So one of the downsides of being an Atheist, is that apparently you aren't allowed to have problems or bad days. If you do you will run into several kinds of Christians with several interesting bits of advice:
If anyone says this bullshit to you, you need to recognize it for what it is--manipulation. Our lives and bodies are complex. Throughout our lives we will have ups and downs. Illnesses, unexpected deaths, job loss, frustrations, struggles, etc. There is not a human being on this planet that doesn't have some kind of problem, although some are certainly more serious than others. For every American Christian who says God provided them with extra money to buy groceries last week because they prayed, there is a mother in another country who is mourning the loss of their child who starved to death. That other mother prayed too, but there were no magical dollars or middle-class parents, to bail her out. For every atheist with cancer, I can assure you that there are a lot more Christians with it. God isn't punishing them nor is this a test. They got cancer because the human body can suck sometimes and we haven't figured out how to stop all the sucking. Not eloquent, but you understand.
Take responsibility for the things that actually are your fault, work on growth in that area, and ignore the people who think that a god who punishes people with bad times is anyone worth worshipping.
Today we went to a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It should be called a church, because that's what it is, but we'll just call it a UU for simplicity. Now, I had always imagined a UU as being the kind of place where people of all religions come and worship together. They bang a gong and do some ooomms, followed by a singing of Amazing Grace and maybe an Islamic chant, followed by a self-help sermon that talks about how you can be a better person so you can make the world a better place. We went because our son is still very unsure about what he believes, but needs to be around more normal teens and we thought that since he isn't really very religious, a UU would be a kind of neutral ground.
What I was surprised to find was basically a Baptist church that had been scrubbed free of all mentions to any particular god. There was a gong, but for no discernible reason. No one explained what it was for, what it meant, and it seemed to more like a school bell to tell you class was now in session. The hymns, some of them familiar, had been re-written to remove any reference to god. The "sermon" was the reading of a quote from a more famous UU member, followed by a few words about the quote. Other than being vaguely uplifting, there was no substance to it. The pastor (or whatever you call her) had this weird spoken word type drone as she read the passages, as if this was some kind of performance art piece. I found it mostly unsettling.
There were a lot more older people than I expected. I mean, my experience living in the Bible Belt is that old people are often neurotic, fundamentalists who tell people they are going to hell and are intolerant of anything that didn't exist "back in their day". I know this is stereotypical, but this was (and is) all my relatives and how all the old people I grew up around were. But I am also aware that there are a bunch of old people out there that were liberal in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. People who weren't religious even back then, who were tolerant of other people, and fought for the right's of others and themselves. And those people have to be somewhere, right? So I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised to find a plethora of them at the local UU.
That said, I realized this about myself: I do not need empty ritual in my life.
Singing Christmas songs that have been scrubbed of all god references, seems stupid and pointless, not progressive and inclusive. I don't know how anyone got anything from that service, but it mostly felt like a waste an a good hour and a half. But we are doing this for our kid, right? My hope is that after a few weeks, he will be okay with us dropping him off rather than feeling the need for us to be in the same building while he is at youth group.
I hate the mythicism that has arisen from the gospel accounts of the wise men. Well, most of the nativity story really. Of course, I'm not even convinced that any of it happened and if it did, a lot of it was exaggerated, but the reading comprehension of modern Christians is astounding. For example, show me a passage in the Bible that says there were three wise men? Go ahead. I'll wait. You won't find it because it isn't there. There is a mention of three gifts, but there could have been two guys or a hundred. The common narrative also puts the wise men at the birth of Christ, but reading the actual written story, it seems that they wandered around for a bit, asked for directions, and eventually stumbled upon the child thanks to a meteorite hanging about the house for an unspecified amount of time that no one else noticed. I've read this part several times because it just doesn't make sense and hasn't since I was a teenager. Did it really say it hovered over the house? Or were they astrologers who were reading the stars? And how does that work if you are a Christian, because I was taught that astrology was witchcraft and mostly fake. But folks, it says "...and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was." (Matthew 2:9) This implies that the thing was moving ahead of them and stopped over the house. Not a sign from the heavens, a literal object. Let's also not forget their quick-stop at Herod's palace because they were originally mistaken and thought that an actual Prince had been born to the King. Another one. By the by Herod had many sons and it was well-known that this was not really a source of pride for Herod. All it was was more competition for the throne and he had several of his sons (along with other various family members) killed. And once they were set straight the guy got super suspicious and then tried to kill a whole bunch of babies. There probably weren't that many young babies in Bethlehem....but WHY were they still in Bethlehem? They were supposed to be there for the census or taxes or somethign. The census (which historically we know didn't take place at this time anyway) only lasts a few weeks at most, it's not a year long process. It's only a 33 hour walk (with no animals) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. At most it would take 4 days to get back and forth. Even if you gave Mary a few weeks to heal, eventually you have to go home. I mean, did Mary and Joseph move to Bethlehem or were they there for the census? Make up your mind Bible.
At this point, the whole story just sounds so far-fetched. Even if your reading comprehension is excellent, the story itself in a historical context just doesn't make sense. It reads like someone who was writing something 70 years after the actual events and realized there were some plot holes so they tried to fix all the plot holes in one short chapter.
My husband hates buying religious gifts for people. This may come as some surprise to some as he is still a professing Christian, but in his mind it is just part of a subculture that Christians use to set themselves apart while using mainstream culture to steal ideas. You know what I mean, A Nike swoosh that says, "Jesus, Just Do It" or a famous painting that has been re-rendered to be more religious. You've seen them, at your grandma's house, walking around at the mall, on highway billboards. Christians love to talk about not being in the world, but they have absolutely no problem stealing ideas from it to "connect" to a wider audience.
The one thing my husband hates more than anything is Christian fiction. We aren't talking about the occasional decent book like Narnia or Frank Peretti. We're talking about the trash romance novels that feature pioneer women and the Amish, which make up the majority of religious fiction at the bookstore. Christian Porn as my husband likes to call it. My mother-in-law loves it. She has at least a half dozen bookshelves full to the brim with this Christian fiction and she reads them over and over again. She reads these books searching for a good Christian fantasy man because she clearly doesn't think she got that when she married my father-in-law. I know this because she has emasculated him to the point of just existing. And they serve the same purpose as porn.
From the Christian viewpoint: Porn degrades women and alters the way consumers think. It hinders men from developing mature emotional relationships with women. It reinforces and super charges the notion that sex is a commodity over which the consumer has complete control.
This idea is taken from several Christian articles I have read on the subject. The problem is that these fantasy romance books aren't any different than actual porn, sans actual sex scenes. Since women are stereotypically ties more to their emotions, it would make sense that more women would connect to a love story rather than through the visual stimuli created by porn. This is not to suggest that women don't watch actual porn, but the numbers have been crunched by numerous studies and the consensus is, men watch more porn and women read romance novels. In the Christian books, the women are shown in a very vulnerable light, with a good Christian man being the necessary factor to complete them. They live simple submissive lives as pioneer women or Amish, slightly rebellious but only because they haven't been able to find a man who will marry them. It alters the way women think about their roles and the roles men should be playing in their lives. It reinforces and super charges the notion that sexuality and spirituality are one and the same and that by consuming these books, one is in complete control and is even doing something righteous by reading them.
"Can I come with you to run errands," my teenager asked me the other day.
I should have been suspicious. What teenager wants to go run errands with their mom on a Saturday morning rather than sleeping in. We climb into the car and head to the Library with Michaels, Best Buy, Total Wine, and Target next on the list in that order. "Well, I wanted to talk to you about something..." he says as we are heading out of the apartment complex. I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps he wants to share some intimate detail about his life that he doesn't want to share with husband. Perhaps he has a Christmas gift plan for husband and wanted to come along in hopes that we would buy it. Nope.
"Have you ever considered that God might be real." This insulting question has been asked before in my home by this same kid. "Ummm...I used to believe he was real," was my reply. "So yes, I considered it and believed it for a very long time." He then proceeded to try and convince me that because he was convinced there was a god, because he "just knows" I should believe too. I calmly explained to him that personal experiences are just that, personal. Just like I can't ever understand what he is going through as a kid in foster care, I also cannot form my beliefs around someone else's experiences. Now, I know (and you do too if you have been reading this blog for any significant amount of time) that this kid doesn't know shit about what he believes. Sure, he believes there is a god, but he has never read a single holy book, has never had a any kind of spiritual awakening or encounter, knows absolutely nothing about philosophy, theology, or tenant of faith. He hasn't attended a church in over two years and seems to be unconcerned about connecting to one. In fact, I would say that he has basically created his own religion that centers around horror movies, urban myths, with a smattering of Christianity thrown in there so we know which god he actually wants to believe in. So my respect for this kid's "beliefs" is admittedly low.
He then tried to convince me to take a six week Angel Course on-line that is only $147. I told him that it was a rip off and anyone who tells him differently is...wait for it...selling something. Do they have evidence for these angels that you are supposed to be in contact with? "They have personal testimonies." Nope, I need something more than that. I spent my whole life being told to believe in something that there was very little evidence for. I am not going to spend that much money on something, to do something that I don't even care about. "You don't care if you see angels?" he asks, shocked. Nope. If angels exist, which there is no evidence to back that up, I don't really see why it would matter if I did see them. Then I asked him why this was so important to him. "Because I am having doubts myself and I figure if I can get you to believe, then I will too." Ahhh. So I explained again that one's faith is very personal. That I cannot live his faith for him. If he wants to believe there is a god or angels or whatever, he can, but he cannot force me to believe them to make himself feel better.
Then we talked a bit about confirmation bias. You really want this stuff to be real huh? He nods his head. When you go online, you only seek out information that supports what you believe right? Another nod. Have YOU ever considered that you could be wrong? Or ever thought to look for information that doesn't back up what you believe? He stares at me in horror. No. Never. He would never read anything by anyone who told him that god wasn't real. Then you my friend are caught in a trap of confirmation bias. You only read things by people who agree with you, only surround yourself with people who believe like you, only frequent websites with people who believe like you. And you are doing it out of fear that you will lose your faith or that it could change.
Finally, I calmly told him that I know he didn't know me when I was a Christian, but I really really did believe. I had dedicated my life to my religion. I attended church several times a week, volunteered, was a mentor, sang on the worship team, led small groups. I believed all of it. And I surrounded myself with confirmation bias too, because I had been taught that everyone else was wrong and was just trying to lead me astray. You know what really led me astray though? He shakes his head. He doesn't want to know. I tell him anyway. The Bible. I read the entire Bible...again....and this time I was honest with myself about the things that didn't make sense. I don't share those things with you or husband because it is up to you to find those things yourself. I do NOT try to make you lose your faith because I know how important that is to people. How personal. And I'll be honest, I do find that your constant attempts to get me to believe what you believe to be very disrespectful of my beliefs. How about this? After you have read at least three holy books all the way through, and two books by authors who don't believe the same things you believe, you come back and talk to me. I'm sure it will be enlightening.
When I got home, I went to my room to vent to husband, because frankly I was pissed. I do not appreciate this kid who knows absolutely nothing about religion trying to convert me based on a "feeling that there is a god". It's insulting. Husband then tells me that son told him this plan and he has tried to dissuade him, to no avail. Did you tell him how rude it was? Yes, but he wouldn't listen. Did you tell him that I WAS a believer for longer than he has been alive. Of course, but he was insistent. I told him not to. I told him you wouldn't like it.
Son has not had this conversation with me since. He has not tried to convince me there is a god, although occasionally tries to convince me that ghosts, poltergeists, demons, devils, etc. are. I always just ask him to provide me with some evidence by a reputable source. What counts as reputable? Scientific studies, organizations that analyze data, photographs with clear images that cannot possibly have been manipulated by photoshop or CGI. So far, he hasn't even bothered to look. I am just glad he has stopped trying to convert me. We have had a few conversations about religion, but I always come at it from the standpoint that he believes this so here is what your religion says about that.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.