Recently, my husband and I were having a conversation about Catholic hospitals who refuse to perform certain procedures on the grounds of religion. "They have a right to follow what they believe," he quipped. I could immediately think of a half dozen responses to this, but decided that arguing about it was pointless. Do you have the right to follow your heart and religion? Absolutely. For me, that right ends when it infringes on the rights of others or when you are providing a public service.
I have no problem with an individual Catholic refusing to take birth control and not ever having an abortion. That's awesome that you are living by the truths you believe in that govern your life. On the same note I take no issue with a Jewish or Muslim person not eating pork, a Hindu being a vegetarian, Mormons wearing special underwear, Amish people refusing to use technology, and New Age enthusiasts using crystals and Raki to align their Chakras. Where I take issue with those things is when you are providing a service to the public.
Let's create an example using a devout Catholic man. His name is John and he grows up in a mostly Catholic town in New England. It is there that he is instilled with the idea that birth control is a sin and he should never have sex outside of marriage. Fast forward to his late thirties. John has a gaggle of children and now owns a rather successful music store chain that sell everything from guitars to saxaphones to pianos. People love shopping at his store and he never asks any of his customers any questions about their sex lives in order to do business with them. However, because John is so anti-contraception, he has decided that the insurance plans he provides for his staff will not cover birth control for women. It doesn't matter to him if those women are Catholic or not. He feels that by allowing an insurance company to provide this medicine, he is somehow supporting the practice of it. It also doesn't matter that although people may use his instruments at night clubs or gay bars or for a striptease, he continues to sell his products to them no questions asked. Of course, there is the very real possibility that if he found out that someone was going to use an instrument for something he didn't agree with, he may refuse to sell them the item in question. Where in that scenario does John's rights end and another person's begin? I would say that his rights end at his body. If he is usurping his will and beliefs on another person, particularly one who doesn't believe the same as he does, then he is wrong. Period. It is wrong to force someone to follow your religion, particularly if you have a public business that hires people of multiple belief systems and provides products and services to people of the same.
It is wrong of Catholic hospitals to refuse to treat a patient over a religious belief. It is okay for an individual doctor to say no, I can't do this personally, but there should always be someone else on hand who can and will.
Disclaimer: Although it may seem by this blog that my husband and I argue a lot, that would be untrue. There are certain things that we disagree or don't see eye to eye on. I was aware of most of these things before we got married and decided that they were not deal breakers for me. They drive me nuts sometimes, but on the whole we agree about more than we disagree and get along very well.
I am in the middle of reading The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, an interesting book that lays out a fairly succinct argument in defense of evolution. Full of studies, statistics, and information, Dawkins walks through the various elements of the theory of evolution from fossil records to carbon dating to what the word theory means in a scientific context. Some of it is information I already knew, but what I like about this book in particular is that occasionally it mentions the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) arguments that are used in an attempt to discredit whatever information is being laid out. For example: The chapter I am in currently is discussing "The Missing Link". What does that mean exactly? Do we really have gaps? Where are those gaps and what does that tell us about fossil records? Can we accurately look at the fossil records and make the types of claims that Darwin and his successors have used concerning the origin of the species? Having grown up in an environment where YEC was paramount and facts were ignored if they didn't line of with a YEC way of thinking, I find this type of book useful. I began to reject YEC in my late teens. I knew that a young earth didn't match archaeological data. Yet there was a part of me that was afraid to explore further. I knew one could believe in an old earth and God, but the two seemed incongruous. If the earth itself, and every species on it, formed on its own for millions of years, what did that mean about God? I knew this kind of questioning would not lead to a deeper belief in God so I left it alone. It wasn't until my late twenties that I actually started to read books about evolution or science books that just assumed evolution was fact.
One area where my husband and I often have disagreements is this very subject, which is surprising because this man claims to believe evolution is true. From my perspective it seems that, although he understands there is a lot of science to back up evolution, enough of the church has weaseled its way in for him to be very skeptical of it. "I'm a skeptic," he claims, followed by something like, "It's only a theory, not a law." Here's the thing about skepticism. I absolutely believe you should question everything, particularly things that you have been taught that have very little evidence. You should seek out that evidence and if there is none, move into the category of I-need-more-evidence-before-I-believe-this-is-true. But if there IS evidence to back up a claim, then, at the very least, it needs to be moved into the this-is-plausible category. At the very least. A few days ago my husband started ranting about carbon dating and how scientists had been wrong about the age of the Earth because of it. Woah woah. Slow down buddy. Scientists didn't use carbon dating to determine the age of the Earth. Scientists use radiometric dating, not carbon dating to determine the age of things older than 12,000 years old. Carbon breaks down at a faster rate than uranium and can only be used to date relatively young things. Radiometric breakdown can be tested and is proveable. We know how long it takes to break down. It isn't a guess. If you had the right tools, you too could watch and estimate this on your own. That is what makes it into a scientific theory, which then makes it a fact. Because in science, theory is a homonym. It has more than one meaning. It does NOT mean guess work. It means that someone had a hypothesis and then they proved it using measurable data that was then peer reviewed and tested by other independent parties. With this information in hand, knowing all the facts about how it works, I have reached the conclusion that the earth is therefore roughly 4.3 billion years old as scientists now estimate. They didn't make a guess, it isn't a hypothesis. But to hear my husband talk about it, you would think it was a bunch of idiots sitting around holding rocks and going, "Yeah, that rock seems really old. I'm going to guess it's a billion years old." And that's the YEC pseudo-science creeping in. You aren't a skeptic, you're a Christian who doesn't accept scientific facts. That thing about carbon dating is straight out of the YEC handbook, so don't act like you know all about science when you are still using Christian pseudo-science talking points.
Is there science I am skeptical about? Sure. The multi-universe hypothesis is interesting and has some mathematical data behind it, but as of yet, it is nothing more than an interesting guess. Therefore, it goes into the I-need-more-evidence-before-I-believe-this-is-true category. Technically a hypothesis is never 100% proven as there could be some variable that the experiment has not encountered that could render it untrue. That is what I love about science though. It is always open to being proved wrong. Sure, the scientific community might fight against it sometimes, but a good scientist should be open to continued peer review and testing. We all know there were a number of scientific "theories" from yesteryear that were treated as fact even though they often had very little evidence and couldn't be repeated by another independent party. Take the maternal impression theory that concluded that a mother's thoughts created birth defects. There was absolutely no experimental support and was rendered obsolete by genetic theory, which has a mountain of data to support it. The Azoic hypothesis, which was at the time considered fact, stated that marine life couldn't exist below 200 fathoms. This was quickly disproven in 1850 with the discovery of Conocrinus Iofotensis.
The Bible is not open to being proven wrong. It claims to be 100% right and demands it's followers find ways to prove it. They work backwards. Instead of coming up with a hypothesis and then trying to prove it, they give you the "fact" (the Bible is true) and then force you to find a way to prove it. And this is nearly impossible. They use archaeology like a weapon. See, Ur is mentioned in the Bible and we found the city of Ur, therefore the whole of the Bible is true. See, Solomon's temple is mentioned in the Bible and since we can see the remnants of Solomon's temple, all of the stories in the Bible about Solomon are true. No one could have possibly made them up after the fact. There's no way Solomon lied about his father in order to make himself more important sounding and to give him credence to take over the throne even though he didn't have royal blood. Mount Olympus is a real place and people really did once worship Zeus. Does the fact that it exists and had devout followers, make it true? A Christian would tell you of course not. Don't be ridiculous. I was even taught that the people back then didn't really believe in the Roman and Greek pantheons. But that isn't true. I've read several historical contemporary accounts and people really did believe. They were convinced that this is how life came to be and it is no wonder they rejected the Christians only-one-god claims when they first started shopping their religion around. For years archaeologists believed Troy wasn't real because it was in The Illiad. That is until they discovered the remnants of Troy. Does that make The Illiad true? I don't think there is anyone out there who thinks it is. It's just a story that happens to use a real place as a way to anchor the story to our world.
I honestly think my husband is in the same place I was at one point. I was interested in science, but scared to learn more about it as I feared it would drive me further from my faith. I knew enough to sound like an idiot and definitely made the carbon dating argument at one point. My husband did not like it when I corrected him on this fact and immediately jumped into the "I am a skeptic" mantra, trying to make himself sound smart by rejecting science he doesn't understand. I would give him a pass on this if I saw him actually studying and trying to understand the science. For example: We watched The Cosmos together and instead of looking up some of the information he didn't understand or wasn't sure about, he just pronounced that he didn't think something was true based one....what...his armchair science degree? He claimed he already knew all about this and he didn't deem the science to be factual. I on the hand read articles, studies, research papers, journals, in an effort to understand the concept I wasn't understanding. I didn't accept the science blindly, but I also didn't reject it out of hand simply because it didn't match up with my religious views. If you really are a skeptic, then you should also be a seeker of knowledge. This may mean that you, just like science, need to be open to change. This does not mean you will lose your faith, but it may mean you have to admit that science does actually have some answers and they may not align perfectly with your holy book.
Last week I traveled with my husband and son to the mid-west to visit with some of my in-laws. My sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and six nieces and nephews to be exact. Family is extremely important to me, particularly my nieces and nephews and so it was long overdue that we took the trip. We were also aware that this would help our son feel more connected to the family since four of these nieces and nephews are adopted. So we hopped on two planes and made our way to the middle of the country where it rained 6 out of the 7 days we were there. I didn't mind so much because I like cold rainy weather. Yes, I am aware this makes me a weirdo.
Although we have not visited too much with this part of the family, my SIL runs a very successful parenting/adoption blog and I know a lot about her family through that. We also chat via instant messenger and a year and a half ago we joined them on vacation, just to see them. It was during this trip that I learned firsthand how sanctimonious this pair are. My husband's family isn't super functional, but they clearly have a very negative opinion of my husband and see him as a bit of a screw-up. They assumed that the only reason we drove 4 1/2 hours to join them on holiday was because we were having marital problems and wanted marriage advice. This is the couple who almost got a divorce over porn. Yeah, okay. Sure. That's why we are here. It couldn't be because of the six adorable people who live with you and I want to have a relationship with.
From their perspective, my husband probably does seem like a bit of a screw up. He's always been a bit of a religious rebel. He had a lot of sex outside of marriage. His first marriage only lasted 9 months and the whole family treated it like it was some kind of failing on his part. Sure, she was cheating on him before and after the marriage, but surely he has some culpability? Right? He dropped out of art college. His career as a decade long cop didn't go anywhere. When he moved to a different state he struggled to find his footing. Of course, this is where the self-righteous duo stopped being in his life. So they weren't there when he decided to go into computers. They weren't there to see him quickly rise in the ranks. They weren't there when we started dating. They haven't been here to see what good parents we are. And so they see him as this screwed up guy from a dysfunctional family who struggled for a long time. I see all of that as the growing pains my husband had to go through to become the awesome man, husband, and father that he is today. I don't wish pain on anyone, but I don't think I would have wanted to marry my husband the way he was at 24.
All that said, it shouldn't come as any surprise that we had a few tense and awkward moments. Most of these moments consisted of either SIL or BIL wanting to talk ad naseum about husband's dysfunctional family. My husband accepted long ago that these were the people his parents were. It is what it is. We don't talk about it often. My relationship with my MIL and FIL are surface level at best. I don't talk to them on the phone and have unfollowed them both on Facebook. So talking about these virtual strangers for two hours straight was exhausting. I wanted to scream, "Can we please talk about something else?"
The most interesting, and by interesting I mean really awkward, was when my SIL began drilling me about church. What church are you going to? What church is your son going to? Why aren't you going with him? I don't like to lie if I can help it, but we were quickly moving into an area where changing the subject would just be suspicious. Husband to the rescue! My husband stands up and basically tells SIL that we don't go to church because he sees no value in it. The people in the church don't follow the basic tenants of their faith, are not open to anyone who thinks just a little differently than them, and asks for obedience in matters that aren't Biblical. As expected, she immediately gave the typical Christian, "Well, the church is full of hypocrites. I choose to stay and try and make it a better place." At this I quipped, "I'm done fighting. They don't want it to be a better place, they want it to remain as it is. I did that for years. I wasted my time on people who didn't care about me at all." We told her that instead of going to church on Sundays, we now drop our kid off at his and then we get some alone time. Sometimes we go grocery shopping. (Sunday mornings are great for shopping) Sometimes we go to a coffee house and just talk. Sometimes we go for a walk together at a park. And ALL of those things feel more filling to my spirit than going to church ever did. I told her flat out that I thought I would miss it more, but I don't. I've quite enjoyed not being obliged to go to church. Thanks to my husband the entire conversation shifted away from me and I didn't have to lie at all about my atheism. All of this went in one ear and out the other, because the next day she invited all of us to church. Ummmm....no. We're good. Remember that conversation yesterday? We really were serious. At this point, the only reason I would ever walk into a church is for a wedding or a funeral.
There were a few other conversations that were religious in nature, but not awkward. Like us talking about my parents and their super-spirituality when I was a kid. Or how the purity culture harmed me. (BTW I bought a bikini today and this matters a lot because I have never had the courage or body positiveity to wear one before. I'm not skinny, but I think I look hot in it.) And the other conversations were about our kids and parenting and books. Mundane things. It wasn't a bad visit overall. The religious talks were inevitable and I was ready for them. In the end though, I suspect that they still think husband is a bit of a screw up. Not because of his marriage or job now, but because he doesn't go to church. There's no winning.
All my life my mom has told me the miraculous story of a donut and the almost-abortion. My mother was 19 when she found out she was pregnant with me. Unmarried and dirt poor in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the US, she thought that abortion was really the best thing she could do at the moment. My dad, always supportive, offered to take her to her appointment. On the way to the abortion clinic, my mom was hungry, so they stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and grabbed some coffee and donuts. When they arrived at the clinic one of the first questions was, "Have you eaten anything in the past 24 hours?" Oh shit, I just had a donut. So they had to reschedule the appointment for the next morning. That evening, stomach growling, my mom was hanging out with a good friend and that young woman asked if my mom was really sure she wanted to have an abortion. "Have you talked to your boyfriend about it?" So that night they had a heart-to-heart and my dad said that he would support whatever my mom chose, but that he would kind of like to keep it. He thought that they could very possibly be good parents and get out of West Virginia if they played their cards right and worked hard. So they kept me.
My mom often tells this story as if some kind of miracle happened in either the donut or the friend. As if God himself reached down and made her stomach rumble so she would buy that donut. It was also framed in a way for me to understand that although I wasn't planned or even wanted at first, my mom is very happy things turned out the way they did. I am too. I kind of like being alive.
One would think with this type of beginning, I would be fully Pro-life. I am not. See, if my mother had chosen to go ahead with an abortion, I would completely understand. There was no guarantee that anything would have worked out, that my dad would have gotten his act together, that their marriage would last, or that they would have been able to escape West Virginia and the pervasive poverty there. For almost all of their family and her friends, things didn't turn out so well for them. And the first two years of my life were rather chaotic to say the least. Having a baby didn't magically make my parents become more mature. Nevermind that my mother didn't have a clue on how to parent and had to deal with the consequences of that throughout most of my childhood.
When a woman makes a choice to have an abortion, it is rarely because they are just using it as some kind of birth control the way many Pro-life people choose to display it as. The circumstances are often dire and the decision is hard. Some people come to regret it. Some don't. Just because one woman is glad she didn't have an abortion, doesn't mean that all women feel that way. Cognitive dissonance also plays a part where, even if you made the "wrong" decision, you continue to tell yourself that you made the right one in order to have peace within yourself. My mother, at the time of her choice, was not a Christian. I don't think that she would have had regrets at the time. However, once she became a Christian, she most definitely would have been told that she should regret her decisions. What I always took away from my story was how loving and supportive my dad was. He was going to support her no matter what her decision was. That's true choice and even though he preferred she have the baby, he was not going to pressure her either way. I love that. I have always loved that.
My husband and I don't really see eye to eye on this matter. He used to volunteer at an adult for a crisis pregnancy center, a Christian-centric organization that has a bad habit of coercing women into not aborting through some very shady tactics. Their motto seems to be, "The end justifies the means." So this has always been an area that we have disagreed on. Personally, I feel like we should measure life the way we measure if someone is dead, brainwaves and heartbeat. There is some debate as to when that happens with a fetus, but most doctors agree that it is sometime between 9 and 12 weeks. The CDC reports that 80.5% of abortions are performed before the 10 week mark with another 8.3% before 12 weeks. The other 10% happen after 12 weeks. For me, this means that the vast majority of abortions are performed on fetuses who are not viable or alive yet. Yes, they have the potential for life, but their potentiality for life doesn't trump the decision making of the person who already exists, is alive, and is making the decisions. The potential for life should never trump already existing life. I don't even bother discussing late term abortions with people because we all know that those abortions are not performed because some woman out there wants to "kill" her baby and just decided too late. I had a friend who had an abortion at 20 weeks when they found out her baby had no brain. She was devastated. The decision to abort was agonizing and horrible. Yet she is somehow being lumped into the same category as women who are using abortions as a (very expensive) means of birth control. I hate that and I hate the people who make her feel shitty for the awful choice she had to make.
Now, here is where I am straddling the fence. I think abortions should be treated like a medical procedure. Just like any other medical procedure there should be strict guidelines for health and safety. Abortion clinics should be run like hospitals. There should be laws in place about what happens when a fetus is born clinically "alive". Teenagers should have some kind of parental or adult consent. I understand that this means that the very person who got them pregnant, like a father, may be the same person giving consent, but I find the idea of performing medical procedures on children without the consent of an adult to be absolutely ridiculous.
My husband, of course, thinks I am wrong. He thinks that I don't value life like I should. That stating one life is more important than another is playing God. Perhaps that is what I am doing. Children can be quite wonderful. I love holding a newborn in my arms and making faces at them in hopes of seeing that gummy smile. But I can think of no greater tragedy than bringing such an innocent life into this world who will not be loved and cherished. There are people who have abortions for the wrong reasons, just as there are people who birth children for the wrong reasons. Those reasons, whether good or bad, are a woman's choice to make. It is not up to me to determine to decide whether she is making the right decision. It is up to me to be supportive, champion for her safety, and listen without judgement. This may mean that my support may lead to someone changing their mind about having an abortion. It may mean something else. I'm okay with this.
Inside jokes, humor that confirms our own biases, is something we humans naturally gravitate towards. It makes sense, right? Someone posts a funny joke about D&D and you, a player of the game, get a kick out of it because you have sooo been there. There are entire websites dedicated to poking fun and creating relateable humor for the fans of...whatever. On the flip side, there are the comics, memes, and websites that make fun of our favorite things in a mean-spirited way. Like To use the previous example of D&D, I am not a particular fan of comics that make fun of D&D and portray the players as all male playing in someone's parent's basement. I play on Saturday afternoons with my husband, kid, and two friends. It is bright and sunny and we all share a meal afterward. Sometimes extra people (spouses, other parents) come over after we play for dinner. Every Saturday I get to hang out with some of my favorite people, playing a fun game, and eat a good meal afterward. So yeah, I kind of resent the implication that it's a bunch of neckbeards having nerdgasms in a basement. Yet I also know that those jokes aren't for me. They are for the people who really don't understand D&D and think it is weird. To them, the joke reiterates the stereotypes they have formed.
I used to hate things that made fun of religion. As a religious person I would think, "They just don't get it" or "That's a really twisted way of looking at that". As the years went on I began to find some humor in jokes that made fun of religion. I was a particular fan of The Door magazine, a now defunct publication, but one full of so much awesome religious satire. It never went too far, but even as a religious person, I could laugh at it. Fast forward to the age social media and memes. Folks, these anti-religious memes are nasty. They are harsh. I love them.
One of the cons of being a covert agnostic atheist is that I have to be careful what I like on social media, because other people WILL see it. I have a few "friends", mostly former co-workers and classmates who are atheist and they share these atheist memes all the time. A part of me knows though that although these are somewhat humorous, some of them are downright rude. And like the D&D jokes, not entirely true about the people they are cracking on. Another part of me really enjoys them and loves that someone out there is pointing out some of the ridiculous shit that the religion perpetuates. In the end though, I find them unnecessary. No meme will ever change anyone's mind about their religion. It's completely an in-group thing that creates a deeper divide with your out-group. For every meme posted you are only perpetuating more of an us vs. them mentality. As a Christian, I was told to be a good example of a Christian in order to show non-Christians what they were missing out on. How they too could find the kind of life and joy that I was representing. I think the same concept should apply to any those of us who are non-religious. If you want people to be more open to what you are "selling", not offending them and treating them like idiots is a good place to start. That's not to say we can't joke around sometimes, but it does mean that posting memes about how stupid Christians are for believing certain things is probably not the best way to go about it. It's one thing to poke fun at your own in-group, it's quite another to post mean-spirited "jokes" that are meant to offend.
When I was a Christian, one of my favorite songs to sing was a song called Beautiful Things. I loved it not only for the words, but the musicality of it. If you have listened to one contemporary Christian worship song, you've heard them all. But this one was different. Multiple harmonies and a killer bridge, it was a challenge to sing and beautiful when you got it right.
Which is why I am so insanely happy to see that one of the musicians who wrote and sang this song is now an atheist. It is my opinion that musicians who spend their life in service to a religion are wasting their talents. Since the god that they serve is either non-existent or ambivalent at best, it seems a shame for them to be sucked into the religious mold that they are often forced into. Good musicians find themselves playing songs that literally sound exactly like another one because how many ways can you say, "We love you and worship you, Oh God"?
Of course, the Christians were quick to throw out some 'No True-Scotsman' fallacies. She was never one of us. Something always felt off about her/their music. I knew she wasn't a TRUE believer. If she had been a real believer she never would have fallen astray. False teacher. A messenger for the devil. You don't have to believe in Satan to be a Satanist. Women shouldn't even be pastors anyway. Once you are born in the spirit, there is no going back. blah blah blah.
It's hard for people this "devout" to understand how anyone could possibly change their mind about something. That it is possible for someone to have strong beliefs about one thing and then do a complete about face. My dad was in a band when I was a kid, was unmarried when he got my mom pregnant, and did casual drugs. He also had no problem with this and seemed to be fairly happy. Then he became a Christian and denounced all of that, destroying all his secular music and denouncing pre-marital sex and drugs. For something less extreme: I used to hate artichokes. I now put them on my pizza. People change their minds quite often about a lot of things. I see this as good because it means you were open to new ideas. New ideas aren't to be rejected our of hand, but rather examined to see if they have any merit. Some don't. That's okay. There are many hypothesis out there about a myriad of subjects and some don't hold water. (I'm looking at you essential oils) Others end up holding value and make their way into our personal and social philosophies. In Victorian England it was perfectly legal and acceptable to drop your infant on the street and leave it for dead as long as it was under a year old. Today we call this infanticide and parents would go to jail for doing so. What changed? Someone eventually made an argument that this was wrong and unacceptable. People agreed and eventually this practice became illegal. We all agreed it was inhumane. It is okay to examine things you believe as true and to come to new conclusions. It doesn't mean those people never believed or that when they were believing, their belief was somehow already corrupted. All it means is they re-examined those beliefs and this time, they came to a different conclusion.
A great piece on Fresh Air posted yesterday. So much of it rang true for me. I ended up walking away from the faith, but not for any of the reasons that she goes into in this interview or book. Although the purity movement did not do me any favors in my relationships, I see this as a failing of religious doctrine and dogma, not the religion itself.
I have broached this very subject with my mother several times, trying to get her to understand the deep hurt that the church (and she) instilled in me concerning the purity movement. And she just doesn't get it. She is quick to condemn my youth group leaders and the church for teaching me to hate my body, making me afraid of sex, and shaming me. Yet, she pushes away any culpability on her part. When I discussed this interview with her this morning she said, "It isn't the job of the church to shame women about what they are wearing. That's the job of the Holy Spirit." Basically stating that she *does* think people dress and act inappropriately, but with enough GAWD the problem will fix itself. "No," I told her. "Nothing is wrong with how she is dressed. It doesn't matter. How someone is dressed is not indicative of how pure, wonderful, kind, or good a person is. She can dress in the most low-cut dress in the world and it means nothing about who she is spiritually." It is at this point I should state that I am still in the closet with my family, so my mom thinks I am arguing from a religious standpoint. Then we moved onto the topic of sex and the used up chewing gum scenario (Oreo cookie in the interview) that people use. My mother used to teach a True Love Waits course at our church. I know for a fact that she used to teach this very concept to other young women. Yet, when I bring up how wrong this idea is, that a woman is undeserving of love because she has had sex, she immediately states, "I do believe in purity." Yeah, well, what about young women who have been sexually abused? I mention a girl who I know was in her class. A friend. Melinda was being sexually abused by her step-father who ended up spending five years in jail for it. You taught her that she was a used up piece of gum and no one would want her because she had already had sex. How did you think that made her feel? How many young girls were taught this? How many girls will go to youth group tonight and be taught this exact same thing? The conversation ended abruptly as my mom headed into work, but I know it's like talking to a brick wall. Despite realizing how harmful the purity movement was to her own daughter, she can't help but be judgmental of other young women, assuming that if they dress a certain way or behave in a certain manner, they just aren't listening to God. After all, if you are a good Christian girl who obeys God you will look and act a specific pre-defined way. It took me ten years to get her to admit that what I was taught was wrong. It will probably be another ten to get her to understand that a woman in a bikini is no more or less spiritual than a woman in "modest" clothing. I have no hope of my mother ever leaving the faith, but I would settle for her not body shaming the women around her, especially since she is still involved in children and youth ministries.
Living in a geeky home, it is fairly normal to have conversations regarding things like the metaphors in Dune or who is the best supervillain. Today my teenager (adopted), was talking about superpowers. As I've stated before, this kid knows very very little about religion and despite attending a Unitarian church weekly, has shown zero interest in actually learning about any religions although tells people that he is a Christian. He decided that if he had his choice of superpowers, he would like to have the ability to create living beings. The conversation went something like this:
Teen: And then once I created them, they would have to do what I said.
Me: So wait, they wouldn't have free will?
Teen: Well, if they developed free will I guess that would be okay.
Me: But you wouldn't create them with free will?
Teen: No. Why would I?
Me: Why would you create them without free will?
Teen: So they would do what I said.
Me: So you would create sentient creatures and then demand they do what you tell them to do. What happens if they develop free will and don't want to? What happens then? What if they chose not to acknowledge you?
Teen: They would have to. I made them.
Me: What if many generations went by and you lived on a mountain and they hadn't seen you in a long time. What if they didn't believe you existed?
Teen: Then I would come down and show them. I would show them my superpowers.
Me: Well, that makes you at least a god who is somewhat understanding that some people require evidence to believe. But what if they see you and still choose not to help you or do what you say?
Teen: Well, I created them. I can destroy them.
Me: Oh. So you are a vengeful god then?
Teen: No. I wouldn't be a god.
Me: But you created them. And are demanding they worship you. That makes you a god, at least to them.
Teen: But I am not asking them to worship me.
Me: Requiring people to obey you and acknowledge that you are their creator is what worship is, even if it doesn't include things like prayer and songs, although those would probably follow. So as these people's god you are saying you would kill them for not obeying you?
Teen: ::shrugs:: I made them.
Me: But what if you aren't a good god? What if you did terrible things and didn't deserve to be obeyed? After all, you are just a human with superpowers.
Teen: If they didn't obey, they would be killed.
Me: So you would be a god who controls his people through intimidation and fear? One who demands worship even if you are undeserving of it? And condemns people to death for not doing what you want them to do? Sounds like a villain to me.
Teen: I wouldn't be a villain. I would do good things.
Me: Killing people for not obeying you doesn't sound good. Congratulations Teen. You just described the Jewish and Christian god. And here I thought you didn't understand the Bible. Jesus says that the only thing you have to do to be a Christian is acknowledge he is god and then later Paul says that obedience to Christ is the key. And if you don't obey and acknowledge this god you will go to hell and be tortured for eternity. I wouldn't call that kind of a god a good god or a superhero of any kind. And unlike you, that god isn't coming down from heaven and showing people his superpowers. If he exists, he is choosing to remain invisible and still condemn people for not worshiping him.
Truth be told, if my teen ever got superpowers, he would be a villain because he struggles a good deal with self-control, kindness, and being empathetic. Foster care and neglect don't really lead to the light side. He also has a very difficult time with rules and makes up his own rules even when he has no authority to do so. For example: Teacher says no headphones in class. Teen decides (tells himself) that music helps him focus so he turns on music despite his teacher's rule and then gets angry and curses out the teacher for telling him to shut it off. So the conversation wasn't surprising to me. What was surprising was how quickly his "hero" devolved into a a petty, jealous, controlling god. I don't really think I got through to him. I think that he lacks the capacity to understand this complex topic or why such actions would be wrong. He makes many of these same mistakes when we play D&D and his character is basically evil at this point because of the many of the stupid decisions he has made for the character. And he doesn't understand why. Does he not understand right from wrong? I think in clear black & white instances he does. It is wrong to murder someone. It is right to give people hugs. But the more nuances things, like how do you treat someone who does something you don't like? He just doesn't get it and 9 times out of 10 he chooses to be mean instead of kind. This is hard to live with on a daily basis because I see a kid who wants to be good, but has absolutely no idea how to do it, particularly when he is angry, which is a lot.
Recently USA Today released an article concerning adoption agencies and Catholic charities. It was basically in defense of religious bigotry because "at lease they are helping children get homes." Of course, it ignores the families who are being turned away for not being the right religion or having lifestyles that the church considers sinful. Warning, if you go searching for this article, you will bump into my comment where I am not exactly being incognito so you will learn my "true identity". I made the following comment:
The problem lies in that in some states, all the private agencies ARE religious. So you have the choice of working with either the state (who focuses primarly on foster care and reunification) or a private religious agency (who does both foster and adoption, sometimes focusing on babies). And if those agencies refuse to work with you because you aren't religious or because you are some variation of "sinful" in their eyes, then you are just out of luck. That makes me question whether they really care about finding children homes or if they are more concerned about conversions and maintaining their religion. In my state there are several agencies that require prospective parents to sign "statements of faith". A problem for me since I am not religious. This left us with only two choices of private agencies, both of which are still religious, but don't seem to care so much about my personal faith. We adopted a teen in April and I find it appalling that any child would be denied an opportunity to have a family because someone's personal life doesn't line up with a religion. Bigotry is still bigotry, even if the organization is doing something charitable.
Someone, of course, replied with a "But what about standards? Shouldn't there be standards?" Sure. Absolutely. My husband and I had to do a 30 hour training course mandatory for all foster parents whether they plan to foster or adopt. We also have to do an additional 24 hours of training over the 2 year period that our license is open. Our home was inspected by a case worker who went through our drawers and asked us dozens of questions. We had to fill out a 30 page questionnaire that asked questions about our philosophy of parenting, what our relationships were like with our parents & siblings, what our support network looked like, hobbies, any infertility issues, and even our sex lives. I had to hand over tax returns and list out, in detail, our monthly budget. We had to be fingerprinted and then state and federal background checks were run. (in some states you have to pass a drug test) In our home, which was inspected by a case worker, we have to have two fire extinguishers, a double-locking case for all medication, a locking case for the refrigerator, knives in a drawer, and an escape ladder in the kid's bedroom. I had to have a fire inspection and escape routes hanging up in our house. Dangerous chemicals have to be locked up. On top of all that, we have to fill out a mountain of paperwork each time our child went to the doctor, dentist, hospital, or took any medication, of which he has several. A social worker then came once a month to review our paperwork and to ask more questions to be sure that we weren't abusing our kid and were meeting his needs. Most biological parents will never have to go through all that to have a kid. So yeah, I would say there are a lot of standards in place. Do crappy parents still slip through the cracks? Sure. Some of those people lie because they know how to swindle people. Some may start out as decent parents or thought they would be good parents and then quickly discover that they aren't, and then instead of quitting the system, they stay in and just become abusive. Those people are problems, but not the ones my commentor was referring to.
No, he is suggesting that the standard by which we judge someone as being a fit parent IS religion. That despite all the rigorous things that a foster/adoptive parent has to go through in order to be a parent, those aren't good enough if you don't worship God. And you know and I know that they only mean one particular God. They aren't going to accept a Muslim adopting at a Catholic adoption agency. I've been around the religious most of my life. I've heard this rhetoric before. I absolutely know that the aim, the goal, is not just to find families for kids, but also Christian families.
I also know that religion doesn't make a person a good parent. My mother, despite loving us dearly, was abusive when I was younger. She screamed at us all the time, called us names, and was verbally abusive. It took me a long time to come to terms with that, because I love both my parents dearly. Mom also resorted to hitting when angry and would aim at whatever was in reach, meaning that spankings often turned into getting hit on the arm, shoulder, back, head, or legs. Spankings were often done in anger and in the heat of the moment, which means instead of one or two swats you could get upwards of 12-15. Eventually my parents took some parenting classes and learned some techniques for better parenting and things got a lot better. But there are still some incidents that happened well into my teen years that we just don't talk about today. Incidents that most definitely would be considered abuse by anyone's standards. Religion didn't magically make my parents better at parenting. All it did was make them self-righteous about it. I got punished for being sinful, disobedient, or wicked. I was reminded that in Bible times rebellious kids like me would have been stoned. I was prayed over in church to remove the spirit of rebellion from me. Mine is not an isolated past. Most of my friends grew up in very similar environments. Between all the hugs and guidance and family times, there was also an underlying threat. It's why so many people justify and normalize spanking, because it happened to so many of us. And for the record, my husband is not a better parent than me simply due to his religion.
So no, religion should not be the standard in which we judge whether someone will be a fit parent. There are a billions of people on this planet who are religious and some of those are also some of the shittiest human beings you will ever meet. I had a friend at fifteen, who told me that her step-father was sexually abusing her. He ended up going to jail for 5 years because of it. He had also been a deacon at his church and was training to be a pastor. He would have passed any religious standards to adopt. Religion is probably the least reliable "standard" for deciding whether someone will be a fit parent.
With over 107,000 children in the US available for adoption and waiting for families, I find it criminal that any organization would deny them that opportunity based on personal opinion and bigotry. I absolutely believe those organizations that discriminate based on religion, sexual orientation, or marital status should not be tolerated, in the same way that we wouldn't tolerate them discriminating based on skin color. And I think atheists and other non-religious organizations need to start stepping up and creating organizations that are open to all. If religion, particularly Christianity, is going to dwindle and die, the non-religious must step up and fill those voids. We need humanist or even more interfaith organizations that will meet these great social needs. I'm afraid my gifts and talents do not lie in starting my own non-profit business, but I would definitely volunteer with and champion the cause of those organizations. We, the non-believers, HAVE to stop allowing the religious to dictate charity.
Last night husband and I went to the theater to see the Broadway tour of The Book of Mormon. I laughed a lot and gaphawed several times as well. For those not in the know: The Book of Mormon is a musical written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. If some of those names sound familiar, it's because you probably have seen them listed on every episode of South Park. Robert Lopez was the Broadway genius of the group. Together they wrote a play where two characters, Elder Cunningham and Elder Price become an unlikely mission duo sent, not to the sunny streets of Orlando, but to Uganda. Upon arrival their bags are stolen and they quickly discover they are surrounded by extreme poverty and very reluctant converts. So reluctant in fact that there has not been a single Mormon convert since the LDS showed up in the area. That is until Elder Cunningham begins to preach a rather...interesting...version of the Book of Mormon. Within all this Elder Price struggles with his beliefs and the expectations that have been put upon him by himself and others.
The play is irreverent, rude, crude, and downright hysterical if none of those things bother you. I've heard of Mormons who say they like the show, which I find fascinating because the show really is showcasing how absolutely ridiculous the Mormon faith is....and takes a swipe at all religions while doing so. The show is also smart and really examines things like racism, savior complexes, attitudes toward African, short-term missions work, and beliefs.
My favorite part of the show is it's focus on missions. If you recall, I have been on several short-term mission trips ranging from one week to two months and have some strong opinions about their utility. I've heard some criticism regarding this element of the show, but I really think those people are being too "woke" for their own good and completely missing the point. In the show, these white Mormon boys travel to Uganda, a place they can't even find on a map. Neither knows anything about the country nor do they actually care about the people in the beginning. The stereotypes they have color their opinions of the people there and make it hard for them to relate at all. Nevermind that the religion they are trying to spread has no relevance to these people at all. Elder Cunningham has to lie to them in order to get them to even listen. It also forces the audience to stop and think. As you are laughing at the song 'Hasa Diga Eobowai' it occurs to you that this IS what you imagined Africa and by extension Uganda as being like. And intellectually you know it isn't true. That what you are seeing on that stage is your own stereotypes being thrown back at you. You as the audience are being forced to watch a stereotype that you know is wrong and that makes you laugh and uncomfortable at the same time. Perhaps the best part is near the end when one of the characters says to the heartbroken Nabulungi (girl, love interest, true believer), "You didn't actually believe all that stuff did you? It's a met-a-phor." As if these people with a lack of education and inability to read can see more clearly than the people who came to witness to them or the true believers.
I know a lot of people who would be offended by it on every extreme. The Christians think it is cool that they are making fun of Mormons until they actually see some part of the show and realize that it's really making fun of all religions. The social justice warriors hate it for displaying African/Ugandans in such a "prejudicial" way. And then there is the rest of us who understand that comedy has a funny way of being both hilarious and a societal mirror and one can enjoy it for both reasons.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.