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In previous posts I’ve talked about how great things are going now that I know some of my friends from before my realization that I’m an atheist are also atheist, that those I’ve told who are not atheists have been understanding, and that I’ve made some wonderful friends in the freethought group here in town. These things are still wonderful, and have helped me immensely over the past three years (wow, it has almost been three years since I admitted to myself…). I’ve loved becoming involved in the freethought group, getting to go see Dawkins, and attending some of the meetings of the local Americans United for Separation of Church and State chapter in that time. However, there are still things I can’t do as I’d like.
Today there was a rally at the statehouse in support of marriage equality, and there has been a campaign on Facebook to change user images in support of marriage equality. This is all to show support for equality as the United States Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether or not the California ban on gay marriage is constitutional.
I am unable to show my support for fear that I would lose my job were it found out what I believe on the issue. Most people do not have to worry about this, even if they are employed by religious people, the law protects them from religious discrimination. However, that same law does not apply to me as I am employed by a religious institution in a ministerial position. They can fire me over differences of belief without question and I would have no legal recourse. I doubt I’d be able to draw unemployment, either.
So I must keep my head down. When events are high profile, or very public like on Facebook, I can’t participate. I have to let my gay friends, and my friends who also support equality, know that I support them wholeheartedly but cannot make that public knowledge for fear that I would end up homeless in a month. (I could survive a month, probably no longer, on the money I have. I’ve figured that out so I know what the cost of my actions in this regard could be.)
So, to anyone who reads this and isn’t considered equal under the laws of our land yet, I support you. I long for the day when our laws will reflect, not just public opinion, but the moral stance on these matters. I just can’t let everyone know that…
Culture Warriors, hooray!
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
I made an earlier post on some of the practices Christians partake in that indoctrinate themselves, things they willingly participate in to strengthen the hold of religion on their minds. The singing of songs, memorization of scripture, surrounding themselves with the “words of god” so they “mediate on it day and night,” as the scripture commands. But, the biggest part of my indoctrination came long before most of my earliest memories, and is another practice commanded by scripture.
The verse above is the way that Christians think (mostly because it’s what they themselves were taught from a very young age). And it is one of the reasons that religion is such a strong force even in our modern culture. When you teach something to a young child they will not quickly forget it. When you teach that thing to them at every possible opportunity you change the way they think and ingrain it into their minds even deeper.
This weekend I’m visiting my parents, sisters, brother in law, and three year old niece and have witnessed the indoctrination of a very young child in progress, though I first really noticed the practices in November when we were all on vacation at the beach. My niece will be three in one month, and today my father was telling her the crucifixion story. It is amazing that Christians are able to make such a terrible, bloody story sound happy.
My mother had gotten out some Easter eggs, and with them a box of “Resurrection Eggs”. Resurrection Eggs, for the uninformed, are an object lesson someone developed, as far as I know, sometime in 90s. They are the Easter equivalent of an advent calendar. 12 plastic Easter eggs, each with a small item inside to represent a part of the Easter story, opened one a day on the 12 days prior to, and including, Easter. Objects such as a cross, a nail, a spear (usually a toothpick), a rock (symbolizing the stone they rolled in front of the tomb), a bit of rope or leather (to represent the scourge), and so on. The last egg you open is empty, to signify the empty tomb on Easter morning. Often these are sets made at home by parents or Sunday School teachers, but in the past decade or so the Christian marketing sector has started selling ready-made kits.
So, my father was sitting with my niece on the sofa, telling her a bit of the story as she would open each egg. He happily told this 3 year old girl about how the piece of leather represents the scourge that Jesus was beaten with until his back was bloody, and how the thorn symbolizes the crown of thorns which was pressed onto his head. He told her about Jesus dying on the cross and asked her if she knew why he died. She dutifully answered, “To save us from sin.” He went on to explain how the soldier stabbed Jesus in the side with a spear and “blood and water flowed” and that the cloth represents the burial cloth they wrapped his dead body with when they put Jesus in the tomb. He was using the very same graphic language I have used here.
How many parents would let their toddler watch a movie as bloody and gory as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ? (If you haven’t seen this film, just think of any Tarantino film and double the gore. Most Christians were overjoyed with how closely the gore follows the story told in scripture, even if they weren’t happy about some of the liberties Mel took.) In fact, most Christian parents would never let a young child watch this film. I know my parents wouldn’t show it to my niece. Yet many are perfectly happy sharing this story with them without a second thought. My parents, like many people who teach young children at churches around the world, are very good at telling these stories in all their violent, bloody glory while making them sound like good, happy things that are perfectly normal. Yes, Jesus was beaten to a bloody pulp because of you, and then he died. But it’s all OK because he rose from the dead three days later (nothing creepy about that at all). It’s all OK because all of this was God’s plan™ from the very beginning. It is amazing how people can make these horrible things sound so wonderful.
I do not remember my early childhood very well (there are a small handful of memories before I was 5 which I remember with an amazing clarity, tiny vignettes of my early life, but nothing more) and I certainly do not remember my early indoctrination. I am sure it is similar to what my niece is receiving at this point in her life. I was probably taught the same gruesome details of the crucifixion and I probably didn’t think anything of it. I am aware that some children are traumatized by hearing these stories at such a young age, I’m surprised there aren’t far more of them. Maybe I was and just don’t remember it. Or maybe growing up with it being taught as perfectly normal makes a child’s mind more able to accept it without terror.
Children in church are taught that God created the earth in 6 days, that a talking snake and an apple ruined everything, that Noah built a boat that held two of every kind of animal (seven of the clean ones) when God decided to destroy the world, that a baby was born in a stable, and then later brutally murdered because of their sins. They are told this by nearly every adult they know, and they believe it because of this.
I know that I was taught all the little songs that Christian children learn, various bits of scripture and theology condensed into catchy nursery rhyme earworms that burrow deep into your mind forever. I know that I spent every Sunday and Wednesday in church from the earliest age, hearing the same things from every adult in my life.
I witnessed this process many times over with other children in church as I grew up, I even witnessed it, and probably helped, with my younger sisters. They were born when I was 15 so I was there for their very early years when this would have been going on. I didn’t think it so unusual at the time. Now I am sickened by it.
On a brief aside, earlier this month I had the great pleasure of seeing Richard Dawkins in Charleston, South Carolina. One of my friends (one of the ones who went through the whole pantheist stage before becoming a full-fledged, baby eating atheist) went down with me, we stayed with some friends in the area on Friday and were able to make it to the talk in time to grab good seats. Good thing we did! The doors opened at 5 and we were in by 5:10. Our seats were three quarters of the way back in the 450 seat auditorium! The talk didn’t start until 7pm. The auditorium was full, standing room only. They had maybe 75-100 people sitting on the stage (in chairs, on a bench someone found somewhere, and all around on the floor like children at a story time) and filled up three overflow rooms with a live video feed, even! Just venturing to guess I’d say there were probably over 800 people there. I’m sure many had traveled from Georgia, all over South Carolina, and North Carolina to see Dawkins.
The talk was an interview style discussion between Dawkins and Herb Silverman. Herb is perhaps best known of late for his work in starting the Secular Coalition for America, and his book, Candidate Without a Prayer. The book tells of his attempts to challenge South Carolina’s constitutional requirement that office holders sign a statement that they believe in god. First he attempted to run for governor and was denied it. When he sought legal council on the matter he was told that unless he could prove that he had a real chance of winning then they couldn’t challenge the law. Since he was relatively unknown that wasn’t likely. He then found that the law even applied to the position of notary public, and when he applied he was denied. He challenged this in the state supreme court and they found that the state’s constitution was unconstitutional in this matter. Though the law is still on the books, no one may be denied office on the grounds of their beliefs in South Carolina!
The talk was interesting, though it was obviously scripted and many of the points Dawkins made can be heard in other talks he’s given in the past. Most of the questions asked in the Q&A were nonsensical, not actual questions, or just poorly worded. Still, though, I was glad to have been able to see Dawkins in person. I decided against trying to get him to autograph my copy of The God Delusion as I had to be at church bright and early the next morning and the clocks were springing forward that night. In addition to being glad I got to see Dawkins speak, I was very encouraged to see so many nonbelievers together in one place here in the south!
Dawkins is very opposed to the indoctrination of children, and says that it should be considered child abuse to call a child a “Christian child” or a “Muslim child”. He compared it to calling a child a “republican child” or a “democrat child” (though I think there are some parents who would do so) or an “Keynesian child” which I think drives that point home even further. Sadly, many of the children, like my niece, who are called Christian children, will be indoctrinated to such an extent that they will be able to look back at their childhood and see it no differently. They may not have the ability to judge things rationally, but they do have the ability to believe something fervently, especially if it is taught to them by all the adults in their life at every opportunity. I believed these things when I was young, with all my being. I was a Christian child.
The mind of a child is inquisitive, they want to learn. Early on they begin to develop critical thinking skills through the trail and error of their play. Of course, these skills are only starting to develop and are not fully formed at this early age. The young child also accepts what the adults in their lives tell them is true. This is a good thing since it is far better for a child to learn that they shouldn’t touch the stove by being told that as law rather than learning through experimentation.
When you fill the undeveloped child mind with religious nonsense, and tell them that questioning these things is wrong then you take away the tools they are born with to question and learn. They then will likely only learn things they are told and will probably have no way to assess things on their own, skeptically.
It is no wonder so many religious people (my parents included) can buy into nonsense like young earth creation “science” and non-scientific, alternative medicine. They believe what they are told about these things and never apply critical reasoning to the ideas. It started when they were 2 and 3 years old, going to Sunday school, learning about the way Christ was tortured to save them from all the horrible sins in the life of a 3 year old. It took me nearly 30 years to escape from the indoctrination, I’m not at all surprised that some people never see the truth and find a way out.
“God doesn’t send you to hell, it is your own choice to accept him, and salvation, or reject him and be damned to hell.” (Paraphrase of something the pastor said in his sermon today.)
If we accept this idea as true, and many evangelical Christians do, then it either proves that god cannot be omnipotent or that he is a sadistic, evil being. If god cannot control our destiny, then he isn’t all-powerful. If he were, and really desires that all be saved as most Christians will claim, then he could make it so.
The Calvinist (and I was one during the last stages of my Christian belief) believes that the sovereignty of god means he is in control of every minute aspect of the universe and knows everything that has ever happened, is happening, and will happen in the future. Because of this belief they accept that people only come to salvation when god wills it, or calls them to him. It is said that without the wooing of the holy spirit to salvation, man cannot understand the things of god and will never be saved.
I fail to see how anyone who believes that god is omnipotent and omniscient cannot believe this. However, the god in this belief isn’t a very nice being to condemn some to eternal suffering when he could call them to him and give them salvation. The only justification I’ve ever heard for why this god would call some and not others is the oft repeated phrase, “His ways are not our ways.” (Christianeese for, “I don’t have any clue but I’m going to believe this anyway.”)
The Arminian (and most Southern Baptists hold the Arminian view, so I was brought up in it) believes that god, being omnipotent, gives up his control over us, granting us the free will to make our own choices about our destiny. Now, the way I see it this idea has some flaws at a fundamental level. If this god is still all-powerful and all-knowing (as many who hold this belief) then it knows the final outcome of “butterfly effect” on your life. Perhaps the position of an atom at the creation of the universe being just a tiny bit different would effect your choice, god would know that and thus would still be able to change your destiny while still, at some level giving you the ability to choose. But let us not worry about these problems right now and assume that this is, indeed, the way this omnipotent and omniscient god works out destiny. What kind of being, knowing the consequences of such a choice, that some will not believe and because of that disbelief suffer eternal torment, would still make such a choice?
There are examples in scripture that say that god doesn’t want anyone to suffer for all eternity. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (ESV) If, as Peter says here, god wants everyone to be saved, then why would he either a) not call some to him, or b) give us the free will to make our own choice, knowing full well that some will not believe?
To put this in human terms let us use the example of a parent and and young children. Let us say two children between the ages of 3 and 5. This parent effectively has control over whatever the child does in life (not really so in reality, but parents certainly have a lot more control over the lives of their young children than anyone else in a free world). Let us say that the children are in immediate danger of running out into oncoming traffic and the parent is able to stop both them from doing so.
In the Calvinist example, the parent chooses to save one but allows the other to run into traffic and die. We have no idea why the parent made this choice, since they obviously love both of the children and do not wish them to die, and they knew that they would be able to save both. What would we think of this parent if we had all of this information?
In the Arminian example, the parent lets the children make their own choice: Will they run into the street or not? Sure, the parent calls out to the kids and asks them to come away from the street and back into the yard. They tell the kids they will die if they go into the street, but since they want to let the kids make their own decisions in life they don’t physically stop them when they are in the act of running into oncoming traffic (even though, as we have established, they would physically be able to stop both kids from running into traffic if they wanted to). One child heeds the parent’s warning and comes back but the other runs out into traffic and dies. How is this an example of moral parenting?
If the stakes involved in our salvation are higher than those involved in the example above (as most Christians believe that death is not the end of life) then how can we still consider the omnipotent, omniscient god many Christians believe in to be a good and moral being?
I began to see the failings of the commonly held Arminian view of many of the Baptists around me when I was in college. Perhaps because I was friends with a goodly number of folks who were starting to study “reformation” (essentially Calvinism) theology at that time and I began to look into it myself. In fact, I began to believe that it was the only possible way to make our religion make sense. However, I still saw that there were ways to interpret scripture in ways that supported both schools of thought, and I soon began to see that neither god was a very moral being if these things were true, and he was downright insane if he actually desires that everyone be saved but then goes about things in either of the ways I’ve outlined above.
I realize that there are plenty of Christians who do not hold to either view, that believe that god will, indeed, save every person in the end. I’m not entirely sure how many of them back it up in scripture but I am quite certain that they believe this because they are good and moral people who cannot believe in a god who is not good and moral. They are, as some have said, better than their religion, and have changed their religion to fit their own moral views. But there are still plenty of Christians out there who hold firmly to the Calvinist or Arminian views and believe that god is omnipotent and omniscient, wants everyone to be saved, but allows some to suffer eternally for reasons beyond our knowing.
I couldn’t make these ideas mesh into a coherent viewpoint so I abandoned it all together.
In just a bit of site news, I apologize for abandoning this blog for nearly four months. I really have no excuse other than I’ve just been spending time doing other things, none of it overly important. November and December were, of course, two of my busiest months with holiday travel and lots of extra music stuff around Christmas time, and January is always kind of my mental recovery time for that.
I’ve also been spending more time these past few months playing video games. So, I was in Dunwall helping to find the young princess and stop a coup, in Skyrim going on various quests, wandering colonial America looking for an artifact to help stop the end of the world, or in Detroit getting killed and being revived with cybernetic augmentation techology by the biotech firm I work security for. All very important things, of course!
I think, too, that I had much of what I’d intended to say when I started this blog and was suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Sometimes the level of stupid that comes from the pastor’s mouth is just too much for my mind to process… At times this blog has been a way for me to blow off the steam of listening to it, but sometimes I think I just need to let it pass and forget about it.
I won’t promise to post more regularly, but I will promise to try!
Today is the 78th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s birth in 1934. I remember watching Cosmos on PBS as a young child, and Contact was one of the first adult science fiction novels I read outside the Star Wars universe. In addition to being a dinosaur freak at an early age, I was very much into cosmology and astronomy and Cosmos is probably partly responsible. (Before my parents bought into the lies of creationism full-force I was freely allowed to watch such things. Even after they did so, they didn’t seem to monitor what I watched or read in this regard. PBS has always been a mainstay in their household, even to this day. If something they are watching mentions the age of the earth or the process of evolution they might laugh and make a snide remark about it, but they generally don’t stop watching.)
Since discarding religious beliefs and becoming an atheist I’ve read “Demon Haunted World” which I found beautiful. To those who say that we need the hope and ritual of religion to properly appreciate and enjoy life I suggest you check out the Cosmos series, or read the book, or read “Demon Haunted World”. There is much wonder to be held in the natural world. Far more, I think, than you can ever gain through believing in myths. There is so much beauty in the way life has evolved on our planet and the way the universe functions and looks. Thank you, Mr. Sagan, for helping to inspire the love of the cosmos, science, and rational thinking in the minds of myself and so many others.
The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky. – Carl Sagan, Cosmos.
It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it. – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
- Introducing the Cosmos Rewatch: Welcome Back, Carl Sagan (tor.com)
- Happy Carl Sagan Day! (thefinchandpea.com)
- Remembering Carl Sagan (universetoday.com)
- Carl Sagan Day (centerforinquiry.net)
- The Freedom of Nonbelief: Carl Sagan Day (timbrannan.blogspot.com)
This was posted to my local freethought group a couple of days ago and I thought I’d share it here. Really well-made video and it offers a good counter to Pascal’s Wager in video form.