Godly Communionists

Before I acknowledged to myself that I was an atheist I accepted the honored role of godmother to my niece, A.  I felt I could surely find some middle ground and emphasize humanistic ethical and moral values that would presumably overlap with the many Catholic teachings I did not share but that she’d be expected to absorb.  By the time A was approaching her 1st communion and its associated celebration, I was much more disapproving of the psychological and intellectual coercion inherent in the religious indoctrination of children, and, too late, I felt I was being coerced in a way too.

The party was an invitation to shower the freshly minted child believer with meaningful religious-themed mementos and fine jewelry.  I chose to give her a book about the universality and cultural permutations of the Golden Rule, a humanistic guideline if ever there was one.  I also gave her a Mary Englebreit plaque featuring the Golden Rule.

Several years later now my nephew, D, has just had his 1st communion.  I was not able to attend the event or his party, but I sent him a card with a picture of a dog with one paw held up.  Inside it read, “High Five!  Congratulations!” and I enclosed a small check.  What’s an aunt to do?  It was a compromise.  I don’t think D should be judged, let alone harshly, for letting himself be trained; he was not allowed a choice in the matter.  So I sent him a secular card with a slightly subversive tone and a token gift.  In a sense, I rolled over.  But he was a Good Boy.

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What the Hell?

Are you an atheist? You’re going to hell. Are you a homosexual? Guess what, you’re going to hell, too. Wrong religion? Hell. Believe in God, but not Jesus? Hell. Bicycle repair man? Hell. Well, I guess not that last one, unless you are a bicycle repair man who is a murderer, but if you repent…

So, what is Hell exactly? Is it a firey pit where you will spend eternity in torment, having worms crawl through all of your orifices and crows pecking at your eyeballs? Is it merely the absence of God? Or maybe it’s just an eternity of being forced to watch the movie Junior starring Arnold Schwartzenegger over and over (I cried the next day when I realized that I had actually paid money to see the movie the night before). At any rate, Hell is whatever any particular religion tells you it is. Continue reading

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Science and Law, like Love and Marriage: it’s complicated.

This is my attempt to understand then distill and describe how the American legal system can be compared to the scientific method.  While this may seem like an obvious notion (it certainly did to me) there is actually an entire field of legal study devoted to comparative law.  Who knew? (clearly this Ernest Bruncken guy did, bet he feels Important.)

If you were brave enough to read the entire entry, while not being responsible for blogging about it, either you love the subject or deserve a medal.  This is a big subject, but the title of the book from which the excerpt comes says a great deal “Science Of Legal Method“, by Ernest Bruncken.

Now for my brief observations.  (It’s in outline formish, I promise) Continue reading

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Cognitive Dissonance and Skepticism

The issues surrounding the Skeptic and Freethought movements are an absolute carnival of cognitive dissonance and self-justification. It’s difficult to winnow down, but I’ll take one example. Remember, we all carry the notion that we are intelligent and sensible, and disconfirmation of that notion is a prime source of cognitive dissonance.

Some family members of mine were sold a radical, frightfully expensive diet plan by their chiropractor, which involved a 500 calories-per-day food restriction, vitamin supplements and homeopathic hormone drops. It’s safe to say no element of the program failed to set off its own skeptical alarm bells, and the research I did quickly indicated that this diet was based on bad science.

I had to proceed carefully, though. I knew I couldn’t stand by, because starvation diets and rapid weight loss are not without risk. But I was looking up a very steep incline–not only was I denouncing visible results of 1-2 pounds per day of weight loss, but the outlay of money and professing of belief in its success are extremely potent generators of cognitive dissonance. Every possible incentive for self-justification was in place. Continue reading

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Walt Whitman on the Crucifixion

May 5, 1888  – A Conversation between Walt Whitman and Leonard Corning (who was a candidate for the pulpit of the local Unitarian church) recorded by Horace Traubel…..

Walt: “And what may be the subject of your sermon tomorrow?

Corning: “My subject? Why—the tragedy of the ages.”

Walt: “And what may be the tragedy of the ages?”

Corning: “The crucifixion.”

Walt: “What crucifixion?”

Corning: “The crucifixion of Jesus, of course.”

Walt: “You call that the tragedy of the ages?”

Corning: “Yes—what do you call it?”

Walt: “It is a tragedy. But the tragedy? O no! I don’t think I would be willing to called it the tragedy.” Continue reading

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How to Gracefully Bow Out of Mealtime Prayer; a Natural Solution

Being nonreligious, I no longer say grace before meals, but I do appreciate the work of the farmer, the cook (typically myself) and, especially, nature.  So as a parent, I want to convey to my daughter the appropriateness of thoughtful reflection on where our food comes from, but I also want to be clear that our appreciation does not require a supernatural provider.  I say if you’re giving the glory to God then you must be stealing it from somebody else.

I think it’s common for religious people to think atheists must be inherently unappreciative and thoughtless.  This is far from true in our house.  In fact, I happen to think the religious view that everything good comes from God is so simplistic it’s effectively mindless and therefore thoughtless.  But I digress.

So my daughter, C, who is in kindergarten, has a very good friend, K, who is being raised Mormon.  My husband and I get along with K’s parents very well.  They are genuinely nice people.  Of course, at playdates where I provide her dinner, K insists on saying a prayer before eating.  K took it upon herself to coach my daughter on the importance of this ritual and how to properly close her eyes and place her palms together in front of her.  I allowed this because I view it as a cultural exposure that I can discuss with C later.   But it became clear that C felt disadvantaged; she did not have her own similar expression she could teach K.  So I provided her with one that her dad and I agreed was a pretty good alternative. Continue reading

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BIFFism

Last week I had a revelation. I was in a gas station bathroom projectile vomiting from eating a green hotdog “cooked” in the very same gas station (I was hungry and I will eat just about anything, though I won’t be eating any green hotdogs from that gas station anymore) when I saw a pamphlet that changed my life. I can no longer, in good conscience, call myself an atheist. I am now a devoted follower of BIFF (Best Imaginary Friend Forever).

I read through the pamphlet like six times before I rushed out and bought myself a Great Books of Wonderous BIFF. The pamphlet made me realize that, alone, I am not good enough, but with BIFF by my side, I will always have a friend looking out for me wherever I go.

The pamphlet quoted a passage from Letters 6:9 “And BIFF say unto thee ‘ In thine house, thou shalt be comfortable, wearingeth no pants, thy shall be free.'”

What powerful words. BIFF loves us so much, that he instructs us to go without pants in our house so that we will be comfortable. It almost brought me to tears. If BIFF cares about such a seemingly trivial thing, then he must care a great deal about the big things.

I am going to quote a few verses that stuck out in my mind while reading through the Great Book of Wonderous BIFF, but I am not going to comment of them because I want you to be able to feel the power as the words flow through you. Continue reading

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On Cognitive Dissonance

This is the first of three planned posts, each dealing with a different aspect of cognitive dissonance. Due to the length and the detail needed to hit my points, I’ll be posting the sections separately.

There once was a boy, who was given a pet box turtle. He wanted it to come out of its shell, but it stubbornly refused. He tried knocking on it, squirting water in its face, prying at the hinge, yelling at it, but only got his fingers nipped for his efforts. His grandfather, seeing the difficulty, took the turtle and put it down in the grass, with some lettuce and strawberries nearby. In a few minutes, the turtle was out and crawling around in the sunshine.

It’s not a metaphor I’m going to extend very far, but it’s an image I like to keep in mind as I kick around the concept of cognitive dissonance. It’s a subject I find fascinating, not least because it is stupefyingly ubiquitous. Essentially it is the theory that, when human brains contain two cognitions (ideas, observations, emotions) which are in conflict, we find it uncomfortable. Like having your shoes on the wrong feet, or being hungry, or being too cold, we are driven to resolve the discomfort. We take steps to ease our mental distress, typically by rejecting, trivializing, or compartmentalizing one of the conflicting ideas. Continue reading

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The Power of Faith in God

To me, the power of faith in God is undeniable.  It is powerful, life-changing, history-changing.  I’ve seen it’s power in my own life, in the lives of others, and seen it’s impact in history and continue to see its accomplishments in today’s world events.

I placed my faith in Jesus when I was 8 years old and gave my life to His service when I was 14.  These decisions of faith had a huge life-changing impact on my life and others around me.  There is no question to me that my life has been positively impacted in many, many ways by placing my faith in Jesus.  Because I believed in His purpose for my life, His plan for my life, His great wisdom in how my life should be lived, I became a better person in many ways.  I’ve never been drunk (because I didn’t drink alcohol), haven’t been arrested or even had a speeding ticket until recently, and I’ve lived a responsible, caring life.

I’m not claiming that I lived an ascetic live but I was willing to live sacrificially for the good of others in many ways.  I renounced materialism to a great extent, bypassed good-paying jobs to teach in Christian church schools.  I put in many long hours, giving up normal pleasurable activities, to teach for Jesus (and work other jobs to put food on the table).  My wife and I had family devotional time with our children to train them to follow Jesus.  Even though I had a family of 7 and made $13,500 at teaching I still gave the tithe of 10% plus 2% more to the church.  I could give many other examples of sacrificing, the point being that I gave of myself to train young people and serve Jesus because of my faith in Him. Continue reading

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There’s an app for that…

I recently downloaded a new iPhone app called Skeptical Science.  The app (and its website) is designed to give easy access to science-based arguments regarding global warming.  Overall, the usability is great and information within appears to be top-notch, but I think this concept needs to be taken further.

First of all, the app’s (and website’s) tagline reads, “Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism.”  I feel that this is misleading.  I’m not the first in the skeptical community to say that we all need to stick together and own the term Skeptic/skepticism/skeptical.  Those opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming are often being called “global warming skeptics”.  Although it may seem intuitive to many, this is not a productive description as these people could be mistaken as being part of the skeptical movement, or the skeptical movement could be confused as opposing science-based knowledge.  A better term is “global warming deniers”, and I think this app would be a great place to get the ball moving on the conversion of the term. Continue reading

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