I get the pleasure of spending the next week with my brother-in-law *Ford, a super super conservative ex-military Christian who loves Trump, hates the Girl Scouts, and thinks execution is the answer to all our prison system woes. Of course, I should also add that this man probably has Asperger's, was in foster care, abused by his adoptive parents, before finally being adopted by my husband's family. He doesn't give a shit if he is offensive or if you are offended. He bounces so quickly from one subject to the next that it is dizzying and is one of those people that can make any conversation political.
I made the mistake yesterday of telling him we had Girl Scout cookies in the pantry. "I don't eat girl scout cookies," he said loudly. "I don't agree with them." I did not say anything because I am the fucking master at not being sucked into these types of conversation. He barreled on though, "I hate that they teach girls about birth control and sex." Interesting. "So you are against birth control?" I asked, immediately thinking about the pack on my bedside table that I take religiously. No, no, no, he assured me. "I think parents should do that. Not the Girl Scouts." But, I remind him, you of all people know there are some shitty parents out there. If their parents don't teach them, where are they supposed to learn about it? He pauses for a minute and then glibly says, "Well, I have other issues with them too." So much for that line of logic holding up under scrutiny. Honestly, I may understand if you said, I don't think five-year-olds should be learning sex education in Brownies, but to say that the only people who should teach sex education to children is the parents is just stupid. That's how you end up with a bunch of teenagers who don't know anything about their bodies and who get knocked up because rumor has it you can only get pregnant two days out of the month or some stupid shit like that. Also, what is the big fucking deal about kids being taught about sex? In all likelihood they are going to have sex one day. We should be raising kids to become adults. They aren't going to remain children forever. Some kids are sexually active by twelve and thirteen (some even younger). You don't start teaching sex ed in high school. By then it is too late for some. Ideally, I do think parents should teach their kids about sex, but there are way too many parents out there who don't. What better place to learn about your body and sex than in a small group of girls, taught by a parent, in a place where they hopefully feel safe?
Anyway, so that's an example of the fun that is *Ford on a regular basis. It's exhausting to be honest. He doesn't know I'm not a Christian and I have told my husband not to tell him because I don't want to deal with a rudeness factor of ten. I have been conveniently trying to plan things all week with friends because I find my house less than relaxing with his constant off-the-cuff remarks that make me feel uncomfortable and frustrated. Our views are often diametrically opposed and he is unabashedly Islamaphobic (for lack of a better term). In his mind, because he was stationed in a couple of Muslim majority countries he is now the expert in Islam and what "those Muslims" want to do to America. I did glimpse a bit of hope though when he stated that it was important for Muslim immigrants to integrate fully into our society, but there was no mention of conversion. It's something at least.
Luckily, I work all week and have solid plans for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And if worse comes to worse, I can always put in my ear buds and listen to an audio book.
As you probably are aware, my husband and I are in the midst of adopting a teenager from foster care. We are well into the process at this point with our future son having weekend overnight visits every other weekend at this point. We are slowly, but surprisingly bonding well and learning about each other. What I am learning about my future son is that he was raised by a person who had some clear biases in regards to homosexuality, race/ethnicity, and religion.
Currently, our son identifies as a Messianic Jew. His mother converted to Messianic Judaism when he was eight for reasons that are unknown to me. He doesn't eat pork and says he doesn't eat shellfish, but professes his love of shrimp on a regular basis. Beyond that, as far as I can tell, he knows little to nothing about the religion he professes to be. He doesn't know the difference between Messianic Judaism and Christianity (even though they are very similar). He doesn't attend services, prays over his meal occasionally, doesn't own any holy books, and has a general indifference to religion in general. Yet, he also clearly believes in a god, if for no other reason than he was indoctrinated enough to believe it. This past weekend when he saw we owned all the seasons of Big Bang Bang Theory he sneered, "That atheist show." My response? "So?" He repeated himself and so did I. "Never mind," he said. "We are just not going to agree." Now, I have not talked to him about me being an agnostic atheist, but we are clearly not super religious. I don't really care if he knows although I do have a nightmare scenario in my head where he gets mad at me and in order to get back at me and tells my parents I'm not a Christian anymore.
My issue with his Judaism is that it seems to be a leftover from his bio family that he is using as a way to still feel connected to them, not due to actual belief. I want to challenge him in his belief, not because I want him to deconvert, but because I want him to actually know what he believes and why. If you aren't going to eat bacon, you should know why and believe it. If you are going to make off-handed and rude comments concerning other religions or non-religions then you need to at least understand those beliefs. My mother taught me to view other religions with suspicion and otherness. Even though my mother watches Big Bang Theory, if that show had existed when I was a kid, my mother would have called it "that atheist show" because she thought everything was atheist if it wasn't pushing a Christian young-earth creationist agenda. This is why we didn't own a television for most of my childhood. I would also like to add that I have never heard someone refer to that show in that way and I have some super religious friends. That geek show is usually how it is referred. I know some people who don't like it due to how they portray Sheldon's mom, but I've not even heard them refer to it as "that atheist show". So I smell bio mom and step-dad. One or both of them hated that show.
Obviously I'm going to have to think of a better way to address this issue and a "so", but I also want to be careful. At this point in the process he is super eager to please and I must be careful not to tie this issue to our approval or disapproval. I want to challenge him to think critically and to understand what he professes to believe. I also know that as he gets older he will run into other people who are actual Messianic Jews and he is going to look like a fool if the only thing he knows about his religion is not to eat pork.
Before I began doubting my faith, the only logical fallacy I had ever heard of was the slippery slope fallacy since it is so often used when passing out dire predictions concerning everything from politics to education to bathrooms. Of course, once I understood them, I was a bit shocked by their frequency in the church. This may not come as a surprise to someone who has been a non-believer their whole life, but within the church I was taught that all of our arguments made sense and the more you knew about theology and apologetics, the more you would see this. So I would like to break down these 10 Common Fallacies according to how the church uses them in my experience.
Ad Hominem: Atheists are very familiar with this one because Christians use it all the time. There you are, talking about the morality of the Old Testament god and early Judaism when, from out of nowhere, the believer says, "Well you just don't want to believe it because you want to sin." If they know you well, they may add some personal insults in here like, "Well you are living with your girlfriend and the Old Testament god says that is wrong, so that is why you have a problem with it." The dumber of the Christians will just straight up tell you what an idiot they think you are ("Only a fool says there is no god") and how you are going to hell because you are a whore/slut/sinner/heathen. Suddenly, instead of talking about this deep philosophical concept, you now find yourself defending yourself. To be fair, although I was certainly taught this technique, my parents strongly discouraged this. Personal attacks are not appropriate when having a debate. Obviously, this was something for just my family though because I certainly didn't see this respect reflected in my fellow churchgoers.
Appeal to Authority: Growing up I was part of a large denomination where it was required of the pastors to attend seminary. They spent years studying the Bible, learning Greek and Hebrew, reading books about theology, studying under renowned theologians, learning how to counsel people. Then they had to work as interns and associate pastors before being allowed to move into a senior pastor role. They were the authority. What they said was taken as gospel truth. If you ever questioned anything or had an issue it was always recommended that you go talk to the pastor because, well, he knew everything right? This also meant that any sermon that was preached was considered truth as well. The problems with this lie in the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of churches, each with their own authority and truth, some of which are highly unqualified. I attended one church for a few months run by a charistmatic pastor who had clearly never attended any kind of pastoral training or education. The man had not read the entire Bible, took things out of context (through ignorance), yet passionately preached from a place of "authority". So which authority are we supposed to listen to? Christians will say God, but from there things get ambiguous because we return right back to the question of whose speaks on God's authority? And so we have this twisted logic in which pastors/priests/bishops speak with "divine authority" yet they can't all agree which means that God is clearly not speaking to all of them. Who do you listen to then? I also know that this can be used by Christians in other ways too. For instance, if you are discussing the efficacy of Biblical morality perhaps they would say that they are actually an expert on this subject because they took two classes in Bible college on Biblical morality and apologetics. Or if you complain about the bad Christian music out there they will say (true story) that because they have led worship for years and write some music of their own, they know that this music is actually very good and is pleasing to the Lord. As if this fact should now suddenly change your mind as to whether that song is well-written or not.
Appeal to Ignorance: In my mind, this is the most common fallacy that Christians use. I saw an angel. You can't prove that I didn't therefore you must believe me. There is no proof that God doesn't exist, therefore he does. (Atheists fall into this trap too if they state that because there is no proof, therefore no gods exist. Both statements are illogical.) This is used on every level of Christianity though. You can't prove that my stomach ache wasn't miraculously healed, therefore it was. You don't know what existed before the big bang therefore it didn't happen. Basically, if you can't prove something false then it must be true. Of course, now I think this is absolutely ridiculous, but when I was a Christian it felt like logic and quickly devolved into a 'god of the gaps' fallacy as well. We don't know the answer therefore--God.
Bandwagon Fallacy: Do you know how many Christians there are in the world? Do you know how many people are converting to Christianity in countries where it is illegal? Why would they risk their lives converting to Christianity if it weren't true? So why wouldn't you be a Christian in a country where it is easy? This many people can't possibly wrong. This was the everyday rhetoric within the churches I grew up in and beyond. Back in the mid-90s there was something called the Brownsville Revival. Christians, particularly of the Assemblies of God ilk, where driving from all over the country to Pensacola, Florida to be part of a revival that lasted for nearly five years. People would leave and come back newly invigorated for God. Thousands of people were led to Christ. So many people were affected that it must be right. Right? In truth a whole bunch of sad people with little purpose drove to Florida to be told that a god had a plan for them and this renewed them to start living life again. Here's the thing, there are 6-10,000 people in FLDS and I don't think they are right. During World War II there were 8 million card-carrying Nazis in Germany (about 10% of the population) and I don't think they were right either. Just because everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon doesn't make it right or true. If everyone was jumping off a bridge and said God will catch you, are you still going to jump off the bridge?
Begging the Question: People often use this one wrong. I know I have. Begging the question or circular reasoning was so easy when I was a Christian. God exists because the Bible says he does and he wrote the Bible and I know this because the Bible says God wrote the Bible. Believe it or not, I really thought this made sense at one point. Evolution can't be true because the Bible says that it happened a different way and we know this is true because the Bible says it is true. A belief in God is universal because the Bible says that everyone believes in their heart that there is a god. Atheists can certainly be guilty of using this one too but since atheists use evidence to back up their claims and all Christians have is the Bible, there is definitely a disparity when presenting evidence for your claim. If the only reason for doing or believing something is "because the Bible tells me so" then you will never be able to have a valid logical argument on that topic.
Loaded Question: Why do you hate god so much? What sins are you hiding from god? When did you stop being a moral person? This one is difficult to discuss without acknowledging the role original sin has on thought processes and theology of Christians. I was taught growing up that everyone was a sinner from the moment they were born into this world. There is not a soul alive who is good or deserves the salvation gift. Their Bible tells them straight up that people who don't believe in god are moral reprobates. They are absolutely assuming that you hate god, are hiding sin, and aren't moral because this is what the Bible says of unbelievers. They don't question that you are, they just want to know how to get through to you so that you will see the light. Obviously this is a problem when trying to have a logical argument though. How can you have a discussion about morality for instance if the person you are talking about just assumes that you have no morals? Atheists are not immune to this one either though. It's all over the atheism Reddit threads. Why have so many Christians not read their Bible? Ummm...many of them have. Being able to reason away the problematic areas of the Bible does not mean they haven't read it. It's an assumption of guilt and often puts the person between a rock and a hard place. If they say they agree that they haven't read the whole Bible then you chastise them for being a bad Christian and if they say they have, you chastise them for still believing it.
Non Sequitur: You know, juvenile delinquency is getting worse. We need to put prayer back into schools. Christianity has helped so many people around the world, obviously it is true. This one is rather common in internet memes concerning school prayer or the Ten Commandments, followed by the 'Share if You Agree' or 'Type Amen if You Agree' at the end. They rarely make sense, but there are idiots out there who just keep sharing because to them, these two things do go together. The reason bad things happen is because there is sin in the world and the answer is always Jesus, even when it's not.
Red Herring: Changing the subject, turning the conversation into something that has nothing to do with the actual point, diverting attention. It's an endless parade of a hat tricks. Often, if takes a minute to realize that you have been sidetracked. Again. Why are we talking about the definition of morality? The point is that you don't want to help the poor and advocate for getting rid of programs. This isn't one I saw in every day life, but it certainly reared its ugly head anytime there was a "debate", whether formal or informal. Talking with Christians who use this tactic, is a constant game of redirecting the conversation back to the fucking point.
Slippery Slope: Everything is a slippery slope in the Christian world. Everything is going to lead to death and destruction on a Satanic scale. Legalizing gay marriage will illegitimize "real" marriage and before you know it, people are going to start marrying their dogs and this will make bestiality okay, and bestiality is why God destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah, so God is going to destroy us if we legalize gay marriage. And it's crazy. Especially since the evidence usually doesn't stand up to it. And I get it, some things really are slippery slopes and I think it is human nature to think about the worst outcomes to situations, but that must be reigned in by logic. Is there already a precedence for gay marriage in other countries? Yes. What has been the outcome of the legalization? Have they descended into chaos? Are they marrying animals and fucking them in the streets? Did heterosexual marriages become illegal? And if you want to go down the religious road, doesn't the death of Christ on a cross atone for sins to the point where God no longer needs to strike down people with anger? Isn't Jesus the mediator now? Didn't God say he would save Sodom & Gomorrah if there was at least one righteous man? Don't you count as one righteous person? This is a tactic I use often now, turning their own slippery slope illogical arguments against them using their own holy book against them.
Straw Man: In this fallacy Christians will present an altered version of your argument in order to make it appear absurd. Then they tear apart this weaker argument and declare themselves the victor. I saw this one a lot when it came to evolution. Throughout my youth I was taught that evolution says we are descended from monkeys and isn't that ridiculous because otherwise how do we still have monkeys? I was even taught a song about it as a child. What I wasn't told is that this is ridiculous and no evolutionary biologist has ever said that we are descended from monkeys. It sounds ridiculous because it is. I become guarded whenever I am having a conversation and they say something like, "Well ALL liberals..." or "Atheists think..." and "ALL those people believe". Lumping all groups together, generalizing based on anecdotal experiences, and sometimes just making shit up. It's a logical fallacy that many people can fall into. I know I have had to catch myself. And I admit that this may be one of my favorite fallacy's because it is usually pretty easy to derail. "Well you know they say we are all descended from monkeys..." "What? No they don't. The evidence points to home sapiens and primates having a similar ancestor eons ago. We are not descended from monkeys. We have a common ancestor." Because most young earth creationists only know enough about evolution to sound stupid (as I once did), they rarely have a comeback. Mostly because that was all they knew about the subject.
I am quickly approaching my two year anniversary in which I was listening to a sermon on-line, looked up from my computer and said, "I don't think I'm a Christian anymore." It was a statement that had come after nearly six months of intense Bible study, reading, praying, and thought. It would be another six months before I told my husband, a mistake I realize now. At the time this idea of no longer believing in the possibility of a god or at the very least admitting I didn't know, seemed so radical that I dared not tell a soul. I was still convinced that perhaps, just perhaps, one of my pious family members or friends would get a direct message from heaven letting them know that I had gone astray. I expected every phone call to be them asking if I was okay or to tell me that God revealed something to them. After all, these are people who claim a direct phone line with a creator and spoke often of their conversations. In fact, in the beginning of my deconversion, I prayed for it. "Dear God, if you are out there. If you are real. Please let one of your followers know that I need some confirmation. Let them know I am doubting." In the beginning, that's really all it would have taken. Not so much now, not after everything I have studied and learned, but at the time that would have been all I needed. And yet they remained conspicuously silent.
Approaching the two year mark they continue to remain as clueless as ever. Although I haven't told most of my super religious friends about my deconversion, I have also not been secretive in my thoughts regarding the church, inconsistincies in the Bible, the religious right, etc. My friends and family know that I haven't gone to church in over a year. I curse now and don't apologize for it. I have confronted people on ideas like slavery in the Bible, Christian Shariah law, indoctrination of children, homosexuality, and more. So far, the only assumption that these people have come to is that I am now more liberal. I would consider myself a fairly solid moderate, but I guess compared to a young earth creationist fundamentalist Christian, I must seem extrememyl left-wing. Obviously, at this point, I think these people are full of shit. I think the only voice they are hearing when they pray is their own. When they seem to have a miraculous word from god, it is actually their own intuition. They are picking up on people's (usually) not-so-subtle clues and then tell them what they "need" to hear. And their intuition is rather faulty because it rarely works.
The best part is, once these people do find out they will treat me differently. They'll claim I changed even though nothing about me as a person has changed. They'll claim they knew even though years went by and they never did. I've seen this happen a few times now, so I know this is how it will go down. My friend *Martin announced that he was an atheist and suddenly people were saying things like "I knew something was wrong when he moved in with his girlfiend" and "He seemed kind of sad lately, so I knew he wasn't happy" and "God told me months ago to pray for him, but I didn't know what for." Yeah-fucking-right. They didn't know. Sure they were a bit judgmental when he moved in with his girlfriend, but they didn't have a fucking clue until he told them. And then, and only then, did they find these magical changes that they hadn't managed to see before. (and God didn't tell them about) I know all of this, but I continue to be amazed by some of my friends' absolute cluelessness. And I will probably be hurt and amazed by their reactions once they find out.
For the record, I have absolutely no plans to tell any of these people about my deconversion. At this point, they will only be told if they ask. That said, I am not interested in developing new friendships with fundamentalist Christians unless they know up front that I am not a believer. There are enough secrets in my life.
Husband and I went to a going away party last Friday for some good friends who are moving to Prague in order to be missionaries and plant a new chuch. Neither me nor my husband hold missionary work in much esteem, particularly this kind and for the reasons they are giving, but we console ourselves with the knowledge that at least these people aren't going to a country where it is illegal to prosthelytize. We support them as friends. The plan is for them to go for two years, help out with the church plant, and if they manage to learn the language fluently, they might be allowed to stay longer. Neither of us can imagine the husband being very happy with this life for any extended length of time and we both agree that they are probably doing this in order to boost their "righteousness" cred. Oh and they have two young children as well. We're both pretty sure they will either be back in two years or divorced.
Most of the people at this party attend church with the couple and are in their small group. The overarching theme to this party should have been "Extroverts United". Seriously, these people were an introverts nightmare. SUPER peppy, happy, talkative, ready to become best friends tomorrow. Nothing wrong with these things in small doses, but there were nearly two dozen people and every single one of them was in-your-face. Of course, my introverted husband who hates sports ended up sitting at a table by himself attempting to avoid carbs (he's on a low carb, hight protein diet) and people. His friend came over to talk to him once or twice, but was drawn away by basketballs and frisbees. I, who can present as an extrovery by just talking a lot ended up meeting several women who all wanted to invite me to small groups, game nights, girl nights, or the movies. They all thought I was super awesome because super-extroverts seem to think everyone is super awesome and I found myself completely repulsed by it all. Not just because of the extrovert stuff although that was certainly exhausting. No, what really annoyed me and made me think no way was the god-talk. "I can tell God has really blessed your family" and "God has been preparing you for this your whole life" and "I just can't believe the Lord led you to one another". Remember, these people literally had just met me.
And my first thought when one of the girls said we should come to their game night or they could come to ours was, hell no. No, I do not want to be friends with another super peppy Christian who I will have to hide my atheism from because I don't want word to get back to the actual friends we have here. Nor am I interested in a shallow friendship based purely off the fact that they believe we are the same religion. I have had far too many of those "friendships" and I don't have time for it. Afterward my husband said that he doesn't understand what those people even get out of it. They say they want to come to game night so we invite them and they never come. It's all lip service in the heat of the moment. I'm really not willing to make new friends at this point who I have to hide my true self from or who I think will try to convert me to religion.
My husband and I also talked a bit about how we came across as people who are supportive of what they are doing. Is it okay to pretend like we think this okay? Is [husband] being a bad friend by not saying something? Aren't they good enough friends to be honest about something like that? In the end we both think that this is not our lives nor our busines. If this is what they have convinced themselves is the thing to do and it isn't harming anyone and isn't illegal, then let them go. Prague isn't Iran here. My husband is also not against missionaries, only that he thinks that a person who decides to do such work in another country should devote themselves wholy to it. These friends should have sold everything, not put it into storage, and moved there. Permanently. There should be no plans to come back. They should fully assimilate themselves into the culture. They should already be studying the language. They should be prepared to raise their children there. Anything less is short-term missions work and does nothing for the people. It becomes a purely selfish endevour.
As an atheist, I am fully against missions work of any kind. I find it exceptionally short-sighted to bring religion into a place with no understanding of the culture. That's how you end up with that child-witch bullshit in certain African countries. Believe i or not, I actually have a Christian friend who agrees with this. She, like me, did numerous short-term missions trips and learned the damage done by them. The damage done my missionaries too, no matter how altruistic they are. So she has moved to Uganda. Permanately. Not to prosthelytize, but to help reunite children in orphanages with their biological families and to set up micro-loans for those families so that they have the ability to support themselves and their childre. All of this in hopes of shutting down orphanages that are being used to adopt out kids who are not orphans. Now that is something I can get behind.
At night, when we first crawl into bed, I often get a spurt of energy and start blathering on about interesting things I read about that day. Obviously, with yesterday's post, I had been reminded of quite a few interesting things about ancient cities. So I casually asked my husband if he knew that Damascus has had people living in it since 9000 BCE? I told him I had watched a lecture (I did) about ancient cities and that was one of the things I hadn't know. I knew it was old, but was unaware how old. Then I talked about Eridu and Uruk and Ur, all information I had known. He asked a number of questions concerning what kinds of societies they were (where they really cities?) and whether the cities existed at the same time. Finally, after laying there silently he says, "I really need to read some more stuff about ancient history. Scholarly stuff that isn't religious." Really? Why's that? I asked. Then he talked a bit about how all the information he knows about antiquity has always been viewed through the lens of the Bible. He doesn't remember going into a lot of detail about ancient cities when he was in public school, but all the suplemental information he has read since then has been completely rooted in religion. These books talked about places like Ur and Damascas, but told a Biblical narrative that obviously didn't always fight actualy archaeological findings.
Now, my husband is not a young earth creationist and never has been. He accepted fairly early on in his life that science had already answered the question of how old the earth was. The Bible was answering the why. His parents, although certainly more literalist in their Biblical interpretations, never refuted this. So he grew up feeling like God, evolution, and the Bible were completely compatible. Yet he was also taught that all the stories in the Bible were true. That there was a real Adam and Eve who had only two sons, one of which was murdered, and the story goes from there. A flood that covered the entire earth seems a bit silly, but perhaps one that covered the entire region. But if what I am saying is true about these early civilizations then even that cannot be accurate.
See, what I have learned in the past two years of being non-religious is that when you talk about these things, you just leave religion and the Bible out of it. Nowhere in our night time conversation did I say, "Well, Damascus is super old so obviously young earth creationism is out. As are some of the Bible myths." That would have immediately put him on the defensive, as it should. When my mother now says that God completely changed her, I ask, "How so? I mean I know you quit doing drugs but you still had some pretty bad anger management issues." Well, she sputters, no one is perfect. Sure, but that's not what you said. You said that you completely changed and became a different person, yet you still struggled with many of the issues you struggled with before you converted to Christianity. I am not denying her conversion story only asking a very simple question to which she doesn't have a good answer for. Her response was an immediate, "I'm telling you, I was completely changed." I am not sure if she actually believes this or if she is just trying to convince herself that it is true.
Also, one of the plus sides of being in the closet with most of the people in my life is that I can ask questions about religion and people aren't on the defensive because they assume I am coming from the same place as them. So I can question things like slavery in the Bible without coming across as an atheist trying to poke holes in religion. I can talk about prayer and healing, which makes me seem like a religious person who is just seeking answers. But within that, it makes the other person think as well. But one has to be patient with these things, just like the Christians who evangelize, one cannot expect these nuggets of doubt to work right away. And the deeper the person is entrenched the harder it will be for them to climb out. If they never fully climb out, like my husband, this is okay with me because at the very least he does not deny science and doesn't take the whole Bible literally. That will have to be enough.
I have mentioned before that one of the driving forces behind my slow deconversion was the lack of archaeological and historical evidence to back up many of the Bible's more fantastical stories. This is not to say that I think every story is a falsehood or that the myths are not rooted in some historical fact, only that there is much more evidence that suggests they are nothing more than a compilation of myths for a small group of very real people to sound important.
When I was seventeen, I started writing a book. It was my first attempt at novel writing so it turned out to be a learning experience, but the research I did for the book proved to be instrumental in my personal growth. My book was supposed to be about a girl who had been genetically engineered by "Atlantians" (of a sort) who stumbled upon the fountain of youth. This longevity was soon seen as an abomination though and the girl was abandoned, forced to wander throughout the eons. A vampire without the blood sucking. Now, I was in full fundamentalist Christian mode at this point. I looked up when the Great Flood was supposed to have happened, figuring I would begin the story sometime after that. As you might suspect, I immediately ran into problems. The Great Flood, according to Creationists occured anywhere between 4500-3500 BC. depending on old they think the earth is. But that couldn't be right. I was running into all kinds of information about civilizations that were either thriving or just beginning in that time period. I asked my dad about this and suddenly the earth went from 6,000-7,000 years old to 10,000 years old. But this still didn't work as there hasn't been a civilization in history where the entire region/city was completely destroyed leaving no survivors, despite what the Bible claims. It wouldn't be possible for the flood to happen in 4500 BC and for Damascus to still be inhabited at the same time. Suddenly, at seventeen, I was learning about an entire world history that had been completely closed off to me by my Christian textbooks because they didn't fit the literal interpretations of the Bible. I had never been taught about "cavemen" because, according to the Bible, there were no cavemen. I stumbled upon Chinchorro mummies who would predate the flood by a few hundred years. Mummies that clearly had never been underwater. Of course, I know that creationists will just say that the dating is off. I was taught all my life that carbon dating was hideously flawed and couldn't accurately date anything. What I wasn't taught was how carbon dating actually works and that it is demonstratable. We know how quickly carbon breaks down in different elements and therefore we can accurately date something by looking at the carbon degredation in the soil surrounding the object. At least, that is the very simplified version. Stumbling upon this information was life changing. It was also when I realized how irrational my parents were about our religion. The evidence was clear. I could no longer believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly Genesis, because it simply did not line up with facts. I didn't let go of my beliefs at that point, but I solidly moved into the evolution by intelligent design camp. Baby steps.
Some interesting civilizations of note that I stumbled upon are listed below. Some of these civilizations are older than others, but on thing was very clear to me as I studied ancient history, there was no way 8 people would have been able to populate the earth so quickly and not so widely either:
Tell Hassuna - Bet you haven't heard of this one. A settlement found in the former Ninevah Province in now Iraq, pottery has been found at Tell Hassuna that dates anywhere between 5600-5350 BCE. It was believed to be an advanced village culture with houses with agriculture, primitive irrigation, and wood-fired pottery.
Samarra - The still standing city of Samarra in Iraq is believed to date back to about 5500 BCE, eventually collapsing in 3900 BCE before being reresurrected. It is now known for the large spiral tower at its center, but at one point it was an agricultural city with trading opportunities on the Tigris. It existed during what is considered the Ubaid period. (4000–3100 BCE)
Eridu - Considered to be one of if not the oldest city in the world, Eridu was part of conglomeration of Sumerian cities with temples, houses, and agriculture that eventually become one large city. Built around 5400 BC, this is one of the few cities existing at the time that actually mentions a great flood. Of course, we all know floods can happen anywhere and nowhere does it mention it covered mountains, but this is the city that young earth creationists like to point to. What they don't say is that Eridu was founded in 5400 BCE, but wasn't abandoned until 600 BCE. Although there was some sort of deluge in their records, it appears there were a great many survivors since life and the city continued on. Additionally by 2900 BCE (anywhere from 600-1600 years after the supposed Biblical events) there were at least 4000 people living in Eridu and an estimated 14 million people living on earth.
Uruk - A contemporary of Eridu, Uruk was an ancient Sumerian city near the Euphrates river. It was part of what is considered the Uruk period, a roughly 800 year period between 4000-3200 BCE that saw a huge shift from small agricultural villages to large urban settings. At its height in 2900 BCE, it had nearly 50,000-80,000 residents making it the world's largest city of the time period. Unlike Eridu, it does not have a flood story.
Ur - Biblical scholars will actually know the name of this city since it is mentioned in the Bible. The city itsels as old as Uruk or Eridu, but strategic as it was once near the mouth of the Euphrates. There is evidence of early settlements by 6500 BCE though. They did experience regular flooding, but they did live on the coast at the mouth of a river. Interesting point to note, the Torah referes to Ur as 'Ur of the Chaldees', but the Chaldeans didn't settle the area until 850 BCE and didn't rule there until 550 BCE. It is quite possible that the mentions of Ur and Abraham weren't created until this time, which would mean that this part of Genesis wasn't anywhere near a contemporary account. Either that or the people translating the stories added their own time period flare. Either way, the version we read now would probably date around this time period, which is problematic either way.
Damascus - The site of Damascus has been occupied for a very long time, possibly back to around 9000 BCE. Yeah, you read that right. It wasn't a city yet, but people were definitely living there. This one really threw seventeen-year-old me for a loop, because up until this point I had been told that the earth was no older than 7,000 years old yet here was a city with evidence of inhabitants that was 2,000 years older than that. This was also when my dad moved the bar on me, telling me the earth was 10,000 years old.
Byblos - This city earns the honor of being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with inhabitants slowly moving in between 8800 and 7000 BCE and an actual city by 5000 BCE. For the young young earth creationists this city presents a number of problems and the only way to avoid them is to deny how carbon dating works.
Argos, Balkh, the Pulli settlement, Gobelkli Tepi, Yumuktepe, Gozlukule, Merimde. These villages and cities show us that there were continuous large groups of people that lived during a time period that some young earth creationists don't even believe exist. I could not ignore these dates and history of these places. I couldn't ignore the fact that people lived and thrived in the middle of what was supposed to be a global flood that was supposed to have killed all but eight people. I read the story again and saw it for the myth it was and although my parents didn't realize it, this was the beginning of my questioning. Today I was reminded of all this when I ran across an acquaintances post who made the claim that all civilizations had a flood story therefore the Biblical flood must have happened. But I learned long ago that not all cities and civilzations have flood stories and the ones that do usually make sense since they were near large bodies of water as was the way you commonly decided where a city was built back then. (and the drying up of said bodies of water the reason for abandonment) I want to say these people are all fools for believing this, but the truth is, this information wasn't out there for me to see. It wasn't in my history books. I didn't learn it from my parents. No one mentioned it at church. And if I was a different kind of person, one who wasn't such a reader, or someone who isn't endlessly curious, I don't know if I would have learned it either.
So give your young earth creationist friends and family a bit of a break. Be understanding of where they are coming from. Know that much of what they think they know is created by the bubbles they live in and ignorance of science. Be patient with them. Don't badger them with a million facts, but ask them nicely what they think of Eridu and when they don't know what that is, tell them some interesting facts about it. Pique their interest. If they are the kind of person who likes to learn, perhaps it will lead them to a treasure trove of information. Plant the seed of doubt. It may take eighteen years to bloom, but for those that seek the truth, it will come eventually.
I was recently listening to one of the newer The Bible Reloaded's Q&A videos and one of the questions was in regards to why there aren't more female atheists. Now, statistically the ratio of men to women atheists grows smaller by the year, but it seems that women atheists are certainly less vocal than their male counterparts. Why is this? And why are there still more men than women in the atheist community?
A couple of theories out there are that being indoctrinated into a patriarchal religion makes women less likely to reject a male god, women have been predominately less educated than men until recently, women are more group oriented than men and therefore seek out settings like a church community, women are more risk averse than men, women are forced into very specific gender roles within religious communities, a non-religious status for a woman is seen as a detriment to her being a good mother, churches cater to women, or men are more vocal and confrontational in their disbelief.
In all likelihood it is probably a little bit of all of this. But I would like to add another factor to the mix. Emotions and how religions manipulate those emotions to the detriment of women who have been socially conditioned to respond emotionally before using analytical thought. Women in the church and society are taught from a young age to embrace their emotions. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Don't be afraid to cry. Church becomes more than just a religious ceremony. It's where she cried, laughs, and is allowed to have "righteous anger" at the things of the world that hurt her. Her womanhood becomes intertwined with her religion, her virginity, marriage and children. She isn't encouraged to question or analyze her faith. The church service is geared towards creating emotional experiences so that, even if you do question, your emotional personal experiences tell you that the questions are foolish. Add to that a dash of patriarchy, a holy book that says women are subservient, and some hefty guilt centered around your feminine whiles, and it is no wonder that it is so difficult for many women to break away from the church.
I was in my late teens when I started to catch onto the emotional manipulation in the church. In psychology this is referred to as Mystical Manipulation, a concept that has it's beginning in sociology not religion. Church service usually started with an upbeat song. If the worship pastor was particularly good at his job, he would carefully craft the worship service for maximum emotional manipulation. Unlike hymns, modern worship songs are often a lot like chanting, repeating the same phrase or chorus over and over. Perhaps the worship pastor or even pastor will get up in the middle of the song and using the words of the song, tell the congregation how much they are loved. For best results, it is good if all three or four of the songs have the same theme. For a slightly ridiculous example, let's go with the theme of 'Shout to the Lord': When I Think of His Goodness, Shout, Shout it Loud, Shout to the Lord.
The songs start out fast, exciting. Get people on their feet. By the end of such a worship service, I promise even the most reluctant shouters may feel the need to let out a whoop or two. How could you not? You just spend the best part of a half hour singing about shouting to the Lord. Then the pastor steps forward and says something like, "If you love Jesus let me hear you shout! I can't hear you. Let me hear you shout! Praise God. Praise Jesus. Let's pray."
Obviously, this is an extreme example for a more charistmatic setting, but do you see all those people in the second video? These people are into it and there are a lot of them. When you are already an emotional person, being placed in a setting once or twice a week where your emotions are being cleverly manipulated in order for ultimate feelings is going to leave you on a constant emotional roller coaster. I want to state here too that I think this kind of emotional manipulation happens in almost every religion. In America, where women are expected to be irrational and emotional, it makes sense that they would also be the ones who carry religion for their families. Men are the "head of the household", but statistically speaking, it is the women who go to church and volunteer.
One of the things I used to really struggle with and still occasionally have to deal with is otherness within the female community. I don't enjoy getting my nails done or going shopping. You would have to pay me money in order to convince me to go to another god damned candle party. In church, I often felt like an outsider because I didn't fit in with the types of women who were activelly involved in church. These women seemed to live for bake sales and women's retreats. They were prayer warriors and gossips, all at the same time. They moved from one emotional high to another. Girl's movie nights centered around whatever was the newest Christian propoganda drama about marriage or heaven or praying. But I also understand that for these women, the ones who do feel a part, the church became a second home to them. A place to pour out their frustrations, to pray to a God who promises to listen and fix things, to commune with other people who feel the same way, to cry and laugh. In some respects, this can be a good thing, but I see an entire institution that uses manipulation tactics to keep people entrenched in archaic beliefs by creating carefully fabricating "experiences" and community. I used to believed I was a part of that community too, even though none of my long-standing friendships are with anyone I met in church.
Breaking away from such a community is difficult. By the time I left the church, all it had become was another volunteering obligation. I had made no lasting friendships and was annoyed by many of the women in the church. This is not the case for many women though. For my friend Loretta, the church was where she worked, volunteered, had friends, was comforted, found salvation, was prayed over, and in the end...condemned. She reached a breaking point in her thirteen year marriage where she tired of being treated like shit and instead of finding support all she found was condemnation. She knew that by leaving her husband, she would essentially have to leave behind a decade and a half of her life in the church. That takes some balls people.
Like I said in the beginning, I'm sure there are a number of factors that play a part in this and I think it is important that non-believers understand the level of emotional manipulation here. If you never believed or were never fully indoctrinated into a religion, it may seem so logical to think that all a person needs to do is open their mind, look at the facts, and they will see what you have seen. But the levels that some religions go to in order to create and keep their followers is quite powerful and it often takes a lot to break free from it.
I recently read this article in which the author claims that the real reason Trump won the election was not because of Democrats didn't understand the working class, but rather because people don't understand the devoutly religious. Now, I am not downplaying this person's experiences, but it is rather small-minded and anecdotal. He makes the same mistake that I used to make in assuming that all conservative Christians are the same. Particularly those in rural America.
I have had the pleasure (this is somewhat sarcastic) of marrying into a rural southern conservative family. Southern Baptists seem to be the flavor of choice in their area of nowhere, but there are also a number of other denominations and affiliations around. My father-in-law has a Master's degree in divinity and is very learned, something I have a tendency to forget because they spend so much time talking about their health and four-wheeling. To them, I am an outsider. Northern, fairly liberal (they have no idea how liberal), and a city girl. Yet, I have never felt like any of my in-laws have treated me with disdain or hostility. Sure, some of them are entrenched in their beliefs, but I have found that this image of openly hostile villagers with pitchforks is not reality either. While some conservative Christians have a distrust of education, my rural in-laws hold it in high regard. They are especially proud of those who went off and got educated and then returned to work in the rural hospitals as a doctor or to run a factory as a manager with a business degree. The article mentions people with disdain for education, but I have not seen that at all, which again tells me that this man's experience with rural people is limited to a small group. I don't doubt his experiences, only that I don't think you can apply his experiences across the board to millions of people of varying religious beliefs.
At this point, I want to also mention another group of rural people I know who live in Washington state. Like my in-laws they too are extremely conservative and many are farmers, but they aren't religious at all. My friend was raised in the center of Washington state in an area that is so pro-Trump that her brother cut her off when he found out she was voting for "that bitch Hillary". By cut off, I mean absolutely. He even had a "party" at his home to trash talk his sister and convince other's to unfriend her on Facebook and in real life. No great loss, she says. But these people aren't religious at all. The nearest church is 20 minutes down the road and unlike in the Bible belt, the churches are few and far between. Her parents haven't been to church in years. Her brother is agnostic. This seems to be common for that area. So to say that the issue is religion and not mis-understanding the plight of rural people is a misnomer.
And as for the color/racism/prejudice issue. I was raised in an EXTEMELY conservative evangelical home. I was raised in churches where divorce was considered a sin and could get you kicked out of the church. And at no point was I ever taught that white people were better than other people. Ever. We were certainly taught that our religion was the only true way to God and in that respect we were better than other religions. I was also told that the Muslim religion was awful and those people weren't to be trusted, but again it was about religion not ethnicity. Our church welcomed converts of all nationalities, colors, and creed. My parents are definitely Islamaphobic (a term that I don't like, but works for this purpose), but they aren't racist. No one I grew up with was racist. It wasn't preached from the pulpit and I never attended a church that was a sea of only white people. The few people I knew who were racist seemed to be that way because they were taught it by their parents, not their church. Saying that because someone is racist because they are super religious is just wrong.
Perhaps the reason why these people won't listen to outsiders, as the article's author states, is because the truly prejudiced people are the "coastal elites". It's hard to listen to someone who thinks they know everything and paints you with a broad brush. My husband is from the rural south and his biggest pet peeve, one that visibly upsets him, is when people make fun of southerners and assume they are stupid. That doesn't reflect him, his family, or the people who grew up with. Are there stupid people? Sure. But there are idiots everywhere. Would I listen to a guy who marches in and says, "You hicks don't know anything. Because you're not educated, you must be stupid, and your religion makes you even stupider. Now heed me, for I am educated and will inform you of the error of your ways." I would give a solid middle finger to that douche nozzle. The author asks, "How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather?" Well, first of all, you don't tell them there is no God or that they are stupid for believing that. My husband used to not believe in global warming/climate change. Up until two years ago he was highly skeptical. Then we watched an episode of The Cosmos, readily available on Netflix, where they addressed this. The information was presented in a way that didn't push against his God-beliefs nor did it make him feel like an idiot for not believing sooner. He then began to do some of his own research and is now a huge advocate for reducing our carbon footprint. I'm happy he came to this conclusion, but I know his mind wouldn't have been changed by a liberal judgmental asshole over Thanksgiving dinner.
Or as one commenter stated, "I grew up rural and now live in a major metro area. I have bachelor's and master's degrees, and I have never seen any amount of ignorance in my rural hometown to rival that of this author. Sure there are ignorant and willfully ignorant people most places, but to say they predominate in "rural America" is just dripping arrogance condescension from someone who themselves didn't want to look past their tiny little experience. It is NOTHING like my experience of smal town southern America, a place and life I long to return to when I reach retirement age. The author should get the board out of his eye before writing lengthy articles about motes in others."
I've complained before about how the foster care and adoption system is chock full of Christians. last week I attended an adoption conference, which was on the whole, well-organized and informative. It was also full of personal testimonials about how God had changed their lives, brought them children, and saved them. Did I mention this conference was paid for and organized by a county CPS in my state? Now, I am not going to contact anyone about it. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of people at that conference were religious and probably didn't see anything wrong with it. My husband was critical of it, but mostly because he doesn't like people preaching at him at events that are supposed to be non-religious. "If I want a sermon, I'll go to church or google one," was his response. I'm sure there are some more militant atheists who would have reported this, but I'm just not that kind of person.
The proliferation of Christians in the adoption community and their views towards missionary adopting is concerning though. My sister-in-law used the old, "if every other church in my state adopted, there would be no more orphans in my state" line. She also added, "And then they would all be in Christian families." When I responsed with a casual, "I think any family would do", she gave me some side eye and emphasized, "Christian families." Okay. The kid who is about to move into our home identifies as Jewish. His bio mom converted to Kaballism when he was a kid and so he tells people that he is Jewish and doesn't eat pork or shellfish. This is the extent of his religion though. He doesn't even understand the difference between a church and a temple. He doesn't pray or attend services. He doesn't practice any of the traditions. But we are not going to tell him he is wrong nor will we be dragging him to church in order to convert him. My sister-in-law along with many Christian adoptive parents would not do the same. Any child that comes into my SIL's home would be expected to attend church with them. They would begin indoctrination as quickly as possible and were pray hard for that child's soul. In that vein, I don't think nor would I want my child to believe what I believe just because I hammered it into them. I don't want my kid to be an atheist or agnostic or Christian or Jewish because that is what I am. I would want them to come to those beliefs honestly and analytically. If those analytics lead you to Judaism, then so be it.
All that said, it would be really nice to go to an adoption event and not be surrounded by Christians who can't help but preach about their religion at every turn. It's not very helpful when you are trying to learn about the psychological development issues prominent in kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.