Category Archives: atheism

the age of accountability

Tim has written an excellent, thought-provoking essay about the FLDS sect and their indoctrination of woman and children into the belief that it’s OK for a middle-aged man to “marry” and have sex with multiple underage “wives.” He points out that many religions offer their own indoctrinations of one sort or another, and he points out that in many Christian churches, very young children are encouraged to get up and proclaim their own personal relationship with Jesus. He ends his essay as follows:

Perhaps the members of the FLDS Church are afraid that if the girls were older, that they might choose to not marry 49 year-old men. Perhaps they might not choose to engage in that kind of lifestyle at all. Perhaps they would choose to think for themselves, instead of just falling mindlessly into behaviors that are so easily encouraged when a child is so young.

Perhaps Christians (like myself) are guilty of the same thing with spiritual issues.

I had no idea that children made “professions of faith” at age 5 or 7. But here’s the thing: kids that age also make “professions of faith” in Santa Claus. They’re raised in an environment where the adults around them tell tales of a big guy in a red suit who arrives by night with a sleigh full of toys; and sure enough, on Christmas morning, the toys are there. So of course they believe in Santa: the proof is under the tree, plus their parents told them this was The Truth. They’ll continue to believe until reason and common sense (or friends in the know) convince them otherwise.

Now I’ll use Christianity as an example, although I don’t mean to single it out. Take a small child who’s being raised in a Christian environment. The child’s parents tell them about the big guy in heaven and his son, and about all the wonders that befall those who Believe. It’s clear that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a Very Big Deal to the child’s family and friends. And sure enough, the child sees that when people get up in church on Sunday and talk about their relationship with Jesus, those folks get a lot of positive attention. The child knows that their parents expect them to announce their belief at some point. Maybe one of their friends has already made the trip to the altar and been subsequently showered with praise. So of course the child will do the same thing: all the evidence is that they’ll be rewarded for doing so, and their parents have told them that this is The Truth. They’ll continue to believe — how long? In some cases, forever. In other cases, until new people, new situations, or their own contemplation, convinces them to change their minds.

I go to a Unitarian Universalist church. We don’t have a specific creed or dogma; each member is free to determine their own spiritual path and individual belief structure. Our Sunday School classes teach the basics of all the major world religions, familiarizing our children with the history, major figures, and beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Humanism, and more. We stress to the kids that it will be up to them to determine what they believe.

But despite that broad education, the fact is that our kids also have a natural tendency to believe in the same things their parents do. My own children have grown up with a Humanist/Atheist mother and a Humanist father who has a vague sense of god as the life force that binds the world together. We’re very liberal Democrats. And surprise, surprise, our teenage kids have liberal beliefs about social issues, they’re Obama supporters, and my daughter is a professed Atheist.

My daughter is 16. I believe she’s mature enough to make a statement about her belief (or lack thereof). My son is 13; he’s still sorting out his thoughts, and I wouldn’t ask him to make a firm statement about where he stands on religion. I wouldn’t begin to ask a 5 or 7 year old for a real, permanent statement of their faith — just as they’ll say they believe in Santa, if you ask them about religion you’ll get a recitation of what they know their parents want to hear and whatever will get them the most positive attention.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Along similar lines, I expect this is why nationally, laws indicate that kids under 16 can’t legally consent to have sex; having raised a child to that age, I’ve definitely seen this age as a defining point in her growth and maturity. My almost-13 year old son is by no means anywhere close to being ready for the emotional or physical toll of a sexual relationship.

I consider it unconscionable for the FLDS sect to “marry” girls that age to men so much older; girls of 13 or 14 aren’t ready to give informed consent to sex with anyone, let alone a 40 or 50 year old man. I absolutely believe that those women and children go along with the program because domineering older men have embedded those thoughts in their heads from infancy on; and in their sequestered environment, they don’t know any other way. As Tim suggests, if the sect waited until the girls were mature enough to make their own choice, they would almost certainly resist the idea of a union with a vastly older partner they have no affection for.

If we all waited until our children were 16 before we mentioned our religious beliefs (or political stands, or any other strongly held opinions), then I think many people would be surprised and perhaps shocked at the outcome. If I presented the notion of Santa Claus to my daughter out of the blue today, she’d be very unlikely to believe. If a 16 year old who had never heard stories of any supernatural origin of the earth or been told of a supreme being were given an outline of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, including the 7-day creation, the virgin birth, the rising of the dead man, and so on, I think they’d be very unlikely to believe that, either.

But we all want our children to be like us, and to believe what we believe. I am a parent; thus I indoctrinate. The important difference between me (or my Christian friends) and people like those in the FLDS sect is that we’re trying to give our children positive, constructive beliefs that we think will help them lead good lives and be good people. The FLDS parents (and others in similar cults) are giving their children negative beliefs that encourage them to participate in harmful, destructive, even illegal behavior. As far as I’m concerned, their right to teach their children about their faith ends when child abuse begins.

life, liberty, and the pursuit of reality

https://i2.wp.com/www.choosereality.org/art/choose-reality-3-120x50.jpgThanks to my friend Jack, I have a new adjective for myself: realist. He introduced me to the website of the Church of Reality.

It sounds like another April Fool’s joke, but it’s a real church with missions that I absolutely agree with:

  1. We Believe in Reality – the Way It Really Is
  2. We Spread the Sacred Message – Reality
  3. We Choose the Sacred Direction – Forward
  4. We Honor the Tree of Knowledge
  5. We Ask the Sacred Moral Question – What Is Good?
  6. We Issue the Sacred Challenge – How do we know that what we believe is real?
  7. We Are Activists – We Make It Happen
  8. We Unite Religion and Reality

From the website:

Since no one knows all of reality, the Church of Reality is a religious commitment to the pursuit of reality the way it really is. We think about thinking. We wonder about wondering. We try to understand the understanding of understanding. We are Explorers, not followers. The phrase “What is Real?” is our Sacred Question and the word “Reality” is our Sacred Message. We talk about reality, think about reality, and aim to make reality more important in society.

The Church of Reality is a new breed of religion that is based on reality rather than mythology. We answer the great questions that other religions address, like what is right and wrong, how do people live together in a community, and what are our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other. We address these concerns in the context of our evolutionary history, our present reality, and our future evolution.

https://i1.wp.com/images.cafepress.com/product/15677294v2_240x240_Front.jpg… Realists are not without values or morality. Our values are based on Humanism rather than a fictional holy book. As Realists, our values include Positive Evolution, Exploration, Honesty and Integrity, Freedom, Individualism, Peace, Courage, Environmentalism, Compassion, Justice, Inclusiveness, Scrutiny and Doubt, Humility, Reason, Wisdom, and Personal Responsibility. We believe in Original Virtue rather than Original Sin. We are a Doubt-Based rather than Faith-Based religion.

https://i1.wp.com/images.cafepress.com/product/170409123v6_240x240_Front_Color-BlackWhite.jpgVery cool — and exactly in line with my existing thought processes as a Unitarian Universalist, an atheist, and a humanist.

Consider me a member of the Church of Reality. My shirt and my bumper sticker are now on order. 🙂

 

Addendum: In an interesting coincidence, several hours after I posted the above, a smiling woman in her 50’s just knocked on my door carrying a Bible and a small pile of other literature. She began, “Hello, we’re out today talking with our neighbors about the Bible, and in particular about the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us, and…” Me (smiling): “Oh, no thank you.” Her: “You aren’t interested?” Me: “Not a bit.” Her: “You aren’t a Bible reader?” Me: “Not a bit.” Her: “OK, well, have a great day, and thank you for being so friendly about it!” I was glad she didn’t get pushy, and she was glad I wasn’t rude, so it was a fair trade.

This is the third religious visitor I’ve had in the last few months. Perhaps I need to keep a little pile of literature of my own by the door, to give them: cards with the URL of this blog, issues of Skeptic magazine, pamphlets from the American Humanist Association, a list of Biblical contradictions…

a difference of opinion

Last night we had several very good friends over for dinner, all of whom are devoted and conscientious participants in various forms of Christianity. During the course of a wonderful evening of food and conversation, I was talking with a woman who’s the mom of two sons: one in college, one in high school. Speaking of her older son, she mentioned that with regard to his relationships, she was pleased that in each case he’d chosen a “good, intelligent, Christian girl.”

I was, of course, happy that she was happy. At the same time, I found myself uncomfortable with articulating my immediate thoughts regarding my happiness with my daughter’s current boyfriend: I’m extremely pleased that she’s chosen a good, intelligent, atheist boy.

https://i1.wp.com/www.benettontalk.com/American-Atheist-Sample-Sma.jpgIn the last couple of years I’ve overcome my hesitation about voicing my lack of religious faith; I’m ready and willing to reveal my atheism and discuss it with anyone if the topic arises. But for some reason, in this context, with this particular friend, I was overcome by my old unwillingness to state something that I knew she’d find shocking and, perhaps, incomprehensible.

Today I wish I’d spoken up, not to shock my friend, but in the interest of promoting awareness. Yup, I’m an atheist, and so is my daughter, and so is her boyfriend — and so are a lot of other people. With Huckabee and Romney leading the Republican pack, I need to be part of spreading the word that America is not a Christian Nation.

forbidden fruit

https://i1.wp.com/www.chgs.umn.edu/Visual___Artistic_Resources/Art_From_Lost_Boys_of_Sudan/Image_Gallery_Cont_1/AdamEve.jpgIf you’ve read my past couple of entries, then you know exactly how much I’m loving a bit of news I heard earlier today from my friend Mo, wife of Bruce.

The Creation Museum that opened recently in Kentucky features Adam and Eve in assorted dioramas and settings — including a 40-second film starring one Eric Linden as the world’s first guy. (You can visit his personal site here, complete with a picture of his Adamly self and soothing new age music.) At least, the museum did show the film, until they learned that Linden was the founder of a pornographic website. 🙂

Various sources have found Linden’s name on the Whois data for BedroomAcrobat.com. This from, of all places, FoxNews.com:

Registration records show that Eric Linden, who portrays Adam taking his first breath in a film at the newly opened Creation Museum, owns a graphic Web site called Bedroom Acrobat.

He has been pictured there, smiling alongside a drag queen, in a T-shirt brandishing the site’s sexually suggestive logo.

Linden describes the site as “from his past”:

“I’m a Web designer and I was trying to think to the future and capitalize on different domain names, just trying to be clever. I handed the domain name off to somebody, so I really don’t know what’s going on with it.”

At the moment, the “all new site” is under construction.

https://i0.wp.com/sfxinternational.com/images/ericl2.jpgSo, what is the enterprising erstwhile Adam up to these days? Why, he’s selling clothing for SFX International. A recent comment on his web site suggests that people concerned about the ruckus should visit the company’s site “and see that it is a nice, hip and fresh clothing line! Not nearly as bad as they are making it out to be.” Sounds like something run by Doris Day, right? Think again. Head on over to SFX, and you’ll notice that the logo on the clothes has a clever little line added that makes the company name look like SEX (as you can see at right). And then, of course, there’s the minor point that SFX stands for Sir Fuxalot. You’ll see it in the title bar at the top of your browser — and, for that matter, on their About Us page. And I wonder if the folks at the Creation Museum have seen the photos of himself that Linden has chosen to post on the SFX site (including the one shown here)?

–> Insert your own “forbidden fruit” joke here….

Adam and Eve artwork by Yohannes, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan

prepare to (make) believe

Yesterday morning, about 9:30, my husband (henceforth referred to as D) and I reached the exit off I-275 in Kentucky (near Cincinnati) that leads to the Creation Museum, an offshoot of the organization Answers in Genesis. We were there to participate in the Rally for Reason, a gathering of reason- and science-minded individuals protesting the promotion of the creationists’ “young earth” myth as science.

I’ve included some of my photos here. You can see more on my Flickr page.

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My personal desire to be part of the rally stemmed from my fear of the religious right’s attempts to force their beliefs on other Americans. School groups will probably be taken to this museum, where children will be exposed to the exhibits and propaganda as though they were equivalent to verifiable scientific truth — which they are not. I’ve read AIG’s pseudoscientific articles, and I’m appalled that so many Americans are willing to suspend all belief in the rational and instead contort the facts in their minds as much as necessary to fit into the narrow grooves prescribed by a literal reading of the book of Genesis.

So, there we were. As we approached the exit on I-275, we could see the museum from the highway. A police car was parked on the highway — the first of many, many police we saw. The Boone County police had clearly decided that they were taking no chances and that a continual presence was their best best at maintaining order.

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When we reached the corner to turn to the museum, Rally for Reason volunteers were standing beside the road wearing orange vests; they directed us to the parking area about two miles away on the grounds of the First Farm Inn. (This is a lovely and elegant inn down a narrow, wooded country road. It was wonderful of them to let everyone park there.) We immediately noticed that most of the other cars were as decorated with stickers as ours. This must be more of a left-wing thing to do, because very few of the cars we saw entering the museum sported any stickers at all — lots of Christian fish symbols, and license plates reading 1Bible and GotJC, but not stickers. (The exception were a couple of cars that had stickers with an outline of a brontosaurus and the words “We’re taking dinosaurs back,” which I thought showed unusual cleverness.)

We were transported to the rally site in a van driven by a volunteer who travelled from Georgia. Shuttles ran all day as needed, so the distant parking wasn’t an issue. We took chairs and a bag with snacks and drinks. When we arrived it was clear that there weren’t as many people as I’d expected and hoped, but there were at least 100 coming and going throughout the day — enough to form a solid and constant presence along the road leading to the museum gates. I’m not sure whose land the rally was on, or if it was public property designated by Boone County. We were on a curve that people rounded just before turning left into the museum.

D is at far right:

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The gates are topped with metal dinosaur outlines. However, there is no sign indicating that this is the Creation Museum, either here on the main entrance or outside the museum on I-275. I find this curious.

A table at the rally site provided materials for people to make signs. Signs were also available that had been made by representatives of DefCon and other sponsoring groups. (We made our sign at home.) Judging from the sign wording, the t-shirts, the pins, and so on, those in attendance were largely atheists (although not 100%). There wound up being at least four of us from our Unitarian Universalist church, and I would think there were probably people from the Cincinnati UU churches. (I’m curious what opinion of the museum is held by Christians who endorse evolution.)

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We looked around at the materials on display, and then I joined the row on the road while D stood and listened to a speaker from Case Western Reserve. Various people spoke, some serious, some humorous. There was also 60’s-style protest rock from time to time, which provided an energetic backdrop for the sign-waving.

You can see the fence around the museum behind the tent:

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Mostly, people were lined along the road, holding up their signs and waving at the cars driving by. Reactions from drivers were extremely mixed:

  • Some refused to offer any recognition that anything or anyone was beside the road, driving by with stony faces and eyes fixed straight ahead.
  • A few offered signs of agreement with us: thumbs-up, waving, horn-beeping.
  • Many looked surprised, or interested, or amused, or annoyed. (I could hear in my head the comments that some of the parents were undoubtedly making to the kids in the back seat about the godless, hell-bound heathens. My inner response was to want to beg them to please not brainwash their children into believing this mythological travesty.)
  • A surprising number of vehicle occupants — including drivers! — took pictures of us, both still and video. One man managed to drive the entire length of the rally with his video camera out the window, held with both hands; I’m not sure how he was steering. (Perhaps he let Jesus take the wheel.) Several times, large vans carrying 10-20 people went by, and almost every time the occupants were busily capturing us on film.
  • Several women offered to pray for us. One drove slowly past, pointing to each sign-holder in turn, saying “I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray for you. …” Others shouted blanket prayer promises as they passed. Their prayers must have been busy last night.
  • And then there were the truly negative responses, offered almost entirely by men. One man shouted angrily all the way down the line, “You’re stupid!” Another, equally incensed, shouted, “You’re morons! You’re all a bunch of morons!” Both their faces were contorted with genuine rage; both were distracted enough by their fury that they missed the turn into the museum and had to turn around. Both were clean-cut, professional-looking, middle-aged men driving nice cars. Who are these intolerant souls who surround us every day, and what would happen to our country if their furious inability to accept dissent was allowed to take charge?
  • The most confusing response was offered by an African-American man who drove by shouting repeatedly at us that “Evolution is racism!” I’ve never heard such a statement before, and it makes no sense to me or D or others who were there.
  • The response that I found most annoying came from woman of about 50, riding in the back seat of a car, who looked straight at me and my sign, shook her head, and waved her finger back and forth at me as if she were chastising a naughty child. Astonishing. Who did she think she was — and who did she think I was?

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As I mentioned earlier, the police were a constant presence, driving back and forth every few minutes. A pair of officers on horseback also made an appearance. And, interestingly, the Boone County Sheriff himself spent much of the morning on site. He was dropped off at about 10:00, and he mingled pleasantly with the crowd, talking with the organizers, doing interviews with the press, and keeping an eye on things. (He was wearing a suit with his badge on his belt, not a uniform.) Around noon, a couple of museum proponents arrived and began a heated argument with a couple of rally attendees. I was watching, and as the volume level increased, both sides got very much in each others’ faces, but there was no physical contact. A little later, we heard that the woman had reported to police that she had been “assaulted” by someone from the rally — and the Sheriff, who was there, immediately let his officers know that it simply hadn’t happened. My opinion of the law’s dealings with the event is entirely positive: They made the rules and expectations crystal clear up front, they maintained a neutral presence, they communicated continually with the organizers, and in general they did their job in a professional manner.

The other constant presence was the press. Camera crews were roaming everywhere, interviewing organizers, speakers, and attendees. Standing next to me on the road was a girl of about 10, whose parents were involved with the rally (you can see her in the picture above); she was holding her sign high and waving at everyone who went by. The press were fascinated by her, and nearly every camera crew took her picture; she was even interviewed by a film crew from Switzerland, of all places. (I have a cousin who lives there, so I may have shown up on her news channel!)

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We stayed until about 1:00, and then headed home. No, I don’t think we changed any minds, but we at least reminded all the museum attendees that not everyone believes as they do. We were very glad we went, to add our dissenting voices to the crowd and to be reminded that there are others who think as we do, even in Indiana and Kentucky. 🙂

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where I’ll be tomorrow

https://i1.wp.com/www.rallyforreason.com/Rally_4_Reason_files/R4Rlogo.JPGTomorrow I’m planning to spend much of the day in northern Kentucky at the Rally for Reason, peacefully expressing my opinion about the opening of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art facility devoted to teaching creationism as fact and illustrating “scientifically” that the Earth is less than 5,000 years old.

Hundreds or perhaps thousands of similarly minded people will be there, listening to speakers, displaying signs, handing out literature, and making it plain to muscum visitors that not everyone believes as they do — and, in particular, that not everyone believes it’s appropriate to teach a nonscientific view of the Earth’s origin to our children.

If you agree, and you’re within driving distance, I urge you to come. If you’re too far away, please visit the resources at the rally’s website and express your support.

There are those who feel that by rallying, we only give more attention to this sadly misinformed take on history and evolution. I suggest that you read this, written by the rally’s organizer. Some excerpts:

“Answers in Genesis” has managed to get world wide press for their fantasy presentations. The “Creation Museum” is being endorsed by official convention and tourist outlets for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Governor of Kentucky has expressed support for teaching Bible stories in public schools, and Boone County, Kentucky is giving breaks on laws and taxation, denied others, to the vendors of religious dogma. The temporary President of the United States has even opined that the jury is still out on evolution.

Foolish ideas can come dressed up, just as there can be dressed up fools. And the presentations of the “Answers in Genesis” (www.AnswersInGenesis.org) outfit are well dressed indeed—yes, this is a compliment to their marketing. But such well dressed ideas can deceive many to their great cost. Just ask some Germans and Italians whether they would rather their country had not been treated to, much less accepted, the dressed up ideas of Hitler and Il Duce.

If, given all of the publicity that has been generated, nothing supporting science and evidence is offered, the impression will be given to the public, the press, and lawmakers that no one objects, and that if fancy, growling, expensive, mechanized displays of dinosaurs and humans living at the same time, and sharing “Noah’s Ark,” are presented as true, with no word to the contrary, then it must be so.

… The attitude that it is best not to give nonsense credit by opposing it can be quite dangerous. School boards and legislators might well conclude, without further information, that if scientists, teachers, and the public are not opposed to the well publicized idea of teaching Bronze Age myths as fact, then such misinformation is okay.

… And, if you think being outdoors in response to a threat to the foundations of knowledge is too much trouble, do not worry. Those who would establish a theocracy over us have promised to attack only when it is convenient for you, when it is not raining, when you can be warm, dry, safe, well fed, and have had plenty of time to engage in Liberal Angst over just what to do. Meanwhile, others will fight the American Religious Civil War and protect your freedoms for you.

my God! an atheist in Congress

https://i2.wp.com/www.house.gov/stark/webarchives/Stark%20Web%20Page/images/PETE2.GIFI am delighted by the news that, finally, we have a member of Congress — Rep. Pete Stark of California — who admits to being an atheist. Not only that, he’s a Unitarian Universalist! It’s like having found a long-lost relative who unexpectedly shares many of my views and is in a position of power to boot.

It’s tough being an American who doesn’t believe in a higher power. I’ve encountered many situations in which I haven’t been comfortable sharing my lack of belief, due to the overwhelming prejudices and stereotypes regarding atheists. Keep in mind that we have openly gay members of Congress, but no one until now has been willing to come out of the atheism closet. I hope this is just a first step toward greater tolerance of all beliefs and lack of beliefs.

Here are some excerpts from the ABC News report:

The American Humanist Association applauded Rep. Pete Stark for publicly acknowledging he does not believe in a supreme being. The declaration, it said, makes him the highest-ranking elected official and first congressman to proclaim to be an atheist. The organization took out an ad in Tuesday’s Washington Post, congratulating the California Democrat for his stance.

“With Stark’s courageous public announcement of his nontheism, it is our hope that he will become an inspiration for others who have hidden their conclusions for far too long,” executive director Roy Speckhardt said in a statement.

Stark’s beliefs garnered attention after the Secular Coalition for America offered a $1,000 prize to the person who could identify the “highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.”

… Stark, whose district is in the San Francisco Bay-area town of Fremont, confirmed his belief in a statement to The Associated Press late Monday. He said he was “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”…

Unitarian Universalism describes itself as creedless, allowing members to shape their beliefs based on personal experience rather than an authoritative statement of religious belief. Some members believe in God, but not all do.