Openly Atheist

This has been an eventful week.  This past Sunday I called my dad and finally told him outright that I don’t believe in the religion he raised me in.  I told him I don’t believe in God or any of it any more.  He basically told me that he was sorry to hear it, but that he still loves me.  Gotta love him!
A few days ago Ryan Bell over at Life After God asked people to post messages on their social media using #IWantBelieversToKnow.  So I did. I posted #‎IWantBelieversToKnow‬ that the more I studied and prayed about god, and the more I asked him to reveal himself to me, the more questions I had that religious folks couldn’t answer. I seriously tried… For years.”  Now I’m knee deep in a FB conversation between a whole lot of people on both sides of the fence.  It’s very interesting, and no one is being rude.

So yeah.  I’m completely out now.  I am an open atheist.  Hopefully my openness will make it easier for someone else to be open about their lack of belief.

Advertisements

I Outed Myself at Work Today

Today was our first day back after Christmas break.  We had faculty meetings scheduled for the entire day.  Sadly, over the break, one of our students was tragically killed in a home invasion.

To start the faculty meeting, our principal spoke to the tragedy and said that she knows prayer makes a difference.  She asked everyone to join hands and asked one of the teachers to pray.

I stayed in my seat.  I also noticed that a couple of our staff members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses stayed seated as well.  A couple of teachers around me offered me a hand to hold, but I politely declined.  They all moved over away from me toward the circle of hand holding.  One of the teachers turned around and motioned with her head for me to join the circle, and I smiled and shook my head.

After more than 15 minutes of preaching, several prayers, and some possible tongue talking, they all made their ways back to their seats.

At the first break the teacher who motioned me to join the group came over and asked why I didn’t join the prayer: “Don’t you believe in god?”  I smiled and answered that I didn’t.  A couple of other teachers nearby overheard and said they thought I went to (my former) church.  I said that I used to, but not anymore.  They seemed like they thought I was joking with them.  But I reassured them that no, I do not believe in god.  There was a little more discussion about why, but I only had a few minutes before the meeting started back up, so I couldn’t really get into it.  I did say that after studying the scripture more closely I realized what a horrible god the god of the Bible is.  I told them that for him to be worthy of my worship he would have to be as good as I am.  And since I’ve never killed, ordered genocide, or ordered the rape of little girls that I must be better than god.  “It’s in the Bible”, I told them.  Hopefully it will pique their interest and they’ll get in a little study time.

Word was spread to one or two others who informed me that they would be praying for me.  Thanks?  Is that supposed to make me feel better?

Either way, there were a few funny looks and a bit of denial, but nothing bad happened as a result.  Hopefully it will all stay well in the future.

Update

Hey folks,  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been dealing with some personal issues.  A lot has been happening, but I’ve been having trouble with motivation.  That probably has to do with the fact that I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  I think it’s got a lot to do with my religious upbringing, among other things.  I have been on medication for the last month and it seems to be helping.  I finally get to meet with my therapist for the first time tomorrow.  Hopefully she will help me start working on some of my issues.  This is a big step for me.

Among other things going on…

I got to go to the launch party for Ryan Bell’s new initiative, Life After God.  I took my wife (who is still a christian) and she did the most amazing thing.  When Ryan asked for people to give their opinions on what the movement should focus on, she got up in front of a bunch of atheists and said that she thinks there needs to be more support for people coming out of religion who are still married to religious spouses.  That blew me away!  I was really having doubts about our relationship until that moment.  Sure, there are still things we need to work through, but that’s coming along.

Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie was there and he took a few moments to speak with me and my wife.  He is such an amazing person for caring enough to take the time to give us some advice and try to help us out.  I cannot say enough how thankful I am.  He recommended we read the book In Faith and In Doubt together.  We have started reading it and making notes.  Amazing stuff!  I really think this is going to start some conversations that will improve our relationship and help us for the long run.

There were several other people I met who made a tremendous impact on me.  Cass Midgley of the podcast Everyone’s Agnostic spent some time talking with us.  What a great guy.  He offered to have us on the podcast, but I haven’t contacted him as of yet.  I may do that as soon as I am finished writing this post.

We also met one of the guests that Cass had on his show, Hugh Mann.  He has a great story to tell that shows just how difficult it is to be a nonbeliever in the general area I live in.  What a great guy!

Another great thing that happened just this Saturday was a conversation with my little sister.  She is the one who is no longer a oneness pentecostal, but she is still very christian and very conservative.  Recently she asked me how church was and I told her that I hadn’t been going.  Well, this last Saturday while talking to her she asked whether I was an atheist or an agnostic or what.  I came out and told her point blank that I was both.  To my surprise she said she loves me anyway and she doesn’t want this to mess up our relationship.  She also made a comment that makes me think that my dad will be OK with my non-belief as well, but that is another conversation I will have to have later.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that I received David Silverman’s new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.  I read it in about two days (in my free time) and I can now say, “I get it!”  I understand why he seems so confrontational.  It’s all about equality.  If you are a closeted atheist, or any stripe of nonbeliever, you should seriously consider reading this book.  He talks about the reasons American Atheists do what they do and how it helps all of us who are nonreligious.  As a result of reading this book, I joined American Atheists, and I have some advocacy plans (tentative) for the Freethinkers Meet-Up group I fellowship with.  I haven’t discussed it with them yet, but I think they will be on board.

That’s what’s been going on with me.  Sorry for taking so long to post.  I think I’m back on the uphill.

Sordid Stories From A Former Life

With this whole Kim Davis (the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses despite a supreme court order) situation being in full swing, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to enlighten the viewing public on her version of christianity.  I, myself, was raised in her particular version of christianity, oneness pentecostalism.  When I was old enough to leave home and do things for myself, I became a member at a church which belongs to the same denomination that Kim Davis currently belongs to.  I think I have an understanding of her and her church’s mindset, since I was raised in it and fully bought in to it until my mid thirties.

The following are true occurrences from the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) that I attended, and still have a few contacts with, mostly through my wife, who has occasional friends who still attend there.

The pastor of the church has two daughters, daughter 1 and Carla.  Daughter 1 is married to son in law 1, who is the brother of Patrick.  Patrick used to be married to Carla.  They were married when Carla was still in high school by the pastor’s mother, who was the former pastor of the church.  Her words, upon the announcement of this marriage were, “It’s better to marry than to burn.”

After giving birth to a son and enjoying a few years of wedded bliss, Patrick and Carla divorced and Patrick left the church for a little while to regain his composure, or whatever.  Eventually he returned and got involved once again in the church.  A while later, Patrick married Wendy, who is the daughter of Judy.  Judy is the second cousin or some close relation of the pastor’s mother, so there is a family connection there.  So Patrick and Wendy get married and Wendy gets pregnant.  Shortly after Wendy gets pregnant, she finds out that Patrick was having an affair with a coworker, who ends up pregnant as well.  They get divorced.  So now Patrick has three sons from three different mothers, and two of the sons are within a month or so of each other.

All while this is happening, the pastor’s personal assistant and the official church decorator, Donna, decides to divorce her husband, who is also a faithful member of the church.  I’m not sure of the details, but the rumors are that they hadn’t been happy for years and were waiting for both of their kids to grow up and leave home before they split.

I have no real evidence of this, but it’s my opinion that the pastor and Donna might have been/currently are having an affair.  One night (several years ago) at a youth function in the gym, I was showing a guy from another church around the facility.  He asked to see the sanctuary of the church, so I took him through the back door to the platform.  The pastor was sitting at the piano, playing softly, while Donna was sitting on the piano bench by his side with her stocking feet up on the bench and her arms curled around her legs.  The lights in the sanctuary were low.  As soon as I walked in, I felt like I had invaded a special moment.  I let the guy look around and quickly ushered him out.

Donna was still married to Mark at the time.  It wasn’t until after I left the church that they divorced.  I don’t know the current situation with Donna, except that she is still a very central figure to the happenings at the church.  However, I do know about her husband, Mark.

After the divorce, Mark married Kerri.  Kerri had previously been married to Brian, who has been the bass guitar player for the church since before I was going there.  Brian apparently had some alcoholic issues so he and Kerri divorced, then remarried, then divorced again.  And now Kerri is married to Mark.

Brian, meanwhile married Alisha, who is the brother of one of the former ministers in the church, Chris.  Chris, who had been married to his wife since they were young and in love, recently divorced his wife and went off and married some “tattooed, pierced floozie”, as one of my wife’s friends called her.

Back to Patrick and son in law 1-  Their dad, or step dad, or whatever he is, several years ago indecently exposed himself to some kids and was sent to prison for several years and is now a registered sex offender.  I recently went to a party held at Judy’s house in honor of Wendy’s son.  Patrick and son in law’s dad was there and everyone just treated him like he was part of the family; no worries about the kids or anything whatsoever.

The weirdest part of this whole situation is that ALL of them refuse to find another church.  They all insist on continuing to go faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday to sit near their former spouses, etc. and hear “the word of god” as preached by a pastor who claims that none of the other churches in town have “the truth”.  I recall once in a sermon he said something to the effect of: “If you want to hear preaching that makes you feel good about your sin, go to the church down the street.  But if you want the truth, and to make it to heaven, you have to stay in the boat.”  And by boat, he meant his church.

If this is not the definition of a cult, I don’t know what is!

That is my experience with the kind of church Kim Davis attends.  Now you know what she means when she says that she’s an “apostolic” christian.  I’m not saying this goes on in every UPC/ apostolic church, but if the one I attended is any indication, there’s a good chance that it does.  No wonder Kim Davis has been divorced three times, yet still, in defiance of the supreme court, refuses to issue marriage licenses to those who she disagrees with because her pastor taught her to disagree with them.

Such a strange situation all around.

The Lack of Empathy in Defunding Planned Parenthood

Lately, my Facebook newsfeed has been awash in stories and posts about Planned Parenthood and the videos that The Center for Medical Progress has been releasing trying to “expose” what happens behind the scenes at Planned parenthood.  All of the posts from my conservative friends seem to repeat the same sentiment: It’s horrible that Planned Parenthood is murdering babies and selling their body parts. There are a lot fewer (a whole lot fewer) of my liberal and centrist friends who are posting on the issue.  They obviously take a different stance.

I would like to posit my observations about this phenomenon.  My belief is that, in general, those who agree with this anti-Planned Parenthood movement do so for the same reason they think the Bible is a great book: because someone told them to, and they haven’t done their own research to see what it’s all about.  It appears to me that someone in authority told them “this is how it is”, and they whole-heartedly agreed and jumped on the bandwagon.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’d just make a statement like that and just leave it hanging.  In what follows, I’d like to provide a few resources for anyone wanting to know a little more.

First of all, the videos- They were edited in a way to show the bias of the editors.  According to this article, the videos were “heavily edited and falsely portrayed [Planned Parenthood’s] ‘participation in tissue donation programs that support life-saving scientific research.'”

The group releasing the videos was started by a guy who came from the Live Action group which has a history of questionable legality when trying to infiltrate organizations they want to take down.  In fact, David Daleiden himself has a history of questionable legal activities.  The Center for Medical Progress was registered as a biomedical charity when it’s sole mission is to destroy planned parenthood.  That’s NOT charity.

And what about Planned Parenthood?  Only 3% of their budget is used for abortion services.  The rest is for cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and contraception.  Those wanting to defund planned parenthood should know full well that abortions cannot be funded by taxpayer funds under current law.  So any attempt to defund Planned Parenthood is really an attempt to defund cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and contraception.

What about the morality of abortion?  The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance has put together one of the most complete resources on the subject.  On the subject of when personhood begins, they have this comparison of the opposing sides’ views.  Overall, I think the way they have presented these issues is unbiased and gives those on opposing sides a chance to see what others really think.  One of the problems, however is the straw man that is presented by those on a certain side of the issues that seem to obfuscate the real issue.  For instance someone I am close to recently commented on one of their friend’s Facebook posts about how if we find proof of life on another planet that it would be considered life, but that human embryos are not considered life by the prochoice side of the issue.  That is a clear misrepresentation of the stance.  Either that or a misunderstanding.

I think it is pretty obvious that those on the side of defunding planned parenthood have been duped by those in control of the ultra-right message into buying in to this effort.  The populace has bought the idea hook, line, and sinker without even checking in to the facts or doing a little research on their own.

I do think that abortion is a serious issue.  I don’t think it is a decision to be taken lightly, but it is a hell of a lot more nuanced than the defunders make it out to be.  And as we all know from the failed experiment of prohibition in the twenties, you can’t just make something illegal and it goes away.  That’s not how it works.  My opinion is that abortion should be legalized in order to keep it safe.  Bathtub gin was known to blind people, and back-alley abortions have been known to leave people dead or maimed.  It’s going to happen no matter what the law says.  Why don’t we have some empathy for our fellow humans and make it as safe as possible by keeping it legal.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to keep people from having to end up needing an abortion.  But that’s where the bulk of Planned Parenthood’s mission comes in, isn’t it.  Contraception and sex education are paramount in this effort.  If people don’t know how to prevent pregnancy and have the available resources to prevent it there’s a good chance they will end up seeking an abortion.  So in my opinion, if the right succeeds in their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood it will have the exact opposite effect they are going for.  Instead of preventing abortions, it will create the situation where more women are seeking abortions.  By defunding the contraception and sex education, not to mention the STD testing and treatment, provided by Planned Parenthood, more women will end up with unwanted pregnancies and will then be forced to seek unsafe abortions.

Where is the logic, reason, and especially empathy of those seeking to defund Planned Parenthood? I don’t see it anywhere!

Defining Faith- Hebrews 11:1

I’ve recently been reading some material and watching some videos where the subject of faith comes up.  Many in the atheist community define faith a particular way and christians don’t like and don’t agree with that definition.

I think the most succinct definition of faith given in the literature is Peter Boghossian’s from his book A Manual for Creating Atheists.  He says that faith is “pretending to know things you don’t know” (p. 24).  In his interview on Phil Vischer’s podcast, Phil, as I’m sure many other christians do, took offense at this definition.

John W. Loftus, in his book The Outsider Test for Faith defined faith as “an irrational leap over the possibilities.  Because reasonable faith is an oxymoron. Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for.  Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate confirming evidence and underestimate disconfirming evidence” (p. 207).  Although this is not as concise as Peter Boghossian’s definition, it gives us a little more to go with, and it gets into what I think is one of the more important aspects of the discussion: evidence.

I remember hearing in church most of my life that the best definition of faith was found in Hebrews 11:1.  I’ve heard many sermons on it.  In fact, one year at church camp when I was in my teens, the entire week’s sermons were based on Hebrews 11:1.  I memorized it and thought I knew what it said.  Now that I’ve grown out of my faith, I see it as saying something different than what I once thought.  It all seems so obvious now.

So let’s look at Hebrews 11:1.  It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Merriam Webster’s Dictionary Online defines substance as

: a material of a particular kind

: a drug that is considered harmful and whose use is controlled by law or made illegal

: the quality of being meaningful, useful, or important

Without needing to address the second definition, we could easily paraphrase substance as the stuff.   This can be demonstrated in the movie title “The Stuff of Legend” or the Star Trek episode title “The Stuff of Dreams”.  We can see that the stuff means a material and also the inherent quality of that thing.  So when Hebrews says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for”, we can understand that to mean that faith is the stuff or the inherent quality of things that are not, but we wish them to be.  The second phrase makes it more clear: “the evidence of things not seen”.  Faith is the evidence, or proof of something, that cannot be seen.  The Greek word for seen, as used in this verse, can be translated as to see with the eye, or to discern, but the most telling translations are to perceive by the senses, to feel and to discover by use, to know by experience.  In other words, faith is the thing that is proof of the things which we cannot perceive by our senses or know by experience; that is, the evidence for that which there is no evidence.  After all, you have to use your senses or know by experience in order to have evidence of something.  Interestingly, the definition for the word faith in this verse is defined as a conviction of the truth; the truth of god’s existence, or of christ’s messiahship, etc.  So, let’s put it all together in a lovely paraphrase: your conviction that god exists and that christ is his messiah is the stuff of what we hope for, your conviction of that is the evidence for that which we have no evidence.

So essentially, the bible admits there is no way to perceive god with our senses or to know him by experience, yet the fact that someone has a really strong feeling that he does exist is held up as proof positive that he does.  Am I missing something here, or is that all we have to go on?  The only proof that the best definition of faith I was offered as a christian has for god’s existence is a feeling that he exists… Wow!

As you can see, Peter Boghossian isn’t off the mark when he says that faith is pretending to know things you don’t, although I really don’t think christians are pretending.  I think they actually believe they know things that they actually don’t know.  But that could be chalked up to semantics.  And when John Loftus says that reasonable faith is an oxymoron, I get it that he is saying that faith cannot be by definition, reasonable.  But I think I’ll do him one better: faith, as defined in the bible, (reasonable or not) is an oxymoron.

Generalizability of Scripture: You’re Doing It Wrong!

My sister likes a lot of conservative stuff on Facebook and it shows up in my newsfeed.  I usually try to ignore it, but every once in a while something piques my interest and I have to click on the link and check it out.

That happened the other day with this new Mike Huckabee promo:

As I was watching it, I started wondering whether that particular verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14, could be rightly applied to the situation Huckabee is applying it to.  So I started looking into it.

In the sciences, there is a concept called generalizability.  When a researcher runs an experiment or analyzes data to produce a new result, one of the questions that he or she has to answer is whether the results of that experiment or data analysis can be generalized to a larger population.  For example, say a researcher discovers in a survey of 20 men, a statistically significant portion of those men prefer blonde haired women over redheaded women.  Can we then generalize these results to say that men in general prefer blondes?  There are very specific reasons for or against being able to generalize the results of research onto a larger population.

It seems that Huckabee, as well as countless other christians generalize 2 Chronicles 7:14 to include themselves, and in this case, America into the promise god made in that verse.   I don’t think this is reasonable.  I’m always being told to read verses in context, so let’s give that a go, shall we?  Here is the verse in context:

2 Chronicles 7:11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, 12 the Lord appeared to him at night and said:

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.

13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

I have taken the liberty to emphasize some important words in the scripture.  This shows exactly what the intent of the author of these verses was trying to say.  The promise was specifically for Solomon, the Jews of that time and place, and the land they lived in.  If you remain authentic to the intent of the passage, there’s no way it can be generalized to people other than the Jews and the city of Jerusalem, or possibly the entire land of Israel as it existed at that time.

But there is no way that an authentic reading of this passage can make someone think it applies to America, let alone Mike Huckabee.  That’s quite a stretch that is in no way supported by this passage.

So there it is: another case of christians using the bible out of context, using it to further their own political aims, and picking and choosing the verses they follow, as well as how those verses are interpreted.

I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work.  I don’t think that’s how any of this is supposed to work.  You’re doing it wrong!