a reluctant atheist

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


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What Does Vision Mean to You?

Today’s Daily Post writing prompt is “Vision,” and for the first time I’m going to try and write about a single word in my blog. Vision is a word packed with emotion and charged with possibilities, but it can mean something quite different from one person to another.

In secular terms, “vision” is often used to indicate that an employee or company has a firm grip on what the future of an entity should be. “That company as a vision for our future,” or “That woman has vision; she’ll go far in this business.” Vision seems to be mixed in with ambition, talent and drive. After all, if you don’t have the cojones to follow through with your vision, what good would it be? So vision in a secular sense is tied up with a lot of action words.

Vision of Mary

If I saw a vision like this, I’d probably faint. When I woke up, I’d make an appointment with a neurologist and a psychiatrist. I would NOT become Joan of Arc.

In the church circles I grew up in, “vision” was a word packed with religious portent. A vision of God, a vision of what my Christian life should be, and on occasion a believer would claim that they had a vision of heaven or a vision of Christ visiting them, whether in dreams, when they were praying, etc. Visions of saints are indications of divine grace, but these visions aren’t part of the individual’s own personality. These kinds of visions happen to a person, they aren’t created by that person. A religious vision is passively accepted by the recipient, not created by him or her. In fact, most people who have these visions reject them at first, whether out of fear, confusion or simply not wanting to be seen as crazy. There are a few people who seem to have religious visions with alarming regularity and embrace them. These are the leaders of certain churches that rely on this kind of divine intervention to guide them. They are, thankfully, few and far between because the more aggressive or pro-active a charismatic visionary is, the more passive and accepting their followers seem to become.

But I have a different definition of “vision.” It may be closer to the secular definition, but is more personal. I work hard and my boss will occasionally tell me that he admires my vision for his company. I don’t dispute his belief that I do have ideas for his business, but they are just that – ideas.

For me, vision is about looking toward the future and seeing possibilities. It’s more personal than a vision for a company or group and less certain than the visions claimed by the devoted visionaries of religious groups. I don’t know whether my visions will ever come to pass, but they bring me hope that I will improve and grow as time goes on. I have a vision, for instance, that I will one day be able to stand up firmly for all my personal beliefs without fear of disappointing or angering my family. My visions give me goals that I can work toward in the here and now. If I’m lucky, my visions will come true, but only if I actively work toward them.

My personal definition of  vision is many things – it is hopeful, it is personal, and it moves me forward. It will never be passive; it will spur me toward a better, brighter future that is right for me. I have a vision, for instance, that I will one day be able to stand up firmly for all my personal beliefs without fear of disappointing or angering my family. My visions give me goals that I can work toward in the here and now. If I’m lucky, my visions will come true, but only if I actively work toward them.

For me, a vision is many things – it is hopeful, it is personal, and it moves me forward. It will never be passive; it will spur me toward a better, brighter future that is right for me.

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No, I’m Not Thanking God

I saw a reporter on TV a few weeks back who was interviewing a woman who had survived a tornado that had flattened her house. She was standing amidst the rubble of her home and telling a miraculous story of how her whole family survived by hunkering down in a drainage  ditch.

The reporter was hanging on her every word, then said in a chipper voice, “You must be thanking God today that everyone is alright.” When the woman made a non-committal reply, the reporter pressed on, saying, “When you say your prayers tonight, I’m sure you’ll be thanking him for his protection in such dire circumstances.”

destroyed house

Thanking God for this? Really?  Yes, it could have been worse. It could have also been a damn site better!

The woman looked him square in the eyes and, despite being exhausted and a bit shell-shocked, she said clearly, “Actually, I’m an atheist.” Bravo! She stood up to be counted as part of that often silent group that is growing every day – avowed atheists who aren’t afraid to tell others that they are non-believers.

The reporter seemed startled. He didn’t know how to respond and was flustered. He quickly changed the subject to the rebuilding efforts already underway in the small town.

This reporter’s suggestions that the survivor of the hurricane should be thanking God for her survival is just the kind of insidious religion seeping into the news and politics every day. Being unbiased is part of the man’s job description! Yet he inserted God into the equation and was quickly rebuffed by the woman he was interviewing. We need to see more of this and less of reporters bringing God into the news reports. Divine intervention is a belief, not a fact. In theory, the news is an impartial reporting of the facts of a case, but we often get Fox news instead.


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The Evolution of Evolution

True to the greatest scientific theories of the past, the theory of evolution espoused by Darwin is itself evolving. Some people point to this as an indication that evolution is still more theory than fact. But it IS a scientific fact. It’s been proven by science and biology time and again.image

What evolution is NOT is an end-game explanation. Like the evolution of nature, theories evolve and change over time as new information and increased understanding add to the foundation. But nothing discovered so far has wiped away the fact of evolution itself. That’s why it is so important to continue looking at new theories of evolution. It builds on a strong foundation and helps us understand the many facets of evolution that are still taking place today and moving us into the future.

In a recent issue of New Scientist, an article declares, Darwin’s theory must itself be allowed to evolve.” It’s an eloquent explanatio of why atheists and agnostics must not let the theory of evolution keep them from exploring what lies beyond evolution. It’s a reminder that even when it is based on fact, a beautiful theory can calcify into dogma, just like religion.

You can read the complete article here:  Long Live Evolution


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“Like if You Agree, Share to Say ‘Amen!'”

Facebook is a treasure trove of religious beliefs and shared emotions. For this atheist, sometimes there is too much sharing of beliefs, particularly when those beliefs are either misguided or just plain wrong. I’m talking about the millions of postings every day that are accompanied by tag lines that say some variation of “Like if You Agree, Share to Say ‘Amen!'”

It’s not that I mind people sharing a story with religious connotations or a personal account of their own faith journey. Reading sincere stories of faith have moved me more than once, even though I don’t personally believe. I think everyone should be able to share their beliefs with their friends and family. I don’t mind them asking others to like or share their personal testament. What I do object to are the posts that take it one step farther by saying, “Share this prayer/mantra/blessing to be blessed with health/wealth/success!” or veiled threats such as “If you scroll past this post without sharing, you’re denying Jesus.”

Amen Meme

This meme from memegen.com sums up my feelings pretty well.

I realize that many will say that since I don’t have faith myself, I have no right to criticize how others practice theirs. But I did have faith for years, and when I was moving from faith to agnosticism and beyond, I studied the bible, read dozens of books from both sides of the faith equation and talked to more than a few pastors. These admonishments to demonstrate faith by reposting prayers or testimonies smack of the worst kind of superstition. They infer that if you jump through specific hoops you’ll reap the rewards offered by God. I have several problems with this.

  1. God isn’t Santa Claus or a Fairy Godmother. He doesn’t grant wishes to the people who repost the tritest sayings on Facebook. It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t buy your way into heaven or a state of grace.
  2. God doesn’t reward people based on how many Facebook posts they put up or whether they share every prayer or bible verse that shows up on their wall. This would completely negate two very important religious underpinnings – Justification through Faith and Salvation through Christ. Neither of these beliefs requires that believers “earn” blessings.
  3. I hate the undertones of guilt in many of these posts, particularly the ones that say some variation of, “I bet most of you will scroll by this. But if you are a true believer, you will show the world by having the courage to share this.” These posts insinuate that you aren’t really a good Christian/Jew/Muslim/Buddhist/Believer unless you are willing to follow through. There is already so much guilt tied to religion, do people really have to drag it onto Facebook? It’s manipulative.
  4. These posts are often just as much about the egos of the people posting. They post these prayers or statements of faith as a sort of badge of honor reminding the world how powerful their faith is. They are trumpeting it from the mountain top of social media. But I thought faith was supposed to be the opposite of boastful.

It bothers me that many of the people I love take these posts seriously. They feel judged or like they are falling short if they are honest and say they are tired of seeing these kinds of posts. If you are a believer and want someone to pray for you, by all means, ask them. But ask them in an email, over the phone or in person. Posting or reposting an impersonal photograph with a few generic bible verses or words of pray is neither sincere nor effective. And it opens up people who don’t share or repost to questions about their faith, often from virtual strangers.

I’ve actually had people ask me why I don’t repost or share their many prayer postings. I reply that I don’t normally re-share any posts of a religious or political nature. Which is true, but only partly. The whole truth is that I don’t believe in the power of these requests, but I don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone in this respect. So please, don’t ask me to like, comment, share or say “Amen.” If I want to pray, proselytize or preach to others, I’ll do it personally and I won’t plaster it all over an impersonal Facebook page. These posts are the kind of lip service to genuine faith that I associate it with people who only attend church on major holidays or who attend church more to be seen than to learn something.

So when others post, “Like if You Agree, Share to Say, ‘Amen,'” I don’t have any qualms passing them by without action on my part other than to hide them on my own Page. I won’t be perpetuating this magical thinking.


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The Devil is Loose in a School in Colorado

I sighed when I read a recent article on the Patheos website entitled, “Due to Bible Distribution, a Colorado Elementary School Will Now Give Away Satanic Coloring Books.” It’s like the ultra-right wing, conservative Christians can’t help themselves. They have to start stirring up shit until they get what they want, then they discover to their horror that it’s backfired on them. They’ve been down this path before in both Florida and California, and probably several other states as well.

How do they not grasp that freedom of religion in the schools means you have to either present all sides of the religious debate to students or none of the sides? The outrage that the inclusion of coloring books from the Satanic Temple in this small, Colorado town would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. What did they expect when they tried to cram their beliefs down the throats of children who weren’t their own? What about children at the school who might be Jewish, Bhuddist or Muslim? Did they not care that the passing out of Christian materials to these children might be infringing on their rights? Or does it not count if they are outside the fold of Christianity?

While I’m not a proponent of Satanism, I will concede that if you check out the actual website for The Satanic Temple, it’s NOT what most people think it is. They aren’t murdering animals in ritual sacrifice or drinking the blood of virgins. They are, in fact, a wholly rationalist group that relies on science and the real world. They frown on supernatural belief systems in any form. But there are other groups out there that do worship a supernatural Satan. The group in Colorado does not happen to be one of them. I do think that the Satanic Temple espouses a disturbingly extreme view of individualism at the expense of the rules of law and social morality, but that’s a topic for another day. It seems like the most controversial mission they are currently undertaking is to prevent corporal punishment in schools; hardly the work of devil worshipers.

Let’s keep any kind of religion out of the schools – after all, there is plenty for students to focus on during school hours, including learning, participating in sports and developing social skills. They can learn about God, Vishnu, Mohammed and Satan on their own time and within their own homes. It’s not the school board’s job to teach our children about God. It’s their job to provide strong teachers who will guide our children in the way of learning so that they can discover what they believe in themselves.

 

 


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Agnostic? Atheist? Believer? Who Am I Today?

Some days, I’m an atheist. Other days, I’m an agnostic. But I lean more toward atheist because I can no longer wrap my head around the thought that there is some kind of mystical “other” or “God” that transforms our lives in so many ways and who has control over our entire, vast universe. Sometimes, however, some kind of miracle occurs and I wonder…What if?….Could I be wrong?….Am I missing something?

I’ve had people who do know that I’m no longer a believer tell me that an agnostic is simply someone who can’t commit. But I disagree! It’s not that I CAN’T commit to either believing in God or believing that there is no God. Rather, I admit that I JUST. DON’T. KNOW. Some days are like that. Agnoticism is modest – we know just how much we don’t know. We aren’t going to espouse a creed, faith, manifesto or believe system – or lack thereof – until we know more. And we are willing to admit that this means we may never be fully atheist or fully religious.

While the article is  out of date (it’s from 2010), author Ron Rosenbaum clearly explained the differences between most agnostics and most atheists in his article, “An Agnostic Manifesto.” If you know what you don’t know, but aren’t sure whether you’re agnostic or atheist (it’s okay to not be sure, despite what radicals on either side of the fence say), I encourage  you to read Rosenbaum’s article.

Do you always identify as atheist or agnostic? Does your world view (or view of the universe) shift from time to time? I’d love to hear from any of you who feel like I do that belief and non-belief can be fluid over time and circumstance.


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Not So Good Friday

There are days when I really miss the traditions and rituals of the church. At Easter in particular I miss the joy, the music, the sense of hope and possibility. Then I read a blog post like, ‘The Parents Who Ruined the Easter Egg Hunt‘ by the very talented blogger Jen at “People I Want to Punch in the Throat” (Go there, you will be amused and full of admiration for her). She wrote about a Colorado Easter Egg Hunt that was cancelled because so many parents got competitive about it last year that they ruined it for the kids. Her blog post reminded me that so many people celebrate the secular, greedy aspect of Easter and have completely stripped it of any truly religious meaning. They’ve reduced even the secular version of Easter to grubbing for something for themselves and their children.

Not that I hate the Easter Bunny or anything. Far be it for me to condemn the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus – I think they are wonderful examples of selfless giving when presented in the right manner. But I also know that they are fictional constructs, not real, living beings. Much the way I feel about God these days. My problem is when people strip them of even their fictitious status as models of giving and turn an event that was supposed to be fun-filled and turn it into a competition. And a pretty vile grab for gifts as well.

I’ve seen so many churches that act the same way over the years. Competitions about who gave the most or who got the most people to give their lives to the Lord….it shouldn’t be a competition! But I know churches do it. They keep score and if their attendance is up, they assume they are doing something “right.”  But putting a cappuccino bar in the vestibule to entice visitors is more about keeping the numbers up than it is about saving souls in most cases.

Lets get back to the act of giving for its own sake. Don’t give because you’re supposed to, or because God will punish you if you don’t, or because you think it will help buy your way into heaven. Give because you know in your heart and soul that it’s the right thing to do. Give because you want to help others and feel true compassion for their plight. Give for the sake of others, not for your own sake. And do it all year round, not just at the prescribed holidays. Make it your life, not your religion.