a reluctant atheist

I'm an atheist who wishes she wasn't. Life would be so much easier!


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Miracles or Fairy Tales?

I don’t usually write about anything so personal, but I just have to vent. My father is terminally ill and the doctor recently told the family that there is no hope that he will ever recover. He said we had to prepare ourselves for the fact that he will pass away in the next few weeks. My sisters and I have known this was coming for a long time. It was obvious to everyone but my mother, who clung to false hope. The doctor’s brutal outline of what the end would be like and how we could minimize his discomfort was just what she needed to hear.

Then the priest showed up. He prayed with my mother. He placed his hands on my father and prayed for a miracle.

man and wheelchairThen he regaled my mother with a personal story of a woman who was declared brain dead and who was in a coma for months, then woke up. He hailed it as a miracle from God. He told her that miracles happen every day. Now my mother doesn’t want to remove him from his respirator or acknowledge that my father is no longer present in the shell of a body he has. He is in constant pain but can’t talk, eat food (he has a feeding tube) or even move his own body.

I wanted to smack that priest right in the face for pedaling false hope to my mother! She was prepared for my father to die until her priest came in with his tales of modern-day miracles. So my mother is praying for a miracle that won’t happen. And then what? She’ll think she didn’t pray hard enough. Or that my father wasn’t a good enough person to deserve a miracle. And when he passes on, she will be devastated all over again!

Miraculous tales of recovery aren’t soothing or inspirational when the patient is terminal or the patient is non-responsive. It is a castle of sand and it will be washed away with my mother’s tears of shock and disappointment. I hate what this priest has done to my mother.


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New occasional series: “So You’re Going on a Mission!”

“Investigators?” Really? They certainly know how to couch their mission goals in interesting but inaccurate terms!’

Question With Boldness

I was at my local library recently, and as I often do I wandered over to see what was on the book sale shelf.  Often it’s just boring stuff, but this time I found this gem, just waiting for me.

So You're Going on a Mission

It’s a book aimed at young Mormon teens, to help them prep for going out on their two year mission.   And it published in, get this, 1968.  NINETEEN SIXTY-EIGHT!  Do I buy it?  It’s only fifty cents, how do I resist?

I don’t think I’m really up for reading this all at one go, or for a full blow-by-blow of every chapter, but I think it would be fun to keep around and every once in awhile tackle a chapter and share a few gems and bits of unrealistic or outdated wisdom.  (It’s not that this blog is specifically targeted at Mormons, I find all religions fairly ridiculous, but…

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36310202 - the words "prayer request" written in vintage wooden letterpress type.


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The Hypocrisy is All Mine

 

I’ve written in the past about why I’m so impatient with lip service Christians, judgmental Christians and others who profess faith in a loving God but who do lots of things that are antithetical to a loving, accepting existence. But if I am going to criticize others, I have to admit to my own flaws. I’m a hypocrite as well. I pretend to be something I’m not in order to “blend in” with the Christians around me.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t attend church and sings hymns (although I still miss the uplifting music and beautiful songs). I don’t identify myself as a Christian – primarily because in this part of the country, it’s pretty much a given that you are some kind of Christian. If you aren’t, it’s assumed you are Jewish. So I keep my mouth shut and soldier on in my community, keeping my beliefs under wraps.

The real hypocrisy happens primarily on social media. When I’m not writing about my beliefs on this blog, I’m on Facebook to keep track of my grown children and grandchildren, old friends from my hometown, and new friends where I live now. I post nearly every day and I see dozens of posts on my wall every day; many of them are asking me to “Say ‘Amen’ and Share,” or request prayers for loved ones who are sick or going through a difficult time.

7191146 - group of girls and senior woman praying together

When friends bow their heads to pray, do you do the same or do you step away?

I confess that I didn’t know what to do in these instances for the longest time. If I don’t reply with my promise to pray for them, they may feel that I don’t care. It’s obviously not the right time to tell them I don’t believe in God, prayer or angels (why add to their grief?). But sending back a message that says, “I’m praying for you and your family,” seems glib and diminishes their beliefs. It’s not my mission to convert those I love to atheism. If they find peace in their God, who am I to take that away from them? To me, their belief system is harmless until it becomes bigotry or judgment of others.

I’ve tried lots of ways to respond to requests for prayers. “Healing thoughts are headed your way.” “You are in my thoughts.” “Please tell your husband/wife/child/parent that they are loved.”  I’ve never found the ideal response. If I can help in some way, I often say, “Please tell me what you need from me and I will do all I can to help.” Taking action in some way is in some small way my answer to their prayers.

How do you respond to prayer requests? Do you keep your atheism to yourself or take the opportunity to educate true believers in the folly (in your opinion) of their ways? Am I a hypocrite for not revealing my lack of faith to those I know and care about, or am  I preserving my relationships with those I love?

 

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An Atheist who loves gospel music?

This article spoke to me on an elemental level. I’ve said before in my posts that I miss the church, but not the religion. I think A Borderline Atheist captures this very well. I also love the music. In fact, church music is some of the most beautiful music in the world, capturing a swelling, joyful sense of belief and glory.

Borderline Atheist

maxresdefault   Yes, You read the title correctly I am an atheist who loves gospel music. Ok, love might be a strong word, but I do enjoy gospel music, both the traditional gospel music and also R&B and Hip-hop/rap infused with gospel. Example Chance the Rapper’s latest mixtape “Coloring Book”, I’ve been listing to that nonstop, even though the theme of most the songs are about god. There’s even a line where Chance says …”I don’t believe in science, I believe in signs.” I don’t like this line, but I love this song, the song also starts off with the gospel song “How Great is Our God”, but I still love the song. That song and other rap/gospel, R&B/gospel, and gospel songs are full of energy,positivity  and soul. That’s why I like gospel music so much. When I listen to gospel I don’t really pay attention to all the praise…

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FSM


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It’s Pastafarianism, Baby!

As an atheist, I obviously don’t subscribe to a religion, but if I had to choose one, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, sometimes referred to as Pastafarianism, would be the one. Yes, it’s satirical. Yes, it’s meant to poke holes in the logic (or lack thereof) of many other religions, but it’s also peaceful, irreverent and fun. You don’t often get to say “fun” when you’re talking fundamentalism. Also, no one has ever been injured or killed in the name of the Spaghetti Monster.

Check out their website: Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, where you’ll learn that a colander on your head and greeting other members with a Pirate greeting (Argh!) are two ways to show your belief in Pastafarianism. Some people will be offended, pointing out that it makes light of others’ beliefs. It does. But in a way that’s not judgmental, and certainly not violently or aggressively, like so many other religions do. You’ll never see a Flying Spaghetti Monster rally that devolves into use of pepper spray or hurling racist insults.

In fact, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster first began as a protest against the concept of Intelligent Design. The Church of FSM’s website says, “Some claim that the church is purely a thought experiment or satire, illustrating that Intelligent Design is not science, just a pseudoscience manufactured by Christians to push Creationism into public schools. These people are mistaken — The Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental.” Browse through the site and decide for yourself – I think it’s a gentle way to point out the many problems inherent in other religions.

FSM

I want to be touched by his noodly appendage

If I had to have a deity watching over me these days, the Flying Spaghetti monster would be the one I’d choose. He (she?) seems to be pretty chill, and won’t condemn me for being too much or too little of a Pastafarian. He also doesn’t demand funds, expect me to act in any way like a zealot, and is totally benign. The FSM is in, fact, quite cheery and welcomes all.

In the words of Bobby Henderson, who wrote the “About” section of the FSM website, “Let me make this clear: we are not anti-religion, we are anti- crazy nonsense done in the name of religion. There is a difference.” I whole-heartedly agree with him.

May all the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s people say, “Ramen!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Fatal Church Shooting Highlights Problems of Organized Religion

Although I’m an atheist/agnostic, I attend church with my family when I visit them because I know that over the centuries, organized religious groups have done both a great deal of good and a great deal of harm. As they grow older, their church gives my parents both solace and hope. Religious organizations also do a great deal of good in third world countries as well as at home in the name of God. Not everyone is a hypocrite. The vast majority of people who do good in the name of their God are sincere, just misguided.

But I’m skeptical of many churches and organizations based on how I’ve seen them operate. Members and administrators who are benefiting far more than the people they are professing to serve are all over television and the Internet. I’ll be honest, the great acts of kindness and the many good things that religious groups are often overlooked because that isn’t “news.” Sometimes I ask myself whether I’ve just become too jaded to look at religion objectively.

Shooting at Church Erupts Over Seating in Pews

Welcome to our church! We're so glad you came!

Welcome to our church! We’re so glad you came!

Then the news hands me a story that is the perfect example of why organized religion bothers me. Mark T. Storms shot Robert Braxton in church after Braxton and and a couple sitting behind him argued over seating in the pews. Let me repeat that. Mark T. Storms shot a man in church when he and a church guest argued over seating in the pews. In a place of sanctuary, a man who presumably came to worship and pray was gunned down in front of parishioners, including children. Neither man handled the situation well. According to news reports, when two people sitting behind him indicated he was sitting in reserved seats, the victim began cursing and became volatile. Over the seating arrangements and whether he could remain seated in that particular pew.

Jesus Christ, people! (I do take the Lord’s name in vain, yes. It’s how I was raised and is often the only way I can express my frustration or anger to people who have the same religious background that I do. Saying “Oh fiddlesticks” or “Dang it” just doesn’t carry the heft that “God damn it!” carries)

So, in a place of supposed sanctuary, these Godly events unfolded:

  • Members were reserving their seats with bibles so that they could have the best seats in the house once the service started. Really? Where you were seated was so important that you had to have a placeholder keeping others away from highly coveted seats? So you were there to see and be seen more than you were there to worship.
  • Other church members felt that keeping those reserved seats for their friends was more important than welcoming Braxton  and making him feel at home.
  • The shooter routinely carried a concealed weapon in a church and others knew about this and approved of it. How is this “sanctuary?”
  • Braxton responded to Storms’ show of force by punching the man in the jaw rather than walking away.
  • Storms responded to a punch in the face by shooting Braxton in the chest, a move practically guaranteed to kill him.
  • Parishioners and Mark T. Storms noted that he had flashed his weapon in the past in order to “defuse” escalating disagreements. Just how many disagreements does this church have in the pews, on Sundays, that require a show of deadly force?

So my increasingly low opinion of organized religion has once again been validated by the horrendous actions of professed Christians. I realize that many people will say that the Braxon/Storms shooting isn’t a good example (and I won’t argue with that!) because it isn’t a representative example. They will protest that there are many fine churches out there, and I’m sure that’s correct. But it doesn’t change the fact that in this instance, there were many forces in play that reflect badly on the concept of organized religion:

  • The church knew that at least one parishioner carried a concealed weapon and never thought to put a “no weapons in church” policy
  • The argument erupted because members were saving seats like it was a concert or school cafeteria.
  • Some members were more worried about the seating arrangements than about reaching out and welcoming another person.
  • Both Braxton and Storms escalated a situation that shouldn’t even have become an issue.

Four things were noticeably lacking last week in that church – Christian charity, Christian love, a sense of welcome and the ability to “turn the other cheek.” All hail organized religion.


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It’s One of My Best Days, No Thanks to God

You’ve probably seen the image and quote below more than once on Facebook, on inspirational calendars or on posters:

your-worst-day-with-god-will-be-better-than-your-best-day-without-him

This image courtesy of Quotepedia

I just don’t get it; let me amend that. I DID get it, back when I was a believer. My church had convinced me, my pastor had convinced me, my friends had convinced me. Hell, I’d even convinced myself, that by relying on God, even my worst days would feel safe and hopeful. On the other hand, if I didn’t believe in God, even days of happiness and joy would feel meaningless and flat without God’s presence.

It wasn’t until I began questioning whether God even existed that I stopped to think about why I’d felt so secure  and hopeful when things were darkest in my life. I realized that part of that feeling of peace and certitude that things would get better depended on the conviction of those around me. They all believed, and they all had tales of when they had gone through dark times in their life. They averred that it was God that sustained them and pulled them through. They were confident in the power of prayer.

Looking back, I know that I had fallen into that mystical tale of God’s power and abundance and claimed it as a sort of shield around me. In the back of my mine, I felt that there MUST be a God supporting me because I was sure I wasn’t strong enough to get through those dark days on my own.

This is when I began to ask questions. Why didn’t I think I was strong enough? Because the church doesn’t want us to believe that we can be strong on our own. The church teaches us that we are weak vessels shored up by God. And it also suggests that enjoying the good days in life couldn’t be satisfying without God’s presence. It’s a great way to keep us on the hook no matter what our circumstances are.

But I’ve discovered just the opposite. On my best days, I enjoy life even more because I know I got there on my own. I can share my happiness with my family and friends without constantly murmuring, “God is good. I thank God every day for what he’s done….” I am confident that whatever I’ve achieved has been earned through my own merits and every gift I’ve received has been either serendipity, the result of the good will of others or just the way the universe works. And the universe isn’t personal. It doesn’t lift us up or hold us down. It won’t be angry when we don’t give homage to it. It’s the most freeing feeling in the world.

A friend told me that her belief in God frees her in that same way. She calls it “laying it all on the altar of God.” I don’t get this. It’s turning over all the power in your life to a higher power. She finds this idea reassuring; I find it terrifying. It means turning over all control over your life to a mysterious entity who seems to make decisions arbitrarily about whether you’re going to have a good day or a bad day. I guess it’s that “no one can fully understand the mind of God,” answer that really gets to me. If you don’t understand him and have no idea what he will do for you, why would you worship him?

I’m pretty sure that my good days are good because of my own efforts, my family, my co-workers…a combination of powerful forces working together. And I know that my worst days are more hopeful than they were when I was a believer. Why? Because in Christianity there is a pervasive, whispered belief that if things are going wrong for you, it’s because you must have done something wrong. It isn’t spoken out loud and it’s not put into such clear words, but it’s there. I certainly wondered if things would get better if I prayed more, gave more or practiced charity more.

Later, I came to realize that I was no longer interested in bargaining with God or giving him all the credit for my life. There are plenty of people I thank for what they’ve done for me, but none of them lives in the clouds dispensing arbitrary pain and comfort.