says so.