Thursday, October 24, 2019

Coming Out Atheist

I read a good article written by someone who grew up without faith in an area where that was fairly normal. It was not until she was older that she realized it is not the experience of most folks.  She addresses "when" to announce one is atheist.

I like to use the word atheist because it draws a line in the sand. I think that is important in American Christian culture. I was talking with an evangelical relative one day and I realized through things he said that he really didn't mind if people were not Christian... just as long as they understood that, in America, they were second-tier citizens. Really, you may think I exaggerate, but no... he said that "these people" just need to understand that "Christianity comes first".

I think this is why Evangelicals like Trump so much. He, more so than any previous president, is willing to use language that aligns with my relative's 2nd-tier perspective. Evangelicals (and those of similar conservative religion) see two Americas and so does Trump. When they speak of unity, they do not mean in a pluralistic way, rather they want your conversion or submission.

I use the word atheist because I like to stand in direct opposition to that. I will not convert or submit. However, I am privileged in that regard. I don't pay any particular cost to be "out". There are plenty of folks who, if they announced their atheism, could lose their marriage, their job, their standing in the community, their family relations, etc.

Think about it. In America, someone can announce that they are a serial adulterer, an absent father, a sexual predator, a bully, a racist, etc. and still be elected president.

Announce you are an atheist? You wouldn't even be considered in either party.

We still have a ways to go.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Doesn't Look Like Anything To Me

The first season of Westworld is so brilliant. Anthony Hopkins, in particular, is utterly amazing.

If you haven't seen it, part of the story focuses on robots... or hosts as they are called. But they do not know they are robots. Whenever they encounter something that might reveal they are robots, they become confused... unable to comprehend the evidence... and therefore remain unaware that they are robots.

I encounter this frequently in political, philosophical, and religious discussions. I catch myself about to repeat a point I have already made to someone. When I do so, I recognize the futility of proceeding. Whomever I am talking to is unable to understand my point. Like the hosts, they have programming in place that prevents them from understanding. Conditioning prevents them from making connections.

And no... I do not begin to think I am above the same behavior. Having switched views on many perspectives, I am embarrassingly aware of my capability to resist evidence, for my thinking to become cloudy, to shun that which would reveal my error.

Reality is hard.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Evangelicals and Medicine

"Joni Eareckson Tada released from hospital, thanks God for 'marvelous' healing!"

This was the headline for an article over at The Christian Post.

I am glad this woman is feeling better but look at how it is framed, "she was released from the hospital- and thanked God for healing her lungs."

Not the doctors, not the nurses, not the specialists, not those woefully underpaid CNAs, not the decades of work by researchers to make that "healing" possible... nope, thanks goes to God (who probably would not have been able to manage that "healing" had she just stayed home).

This is a strange practice that Evangelicals tend to do only when it comes to the medical field. When the painters paint their house, they do not say "God painted my house!" When the mechanic works on their car they do not extol the wonders of God fixing their transmission. In those cases, they tend to give credit where credit is due. But when it comes to medicine, Evangelicals rarely fail to minimize or completely sideline the work of medical practitioners.

I suspect this has to do with Evangelicals frustrated relationship with science in general. Having to rely on scientists for their health care is a bit of a blow, so crowing loudly about "God" doing the actual healing works as a balm to the religious ego.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Which Jesus Do You See?

I was watching my brothers have a conversation about the nature of Jesus on Facebook the other day. It became clear to me at that moment that they do not worship the same god. Their gods share a name, but the similarity pretty much ends there. They, as Mr. Wednesday put it, "see a different face when they close their eyes to pray".

I had previously accepted the explanation for these different takes on Jesus to be a matter of perspective. People can see the same movie and come away with different views of it. However, the more I become aware of the different sects of Christianity, I realize their takes on Jesus are truly different personalities. Much like James McAvoy in the movie Split, there may be one vessel but the personalities are distinct.

It makes me wonder if this is the real reason for the growth of Christianity in history. It certainly cannot be what Christians say about Jesus... because they say completely contradictory things. Rather, it was the franchizing of the name to anybody and everybody.

It is like when you go into a town and find a Pizza Hut that also serves Taco Bell. Their brands couldn't make it locally on their own... so they got together under the same roof. Similarly, I wonder if all the brands of Jesus would make it independently if they could not share the name? What would happen if they got to keep their view of Jesus, their history of Jesus, their teachings about Jesus... but they had to give him a different name. What if Jerry Fallwell's Jesus took the name Anton and the Pope's Jesus took Alan? Rob Bell's Jesus could be Brian? The United Methodists take Stan. The televangelists get to name their's Lou.

All of these folks have decidedly different gods. Most of them consider the others partially or completely invalid. Give their varied views flesh and blood and you would never mistake them for the same person.

So why do we call them by the same name?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Facebook Faith #58: God Brings Trials?

I regularly see my religious friends post on Facebook about the various trials they are going through... and how God has brought these to teach and refine them.

If one has an all-powerful deity, I suppose that is the most charitable way you could frame your deity's involvement in the pains and sufferings of your life.

I used to think that way, but I left the faith life about 8 years ago. Here's the thing - the same amount of fortune and frustration occur in my life now as ever did before. Cutting God loose in my life did not end "blessings" nor remove a "hedge of protection". Life is moving on pretty much as it always had.

But honestly, I do find the hard times easier to bear without an extra set of footprints in the sand. I now know those valleys are just... life. And life happens. There is no deity causing this calamity to instruct me or to punish me. I no longer add stress to the situation by obsessing over the tea leaves, trying to figure out what God is trying to show me or where I went wrong to allow the Devil this foothold in my life.

I also find taking the focus off of unseen spirits has given me a greater appreciation for the people traveling our common path. THEY are the ones who help me through the trials. THEY are the ones who offer me kindness.

Believers often wonder how those who do not believe in gods have hope during the hard times.

Personally, I have found it much easier.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Turning 50

Blogs and social media were not around for me to write anything for Turning 30 but I just re-read Turning 40 from ten years ago... and boy oh boy do I like my life a lot better now!

The 40s were a time of big changes and new experiences.

I could have never guessed that my 40s would put me on stage.  But suddenly, there's the overture, the curtain, the lights, and I am singing.  All in all, I did 17 shows in my 40s. This still amazes me when I think about it.

My 40s saw me switch schools again.  I would have never predicted I would teach in the lower grades... but 2nd was what was available at the school I wanted to be at, so I gave it a shot.  I had originally intended to only do a year or two at that grade.  I was confident something in the higher grades would open up.  I am in year 7 of 2nd grade and everything is just fine.

Ten years ago, I was a parent of young kids... now empty nesting is around the corner for my wife and me.  I could not be prouder of my daughter and son.

My 40-year-old self didn't realize it yet, but time was ticking on my faith.  Over the next few years, the puzzle pieces were going to form a picture that would bring my belief to a close.  Those years were tumultuous but so worth the struggle.

My 40s were a time of new and excellent friendships.  I recently went on a week-long cruise with a bunch of them down to Mexico to celebrate my 50th.  After looking over the pics of our adventure my wife said, "Andy, you're a rich man!"

It's true, rich is how I feel going into my 50s.  My life is pretty darn near perfect and I am grateful for it.

Looking at my life with the sun cresting in the western sky, I have decided to add care of my physical self to the list of really good things happening in my life.  I want my sunset years to be all they can be, so I have dropped about 4 inches off the waistline since last spring, I have tripled how much I can lift, and I can jog a good pace for 30 minutes without a break.  Treats have been turned in to a rare and reasonable occasion and eating is generally healthier.  I still have a ways to go, but this has been a good start and for the first time it feels like a life change.

My 40s were truly wonderful!  I turn 50 with a smile on my face and a happy outlook to the future.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Movie Reviews: An Anemic August

I theorized in July that I might not have any reviews for August.  Moviepass was heading into a dark place at the end of last month.  It seems to have avoided crashing all together for the moment, but the service is now merely a shadow of its previous greatness.  Often when I tried to use it this month, the attempt ended in frustration.  My closest theater rarely had options and I was hesitant to drive 20 minutes to another theater when the movie could disappear before I purchased my ticket.

So, I only saw four movies in August.  That was not all due to Moviepass.  I teach and it was time to head back to the classroom this month.  Also, I think I was getting a little burnt out on movie runs.  Years ago, my son won a contest at a local gourmet popcorn place – a bag of candied popcorn each week for a year.  After about 6 months, we grew a little weary of going each week.  I have been feeling some of that in regards to Moviepass.

In any case, Moviepass is limiting members now to 3 movies a month.  I will have to decide when my annual subscription ends in November whether I will continue.  In any case, if I only get to do 3 a month, the days of seeing the more obscure titles are over.

This month, 3 of my 4 movies were true stories.

The Meg: C+
Everybody loves a good shark movie.  The best was Jaws, so where do you go from there?  Deep Blue Sea genetically altered their intelligence.  Another series had them attack using tornadoes.  The Meg grabs a prehistoric one so they can make it really, really big.

Aside from the size of the shark, The Meg doesn’t do anything particularly unexpected.  But, it has some fun cast members, a couple laughs, a few jumps, and is entertaining enough for a summer film.

BlacKKKlansman: B+
Based on the true story of Colorado Springs’ first black cop- who finds himself infiltrating a local chapter of the KKK.  When I saw the trailer, the editing work made it feel like it was going to be a comedy.  It had its funny moments, but overall it was a police drama.

It is a great movie for our times.  It is a reminder of how things used to be and how they still are.  Beyond the history lesson, it was just a good movie– and you get to watch @**hole white supremacists get their just due.

Papillon: B
Adapted from the autobiographical novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon tells the tale of a French safecracker in the 1930s who is incarcerated at a penal colony in French Guiana.  The story follows Henri as he forms relationships, has varied escape attempts, and spends years in solitary.

I enjoy the work of Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek, the two lead actors, so the movie was an easy sell for me.  The movie is a great period piece and works well as a prison escape movie.  It had a few moments where the pacing seemed to drag but overall, I was completely drawn into the story.  After watching this, you will be grateful to be a free person in the modern age.

Operation Finale:  B+
The true story of secret agents from Israel capturing a Nazi hiding in Argentina in order to have him stand trial for crimes committed during the Holocaust.

One of my favorite scenes in Xmen: First Class is when Magneto goes Nazi hunting in Argentina.  I have often said that they should have made a whole movie focused on his exploits as a Nazi hunter.

This movie gives one that same opportunity to cheer-on Nazi hunting.  It is a great spy movie and has the added benefit of being a history lesson.

For me, the movie had only one, minor, flaw.  Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor and handled the role of Adolf Eichmann excellently.  However, I was at times pulled out of the narrative because he was simply too old for the part. He had two sons in the movie who would have more appropriately been his grandchildren.  In addition, Eichmann was a Nazi white supremacist… having him played by someone who has a mixed ethnic heritage felt a little disjointed.

Operation Finale also sparked my frustration again that so many Americans are vague with their opinions concerning Nazis.  I left the movie angry with some of my fellow citizens.  There are no “fine people” among Nazis. There never were, there never are.

Not sure what my movie theater habits will be in the months to come… but movies will be graded.

This article first appeared in Salt Lake Film Review.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trump Does Not Respect The Chair

There is this great scene in Star Trek- Into Darkness where Admiral Pike takes the Enterprise from a young Kirk.

"You don't comply with the rules. You don't take responsibility for ANYTHING... and you don't respect the Chair. You know why? Because you're not ready for it."

I always think of that rebuke when President Trump comes up in the news.

When he was elected, I made a determination to give him a chance. I held out a hope that the Chair of the Presidency would sober him up.

Here is a man who has a disreputable past but maybe, in this last decade of his life, he would chart a new course. Maybe the weight of the Oval Office would make him reflect on his legacy... and he would step up to appropriately bear the duties of the President of the United States.

But no.

He has continued in his self serving ways, his childish, vindictive attitudes and his boorish behavior.

Donald Trump does not respect the Chair.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Troubling Trend

I was reading an article about white teachers recently.  The author was listing various issues that are facing education as students become more diverse but our teaching force remains largely white.  I thought the author made some really interesting points but one issue she brought up in a few different ways is that white teachers shouldn't ask their black friends or co-workers questions regarding issues of race.

I found a similar train of thought on a short Buzzfeed video about sexuality.  They cut back and forth between various folks giving commentary on their experience within their subgroup.  There was one individual who seemed to have a chip on their shoulder.  This person was constantly rolling their eyes in respect to anyone who did not understand the various sub-categories.  When asked about what it means to be gender fluid, the person scoffed, "I am so sick of answering that question!"

These are just two examples of an attitude and perspective I feel I have run into dozens of times in the past year.  I teach, so I understand the feeling of impatience that can arise from answering the same question over and over... particularly when you feel something has already been explained or should be self-evident.

However, I am concerned that - just when our country is hitting a stride of listening, probing, and looking to be educated, the door is being slammed in many questioning faces.  If you think no one is really listening or questioning, consider how the issues of race, sexuality, and feminism were discussed through most of the 20th century.

I am a middle-aged white dude.  My experience with being a minority is pretty thin.  My insights are vicarious.  As a teacher, I work mostly with women (I am the only male teacher on my staff).  A good chunk of my friend circle is gay.  I spent 8 years working at a school where 95 percent of my students were non-white.

I was raised in a highly conservative environment.  I cringe when I think of the various sexist, homophobic, and racist things that have come out of my mouth and attitude over the decades.  If it were not for the exposures and experiences I listed above, I would probably still consider a lot of that bad thinking to be acceptable.  It was through conversations with people different than me that my thoughts have begun to change.

I am an atheist.  I was an evangelical for 30 years, so I know from experience the wrong-headed ideas a lot of religious folks have about me.  Those ideas they have will continue to spin as long as their only thoughts about atheists are what they tell each other.  If one wants to understand the atheist experience, don't ask a believer, ask an atheist.

If you are in any kind of minority group, I would hope you could be patient with answering questions and sharing your experience.  There is no one better equipped to share your story than you.  If change is going to happen, it will be because of more conversations, not less.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

July Movie Picks

Wow! Ten movies in the month of July.  Not a record, but respectable.

Whether or not this level of moviegoing will continue remains to be seen. My supplier is Moviepass and this past week with them has been… dramatic. I think someday there will be a comedy made of the Moviepass story.  User reactions alone could supply a lot of the bits.

Therefore, this could be the last month for your friendly neighborhood movie grader. I am a teacher and there is no way 10 movies could budget in a single month without Moviepass.

So what did July bring us? Let’s take a look (in order, btw)-

Sicario: Day of the Soldado: B-
A decent follow up to the first Sicario. It doesn’t do anything particularly original but it is an enjoyable hit-man/black-ops movie. Brolin and Del Toro take it from passable to moderately engaging.

The First Purge: D-
I have to confess, I have not seen any of the previous Purge movies. If this one is any indication, I made the right move. The motive for the Purge (give everyone 24 hours to do whatever the hell they want without consequences) is so bizarre that I just couldn’t quit shaking my head at the absurdity. This premise sets up a lot of pointless action with even worse dialog. This movie should have been direct to video.

Ocean’s 8: C+
I think I left this movie a little disappointed because I was hoping to like it more than I did. The word that keeps coming to mind is… fine. The acting was… fine. The story was… fine. The humor was… fine. I anticipated a twist ending but rather than wowing me, I shrugged when it arrived. I can’t put my finger on what was missing but, for me, it just failed to launch.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: B+
Another enjoyable Marvel movie to add to the list. A couple of new angles in this sequel but it was not quite as fun as the first. It suffered from a lack of an engaging bad guy and they took all the likeability out of Michael Douglas’s character. Still, it had enough of the usual Marvel cleverness and excitement to make it a worthy view.

Skyscraper: C-
Take Die Hard and remove all the humor, clever lines, and the over-the-top villain. Really, they could have released it at Christmas and called it Die Hard 6. It was watchable but just barely.

The Equalizer 2: B
I guess the Equalizer series is how you get Denzel Washington to play a super-hero. No costume, but all the other elements are there. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching Denzel take out bad guys for an hour or two?

Unfriended: Dark Web: C+
Dark web gets points for being a unique experience for me – you essentially watch an online chat session (although I am told they did this in the first movie of the series as well). It was well done for what it was, but still… you watch a chat session for an hour and a half. I think it would have functioned better as a 1-hour Black Mirror episode.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies: D-
Wow… was this movie tedious! Every character delivered their line in an overly excited tone while their head raised and their eyes boggled. I was beyond annoyed after the first 15 minutes.

Most modern cartoon movies find that sweet spot of balancing being enjoyable for children and yet keeping the adults entertained. I suspect the only person who could tolerate this dumpster fire is a high-strung eight-year-old who had just been given carte blanche at the concessions counter.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: B
Another enjoyable Mama Mia movie. Perhaps a little less humor than the first but also a bit more touching. Like its predecessor, it is a simple, happy time spent on a Mediterranean island with music and dancing. What’s not to like?

Mission: Impossible – Fallout: B+
Did you know that this series is now 22 years old? I wonder how many more they will do. I suspect for however long Tom Cruise can run (or until he kills himself doing one of his own stunts).

Really, I think Cruise will do these into his 70s. Why not? Mission Impossible is always a fun ride. It hits every trope, but you kind of want it to. It is the comfort food you expect in summer movie going.

See you next month!


This article was first posted on Salt Lake Film Review.
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