Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jesus, Take the Deal

I've suffered a lot in my young life - disease, depression, and a near-death experience - and the way in which I've handled these issues has changed dramatically. When I was a young Christian and in pain, I would pray and beg Jesus for relief. He healed the sick while on earth, right? Why wouldn't he help one of his children out? But when no relief came, I'd always end up a blubbering pile of weakness, making deals with God and going so far a few times as to even agreeing to be a missionary in Africa if he'd just take the pain away. He never did and I never went to Africa.

As an atheist, I've handled these issues very differently. I know now that no amount of prayer, posturing, and deal-making is going to make a difference. There is no personal god out there who cares that I'm in pain. The universe is quite indifferent to all our suffering and, while that terrifies some people, I find it to be soothing that there is indeed a great equalizer. The universe has no demands or expectations and so I get to be the final judge of my own experiences.

Today shook my faithlessness. About 6 this morning, I woke up with a particularly nasty Norovirus swelling my intestines and sending everything into overdrive. The norovirus is commonly called "stomach flu" around these parts and most everybody gets it. The problem is that I have diverticulitis and a section of my colon is prone to swell so when you add a norovirus, you get a super helping of pain.

I've had this stuff off and on my whole life and it's never pleasant. Projectile vomiting and projectile diarrhea usually means that, when you're done, you're going to have a mess to clean up. And since all the fluids in your body have just been rather nastily ejected, you're going to be as weak and helpless as a kitten. This is a great test when looking for a spouse or long-term partner by the way - if s/he takes care of you during this time, you've found a keeper!

So back to the story: I was in so much pain that my body was turning cold and clammy. I felt like I was dying which isn't so scary except that it was proving to be a slow, painful death. At some point, my mind wheeled back to the old Christian days and I started lashing out: 

"Jesus, you're supposed to be the Great Physician! Help me!" 

Then I'd hear the counterargument in my head, "You have to have faith."

Faith is in short supply, you see, but I plowed on, "I don't have any faith but, if you miraculously heal me, I will know you're real and then I'll have a faith I can share with everybody! What a testimony!!"

There was no healing. Nothing but another round of vomiting and pain.

I can't tell you how ashamed I am now that I gave in to this weakness, the human drive to do anything - to make any deal with anybody - in order to survive. I thought I was past of the point of making deals with a non-existence deity but today's illness tested my resolve and I lost.

What do I take from this? One, I'm still human. I'm still susceptible to the same fears and desires as everyone else. And that brings me to an even better discovery: my compassion for those who turn to faith during pain and death is renewed. Although I do not agree with these people and I realize that their reliance on faith may cause them more harm than good, at least I can see them as hurting people again rather than some stupid, lost cause. I found some of my empathy again and I'm glad for that.

Did you make deals with God as a believer? What do you think of those who cling to religion when they feel they have nothing else? How can we reach these people better in their time of need?

P.S. - there is a "Great Physician" - she's my sister. 

Friday, September 14, 2012


I'm perplexed at the uproar over the Atheism Plus idea. I'm absolutely nonplussed.

Instead of rehashing everything that's already been said about it, I'd like to present my own ideas about it. Here's my disclaimer first:

I intend to adopt the A+ label for the purposes of some discussions but, at other times, I will use other labels. I reserve the right to use whichever label or labels that I think will best inform my audience. Likewise, I believe that you should be free to use whatever label best describes you.

The purpose of a label is to inform others about some facet of your life or some belief (or lack thereof) that you hold. Some labels are have inherently negative connotations (racist, sexist, bigot, etc.) but most just serve to give you a general idea about something. For example, the only thing you can know from the "atheist" label is that the person does not believe in any gods. You can't correctly read anything else into this label. You can't automatically know that this atheist accepts evolution, hates religion, or cares whether IGWT is on our coins. It takes conversation for you to discern that. This brings me to my first major point:

1. Labels work best when used as a springboard for conversation in order to get to know a person better. They do not work well when we make assumptions and value judgments that are not inherently tied into the label's definition.

If you see a person wearing an A+ pin, don't assume s/he is a man-hater. Talk to that person and ask them about their views. Likewise, if you see someone at a gathering who isn't wearing an A+ pin, talk to that person as well. There is no reason to automatically assume that either person hates anybody. In fact, jumping to conclusions is lazy and a poor substitute for making the effort to get to know the other person.

2. When we question something, we use the scientific method to try to discover what's right. I see A+ as a scientific experiment - it will either stand or fall on its merits. If it is a kind and welcoming place for atheists of good will, I believe it will stand. If it chooses to promote misandry, control/censor people, and such, then I believe it will fail. As much as we might feel invested in the outcome, it's critical that we take a step back and let this experiment run its course.

3. The final thing I want to bring out is that I've seen people conflate "secular humanism" with "humanism" in order to make secular humanism far more different from atheism plus. I can't speak for every secular humanist group in the world but I will say that my understanding of secular humanism is that there are no gods to do good works so we must do them ourselves. I understand that many (if not most) secular humanist groups are atheistic at their core even though they may not use that word. I see such a tremendous overlap in A+ and secular humanism that, to me, they are practically the same thing in deed. But I understand the need for different wording: A+ wants to retain the word "atheist" and promote that as much as possible. Secular humanists often shy away from the atheist label so they can work more effectively with community and church groups to accomplish their goals. When it comes to religion, I consider myself an unapologetic atheist. When it comes to my philosophy or ethics, I call myself a secular humanist. I see no real difference but some do. To each his own, I say, but please don't consider me any less of an atheist because I sometimes choose to call myself a secular humanist.

And that brings me to my conclusion: let A+ do it's thing. Join the effort if you want and, if you don't, that's ok. I'm not going to treat you any differently and I'd hope that no one else would treat you badly. We benefit when all atheists of good will can come together at the table under many banners and work together toward our common goals. Our labels should not be an excuse for us to distrust each other; rather they can be our opportunity to get to know each other better.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Get Thee Behind Me, Jesus!

In today's local paper, Baptist preacher Ronnie Barefield encourages his readers to show more leadership at home, in the church, and in the community. This is mostly par for the course except for this one particular sentence which was a big ole slap in the face:

We need to elect good, moral, Christian, conservative, pro life, pro family state and national leaders to office.

Wait, what? Let's set aside the fact that no religious test is required for office. What does it mean to be "Christian" in America these days? We have two Christians running for the Presidency right now and lots of Baptists don't like either one or even consider them to be "real Christians." Christianity today can be anything from traditional Baptist to Mormon, Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, or even African Methodist Episcopal. You can't guarantee what baggage comes with the label "Christian" so this is far from a sure bet.

What about conservative? Does he mean fiscally or socially conservative? Does he mean "conservative" in a traditional sense or is he talking about this brand of far-right, religious neo-conservativism that is dragging us all down? Does he mean that liberals or libertarians can't be good and moral people?

What about pro-life? Are they the only good and moral people? Can they allow for abortions in case of rape or incest? Can they allow for IVF? Or must they follow the rigid, dogmatic narrative of the most rabidly forced birth among them?

What about pro-family? What kind of family? Can they allow for families that don't look like their own? Can they accept families with two dads, two moms, or any number of both? Or must they only define "family" in the narrow way that the Religious Right does?

Bro. Barefield would have done better to simply say "We need to elect good, moral state and national leaders to office." The problem is that he feels that he has the duty and the ability to define "good" and "moral" for us. I suspect if you took him to task for this, he'd claim that he was only saying what God said but this is untrue. The Bible doesn't talk about abortion or gay rights. It doesn't talk about conservative politics. And Jesus says to stay out of earthly politics and work for his kingdom instead. The most a Christian is admonished to do is pray for their earthly leaders and obey them as much as possible.

But hell, who needs to listen to Jesus when you can just listen to modern-day preachers instead?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Please Don't Be Sexist

To the two sweet-looking little ladies standing outside the store tonight:

Please don't be sexist.

I realize you grew up in a different time but I don't think that's a good reason to be prejudiced.

It was storming tonight and my husband and I had a cart with a couple of bags of food and four cases of diet soda. I said I'd bring the car around so I started walking through the rain to our car while Nathan waited with the cart.

While I was trudging through the rain to get to the car, you both turned around to my husband and curled your nose up disdainfully. The point wasn't lost on him but one of you went far enough to say sarcastically, "It must be nice having someone to bring the car around for you!" as if he were somehow morally deficient for allowing me to brave the rain and get the car.

Here's what you don't know: the car I was trudging through the rain to get was a rental car that, by contract, only I can drive. For Nathan to have driven it even through the parking lot would have been to violate our contract.

Here's what else you don't know: Nathan is a very kind man and a very good husband who respects me and goes way beyond the call of duty to care for me. He treated me very well before I became disabled and he takes very good care of me now. He does not enable me or treat me like I'm helpless; instead, he helps me manage my care and monitor my health.

And here's the last thing you don't know: I'm disabled - not dead. It's harder for me to do things than it used to be but I still do them. I'm not a delicate flower that will melt in the rain. I'm not a helpless female who can't drive. And I'm certainly not some entitled-minded bitch who thinks that men were put on this earth to serve me. I'm a woman and I can drive, make purchases, and do all manner of other things without input from a man.

Now, due to the nature of our relationship, Nathan and I act as partners. We consult each other about major decisions and we share the burden of bills. We don't tell each other what to do and we don't play mind games or indulge in power trips and pity parties. We are adults who choose to live together as equals. Where one is weak, the other is strong and vice versa.

So please stop judging my wonderful husband and stop judging me. Please don't be sexist.

Thank you,

To the readers: There's been a lot of talk about the sexism in the atheist community for a while now and we've seen how disgusting and reprehensible misogyny can be. I don't mean to detract from any of that. The purpose of this post is to show another, more insidious, side of sexism and to demonstrate how sexism is harmful to both men and women.