Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bele Chere Fundie Fun

Philosophychick and I went to Bele Chere in Asheville, NC on Friday night. We had a great time. I bought myself a kaleidoscope and a necklace from the vendors and Philosophychick and I shared a phallic chocolate-covered frozen banana. We also ate deep-fried oreos, some funnel cake, and we ended up having to take our dinner home from Jerusalem Garden Café (where we watched an excellent bellydancer). I also bought a bunch of chocolates from the Chocolate Fetish. And of course, we drank dark microbrews like it was going out of style.

Ok, now that I’m done pimping Asheville, on to the atheist-related part: the Street Preacher. You know how they are; everyone’s out having a great time and some guy with a big sign has to come ruin it for everyone. All these preachers’ signs look alike: white with big red letters and SODOMITES in all caps. There must be a special on them at the Fundie Sign Factory. The usual anti-gay messages were duly represented as well “the fool hath said in his heart that there is no god.” The street preacher group at Bele Chere was remarkably well-behaved. They stood silent until approached and honestly made the out and proud gay people who were taunting them look worse.

A few guys and girls were crowded around the ringleader of the street preachers debating vigorously but respectfully. Philosophychick and I joined this group. A young guy I will call Bible Boy was trading verse for verse with the preacher and obviously annoying him. Some drunken guy was interfering with the semi-rational discussion by attempting to hump the preacher. As fun as that may be, it is also illegal and only reinforces the preacher’s view of gays as reprobate sinners. His cause can only be weakened by rational destruction of his points.

The full conversation is lost to me (blame alcohol and late nights), but I’ll hit some key points. The preacher kept saying that the Bible said we needed to be saved from our sins. I asked
“Why should I believe the Bible?”
“Because God commands it.”
‘How do I know God commands it? I’ve never felt the presence of God. What evidence is there for god?”
‘Read the Bible with an open heart and the Holy Spirit will convict you.”
“I grew up Southern Baptist and prayed for God to reveal himself to me and he never did.”
“Well you were never really saved. You cried and prayed a little prayer, but you just wanted to sin so you stopped believing.”

It went on like that with me, Philosophychick, and the Christians arguing until we decided just to leave because it was getting nowhere. The Christian girl and Bible boy came up to us and tried to apologize for this guy’s behavior. So that was my first real time trying to debate a street preacher. I probably could have come up with better arguments had I been more sober, but it was fun anyway. I’m going to resolve to keep debating them, hopefully under better circumstances next time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Church Camp Brainwashing

From 7th-9th grades, I was subjected to the horror of church camp. It was 5 days in summer (normally June) at a beautiful place that was once a boy scout camp, but was now owned by our church. The purpose of the camp was to indoctrinate us into Christianity, of course. Many unchurched kids were recruited for what was advertised as fun, and many ‘scholarships” were available to them. (Camp cost only about $100 to cover food and transportation, as staff was all-volunteer.)

Each day started out with breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7:00. After breakfast was cleanup, then quiet time until the morning church service at 10:00. The preachers were often minor celebrities of the Southern Baptist youth circuit. The morning service was heavier on Bible study than the evening service, and was subsequently less emotional. Then we would play sports the rest of the day. Campers were split up into cabins, with 6 or so campers per cabin (plus 1-2 counselors) and there were 8 girls cabins and 8 boys cabins. These cabins all were named for a Native American tribe. Same-sex tribes played each other in sports and each girl tribe was matched with a boy tribe for brother-sister tribe prayer time. So we were forced to participate in sports, no matter what. If you didn’t want to mountain bike, they still made you walk the trail. I hated it with a passion. After sports, we had supper, then seminars. These seminars would revolve around some topic like “How to lead someone to Jesus,” or everyone’s favorite, “Abstinence”. After seminar, we had brother-sister tribe prayer time and maybe a canteen break for cokes and candy. Then we would have evening service, which revolved around music. Hours of repetitive, hypnotic music and alter calls with counselors at the ready. We were exhorted to confess our sins and to let the lord lead our life. We were told to keep the fire of camp burning and let it bleed into our daily lives. After the service, we went to the campfire, a huge bonfire by the lake. There we were told we were like the embers being sent out on a mission when we got back home, some of us would go out quickly, others would burn for a long time. After campfire, we went back to the cabins where we were supposed to have prayer with our bunkmates. By this time, it was often about 2 A.M. If the girls got giggly, it would be 3 or later until we were all in bed.

Camp was specifically set up for brainwashing and indoctrination. The isolated setting meant we had few distractions, especially secular ones. You weren’t allowed to have CD players or gameboys and such (This was 1998, slightly before widespread cell phones and ipods). The wilderness setting was frequently used to illustrate the grandeur of god. The repetitive music was like a meditation to close your mind from critical thinking. The sleep deprivation made us more emotional and suggestible. The constant activities left no time for solitude or thinking. Predictably, conversions and rededications were numerous. Most people burnt out within a few weeks of camp, but lasting harm was done to some.

The preaching at camp was generally poor, as far as preaching goes. It was far more emotional and anecdotal than the biblical preaching of “grown-up” church. Stories of dubious authenticity were told as gospel. One of my favorites was about a dumb, redneck type of Christian boy who has to deal with an evil smart atheist evolutionist boy at school. The boy faithfully brings his bible to school every day and leaves it on the corner of his desk in class. Atheist boy begins to pick it up and read it, making fun of it at first. Eventually atheist boy gets saved and becomes a Christian. There were also many cautionary tales about your friends dying in car wrecks and such and going to hell because you didn’t tell them about Jesus. Some preachers also made the boys and girls sit on separate sides of the patio during services, which infuriated me as my only friends at camp were always guys and not the bitchy girls.

Camp sucked in many other ways that had nothing to do with religion as well. The heat, mosquitoes, scorpions in the cabins etc…The food was good, though, and I liking tubing on the lake. That’s about all the good I can say about church camp.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Atheism and Holidays

Being raised without religious inculcations, there was a lot of crap I never had to learn to deal with, get over, or escape from (a lot more than I ever thought possible, as I've learned from recent posts). But holiday celebrations were always a prominent aspect of my childhood. Both my parents were atheist, but every year we would always celebrate Easter, Christmas, and most other religious or non-religious holidays that U.S. culture tends to pay attention to. I don't remember any exact occasion in which I asked my parents about the details behind both celebrations, why we have them, etc, but I know I must have at some point. And by the time I stopped asking, I had some idea that they were religious-based, but that I largely didn't have to care about that because the things we do to celebrate it aren't really religious in nature.

I loved Christmas. I loved that whole season so much, and I still do, to some extent. It was so uplifting and sparkly and beautiful everywhere you went - the movies and music and decorations were so dazzling and moving and laden with memories. It was only after I'd been in college for a while, learned about various harms that religious leanings and practices can lead to, and started analyzing parts of my personal life, that I developed a less enthusiastic opinion of Christmas. The transition really sucked too.

My brother has for some time now virtually abandoned the celebration or recognition of most holidays, and explained to me his ethical motivations behind doing so. As a feminist and an atheist, I could understand and even agree with most of them, but I had such strong emotional ties to all the aspects of celebrating Christmas especially that I couldn't buy into it immediately. It was kind of a longing for past simplicity, I guess. Before the rest of the family knew I was atheist, before I recognized the biases and ignorance implicit in the biblical nature of Christmas, and before I matured to the level of wanting to maintain consistency between my actions and beliefs... before all of that, it was just a beautiful time of year with good spirits, good food, and generosity abounding among everyone. And I wanted it to stay that way.

Nowadays, there are many reasons other than my own ethics that prevent such a nostalgic version of the holiday from manifesting in the way that it used to, like changes in extended family members' attitudes of inclusion, in other family members' health and capacity to hold gatherings, in still yet other family members' geographical locations, etc. But I still hold onto the childhood memories I have of Christmas with deep emotion, and genuinely miss the sense of connection that I had with my family and (so it seemed) the rest of the world during the holidays. I'm still conflicted in wanting, on the one hand, to raise my hypothetical children with Christmas celebrations so as not to deprive them of such treasured memories as my own; or, on the other hand, raising them in the absence of bias- and ignorance-laden "holy days". There's always the option of celebrating Xmas, and leaving all the religious hoowah out, which is essentially what my parents attempted to do. But it has still left me with an emotional attachment to the celebration of a religion I have come to abhor, which presents its own problems. This seems like a good stopping point.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Atheism and Family

I have a confession to make. I, Microbiologychick, the militant founder of this Atheist Girls blog, am not out to my family. I am stuck deep in the Christian closet. Why?

Because I’m a fucking pussy.

Well, that’s what it boils down to. I just know what is going to happen when they do find out, and I don’t have the balls to deal with it. It’s not as if there will ever be a good time to do it, but I just don’t want it to be right now. I am not even financially dependent on them anymore. I just want to have a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just want to have pleasant conversations with my grandmother without her crying and running a guilt trip on me. I don’t want to hear my dad yell. I don’t want my teenage cousin asking the youth group to pray for me.

I was born and raised Christian, my family is all Christian, to not be Christian is simply unthinkable. My family’s Christianity is central to their entire lives. To say that we are a tight-knit family is an understatement. We all live within one mile of each other and generally saw each other every day. We all went to the same church. You couldn’t take a piss without someone knowing about it. This was my life until I went off to college.

If I were to drop this bomb in their laps, the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and general drama would rise to biblical proportions. My family can’t have a calm, reasoned discussion about what to have for dinner, much less whether or not there is a god. The very minimal dissent from their super-conservative opinions that I do occasionally express is treated as highly suspect. Your “true Christianity” can be called into question for simply taking some bible passages figuratively instead of literally. Their opinions are the only correct opinions. My family believes that education and intelligence must be used sparingly, lest your arrogance and pridefulness become your downfall.

Also, my family has no shame. Shame is secondary to my grandmother’s playing up of the victim role. When they had a prodigal son before, she perfected the long-suffering mother thing. They’ll air that dirty laundry as a flag under which to gather the troops for intervention.

They will say that this is something that I DID TO THEM. It is their suffering and embarrassment that is important. I am calculating and evil because I refuse to conform to their mold. They think they own me and have a right to an obedient, sweet automaton who will marry, pop out babies, and go to church like they did. Deviation is failure and unrepentant atheism is the ultimate failure. It is the failure to secure my soul for the kingdom.

Now, will they eventually find out? Probably. Kazim, a prominent atheist and regular commenter here has expressed it thusly: The longer you wait to tell them, the stranger the way they’ll find out. With all due respect, I don’t think it’s going to matter to my family how they find out. By refusing to make a decision to tell them, I am relinquishing control to random circumstances (or alternatively, malicious characters). I don’t like this idea, but neither can I bring myself to intentionally destroy the few positive aspects of the relationship I have with my family.

At this time, I choose to hunker down in the closet like a coward. It’s not honest, it’s not admirable, it’s not courageous, but it’s real.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Even More Atheist Reading

I really need to quit going to Barnes and Noble. After a lovely meal with thegecko and her husband, we went to Barnes and Noble where I purchased two books. I got Bertrand Russell's classic "Why I am Not a Christian"




and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon."



I am never going to get all these books read.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We're part of The Atheist Blogroll!

Atheist Girls has been added to The Atheist Blogroll

You can see the blogroll in the sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world.

Love, Sex, and Conversion

One of the tenants of religious dogma that really gets to me is the expectation that people, especially women, will remain innocent little virgins until their wedding night. Then, of course, they only have sex with the expectation that children will result. I think this is a very unrealistic expectation for a variety of reasons. Surveys of middle-aged and elderly individuals, as well as historical records, show clear evidence that premarital sex is not a new thing and has in fact been a common occurence for thousands of years. Even for those from previous generations who did wait until marriage, the task was relatively easier than it would be today. Thanks to the Double Standard, boys were allowed (even encouraged in some cultures!) to cavort with prostitutes and women of "ill repute" and to take mistresses after marriage (rationale: so that they could satisfy their needs while the wife was pregnant with their precious sons), while girls were often married off within just a few short years of sexual maturity. At most, maybe the average person had to fight off 2-3 years of sexual urges, maybe 5 years if they were really unlucky. Today, people reach puberty at earlier ages than ever before and marry much later in life. Twenty years is a long time to take cold showers and try to picture grandma in her underwear every time the testosterone flares up.

In my opinion, trying to live up to this silly ideal all too often results in young people marrying for the wrong reasons. I.e., they marry before they're ready so that they can get into each others' pants, and when they start having sex, they have no idea how to manage the more serious aspects of it and wind up with children before they're ready to be parents. I held out until I was 19 for the sole reason that I refused to have sex until I could get my hands on reliable birth control without having to go through my mother. In my family, it is believed that the hymen confers magical immunity from all gynecological problems, so of course, only sexually active sluts and married women need a "female" doctor. The fact that my first fling evolved into a serious relationship that later led to marriage is entirely irrelevant. We didn't get married in order to have sex or live together (been there, done that, got the T-shirt) or because the sex was good (try amazing). We got married because after 2 years of dating (8 months of which was long distance), dealing with the fallout of some very bad events that occurred in his life, several long road trips together, and 1 year of cohabiting in a veeeeery tiny space, we had developed a deep love and a strong underlying friendship. In short, we knew we were in it for the long haul and that we could face adversity without running for the hills or killing each other. Today is our 4th wedding anniversary, and it's only gotten better with time.

There's also an expectation in many religions that your intended spouse is either already a member of your faith or will become a member sometime before or right after the wedding. I got a lot of flack from my family because my wonderful husband has no use for religion and refused to become a Roman Catholic in order to marry me. The nagging started right after we became engaged and did not stop until I pointed out to them that it would be incredibly dishonest of him to convert to a religion for the sake of pleasing them. My own father converted three months before my parents' wedding. He went through all the motions, read the bible daily, sat in the front pew every week, passed out wafers during communion, and looked for all the world like a devout husband and father. In truth, he was an abusive and controlling asshole who used passages from the bible to "prove" his imagined superiority over my mother and convinced my brother and me that we were worthless human beings with wicked hearts. (I haven't spoken a word to the man since my parents' divorce 8 years ago and it was the best decision I ever made.) Because of him, I learned that respect, trust, consideration for others, and open-mindedness were better qualities to look for in a mate than a certain religious label.

I'd also like to refute the claim made by most religions that you even have to marry at all. It's not for everyone; the world is full of all kinds of people, and some just don't fit into that mold. People would be much happier if they'd just be honest with themselves and all potential partners, and live in a way that makes them happy.

Leaving The Church

I was born into a very large Italian-catholic family that had made its home in the south. My grandfather was a very successful businessman and a self-made millionaire, and because of my grandparents' incredible generosity and community spirit they are regarded by most people in our area as some kind of local royalty. They have also been very generous with the local catholic churches, and have a very large plaque on their wall (allegedly sent by the pope himself) thanking them for their good works for the diocese. They have eight children who all live in the area and 30-odd grandchildren who are all mostly within driving distance. My mother was the baby of the family and we wound up living in the same subdivision throughout my early life. Growing up, I was the catholic princess. Every Sunday we went to church in our Sunday best and sat in the front pew with my grandparents. I went to the local catholic school (they insisted) where religion was a class, we sang hymns in music class, and masses were performed every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8 a.m. Every so often the assistant pastor would come in and take confessions from all the kids in the equipment room in the gym. Faith was everywhere…we lived it, breathed it, and ate it in our Friday fish dinner.

And yet, the older I got, the more I started to notice things that just didn't make logical sense. I remember one day when I was in the second grade; I was discussing a Presbyterian friend of mine with my best friend at catholic school, and she made a comment that we were luckier than her because, since we were catholic, we were assured a place in heaven, whereas my protestant friend would have to work hard to earn it. That really bothered me for a while, because I was afraid that if that were true, my friend might not be able to join us in the afterlife, for no other reason than an accident of birth and what her parents chose to teach her.

My first communion was an utter disappointment; I simply could not wrap my brain around the idea of transubstantiation and the cracker we got didn't bear the vaguest resemblance to flesh. If they had been passing out tuna sashimi….maybe then it would have been believable, but even at age 8 I knew the difference between meat and something that was not meat. I could buy the idea of symbolic transubstantation, but you try bringing that up in a catholic youth group and see what kind of a reaction you get. My first confession felt like a joke…I was a sheltered kid that knew nothing of the so-called sins our teacher had given us as examples. I couldn't think of anything to tell the priest, so I made something up. My penance was to say the Hail Mary prayer 10 times. In the fifth grade, our teacher was a French-canadian grandmother who had been raised in a convent. One of my clearest memories in her class was the day she lectured about Moses parting the water. To the shock and horror of most of the kids there, she explained that she thought it was silly to think Moses caused a miracle when the area where he probably crossed is notorious for drying up and then flooding with the changing of the seasons. Her point was that it was more likely that Moses knew the riverbed might still be dry and that the Egyptians were just victims of bad timing. I still miss that lady. She was the only teacher at that school who encouraged independent thought.

I think the final straw for me came when I was 16. The former bishop of our diocese was a jolly, grandfatherly sort of man who was a close friend of my grandparents. He visited the family on a regular basis, and was practically an extra grandparent to me when I was small. Around the time the huge catholic sex scandal started making the news, he was called to take over a larger diocese in florida whose bishop had been exposed as a child molester with numerous victims. Before he left, he said a final mass in which he preached against the evils of arrogance and the abuse of power and how it was a poison in the clergy that had to be removed. Six months later, a somewhat younger priest came forward and accused our former bishop of coercing him into performing sexual favors while he was his student at the seminary. Apparently, the charges were true; the bishop admitted to doing this and resigned. I was scheduled to undergo the sacrament of confirmation later that year, and although I was strongly opposed to it, I was given no choice by my family. I skipped all but three of the weekly confirmation classes and went to the mall instead. When the big day came, I hated myself for standing up in front of 500 people and lying.

Later catholic condemnations against abortion, birth control (!!), and homosexuality only further convinced me that I wanted no part of the Roman mess. I've dabbled in other religions over the last ten years, but I always eventually found the same old flaws and ran away screaming. Today, you could probably describe me as a weak atheist. I am happy to say that I have not set foot inside my old church in four years, and the last time I saw the inside of a confessional was in 1994. I'm done apologizing for nothing. It's probably worth noting that our original parish church burned down the day after I was baptized in 1982. Talk about foreshadowing…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blaming Women

"This is also the type of thinking that has led to the subjegation of women in Judeo-Christian cultures. Women are thought to bear the brunt of god's punishment because Eve "seduced" Adam into eating the apple (Good ol' Adam was too chicken-shit to take responsibility for his own actions and blamed his wife for everything when god confronted them)."

This is to some degree a reply to one of thegecko's responses (partially quoted above) to another post. I find amusement in the parenthetical here, and I've heard that claim before - that women's "temptation" of men renders them deserving of whatever misfortune comes their way. This isn't even a strictly religious tendency either; here in the south I've come across more than enough people who seriously believe a number of fucked up things regarding what women deserve. For example (Microbiologychick shall be assisting in the compilation of this list):
1) getting pregnant a'tall - the male is simply giving in to his "natural" (and therefore blame-free) weaknesses
2) having sex a'tall - consensual or not, women's bodies are public property to be objectified and used as the men see fit; and women are blamed for dressing or acting a particular way if they are attacked, or simply assumed to have desired and enjoyed the attack; the very presence of women leads men into temptation
3) raising shitty children as single mothers - if a kid turns out successful or even ok, it was by the grace of god; if she/he turns out like shit, it must have been because she/he lacked a father
4) feminizing and suffocating their male children - if a male child turns out to be gay, it must have been due to his mother's overnurturing either inside or out of the womb
5) the sinful nature of all of humanity, as explicated by Thegecko
6) the double standard of either being an icy prude worthy of ravishing as a means of enforcing her feminine sexual nature upon her unwilling but desiring body cavity, or a raving slut who's willing to do anything and everything with only you and loving every second of it. The ultimate woman would be a pure virgin (where no man has gone before) who just so happens to know all ins and outs (pun very intended) of perfected penile pleasure.
The list would go on, but we're running out of steam. Addendums are welcomed!

As kind of a side note, I have recognized the dichotomy evident in men's general attitude toward women: as either fuckholes in which to plant their seed; or loving, asexual mother figures who embrace them unconditionally in the face of every atrocity imaginable. I recognize it, but I don't get it. I guess it makes sense if men's sexual drives are repressed by their parents (predominantly by their mothers, as the key teachers of "morality") from infancy on, and they are taught to simultaneous hate, resist, covet, and ravish all women as a group. Thanks, Xianity.

The Fear of Hell

Over the last few days, as I've seen this blog grow, and my atheism ripen and blossom, I've realized that my fear of hell is almost completely gone.

Fear of hell is the strongest tie to religion most people have, of course. When you back a Christian into a corner, all he pulls out is Pascal's Wager. God loves you, but he'll torture you for all eternity if you disbelieve in him, so it's best to stay on his good side, mmmkay? Let's get this straight, shall we? God leaves no evidence of himself anywhere except in direct revelation to a certain small tribe of people in the middle east a few thousand years ago, which has been changed, distorted, and mistranslated since, and he will infinitely torture all people who are skeptical of this story. Not to mention the people who never heard the story in the first place. It sounds so absurd when you put it that way...

But I feared it with a paralyzing fear. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 7 or 8. In my denomination it is "once saved, always saved." This doesn't quell the stress of salvation. Instead of worrying about if we had lost our salvation, we just worried about if we had been "really saved" the first time. Once I began to seriously "sin" sexually, I worried about going to hell all the time. At 16, I both lost my virginity and began driving. This was not a good combination . I became extremely paranoid about having a wreck and dying before I could recite the sinner's prayer. I still hate to drive and pawn it off on anyone else I can.

Even when I knew all the logical arguments against god, the fear had been ingrained in me. I am still not completely rid of it, and I never will be. I now consider scaring children with hell to be religious abuse. It wasn't just the sermons at church, which were never too much fire and brimstone, but those damn chick tracts! My mom had them all plus other comics by him. She didn't make me read them, I was just a curious kid who read anything I got my hands on. Pascal's Wager is stupid as a logical argument, but it's fucking brutal as an emotional argument. If you've been told all your life that these people have the truth, and if you don't do right, you'll go to hell and never see your family again, well, you do what you have to.

This is the fear I grew up with, and that has ruled my life until relatively recently. I am so glad that it finally seems to be waning. I credit a lot of things, but I give a big nod to the people of the Atheist Experience and Non-Prophets for supporting my recovery from Christianity. Without them, I would still be an atheist, but I would be a scared, apologetically defenseless one. I certainly wouldn't have a blog where I wrote strong posts against theism, and said that hell was no longer all that big a deal.

Ethics and Politics

Ok, so the issue of ethics and religion is one that often confuses me the most. I mean, it wasn't until just a few years ago that I learned that priests and monks and other religious-oriented figures have historically been the ones that the masses or elites tend to address whenever an ethical dilemma emerges either personally or politically (I have no set examples, but I believe this is the case). However, this just seemed so incredibly bizarre to me. I mean I might be able to understand some peace-loving, meditating bald guy (yes it's sexist, but so is our history) in a robe to be an authority on moral considerations. But Christians? I mean, I know some Xians (usually Methodists) who do indeed value peace and conflict-resolution and human dignity (although they still tend to strive toward saving my soul out of pity), but even so, the religious doctrine to which they cling seems so chock full of hatred and bigotry... and not just the Old Testament (I'll need an authority figure on Biblical texts to help me out here). Aren't there still talks of damnation and hell and sin and finding the "right" walk of life or whatever? I mean so long as the text is telling people that they're only worthy, they're only of value, they're only loved, they're only good, they're only the ones who matter, if they zealously and unwaveringly commit their entire selves to this folk lore... doesn't that just strike anyone else as not exactly "ethical"? Microbiologychick's last post motivated me into thinking about this, because much of that text does condone rape, genocide, murder, jealousy, etc. And wouldn't that strike someone - anyone on the street really - as not exactly ethical behavior? If so, why is it that religious "experts" are so often revered as the ethical experts?

As a matter of fact, I think Dawkins actually brings up this point in _The God Delusion_. Regardless, I'm still mulling on it.

But wouldn't it make more sense for the ethical experts (if any were to be so labeled in this day and age of politics) to be people who tend to do good? People who tend to help others, seek peace, eradicate power disparities? Yet those people - often denounced as deluded and gullible do-gooders, hippies, and feminazis, respectively - are rarely given much respect or kind words in the public eye. Though this might be getting out of the religious realm and into the political realm. I know the two overlap quite heavily, especially an economic context, but I still might be digressing...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day

It is ridiculously fucking gorgeous here in East Tennessee today. The sun is out, it's 84 degrees, there's a light breeze, the humidity is just right, the trees and grass are fresh and green. In other words, it's one of those "Theist Days."

You know the ones where you'll go outside and start instantly believing in god because it's too beautiful to be random? Yeah, I tried it.

*Walks outside*

Nope, still don't believe in god. Great day, though.

The Miracle


Recently, I was dragged to this play about Jesus by my family. It's called the Miracle and it is put on at the Miracle Theater in Pigeon Forge, TN. Pigeon forge is part of the trifecta of itself, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg. They're little mountain tourist traps with outlet malls, chalets, wedding chapels, kiddie amusement parks and arcades, and now, Christian propaganda.

Millions of dollars have obviously been sunk into this thing. The costumes, sets, and special effects, such as the complicated rigs to make angels fly, are very well done. The plot and acting leave a bit to be desired, however.
The story starts with creation and the fall of Lucifer. True to form, Lucifer/Satan is played by the hottest guy they have. He rebels against god, then angels and demons battle in this big scene where lots of people are flying across the stage. Lucifer goes on to be in every single scene of the whole play, influencing things from the sidelines. He slinks and skulks about until his final defeat after the resurrection of Jesus. The story of course begins with the nativity, and goes through the wedding at Cana, selection of the 12 disciples (satan is shown to specifically skulk about Judas), the baptism of Jesus by John, healing miracles of Jesus, the sermon on the mount, visit by Nicodemus, and the trial, crucifixion, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascention.
Besides the subject matter, there is a lot to dislike about the Miracle. It's a slick propaganda machine meant to separate Bible belt Christian church groups from their money. The ticket itself is overpriced, the concessions are astronomical, and it costs an extra fee to get the autographs and a picture with the "stars" Jesus and Satan. The special effects are good, and the music and singing is good, but the treatment of the stories are shallow, and the acting is pretentious and way overdone. Even the doctrine is suspect in some places (baptist doctrine--what I assume is the target audience.)
Even if I was a Christian, I would not be impressed with this piece of Christian pop culture. It's a damn miracle I could sit through it. Of course, my family loved it and want to bring their church group up to see it as soon as possible.




Monday, July 14, 2008

Hating God

One of the most common claims about atheists (other than we're evil sinners) is that we hate god. The usual reply is that you can't hate something that doesn't exist. Well, yes and no. There is no being "God" that I direct my hatred toward, but I can hate the concept of such a god.

I hate the concept of a god who would create imperfect humanity, tempt them when they don't know the difference between good and evil, and then punish them and their descendents forever because they disobeyed when they didn't even yet know what that was. I hate teh concept of a god who would condone genocide and rape. I hate the concept of a god who would have rebellious teenagers and gay people stoned. I hate the concept of a god who would have the power to create the universe, but not the motivation to intervene in it to prevent suffering. I hate the concept of a god who would punish someone infinitely for a finite crime.

I hate what the concept of a god does to people. I hate how it makes them kill others who do not believe the same things as they do. I hate how it stifles their intellectual curiosity. I hate how it represses their natural sexuality. I hate how it wastes their time and their lives.

So yes, go ahead and accuse me of hating god. If theists were to prove the existence of god tomorrow, their job would not be done. The mere existence of a god (which is so unlikely anyway) does not mean that god would be worthy of worship. Don't tell me about god's plan, unless god's plan is to hide all evidence of himself, allow massive suffering, and just see what happens. In that case, god is just a big kid with ants and a magnifying glass. And we would all be justified in hating him, IF he existed.

So, I don't hate "god," because there isn't one, but I hate the collection of beliefs that the word "god" usually stands for. I hate religion (which might as well be the same thing to most people).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Country Music and religion

I love country music. I’m a southerner, born and raised, and the subject matter of the music is usually very relevant to my life. I also really dislike that it is very acceptable, almost encouraged, to hate country. I hear all the time, “Oh, I like all kinds of music—except country.” Most of these people haven’t even given it a chance.

However, the one thing I do dislike about country is how heavily Christian it is. I confess that I do like a lot of the religious country songs, but the overwhelming amount of it, drilled into my head every time I turn on the radio tends to get to me. Even if a country singer was an atheist, to admit it would be career suicide. Not to even mention singing a skeptical or sacrilegious song.
Take this example of a Josh Turner song:

"Me And God" by Josh Turner featuring Ralph Stanley

There ain't nothin' that can't be done
By me and God
Ain't nobody gonna come between
Me and God
One day we'll live together
Where the angels trod
Me and God

Early in the mornin 'Talkin' it over
Me and God
Late at night Talkin' it over
Me and God
You could say we're like Two peas in a pod
Me and God

He's my father
(And) He's my friend
The beginnin' and the end
He rules the world
With the staff and the rod
We're a team
Me and God

I am weak and, he is strong
Me and God
He forgives me when I'm wrong
Me and God
He's the one I lean on
When life gets hard
Me and God


I think Josh Turner has the sexiest voice, and I like a lot of his other songs, including some of the religious ones. For instance “Long Black Train” is in the style of a traditional gospel song about temptation. I can glean some secular meaning from the message and enjoyment from the very well done musical composition and skillful singing.

However, this song just gets on my nerves. If he really has a relationship with god that includes talking in the early morning and late at night, he needs to get some medication. There is no evidence whatsoever that this being called god exists, yet some people are so deluded as to believe that the thoughts in their brain are emanating from the creator of the universe, who just wants to be their friend. And they call atheists arrogant!

One thing that is also striking about country music is its schizophrenia about faith. Kenny Chesney can get laid and saved in the same song, and proudly say so. Josh Turner has other songs that glorify drinking and sex. It’s an attribute of the South itself that it goes to extremes. It’s ok to sin all you want, as long as you eventually come back to the fold, but god forbid you be ethical atheist!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Atheist Upbringing

So here I am, a born and raised atheist. I find it kind of unfair that we have to base the word "atheist" on the word "theist" to begin with, especially since everyone is born an atheist - we're just often inculcated with a belief in some god or other along the way (that's paraphrasing someone, I can't remember who though).

I don't know if my parents ever outright told me "God does not exist", but I don't think they ever had to. My dad was all about science in various realms - cosmology, astronomy, molecular atomic stuff, etc. Over the years as I grew up, we had many conversations in which he explained the scientific improbability of a Christian god in this universe, and numerous arguments showing the various inconsistencies in the very definition of god (ex: Can god create a rock so heavy that "he" can't lift it? If he can, he's not all powerful because he couldn't lift it; if he can't, he's not all powerful because that's something he wouldn't be able to create). Whenever I'd ask the big kid questions of where did we come from, where'd our universe come from, what happens when you die, etc., I always got the scientific explanations - and they fascinated me! The Big Bang, galaxies, billions of years, evolution... fun stuff. And death was always neat to talk about. I'd ask what it was like to die, and Dad always said I wouldn't feel or think anything after I died; I just wouldn't be. Now I understand it to be something like regressing back in my mind and memories to when I was born, when I didn't know or feel or think anything. And I usually only fear the pain before hand, and the inability to do do stuff afterward. Anyway, I digress...

In the realm of ethics, I was never given any dogmatic "that's just the way things are" or "she/he/I said so"
explanation. They always gave me a reason to do or not do something. It was usually a Golden-Rule type explanation (ought to be called the "Social Rule"), but they never gave it a name. If I stole something, they'd just be like, "Well how would you like it someone stole from you? You wouldn't would you? So why would you do that?" I'd never have a good response, and usually felt guilty afterward, which often did the trick to keep me from doing it again. Same story if I was outside and squashed a bug for no reason - "How would you like to get squashed when you're just walking around minding your own business?"

My parents never kept me from going to church with friends when I was invited to (and I was invited a lot). I just thought it was a thing for friends to do, and most of the time the stuff that was said in the churches never made sense to me. They kept using words in various contexts I didn't understand "our lord, Jesus Christ, Heaven and Earth, Kingdom come." I just kind of sat through it confused until I could get out and talk with my friends again. I'd usually talk about it with my parents afterward, and we'd sometimes have discussions about it. Both parents would explain to me that my friends were probably trying to convert me, which is what they think they ought to do, according to their religion. It took a few years before I understood that completely. And when I was old enough to start trying to defend my atheism, some of my friendships were queered. I'd often talk about these situations with my parents, and they would offer consolation and tell me that it's possible to have friends with different beliefs than my own, but sometimes it doesn't work out.

My parents were never able to keep me from being exposed to religious hoowah completely, especially with our location (western Kentucky for the first 7 years, and back and forth between there and western Virginia for 11 after that). But they always talked with me about the various things I'd hear in school and elsewhere about religion, asking me what I thought about it. I think I did tell them once that it would be nice consolation to think that there was someone out there who always loved you and would never turn you away. I think they agreed with me - that it would be nice. But then they asked how I would be able to feel that love and acceptance. How would I know I was always loved and never turned away if god could never hug me or console me? If I could never feel him or see him or talk with him? Would it be worth believing in something that seems so untrue just to comfort myself, instead of facing the world as it is with all its imperfections, and learning to find comfort within it; comfort that I can feel?

I can see an argument coming from the other side about people who are starving, people who have lost their entire family in some tragic accident, people who would have much more difficulty finding comfort in the real world than in a fictitious world in their minds. And I would say that those people in need have all the right in the world to find comfort wherever they can damn well find it. But that seems to be proof that such comfort says nothing about the world, and everything about our psychology. I digress again...

Well that's all I can think to talk about for the moment. I welcome questions or criticisms from all who read this; I've never had an opportunity to talk about this stuff with strangers before, and I don't know exactly what you all might want to know. I am certainly eager for feedback though.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Separation of school and Church

I’ve told y’all a little about the culture I grew up in, so just for shits and giggles I decided to list every violation of the first amendment’s establishment clause that occurred during my schooling (the ones I remember, anyway)

· My high school only stopped having prayer over the intercom in 2000, when the supreme court ruled against prayer at football games

· In 5th grade, the Gideons brought Bibles to my class. The teacher stressed that we didn’t have to take them, but it is still illegal to distribute them.

· In Jr. High, a few teachers gave extra credit for attending talks at churches or other large-scale religious activities that had no educational component

· There was an official prayer at my high school graduation

· In home economics class, we were forced to write a paper on why abstinence was the best prevention for teen pregnancy, even if we supported comprehensive sex ed and birth control use

· The Christian club in Jr. High gave a play during school hours. Arrangements were made for students who did not want to attend to congregate under supervision in another area, but in practice, many teachers did not fool with letting the one or two objecting students per class go to the other area.

· On a Jr. High school-sponsored Spring Break trip, prayer happened before meals on several occasions.

· We had a Bible History class that was not critical or neutral, and we used a textbook created for Christian schools

· We had a party in Bible History and the teacher prayed before we ate

· In High school Pre-Calculus class, there was a student whose father died. He decided to come to school anyway for emotional support. Our teacher led the class in prayer with him.

· I got in trouble with the school counselor, and she spoke to my dad at church instead of having an official school conference. (This may not technically be a violation, but I think it’s unprofessional)

· Local youth ministers visited the school during lunch to eat with their students (this isn’t technically a violation, but in practice, they were more freely given guest passes than other groups)

There are probably many more…

Christ on a Cracker...

I suppose many of you have heard of the college kid in Florida who took a host from a Catholic church and "held it hostage" for several days. He got death threats and generally caused a commotion. Bill Donohue nearly had a stroke, I do believe. Shame about that. The "nearly" part, I mean.

Of course, PZ Myers weighed in by promising to descecrate a host, and is now a target of a crusade to get him fired.

Of all the religious stupidities, transubstantiation ranks right up there for absolute insanity. For those of you who do not know(and I never did, as a Southern Baptist), Catholics actually believe that the cracker taken at mass becomes the body of Jesus Christ. It is not symbolic. To do anything else with the cracker besides eat it is the worst sin imaginable.

Think about that. Every Sunday, little bits of Jesus all over the world are being eaten by millions of Catholics. Jesus must be fucking morbidly obese. Several hours later, little bits of Jesus are also being pooped out by millions of catholics, but I'm not sure how they deal with that question. People have killed others for questioning that crackers magically turn into Jesus flesh for ritual cannibalism. Surely religion is a force for evil in the world.

I'm only a little conflicted on whether I support this type of sacrilage. Yeah, it doesn't do atheists any favors, but it is great fun. People who are so far gone as to worship god in a cracker arent't going to come over to the side of reason anyway. There's a line between being nice to people and giving religion a pass. There is no reason I have to be respectful of such an absurd belief. Interestingly, I would have had the same opinion as a southern baptist. My family thought Catholics were not Christians, so descecrating the host would have been fine.

If I had enough motivation, I would procure a host and post pics of its torture. I think infecting Jesus with some bacteria would be good, then possibly a trip in the autoclave and eventual disposal in the low-level radioactive waste. I think that would save my seat in hell, don't you think?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Atheist Reading


I almost forgot about the other book I bought: a George Carlin Compilation. This gem was only $13 at Barnes and Noble. It was on a bargain table and there were tons of them left, which was quite surprising.
We lost a great guy.

Atheist Reading



Well, I finished Bonk by Mary Roach today and had to look for some new reading.
I bought God:The Failed Hypothesis by By Victor Stenger



And I finally bought the God Delusion



The cover of the God Delusion is so shiny you can practically blind someone with it. I really don't want to be flashing a "burn me at the stake" sign like that, so it will probably be a "home only" book.



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Atheist Label

Atheist, Atheist, Atheist, Athiest (oops..)

I don't think I've typed the word as many times in the rest of my life as I have in the past day or so. It has been a good exercise in desensitization. I am becoming more and more comfortable consciously labeling myself with this word.

But some people don't like to use the word, and that is understandable. The kneejerk reaction of a typical southern baptist to the utterance of the word in relation to oneself is usually an unintelligible foment of Pascal's wager, argument from incredulity, slurs against Darwin, and a sprinkling of first cause. "Atheist" as a description is often uttered in the same tone as one might say "he's an alcoholic" or "he's a Bama fan." :) We also have the honor of being the least trusted minority in America and the governor of Texas thinks we are like thugs and criminals.



It isn't just the devout that react with alarm to a declaration of atheism. A lot of people do not attend church regularly, "sin" frequently, generally give no thought to religion, and for all intents and purposes live their lives as functional atheists, yet if you should dare question the existence of god, they react as strongly as a rabid fundamentalist.



I think the main problem theists have with atheism is another A-word: arrogance. How dare we have the audacity to question? Who do we think we are that we are smarter than the reigning authority? why do we want to fuck with their little perfect preconceived world? We claim to do all this in the pure name of truth? Screw Truth. They want a comforting lie.



If there is no god, then you are totally responsible for your own life. There are no guarantees that everything will be alright in the end. Life isn't fair. You are not special. Your consciousness will be dust in the wind when you die. In time, no one will remember you, and even the earth you walk upon will be annihilated. There is no lawgiver to base your moral decisions on. Religious people have an intuitive grasp of the implications of atheism, and it scares them.

Is it any wonder that people grasp at spiritual straws? That sounds depressing as hell. I almost need to convince myself again that Truth and reality are values I hold dear. In contrast to a fatalistic "life is meaningless without god" attitude, it strengthens my resolve to make this the best life I can. It makes the prospect of wasting time on false idols to be abhorrent.

Atheists, as a group, need to proudly wear the label. We need to change the perception of atheists as one from evil, immoral, arrogant bastards to one of truth-loving, good people that live meaningful lives, and just happen to not believe in god. The only way this will happen is for good people to use the atheist label for themselves. For those of us who cannot wear it openly, there are the selfless scapegoats, such as the people of the Atheist Experience,who take the punishment for us, and in the process make it safer for us to come out someday.

I'm Excited!

I'm giddy as hell! I was mentioned on the Atheist Experience blog, there are comments on here, and Philosophychick has taken time out of her vacation to post! This thing is barely 24 hours old and it has exploded.

I guess I'll have to write some shit now...

Intro

Salutations,

My name is Philosophychick (compliments of Microbiologychick), and I too am an atheist, but being also a feminist, I'll call myself a woman rather than a girl, at least in this intro. I'm an undergrad doubling in Philosophy and Women's Studies, and this is my first blog participation ever, so wish me luck. I was born and raised in Kentucky and Virginia by two atheists who sloughed off religion on their own separate terms before meeting each other. Therefore, I was privileged in that I had essentially no dogmatic inculcations growing up; they were both math professors and preferred to explain why I should or shouldn't believe or do or prefer certain things. I think it's worked out nicely for me so far, although it took me a while to sort out my ethics on lying... you know, weighing the pros and cons of lying for the sake of happiness, versus creating sadness for the sake of the truth. Having possessed beaucoups of empathy and a detest for conflict my whole life, the dilemma was somewhat difficult for me to work through.

Peace,
Philosophychick

There is no Vitamin God

As I said in my last post, atheism is a lack of belief in God. Sometimes when I am feeling down, I call it a deficiency of god-belief.

In the south, I am cocooned in religion. I was born in the prong of the buckle of the Bible Belt. Christianity is assumed for everyone. The air is thick with humidity and Jesus. People wear it on their sleeve like the snot of the worst cold you ever had. It is a virulent meme that infects the brain and crowds out all reason. It is like the worst epidemiological nexus of virulence, susceptibility, and environment with no vaccine or treatment.*

My family would like nothing better than for me to settle down, marry a good Christian boy, pop out a couple of kids, live in their small town, and go to their church. Then my progeny would perpetuate the cycle until kingdom come. My family has supported my education thus far, but I can tell that they are growing weary of my singleness, joblessness, and general unsettledness. (I'm 23 and in grad school, for no-god's sake!) The culture of my small town is such that I could win the fucking Nobel Prize and people would still talk about the fact that I was unmarried and childless. If they knew I was an atheist, they would consider the honor completely worthless, as it profits nothing to gain the whole world and lose my soul.

It is at times like these that I wonder if I would take a cure for atheism. If it is a deficiency, then just take a Vitamin God and everything will be all right.

I'm glad there is no Vitamin God, though because:

I CARE WHETHER OR NOT MY BELIEFS ARE TRUE.



(Credit for this concept goes to Matt Dillahunty, of the Atheist Experience, and more on it later)

*Concerning South-bashing, I can talk bad about my family. When yankees do it, I feel like starting the civil war again. The rest of the country is by no means a utopia of godlessness.

What is an Atheist?

So what the hell is an atheist, really?
This question has been done to death, (just see my blogroll or a google search for some in-depth discussions of the subject), but I thought I'd take a stab at it anyway.

An atheist lacks belief in god(s), by the majority of definitions of the word "god."

I don't believe in a white-bearded man in the sky throwing down lightning bolts. I don't believe in a being that created the world 6000 years ago in the Garden of Eden. I don't believe in a force that consciously and knowingly set off the Big Bang billions of years ago. I don't believe that Jesus, if he existed, was a special, divine person. I don't believe in an impersonal presence or "essence" in nature that is divine. I don't believe in Jehovah, Shiva, Allah, Krishna, Zeus, Athena, Isis, Ishtar, Yahweh, etc...

I do not claim that these gods or any others do not exist, just that I have no evidence or belief in them. Some atheists would claim that gods do not exist, and that position can be called "strong" atheism. 'Weak" atheism is much more common. If you do not have a clear, definitive belief in a god or godlike higher power, then YOU ARE AN ATHEIST, no matter what you want to call yourself.

Religious Upbringing/Sex and Atheism

I was born and raised Southern Baptist. My parents went to church every week. My grandparents went to church every week. Two of my great-grandfathers were preachers. My family is steeped in Christianity. We eat, drink, and breathe it with services Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. There was choir, GA's, RA's Acteens, Bible studies, VBS, youth group, etc... How then is it that I am an atheist?

SEX!!!

To be fair, that is not the only reason, but I think many atheists discount the power of a youth's emerging sexuality to break through the religious stranglehold. Christians often accuse atheists of wanting to sin, and in my case, it was true. Before and during the onset of puberty, I had no reason to doubt the existence of god and Jesus. With the advent of strong sexual feeling, I desired to sin greatly. I still believed in god, even as I willfully disobeyed. It was the positive experiences of good, healthy sex that led me to the conclusion that this philosophy of Christianity and this Bible were dead wrong. It was only after a sexual awakening that an intellectual awakening could occur.

I realize that many other atheists came to atheism by a strictly intellectual path, with doubt early in childhood. My path was different, with lust and confrontational blasphemy as its source. As a teen, I reveled in sex, pseudosatanism, and goth culture as I proclaimed disbelief in the Christian kids' god. I was not the best poster child for atheism. But isn't that the point? Even if I had a 'sinful" motive for not believing in god, I still didn't believe in god.
Christians and other theists still need to present evidence for their claims. Decrying atheist's sexual ethics is not evidence of anything. Nowadays, I can give you a few dozen lofty, intellectual reasons that christianity is crap, but that doesn't matter. All it took to dethrone Christianity in my life was plain, natural horniness in the face of a book and a philosophy that said the body and sexual feelings were evil and sinful.

Atheists need to be less defensive about the claim that lust plays a part in atheism. Hell, yeah, we're lustful. We're human! The disconnect between the Bible and biology is only one of the reasons atheists reject religion, but it may have been the one that popped the cherry. :)

Introduction

Hey Everyone,

I am Microbiologychick, one of the Atheist Girls (I'll let my friend Philosophychick introduce herself later). I am a grad student in microbiology and I study S. aureus. I was born and raised in Tennessee in a Southern Baptist home. Thankfully, I threw that crap out quite a while ago. I thought I'd try my hand at blogging and see if anybody wants to read the stuff I come up with. Certainly few people around here want to hear about it.

Thanks,

Microbiologychick