Tag Archives: religious beliefs

Authority Issues

“If they don’t stand, fire them.”

It might just be a written comment on Facebook or Twitter, but the tone sure comes across as plainly as if it were spoken on t.v.:  authoritarian.

There’s a reason the Supreme Court of the US ruled that an employer cannot fire its employees for choosing to sit during the pledge or the anthem. “Do this or else!” is an authoritarian demand and demanding blind patriotism and faith leaves no room for dissent or freedom of speech.

The ruling is difficult for those who belong to the fairly large component of our nation that also invokes authoritarianism:  religion.  I spent years in ‘the Church’ and over and over the authority of a supreme being is preached and consumed with vigor.  It’s His way or the highway.  There’s no discussion, there’s no negotiation:  Either believe in Jesus or go straight to hell.  There’s no room for individualism – people are highly discouraged to look for outside sources of information – the Bible is the only and final solution.  “God is a jealous God” He doesn’t accept any behavior except being worshiped and adored (a human who acts thus is considered a narcissist, by the way).  It’s Him and Him alone and He has the last word always via the Bible.  The idea is furthered by the scriptural uttering that the husband is the head of the household, his word is final and therefore also…. authoritarian.

There’s a kind of feedback loop that is occurring which exacerbates the authoritarian streak:  Most Christians are prone to watch only a certain news channel and only certain televangelists.  So whatever is said on that singular channel becomes infused with religion and then repeated, ad nauseam, from the armchair preacher selling apocalyptic food stores.  Hence, authoritarian phrases such as “Kneel or else” gets drilled down upon and affirmed on more than just one level.  When the same is preached from the local pastor on Sunday mornings,  authoritarianism  becomes ingrained in many.  Consequently, there’s a decent sized population in our nation that is predisposed to project that authoritarianism onto our national, democratic principles and would happily sacrifice those principles for the mere conformity and idealism that is esteemed in Church.

It’s my observation that this ingrained authoritarian attitude is related to a kind of  Stockholm Syndrome.  I worship an all-or-nothing god who would throw me to the wolves if I once deviate from his command. However, if I comply without complaint, if I submit without a whimper, if I follow like a sheep, then that same God will feed and take care of me and, maybe, he’ll even allow me to prosper like that guy on t.v. with a mega-church.

Within the four walls of a building, adopting authoritarianism isn’t all that damaging to a nation at large.   It is when the notion spills out of the structure and into the streets where democracy, equality, and freedom of speech are paramount that problems arise.  There will be conflict when authoritarianism, especially in the form of “Kneel or else,” rears it’s head in a democracy where citizens are accustom to absolute freedom.  Just look at the conversations going on these past few days.

It’s a helpful point to understand.  Realizing that authoritarianism is a by-product of the largest religion in our nation allows us to understand why so many are willing to ignore liberty and demand allegiance.  I don’t know that the knowledge is helpful in any discourse between individuals, but it does provide some insight into the mechanics of this current moment of social unrest.  Perhaps there is someone out there who can find a way to bridge the gap and inspire a deeper love for democracy over religiously ingrained authoritarian inclinations.

I am open to suggestions.

Much peace to each of you…

Frankie

Advertisements

The Missing

 

As atheists, we can’t count on an invisible god to get us through our trials.  We don’t turn to a ‘comforter’ when life challenges us.  We don’t appeal to a heavenly deity for miracles that defy nature.    Instead, we turn inward to ourselves.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence:  I spent my time in churches and on my knees,  clinging to some hope that something out there somewhere would somehow ease my pain and see me through whatever heartache I was dealing with.  Now I no longer turn towards a supposed omnipotent energy, I turn inward to myself for comfort, to family and friends for support.

The difference is notable and worth consideration.

Turning outward toward a god keeps us from finding our own strength.  Turning outward toward an entity whose evidence of existence is scant denies us the ability to learn to deal with things on our own.  It robs us of a confidence we find no other way. It stunts our growth as human beings.

It is painful to sound the depths of one’s own soul, it is not easy to learn to comfort one’s self with the challenges of life.   It is real however.   It is rewarding in a way that nothing else is.  It allows us to find a toughness within ourselves we can’t obtain if we turn to someone/something else.   It adds another facet to the diamond of our spirit.   I wouldn’t want it any different.

Here’s to strength, confidence, and growth.   They are ours for the taking…if we’re willing to turn inward and find them.

Yours,

Frankie

 

 

 

 

 


It’s Been a Long Week, Time for a Smile

 

The Book of Chef La La Foutaise:  In Which Haggis Sends Him to Despair (Because I checked the sauce and this one hasn’t been done yet, I think.)

“Let me at him!”  The crude request came from Haggis, who could bear the competition no longer.  It was the early days of what anthropologists call “the foodie revolution” and flocks of Haggis’ followers were fleeing his culinary Highlands for the warmer climes of Italy and the new spaghetti dish made famous by Chef La La Foutaise.   Haggis was pissed about it, he’d kept tummies full for centuries and this young pasta upstart threatened his existence.  He thus traveled the saucy road himself to present his case to The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  How awkward did the dull northern god seem against the glistening tentacles of His Noodly Appendage!

“Fine.” Shouted an irritated, booming voice from somewhere between two giant meatballs and a glob of wet noodles, “Have at him, but you are forbidden to end his life.  He’ll do that himself with a slow death of cholesterol plaque, so keep your mitts off.  His kitchen is open game, so is his herb garden.  Do what you must and may the chips fall where they may.  You will find, however, that my dear Chef is loyal under the most trying circumstances, pasta is his life.   I have faith in this human.”

Haggis left the company of His Noodly Appendage with hope.  If he could dethrone the Chef once and for all he just might be able to remain King of Comfort Food.

His first stop was the Chef’s herb garden.  Trample, tromple, tromp.  Each tender leaf of basil and oregano was methodically bruised and destroyed.   There would be no seasoning in the Chef’s sauce. Our hero did despair as hard as any and verily his sobbing was heard up and down his block as he plucked dried herbs from his pantry and sacrilegiously added them to his fresh tomato sauce.  Yet he did prepare the most scrumptious of delights that evening, and to the Holy Trinity of Pasta, Meatballs, and Sauce, our Chef humbly gave thanks, as well as giving himself a pat on the back for having the forethought to save some of last year’s herb crop.

Seeing that his adversary was undaunted, our bloated villain Haggis took things to a whole ‘nother level.  He destroyed the tomato and garlic crops.

Oh the wailing!  Oh the complaints!  Oh the interesting swear words that were invented the moment our Chef did see that some master of maleficence had visited his favorite garden!  “How?” he whined, “How does one make a spaghetti sauce without fresh garlic and tomatoes?  I simply must cancel my dinner party this evening for I cannot make do in these conditions.”

The Chef was a mess.  The dinner party he planned that night was greatly anticipated among his neighbors; they all looked forward to a meal at the Chef’s house. The food, the ambiance, the company, and the pleasing demeanor of the Chef himself had earned a reputation in the village.   To cancel would bring the wrath of his neighbors upon him, and he saw what they did when the cable company blacked out the local football game.  Let’s just say the cable company changed its mind. He would find a way.

Once the initial shock of losing his freshness wore off, the Chef set about to improvise.  “Ragu it is!” he declared, “But it will be MY version of Ragu, I certainly don’t trust the people at Kraft.”   The challenged Chef unsealed the jar and upon a first whiff of cold sauce, he declared again, “How people can use this stuff on a regular basis is beyond me.”  Without so much as a prayer to His Holiness – it wasn’t needed, the Chef knew exactly what to do in this circumstance – our underdog added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred again.  By the time he was done, the jar of Ragu had been transformed into a culinary miracle:  one could discern the delicate balance between oregano and honey, one could taste a hint of white wine, one could almost imagine that fresh garlic had been added when in reality it was dried.   Once combined with the homemade pasta, the Chef’s guests could tell no difference and praised his talents generously.  The more wine the Chef served, the praisier his guests became.  He kept their glasses full, gave thanks to The Flying Spaghetti Monster for the fruit of the vine, and congratulated himself on his che’effing genius.

While the guests woke up to hangovers and our Chef woke up to dirty dishes, the mighty villain Haggis woke up to disgrace; he thought for sure the Chef would give up without fresh tomatoes for his sauce but he found out the dodgy bastard managed to slide right through the difficulty and please his guests anyway.   Haggis thought long and hard.   If he wasn’t successful at sabotaging the sauce, then the noodles were next.  Consequently and methodically, every jar of olive oil in the village was rendered rancid, every bag of flour was riddled with weevils, every hen was sedated so she couldn’t lay eggs.  “Game on Chef!” Haggis did squeal from the top of a sheep shed, “Let’s see you make a pasta dish NOW!”   Haggis was quite pleased with his work and demonstrated it through his taunting techniques, “What’ll you do, huh?  Try some soy flour and almond oil and substitute applesauce for the eggs?  Ha!  I’d like to see that!”

I wish I could say that the Chef was gracious under these trying circumstances but really he lost his manners and all regard for societal protocol.  He wandered from house to house, didn’t even bother to knock before entering, and ravaged each pantry for fresh staples, leaving a wreck behind.  Haggis did his work well though, and the Chef was left with nothing, not-a-thing with which to make his soft, tender noodles.   Despair tore at his soul while his own hands tore at his apron and he ran around the village square with a repetitive wail, “What will I do now!”  His neighbors did close their doors, their windows, and their curtains in order to leave the Chef to his misery.  Behold! It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster looked upon this frail human with pity.  Verily He wanted to rescue this small soul and tell him that it was okay, that the Chef was just caught in the middle of an infinite battle between Himself and that prick Haggis, that his reaction will affect future generations in no way whatsoever.  But it was against all Colandrial consideration to breech the veil between god and man, so His Noodly Appendage did what most gods do in times such as these:   He invested in industrial strength ear plugs to block the Chef’s whining, and left him to his own devices by going on holiday to Vietnam where there was a new restaurant opening that He wanted to try – bring on the pho and bon appetit!

Feeling abandon by his god as he really was, our Chef did abruptly end his pity party and set to work to overcome his obstacles.  If he could manage to transform a jar of Ragu into a tasty dish, then by god he could manage to make some sort of pasta.  He suddenly became a man who considered his options.  As he studied the contents of his pantry, a small light flickered in the hopeless dark of the Chef’s culinary nightmare – he would triumph.   He closed up the house so his nosy neighbors were prevented from spying, and he set about to do what no Italian had done previously – make a pasta dish without pasta.

Haggis watched his victim squirm and he himself became prematurely giddy with delight when he saw the Chef had boarded up his windows.  “Ha!  I’ve done it, I’ve won! The Chef has shut himself up to wither away.  I will remain king of Comfort Food!”  He then went off to Germany for the night because he developed a thing for sausage while staying on the continent.

Haggis returned the next morning to find the Chef in a state of half-drunk, half-hungover happy delirium.  He had triumphed where none could even face such an obstacle and served his village the most sumptuous dish of first gnocchi.   While Haggis had indeed ruined every flour bin in the neighborhood, there were potatoes that could be put to use along with some butter (gasp!), and a solitary egg from a hen that the Chef shook and dangled so that gravity itself forced the production of a singular, white, oblong cache of culinary glue. By mixing them together and using a jar of Ragu white sauce this time (which, of course, he modified with his own touch as aforementioned), Chef La La Foutaise managed to invent a most wonderful addition to the Italian menu.   The international food landscape was permanently altered.

Never in the history of the gods had one imaginary being been so dejected, so utterly defeated.  Haggis bowed his head, hunched his shoulders, and took his paunchy sausage belly back to the highlands where it belonged.   He pouted the entire way.

“Something wrong?” The Flying Spaghetti  Monster inquired of Haggis,

hisholiness

courtesy wiki.ironchariots.org

whom he bumped into upon returning  from the most phenomenal pho he had ever tasted.  He knew the answer of course, the FSM is after all, omniscient about all things Chef-y, but he wanted to watch Haggis squirm in his loss.  Our Breaded Entity is not above gloating.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Haggis was a broody bitch.

“I heard through the grapevine that something called ‘gnocchi’ has been invented.  That wouldn’t be our Chef La La would it?”  The FSM failed at hiding his smile.  The Chef had surprised even the Holy Noodly Appendage and the latter was most amused over the entire circumstance, He couldn’t wait to try a fresh batch of gnocchi for Himself.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Haggis really was a sore loser.

“I can’t blame you there.  But I can say that I did warn you.  My Chef is a solid homie through and through.  Pasta, uh, always finds a way.”  The FSM did disengage Himself from the cruel northern entity and floated merrily on His way towards the boot-like peninsula where He did give His seal of holy approval to the new menu addition with a mighty “Argh!”

Verily, Haggis learned his lesson.  He never ventured from the highlands again and by-the-by he came to find a quiet pleasure in the small following that he retained in spite of noodles and gnocchi.   We should all be aware of the same lesson Haggis took from the incident however: The Flying Spaghetti Monster will always be more interested in new Vietnamese restaurants than He is in His own congregation.

R’amen.

 

 


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

 


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


Freedom: As Demonstrated in a Drowned Toddler and Defiant Woman

I’m not sure any other picture will be as internationally stirring as the one of the tall lanky policeman carrying the lifeless body of a drowned Syrian toddler.

His family was fleeing a war torn area where a charlatan group of extremist believers (ISIS) would impose a strict theocratic government with no promise of freedom or democracy.   They were leaving behind the quite real possibility of their children being kidnapped and brainwashed to kill or behead ….  at eight years old.  They were running to the promise of safety and security where there might be opportunities, a choice in lifestyle, career, and mobility; where the ability to worship according to personal belief is granted without repercussion.   They, and thousands like them, are willing to endure grueling conditions and the possibility of death for freedom and democracy.

It is a horrendous statement of human arrogance that a baby would die in the pursuit of freedom while a woman born to privilege would abuse that same freedom.

Kim Davis will never know the insecurity of growing up in a nation wracked with war.  Because of her birth place she will never know what it feels like to live under a tyrannic ruler. Kim Davis will not experience what it means to have her political voice stifled as a woman.  She will not know what it feels like to have no choice and no opportunities since she was born in a secure, democratic nation.

Yet.  She would spurn that freedom.  She would defy her own democracy.   She mocks the document that allows her to worship to her own calling – a liberty that others die for, including little Aylan, his brother and his mother.

Kim Davis lives in relative comfort while sitting in jail.  She gets three meals a day, she has a roof over her head, she is protected from violence – even though she disregards the constitution that allows her those comforts.

On the other side of the world, a father buries his two sons and their mother, in a city they fled in order to acquire  the privilege of freedom and democracy.  He took the risk to gain a better life for his family and paid the price that none of us can fathom.

Would that Kim Davis could fathom her place of privilege, and how utterly arrogant her act of defiance is in the face of a drowned toddler.

Yours,

Frankie


Religious Liberty and the Flying Spaghetti Monster: Mandatory Pasta Wednesday Everyone!

There seems to be some confusion over what religious liberty means.

Religious liberty means that I have the ability to believe whatever I want to believe in the privacy of my own home.   I can buy whatever books support my religion, I can watch whatever TV shows support my religion, and I can go to any place of worship without fear of being arrested, harassed, or any repercussions.  It’s my faith.  Since faith is a private issue and I am a public servant, I can do whatever I want in my home but I am not allowed to impose my faith upon those I work with – or for.  I am guaranteed religious liberty by our constitution and if I invoke the document to protect my private faith practices, then I must absolutely invoke it equally to all citizens of this nation and allow them their private faith practices.  As a public servant, I do not get to choose which clientele to help based upon my beliefs, the constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment in public circumstances.

Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage_566_356_c1

Touched by His Noodly Appendage, featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was originally created in August 2005 by the Swedish designer Niklas Jansson as a parody of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Courtesy JewishJournal.com

I’m an unofficial member of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). For reasons I’ll forego here, I’ve chosen this particular faith as my one true religion.   I say the daily Pastafarian Prayer and faithfully eat only pasta for dinner on Wednesday nights as decreed in The Holy Book of Colander, received from His Noodly Appendage and set forth verbatim by Chef La La Foutaise, Chapter 12, verse 3, I think.  I’ve even managed a few times to ‘fast’ according to the Holy Book of Colander, which involves a strict diet of only Manchurin noodles and red wine – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   According to tradition, Chef La La Foutaise set the standard fast at the typical hero duration of forty days, I managed to last two on the rare occasion I was reaching for spiritual enlightenment. “But fasting is certainly not a requirement in order for His Noodly Appendage to appease one’s requests. Our Breaded Entity doth heareth thy pleadings for more Olive Garden restaurants anyhow.” Chef Foutaise, probably.

Because of the guaranty of the constitution, I can do whatever I damn well please with regards to my relationship to His Noodly Appendage – within the four walls of my home and/or local meeting place of fellow church members, uh, Olive Garden.  What I don’t get to do is insist that everyone else eat pasta on Wednesday nights because I am convinced that my religion is the one true religion and Our Breaded Entity the one true god.   What I don’t get to do is refuse to do my job as a public servant because you refuse my religion in the private realm.   I can’t refuse your marriage license, wedding cake, ability to adopt children, right to buy flowers, or right to live according to your faith simply because pesto and breadsticks do not make up at least thirty percent of your diet (as suggested by His Noodly Appendage for robust health – and for the prevention of zombie attacks).

Religious liberty is a private matter.  When we enter the public sphere where we’ve all accepted the premise of democracy through the exercise of equal rights and equal opportunities, we are bound by the constitution to a certain degree to leave our private matters at home.  With religion this idea must be especially true since beliefs and faiths vary across a wide spectrum. Thanks to the constitution we have the ability and permission to believe whatever we wish to believe within the four walls of our home and cranium.  So have at it.  Have fun!   But when we meet at the coffee shop or bakery or courthouse, I expect us to serve each other to the best of our abilities.  And I won’t hold it against you if you don’t eat pasta on Wednesdays.

Yours with a serious snark…

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


Time For an Adjustment: Social Constructs, the Duggars, and a Pew Study

I’ll not forget the struggle I had reading modern philosopher Michel Foucault in graduate school, but I am thankful for the enlightenment it brought to me, especially with regard to an element he termed “social constructs.”

Social constructs are the framework within which a culture decides to build and operate a society.  They emerge from a myriad of sources, (religious texts, scientific discoveries, philosophy – to name a few) and are informally adopted by a society’s members over the course of generations. For example, the US has a unique construct with the marriage of capitalism and christianity which emphasizes an individualistic doctrine.  The Chinese are uniting their elements of communism and an emerging middle-class to produce a more cooperative environment (see John Perkins “Hoodwinked”). Overall, social constructs provide guidelines for citizens of a particular society to follow.

The thing that impresses me most about the idea of social constructs is that they can be changed. They aren’t set in stone. They are subject to new information and therefore malleable, adjustable.

I assert that Americans are learning that some of our current social constructs are in need of adjustment.

While we’re probably all up-to-here with the story of the Duggars, there is one theme that stands out from all the noise surrounding the issue:  willful ignorance and keeping something so wildly instinctual as our sex drive confined to unnaturally narrow definitions necessarily provokes problems. The abuse that’s occurred within the catholic church and the jehovah’s witness sect is a manifestation of the same premise. We can’t ignore our instinctive sexual hunger any more than we can ignore our need to drink water. Yet we’ve agreed to adopt a social construct with a rigid interpretation of sex – based almost entirely on a flawed document  As I read the comments and even a few articles reflecting on the Duggars, one thing seems certain:  the current is changing.  We are seeing the negative effects of this particular social construct and we are ready to realign it to more reasonable, and honest, interpretations.

Giving the current a significant boost in velocity is the discovery that many in the US are turning away from religion and the flawed document it is based upon as noted in the recent Pew Research publishing.   By leaving behind an outdated document, by eliminating it from the foundations of our social constructs, I contend that we should expect adjustments to include instead more science, academics, and probably humanistic tendencies.

Change is painful, it is messy, and it is oftentimes violent.  As we move forward together, we must be conscious of the struggle incurred by adjusting and redefining the social construct of sexuality.  It will help us to be patient with one another.  As we move forward together, we must acknowledge that work is involved, awareness is required, and stubbornness is appropriate so that ignorance no longer has a place within the new frameworks.  It will keep us focused.  As we move forward together, those of us who aren’t a part of the millennial generation need to provide them with exemplary discussions and elevate the standard for hashing out new precepts.   It will give them tools to manage their own adjustments.  As we move forward together it behooves us to keep in mind that social constructs are not permanent, they are pliable and influenced by new concepts.  It will enable us to embrace change.

Here’s to healthy adjustments,

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