Monday, March 30, 2015

Believing there's no God means...

"Believing there's no God means..."

It's a phrase repeated and answered in Penn Jillette's excellent essay, "There Is No God" for  NPR's "This I Believe" series from November 21, 2005.

It frames so well what so many atheists DO believe. Yes, we have beliefs. All humans do. Please read it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why I love being an atheist

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

For Atheist Youth: It Gets Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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