I am a staunch advocate for kids. I think this is because I have a better recollection of my childhood than most adults.
From the file of “Innocent children in America have fewer rights than murderers on death row,” let’s look at kids and how their parents make them (or do they?) practice religion.
Very few religious parents admit that they force religion on their kids. To a degree, many of these parents are probably right in that their kids at least went along with the motions. Many people who are atheists as adults tell me that they liked religious services and groups as kids because they got to be with their friends.
I know my mom forced religion on me. After a while, I actively resisted it. Surely, there were others like me. It’s telling, though, that few, if any, parents are likely to admit they imposed religion on their kids.
Here’s what the world would look like if parents *did not* impose religion on their offspring: Parents would leave the kids alone and not drag them to services or religious events. Once the kidlets came of age, let’s just say 18, the parents would offer to take junior to a religion fair of sorts and let the free market decide. Offspring would make their own choice as to what religion, if any, they would join and the religion wouldn’t necessarily be that of their parents. Since that’s not the way things are, offspring tend to be whatever religion the parents are.
In secular matters as well, many adults tend to think that the tenets of freedom and democracy don’t apply to children. Many adults behave as if kids simply deserve worse because they are kids. Even though there are many secular examples of this, forcing religion on a kid strikes me as particularly useless.
I reckon most adults in the U.S., even many religious ones, would reject the idea of forcing an adult to go to religious services, but to force children to do so is taken for granted as “acceptable.”
In some areas of my religious upbringing, notably summer camp at Camp Ramah when I was eight, religiosity could get very onerous. If you were 8 years old, would you want to be forced to comply by rules including no reading or writing on Saturday (or listening to music, turning on the lights, etc.)? Praying for a half hour before breakfast? Yep, that’s demanding, all right. It’s all the more obnoxious when the parents didn’t subject themselves to the demands of Godliness. My mom essentially said, “These religious laws are too burdensome for me, so instead I’m going to impose them on my kids.”
That is what religion is like, folks. It’s forceful. Not in the same sense as, “Kids, brush your teeth,” “Kids, eat your vegetables,” or “Kids, do your homework or you’ll have to work at McDonald’s your whole lives,” but a very special kind of forceful.
Our kids deserve better. Our kids deserve freedom. Kid power!
I read a really interesting book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Its author, Stephen Pinker, is, like yours truly, a Jewish atheist.
There is a lot of interesting stuff in the book, but I wanted to mention something that relates to what I myself am struggling with: the truth about Islam and whether or not Islam itself is a problem. When I ask about this, people accuse me of bigotry (and usually of racism, which makes me cross since Islam is not a race). At any rate, here’s what Dr. Pinker has to say, and I think it sums it up:
“The impression that the Muslim world indulges kinds of violence that the West has outgrown is not a symptom of Islamophobia or Orientalism but is borne out by the numbers. Though a fifth of the world’s population is Muslim, and about a quarter of the world’s countries have a Muslim majority, more than half the armed conflicts in 2008 embroiled Muslim countries or insurgencies. Muslim groups held two thirds of the slots on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations…”
And that doesn’t include what I might refer to as “peacetime” violence, such as stoning to death for adultery, honor killings, amputation for theft, female genital mutilation, etc.
David Orenstein has written on my blog before. He does me the honor of doing so again, this time on being good without god:
Being an atheist requires a moral obligation to show the world that those who may actively choose to be free of religious dogma and faith, can be so while at the same time bring productive and positive goodness to the world. This positivity can take may shapes and forms, but is generally characterized by helping individuals or communities which are in crisis. Whether it is rebuilding after Hurricane Kartrina, or working in a local soup kitchen, or working with those with mental or physical illness, many atheists go unaccounted for in the war on poverty and the humane treatment of others, as society perpetuates the false notion that helping others remains squarely just in the domain of those with faith.
It is critical that we acknowledge and document the good work and the other labors, the social action, the building of community, and the efforts of those who may not believe in supernatural forces, or have religious faith, or believe in god. This is because those who are godless are not immoral as they are assumed to be by religious forces and figures who make atheists and secularists out to be an enemy. Indeed, as we learn from each other, those who are faithless do have strong ethics and a strong moral compass as finely tuned or in some cases greater and more nobly set than those who believe or have religious faith. Especially when one considers history and that the faithless cause little or no harm, while the religious have done horrible things in the name of their faith.
Surely those who isolate others because of religious doctrine, or deny civil or human rights based on sect, ethnic or clan affiliation, or disallow equal access to education, or kill in the name of their god, or treat women as second-class citizens, or bar others because they may choose to pray (or not believe) and carrying out misogynist and inhumane actions. If one’s faith or dogma bars marriage between consulting adults, or stills another’s reproductive rights, or impedes access to medical treatment, then we can easily make the leap that interpreting one’s religious belief is most certainly doing the opposite of what any kind and loving deity would request from us, if such an entity actually existed.
The late and certainly great Christopher Hitchens was often heard to say that religion and spirituality were each modern humanity’s first attempt at understanding the nature of the universe, a way at getting at some truth. Hitchens would entrance his audience by noting that placing spirituality as a first or any cause for the mechanics of the universe had in fact long ago become a poor and ineffective method to learn about the natural world. Supplanted by great works of literature, or mathematics and advances in astronomy, biology, chemistry and a host of social and physical sciences, the modern rational mind gets nothing from religion that it cannot receive through other means or ideas found within the realm of our common secular humanity.
The scientific method, scientific thinking and science in general have shown religious cause for any level of creation as false. This is based on evidence, not philosophy. If one feels the need to fill in the gaps of one’s life with any creation myth, they are in essence harking back to an urge to learn about and define the planet through some ancient and long discarded set of ideas, philosophy, ritual of thought and action. And that’s fine if one keeps that to themselves, but the construct of most modern religions do not allow for philosophical solitude.
Most religious people want to share, and are eager to extend their “teachings” whether we want to hear from them or not. In fact, they are called upon to pontificate by their faith. This is why religion can be so destabilizing and destructive. It essentially requires practitioners to bring others to live with them in a fantasy world detached from nature and reality for the sake of religious community building. It demands adherence to values and ritual which have never proven to be true except for those who wish such ideas and miracles to be true. Missionaries of all faiths have, over time, destroyed more indigenous culture and language around the globe than almost any war has ever accomplished.
So as atheists, now is the time that we stand up and stand out. Now is the time that we decide on a global scale that our time has come and we are ready, willing and assuredly able to chart a new course of humanity. A good, just and kind course and one that is free of oppressive faith. A course that liberates the mind and body to fulfill one’s destiny unobstructed by false theistic rules, so that we can help ourselves and others not based on anything but our common human sameness. And to truly evolve our humanity way past any faith could ever allow or imagine.
I just discovered this FB page, Working Class Atheists. I’m interested in you all since many people accuse atheism of being an elitist, ivory tower egghead enterprise (almost an alliteration there…), so a working class presence would set people straight. A while back, I wrote that I was interested in hearing from conservative atheists, who I know are out there, but didn’t hear from many. (No, I wasn’t planning on attacking them for being conservative. Honest.) Working Class Atheists, the page, writes:
“We are teachers and policemen and firemen and factory workers. We are nurses and caregivers. We are custodians and cashiers. We are salesmen and women. We are waiters and waitresses. We are laborers and contractors. We are small business owners. We are out there in everyday life working hard and being good without god. We are family members, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. We are working class atheists.”
Sadly, I couldn’t find anything when I perused the page that was specific to the working class! So tell me what you’re up to, guys, and submit your story if you want.
I don’t know why we dwell on bad things, but we do. We just do. Maybe because they’re interesting. Maybe because we want to make sure they never happen again. As much as I’ve read on the tragedy (I haven’t written much about it), one thing I always think is: we were stupid.
According to an airport employee who checked in a couple of the terrorists, he said that they looked “like terrorists.” In the interest of not alienating passengers, he didn’t do anything about it.
The pilots in flight school didn’t seem interested in learning how to land, and we didn’t catch on.
All the terrorists, based on what I read, paid for their tickets in cash, and bought one-way tickets. These were warning signs and we still didn’t catch on.
It shouldn’t have helped that these men were clearly Muslim. Percentage-wise, many terrorists are/were Muslim (not all. I’m alert enough to know that). I’m just saying that put all those things together and alarm bells should have gone off.
Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but we were stupid.
Every year on my blog, I reference All European Life Died in Auschwitz, from a Spanish journalist, which was one of the factors that pushed me into thinking that, yes, Islam itself is a problem. (Not to say all Muslims are “bad,” but it’s the whole gestalt.) Every year, the article moves me, even though I know not all my friends agree with the sentiment, and I keep repeating the last line to myself: “What a terrible mistake was made by miserable Europe.”
This “de-conversion” story comes from Scott Van Hoosen, who asked me to put it on this blog. Thanks, Scott:) I have an abridged version below. You can read the whole thing by following the link.
“I consider myself an Atheist, although I was not always that way. I was raised in a religious Christian home, and believed what I was taught, but had a lot of questions that I could not find answers to. As I got older, I discovered many more questions about what I was taught, particularly about the Bible. When I actually read the Bible for myself, I found many things that I had not been taught in Sunday School. I found contradictions, things that didn’t make any sense, things that were truly horrible, and a lot of stuff that sounded very much like fairy tales and mythology. In the New Testament, I read that God is love. In the Old Testament, I read that God commanded his people to destroy entire cities, and to put every man, woman and CHILD to death, which does not sound like love by any definition I have ever heard.
For example, in the Bible, the book of Joshua is the chronicle of Joshua leading the people of Israel, at the command of God, to make war on a string of cities. According to the Bible, God commanded them to go from city to city, invading and attacking each one. At God’s command, they invaded each city, and killed every man, woman and child. Think about that for a minute. They killed children, and babies, young mothers, old women and men, in the name of God. Is this the sort of god that you would want to worship? Is this a god of love? How could a perfect, sinless god say “Thou shall not kill,” then turn around and command his people to kill innocent children? That seems like a contradiction of one of the Ten Commandments.
This caused me to re-evaluate my beliefs. I was raised in a Christian home, and therefore I was raised to believe in Christianity. I have had many friends with vastly different beliefs, including Buddhists, Islamists, Jews, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Hindus, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pagans and a few others. Most of us shared one thing in common: we all were raised to believe as our parents believed. That made me realize that my “chosen” religion was really just a factor of chance. If I had been born in the Buddhist, Islamist or Jewish home, I would have then been raised with that belief system. That pretty much nullified the “Faith” argument. If I am to simply have faith, then what religion should I put my faith in? I’ve never been much of a gambler, and I didn’t feel like taking a gamble that Christianity was the “correct” religion, when the odds were so poor, considering the thousands of possible religions on our planet. The consequences of choosing the wrong religion could be dire, so I considered this an important question to answer.
But why would so many people not come to the same conclusion as I did? Why do most people continue to believe the beliefs of their childhood? I thought about this for a while, and the conclusion was plain to see.
First, people continue the beliefs and rituals of their childhood because to do otherwise can cause alienation from family and friends. I have experienced this first hand. I have received coldness from family members, and rejection from long-time friends. Some religions even have solid rules that you must turn your back on family and friends who leave the church.
Second, I think some people stay with their religion because it gives comfort and easy answers to life’s difficult questions. The promise of living forever after death in a place of paradise without sickness or unhappiness is a happy thought indeed. However, the belief that Santa Claus flies around on Christmas delivering presents to all the children of the world is also a happy thought. I cannot force myself to believe something that I have no evidence for, no matter how appealing the thought might be. Many people believe that their god heals the sick at the request of prayers, yet statistics show that people heal or do not heal, live or die, regardless of their beliefs. Good people suffer, innocent children die, while evil people live and prosper.
Third, religion gives power over others. Televangelists rake in millions of dollars from their congregations by convincing them that God wants them to send their money. Church membership usually encourages paying a large percentage of the member’s gross income to the church. Money is power. Politicians proclaim their belief in the popular god of their nation to get votes, again bringing power. Parents can control children by telling them, “God is watching you, and He says you must obey me.””
Praise Darwin! Atheist Tales, a collection of short stories about atheism, edited by David Fitzpatrick, is finally available. Remember to buy a copy and laud it to the atheist community, because it deserves lauding.
My contribution, Rise Up, Rise Up! is a satire about the Rapture from the atheists’ point of view. Here’s the book’s description, followed by an excerpt from the story. Don’t forget to buy the book. Did I mention to buy the book?
“The Rapture is supposed to be a major event, since it would be the prologue to the biblical Armageddon. Although supported by religious folks using various justifications, its concept seems to be a recent addition to Christian mythology. That doesn’t make the idea any less entertaining. But before Sarah Trachtenberg even begins to touch on that subject, she crafts a deeply thought-provoking story that postulates what could happen to society if science discovered how to “turn off” that part of the brain that enables people to build their lives around fairy tales. With the feel of the Left Behind books from an atheist’s point of view, Sarah brilliantly intertwines these two ideas into one story that will keep you thinking long after you’ve read it.” — David Fitzpatrick
Some adherents of Western religion who survived the Rapture couldn’t help but gloat that at least they got the right religion and were vindicated there, but that was a small comfort since they didn’t get to be with God and their more “chosen” loved ones. People blamed themselves and each other. Fingers pointed and heads rolled, but there was no greater scapegoat than Nogerinoil.
“If only I hadn’t taken that awful drug,” some teary survivors said when talking about their raptured loved ones in round-the-clock news coverage. “My husband was a good man. Maybe I’d be with him still if I stayed on the right path.” Still, they kept taking the “awful drug.”
For better or for worse, Sally and I were still a married couple on Earth and, like everyone, slowly adapting to this strange new world we inherited. Everyone left would be wise to count their blessings, and we had many. Everyone talked about where they were when the vanishing took place. As our left-behind politicians urged us to return to normalcy, we did, happy to get on with our lives and over with what history would no doubt call an extreme case of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
It was amusing to see who didn’t get chosen. Which politicians? Which talk show hosts? Oprah wasn’t good enough? Oh, dear! I mean, she’s so beloved! What about priests and nuns? Not all of them, either? Those people must have made some terrible mistakes! God didn’t elect to rapture all of His own salespeople? Celebrity rags, once they were running again after the first couple of weeks of shock, were jam-packed with pop stars weeping about what they had done to deserve not getting ascended. While a few did blame Nogerinoil, more of them blamed other things entirely. “It’s because I didn’t make it to the playoffs,” moped one baseball player. “I should’ve known that that error would cost me my eternal happiness.”
After the worst was over, one of the world’s most vocal atheists, Rick, a friendly and very charismatic biologist who had lauded me as some kind of saint for Nogerinoil, told me that he felt “absolutely fucking great.”
“I’m so tired of people asking me if this ‘rapture’ proves me wrong,” he said. He had called me; he would have arranged to fly in from London to celebrate my Nobel in person, but air travel was still a little difficult to come by during this ‘adjustment.’ “It could be anything—there’s no such thing as a Rapture. You know what’s funny, though, Gus? I have yet to hear about anyone, any atheist, that is, finding religion and repenting, or whatever it’s called.”
“That is funny,” I said. “Wouldn’t you have thought they’d admit that they were wrong? Try to make amends?”
“But they don’t,” Rick said. “Know what I think?”
“What?” I was having trouble conceiving of a reason, myself.
“It’s too late anyway! Why bother sucking up to the invisible man in the sky at this point?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have predicted that,” I replied. “I think I’d have done the same.”
“Not only that, but lots of former believers are becoming atheists! I bet you wouldn’t have predicted that, either!”
“They’re using Nogerinoil,” I said. Believers were desperate for something to make them forget this entire smack in the face. They wanted to forget the god who didn’t think they were good enough. They looked at the atheists, who seemed to have it pretty good. We didn’t feel snubbed. In fact, some of us were feeling “absolutely fucking great.”
“I’m so glad I bought stock in that,” Rick said. The moment begged for us to clink our brandy snifters while patting each other on the back.
“Look,” Rick continued, “once we get to work on what really happened back there, everyone will just heave a sigh of relief and we can move on. Things’ll be great. Trust me.”
While it was true that The Rapture strengthened many of those believers who God apparently snubbed, Rick was right in saying that many more figured that to be good for God now would be too little, too late. That is the epitaph of every civilization, every religion that fails: “Too late.”
A had a friend who I’ll call Jane who, while charming, friendly and lovely, was on the gullible side. She and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, including Tarot card readings.
Once Jane, who was raised Catholic, although I don’t know how much she practiced at the time, told me, “It isn’t hard to be an atheist. It’s harder to have faith.”
On one hand, I saw, and still see, Jane’s point. It’s hard to have faith in the face of no evidence that god(s) exist. Faith, almost by definition, requires one to believe something in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Christians who believe in “intelligent design” do so in spite of oceans (or primordial soups) of evidence. They say that their faith is just as valid as our evidence.
Still, that’s not what I thought Jane meant, and I said,
“Jane, I like you, but I disagree. It is easy to go with the flow and believe in god because that’s what you’ve been told to do all your life and because it’s what everyone else does. It’s a lot harder to think about it and ask questions. It’s a lot harder if you might get ostracized because you asked those questions.”
I swam upstream, I suppose is what I was trying to tell her… you didn’t.
And just because I can now post media again, enjoy this video just for our enlightenment.
I’ve been MIA for a long time since I have some very annoying problems with wordpress. I realize these are tougher nuts to crack than I thought, so let me jump back in.
Religious people tend to defend religious upbringing (religious child grooming) by saying that it’s something kids want to do and that the parents don’t force them. I many cases, true enough. I’ve heard a lot of you say that you liked church: being with other kids, the fun activities, the singing.
For many of us, though, it isn’t true. Yours truly didn’t want to be in Hebrew School, and for the record, I don’t think many other kids wanted to be there, either.
Religious people: if you say that religion isn’t forced on kids, how do you account for that discrepancy?
As for the rest of youse, did you want to be in religious grooming (Sunday school, Catholic school, Hebrew school, etc), go kicking and screaming, or somewhere in between? What were your experiences?
Poster on a blog about Surviving Catholic School: “I attended Catholic school for a year and I can honestly say I hated every moment. My mom came to my rescue, made the right decision and pulled me out. Long story but…. back then, Catholic school sucked.”
While I am not religious (ya think?), nothing can change the fact that I’m ethnically Jewish. More importantly, nothing can change the fact that I believe in freedom and democracy. That’s why I stand with Israel.
Recently on Facebook, I shared an article about a proposed plan, which probably won’t go through, about sex-segregating the upcoming train system in order to appease the religious market. Part of what shocked me about this is that Israel is very liberal when it comes to sex and gender, in many ways much more so than the U.S. Women in Israel get drafted, just like men. (Yes, the terms are less for women, but the point is that both sexes get drafted.) They don’t have boy scouts and girl scouts; just scouts. The U.S. could learn a nice lesson from Israel.
The responses I got from my friends, though, veered off the sex segregation topic and into a wholesale attack on Israel and on Jews. As a Jewish woman and a supporter of Israel, I can’t help but take this personally. I know that many of you will disagree with me about all this, but I aim that if you follow my thoughts, you might be swayed. Either way, I wish you peace– shalom!
One commentator on my post called Israel a “disgusting country.” Another of my FB friends said about Jews, “Fucking goddie pieces of shit! The arrogance to think that the Lord and Creator of the entire universe would pick some backwards clan of violent Bronze Age sheep fuckers (literally) as His Chosen People is just so damned ridiculous! I don’t condone pogroms or the Holocaust, but I sure understand why they happened. I mean, any kid who went around talking about how cool and special he is in the playground would soon have his ass kicked for him and everyone would understand. Anti Semitism is the same thing; it’s just a matter of scale.”
I replied to these commentators: “@Bob– my mom lives in Israel and I don’t think it’s disgusting at all, but this isn’t one of its prouder moments. Likewise, the US has its share of shameful chapters.
@Anthony: *every* religion thinks it’s the “chosen people,” almost by definition of what religion is. Jews spent a lot of our history in our hidey-holes staying away from everyone else’s wrath, so I don’t think we were out there bragging in the marketplaces that much.
Let’s stick to the original post:) Shalom!”
One of the posters continued: “[Jews] bleated on incessantly about how special and chosen they are by some backwater god. The original Hebrews were a small nomadic tribe with next to no technology or literacy living in the shadow of giant advanced empires in a patch of land that has been called the world’s hallway since it is both in between much and yet contains nothing much of interest of itself. These backwater Bronze Age jackasses rambled on about how special they are on god’s eyes (a claim that can really only be made by monotheists) and the rest of the world has never stopped retaliating.”
In other words, we had it coming. I don’t think of Jews as any more “chosen” than anyone else, although I do think our contributions to the world are very significant, but as I said before, every religion thinks it’s “the best”! BTW, Jews were literate in much larger numbers (yes, even the women) in times and places where most other people were not.
Let’s start with why I see a need for Israel. Jews are in need of a sanctuary after what the world has done to us. Throwing us a bone in the form of a little strip of desert the size of New Jersey isn’t asking too much. All we want is a place to live in peace and to protect ourselves from our numerous enemies. (Please remember: there are tens of millions of people who would like Jews off the face of the Earth.) Perhaps Israel does not need to be geographically where it is, but we want the land more and we make better use of it. Jews came to Israel, purchased lots of the land, irrigated it and farmed it. It was much more desolate and poorer in the hands of Arabs. Now it has an important economy. It might interest my nerdier friends that a lot of internet pioneering was in Israel.
One of my commentators: “I lived in Israel for a year and my brother, sister and all of their children live there. I don’t want to get into debate about how nice it might be to live there but I’m sure if your mom was an arab, she wouldn’t think it such a nice place to live.”
I’ve already made my point when it comes to sexism, but if you still think Israel is a sexist/fascist/ultra-conservative country, compare it to its neighboring countries. I don’t think I need to spell out the details of how backward much of the Muslim world is, but in every liberal and progressive value, of which I hope you share with me, Israel is truly an oasis. By the logic of the above commentator, the measure of a country’s niceness is how it is to Arabs, so perhaps Saudi Arabia is the best nation in the world. (I’ll help you pack. Kidding.) Compare the progressive values of Saudi Arabia with those of Israel.
Think about where you’d rather live. Under whose administration you’d rather to live.
More about sexism. A commentator continued: “It’s pretty impressive how religions speak of the value that they have for women while at the same time, treat women like crap. The Jewish religion claims to hold women in greater esteem than men while not allowing them to have a voice. Many orthodox jews still believe that’s it’s even forbidden to hear a woman’s voice in song! Some members of my family even have separate beds.”
I replied: “I don’t know any Jews like the ones you’re describing, and I think even the most religious Jews out there share beds with their spouses (except during menstruation). Besides, in percentages, how liberal are Jews with regards to sex roles, or anything else, compared to Muslims? And I’ve never seen a Jewish woman wearing a burka, or even heard of such.”
The average Jew, in the US or Israel, espouses liberal and modern values. Can the same be said of the average Muslim? Not if you look at how their countries behave, at least.
Another commentator replies to the guy who said that while he didn’t approve of persecution of Jews, the Jews had it coming: “So the holocaust and the pogroms happened because the christians were appalled by the treatment of women and because the jews were so backgrounded? That is why the nazis burned Einstein’s books?
What is it with people that when they are thinking of the wrongs and crazy superstition of a people, they have to justify the pain those same people suffered?”
Good point about the holocaust and Nazis, but not so much the second matter. The above opinion ignores the point that all religions think theirs is the right one. As for Jews being a superstitious people, I replied:
“The wrongs and crazy superstitions of Jews? Compared to whom? I guess Einstein must’ve been crazy and superstitious… as are nearly all the Jews who are far over-represented in the sciences.”
While no one brought it up in this conversation, many people accuse Israel of racism, which I think is an unfair and untrue accusation, but that’s fit for another post. There are many issues involved in Israel and I don’t have the brainliness to address them all here today.
Israel is the one really free and democratic nation in the Middle East and is the only hope for that region. What really gets to me is that the world resents Israel and many nations in the developed world condemn it, while at the same time saying, “By the way, get out there and protect us from Islamic terrorism.”
Excuse the long post; I didn’t have time for a shorter one.
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
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