Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interview with an Agnostic Atheist




So, I've settled into my new life pretty well. I've found that each day is so very ... vibrant. So colorful. So full of life. So much love to give and to be had. Each day is a new beginning with no early AM guilt about not praying enough or reading my Bible or being behind in my small group study ... each day is 24 hours to dedicate to absolutely anything I want. It's very nice.


And I've found many times that it's so easy to love. In fact, without the Bible telling me entire people groups are evil or worthy of death (homosexuals: Lev 20:13), I'm able to love EVERYONE without hesitation or judgement. It's absolutely freeing and so incredibly beautiful.


Of course, there are downfalls. Being an agnostic atheist alienates me from many of my friends on a fundamental level. My non-belief is the white elephant in the room during many conversations where in the past I would have asked how their prayer life was going, or how their "walk" was, or talked about a recent sermon at church that hit home. And I know they feel the same. They accept and love me, and I them, but with some I'm just not sure our relationship will make it much longer ... specifically anyone who believes the Bible is the absolute inerrant, infallible, 100% correct word of God, and therefore hates "the gays" and votes with their religion w/o using their heads ... :-/ I'm afraid those friends are long gone, or soon will be.


Anyway, I'm blogging today because I've become something of a token atheist in my circle of friends. I'm OK with this. And I don't push my non-beliefs on anyone! But, you'd be surprised how often it comes up ... most recently, I was approached to do an interview for a girl whose class is studying world religions. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to give her the answers she's looking for, as I'm not actually part of any "religion" and so the questions were really ... well, weird. I guess I'm realizing that as an atheist, I don't pretend to have answers to everything. It's funny, because as a Christian, I would ask: well, where do atheists thing we came from? And I've had people ask me that question. The answer is simply: we don't pretend to know. You're the one pretending to have answers to everything ... silly Christians.


I don't mean to be offensive, just poking fun at my old belief. So, I've listed the questionnaire questions here, immediately followed by my brainstorming and original answers. Of course, when I talk to her, I'm going to pretty much talk from a completely different angle. But if she needs specific answers to her teacher's list of questions, I wanted to have them ready. I removed the first couple of questions that were bday, contact info, etc. So, here are the remaining questions! Remember, still working on them, this is just my first thoughts on the subject. I plan to post again after the interview. "Pray" that it goes well ;-)


2. Interviewee’s Personal Biographical information focusing on life influences (at least 200 words.

3. Interviewee’s Religious classification: (Example: Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) Why do they choose to identify with this group or label?




RELIGIOUS VIEW: (6 POINTS EACH, TOTAL OF 72 POINTS)




1. WHAT IS ETERNAL OR FINITE: Where did things come from? How come there is something, rather than nothing? What creation story do you endorse? Why?

2. EXISTENCE OF GOD / DIVINE / SUPERNATURAL: Is there a God? Why? Why Not? How do you know? What evidence do you offer for existence? Non-existence?

3. GOOD AND EVIL EXIST: Where does good and evil come from? How do we decide which is good and which is evil?

4. IS THERE CHANGE OR A WORLD FORCE: Is the world changing? Or do we as an observer only think it is changing? What is causing change? What will the world become? Will the world end? How? Why?

5. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF HUMANS: How do we get character traits? Do we have innate characteristics? Why are humans not all alike? What traits do we all share in common? Are there differences between males and females?

6. FATE OR FREE WILL: Are humans free to make real choices? Typically, these two items are mutually exclusive, if you say both, then explain how both? What responsibility is there for decisions? Is there punishment or reward for decisions?

7. IS THE SOUL IMMORTAL: Do humans have a soul? Has the souls always existed? Will it forever exist? Where is the soul? Are new souls being created? By whom? If no soul exist argue against the evidence for existence?

8. MIND / EPISTEMOLOGY: How do we know? Through our senses? Through thinking? Through revelation, etc. How does the mind work? Does the mind know anything to begin with?

9. EDUCATION: How should we go about educating people in your religious beliefs? Why? How does your approach fit with your view of humans and epistemology?

10. RITUALS: What religious rituals do you practice? Why? What is the benefit?

11. COMMUNIAL: Is there a need for associating with other people who believe like you do? Why? What happens when adherents get together?

12. OTHER BELIEF SYSTEMS: What is your view of other religious belief systems? Are they right? Are they wrong? Contrast and compare?


2. Interviewee’s Personal Biographical information focusing on life influences (at least 200 words).
I am from a broken family. I say that first because I think it had a large impact on what I did and why for the first couple of decades of my life. I found solace and stability and safety in a local, fairly large church in my small town. I loved the relationship I had with Jesus Christ, and I shared that with everyone. Many friends still credit me with introducing them to Christ. I took it seriously. Lived the Bible as best as I could. Loved the Lord, and I felt he really took charge of my life. I felt that he led me through some very rough waters and held me through many years of turmoil. Mission trips, retreats, Sun mornings, Sun nights, Wed nights at church, member of SCA and co-President of FCA, asked to say the closing prayer (or was it opening?) out of about 250 students at our graduation ceremony. I often felt he had me in His arms. I attended a Christian University (JBU), met my husband, married under our priest with the music leader playing our music and good ‘ol Steven Curtis Chapman sung by one of my bridesmaids. The first act we chose to do as a married couple at the ceremony was to pray together. We sent our kids to private schools, up until 2 years ago, even when my husband decided he was an atheist. I hung on one more year and we still paid $600 monthly to send our daughter to the best Christian school in the area, and our sons to a Christian Mother’s Day Out Program. We had the perfect Christian life. We contributed our financial success to Jesus and had some stories to tell about his healing Brian’s legs (he was in a wheelchair and told he would never walk again), and saving us from financial ruin (when we almost went under and God pulled us out). Seriously, it was good.
3. Interviewee’s Religious classification: (Example: Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) Why do they choose to identify with this group or label?
Currently and for the past 2 - 3 years I’m technically Agnostic Atheist, described by Wikipedia as follows:
The view of those who do not believe in the existence of any deity, but do not claim to know if a deity does or does not exist.
In other words: Agnostic describes what I know. I know that the existence of a God is unknown and possibly unknowable. Atheist is what I believe. Based on my experiences, I believe there is no God.

RELIGIOUS VIEW: (6 POINTS EACH, TOTAL OF 72 POINTS)

1. WHAT IS ETERNAL OR FINITE: Where did things come from? How come there is something, rather than nothing? What creation story do you endorse? Why?
What is eternal? Energy is eternal; it cannot be created nor destroyed (according to the law of the conservation of energy).
What is finite (defined as “having limits or bounds”)? Matter. Anything we can touch, I guess.
Where do things come from? Other things. I came from my mother. My shoes come from a cow and some cotton.
How come there is something rather than nothing? We (humans) do not know what existed presingularity. However, at some point, I would assume it was very close to what is considered “nothing.” We know at some point the Universe was hot and dense, and began expanding rapidly (The Big Bang Theory). All that we find in the cosmos lines up with this theory, so it is the current theory or explanation of where we (humans/earth/life/our solar system) came from.
What creation story do I endorse? Well, that’s a loaded question. Creation presupposes a creator. Why would anyone assume there is a creator? That does not line up with what has been discovered in biology, astronomy, or geology thusfar. I endorse no creation story. I only claim to know what has actually been proven. And my beliefs line up with the scientific community (at least the 98% who do not hold to the outdated creation theory).
Why? Well, why believe anything? I only believe what there is proof for. If not, I shrug my shoulders and move on. My life has been greatly enriched by this worldview [of not assuming anything].

2. EXISTENCE OF GOD / DIVINE / SUPERNATURAL: Is there a God? Why? Why Not? How do you know? What evidence do you offer for existence? Non-existence?
Is there a God? I would ask: which God? Thor? Zeus? Allah? Buddha? Krishna? Zoroaster? And then lead you back to: there is no proof of any of these. If that ever changes, I’ll change my worldview. Until then, any of these is as likely as the next to be “real” or “true.” Therefore, I can either choose to believe in all gods of all times, or none. It is simpler and more reasonable to believe in none.
How do I know? How does one know anything? Experiences. Experts.
What evidence to I offer for non-existence of any gods? Really? That’s a ludicrous question. What evidence is there of any non-existent creature? What evidence is there of the non-existence of the Flying Purple People Eater? What evidence is there of the non-existence of fairies and unicorns? What evidence is there of the non-existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? How can there be evidence that a non-existent creature does not exist?

3. GOOD AND EVIL EXIST: Where does good and evil come from? How do we decide which is good and which is evil?
Where does (do?) good and evil come from? Well, again, that presupposes there are predefined “good” and “evil” and they must “come from” somewhere or someone. Another assumption I would disagree with. Take this example (thanks to my husband!): A mother otter goes looking for food for her babies. She finds a huge, pregnant salmon and brings it home to her little ones. They split it open and eat it, providing sustenance to her and her children. Only, one must realize this Momma Salmon suffered great pain and her and her babies had to die to let the otters live. Is this “murder” good? Is it evil? Or is there even such a thing as “good” and “evil”? It is obvious that there is not. There are things that as a society and a people-group we can agree are unacceptable for us to practice if we are to remain the (for lack of a better word) superior species on the planet. Things such a murder, theft, torture or rape. Other things we’ve decided as a group that we will not allow in USA, but other countries may disagree (marriage by all free people, multiple wives, underage weddings, etc). So, we decide what is acceptable or unacceptable based on what works for us as a people group.

4. IS THERE CHANGE OR A WORLD FORCE: Is the world changing? Or do we as an observer only think it is changing? What is causing change? What will the world become? Will the world end? How? Why?
I don’t understand this question. Is there Change or A World Force? Define “change” and “A world force.” According to google, “Change” is “to make or become different.” So, is there change? Um, yes. And World Force brought up a video game or a vitamin supplement provider. Do those exist? Um, yes.
Is the world changing? Of course. In fact, it has changed a great deal. We were once one large land mass that has since split and become the continents we know today. It is also a few degrees warmer every few years. We have much more technology, and are much more connected than our predecessors.
What is causing change? Asteroids hitting the Earth. Sun flares. Humans are causing damage to the layers protecting us from the sun’s radiation. All kinds of external and internal forces.
Will the world end? I assume so. How would I know that? How would anyone?
How? Why? I have no idea. There are some theories that it will likely be a large asteroid colliding with our planet. Or a sun flare that will instantly heat our atmosphere by hundreds of degrees, killing most/all life instantly. Alien invasion? Or humans ourselves may use our nuclear bombs to destroy all life. Who knows?

5. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF HUMANS: How do we get character traits? Do we have innate characteristics? Why are humans not all alike? What traits do we all share in common? Are there differences between males and females?
What is the nature of Humans? Well, my brother is getting his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, so there is a lot of things I’ve learned over the last couple of years about human nature, just because he has sparked an interest in me. Humans are self-preserving. We want to live. We avoid pain. We are creative (our brains fill in the blanks when we don’t know all the facts). We are attracted to symmetry. We like faces. We tend to “herd” or group together. This is a super short list, but honestly, what do you want to know? This is an entire field of study in itself.
How do we get character traits? Define “character trait” If you mean, what we are born with, Well, that’s unarguably attributed to our DNA.
Do we have innate characteristics? definition: “a feature or quality … that serves to identify it”. Is this hair color? Facial features? These are obviously DNA. If you mean attributes such as honesty, trustworthiness, hard working - these are obviously personal choice and ever-changing. So, those would come from the person themselves and the choices that person makes.
Why are humans not all alike? Because we have evolved and are evolving to be different. Because we choose to be different. Because we are taught to be different. So many reasons ...
What traits do we all share in common? [listed above in human nature]
Are there differences between males and females? Yes. Males have penises. Females have vaginas.

6. FATE OR FREE WILL: Are humans free to make real choices? Typically, these two items are mutually exclusive, if you say both, then explain how both? What responsibility is there for decisions? Is there punishment or reward for decisions?
Are humans free to make real choices? Free from what? Define “real choices.” Yes, humans make real choices every day. We choose everything from what we eat, what we wear, where we work, if we procreate or not, whether we murder … I mean, is there anything we do not choose?
What responsibility is there for decisions? There are natural consequences. You go to work = you get paid. You do not go to work = you do not get paid. There are social consequences. You throw a party = you are fun. You study = you are disciplined.
Are there punishments or rewards for decisions? Punishments or rewards from whom? There are natural consequences, but we’ve already covered that. There are social “rewards” such as the throw party = fun and study = disciplines. Also, socially, if you have a job, you are deemed more of a contributor, which is more socially acceptable than those who don’t. Those are a few examples.

7. IS THE SOUL IMMORTAL: Do humans have a soul? Has the souls always existed? Will it forever exist? Where is the soul? Are new souls being created? By whom? If no soul exist argue against the evidence for existence?
Is the Soul Immortal? This question presupposes we have a soul. Why assume that?
Do humans have a soul? There is no proof of a “spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal” (google definition of “soul”). So, no.
The rest of these questions are irrelevant.
Oh dear Lord, is that last question another request for the argument against an immaterial and unprovable thing? What “evidence” exists for a soul? Cite your sources. How about this? Why don’t you prove to me that a magical creature does not exist in my backyard. Then you can use all your arguments to prove there is no soul. Save me some time :-/

8. MIND / EPISTEMOLOGY: How do we know? Through our senses? Through thinking? Through revelation, etc. How does the mind work? Does the mind know anything to begin with?
This is another entire field of study. I’m sensing a trend in these questions …
How do we know? Well, our brains collect data and basically “make sense” of our surroundings. We do not “know” anything. We only know what we observe and the way we interact with our surroundings. For instance, there is no “red.” This is just a word we’ve ascribed to a certain shade and frequency of light our eyes “see.” There are entire TED talks on it - look them up. They’re fascinating :-)
Senses … thinking … ? Yes. We only “know” what we think we know because of the data we’ve collected from our senses and our brain’s ability to translate that data into useful information.
Revelation? From whom?
How does the mind work? The connections made between neurons. Again, there is an entire field of study dedicated to this …
Does the mind know anything to begin with? To begin with? Like, when we are born? Again, we/it knows what we/it sense(s) and what our brains interpret from those senses.

9. EDUCATION: How should we go about educating people in your religious beliefs? Why? How does your approach fit with your view of humans and epistemology?
How should we go about educating people in your religious beliefs? What religious beliefs? I don’t believe anything really, and I don’t care if other’s ascribe to my beliefs. The only thing I ask is that people are compassionate toward one another. That we all respect and love each other. That we all learn to get along, or coexist. If your worldview, or religion, doesn’t allow that, than you must look at that. It is unacceptable for our people group to NOT coexist. So, whatever you believe, you may not force that on the rest of the population. THAT is what America was founded on. We broke from England because we did not want the state religion to be legislated or forced on us. America is based on the idea of coexisting.
How does your approach fit with your view of humans and epistemology? Well, humans are capable of learning, and we learn by our experiences, so my approach of critical thinking and experiencing life are pretty much right on.

10. RITUALS: What religious rituals do you practice? Why? What is the benefit?
What religious rituals do you practice? Well, since I don’t affiliate with any particular religion, I don’t practice any religious rituals. I will bow my head if someone is praying, out of respect for that person. Some of the rituals I practice are meditating and yoga, which are scientifically proven to be beneficial to one’s body and mind, including our ability to focus and handle stress. I practice the ritual of family time. We eat our meals together at the table. I spend many hours per day holding and cuddling my 3 children and husband. I practice compassion. If a friend has a positive or negative happening in his/her life, I offer food, shelter, money, time, and help in any way. I practice love. I do not judge, but accept everyone for who they are. I offer support to whomever I can whenever I can.
Why? Because I am human, and I am beautiful.
What is the benefit? We live in a community. We must act like it. If we all practice love and acceptance, the world will be a better place in our immediate future, and the extended futures or our children and further generations.

11. COMMUNIAL: Is there a need for associating with other people who believe like you do? Why? What happens when adherents get together?
I don’t know. I struggle with this question. I am currently doing research to seek an answer. I don’t physically “need” other people who are atheists, specifically. The majority of my friends are fundamental Christians. However, to discuss anything in the world of science, I usually seek out my atheist friends. Also, when I get annoyed or otherwise miffed by any part of the absolutely NOT helpful “I’ll pray for you” comments when a friend or I have a problem. Or any of the “creation science” ideas that are put forth by any of my Christian friends. Anything that is just ludicrous and so detrimental to the futures of anyone they are influencing (usually their children).
What happens when adherents get together? I have attended a couple services at a local Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. This church accepts all beliefs. It mostly holds to supporting each other as individuals. They do community services together (which admittedly are easier done in groups). They also do holiday gatherings and events for the children (also both better in groups).

12. OTHER BELIEF SYSTEMS: What is your view of other religious belief systems? Are they right? Are they wrong? Contrast and compare.
Other religious belief systems. If a belief system asks you to accept unconditionally something that cannot be proven, then dictates how you act or behave towards others as part of its dogma, it is harmful to society. Specifically and as an example, the Bible asks us to believe without evidence many things (this is obvious), it then tells us that certain people are evil, for example: do not suffer a witch to live Exodus 22:18, and homosexuals are to be put to death Leviticus 20:13. This is obviously harmful, as we can see in numerous cases where Christians have lashed out based on this “holy” Bible and harmed another human unjustly. (most recent: father gags and binds and beats 6 yr old for four days because prophetess in church says she is a “witch”; a teenage girl is gagged and raped, her sister witnesses it, yet the girl is brought home, trampled on and lashed to death because she committed adultry with a married man; Mom drowns her 5 children because, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”; Man kidnaps young girl and keeps her as one of his wives, forcing her to have sex with him and otherwise serve him for months until she is found, because God told him to; parents deny their child medical care because God will heal her; he didn’t.) There are hundreds, no thousands of stories that are too horrible to read, all done out of ignorance. These people do not hate their children. They believe they are doing “God’s will.” Do you see the danger in denying ourselves of our critical thinking? Of accepting ANY book or worldview completely on “faith”? It is more dangerous than I would like to admit.



As I answer these questions, I realized atheism is so very different than religions think it is. Atheism does not claim to have answers to these questions. There is beauty and humility in that. Atheists are so very misunderstood. 

As I'm answering these questions, I'm realizing that we are not a religion at all. A religion by definition (via google) is "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." Literally, by definition, atheism is the opposite of a religion. Religions claim to know so much ... it's weird looking back. I cannot believe how pompous and judgmental I was, all in the name of humility and love. And I would have said atheists were the bad guys. But honestly, we're all just humans navigating this life together. We're all trying to find answers, just going about it different ways. 

On that note, I'm going to bed. Goodnight Elders of the Internet ...


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Difficulties ...

This blog has caused me some unforeseen difficulties.

I have had many people express gratitude for keeping it real, and for being so open and honest. It feels great to know that so many people have found comfort in what I've been able to share. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to touch people's lives, if only briefly.

I'm having some difficulties. I guess I should have seen this coming. When my husband first started down this path, I really with everything in me believed he'd "be back." That he'd find the Truth (i.e. God) and we'd have a good laugh about his little "atheist time" over wine one night. Plus, I was happy in my life with my God. I really and truly did not want to know that there was a possibility that He wasn't real.

Finally I asked myself this: "What am I afraid of?" I have Truth on my side, so no matter how much I search, I'll always find that all truth points back to the source of truth: God. So, I allowed myself to openly search, question, and even doubt. Of course, that led me here.

So how could I not have seen this coming? I have many friends who are very happy where they are. I am the one "shaking the boat" and it's causing a great uncomfortable feeling when I see them. I'm not sure if it's them or me ... but I know the name of the white elephant in the room: Atheism. I've also been in awkward group situations where one person is openly saying how much they've enjoyed my blog, loudly enough to be heard by many others who I know hold their respective religions very tightly. And they turn to look ... and I just don't know what they are thinking! I am so very uncomfortable because of course I assume it's something like: YOU did this! YOU started my friend down this path. YOU have diluted her faith ... etc. Also, I KNOW some people don't support my decision, and it just makes it so incredibly uncomfortable in group settings when someone wants to talk about my blog. I had not seen that coming!

Another difficulty is this: along this journey I have dedicated myself to the study of the Bible (not a study book ABOUT the Bible, or a sermon ON the Bible, but the Bible itself - front to back and beginning to end). I have also picked up a textbook on the origins of the NT. I've also begun researching physics to better understand the origins of the universe. My next step is to study logic, to better sharpen the one tool I have in this journey, my brain. This journey has led to the most intensive study I've done since college. Therefore I naturally have a lot of information on the subject. When I talk to friends who don't have as much information, I come across condescending. I'm not sure how to debate my friends who maybe have not read the same things I have, but I know that I'm losing some of them because of it. And this makes me sad.

Another difficulty: I'm confused, and honestly getting kind of annoyed ... I have followed many debates on Facebook, and there is an unmistakable trend: status update, followed by comment from well-meaning friend1 containing some sort of mis-information, followed by argument from well-meaning friend2 hoping to clear up mis-information but admittedly doing it in a blunt in-your-face manner, followed by well-meaning friend1 never rebutting original argument. In short: those arguing against a god are well-spoken and well-reasoned and well-cited and well-researched; those arguing for a god are "not interested in debating" or just "don't want to argue." But as Christians, shouldn't this be a huge priority??? Why are the atheists willing to put in more time than the Christians, who have much more to "sell" - like life eternal? I know that was one reason I started down this path. I thought well, what do I have to lose (or what am I afraid of?)? "Someone has to set these atheists straight!" But it's just not happening. I'm STILL waiting for the big KAPOW from some Christian somewhere, where we [atheists] all go, oh good, I was HOPING there was a God! But it just hasn't happened. I'm just confused and kinda annoyed at the lackadaisical attitude of the Theists as a whole. Or maybe I'm just seeing it wrong.

I didn't mean to end on a down note. I stopped blogging because the blog in general has caused some uncomfortable situations and some negative feelings and anxieties for me. I'm going to try to continue, because it is such an important topic and I know there are a lot of people out there who need to know that they are not alone, they are not crazy, and it's OK to be an atheist!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Struggles, Part II: Help

Something I'm struggling with is this: I miss prayer. I miss the feeling that someone who could fix everything was listening, cared about me, and was waiting for me to ask so he could grant me happiness, peace, joy, etc.

A few days ago, I was snapping at my kids. It was the end of the day, I was tired, and they were just annoying me - there was no excuse for it, just me being short-tempered. I realized that I would usually end that night by praying for patience. I would wake up with a new attitude and I would feel like God granted me patience, and I would act accordingly. Now I think that was confirmation bias toward what I wanted to believe. And it makes me sad. I miss having something that worked for me ... even if it was a placebo.

I miss having someone who was there for me no matter what, who listened when I asked questions and who loved me for me. I keep thinking I can try meditating on patience or peace or joy, and maybe that would help. I just can't imagine I would "act accordingly" the next day with the same enthusiasm as when I thought it was God granting my requests. Only time will tell.

If there is anyone out there who has had any luck with this, or has any answers, I'd love to hear what works for you.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Journey, Part III: Friends and Family

Friends and Family

This has surprised me, as I think it does every person who takes this road. The thing about leaving any major belief system, is that all of a sudden, it's no big deal. If there is nothing to believe, there is nothing to really think about. I'm not really sure how else to put it because I know that explanation is lacking. Let's look at the opposing view: there IS something to believe in. There IS a higher power who demands nothing less than ALL of you. Well, that's one all-consuming idea! So, once you leave that lifestyle, all of a sudden, you're no longer bothered by it. However, many people you love (and who love you!) still believe and it is their everything. They believe you are going to die and burn in hell for all eternity because you no longer believe. You hear things like "you've been on my heart/mind lately" and "we're so sorry to hear about this" and "we're praying for you." And you know they are worried sick.

I take all these things as signs of love from these believers. Obviously they are doing everything they know how to "help" me. It is sweet. I know not all atheists agree, but I think it is sweet. I hate that they are worried about me, but in time it will blow over.

There are those friends and family who try to argue with you. As if you've not looked all the facts already. You get: "For every atheist argument, there is a Christian argument that is just as good." What? First of all, wha-what??? You cannot make an all-encompassing statement like that. It just proves how ignorant you are. The funny thing about "atheist arguments" is that we don't need any. We are not trying to prove anything. We just think the religious arguments don't hold up. We can't prove that something DOESN'T exist. It's like trying to disprove you are not a thief. What? [Thanks to JT for that!] The proof must come from the person making the claim. In this case, there is a group [theists] making an extraordinary claim: There IS a superpower/god. Furthermore, [from Christians] he wrote a book, sent his only "son" [and part of himself in this awkward Trinity arrangement?] and demands your entire self, promising you an eternity in the hereafter with Him... just to be clear: this is an extraordinary claim. Therefore, it requires extraordinary evidence. I'm still waiting for that evidence. I digress ...

Overall, my family has been very supportive. They lovingly have bought us books (some laughable but I appreciate the thought). I am certain they pray for us. I have been lucky enough to have one family member de-converted with me! We are now able to respond in the same manner (we laugh) about some of our old beliefs. We also mourn over not having a superpower to pray to when things get hard. But we lean on each other and we get through it.

Friends... the first time I mentioned on Facebook that I had become an atheist, I had approximately 25 friends drop me overnight. I have no idea who they were, but I'm guessing they didn't really care about me. The surprising part has been the friends I didn't know all that well who have offered support (albeit usually through prayer), and even offered to gather evidence for me to re-convert to Christianity. It is so sweet. I've had some very, very close friends ignore the change altogether. It's like they're in denial. I don't even think they've read about my journey here. It has been SO strange.

The highly annoying people are those who say: you want proof? Well there's this scientist ... who proves a God through science ... here see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0-NPPIeeRk. OK, sorry but don't waste my time! I had a large handful of people try to sneak in sermons in the name of science. It was at first laughable, then just plain annoying. The sad part is, once I asked these people about the videos, they personally had not watched them. UGH!!! The same thing was happening with books: read THIS or THAT. It is a response to ______ [insert anti-religious book title here]. And then as I'm TRYING to get through the ridiculous reasoning (or lack there-of) in the books they recommended, I find out said person hasn't read said book and is only offering it because he/she heard it was a good response ... do NOT offer "evidence" to someone who is genuinely seeking unless you have checked it out yourself. It will just push them further into the "Christians are ignorant of science" direction. Just sayin'!

I know a lot of my friends have been scared about family response. I am from a fundamental Christian background (Baptist actually) and my husband was raised Pentecostal. I can only speak for our experiences, but our families have been overwhelmingly supportive. So, don't be scared. Be open with your friends and family. It must be so hard to hide something so big from them. I think you would want honesty and openness from your child/friend/loved one.

On a sidenote, I have received many private messages on Facebook and e-mail, numbering into the 20s, saying they lost faith a long time ago but could not "come out" publicly because of work, spouse, family etc. I hate this for them. And that is why I'm here, sharing all this with you.

I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THERE IS A SAFE PLACE TO LAND HERE. Atheism is not scary. After the initial shock, it's quite pleasant. And you will still have your true friends, and sometimes even a few more <3 to everyone and have a great day!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Journey, Part II: What About the Kids?

What about the Kids?

This above all else, was my biggest concern when my husband came to me with his newfound disbelief in our decade long religious foundation. What about the kids? I am a believer; you are not. How will we raise the kids?

How does one answer that? I was adamant about one thing: the morality that Christianity teaches. He was no longer a believer, and we still enrolled our oldest daughter in a fundamental Christian kindergarten (Bible inerrancy and all!). I was still questioning, but one thing I knew for certain: those atheists have no moral absolutes. I would not raise my children that way! *sigh*

Now I'll be honest: I did not know where to file this blog, under My Journey or My Struggles, because to be blatantly honest, I still struggle with it. Brian and I both do. However! I did find an excellent book called Parenting Beyond Belief that answered many questions for me. I would FULLY recommend it to anyone who is questioning their faith and want to know if they could possibly see themselves raising their children as free thinkers.

My fear here is that I know how I was raised. I know how my husband was raised. We are good people. It stands to reason that whatever we were raised with as our moral backbone "works." HOWEVER, it does not exclude other options. It's just an unknown to us. I do not like unknowns. We have decided, after months (years even?) of talking with friends and debating, to just be honest with our kids. To always keep an open conversation going about all things. To ask the questions: how do you know? what evidence to you have for that? and what do you think? This opens the doors to many deep conversations. You'd be surprised how deep 6 year olds and 4 year olds can get when you don't shut the door with "well, that's what the Bible says."

My daughter still believes in a God. We don't argue with her about it. My husband has been known to ask her "which God" over waffles. Lol. We don't allow any opportunity to communicate with our children to pass.

How will they behave as teenagers? Only time will tell I suppose. I have to be honest here - I was a Bible-thumping, Bible believing, kiddo who went on mission trips with my church and I was still sexually active as a teen. So, even though I'd love to think that a belief in God would guarantee that my children would be little saints, I know this for a fact is not true. I know too many Christians IRL.

So we have decided above all else to build true self-esteem in our children. This requires some serious sacrifice. We are dedicated to never turning away the question "why" and we take our children on one-on-one dates, spend time with them over dinner and breakfast. We do not have any cable or anything besides movies and hulu, so we have a LOT of time to just sit and stare at each other! We go on hikes, build legos together, color, and just spend quality time with our children. We feel this is the answer to a positive morality structure. Teaching our children that they are WORTH something. They are unique and special and deserve to be heard. We encourage them to build hypotheses (what is a hypothesis we ask our 4 yr old? "a theory that can be tested!" he replies!) and then to do experiments to test them.

I'll share a quick story my creative husband came up with for our 6 year old. She was scared of ghosts. Swore she saw/heard them one night. He asked her: how can we test that? She came up with tying a string between 2 doors - one was stationary and the other not - to see if it moved ... (not the most perfect model, but it worked for her). After about an hour she looked at it and concluded that the door had not moved, therefore no ghost had entered or exited w/o her knowledge and therefore there were no ghosts in that room. *Applause* to Brian for encouraging evidence-based belief for our daughter.

We also had a death in the family shortly after I'd deconverted. This was new territory for both of us since becoming non-believers. My husband had to comfort his religious family without compromising his new beliefs (he even spoke at the funeral). We also had to explain to our daughter where her great-grandmother now was. We told her that she was a part of all of us in that when she went into the ground she would deteriorate. Her body would nourish the trees which give us air to breathe. We would literally inhale her for the next few thousand years. When we want to think of her, we stop and take a deep breath. We also remember her in some traditions. We talked in length about what it means to celebrate someone, both living and dead. It was difficult but we made it through with intellectual honesty.

What about morals? Why be nice to people as an atheist? Since there's no God to give me rules, can't I just do whatever I want??? Is it a 24 hour/day pornfest with stealing and murder as my new favorite things to do???

Yeah. I know. It sounds over the top, but I did ask that. Where in the world would we get our morality from? True story, I called a few of my non-religious friends and asked very personal questions about sexuality, morality, and how the hell we decide what is right or wrong? You know the response: what do you think?

What do I think? Well I think murder is wrong, unless in self-defense. Why? Well, I live in a society that would not work if everyone went around killing each other. If we as humans lived alone, we could and should do whatever it takes to survive. However, we live in a village. We congregate. We need each other. Therefore, we must hold ourselves to a system that keeps that group intact and we must do the things that allow us to function as a society. For example, we cannot steal or personal property would not be a reality. We cannot murder, or our society/village would deteriorate in size and structure. We must find what works as a group. And we have! We protect the weak with our concept of minority rights while furthering our society through the democratic system of voting on issues we find important. In short, we do what works to further humankind. This is where we get our morality, and this works (we all have to do what works for us!).

The long and short of it:
How do you raise your children to be free thinkers? You allow them to think freely. You answer very few questions for them. Instead, you allow them to reach their own conclusions and you help them along the way. Be forewarned: this takes time and energy. But I feel that our future generations are worth it. And it feels right.

On a more controversial note (and I considered leaving this out), the idea of spanking is really only upheld nowadays in religious circles. There are numerous studies that have overwhelmingly shown spanking to be ineffective and destructive. However, it is still continued with the "spare the rod spoil the child" Bible verses among my religious friends. This is very, very hard for me to watch. Knowing it leads to aggression, bullying, lower IQ, and even statistically speaking prison time, I despise knowing my friends readily hit their children as a form of discipline. This is just another sidenote, but a way that I have moved from doing something just "because the Bible says so" into the world of evidence-based answers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Biggie

I need to share the final realization that pushed me over the edge.

I would read articles or hear news reports periodically on news sites or at the gym or on some tv station somewhere that documented some horrendous event that happened to an unsuspected or undeserving victim. The horrors in 3rd world countries got to me, as did the stories of mommies killing or abusing their children. The heartbreaking stories of female genital mutilation broke my heart for those little girls. The human trafficking of young girls to be sex slaves, raped, spit on, abused, and often times killed at the hands of their "owners" made me sick to my stomach. The poor children who's skulls where bashed in by a hammer wielded by the mother who "loved" them.

As a Christian, I would cry out WHY GOD??? And many times just my own little prayer: oh God, oh God, oh God, like I was calling his attention to the matter. So I started believing: Oh God! Oh God - save these girls!!! You love them! Fix this! Oh God, you know this isn't right: make a change ...

But I was calling out in vain. I began realizing that either I worshipped a dead God, or a God that could not make large meaningful changes, or a God that would not make large meaningful changes (like culture-wide changes where these girls are saved from these grave injustices). It all came down to this: http://www.unc.edu/~megw/Evil.html
The question of evil. I realized that my answer was not sufficient for the evil I saw all around me. I realized that I could NOT look those little girls in the eye, those girls who had suffered and were only a shell of a human being, and tell them that God loves them. Because I no longer believed it.

Furthermore, I decided that if there WAS a God who COULD have stopped these injustices but didn't, I actually wanted nothing to do with him. I could not imagine a person/being/deity that heartless and evil. It was a huge thing to admit, but it allowed me to breathe freely. I actually was able to say: NO to the idea of a God who could fix these horrible injustices but who chose not to. I was able to say not only do I not believe, I don't want to. That was a big step.

Don't get me wrong. I still want to believe in the all-loving, all-wonderful, all-perfect, all-good God/Jesus that is presented to me by many Christians. I just can't reconcile him with the God of the Bible and the evil present on this Earth.

This was short but by far my biggest realization along this journey. It is easy to sit in our comfy couches on our expensive laptops with our full bellies and cheap wine and say: Well, God is in control and his love is perfect. But when it comes to the nitty gritty, horrible, hungry, war-torn countries and the atrocities that are committed, we cannot hold those dying, bloodied between the legs little 2 yr olds and tell them that God loves them. Again and for the last time I call bullshit.

The Arguments, If I Dare ... Questions 1, 2

I'm not sure how to approach this post. I've had a few friends want to kind of have a meeting of minds. I think it's a good idea, but also dangerous for friendships because you can't read feelings over the Internet. Everything comes across unfeeling and could be interpreted as so many things. I would love to debate and/or throw ideas back and forth, but I guess do it at your own risk?

Something to consider: Atheism and Theism are both conclusions. The facts are what should be debated. You cannot change someone's conclusion but you can present new facts or disprove others.

I'm not really sure how to go about it, but I do need to eventually get it out there for my own sake.

The thing is, my conclusion is that there is nothing to believe. I cannot argue the non-existence of something. For instance: Please argue that there is no flying purple people eater... OK. there is none. ? All I can do is say: there is no evidence to support a flying purple people eater (besides maybe a popular song? lol). I would say the same thing about Theism.

For much more reasoned and researched debates, see the best known atheist apologists and theist apologists debate here: http://www.debategod.org/

For my personal beliefs, here goes:

According to Wiki ... the top arguments for a God

1) Cosmological argument (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument) Basically that something must have started the universe off, and that must be God.

My thoughts? Prove it. First of all, the universe is slowly expanding, which leads me to believe it originated in a much more condensed form. The prevailing answer from science is this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beginning_of_the_universe
I find this much more probable than the answer: "God did it" with no proof. This theory has been well-proven; however, there is still no explanation as to the absolute beginning - how, why. At least so far.

I know that Christians argue: but how did we get organization or form from chaos? Read the wiki article now, and order A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking). I've only read portions of the book (the chapter dealing with the origins of the universe). But there are very probably theories out there that do not rely on a creator.

I believe our world is constantly changing, as are the billions of other worlds. Ours has evolved life; it is reasonable to assume others have as well. There are many other planets ripe for life even in our solar system! Google it for yourself, or watch the Wonders of our Solar System with physicist Brian Cox (BBC). There is so much to learn about our existence if we just open our eyes and ears and minds! And it is BEAUTIFUL!

I'm also willing to admit that I don't know. Those who are making extraordinary claims (for instance, a super being who magically put it all together and then disappeared?) must have extraordinary evidence to support those claims. If not, there is no reason to sway TOWARD an extraordinary belief. For now, it is safer and more logical to NOT believe in a superpower (or flying purple people eater?) until it is proven.


2) Teleological argument (or design argument). This argument also encompasses the watchmaker idea.
This argument basically states that the world/universe/all existence are so complex and detailed that they must have had a creator. For instance, you wouldn't look at a watch and assume it evolved, you would ask who made it.

My thoughts: this argument presupposes that the life/universe/existence we lead and are a part of are perfectly made. The beginning premise is that what we see around us is too complicated to have come about on its own. I think that science has disproven this in spades. We've seen the evolution of many plants naturally, and even some animals. We also see many animals in a transitional phase. For instance, you might ask well, how does a wing evolve? Google pictures for a flying squirrel, or a flying snake. Animals that might be flying animals in the future, both started as ground animals. What about animals evolving where we can see them? OK! Here's one Darwin wold have loved: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyRA807djLc (it's the story of a peppered moth who evolved over a hundred years or so and we (humans/scientists/biologists) witnessed. So, it is NOT unreasonable to assume this universe IS and HAS evolved.

Also, I would argue that if this universe was created, then the creation would be perfect. There are many animals, plants, and even humans with parts we don't need or that even make life more difficult. We are adaptable. We have what works for us now, but hasn't always worked. We as a species are ever-changing! It's really fascinating! See this article: http://news.discovery.com/human/humans-evolving-111006.html just to start.

Also, this was true in our lives - our son was born with an extra nub growing out of his hand (a very small finger). I think he's grown into it, but my doc says this happens fairly often. Him (or maybe his brother or sister?) had basically a wing growing off his ribs that he had removed. Start some research for yourself. This is a fascinating subject. My point is that if we have all these changes today, why would we assume we have been created and that we have been the same for thousands (or millions?) of years? If we can grow a wing and an extra finger, then it is very possible that these things have happened before and that some of them led to who we are today.