Archive | Faith/Atheism

Christmas Without Christ

A Christian friend posted a meme on social media recently that said something about living dangerously by saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” and it got me thinking.

Obviously, the implication is that by saying “Merry Christmas,” Christians face the risk of backlash from the heathens of the world.  As far as I know, this is a non-existent risk.  I’ve never witnessed, read about, or heard about any backlash towards anyone for saying “Merry Christmas.”  What is true is quite the opposite: Christians seem to have a big, vocal problem with anyone who says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  “Happy Holidays” has never been intended as a dis to Christians (and there is no “war on Christmas”; Christ almighty, Christmas is in your face for three months of the year – there’s no getting away from it); rather, it’s an attempt to be inclusive – an expression of goodwill towards all people who celebrate a variety of holidays during the winter months.  I hate to break it to you, Christians, but you don’t own the month of December.

Furthermore, there seems to be this conception that by saying “Merry Christmas,” one has therefore identified him- or herself as a Christian.  This is not necessarily the case.  I say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” in equal measure, and I am an atheist.  When I say “Merry Christmas,” it is an expression of a cultural tradition for me and has nothing at all to do with religion or belief in any god.

Jesus may be the reason for the season, but in making this holiday so ubiquitous for such a large chunk of the year, it was bound to evolve into something not necessarily Christian over time (so it’s kind of backfiring on Christians, I’d say).  When something is in your face so much, it’s easy to just adopt the parts of it that appeal to you and shape it to your own worldview.  Christmas has become a secular holiday for a lot of people.

I was raised Christian.  My husband was raised Jewish.  As adults, we are both atheist, and we are raising our children without any religious indoctrination.  As a family, we celebrate Christmas, but it has nothing to do with religion for us.  For us, Christmas is a cultural tradition.  For us (and I think for many, many other people), it is simply a time for family, a time of year when most everyone around town seems a little more full of goodwill than usual.  It’s a time to wrap up the year and reflect on all we have, including each other.  We engage in holiday traditions (like baking Chrismas cookies, eating fondue on Christmas, and letting Kevin pass out all the Christmas gifts from under the tree) not as a means of reinforcing beliefs, but as a way of feeling connected to each other and the history we share and the future we’re emotionally invested in.  We celebrate a secular, but emotionally rich Christmas each year.

Besides, haven’t historians deduced that Jesus was probably born in September?

 

Book Review: Grace Without God by Katherine Ozment

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az2vNK7LiZyZN+sBWsKtMX1WWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuGrace Without God

by Katherine Ozment

I was asked to read and review this book by TLC Book Tours.tlc-logo-resized

The book’s genesis, apparently, was a particular night some years ago during which the author and her young son witnessed a religious procession through their neighborhood.  Her son asked her what the people walking up the street holding candles were doing, and she explained to him that it was a religious ritual.

“Why don’t we do that?” he asked.

“Because we’re not Greek Orthodox,” I said.

“Then what are we?”

***

“We’re nothing,” I said.

Ozment’s response to her son’s question unsettled her so much, that she spent the next few years searching for a better answer.  She interviewed dozens of people, including scientists, scholars, and religious leaders, searching for her own meaning to life (it seemed to me) absent religion.

I will confess that, as an atheist and former “believer,” I had a lot of difficulty relating to this book.  Ozment mostly seems to lament her loss of religion, and to operate under the assumption that those who don’t have religion are missing something essential and sacred – which begs the question: why did she give up religion then?  She spends a great deal of the book discussing all the benefits and positives that religion bestows upon people and society, and very little discussing the very real harm that religion and religious belief brings to individuals and society.  I kept getting the sense that she lost her religion very much like someone misplaces their keys – it seems that she feels that there is a real need for religion, or at least some substitute for religion, and she would be happy if only she could find hers again.

My own letting go of my religious beliefs was a process of reflection that took awhile, but once I did let go, I only felt liberated and at peace.  I’ve never felt like something is missing, and I’ve never felt that I am somehow cheating my kids by not raising them with religion or faith.  I actually feel quite the opposite: that to grow up without the shackles of religion and faith, to have the freedom to decide one’s own purpose, is a gift.  I suppose there are agnostics and atheists who struggle with feelings of loss and searching similar to Ozment, but all of the “Nones” I know have come to understand, exactly by letting go of religion, that, yes, traditions, family stories, morals and values, community, and identity do exist apart from religion, and perhaps more richly so.

It saddens me that Ozment told her son that “We’re nothing.”  It was undoubtedly a knee-jerk response to a question she wasn’t prepared for, but certainly not belonging to a religion, or not believing there is a god, does not make one “nothing.”  In any case, even telling her son that they’re “nothing” didn’t have to be so unsettling; it could have simply been the springboard for further conversation with her son about what they are, or better yet, how her son has the freedom to decide for himself what he is and what he will be.

While I think Grace Without God is well-intended and well-written, I’m just not sure what the need for it is.

Ten Reasons Why Public Restrooms Should Not be Transgender-Friendly

Next to Prince’s shocking death, the issue dominating news outlets and social media is the one surrounding trans people’s use of public restrooms.  The big question is: should they be required to use restrooms that correspond with their biological gender, or should they be allowed to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity?

Wake up, people!  Why is this even a discussion?  The answer is obvious.  Of course transgender people should only be allowed to use public restrooms that correspond with their God-given gender.  Here’s why:

  1.  Transgender people are notorious sex maniacs and child rapists.  It’s a known fact.  Seriously.  Stop and think about the transgender people you know personally.  Total sex maniacs and child rapists, right?  Mmm hmm, I thought so.
  2. It is a known fact that the wafting aroma of feces and air freshener, coupled with the sound of piss hitting water from behind closed stall doors is a total aphrodisiac to perves like transgenders.  If we let them in the door of the women’s restroom, we’re seriously just asking for it.
  3. We need to protect our kids.  If a kid is faced with a trans person, especially in a restroom, who knows what long-term effects it could have?  At the very least, the kid will probably be plagued by PTSD and have to undergo Christian-based counseling, and worst-case scenario (assuming they’re not molested!), they may turn trans themselves!
  4.  Non-trans people never assault, molest, or harm anyone in public restrooms.  So, obviously, if we bar trans people from using the wrong bathrooms, we can cross the dangers of public restrooms right off our list of worries.
  5.  Everyone knows that most sexual assaults are committed by trans people, and not non-trans people.  Look it up!
  6.  The best way to earn your way into God’s good graces – and therefore heaven – is to be as intolerant and exclusive of people who are not like you as possible.  Not only does God hate fags, He also hates everyone who is not a white male cisgender heterosexual American Christian Republican.  It says so right in the bible!
  7.  Speaking of God, if He had meant for people born with penises to wear dresses, He wouldn’t have invented pants, and if He had meant for people born with vaginas and boobies to wear wingtips, He wouldn’t have invented Victoria’s Secret.  Think about it.
  8.  If we let trans women use women’s restrooms, and trans men use men’s restrooms, what’s next?  Are they going to want to eat at the same restaurants as us, too?  What’s to stop them from frequenting our grocery stores and banks and schools?  They may even demand to be allowed to drink out of regular-people drinking fountains!  They’ll take over the world, I tell you!
  9. We normals should not be made to face things that make us uncomfortable.  I mean, seriously.  If trans people are uncomfortable with the law of the land, it’s just their punishment for being so … not normal.
  10.   Because, cooties.  Ick.

Ableism and Inspiration Porn at School

Following is a letter I sent to various parties at Joey’s junior high school, as well as to the District Superintendent and the District Director of Special Education, in response to a choir concert held last week in which the choirs from all of the junior high schools in the District took part.  I am posting it here to preserve it, and to raise awareness of the fact that our schools and our society are still rife with prejudice against the disabled.  So often, prejudice manifests in subtle ways, in ways that are generally seen as benevolent – but make no mistake: prejudice in all forms does damage.

*****

Dear *,

I’m writing to express some deep concerns regarding the * choir performance at * Auditorium last Friday evening. As you know, our eighth grade son, Joey, is in advanced choir. I was not able to attend the performance, but my husband and my older son did, and I did see a video of the performance I am writing to you about, which was the performance of “I Am His Child” by the Advanced Women’s Ensemble and Special Guests.

While I have no doubt that the intentions behind that performance were good, it was disturbing for several reasons. The first thing that raises concerns was the introduction. I believe it was you, Ms. *, who introduced the performance by telling the audience that something “magical” had been happening at *, and then going on to say that Ms. * had been working with her own choir students and students from *’s Special Day Class, and that they would now be performing.

At first blush, it may be hard to see why this would be problematic. However, none of the other performances got special introductions. Why did this one? Why was it necessary to identify this as different from or more special than any of the other performances? Why was it necessary to call attention to the fact that some of the students performing this particular song were from the SDC? Rather than being unifying, this is divisive; it only serves to further “other-ize” kids with disabilities.

Second, what exactly was “magical”? That Ms. * deigned to work with the kids from the SDC? That the “regular” kids spent time with the kids from the SDC? That the kids from the SDC could actually learn a song? I doubt any of this was in anyone’s conscious thought process, but it is, in fact, the message that is perpetuated.

To offer some context, imagine that this was fifty years ago, and some children from the segregated black school were allowed to perform at a concert with the white children, and imagine that performance being introduced in the same manner: calling it “magical” and calling attention to the fact that it’s a big deal that the “other” children are performing with the “regular” children. How does that feel?

There is a term used within the disability community, and it is “inspiration porn.” Inspiration porn refers to incidents in which people with disabilities are objectified in such a way as to allow non-disabled people to feel good and even applaud themselves and/or each other for merely behaving in ways that decent, compassionate human beings should behave in – for instance merely being kind or inclusive, which should not be worthy of special attention or recognition. Sadly, the way this performance was introduced smacks of inspiration porn, and that is ableist.

Aside from the choice of song being blatantly religious in nature, and therefore wildly inappropriate for a public school choir performance, the most disturbing thing of all was that particular song. Here are the lyrics:

I may not be all that you are,
I may not be a shining star,
but what I am
I thank the Lord
for making me His child.
Thank you Lord for hearing ev’ry prayer,
Thank you Lord for just being there,
Thank you Lord,
for I am not worthy of your Love.
I may not be, …

So don’t use me or abuse me,
for I am His child.
Don’t tease me, or mistreat me,
for I’m still His child,
you can even talk about me.
But I’m still His child.

I’m not sure I can even express how this makes me feel, as the mother of a child with a disability. You see, Joey’s younger brother has Down syndrome, and I have spent the last seven years, since he was born, waging a battle against ableism, segregation, and prejudice based on misconceptions and stereotypes. I can’t figure out why anyone would choose a song with those lyrics for kids with disabilities to perform. Aside from the religious nature of the song, it is filled with messages of inferiority, helplessness, victimhood, and weakness. It’s not edifying in the least. Paired up with kids with disabilities, it perpetuates ideas that kids with disabilities are unworthy, broken, sad specimens who deserve pity and charity. It did not build anyone up except the non-disabled people present; it only tore down the kids from the SDC and further marginalized them.

Again, I have no doubt that the performance was undertaken with the best of intentions, but it was sorely misguided, and sadly, it accomplished exactly the opposite of what you were probably trying to achieve. It would have been far better to (a) choose a different song, one that was just fun and didn’t attempt to convey any sort of message about the kids performing it, and (b) have the students perform without any special introduction, especially one that drew attention to what made them different or “special.” Being inclusive should not be noteworthy.

As the parent of a child with a disability, I would be remiss if I did not reach out to you about these concerns, and it is my hope that you will take them to heart.

Respectfully,

Lisa Morguess

Celebrating Christmas

The question was posed to me: why do you, as an atheist, celebrate Christmas?  It’s a fair question, and since a lot of people may wonder the same thing, I’ll answer it here:

First and foremost, old traditions die hard.  I grew up celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday.  My family was Lutheran, attending church sporadically under my mother’s force (although my dad was agnostic and never ever went to church with us).  We weren’t a bible-banging or bible-verse-spouting family, but I was taught about sin and God and Jesus and Satan and all that crap, and I believed it.  Christmas in our family was one of the mandatory church days (Christmas Eve service), and it was celebrated as both a day we all understood to be Jesus’s birthday, and also a day to be with extended family (when they were around) and to get presents.  (And often, a day for my mom and dad to have a terrible fight because of my dad’s drunkenness.  Merry Christmas!)

When I left home, I was still a believer, and so continued to celebrate Christmas, although, looking back, I’d have to say that by then it really wasn’t touched much by religion (I no longer went to church on Christmas Eve), and I probably continued to celebrate it because that’s just what I knew – that’s what you did, you celebrated Christmas, the end.  When I started having kids, same thing.  I was still a believer, but celebrating Christmas became less and less about the Christian aspects of it, and more about the tradition of it – even when I married a Jewish man (he grew up celebrating both Haunakuh and Christmas; since he had left his religion behind, celebrating Christmas as a matte of tradition has always been fine with him).

When I finally shed the shackles of my religious beliefs several years ago, we never talked about not celebrating Christmas anymore.  I don’t think it’s ever occurred to us.  More than anything, it’s just tradition.  We celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday that’s more steeped in American cultural tradition than anything else.  Plus, when I think about it, it would be hard and weird to tell the kids, “Guess what, kids!  We’re not celebrating Christmas anymore!”

Let’s face it: here in America, you can’t get away from Christmas.  Its symbols and pageantry (both Christian and decidedly non-Christian) are flaunted everywhere you look for two solid months out of the year – now beginning the day after Halloween (war on Christmas? pfft).  And despite the scattered nativity scenes (with the white Joseph and Mary and the white baby Jesus) and the signs proclaiming “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!”, I think Christmas has become rather bastardized.  Fewer and fewer people associate it with Jesus, and more with a time for family togetherness, and yes, presents.  So really, I think the effort to shove Christmas down everyone’s throats has kind of backfired on Christianity, because it’s really just a secular holiday celebrated by many, many people now out of a sense of tradition.  I really don’t see anything wrong with it – I just don’t think Christians can really claim Christmas as their own anymore.

Valentine’s Day and Halloween both started out as days mired in religion, too, and look what’s happened to those.

I’d say that these holidays, including Easter, which has also become a generic, secular holiday for a lot of people (what do a giant bunny or egg hunts have to do with Jesus?) belong to everyone in Western culture, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Here is a great piece about this.

Down Syndrome ≠ Suffering

Late to the party, but hopefully not too late to throw my contribution to the conversation out into the world wide web.

By now, most of you have probably heard about Richard Dawkins’s recent Tweet that caused quite a stir.

NY

Not surprisingly, people touched by Down syndrome in their lives have expressed outrage.  Personally, I made a conscious decision to avoid even reading about the whole thing after someone forwarded me something with a headline that offered an inkling of what the hoopla was about, because frankly, I’m just so fucking tired of being faced with people’s ignorance, of trying to educate people, and of feeling like Finn and people like him must somehow be justified.

But eventually the whole thing caught up with me anyway.

Mr. Dawkins responded to the outrage by explaining,

“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

Let me say first that there have already been many eloquent responses to this, so I’m sure that what I have to say has already been said by someone else, and probably said better.  Also, my intent is not to preach to the choir; if you have a loved one with Down syndrome, you already know this stuff.  This is for everyone else – everyone who reads this whose knowledge of Down syndrome is indirect.  Lastly, I want to say that although Mr. Dawkins and I share the same worldview as far as god, deities, and religion are concerned, it goes without saying that all atheists don’t think alike on all things.

What I want to address is this notion of “suffering.”

Down syndrome does not equal suffering.  It just doesn’t.  I’m not one to blow sunshine up anyone’s dress; I’m not bullshitting you by telling you that Down syndrome in and of itself does not cause suffering.  It is not a physically painful condition.  It is not an illness or a disease.  Are there illnesses associated with Down syndrome?  Yes.  Are some of the conditions/illnesses that are associated with Down syndrome painful?  Yes.  Can the treatments employed to address the illnesses and conditions associated with Down syndrome be taxing and painful?  Yes.

But Down syndrome in and of itself is not painful, is not a condition which causes suffering.

What causes the vast majority of suffering associated with Down syndrome is prejudice.  I cannot emphasize this enough: it is the cruelty and ignorance of others, the devaluing, limiting, excluding, marginalizing, misunderstanding, and stereotyping of people with Down syndrome by the general population that causes by far the most suffering for people with Down syndrome.

Do people with Down syndrome carry greater risk of developing illnesses and conditions that can cause pain and suffering?  Yes.  But Down syndrome also does not automatically mean poor health.  There are lots and lots and lots of perfectly healthy people with Down syndrome (Finn is one of them).  And if we are going to get up on some moral high horse and claim a duty to reduce suffering, then we need to get to work on either eliminating all of human kind – because the truth is that suffering to varying degrees is just part of the human condition – or eliminating every form of suffering.  And if we take Mr. Dawkins’s approach, then I guess the real answer is to develop prenatal tests that will accurately determine the occurences of every possible form of  suffering in every fetus’s future, and abort those fetuses.   Cancer causes suffering.  Depression causes suffering.  Alcoholism and other forms of addiction cause suffering.  Rheumatoid arthritis causes suffering.  Erectile dysfunction causes suffering.  Loneliness causes suffering.  Unemployment and poverty cause suffering.  There are a million things that cause suffering – and all of those things I just listed?  Very, very, very common – more common than Down syndrome!  And every single one of them causes more suffering than Down syndrome causes.

Oh, wait – so you think it’s the intellectual disability aspect of Down syndrome that causes suffering?  That anyone whose intelligence quotient falls below a certain number is destined to live a limited, and therefore unhappy, unfulfilling life?  Wrong again.  Again, it’s the limits that others place on those with intellectual disabilities that cause suffering: the denying of opportunities, the denying of a rightful place in the community.

Imagine this: a world in which people give and receive compassion and empathy, where the Haves do not begrudge the Have Nots, where people acknowledge and welcome diversity, where people are able to see that everyone has something to offer, where we all recognize that we all suffer, and in response to that suffering, we offer kindness.

Imagine that.

This kid ain't suffering.

This kid ain’t suffering.

 

Words Escape Me

photoWe’re into the fifth week of summer break already.  This has by far been the busiest summer we’ve had, and if I didn’t live and breathe by the calendar, I doubt I’d know what day it was.  It’s good and it’s exhausting.  How we went from a family that did very few extracurricular activities to a schedule crammed full of them, I’m not sure; I think it’s just the kids getting older and needing more than days at the park or the fountain.  I’m thankful that we are able to invest in all of this for our kids; I’m very conscious of how fortunate we are.

I have things I want to write about, but the words escape me when I sit down at my computer.  By the time the kids are all in bed, all I can manage is to curl up with a book, and get high on the quiet.

I want to write about my thoughts on the SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby debacle – that I am appalled that religion continues to encroach on public policy more and more; that “freedom of religion” is supposed to mean freedom from religion as much as it is supposed to ensure everyone’s right to practice the religion of their choice; that, as usual, women are getting screwed, and women’s rights over their own bodies are being legislated in the name of patriarchal religion; that, no, America was not built on Christian principles, but rather, that the founding fathers recognized the importance of building a nation based on secular principles; and that, hey, if your religious beliefs preclude you from using certain forms of birth control, then by all means, don’t use them, but who the fuck are you to tell anyone else that their choices should be dictated or limited by your beliefs?

I want to write about my thoughts on Annie, the little girl with Down syndrome who was denied a heart transplant and recently died, because as a parent of a child with Down syndrome myself, I feel a responsibility to acknowledge this tragedy – but the truth is, I really don’t know enough about the situation to confidently throw my thoughts out there, except to say that I’ve gotten the sense that there is more to the story than what has been put out there for the public; that I know it is extremely, extremely difficult to qualify for a heart transplant even in the absence of disability, and it doesn’t at all seem unlikely that Annie possibly had other health conditions that disqualified her from being placed on the transplant list; that I worry that making this all about discrimination against people with Down syndrome if that’s not really what it’s about only serves to diminish our credibility in the face of advocating against actual discrimination; and that my heart breaks for Annie’s family.  I cannot imagine anything more devastating than losing a child.

I want to write about teens and depression, because I’m pretty sure that I have a teen who is depressed, and I’m scared, but eager to address it now that it’s become clear that this is what the apathy, falling grades, moodiness, and self-imposed isolation adds up to.

I want to write about how I’m trying to learn everything I can about Common Core, and the more I learn, the more appalled I am, and the more convinced I am that the best – maybe the only – way to take a stand is to opt my kids out of the testing, because the data collected by the tests is the foundation on which Common Core rests.  I want to start a movement in my school district and rally other parents to opt out.  If only Bill Gates had used all that money to enable schools to hire more teachers, have smaller classrooms, and fund basic materials and programs schools are so lacking instead of buying his way into running the entire national education system.  If only he would have used all that money to convince the American people that what we really need to address is poverty – that that’s where the achievement gap rests, and no “rigorous” curriculum or new model of standardized testing is going to help a child who goes hungry learn better or be more “college and career ready.”

I want to write about so much.

 

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

I was involved in a little dust up on Facebook today.  I had posted a link to a great article my friend Debbie Mitchell (author of Growing Up Godless) wrote for CNN iReports: Why God Does Not Belong At Graduation, and although there was quite a bit of agreement with the views expressed in the article on my FB thread, one Christian woman took great offense.  Her end of the conversation became nasty very quickly, with her slinging insults at both me and Debbie, saying things like, “your article sucked,” “moron,” “pathetic,” “crazy,” “I don’t give a fuck,” and “shut up.”  And she called one or both of us “righteous,” “judgmental,” and “intolerant.”  Oh, yeah, and also I was accused of “hating on Jesus.”

This was a self-proclaimed Christian woman.  And let me be clear in saying that neither Debbie nor I were slinging any insults.  This woman just could not stop and walk away.

Finally, she wore herself out and unfriended me (like I didn’t totally call that one!).  This was not someone I actually knew; who knows why we were Facebook friends.  People send me friend requests because they like my blog, or like something I wrote elsewhere, or because we have mutual acquaintances in the Down syndrome community.  I don’t remember where she came from.

And I know what some of you will say: she is a poor representative of true Christianity, right?  Well, people like her are a dime a dozen, I’m afraid.

Obviously, her breaking up with me hasn’t left me broken-hearted.  She was a stranger, and clearly not a very nice one.  But it does raise an interesting point about why it’s often so difficult for believers and non-believers to be friends.

One of the biggest reasons – maybe, in fact, THE biggest reason people who lose their faith have such difficulty coming out of the closet about it is the backlash that ensues.  If you lose your faith, your religion, your very belief in god, and you are honest and open about it, chances are very, very good that you will be shunned and abandoned by many people whom you thought were your friends.  If you want to get right down to it, that says much more about them than it does about you, but that doesn’t make it any easier of a pill to swallow.

I do have a couple of friends who are devout Christians.  One of them I’ve gone a few rounds with over our differing views, and we’ve managed to remain friendly despite strong disagreements concerning matters of faith.  The other, well, I love her to pieces.  She’s a self-proclaimed Jesus Freak, and she knows I’m atheist, and we just don’t talk about it.  We find common ground elsewhere and truly enjoy each other’s company (seriously, she can make me laugh almost as much as my husband can make me laugh, and that’s saying something).

But I think these relationships are the exception, and not the rule.   And while I’ll admit that I’m wary about seeking out new friendships with openly Christian people (okay, I’m wary about seeking out new friendships with anybody – who has time?), I’ve never ended a friendship because of differences in faith and belief in god.

I have, however, been dumped by a number of Christian friends – or at least, people whom I thought were friends.  One of them was an extremely significant friendship – we became friends when we were geeky twelve-year old seventh-graders in Home Ec class.  We were friends for thirty years – the most long-standing friendship I ever had.  We saw each other through marriages and divorces and births and deaths.  Then a few years ago she got born again and right around the time she was all caught up in the fervor of her new-found hookup with Jesus, I started being very open about my non-belief and suddenly one day I discovered that she had unfriended me on Facebook.  That was followed up by the absence of a Christmas card from her that year, and I’ve never heard a word from her since.  No, she didn’t actually tell me that she was ending our friendship over religion, but she didn’t have to.  There had been no falling out, no drama or harsh words crossed, nothing.  Just a silent, cowardly exit on her part.  I have to admit, it still stings a little after all this time.  There was another, too – someone else that I had been friends with for over a decade.  We met online on a postpartum depression message board after both of our first babies were born, and we discovered that my baby and her baby were born just minutes apart on the same day.  We corresponded on and offline for years and even met in person at one point, and after we lost touch for a while, she went to great pains to locate me and reconnect.  But same thing, when I started being open about my non-belief, she vanished from my life without a word of explanation, and she was a very devout Christian, so I can only assume that was it.

There have been numerous other Christian “friends” who have dumped me unceremoniously, but those were the two most significant.

I always wonder, though, why can’t we be friends?  I mean, my non-belief certainly doesn’t define me as a person.  It certainly impacts my views about a lot of things, but isn’t it possible, and even desirable, to find common ground among fellow humans rather than giving so much weight to what divides us?

Is it that Christians are actually instructed by their churches not to maintain relationships with non-believers (because we’re wicked?  Sinful?  Cunning?).  Is it that they truly are so deeply offended by non-belief that they just can’t bear it?  Are they threatened by non-belief – are they afraid that hanging with non-believers might force them to examine their beliefs in a light they’d rather not?  Or is it the confirmation bias spoken of here?

I mean, seriously, is that what Jesus would do?

 

 

Raising Kids To Think For Themselves (and the winner of the book giveaway!)

It’s not uncommon to see in my Facebook news feed friends and acquaintances posting photos of their kids Accepting Jesus Christ and being baptized.  I live in an extremely predominantly Christian community – mainly of the Evangelical orientation, where kids are baptized when they’re a little older rather than as infants.  Apparently, their particular interpretation of the bible renders infant baptism meaningless because infants are unable to profess their faith.  Do they really believe, though, that an older kid who professes his faith is doing so organically – without undo pressure or influence?  If you profess something because you’ve been conditioned to believe that’s what you’re supposed to do, is that really faith?

Whenever I see these posts joyfully proclaiming, “Today, Susie accepted Jesus Christ into her heart and was baptized,” I always think to myself, “Yeah, and you really don’t feel like this was foisted on little Susie?”  I mean, by the time a kid is old enough to undergo a Believer’s Baptism (around age 12, usually), that kid has spent hundreds of Sundays in church and/or Sunday School, probably with liberal helpings of bible study on top of that, has had the ideas of God and Satan and Heaven and Hell and Salvation and Sin practically mainlined since infancy, and has witnessed and/or participated in hundreds of rituals and ceremonies particular to whatever sect his parents have chosen for him.  Um . . . where is the choice in there?  Where is the free will?  I mean, seriously – of course that kid is going to “profess faith” when they get to a certain age.  Her family and the community to which her family has exposed her has been grooming her for that for years.

I know these are very meaningful events to believers.  And really – if that’s what floats your boat, you go on with your bad self.  It always makes me a little sad for the kid, though.  I always think, “Some day if that kid decides that this is all hooey, he is probably going to have such a freaking hard time breaking away from the religion that’s been imposed on him.  The guilt, the angst, the worry about making their loved ones unhappy . . . oy.”

I’d rather raise kids to think for themselves.  While I’ve been accused by believers of indoctrinating my kids into atheism (which is absolutely ridiculous and baseless since “atheism” is not a belief system, and there are no rituals, doctrines, or processes to undergo in order to “become” atheist – rather, non-belief is every single human being’s natural state), I’ve never, ever told my kids what they should believe.  What I do tell them is: “Don’t believe everything you hear.  Question everything.  Do your own research and decide what makes sense to you.”  Teaching kids to trust their own hearts and minds, to be curious and skeptical, to think for themselves – those are some of the greatest gifts we as parents can bestow on our kids.

***

My friend Debbie’s book, Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Without Religion, was officially released today.  Heather is the lucky winner of the giveaway I hosted here a few days ago – congratulations, Heather!  For the rest of you who expressed interest, I hope you’ll go buy a copy!

Book Review (and Giveaway!): Growing Up Godless by Deborah Mitchell

51XwOcZIUWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Without Religion

by Deborah Mitchell

My initial introduction to Deborah Mitchell came a little over a year ago by way of an article she wrote for CNN iReports entitled Why I Raise My Kids Without God.  The title of the article alone spoke to me; I was curious to see what another parent had to say on a subject that has been fact in our house for years.  As it turned out, Debbie’s article went viral and, I believe, remains the most viewed and shared iReports article on CNN of all time.  I was so impressed by her article, and appreciated and agreed so much with what she wrote that I did a little digging and found that she also has a blog, Raising Kids Without Religion, of which I’ve become a loyal reader over the last year.  I’ve also had the privilege of corresponding with Debbie privately and getting to know her on a personal level.  Imagine my surprise when she contacted me and asked if I would be interested in making a contribution to her forthcoming book that would be coming out in the spring of 2014!

Growing Up Godless is that book. The “Nones” are a rising demographic, and this book is a welcome addition to the bookshelves of parents who are raising their children without God or religious affiliation.

“Regardless of our preferences and the beliefs we hold invisibly and inextricably inside us, there should be room for us to meet mutually and respectfully in the middle.  Believers don’t want us to use science to poke at their faith? We don’t want them to tell us that our godlessness is the cause of crime in this country.  We won’t fear their belief if they don’t fear our lack of it.  Nor will we try to recruit them to our side, and we ask that they not try to recruit us.  We are a rising demographic, and our nation must find a way to peacefully embrace all of our worldviews.”

In Growing Up Godless, Debbie offers a window into a non-believing family and shatters the notion that non-believing parents have no moral guide to offer their children, nor any sense of hope or wonder about life.  I would urge Christian parents to read this book just for that reason – to see that we non-believers are not only capable of, but actually are raising our children with ethics, morals, compassion, tolerance, hope, and wonder about the world around us.

“It is comforting in a sense to think of ourselves as offspring of the universe, where one day, we will be returned, set free from the confines of the body and spread throughout the cosmos like a sneeze – or even seeds for some new organism.  An awareness of this helps us see Mother Nature as a friend to be respected and cared for, not as a foe to be used and conquered.”

Covering such topics as religion in school (Debbie is in favor of it!  But probably not in the way you might think), talking to kids about death, celebrating holidays, dealing with friends and family members who are believers, and discipline without God . . .

“What is discipline?  It’s simply guiding children toward more appropriate behaviors.  It has nothing to do with teaching or judging feelings – only actions.  Unlike religion, we want to avoid personal attacks or judgments of character: Children are not dirty; they are not sinful; they were not born bad or evil.”

. . . Debbie stresses the importance of allowing kids to come to their own conclusions about things.  When presented with declarations by believers, it’s important to ask our kids, “Do you think that makes sense?  Why or why not?  What do you think?”  In this way, we show our kids to trust themselves, and we allow them to come by their own beliefs about themselves and the world organically and not by force.

I really enjoyed reading this book and found myself highlighting many passages, either because I could so well relate to them, or because they so eloquently articulated something about I may not have previously given a lot of thought.  Well written, down to earth, often witty, and including contributions from numerous other parents who share their insights into raising kids without God or religion, I think this is an important book not only for non-believing parents, but for believing parents who might care to see how we non-believers are striving to raise our children.  Debbie is a strong proponent of tolerance, and it shines through as a major theme in her book.

Confession: It is quite a thrill to see my essay and name appear in print, too!  It has been such an honor to contribute to this wonderful book.

Scheduled to be released on April 1, you can enter to win a free copy here by leaving a comment below.  I will announce the winner of the giveaway here on April 1.

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