Who Are Really The Hostile Ones?

Pardon me as I take a break from blogging and move from the home I’ve lived in for 20 years and downsize to a lock-and-leave town house. I am exhausted at the end of the day, but still interested in letting all of you know that doubting religion is not the end of the world; it can be, in fact, the opening up of the mind. I’ll give you a bit of wisdom from British philosophy professor A. C. Grayling:

Grayling

Courtesy, http://www.atheistrepublic.com

Thought for the Day…President Jimmy Carter

I know, I know, Jimmy Carter was not the best president for the United States, but I have always thought that he was a most upstanding person. This is not new news, but I find that his spiritual search often follows my searching. For him, also, the Southern Baptist stand against women caused him to question the tenets of the Convention and ultimately lead to his decision to part from the SBC. Not only does that take personal courage to leave an organization that has been pounded into your head from the beginning, but he has made these statements publicly.

I have great respect for President Carter. His revelations give me hope when he speaks out as a Christian for equality for EVERY human being, not just those who walk a very specific line and don’t deviate from these tenets.

I would also like to live openly as a non-believer, but my family members, both close and extended are Christian and many are evangelical. Because we really don’t discuss religion, everything is usually just basic conversation–nothing deep. I have relatives who are preachers, so declaring openly that I am a non-believer could make for a very long, emotional day and right now, my emotions are pretty raw. I must walk this road by myself for a while, so this blog helps me to release my emotions and deep distrust against the conservative, evangelical Christian religions that permeate the state where I live, Texas.

So, that said, I present two articles: the open letter that President Carter issued to the Southern Baptist Convention and a recent article from the Atlantic on a Q&A with President Carter. I wish him only the very, very best in his life. He is a man of convictions and a lover of equality for all people on this earth. He doesn’t just preach equality, he lives it.

Losing My Religion for Equality, by President Jimmy Carter

‘There’s an Awakening in Our Country’: A Q&A with Jimmy Carter, from The Atlantic, by John Meroney, July 13, 2015

My Church is Legit, Your Church is Shit…

Although I normally would take the high road when it comes to language, I could not resist this title.

I find it endlessly amusing that someone whose faith moves them to believe in miracles, virgin births and bringing dead people back alive would trash another person’s faith.

As I discussed in my blog entitled Fact versus Faith—The Virgin Mary, Christians are called upon to believe in things that, in the real world of physics and nature, simply do not occur. These events—the virgin birth (gods mating with humans to create demi-gods), directly raising bodies from the dead, unseen spiritual forces that judge humans on earth—require belief and faith to be a part of Christian communities. But then you have church leaders who actively denigrate other religions, even religions under their own umbrella. I experienced this first-hand when my Baptist friends in college told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Methodist. I discussed this topic at length in my blog entitled How the Southern Baptists Helped Me to Stop Believing.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

There are two organizations that proclaim to be religions that are truly American in origin. Mormons and Scientologists. They bring together the same type of beliefs in faith that the standard denominations, with the promises of eternal life and rewards on Earth. They just take faith and belief to a different level.

I first encountered a Mormon while in junior high school in west Texas. Her name was Janice. She and I were gangly early teenagers in that really awful, full mouth of braces, unruly hair kind of way. We were never accused of being popular and pretty. When I visited her home, she showed me the family’s stash of canned goods and freeze-dried prepared meals, enough to last seven years. Then she slowly began to explain to me about her religion. But our friendship didn’t last very long. Texas is known for its iced tea, complete refreshment on a hot day. We drank iced tea day and night, winter, spring, summer and fall, with or without sugar—my mother bought that horrible instant that was so popular in the 60s and 70s; it was abysmal, but we drank it like there was no tomorrow. One day I decided to introduce her to iced tea in the school cafeteria. She always picked lemonade. I told her that she needed to try this fabulous drink—just take a sip. You will love it. I think a couple of other friends also tried to get her interested in trying the tea. But she refused. Her faith did not allow her to drink caffeine. Moreover, she began to avoid me like the plague. On one level, I understood her response. On another level, I felt abandoned over a silly little glass of refreshment. Our friendship was over.

Mormonism has its mainstream and its evangelicals, just as do all religions. Its roots date back to Joseph Smith and 18th Century North America. It was charismatic in experiences with leaders of the organization considered prophets with direct links to their god—not unlike Old Testament prophets. There’s also that thing about Jesus Christ coming to the native Americans after his death to minister to them as told by Smith’s Golden Plates. Smith, it is said, received the plates from the Angel Moroni in 1827, then politely gave them back to the angel after translated the Golden Plates from some unknown language into the Book of Mormon. Mormonism has been brought to the forefront of politics with the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Before he was the Republican candidate, the GOP faithful fought within itself as to whether Mormons were Christians or not. The Mormons themselves answer this question: Mormonism: Christian, Cult or ???

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Source courtesy of Another Christian’s Blog by Travis Berry

The religion itself is fascinating and is very open about its beliefs, as opposed to groups that set themselves up with secret information, privy only to the believers. See Mormon Research Ministry.

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To get the seedier side of Mormonism, pick up Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Mainstream Mormons decry his tome for some factual issues and how it focuses on the most radical, evangelical leaders in their organization–especially Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Professor Max Perry Mueller explores the questions raised by Krakauer in his essay, Mormonism and the Problem of Jon Krakauer. Suffice it to say that as SOME particular members of religious organizations become more “radicalized” in every faith and denomination, very angry people can do considerable damage with violence against those they take umbrage against its beliefs–in other words, destroy the messenger so that the message against the beliefs cannot get out to the public.

Then there’s Scientology. Created by the science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s after publishing his book, Dianetics, Scientology took off like a rocket. It is also a very wealthy and secretive organization which uses electrical monitors to “audit” the mind. Granted, as crazy as ALL religions sound to the non-believer, Scientology really does take its beliefs to the stratosphere as only a science fiction writer can do. L. Ron gets an “A” for effort and creativity. I don’t have the time, space or inclination to even begin to blog about what this group believes. Suffice it to say, the internet will be your best guide.

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And thanks to the internet, Scientology seems to be imploding. Central to the Scientology experience was that everything was kept secret. New York Times reporter and author Lawrence Wright changed all of that with the publication of his book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Then, HBO upped the ante with its documentary based on Wright’s book, also entitled “Going Clear”.

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I would absolutely recommend watching the HBO special; it is mesmerizing to me: “Going Clear” trailer by HBO.

As Sophie Gilbert masterfully writes in The Atlantic in her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Scientology,” the group “has put a premium on controlling the flow of information—an increasingly impossible enterprise in the Internet age.” See “It’s Not Easy Being Scientology” by Sophie Gilbert. Once those crazy ideas get out, people start asking too many questions and start questioning the very premise on which the group was founded.

Sound familiar? This is what non-believers begin to do when they look at the religion in which they were brought up and begin the process of questioning everything they were taught in that religion.

An organization, religious included, can only continue to exist as long as it has believers who do not (at least outwardly) question its basic tenets. It does not matter whether the religion is basic mainstream, as the Roman Catholic Church–considered the first Christian church, or home-grown religions such as Mormonism and Scientology.

No matter if the faith-based organization has been passed on from generation to generation, or whether it sprang from the fertile American minds of its originator–Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard–the organizations require you to believe in specific mystical events that could never, EVER happen in the natural or physical world.

And isn’t this the basic argument of faith? Your beliefs are right, no matter how ridiculous and impossible those beliefs are, whereas the other guys are false religions with false gods and fake legitimacy. It’s simply one way to convince the faithful to stay in that particular denomination and, for that matter, that particular congregation. If too many people begin to question the legitimacy of the faith, the preacher, the congregation or the denomination, the congregants go away and they take their money and their support with them. This is then the death of that group. And if people begin to question the basic tenets to begin with, then doubt and unbelief can easily follow.

No one wants to admit that they’ve been duped by false information and beliefs. But if those beliefs are simply impossible, then the rational person who finds faith impossible and unreasonable may never, ever rejoin the fold. They will take their spiritual nature elsewhere.

 

What About Christmas?

What could be more fraught with anxiety for a non-believer that Christmas? Frenetic activity—spending money like it’s water (we’ll put it on credit and pay for it “later”), you HAVE to be with your loved ones. No wonder so many people dread the holiday season. Just read what Consumer Reports published in 2011 about the most popular things that people dread about the holidays:

Americans’ top holiday dreads—being nice makes the list

Just as EVERYTHING ON THIS EARTH evolves, so too, has Christmas.

Well known in history is the evolution of Christmas from pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnium and Juvenalia, as well as the birthday of the ancient god Mithra on December 25. Eventually, the pagan holiday was supplanted by Christmas, the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, not mark his actual birthdate.

Throughout the last 2000 years, Christmas took on many different shapes and levels of debauchery. By the time the Pilgrims sailed to the New World they wanted nothing to do with Roman Catholic holidays that were not specifically mentioned in the Bible. That’s right, the Pilgrims did not have a first Christmas in the New World because they did not recognize Christmas.

(Explore the reasons why the Pilgrims rejected Christmas in this well-written and correct post by CBN reporter Paul Strand: Why The Pilgrims Declared War On Christmas)

The modern version of Christmas comes right from the Victorians and the advertisers of Madison Avenue.

The Victorians of the late 19th Century England shaped our modern world in so many different ways. They gave us the Industrial Revolution, along with its ever-increasing emission of CO2.

One of the greatest authors to ever live, Charles Dickens, gave us A Christmas Carol, influencing the British at the time, and all of us since, to be more generous and giving for the holiday season.

Victorian Christmas

Courtesy, A Victorian Christmas: 

http://www.avictorian.com/christmas_victoria.html

It also gave us the Christmas tree. Before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the German tradition of the tree to England, thus cementing our affinity for the grandly decorated tree that crosses our thresholds every year. I remember heated emails a few years ago, insisting that the tree in your house was a Christmas Tree, not a holiday tree!!! The debate still rages, along with the War on Christmas and the War on Christianity—I’ll comment on those in a later post. So why did people bring trees into their homes before Victoria and Albert began the boom in Christmas trees? Because it was a pagan ritual, ushering in the winter solstice so that the community could look forward to spring and the planting of crops. Without the spring, or the promise of spring, many human beings starved to death. So the tree came to symbolize the renewal of life. Pagan—nothing more and nothing less. And now our communities grapple with inclusion by calling the tree brought onto the town hall square as a holiday tree, while the Christians cry “foul,” it’s a Christmas tree and it’s another example about the War on Christmas and you’re ruining Christmas for us by calling it anything else. Sigh.

Santa Clause

Courtesy, The Saint Nicholas Center:

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/

Santa Clause is derived from the 4th Century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, a town now on the Turkish coast. Associated with gift-giving through the ages to children, these traditions flourished throughout Europe for centuries. But it took Madison Avenue artists, including N. C. Wyeth, introduced us to the roly-poly, jolly old man whom we all see in the malls with screaming children on their laps. That visual honor goes to Coca-Cola and the artist Haddon Sunblom in the 1930s. The United States is in depression and what could be more uplifting that a happy man in red who brought you your heart’s desires?

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Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds 1622, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Courtesy Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_van_Honthorst

Want to gripe about another Christmas staple on the lawns of churches and–now, controversial on United States government property (from Washington D.C. federal buildings to the municipal community center), the Nativity scene. How did this tradition get started? If you remember, the Nativity scene or the Creche involves animals, as well as the family of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Men, thrown in the mix. History’s own Saint Francis created the manger scene in the charming town of Greccio, in the Lazio region of Italy in the year 1223. St. Bonaventure describes the creation of the manger in this post by The Catholic Education Resource Center:

Saint Francis and the Christmas Creche

So Christmas itself is a combination/mishmash of various and sundry traditions that span the last, roughly, 1700 years. And keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew; if he existed, he would not have celebrated Christmas–at all.

(Looking for a quick and dirty history of Christmas? Try this link from The History Channel: History of Christmas.)

 

 

A New Way Of Seeing The World

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A revelation can change your whole perspective of the world. That’s what happened to me my senior year in high school.

Still, I signed up for a class on the great mythologies of the world—or it might have been about the great literature of the world or the great religions of the world; I really don’t remember the exact wording of the class. But I do remember it was the 1970s in a public school system in Texas. The class might have been through the English Department or perhaps the Sociology Department. But, interestingly enough, in conservative west Texas, this class existed.

Our teacher presented us with different mythological writings and teachings throughout many different cultures. I expected literature about the raven and the bear from the Native Americans, the stories of the pantheon of gods interfering with man from the Greek culture and the tales of the god-pharaohs from ancient Egypt. I did not expect to be confronted with the stories of Jonah and the whale, Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel from the Old Testament. As I looked at so many of these stories with the fresh eyes of literary discovery, I realized that they were myths—myths that had been passed down from generation to generation.

Even more importantly, a light bulb went off in my head. These stories were passed on in the same way as the stories from the Bhagavad Gita or the tales of Homer. All are equally fantastic, filled with super heroes and impossible human acts.

This got me thinking even more—if these specific stories of the Bible are myths, then what else is mythology that I have accepted as reality? What has my church and my family been propagating on me as fact, when, in fact, the stories are grand tales?

Education is dangerous. It opens your mind and engages you to think, to question and, ultimately, to explore. Education has always been dangerous to religion. A population that does not question can much more easily be contained and led. History has shown us that time and time again, dictatorial leaders from Adolf Hitler to Mao Tse-tung to Pol Pot begin their reigns by removing the intelligentsia, the thinkers, the university professors and administrators. These are the people who would question not only their ideas, but also the motives behind those ideas.

Knowledge is power and it has the power to end the promulgation of ridiculous, religions stories that are passed off as reality.

How the Southern Baptists Helped Me to Stop Believing

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The seed of my religious questioning began back in the late 1970s at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Granted, my actual release from religion was a couple of decades down the road, but often, it takes just a hint, just a small push, to cause a person to begin to doubt.

My questioning began with the Baptists—not just any Baptist, but the Southern Baptists.

I don’t know what the dogma is right now in the mid 2010s, but I know that when I grew up in the 1970s, the prevailing dogma of the Southern Baptist Convention was that the Baptists were absolutely, unequivocally right and every other Christian sect or denomination—every single other denomination—was wrong.

My freshman year at Texas Tech University, I met many lovely young women in the dorm. Most of these young women were from the small local towns around Lubbock and the Texas Panhandle, or eastern New Mexico. This part of the United States is very insulated, cut off demographically from large cities because of very long distances. Often, distances of an hour or more stand between these towns in west Texas and eastern New Mexico. Because of such isolation these towns are deeply conservative and rather homogeneous, fearful of any ideas that are different. Texas Tech, in the 1970s, often had the feel of a conservative Christian university. Then craziness would upend the university when Playboy Magazine would show up and photograph some of the young women in sororities in the nude and splash them on their pages, under headings such as, “The Girls of the Southwest Conference.”

Many of my new friends were Southern Baptists. The Baptist Student Union, or BSU at Texas Tech was a slick organization created to bring in new members en masse to the fold. What’s there to loose in going to the welcome event my first week in school? I remember watching a production of a takeoff on The Wizard of Oz. The first song was “Somewhere Over the Caprock,” a play on the geological escarpment just to the east of Lubbock. Ironically, this geological feature is estimated to be 1-2 million years old and formed by erosion. The Sothern Baptist baulks at such earthly ages in general, believing that the Earth is 6,000 years old. As someone who does not particularly care for the music of The Wizard of Oz, the song can unearth itself from my memory banks and give me instant nausea. Two of my new friends, Dorothy and Betsy, were Southern Baptists through and through. Their mission in life was to bring many, many into the fold. I was one of their targets.

By my sophomore year, I was one of the Resident Assistants in one of the dorms at Tech. Both Dorothy and Betsy also joined the RA staff. I recall that our particular dormitory had six or eight RAs. I considered my fellow RAs to be my dear friends. I think they also considered that I was a good friend of theirs, but two of these RAs. Dorothy and Betsy were still not content that I had not joined them as a Southern Baptist. I had grown up in a Methodist church. It was technically an evangelical Methodist church, which really did not completely mesh with the United Methodist doctrine. But it was the neighborhood church in my hometown and my parents had grown up as Methodists, so they carried over their religion and their denomination to their children. My mother was very proud to be a multi-generational Methodist.

Dorothy and Betsey began ramping up the rhetoric to draw me towards their denomination. I remember being told repeatedly that I was going to go to “hell” if I did not accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and join the Southern Baptist Church. The bombardment was constant and because of their railing, I wish that I had the forethought to simply transfer to The University of Texas—Austin, where I had wanted to go to college in the first place. In my naiveté, I stayed in Lubbock and continued to be harassed by my fellow employees.

Under such harassment, I ended up joining a VERY PROGRESSIVE United Methodist congregation where I was able to feel somewhat at home. I used this church and the attached Wesley Foundation as a haven from the attempted intimidation of my fellow Southern Baptist RAs.

Even after my graduation from Texas Tech, I contacted these two ladies in an attempt to rekindle my friendship with them. But, I suppose, both of them saw me as a danger to their beliefs and both rejected me as a continued friend rather than allow me into their lives. Granted, they were both highly involved in the church. One of them even spent time in South America on mission work. She told me of a horrible automobile accident in Peru where she was injured and a woman in the car with her was killed. A horrendous experience, to say the least, but I was willing to continue to be friends with her and listen and learn from her. But she told me that it was her goal to listen only to God and know at any and every given moment what God wanted her to do. Apparently, God did not want me in her life. Neither one ever contacted me again.

Over the years I have played our friendship over and over in my mind. I’ve tried to adapt my thinking to theirs and the Southern Baptist theology. However, what I have found is that the dogma of the Southern Baptists is limiting and hate-inducing. I find that the hatred and exclusiveness continues in the Southern Baptist model and has only become more dogmatic and distasteful to me.

Moreover, if a Christian organization is so defensive against and abhorrent of its fellow denominations, what does it say about that organization? For me, if I must be a part of a specific denomination that causes me to feel uncomfortable around all other people who are not like me, then I cannot be a part of that organization. I concluded that I was living in a hell on earth just being around these women who were trying to force me to believe the way they believed, even though I found their beliefs to be stifling and, frankly, insulting against many of my fellow human beings. If I don’t want to spend time on earth with those who think this way, why would I want to spend an eternity with them? The answer to me was that I did not want to have anything to do with their beliefs. So not only did I begin questioning the Southern Baptist idea of life, I began questioning the Christian ideas in the 20th and 21st centuries. Really, this is what the Southern Baptist dogma taught me to do—question religion on its fundamental level.

So I am grateful for my fellow Southern Baptists students who began to open my eyes, not just to the absurdity of the Southern Baptist beliefs, but to the absurdity of the beliefs in which I was steeped. For better or for worse, my time at Texas Tech University, a public university inundated in religious zeal, helped me to understand how religion became a negative force in my life.

Thus, my journey began…

 

Non-Belief Is Not The End Of The World…

Growing up in Texas and coming to the conclusion that religion and all of its components are mythological is a hard concept to swallow.

In the coming future, I shall be sharing with you, the reader, how I came to my conclusions and why I feel compelled to explain my story.

Being an atheist is not easy in a nation of believers. But as I have experienced over my 5+ decades on this Earth, I have come to realize that, unlike those who would condemn me as a non-believer, I am MUCH, MUCH happier that I have chosen not to bog down myself with impossible, miraculous beliefs.

First of all, my life is not all happiness and contentment. I am presently separated from my husband of over 25 years. We have a son who has been chronically ill since he was five years old. My husband and I both suffer from childhood trauma…not serious by the standard means of trauma, but by emotional trauma that caused us to not only question our existence, but our beliefs as well.

As I see our nation continue to become polarized by religion and the perception of “God-given right,” I am increasingly disturbed by the increased and ramped-up dogma that we see and hear nightly on news and in social media.

So, I plan to discuss how I have evolved to the point in which I am. I am hoping that my journey might help those who are questioning and searching, also.

Let’s move from belief to reality together.