March 5, 2012
I don’t know how many people have read through the back entries on this blog. They’re not as well written as my posts about the churches and they are rather deeply personal. I explain a lot about what led me to God as well as what took me away, and then convinced me of his nonexistence. I also explain the familial relationships that draw me back, ever so slightly, toward reconciliations with faith. My influences are many, my studies are myriad, and my driving forces are often enigmatic, even to me.
One thing that I can say for certain, though, is that the death of my eldest brother changed my life irrevocably. I was very young when it happened, and my reality was shaped by the way adults around me dealt with the loss. As part of exorcising those sorts of demons, I wrote many things. Most of them are too painful to deal with, as are all necessary catharses, but this one is a bit different. I wrote a fantasy book, in the vein of The Phantom Tollbooth (my favorite book as a child), and my wife adapted it into a play. Theater is how she gets things out of her system, and even though I can’t go to see the play–that’d just be too much for me–I’m very proud of the work she’s done and the lives that she has touched.
As a result, I thought I’d ask you–all of you–if you’d like to help her out. She has a Kickstarter page here, and it would mean a lot to her if you could help her meet or exceed her goals. Though I, as an atheist, am often down to earth and cynical about the magic that most people see in the world, she still manages to find some and put it up on stage. If you feel so inclined, please help her continue to put that magic before others. Here’s her website for more information, a picture of the poster below.
If you’re in the area and would like to see the play, there is a show tonight at 7:30 PM, and many more next weekend. Click here if you’d like to buy tickets–yes, you can even get them online. Feel free to come and see a bit of what makes me tick. You won’t be disappointed.
February 24, 2012
I tend to stay away from politics the same way that I stay away from religion: starting a debate, even with someone who appears to be sane and logical, often ends up with me being branded an offensive cynic. I recognize the touchiness of both of these subjects, especially as this country becomes more and more obsessed with “war(s) on religion” and the like. I understand that people are bound to have disagreements, and I simply attempt to steer clear of them whenever possible. When I do write, I write from a standpoint of clear and calm reason, with as little of my potentially strident intonation as possible. This is why my blog is written the way it is: with an honest (and earnest) voice of reconciliation, while maintaining a concrete foundation in demonstrable facts. I want you to be able to listen to me long enough to hear me, and I want you to hear me well enough to consider what I have to say.
This post is about politics and religion. I want it to be perfectly clear that I don’t support any candidate for any political office. I find it hard to vote for anyone because I can see the imminent failure, even in the most optimistic and outspoken of leaders. I won’t say any more on the subject of whom I might vote for, but will only address the specific issue that has brought me back to this project and back to this page.
In an interview with Glenn Beck, Rick Santorum remarked that Obama’s desire to send more of our nation’s youth to college is an attempt to secularize the nation and embattle religion. If you want to see it for yourself, here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzGPfwBm22M. Let it not be said that I’ve put words in the man’s mouth.
To the religious: I understand your beliefs and why you have them, but I think that we need to put a few things in perspective. Religion is not the export that keeps this nation afloat. Religion did not put a man on the moon, nor did it invent any of the technology that makes your daily life possible. Religion did not discover the carbon filament and it did not compile the first lightbulb. In fact, the man who invented these things was not religious at all, and neither are thousands of today’s best and brightest. Religion will not fix our economy, unless perhaps churches start paying taxes. Despite what Santorum suggests, growing up religious and shying away from the accumulated knowledge of mankind will do nothing to improve our country. What has made humanity great is its willingness to confront the unknown, discover the new, and innovate on the old—three things that religion has historically subverted, frowned upon, or outright destroyed.
More to his point, universities are not designed to strip students of their religion. Instead, they are designed to instruct students in the methodology that will allow them to be useful in the world. These skills are rather simple: the embracing of doubt, the usefulness of empirical review, and the reliance on proof-based thinking. Hypotheses that cannot be proven are rather useless in the grand scheme of things. One cannot claim to explain anything—from the behavior of mice to the inner workings of a black hole—without demonstrable proof. DNA testing is useless if it fails more often than not, as is a psychological model of economics. One who is not willing to question his assumptions in the face of contrary evidence is not thinking like a scientist. One who does not think like a scientist does not belong in a position of influence over scientific matters. Imagine if Galileo had simply laid down and allowed the Catholic church to continue its rampage against reality, or if Darwin had simply failed to publish his works in the face of the burden of religious derision. Further, imagine that the ideology of the Amish or Orthodox Jews (more closely following their religious texts than any other pretenders to those thrones) were in charge of whether or not we could create new technology, or even wear clothing made of synthetic fibers, and you’ll see what religion truly thinks of innovation. It took the Catholic Church hundreds of years to admit most of its scientific missteps, and without the onslaught of empirical proof, they might never have relented.
If you still disagree with me, consider the following hypothetical scenario:
While crossing the street in a busy metropolitan area, you are struck by a car and thrown to the street. Your arm is dislocated and the pain is excruciating. Two men approach, one of which has obviously just gotten off of a shift at the hospital across the street, the other of which is wearing a McDonalds uniform. As you stumble to your feet, they both offer you advice concerning your improperly angled appendage. The advice that they offer is similar, though both require a considerable amount of extra discomfort to put your arm back into the socket. The fast food worker insists that all you need to do is grab your belt and shake your shoulders from side to side; the doctor claims that you’d be best off laying on the ground while he puts his foot to your ribcage, pulls on your arm, and places ball firmly back into socket. Whose advice do you follow?
If you’re not an idiot, you’ll follow the doctor’s suggestion. It will obviously hurt more, but it is based on years of accumulated knowledge. He has been trained in methodology that has been tried on generations of humans, from battlefields to sports arenas and yes, metropolitan streets. If it didn’t work, he wouldn’t do it. No matter what the McDonalds employee might claim—“I’ve seen it work before,” “that’s what my dad always did when his shoulder got away from him,” “I did it once,” “I speak for God and he has told me that you will be healed”—you’re not going to trust in his abilities or his decisions because he doesn’t have the proper evidence-based pedigree behind his claims. To take it one step further, consider chemotherapy, one of the most prevalent (and trusted) treatments for aggressive cancers. If I were to tell you that we plan on injecting you with radioactive material, killing a vast number of your cells in the process, making you nauseas and ill over a period of months—but that then you’d get better—you’d look at me like I was crazy. But after it has been proven to work, and the science is firmly rooted in reality and the effects are apparent and widespread—you’ll strap yourself to a chair and allow a doctor to fill your veins with any of the elements from the periodic table that he sees fit.
The difference between how we learned about chemotherapy and how we learned about religion is night and day. Where medicine is a constantly changing challenge of ideas in the grand marketplace of empirical evidence, religion is often rooted in the ancient (and unconfirmed) past. When religion does make attempts to rectify its systems with modern life, its agents all too often cherry-pick their statistics and undermine (if not outright ignore) contrary evidence. If you don’t believe me, check any of the entries on this blog, but especially the War on Earth one here. Atheists don’t argue via Dan Brown books, but these particular Christians considered it more than fair to treat The DaVinci Code as if it were the end-all and be-all of philosophical entreaties against religious intolerance. In science, we take all comers, consider their views, and test them. Do you believe in the power of prayer? Review the scientific documentation of that power and you’ll find that it hasn’t proven to work in any legitimate setting. For a moment, imagine if the heresay that supports prayer as a viable option in some people’s estimation was all that it took to get a drug to the market or a humanity-filled rocket into the air. I have no problem with prayer—but I do have a problem with it being considered scientifically sound because it has failed that test.
Very few entities in this world are attacking religion outright, and universities are definitely not among them. Though the religious often believe that they have found a methodology that works for them, many fail to see beyond their own immediate situations and consider anomalous data. Many hate based on their own psychology. Some act based on only the circumstances that they can see from their own front porches. It is science’s job to open willing eyes to the realities of the world, and the university, as the home of science, will do its best to consider all relevant factors. When expanding one’s mind necessarily conflicts with his belief system, it is not the shackles of indoctrination but the freedom of enlightenment that will steer his future.
In closing, imagine if we as Americans were willing to stake our futures on someone whose greatest driving force was a voice that he heard in his head, and you’ll understand why those of us who worry about reality are bothered by claims like the above from people like Rick Santorum. Imagine your world without the lightbulb, electricity, refrigeration, pasteurization, the computer, the television, the telephone, the clothes on your back and the synthetic building materials that comprise most of your household and you’ll start to understand what a world without Universities, without their students, and without the simple thought that we could be wrong and we can do better, would be like. I don’t care who you vote for, but if you consider yourself a sane individual, speak out against inanity like this when you hear it. Either that or, if you would rather cease to be a hypocrite, give up what science has bequeathed to you and return to the mountaintop hermitage that religion, unfettered by the scientific method, would have offered you. Your aversion to such a decision mirrors my aversion to the defamation of science and universities. Hopefully we can find common ground here.
January 14, 2012
Hello dear readers, if any of you still happen to exist. I’m very bad with endings–in fact, I often just let things sort of fade away as I did with this project. Though the work I did on Churchgoing was interesting and, I think, useful for quite a few people, it was also a bit more engagement than I have time for anymore. I haven’t been to a church for anything more than a wedding since the last time I posted here. Well, the truth is, I did have to go to FIVE different weddings last year, but really, there hasn’t been much for me to write about otherwise. There are sports icons flaunting their religion while people die in floods around the world and all of that, but really, that’s not my usual area of discourse, so it’s best to leave it alone.
For those of you who were wondering, I’ve been busy working and building a business for myself as a private tutor for most subjects you can name. I study the physiological and neurological side of education (as best as one can without a PhD in the subject) and use those discoveries to help my students succeed. It’s a tough but rewarding job and I’ve seen a lot of students off to some really good colleges in the past two years. I will be blogging about education for the foreseeable future at this site here. Also keeping me busy this year was a more intellectual pursuit: I had the wonderful opportunity to work at Stanford, helping neurologists design websites to show off their brilliant and life-saving work. My first client was the wonderful Dr. Monje-Deisseroth who is pushing to cure a deadly form of pediatric brain cancer. You can see the page I created and learn more about her work here: http://neurology.stanford.edu/labs/monjelab/
You see, I didn’t really abandon this project so much as put my time and effort into the things that I believe in. Where Christians might pray or attend church to calm their nerves or find some sort of edification, I sought out the things that would make me a better person in my own way. I donated some of my tutoring hours and I got to visit with some extraordinary people like Dr. Monje and Dr. Han (another Stanford doctor who works on Multiple Sclerosis) instead of arguing about the non-existence of deities. It’s a nice change, to be honest. I even took a chance and applied to Stanford’s PhD program in education myself, a rather lofty and (probably) unattainable goal, but it never hurts to hope.
It was a big year for Atheists last year and next year can only be bigger. There’s a planned march on Washington for the sake of all things secular and, though we lost Christopher Hitchens, the spirit of his argument still burns within millions of us around the world. In the end, I hope that this entry, though off topic, can help those searching the web for someone to relate to. I hope that it can remind the religious among us that no matter the heat of the discourse, Atheists are people with lives and aspirations, too. If you’re wondering about their feelings or reasoning, ask them–politely–and they will probably enlighten you. On the other hand, if you’re questioning your beliefs, don’t operate under the false impression that you have to be the next Richard Dawkins to step away from a place your heart no longer lies. There’s a spectrum here with us, as everywhere else–something I learned from my church visits. No matter who you are, find someone like minded and enjoy his or her company, but occasionally, step outside of your comfort zone and see how the other half lives.
For the time being, feel free to read the back entries, comment and keep the discussion going. Feel free to spread the work I’ve done here around. If you’re feeling ambitious, feel free to invite me to come to your church. Who knows, I might just take you up on the offer.
May 19, 2011
Read this. Read it In its entirety, and then return here. There are no words I could write that could better express this situation and it would be foolish to try.
Now onto the matter at hand:
Hitchens gave me my voice. Though Harris may have dragged me from Pascal’s flimsy wager and Dawkins may have prepared me to push back against those who would claim science’s support, it was Christopher Hitchens who gave me the courage to talk. Though Daniel Dennett and Penn Gillette may offer varying opinions on matters of religious sanctimony, it was Hitchens who showed me how the faithless could speak with the same dignified conviction usually reserved for the faithful. By example, Hitchens taught me how to carry myself in the face of an onslaught. He taught me how to change hearts and minds by being the person—occasionally abrasive, but always considerate and therefore charming—that I was born to be.
For me, Hitchens is more than an atheist. He is more than a writer and a debater: he is the man that I wish I had known when I was twelve years old, when I fell into religion for want of an alternative. The allure of basketball down at the Mormon Church or chaste, hand-holding dances would have held no sway had there been a man of his caliber to guide me. Had I been offered a dissenting opinion, one with courage, with questions, and with introspection, I would never have experienced my own intellectual dark age. Had there been books with purposes and poets with deeper messages; had there been unbiased conversation and a solid review of history, I never would have seen the inside of those dingy halls. Had there been one man certain enough of himself to offer his side of the story, I may have learned about the world. I may have had truth.
The fact that it wasn’t to be—that I had no one willing to question my ill-gotten faith—is of little consequence now. But I do wonder. I wonder what it could have been like to have had that even keel through adolescence, to have been offered the chance to learn who I was (and who I could be), at that young age. How many times I could have stood up for myself and others. How many chances I missed to really learn about the world, about myself, and about the society in which I live. How much more I could know now. Where my ambitions could have led me, had I seen the purpose of the Ivy League and the worth of true academia instead of waiting for chance and God to guide me.
Though his is fast fading, Hitchens has given his voice to me and many others. We are unafraid to broach the bigger topics in life because of his example. We are happy to talk to others about our lack of faith which, it must be said, is not a lack. It is a great gift that we have been given, this view from the shoulders of giants, and I cherish it every day of my life.
Though he may never read this, I will still send it. Though he may never respond, I don’t need for him to. He has already given so much and I will see to it that his gifts continue to bear fruit in the future. I will make sure that no one ever lacks that which he so eloquently has given us and that, even in his absence, we continue to question the world with the same harsh veracity he always has.
Though it must be of little consolation to one so ill, I offer him the only thing I can: my sincerest gratitude.
Thank you, Christopher Hitchens. I wish you the best.
February 21, 2011
I don’t believe in a lot of things, but I especially don’t believe in beating around any proverbial bushes, so I’ll come right out and say it: this morning, on his 78th birthday, my grandfather passed away. He had an aneurysm earlier in the week and essentially lost a lifetime of memories, the use of half of his body, and any number of other cognitive faculties on that day.
After the initial damage had been repaired, the other veins and arteries that webbed across and through his brain fell apart, releasing even more blood into his already sensitive situation. The wounds failed to heal because of an unexplained anomaly in his blood that sprang up a few short months ago—he had too many white cells and too few platelets. Even with constant care and the help of doctors, they were unable to seal the leaks. My mother, ever the strongest of her generation, was trying to find a place for him to live out the remainder of his numbered days when he slipped away. He was already unconscious, lost somewhere inside of his injured brain, but it still hit the family hard. At least they have a god, if not the same one my grandfather had, for solace.
It’s at these times—when I lose a beloved friend or family member—when I think of writing an essay entitled “Atheist Meets Foxhole, Is Undeterred,” but I never do. It’s a brash statement to make, that loss doesn’t turn me to religion, and it makes it sound like I have no heart. I do, though. I’m just a bit numb, especially now.
The truth is, my entire life has been spent in a foxhole, one way or another. I never spoke of it, least of all to the internet, but while I was graduating this summer, indeed, while I was giving my final presentations at Antioch, my father was in the hospital recovering (with many complications) from surgery that had recently relieved him of a cancerous internal organ. Before then, there were other troubles, and before those, even more. Those of you who have read the early entries to this blog know what I’m talking about, those of you who are interested are welcome to go and read them.
But losing my grandfather is different. It’s not my own personal struggle, it’s an irrevocable loss. When I was younger, I had no concept of the changes I would experience when I lost my grandmother, losses that are compounded now with the loss of her loving husband. I’m not even biologically related to the man I lost today, but that doesn’t matter: he married my grandmother long before I was born, took care of my parents when they were in need, and has supported me in my every endeavor—even this one.
What many of you probably hadn’t guessed is that my grandfather is—was—a biblical literalist. One of those, “the earth is six thousand years old,” Christians. The kind who argue in ways that make their pastors blush, retreat, and hit their bibles like never before. When I visited my hometown in the years since my parents moved away, I slept in a room that had two cinderblock-and-plywood bookshelves covered in religious literature. He even had a bible split into several volumes, and, after my grandmother died, a book appeared bearing the title, “Where is God When it Hurts?”
For him, God was always there.
For me, he doesn’t exist.
Yet we would dine together, or get an extremely late breakfast—right on time for me, but lagging far behind his usual 4am wakeup—on my way out of town every time I came. Across the table from one another, eating McDonalds when the budget was tight or fancier eggs and toast, we’d talk about God plainly. He’d make his case, talk to me about the Mormon Church (a heresy in his eyes, though he did appreciate what they’d done for my mother and me), how he believed that God had zapped the fossils in the earth’s crust into existence the day He had created the land—everything. He made allowances for anything that would make his case, working out the miracles as he went. When I mentioned Occam’s Razor, the notion that when all things are equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one, he would just claim that nothing was simpler than God’s will. The bible was his everything, the beginning and the end of every argument.
As this project grew, I talked with him at length about each of the churches I had visited and what I had learned. Miraculously, he never tried to talk me into a religion, never tried to change me or make me anything other than what I was. I could walk into his house with my hair dyed blue, wearing makeup or women’s clothing and he would scoff a bit, offer me a hug, and get on with discussing what I wanted for dinner. His door was always open and he embodied what a real Christian should. He was a man free of judgment, who even when he spoke of how the bible condemned homosexuality would shrug it off with a raspy Texan laugh and talk about how he didn’t mind homosexuals too much and even enjoyed some of our friends who swung that sinful way.
He was a Texan. He was ex-Navy. He was a biblical literalist. He was a stubborn mule of a man. He was my mother’s stepfather.
But to me, he was grandpa.
My one regret is that my children, when I have them, will never get a chance to know him or his wife, two of the kindest, most understanding people I have ever known. I’m glad that I got to call them mine, while
they were here.
As an Atheist, their loss hits me hard. There are no words—no prayers, no well-wishes—that can console me. The only thing I have is time, memories, and my writing. One way or another, my children will know those who have gone before, even if they themselves have arrived too late.
November 26, 2010
Though I prefer to paint myself as an activist in the atheist world, there are places I don’t do it. Namely, places where I am drastically outnumbered, and places where I would be disrupting too many people’s lives at once. In the first instance, it’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation about anything when too many people are throwing their hats into the ring and reinforcing stereotypes. In the second, it’s a matter of respect. I wouldn’t want a theist to walk into a skeptic’s meeting and rile everyone up, so I apply the same standard to myself. This Thanksgiving featured both of those circumstances, and as such, I kept my mouth shut on a couple of issues, one of which I’d like to discuss with you.
This Thanksgiving, we had a prayer before dinner. Well, not so much before dinner as during it. We did a buffet sort of self-serving routine, and about the time half of us had our food (and some of us were already eating), my grandfather insisted that one of my uncles come and offer a blessing. My grandfather is deeply religious, as regular readers already know. My uncle, though not my grandfather’s son by birth, is descended from religious folk. I’m pretty sure my biological grandfather (a man I only met a few times before he died) spent more than a couple hours discussing the good book in front of an audience. I know for a fact that one of my other uncles is deeply religious (he told me so when I mentioned this blog to him), and that the other one is so deep into spirituality that you might as well refer to him as a de facto theist at this point. Among the other attendees were my incredibly religious nephew, my brother who claims to be an atheist but defends the beliefs of others to a rather ridiculous extent, and my family who has recently returned to church. My wife (the partial agnostic) is still up in Santa Cruz preparing for opening night of her professional directorial debut (break a leg, my dear), and thus, I was all alone in my disbelief, mired in a bog of believers.
Now, let me begin by saying I understand wanting to bless the food. I really do. It’s a tradition that’s been around for centuries, if not millennia. Thanking God (or whomever you happen to believe in) is perfectly fine, especially on a holiday that is based on the very concept of thanks. (Obviously, I wouldn’t do it if I had my way. Personally, I prefer to thank the people who purchased and prepared the food, but I’m the weird one here.)
A normal blessing, one that thanks god for the bounty of this feast, for the good health we have, for the trees and all that, is, as I said, perfectly within the realm of respectability for me. But what many theists don’t realize, is that prayers of this sort can easily become less about being thankful, and more about being, in a word, fearful.
Our prayer started out innocuous enough, though my uncle did insist on using phrases that assert the supremacy of god. I can get past that, the whole “our God in charge of everything” thing. But the part that didn’t sit well with me came after the thanks. He said, “please help us to recognize that everything we have comes from you, and that everything is because of your will.” Those of you who are open minded, reading this alone on your long weekend, read that sentence again. Maybe three times.
“Please help us to recognize that everything we have comes from you, and that everything is because of your will.”
“Please help us to recognize that everything we have comes from you, and that everything is because of your will.”
Now tell me, honestly: is that sentence more for God, or for my uncle’s three children? Or for the ungodly one in the room? I don’t suspect my uncle of any malicious intent—he really goes out of his way to be a nice guy most of the time—but I don’t think he has any idea how this sort of thing sounds. I don’t think anyone who ever offers this prayer aloud, to an audience, really thinks about the words that are coming out of his mouth. One on one, alone, on your knees by the side of your bed, I understand asking God to help you remember where your blessings come from. I understand asking him to help you keep your faith, especially if it’s an often-tenuous proposition. I also understand saying this sort of thing in front of an audience of devout believers, where everyone is hoping for similar results. But to say this in the blessing of a meal strikes me as odd. Something about it makes me question this prayer the same way I question backhanded compliments, as if it’s some sort of code. “That’s a beautiful painting for someone who hasn’t been trained in the arts.” To me, it felt far less inviting than it could have. But again, I’m the weird one.
I’m interested in your opinions. I feel like prayer is a sacred space where no one casts a critical eye, and maybe we should. Some people hide threats within prayers, and I’ve (more than once) heard someone send a message to their children while offering their heartfelt thanks to their chosen deity. I don’t really know how much these public prayers are about god anymore. What do you think?
November 12, 2010
I wasn’t sure that people would continue coming to the site, given that I haven’t had time to do a proper update in a while, but apparently, I’ve had many visitors this past week. Given that, I would really like to leave you with something to think about, whether or not it’s straight from my mouth. Here’s an article that Penn Jillette tweeted today. It’s about ministers who have lost their faith–because they read atheist literature as well as the bible. Somehow, taking a critical look at the bible can make it rather difficult to reconcile the differences and inconsistencies it contains. For those of you who always tell me I should read the bible, feel free to chew on these details for a little while:
I’ll be back at you soon, one way or another. Seems I might be doing lunch with one of my favorite pastors soon.
October 26, 2010
I digress more than I get to the point lately. I suppose that’s the hallmark of a distracted mind. I’ve got a few more important things on my mind than religion. By definition, as an atheist, I’m fairly unconcerned with it. I don’t really want any misconceptions here: I do think that religion is mostly nonsense. I do think that any system that puts doubt in doubt is beyond tragic, and that convincing people to believe without seeing does them a great disservice. All superstitions aside, including the time wasted knocking on wood and kneeling for prayer of any sort, there are churches that don’t do a whole hell of a lot of good in this world, and those are where my attention most readily goes. I wish I had time to explore again, to see what’s good in the world, but for now, I’ve fallen into a rather pessimistic phase.
But all is not lost. Apparently, my family has made a bit of a return to God, and my father left this comment on the blog recently. Given that most people don’t patrol the comments, looking for new content, I wanted to post it here on the front page for all to see. Though he’s back in the good graces of God, I want you to notice that my skepticism is far from God-given: my attitude is straight up genetic.
Mom, Melissa (my younger sister) and I have been attending a Church that one of Melissa’s friends’ family likes. I will mention no names here. When you enter the Church, located in the Industrial area of Simi Valley Ca., you are greeted by a very nice coffee bar, in several flavors. There are the usual folks standing at the door with the agenda for the service. The seating is Movie Theater style with the seats gradually set higher than the ones in front to allow a good view.
The regular preacher has been in attendance only once in the several times we have been there. He was on a vacation to Hawaii the first two times we attended.
We went to a service in the evening a couple of weeks ago and he actually was there. He sounded more a motivational speaker than a preacher. He is young and handsome. He wears street attire and delivers his words in a more common manner. He uses no big words and wears a perpetual smile.
When you enter you may sit where you want. Then… the music starts! The front man is shoeless fellow with a preacher’s message. His back-up band is a motley crew of musicians. Among them are two lead guitars and sometimes three. There are acoustic and electric. There is a drummer and a keyboardist. The music is so loud that I have resorted to wearing earplugs! I do not think that God meant for you to have your hearing ruined for life.
Back to the band if I might. One of the lead guitar players is tipping his guitar back side up as he plays. One base player looks as though he just stepped in from the halls of a very informal high school. He wears t-shirts with some sort of message on the front every time he plays. Some of others look like the usual battle of the bands type. Funny hats, faded blue jeans and tattoos. A couple have the clean cut look. There is even a screen that shows the lyrics while you sing along. But, the last time I was there, after the lyrics to Amazing Grace had been depleted, they added a made up verse of their own. And that one had no screen assistance. It left thinking “What the?”
As I said before, I had to wear ear plugs. The funny thing is, they were not much good to me as the music was extraordinarily loud. After the music was over, I could hear only my ears ringing. I could not make out half of what the preacher was saying. In short, the word I was supposed to receive was unobtainable to me.
I am told it was a pretty good sermon. I will never know though. I don’t know if I will try it again. Maybe I am getting to old for this? I do wish that they had, had a healing session after, I could have used it.
I love my family, and I hope that this church gives them what they want without any of the bad aftertaste that the Mormons occasionally left them with.
Which brings me to my second point. I endured a bit of a public shaming (via Facebook no less) from my mother this week. I made a comment about being in a Laundromat and how disturbed I was that there was so much religious propaganda in it. I’d found some of these little notes on cars outside of the grocery store (in the rain, no less), but in the Laundromat itself, there were dozens of them scattered about. They weren’t simply on the tables, they were also on top of every single washer, every dryer, and even tucked into the faces of some of the machines. You literally could not cast your eyes across the room without spotting at least ten of them. I, being a good Samaritan, decided to read some of them, to see what they were about and what kind of vision they were propounding. Some were about God and whether or not he “cares when you’re suffering,” while others were about (and I kid you not here, dear readers) exactly to whom people are talking to when they say they’re “talking with the dead.” We all know how I favor the psychics around here…
Long story short, I took the pamphlets home with me. Not just a couple, or one of each type, but as many as I could get my hands on. I also came away with a couple of magazines from Watchtower, the Jehova’s Witness press. Basically, I took these things out of circulation to prevent them from falling into the wrong (read gullible) hands.
My mother literally told me “shame on you. Someone else might have found what they were looking for in those things.” I don’t take such a comment lightly, especially from my mother. Despite common assumptions to the contrary, I do care what she, and others, think of me. I really do. And thus, this explanation:
The next time you see propaganda from a church, I want you to take a page from my playbook and ask yourself a couple of questions about the people who wrote those leaflets, left them there, and espouse the beliefs that caused them to come into being. First of all, what kind of church is this? Second, what kind of information does this pamphlet contain? Third, is there a drastic disconnect between the true beliefs of that organization and the pamphlet in question? In my case, many of these things were left by the JW’s, whose beliefs include several harmful, ridiculous notions. In the literature, there was, of course, no mention of those less savory things, but instead, only discussions of God’s perfect love for us. (We must assume that this love for us doesn’t include any respect for our lives in some cases, especially those that center around blood transfusions, but whatever.)
This is my point: if you see religious propaganda from a church, you should be suspicious. What kinds of churches need to disseminate propaganda around town just to bolster their memberships? (Hint: often times, it’s the not so good ones, the ones that have dark secrets, the ones that have to have two faces just to get by.) I will tell you all the same thing I told my mother: if these pamphlets had been from a community church, with a Xeroxed flier on the wall with tear-off tabs that said, “we’re here to help,” I would have left it alone. But when they lure you in this way, with the best of their doctrines only spearheading a slow simmer of regrettable details to follow, they’re not worthy of even the briefest consideration. If someone wants to find God, I would never stand in his way. But if “God” is trying to find you, especially through a pamphlet in a Laundromat, you might want to figure out who the real source is before you end up trapped.
One final explanation: among the bad tastes that the Mormons have been known to leave in people’s mouths are their bizarre beliefs about death. My mother was once informed that my eldest brother’s soul was irreparably lost because she had had him cremated. Other leaders of the church disagreed with the genius who made this claim, but the damage was done. There is also the “keep the Sabbath day holy” nonsense to deal with. If you’re a good Mormon, you’re not allowed to do anything on Sunday. It’s not quite as harsh as ultra-orthodox Judaism (where you can’t even push an elevator button on the Sabbath), but it’s bad enough. No sports, no swimming (and this includes lounging in the pool, according to some), or anything of the sort. No gathering for anything except for church… These details, when turned into social pressures, shouldn’t have to be a part of the bargain, and thus, I will always secret away the propaganda I find from this type of church. I don’t agree with anyone who presents a one-sided case, only to spring the less-agreeable facts later on. After all, this is what so many of us dislike about our fellow human beings in the first place. When was the last time you approved of a lie by omission?
But I’ll keep it civil. If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your opinion, but first, I want you to consider these questions before you reply:
1) Am I thinking about my own church and giving it undue deference because it’s the one I belong to? (I don’t want to hear, “oh, well, we put out happy fliers and then weigh people down with Sisyphean stones later, but it’s okay because I believe in it”—that’s crap. Though, I would like to see the word “Sisyphean” in the comments someday. Good story that.)
2) Would I not rather the soon-to-be-believer come to a church that really does have a sense of community not based on guilt-trip returns once the honeymoon is over? (Both the Mormons I’ve dealt with and many of the JW’s I’ve read about have these problems, but there are obviously better alternatives out there–how about a church where love really is the answer?)
3) Do I really think that these pamphlets would have been helpful as more than foot-in-the-door, gateway-drug, conversation starters? (This is the only of the three I can see having any sort of intelligent argument behind it, and thus, I am most open to this interpretation. Still, given the potential consequences, I am undeterred in my mission.)
I’m interested in what you think, but I do want to mention that, if you believe as I do that these churches should stop their predatory practices, don’t just pass these things by. Take the items in question. Recycle them. Leave what you will in their place, a letter of understanding, a business card with your church’s details written on it, whatever. I’m not saying we should cut God out of these public spaces, I’m saying we should cut churches who succeed because of their big budgets (more than their love and mutual respect) out of society. Period. It will be far easier to build a better tomorrow without them, I assure you.
September 21, 2010
Hello dear readers:
I haven’t abandoned you, I assure you, but things have gotten a little hectic around the house. After a month or so of having no work, I’ve had to scrounge up every opportunity possible to keep the bills paid, especially as my student loans start to come due. Teaching and tutoring so much has been rather rough, but the real drain on my intellectual capabilities has been writing test copy for my parent company. Basically, I’ve been writing passages for mock SAT and ACT exams and I haven’t had time to write a word of anything I’d actually like to have down on paper.
Well, I guess I did sneak a question or two about Christopher Hitchens into my passages, but that’s besides the point.
I still owe you a Japan entry, something that I think about nearly everyday. Sometime soon, I will get those words down on the page and get my butt back in the pews at local churches. As soon as I do, you will hear about it.
One final thing: Christopher Hitchens has written an autobiography, Hitch 22, and I believe everyone should go out and read it. For those of you who say we atheists don’t believe in anything, check the previous sentence. It’s not a tirade against religion, but rather a discussion about the formation of one of the most brilliant minds of our times. My father, a man who regularly disagrees with Hitchens, has come around to see who the man is and where he has come from because of this book, and I believe you might as well. The second half of the book, when Hitchens gets more into our modern condition, is slightly more relevant to this blog than his younger days, but the whole thing is well-written and worth the effort.
I hope to see you all back here soon.
July 24, 2010
I’m working diligently on my Japan entries, but they’re taking longer than usual. You see, given that I couldn’t understand most of what was going on while I was there, I was more or less sight-seeing, but that doesn’t make for a very good blog. I mean, you enjoy some of my observations, but I’d rather give a bit of a history lesson and the overall cultural effects of the things I see rather than simply pile on the fluff for you to read and immediately discard from memory. Thus, I’m reading up on the things I saw and their histories to back up (or rearrange) my perceptions of the things I saw. It’s really fun, but… like I said, it takes a little while.
In the meantime, I’ve received a letter that I would like to address, especially since it isn’t the first one of these that I’ve ever gotten. Please allow me to return the letter here before I do so on paper.
Dear Nancy Menefee
Your handwritten note is a sweet little sentiment, albeit one that is misguided in so many ways it’s hard to enumerate them. Well, allow me to try:
Firstly, I’m an atheist, and your waste of paper, postage, and effort are a sad reflection on humanity. These letters that you send to hundreds of people (I live in a trailer park and I know you sent one to each of the fifty homes in here), are generally thrown immediately into the recycling bin. Honestly, you’d do better going door to door–at least then the energy you wasted would be yours and yours alone, instead of that of the mail service whom you have employed to tote your nonsense around for you. It seems to me that coupons and religious propaganda are all I receive in the mail lately and we could save a hell of a lot of trees if one or both of you would simply knock it off.
Secondly, your letter is unbelievably childish and ridiculous. After the common greetings and a mention of your “worldwide volunteer work to share an encouraging message from God’s word,” you ask if I check my horoscope before leaving the house each day. Well, Nancy, as a matter of fact, I don’t. Horoscopes are even more nonsensical than your belief in God, and, dare I say, more damaging to those delusional enough to invest their lives in such off-the-cuff tripe. I have known people to interpret their entire lives according to the signs and to cause themselves to have bad days simply because some idiot in a newspaper office decided that “Capricorn should be wary of the waning moon.” No, actually, Capricorn should be wary of swallowing nonsense from an asshole with a typewriter. I’m an asshole with a typewriter–I should know. Furthermore, the fact that you associate the bible (hurray Kings) with seeing constellations and interpreting them only further demeans the book that I already find worse than useless. I suppose it’s a good idea that you’re targeting those feeble-minded enough to follow you on the whole horoscope thing (I mean, they’re a better audience than I am), but you’re really not helping your case.
Finally, you ask if I would like to “learn more about this subject and others,” then request that I please write you. Well, I would like to learn more about… other subjects. That’s why there are schools. And blogs. And newspapers. And books. And podcasts. And specialists. And professors. And teachers. And lectures. And essays. And libraries (which you demean in your letter, you sad sack). And colleges. And universities. Unfortunately for you, I have no desire to learn about your religion because I know enough already. I’m writing you for one simple reason: to inform you that you are brainwashed and that you need to open your eyes if you hope to lead a productive, peaceful, and fulfilling life.
So, Nancy–the other thing you put in your envelope is a pamphlet that asks Would You Like To Know The Truth? Yes, yes I would. Unfortunately, the “truth” you offer comes from the only book that “contains reliable answers” in your view, which is, of course, the bible. But worse than that, it’s not even a real bible. It’s something called the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures–With References. What would we ever do without those references?
Inside this treasure trove of terror (your pamphlet, not your own personal bible), you feature images like a man lost in a crowd, a child who has obviously been the victim of severe violence, gravestones (how evocative of our own mortality! good choice!), a girl who is obviously wondering “is there any hope for the dead?” (according to the accompanying headline), a man in prayer, and finally, a smiling woman holding a bible to her chest. I appreciate the scriptural references for all of these things and the fact that you think you have all of the answers, however, I am not going to refute you one point at a time. You see, I’m not a biblical scholar, but rather a pragmatist.
Given that pragmatism is probably not a word you’re going to find in the bible, let me describe it for you: I worry about reality and how to make life better while I’m alive for myself and for others. Why? because that’s the only sensible thing to worry about. The afterlife, what the bible says, all of that–really, it’s all debatable. If you don’t believe me, ask a Muslim. Or a Hindu. Or a really devout Buddhist. Or a Krsna. Or a philosopher. Or a history book. Or even a few different scientists–you’re bound to find some that think they have the answers, but no consensus, just like in religious circles. The one thing I know is that suffering in this world can be prevented and the surest way to prevent it is to
STOP LISTENING TO JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. (And, subsequently, anyone else who behaves like a fucking cult. Yes, I used the f word–there needs to be emphasis on this point.)
Is there hope for the dead? Well, how about some hope for the living? I know that the only Jehovah’s Witness I knew growing up was taunted, teased, and constantly depressed because of his beliefs. It’s fun being the only kid who doesn’t get to eat a cupcake because it’s someone else’s birthday. Or to have your own birthday party. Or to celebrate a holiday.
But let’s stray away from the circumstantial evidence of my childhood. Here’s a blog I found written by an ex-Jehovah’s witness about his experiences. (Well, here’s a quote for those of you who don’t want to click over:)
He describes your ritualistic idiocy as
A set of beliefs which teach young children that their whole world, including non-Jehovah’s Witness relatives, schoolmates etc. is soon going to be destroyed by god because they are evil, wicked people. I was becoming more and more aware that what Jehovah’s Witnesses are prepared to teach children, MY children, is wholly inappropriate.
I reasoned that if this religion could take me, a happy go lucky 17 year old and turn me into a paranoid, depressed, anxious wreck, then what could they do to my children by means of this gradual drip, drip, drip that happens as you soak in their words and phrases?
That sounds like a fun way to live. Also, please note that I didn’t make that up. I’m also not making up the fact that your religion instructs you to refuse blood transfusions, even unto the point of letting yourself, or worse, your children, die. There’s no need to discuss the medical basis for such refusals–after all, the decision against transfusions was made back in the supremely well-informed 1930′s. Who can question such sound science from a time when blood was simply removed from one body and dripped into another? It’s not like we’ve improved the process over the last eighty years.
More than all of this, though, I’m simply offended by your decision to bother good people, in person or through the mail, with your beliefs. What you don’t realize is that people who want religion (I will never admit to anyone “needing” religion) will seek it out. If your beliefs are worthwhile, they will find you, probably through what we call the Internet. Should your claims prove to be viable (or helpful), they may come knocking on your door, but by all means, leave my household alone.
I would wish you luck, but that would be a falsification of my feelings. I wish you no luck in your current endeavor to twist the minds of susceptible people, though I do wish for you a swift and decisive split from your church.
PS : I don’t have an order form for any specific books, but I would insist that you read some that aren’t printed by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Maybe try out “Crisis of Conscience”–it seems up your alley and was suggested by someone smart enough to part with your particular ideology.