Tag Archives: choosing atheism

The Misinterpretation of Hate and Anger: Instead, Passion

I’m always impressed by the enlightening I can get from the comments section of news stories.  I mean, I never knew that as an atheist I am afraid,angry, and offended; observations made regularly and accompanying some story about us contending over a coach praying at a high school football game or the ten commandments being removed from a courtroom or a cross going up somewhere on public land.

The answer is that we atheists aren’t afraid and neither are we offended. But we are passionate.  We are fervent.  We are dedicated to having a nation free from religious manacles of any kind, whether they be christian, muslim, hindu, or pastafarian, and to that end we will tirelessly address any line-crossing behavior.   We stand on the assurance that our constitution mandates a separation of church and state and passionately invoke it for the sake of our democracy.  I would ask my brothers and sisters not to confuse such passion with offense or fear, and consider that the resistance you meet from us is only as strong as your desire to cross the constitutional boundaries.   We would quietly sit in our homes and binge on Parks and Recreation if given the choice.

Angry, yes, we are angry.   I will strongly contend that our anger is justified however, and even by christian standards, righteous anger is permissible.   It’s okay to be angry when you pass a law against one religion yet you push and shove your own religion onto the national stage.  It’s okay to be angry when you promote asinine propaganda that is meant to instill fear. It’s okay to be angry when you slow down our progress as a nation by insisting on antiquated, edited, fallible texts as a foundation from which to work. It’s okay to be angry when preachers ask for a six million dollar jet while the homeless children population is steadily increasing in our own nation.  It’s okay to be angry when pedophiles are allowed back into ‘the fold’ or when abuse is systematically covered up.   You are correct about our anger, but misinterpret the direction and source of it.   We aren’t angry at a god whose probability for existing decreases with each new scientific discovery.  We are angry at your invocation of that omnipotent being in the face of greed, lies, selfishness, and ignorance; and the overall negative affect that has on our society.

We atheists will be passionate about maintaining the clearly drawn lines between personal belief and public interactions.  But do not mistake that for fear or offense.  I’ll agree that we are angry, but do not mistake its origins; righteous anger is permissible when injustice is blatant.

Now you have my comments on the comments section, here’s to enlightenment for us all.   😉

In peace, as always,

Frankie

 

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No Religion: What’s to Believe In?

As we continue to progress as a species, more of us human beings are stepping from the dark archaic belief systems of religion to the bright confidence of knowledge afforded us by science.   But the shift from religion to non begs some questions:  What do we do with ourselves?  Where do we put our energy?  What’s to believe in? What becomes our focus?

From my humble perspective, it kind of seems that a default focus would be nationalism; belief in one’s nation and attention to its politics and social/economic issues.  From my humble perspective, we could use a boost in national attention to politics and social/economic issues.   But there lies a danger of jingoism, unabashed love for one’s country without regard for other nations, fervent almost blind belief that ‘my country is the best’.  In a time when we face global challenges such as health epidemics and climate change, we can’t really allow ourselves the pleasure of arrogance.  We must be able to cooperate, to admit that maybe another nation is doing something right and we might consider adjusting our own perceptions.  We are bound together by this planet and its natural laws, we have to work with one another in order to keep our species viable.  While some of our new found energy can and should be focused on national issues, it is necessary to strike a balance with how much energy we invest in our country – there are bigger ideas to focus on as well.

I heartily contend that the biggest idea should be humanism – a focus on mankind and our path of past, present, and future, our connection with one another as dictated by nature’s laws.  If we think about it, we only, always, have each other; and though cultures vary we cannot deny our bloodline and the truth that we are all brothers and sisters.  I believe we owe a certain amount of attention to our race based on this sole premise, with the spirit that we are inherently obligated as human beings to look out for our siblings. As mentioned above, our modern age forces us to examine physical global issues and international cooperation is paramount to finding solutions to these issues.   A humanist focus allows us to set aside cultural prejudices and adopt cooperative attitudes based upon the assumption that we’re all in this together.

Science appears to be the common ground for us all and I’ll assert that the growth of humanism will include many elements of the discipline.   Two plus two will always equal four and no matter where we go in the world we can speak that language to anyone. I am not claiming that science has all the answers although I’m close to agreeing with many modern thinkers who believe it does.  It certainly answers our questions best and provides a universal language with which we can speak to one another, culture set aside.   Besides providing a common language science provides a foundation for finding common solutions to the challenges we face together.  The discipline is a perfect fit with the tenants of humanism.

I’ll even go out on a limb and demonstrate that we already have a vision for the melding of science and humanism and how they work together by invoking the genre of science fiction film and writings.  There are several examples where science fiction has remarkably portended the future as far as gadgets and inventions are concerned.   Even George Orwell was prescient enough to understand that an entirely new language would evolve under political pressures.   Using science fiction as a barometer for the way humanistic tendencies might emerge, one finds an astonishing body of work that illustrates how political and even personal decisions are made based upon available evidence and facts instead of mystical, archaic texts. Pay attention next time you tune into Star Trek, or Dr. Who, or The Fifth Element.

We’ve come a long ways since the days when science and religion walked the same path of curiosity together, searching for answers to the same questions.   At some point their paths split and one has gone on to answer those questions with solid evidence.   As we continue to progress as a species and more of us also leave the anachronistic beliefs behind, we are faced with the necessity of filling the void.   Humanism does so with a neat and comfortable fit.  Here’s to our future and the place that Humanism has within it.

Yours,

Frankie


Lost Souls: An Atheist ‘s Sacrifice

Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.

“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.

“Brenda called today.  We got into a bit of an argument.  It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”

“Why did you argue?”  Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.

“Oh, she said she felt led to question me  about my lack of faith.  She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea.   She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern.  I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting.  I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something.  Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways.  I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible.   I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore.    In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…”  Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts.   Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace.  Long moments passed.

“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship.   She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said.   I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community.  She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up.   When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms.   Then she unfriended me.”  Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.

He understood her pain.  He’d been ostracized by some of his own family.  The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.

After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”

“That’s not the point.  Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process.  Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances.  We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig.  But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”

She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.

It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however.  A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card.  She made the card anyway.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant.  He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think.  She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.

Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church.   She found herself going through a cycle of thought:  was I right to leave religion?  could I really go back? how?  How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?

She couldn’t.   The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie.  If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.

At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people.   Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then.  She had no regrets.  Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.


*Author’s note.  This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums.  I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith.  A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did.   At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport.  Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie


The Harry Potter Effect: Religion, Fear, and Reality

Harry Potter’s influence reaches far beyond the sphere of providing an entertaining story for children to read. When the first book arrived  here in the US there was all kinds of uproar in the christian community about its defamation of Jesus and apparent blatant attempts to sway children towards satanism and magic – I received an email from a dear church friend of mine saying so.

At the time I was still in deep in the church, a worship leader and children’s church director, but bubbles of doubt had been making their way to the surface of my conscious thought for a couple of years , instigated by my observations about the world within christianity and the world outside of it.   When the email hit my inbox I read it, followed up on the links and also researched what other christian parents were saying about the book.   In the end, I realized the only way I could make a reasonable decision about Harry Potter was to read the book myself.

It was a watershed moment for me.   First, there was no defamation of Jesus, no promotion of Satan.  There are no religious connections in the book whatsoever which means the email circulating was a complete lie and the author of the note either read the book and lied about it anyway, or didn’t read the book and decided to promote a fear-inducing story based on ignorance.

Then, I began to look at other issues the church was talking about by reading the leading publications.  Instead of taking their word for it, I did the research myself. In each instance I found that the church was absolutely promoting false information and with an obvious overtone of fear.  Whether or not there was a god, I made my decision to leave the church.   Even HE couldn’t condone the obvious lies, I thought.

A recent article published by Christianity Today takes a look at the tornado of fear stirred up by Harry Potter and other issues and confesses that on the whole, there really is much ado about nothing.  To this day I am willing to research just about anything that pops up on my facebook feed in the hopes that someone, somewhere may just get it right.  Alas, there’s always more hype and subterfuge than reality reveals, and the fear inducing rhetoric is blatant as always.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  The premise for converting to christianity is fear of going to hell so using fear to keep the congregation clinging to something more hopeful is of course the preferred modus operandi.   What saddens me, what concerns me, what “really grinds my gears” is the blind acceptance of it all.   Even the author of the CT article stops short of actually admitting that their assertions were lies.  Instead he provides a short analysis on the idea that maybe the church is becoming more accepting – thereby missing the point that all the issues he exemplifies have been circulated as a means to promote fear.  Whether or not Harry Potter actually affected millions of young minds didn’t matter, what mattered was successfully creating a shroud of fear and anxiety so that we couldn’t see for ourselves the reality of the issue – this was a harmless book that reiterated the same hero theme as Jesus’ own story.   Sigh.  Even in the admission that there’s been much ado about nothing, we are still unable to admit that fear is used as an effective tool by the church to keep its people isolated from reality.

Here’s to those who are willing to look beyond the fear.

Frankie


Leap: A Conversation Between Two Friends About Leaving Religion

“Oh look at you!  You look great!” Grace said as she gave Sophie one of her best hugs, Sophie noticed that her friend was still using the same lemony scent as always.

“Thanks, I’ve been working out again and it makes a difference, doesn’t it?” Sophie sat down across from her long lost friend and wondered if she’d have the nerve after all to ask the question she wanted to ask.

“Yes, for sure.  It’s tough to get back in the habit if you fall off the wagon, way to go.”  Grace said and sipped on her usual triple-shot-latte.  They caught up with kids and work and husbands – or exes, as it was with Grace, and in a bit of a lull she asked Sophie how so-and-so from the church was.   Last she heard, their mutual friend was diagnosed with a treatable form of breast cancer.

“I’m not exactly sure, to be honest.  I’ve sort of not been to church for a few weeks now and I don’t have any more information about it than you do probably.” Sophie relaxed, an open door for her question!

Grace took a moment to process Sophie’s words. Not going to church?  She wasn’t sure she heard right.

“Well, then, so much for that bit of news.  But what’s up with skipping church?” Grace asked.

It took a few seconds and she plunged right in. “I don’t know how you did it Grace.  How did you manage to leave?  Are you glad you did?”

Grace was surprised by Sophie’s questions and thought for a moment before she answered. There was a tone of desperation in her friend’s voice as if she were fishing for something specific.

“Well, it wasn’t an easy thing to do, first off, and anybody else I’ve spoken with says the same thing.  It’s a process, but, yes it’s worth it.” Grace said

“But I mean, did you miss everyone?  How did you survive without your friends?” Sophie blurted out the questions.

“Um, yeah, I did miss people.  I still miss some.  Some, like you I’ve managed to be able to keep in touch with.  It all depended on how people reacted to my change of heart.  I knew I would lose some friends in the process, but I went on to make new friends too.”  she answered, and then added, “What’s going on with you, what’s with the questions?”

Sophie fiddled with the lid to her coffee while she spoke, “I just don’t think I have the faith anymore.  You know Bill has always been passive and he finally quit church over a year ago.  I didn’t bother him over it, I figured he’d come back around at some point. I asked him about it a few times and he said he got tired of the politics. He said there was enough of it at the office, he didn’t need at church either.  And, well, we both started reading other news sources, Bill wanted something with another perspective, and I was shocked at the differences. In some instances the stuff I was reading from the church was quite at odds with the real world.   I started to just watch and listen and I came to see Bill’s point about the politics.  People vying for places of position and keeping things secret. I read some of the books Bill was reading and I came to realize just how outdated religion really is, and well, science does a better job explaining the presence of things than religion does. But it seems difficult to make a final break, like I’m abandoning my friends and who will take their place?”

Grace thought about her friend’s questions for a long moment before she responded.  She recalled being in a similar place when she declared her own atheism.  It was scary and unsettling and god how she wished she had someone to speak with.  She was glad she could be that someone for Sophie, in this moment.

“Well, like I said, you just have to figure that some people will write you off.  It’s hurtful and you’ll be angry over it but you can’t resent them for it.  Honestly, I think some of the people that react the strongest are the ones who would leave as well if they had the strength.  It’s one of the toughest things to do, to leave such a tight knit social group. We all have a deep desire to belong somewhere and often times we think ‘the church’ is the only option.  There is a bit of a grieving period, a kind of loss that goes with the process. But it doesn’t last forever.   There are alternatives too, ya know.  I’ve joined a couple of local community projects that provide the same sense of belonging, and I feel like I’m contributing more than I was sitting in church three hours a week.  At least that’s been my experience.  Does that answer your question?” Grace took a sip from her quickly disappearing latte and sat back, allowing her friend time to think about what she just said.

“It does.”  Sophie began slowly, “I was afraid you’d say exactly what you said.  That I might lose some friends forever.  It makes sense what you said about belonging and come to think of it, I am already finding my own alternatives, I just didn’t know why or what it was about.  I’ve started to form closer friends at work the past few weeks I’ve been out of church.   You know, in church we spend all our energy focusing inward and excluding anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the same way.  I am finding out as I get to know some of the girls I’ve excluded that they are genuinely nice and care about issues and one another.  All in all, it seems that the world is a much less frightening place than the church makes it out to be.”

Grace chose not to respond to the last comment and she let her friend keep control of the conversation.

“I suppose I just have to make the leap and admit that religion and I are no longer compatible. It’s a big leap after a lifetime of thinking just one way. But then I see you and a couple of others who have made the same choice and they haven’t been struck down by lightening and they really do seem happier.  I want that.”  Sophie said.

“Then it seems you will have it, you are well on your way already.”  Grace said.

“I think I just needed to hear some things out loud.  You really helped to affirm what I was already thinking.  And now I have to go pick up kids from a birthday party.  Thanks for meeting me Grace, it was good to catch up and good to know my feelings are normal.”  Sophie said.

“Anytime.  We should get together again soon.  I know I would’ve loved to have someone to talk to when I left religion.” Grace said.

“I would like that very much, I’ll send ya a text early next week.”  Sophie said.   The friends gave each other a couple of parting hugs and left to do their errands.   Sophie had more peace about her decision than ever.   It is a leap, but it just might be worth it.

Frankie

*I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the need for us as atheists to understand the innate desire to belong and feel loved. I surmised that many who might leave religion do not simply for the sense of belonging that the church provides. This short fiction story is a twist on that idea. As a writer I wanted to explore what a conversation might be like between two friends: one who had already admitted to atheism and one who was considering the idea.   I thought it would be helpful to have some sort of visualization about these kinds of conversations – they are important in the scheme of things and we must allow compassion and empathy to guide us.

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your own knowledge.”  Kahlil Gibran


“The Village” and “The Church”: An Analogy Worth Consideration

M. Night Shyamalan made a movie a while ago entitled “The Village.”  I love that movie and I love it for a very personal reason.  It reaffirms why I left “The Church” in the first place (I’ll take the real world over a made up one any day of the week) and it also conveys the truth of the idea that evil exists within each of us, not as some outward demon.

The story line to the movie goes like this a bereavement support group, whose relatives are victims of violent crimes, decide to escape modern society into a walled sanctuary.  They live a Luddite lifestyle cut off from the world. Modern conveniences such as electricity and motors are shunned, they make their own furniture, live off the land, and are completely oblivious to anything outside the four walls they so carefully built.  Theirs is a peaceful lifestyle, where men and women know their place, children are loved and coddled, and everyone knows everyone else (the narrative is nicely wound around a love story, and a very sweet one, I think).

Since the proprietors of  The Village were challenged to invent a way to keep their offspring from wandering too far and perhaps discovering that they were cut off from an entire civilization, they invented a story consisting of monsters who lurked in the forest beyond  (The Village was an isolated settlement set upon a huge, and privately funded, land reserve) . The monsters were known simply as ‘the others’ and children were indoctrinated at an early age concerning the dangers of crossing the designated borders.  Apparently an agreement exists between The Village and ‘the others’:  if the Villagers don’t cross into their territory, ‘the others’ won’t cross into The Village.  A popular game for adolescent boys is to stand on a rock just at the border and tempt ‘the others’ to come get them, of course no one showed up, but the occasional howl of a coyote or wind was enough to give life to the story, reinforcing the narrative and instilling fear.

The elders were quite detailed in the shenanigans they were willing to engage in to keep their children in fear of the forest and ‘the others’. They didn’t stop at merely demarcating a physical boundary between good and evil.  The color red for instance, was labeled ‘the bad color’ for that was the color of ‘the others’.  In one scene a pair of tween girls came across a flower in their yard with ‘the bad color’ and with haste they both dig a hole and cover it up. Offerings are made to the forest to appease ‘the others’. Occasionally we are given the glimpse of a wooden box, tucked away in a corner, looming with mystery.  The box contains memorabilia of the outside world: newspaper clippings of murders and robberies of family members, pictures of their lost loved ones. It serves to remind the elders of their decision to leave the evil world behind.

And yet, evil springs up from within ‘The Village’ despite the elders’ attention to detail. In the opening scene of the movie we watch as a grief stricken father weeps at his son’s graveside.  The implication is that the son might have lived were there simple medicines available to give to him, but in their complete dedication to remain isolated, they sacrifice life.   At the feast following the service, it is noted that, despite even heartbreaking moments, they must remain committed to their cause.

A moment of compromise finally occurs however when a young man is stabbed by a jealous autistic Village member.  This strapping male is recently betrothed to the blind daughter of the very man whose idea it was to found The Village.  She begs her father permission to transgress their rules and travel to the lands beyond in order to get medicine to save her beloved’s life.  Her father bends to her pleas and allows her the freedom to go. Before she leaves however, he tells her of the ‘invented’ monsters, shows her the elaborate costumes complete with a row of sharp fang thingys and coarse fur.  It was apparently worn as a sort of ‘coat’ by village elders at times when a visible reinforcement of ‘the others’ was needed (I am reminded of Dawkin’s observation in ‘The God Delusion’, recently read, that  “…the horribleness of hell…is inflated to compensate for its implausibility.”) These home- made monsters were a bit intimidating, and made all the more so since we are put in Ivy’s place of having to discover them through touch only since she is blind.

Armed with the knowledge that nothing really exists to harm her, Ivy is allowed to breach the sacred boundaries and embark on a quest to find medicine to heal her only reason for living.  There’s a slight caveat given in order to keep ‘the others’ well alive in the mind of the rest of The Village. Ivy is sent with two companions, all three robed in a special color as a signal to ‘the others’ that they mean no harm and pass in peace.  The trio is even given a bag of ‘magic rocks’ for protection as well…which Ivy promptly dumps out once her companions abandon her for home out of sheer terror.

Our blind heroine finds the road, is met by a compassionate stranger (she notices “a kindness” in his voice that she “did not expect”) and obtains the lifesaving medicine for her soul mate, returns safely, and they live happily ever after.

Except, that is,  for the parents of the jealous autistic perpetrator who must live with their son’s deviant actions and subsequent death.  The autistic youth who stabbed Ivy’s beloved in a fit of envy was found to have escaped his isolation room.  They found him later, dead,  in a pit he’d fallen into whilst following Ivy into the forest,  wearing  one of the costumes of ‘the others’.  Alas, the final lesson of the story is that evil exists within, no matter the lengths we might go to keep it out.

As I watched my sons grow up alongside a myriad of children at church, and watched those children who were home schooled compared to those who were not, I noticed a bit of a difference.   It was my opinion that my boys will be going out into the world to make their way and it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared to survive and contribute positively to society.  If I kept them home, shielded from the realities of the world in which they were born, then not only would be unable to thrive, they would live in it timidly – afraid of others and their motivations…I could already see the beginnings of some of these traits with the children who were more isolated from society.

They are grown now, for the most part – and  I took them out of The Church when I left because I myself had enough fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The eldest has been on his own these past three years now and just landed a great career job, if he decides to make it that.  The other two show great potential as well, comfortable in any sort of crowd, able to converse with just about anyone, and each possess a quick witted humor that makes me proud.   I have every confidence that my children will do well on their own, out in the scary big world because, well, we’ve taught them how to survive in it and they aren’t afraid to listen to new ideas or question old ones.  I feel I’ve done my job as a parent.

As parents we are burdened with the responsibility to raise our children to be independent of us, to live separately from us and thrive in the real world.   We do them a great disservice when we isolate them from the realities of life and coax them into a fearful world full of made up demons and monsters.

We do ourselves a disservice as well.   No matter how big those four walls of any church are, evil exists within it as well as without.  One doesn’t need to peruse internet headlines for very long to see that greed, adultery, gossiping, homosexuality, and child abuse is as alive in the church as it is out of the church.  This truth must be recognized if we are to move forward and progress.

We humans have a history of inventing gods and their demon counterparts as a way to explain our lives and purpose on earth.  It also allows us to blame some demon for a downfall rather than take responsibility for our mistakes ourselves. Evil exists within, and no  matter how elaborate the story we make up, no matter how high the walls we build, no matter how far away we can leave the outside world behind, we will always be confronted with it.   As for me and my house, we will choose the reality of life over man made stories, there is much more peace and freedom to be found living thus.

Peace comes with understanding….it does not pass it.

 

Frankie