Marriage Equality and School Desegregation

My Facebook feed is still full of negative responses to Friday’s SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality.  Two members of my close family seem to be clicking “like” or commenting on every article and meme that pop up in their newsfeed that portrays marriage equality as a bad thing.  Just a few examples of this are the picture of a supreme court justice on his knees, weeping with the words, “By their fruit ye shall know them” above the picture; and the picture of two wedding rings saying something about 1 man + 1 woman…  It seems that those supporting marriage equality have stopped, for the most part, posting and “liking” about this victory and have moved on to pictures of their kids, vacations, and posts about their lives, while those against it have continued to revel in their dissatisfaction at the court ruling that didn’t go their way.  Three days later, that’s all they seem to be Facebooking about.

One interesting response from the “powers that be” on the right are those saying that christians needn’t abide by this decision. One such promoter of this view is Mike Huckabee who urged christians to “resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”  Ted Cruz also seems to think it’s OK to reject the court ruling in favor of your religious beliefs to the point that he said court officials do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

I find it interesting that the christian right’s response to marriage equality is similar to their response to desegregation in the sixties and seventies.  I looked around the internet and found an article by Sarah Ellem (this link is a PDF download) in which Senator James O. Eastland from Mississippi is quoted as saying “You are not required to obey any court which passes out such a ruling.  In fact you are obligated to defy it.”  A senator from Virginia, Harry Flood Byrd, called for massive resistance to the desegregation of schools by saying, “If we can organize the southern states for massive resistance to this order, I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the south.”

The current response from the christian right is certainly in line with their past response to court rulings they don’t like.  But time has a way of sorting out those who lose gracefully from those who accept defeat and move on.  I remember right after my wife and I were married, we went to visit a friend of hers from college.  This happened in 1994, so it was a good 30 years after desegregation was ordered by SCOTUS.  When we got to this friend’s house it turned out that her grandparents were visiting.  The grandfather and I started talking in the parking lot of the apartment complex and after a few moments, something caught his eye on the other side of the parking lot.  I looked over and saw several kids playing.  The grandfather shook his head and said, “Would you look at that… Them n—-r kids playing with them white kids like there’s nothing wrong with it.”  I was in total shock that he would say something so callous, but the more I thought about it, the more I was in shock that that kind of attitude was still around in the nineties.  I guess hatred has a tight grip.

My personal opinion is that marriage equality and LGBT rights will follow a similar path in the American sentiment.  In thirty years, some kid will be standing in a parking lot somewhere in a state of shock that some old guy made a callous remark about the couple next door because they are gay and married.  And this kid will be offended at the remark because it will not be socially acceptable to say such things.  He might say something like, “I didn’t know bigots like you were still around,” or “I thought all of your kind were dead.”

That’s how I see it playing out, because as we all know, history repeats itself.  So in the mean time, I’ll just have to put up with the Facebook likes and posts that are in complete disagreement with human rights and human decency in an attempt to keep from alienating my family.  You might be wondering why I wouldn’t try to set them straight: I find that arguing with an idiot over obviously wrong opinion gives legitimacy to those opinions.  So I just keep my mouth shut and every once in a while, I bring up a point using socratic reasoning.  That seems to make them think a bit and hopefully will change their minds in the long run.

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My Son Got Baptized

A few weeks ago my wife informed me that our youngest son was going to be baptized.  She told me that she wanted me to be there to support him during this important event in his life.  I had very mixed feelings about this, but I decided to do the “good for the family” thing and go without any argument on my part.

The backstory is that a few weeks ago, she asked if I wanted to go to  graduation party for one of the kids in the church and I told her I didn’t care to.  She got moody for a few days, and when she asked me again, I gave her the same answer.  She then went off on me a little about me not wanting to spend time with her and the kids.  Which is not true: I actually do, just not around church folks, since I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing… And all that.  So I finally told her that I didn’t realize it was that important to her, and conceded.  It actually wasn’t that bad.  They are a very gracious family and didn’t bring up anything about me not being in church for a while.

So this time, when she asked, I said yes almost immediately.

So this Wednesday night I got to the service in the middle of the announcements, so I actually had to look around for a seat.  I noticed some of my wife’s baptist family sitting near the front.  They came just for the occasion, so I decided to go sit in an empty seat near them.  None of them know yet that I’ve rejected their religion, so I was hoping none of the regulars would do that awkward “We haven’t seen you in soooo long” spiel that I was almost expecting and blow my cover, so to speak.

A bit after I sat down, one of the men in the church came over and shook my hand.  He had the strangest grin on his face as he said, “It is sooo good to see you.”

So then they baptized about 15 people, my son among them.  As I was sitting there, my chest got tight and I had a bit of difficulty breathing when he got into the water.  I still don’t know exactly how to explain what I was feeling.  As I write this, I am re-experiencing that exact same feeling.  It’s a bit of sadness combined with disappointment in myself for not being able to really explain my side of things, partially because of his age and partially because I don’t want to mess things up, as far as my relationship with my family.  There’s also some lack of sureness.  There’s a bit of doubt about whether I’ve made the right decision about my faith (although that goes away pretty quickly when I look at the evidence) but more about the future of my family.  I do not want to lose them.  I don’t want my family to fail.  And that’s constantly on my mind.  I know if it fails for “difference of view” reasons, that would be my fault for realizing what a sham Christianity is, but I cannot continue to live by a faith that isn’t true.  So I’ll keep doing everything I can to keep the peace and make this strange new version of my family work.

Anyway, when they started baptizing these kids and teenagers, the rest of the youth group would run up to the front and hold up signs they had made for each of those being baptized.  They had personalized each sign with a pithy saying or rhyme for each person.  All of this was accompanied by cheers and clapping.  It was very irreverent to the baptists in the family, but that’s just run of the mill for this church.  I guess they’re keeping it “relevant” for the youth.

All the while this was happening, I was thinking about the power of indoctrination.  Everyone was so into what was going on: buying every word he said.  The pastor made sure to tell everyone that once they were baptized their lives would be changed.  “You’ll be a new person” he said.  Ironically (or maybe not), the next day my son continued to act exactly as he did prior to being baptized.  No change at all.  I remember when my older son was baptized, I had the exact same observation about how rude he could be to his brother.  Only this time, I understand why there was no change: it’s just water, not Jesus magic.

After the last baptism, they asked everyone to stand, so I slipped out the back.  As I was walking into the foyer, one of the assistant pastors nearly ran my down.  She also had that weird grin.  “I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that you came tonight.”

As I was walking through the foyer, the other assistant pastor said something about how wonderful it was for my son to be baptized.  I just kind of nodded and said “Mmhmmm” or something.  It was all so surreal.

Anyway, that’s what happened.  My son got baptized.  I’m still processing the experience.

Thoughts on the “Fine Tuning” Argument

I’ve been watching several debates on Youtube lately including this one where the christian debater has used the fine tuning argument as proof that the god of the bible exists.  Admittedly, in the video linked to above, David Wood wasn’t necessarily trying to argue for the christian god, but as John Loftus pointed out, that’s the god he believes in, so obviously, that’s the god he is arguing for, whether overtly or not.  I’ve also seen this argument used by others, including William Lane Craig, and Lee Strobel in his book, The Case for a Creator.

If you’re not familiar with the fine tuning argument, let me give a brief overview: the universe, and specifically our planet, have all of the features necessary for life.  If any of the laws of physics, amount of gravity, chemical properties, etc. were even slightly different, life could not exist.  Thus it seems that our universe, and specifically our planet, was fine tuned by a creator for us and life in general.  Through a series of additional arguments those who use this argument work out that this points to the god of the bible existing and being all that they say he is.  A more thorough explanation of this line of reasoning is presented here, directly from their pen.

After hearing and reading this argument several times, I finally figured out what is wrong with it, as well as the use of evolutionary theory to bolster christian claims.  I will detail two of the reasons why these claims do not work.

1. The fine tuning argument used by christians is backward.  They say that the fact that the universe is perfect for life demonstrates that god must have created the universe for life.  I, however, think it would be better stated that life in our universe, and specifically on our planet, is a function of the laws, chemical properties, amount of gravity, etc. of our universe and planet.  That is, because of these features of our universe and planet, the life that developed is the way it is.  not the other way around as the christians claim.  If life has developed on another planet, it probably looks different than our own, but follows all of the same laws.  If the multiverse theory is correct and there is life in another universe with different laws, chemical makeup, and gravity, that life will follow the laws of that universe.  It will be fundamentally different than our own because it has to be a function of that universe.  Who knows what other types of life may be out there, such as this, that look nothing like life as we know it, dispelling the fine tuning argument.  Fine tuning says that the universe was created the way it is for life, but I think it is better explained that life developed the way it did because of the way the universe is.

2. Even if the universe was created the way it is to support life as we know it, that doesn’t necessarily lead to the god of the bible.  In fact, it cannot lead to the faith of the bible.  The bible details creation as happening in six days, as shown in Genesis 1.  We know the six day creation cannot be taken figuratively when we read verses such as Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 where the new testament author takes the Genesis account as literal (let bible interpret bible, as they say).  The fine tuning argument relies on acceptance of the modern scientific theory of the Big Bang.  The biblical accounts of creation are completely incongruous with the Big Bang theory, and thus the fine tuning argument.  Now that I think about it, it is seriously unauthentic for christians to resort to the fine tuning argument, since the bible cannot be reconciled with modern science in this aspect.  You cannot accept the doctrine of biblical inerrancy at the same time that you accept the idea of fine tuning, although some like William Lane Craig try to by redefining inerrancy.  These two ideas are mutually exclusive.

I think this is just one example of a system of faith evolving to try and stay relevant to its adherents.  After Darwin published his research, christians published The Fundamentals as a response to Scientific findings like Darwinism, modernity, and liberal christian theology.  Back then, many of these christians absolutely denied the theory of evolution and would go on to deny the Big Bang as being incompatible with their christian beliefs.  Over time, however, science wins out and christians must find a way to incorporate the scientific findings that disagree with their religion into their religion, even if they have to come up with a pseudo-scientific version of the science in order to do this.  We know, however, that the christian answer of using this pseudo-science, such as the fine tuning argument, are in fact not real science.  None of the “science” they offer as proof of their arguments and positions has ever been published by any reputable peer reviewed journal, thus it is not, per se, science, and cannot authentically be used as real proof of any of their positions.

So there you have it.  The fine tuning argument does not work.

Two Approaches to Atheism

I’ve been watching videos on Youtube the last few days and found some interesting views on Atheism.

One of the most relevant for me is Neil Carter of the Godless in Dixie blog on Patheos.  I personally identify with many of the things he has said and written about.  We both live in the south.  We both come from fundamentalist/ evangelical backgrounds. We are both teachers.  We are both trying to find our place in this new world of rejecting the norms of the society we find ourselves in.  I really like Neil’s advice in the video below.  I think this is pretty much where I find myself right now.

Another view that I am starting to identify with is David Silverman of American Atheists.  He has been an atheist since he was a kid, and is the president of a major Atheist organization.  He has a different perspective.  I aspire to be this open about my beliefs (or lack thereof) someday.

That being said, I see the value of both of these views.  Both have a relevant place, but It seems to me as a continuum, with Neil’s position being a great starting point, and David’s being a great fulfillment.  That’s an oversimplification, but hopefully you’ll get my point.

In a conversation with my wife last night, who still goes to church and identifies as a Christian, she asked me why I have to obsess with “this stuff” so much.  “When will you just make this who you are and get on with your life?”  As a response, I showed her Neil’s above video.  Neil does a great job of explaining the difficulties of openly identifying as an atheist where I live.  In addition, all of my immediate family are deeply spiritual people who base their entire worldview on the Bible.  So in order to not sour my relationship with them, I am trying to ease them into who I have become.  But that’s just my personal journey.  It’s probably similar to some others’ journeys, and completely different that another others’ journeys.  Either way, I see both of these views as important, viable ways to address where I am.  It’s not an argument, it’s just different ways of addressing the situation.  As David Silverman says at the end of the video, “Avoid attacking intramovement” (other views on atheism).  We’re all out there doing what we can, where we are.

Building My Post-Christian Community

I’ve been thinking about the concept of community lately.  I think it’s because I miss the weekly social interaction I had when attending church.  Even so, I’m not so sure that was really the best kind of “community”, and I think I was looking for something more fulfilling even when I was in church.

Community is roughly defined as a group of people with similar interests (like religion) or people who live in the same society.  The dictionary definition really seems to sum up the experiences I had with community in the church.  It seemed like we all would see each other on Sundays and Wednesdays, sing some songs, listen to the preacher, shake hands, make small talk, and then go our ways.  Many people didn’t seem to care anything about the rest of your life or your interests outside the walls of the church.  Sometimes there were other functions sponsored by the church- a cookout, a movie night, bowling… whatever, but again, it was “if you show up, great, if not, so what.”

It seems to me that real community cares about others, their lives, their interests, and who they really are.  And that’s what I have been looking for.

About a month ago, I was sitting at my local pub enjoying a craft beer.  This is something I’ve been doing for over a year now on most Fridays after work.  It’s a small place, and everyone seems to know each other.  There is aways stimulating conversation and something interesting going on.  When regulars walk in the door, they are usually greeted by name.  On more that one occasion, someone has made the statement, “I feel like I’m in an episode of Cheers.” Anyway, I was sitting there, talking with a couple who is usually there at the same time as me, when another regular walks in.  He sits down and joins the conversation.  After a while, he switches over to the seat next to me.  We start talking and before I know it, he asks me to join a group of guys who play disc golf on Sunday afternoons.  I’ve never played disc golf, but it seemed like a fun way to pass the time, so we exchanged info.

That Sunday, we all meet up at the park and play a round of disc golf.  Needless to say, I sucked at it, being my first time and all, but I enjoyed it.  Of the four of us who showed up, three were beginners, and one was actually pretty good.  He showed us the ropes and gave us pointers on some of the more difficult shots.  After the round, we walked over to the pub across the street from the park (pretty convenient, eh?) and drank beers and had some appetizers.

The next week, we did it again, but it rained, so we just sat in the pub and talked (beers, etc.)

The next week I was out of town, but everyone else played.

Then two days ago, I went and played again.

Every time I’ve gone, there have been different people.  Mostly the same, but the group changes slightly each time.  What happens though is starting to feel like community.  We hang out, have fun, have real conversations about the rest of our lives, and even break bread together, although it’s usually “liquid bread”.  These guys are normal people with no agenda (unlike church people) and they seem to be interested in the things important to each other.  There have been conversations about each of our jobs, families, and other things we care about.  One of the guys invited me and the wife to a get-together at his house.  We met some other interesting people and actually hung out until midnight talking politics, canning and pickling, and dirt bikes.

So is this real community?  i don’t know. But it seems more authentic that what I had at church.  And there’s no reason to pretend I believe that exact same thing as everyone else.

Last night I was messing around on the Internet when I came across this thing called Sunday Assembly.  This looks interesting. It’s been described as “atheist church”.  Apparently the founders wanted a community of like-minded people to be able to come together and share common pursuits with, similar to the way they did in church.  So they came up with the concept of something similar to a church, but without religion.  So they meet in an auditorium, sing songs, listen to people speaking, have a moment of self-reflection, and share snacks: everything you do in church, except god.  They try not to make this about anti-religion, but about celebrating life.  They try to keep it positive.  Here’s a quick article and video about it.

This sounds interesting.  This might be something I’d like to experience.  I actually looked for a local group, but the closest one is ninety miles away.  Maybe one weekend I’ll take a road trip to see what it’s all about.

Either way, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.  I think that the strength of a community lies in its members and how they contribute to the community.  Relationships, after all, are between people, and if people don’t want to tend a relationship, the relationship will be weak.  I realize this statement can be self-applied to my previous christian relationships, but frankly, I hadn’t had any common belief to them for quite a while.  Now that I have people with common beliefs, I feel like I can built relationships and a community that is authentic and right for me.

Book Recommendation

Earlier this week I finally finished John W. Loftus‘ seminal work, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.  It is a comprehensive case against Christianity that covers nearly every subject involved in belief in Christ and why it is unfounded.  In some ways, I wish I had this book at the start of my journey.  Having all of this information in one place would have made much easier work of rejecting my own beliefs for logic and rational thinking.  However, I also think that having made many of the discoveries he writes about in the book on my own, that reading this book was like a capstone on my own research.  As he says many times in this book, The Christian Delusion, and The Outsider Test for Faith, Christians will not consider their faith improbable until they consider it impossible.  The first time I read those words, they rang true to my own experience.  I had to research every aspect of the christian faith that I thought held some sort of weight for making the faith true or real.  Only when all of those blocks were tumbled did I finally relent and acknowledge the realization that had slowly been overtaking me.  When the evidence piled up beyond my capacity to ignore it, I had to face the facts.  So maybe it’s better that I read John Loftus’ book last.  Not only did he cover every topic I had previously researched, he also covered religious philosophy (which I hadn’t even gotten into) and the problem of suffering, which now that i think about it, is a lot more powerful argument than I had imagined.

So, If you haven’t read this great book, take some time and delve in.  No matter which side of the fence you’re on, you will learn something and come away a different person- a better person.