Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why Atheist and not Agnostic?

I am often asked why I don't consider myself an Agnostic rather than an Atheist.  The question was put to me again recently on Facebook, so I thought I would park my answer here for cutting and pasting purposes in future conversations. :)
I guess it depends on how one uses the terms.  In regards to myself, I use the term Atheist. For one thing, the  knowing/not knowing ideas are often presented as if they were equal, but opposite, sides of an issue. I don't think this is the case. It may be that there are invisible, undetectable gnomes living in my rockwall. The fact that I am always open to evidence showing me otherwise, does not change the reality that I do not believe there are any gnomes living there. Belief and non-belief on this issue are not equal opposites.

Also, agnosticism offers religious folks safe harbor that I do not want to offer. During my short run with the term agnostic, I would often hear from religious folks "Whew! At least you are not an Atheist." Somehow, they interpret that term as playing for "their" team. Put two people of opposing religions in a room with an Atheist, and the religious folks will form a tentative truce. Remove the Atheist, and the opposing religions will go back to plotting the other's eternity in Hell. Atheism specifically sets me outside of that little game.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Father God 101

My blogging and Facebook friend Bob put an article up on his site today that really stirred my old religious juices. Not in a "Wow, I really want to believe again" kind of way, but a "Wow, this hits where they are really missing it" kind of way.

Please forgive my quoting the entire thing. It is short, and I couldn't snag a particular quote that was able to be detached from the rest... but please, after reading, go visit the original... it has a great Hayward cartoon.
"Announcing one loves Jesus, has a relationship with Jesus, serves Jesus, lives for Jesus, honours Jesus, is practically declaring something that is actually void of any real substance. There is absolutely no way of measuring this commitment, in reality it is just pious talk, even if well intentioned.
Many atrocities are committed by people who claim to have put Christ first. By putting Christ first they are now in a position to place their neighbors second. People are now dispensable. This means that in the name of Christ one can commit crimes against humanity. History is littered with examples of people being exploited in the name of Christ.
What we need to do is put our neighbors first, not in word but in deed. This is putting Jesus first and then we will fulfill the words of Christ when he said:" "as you do unto the least of these, you do it unto me." Matt 25:45"
Here the author NAILS what most Christians miss on a fundamental level.  Allow me to put on my Christian hat and speak in Christian for a few paragraphs... it will just make this easier to type without making endless qualifications.

Most Christians think it is all about God. They need to put God first in everything and make everything focus on him.  This is completely backwards.  To God, the focus is about his kids.

See, if God is a Father (as Christianity proclaims) he really doesn't give a rat's ass what you think of him.  Your saying his name in every other paragraph, singing songs to him, spending the vast majority of your time socializing with others who also act this way toward him..... this all means nothing to God. How do I know it means nothing to him? I am a Father too... and if you are a parent, you know what I am talking about.

Sure, I like to be treated well as much as the next person... but what really puts you on my A list is treating my kids well. Our theater director is a friend of mine... but the investment she has made in my kids over the years makes her my hero. This could be said of a lot of the folks in our theater company. I am forever grateful for the mentoring roles they have played for my children. If someone invests in my kids, I have their back for life.

I love when my kids love me... but what really makes my heart swell is when they love each other. If I had to put it to a choice, I would put the greater value on their loving each other.

A loving Father God is going to put much more value on his children than on himself. That's what good parents do... they give their lives away.

A loving Father God is not the god of most Christians. They may state otherwise, but the truth is found in their actions. Their obsessiveness with him can be sycophantic. Most of the churches I have attended in my life proclaimed a loving Father God. My previous one did, but dig through their belief statements and you discover what they really believe at a foundational level:
"Death seals the eternal destiny of each person. At the final judgment, unbelievers will be separated from God into condemnation. Believers will be received into God’s loving presence and rewarded for their faithfulness to Him in this life."
This deity does not qualify as a good father - heck, he doesn't even qualify as a bad one. People who believe and follow the above statement ARE going to be emotionally and relationally dysfunctional. They are living in a dysfunctional household, but since they know nothing else, they have come to believe it is normal. If you don't think this is true, just look at Christianity's public credibility ... and then consider Jesus's public credibility.

Jesus makes very clear in his sheep and goats story where the heart of God is... it is with his kids. You want to make his heart swell? Be good to his kids.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

God, No! By Penn Jillette

I have been listening to the audiobook of God, No! for the past week on my drives to and from work. It is wonderful. Penn does his own reading, which MAKES the book. I can't imagine anyone else being able to deliver his material. Penn's reading is so casual and animated, you can imagine you are sitting across from him at a pub while he dominates the conversation. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. I have never seen his magic show, but if he does sleight of hand half as well as he spins a yarn - it must be something to see.

Penn weaves in and out of religion and atheism, often just sharing an amusing personal story to highlight a life lesson. His vocabulary and mode of speech is often joyously crass as he explains his passions, however, you never doubt this man has a heart of gold. Still, Penn says fuck and cocksucker with such wild abandon that I make sure I am a fair distance from school before pressing play.

One part that particularly caught me was as he told the story of a Hasidic Jew turned atheist he met after the show. The man wanted Penn to help him lose his Kosher "virginity" by joining him for a bacon cheeseburger. Penn went on to talk about their friendship and some of his insights into the Hasidic faith. Though he could list a hundred things wrong with Hasidic Judaism, he did say that he -nevertheless- was envious of their community. I could relate - I feel that way about Mormonism. I am clear on all the points of disagreement I have with their faith, nevertheless, I find their community downright enviable.

Penn shares tales about performing magic, getting naked in zero gravity, being spurned in a gay bathhouse, and his love of women with tattoos and artificial breasts. Wit and wisdom are woven through his stories to create hours of entertainment and ideas with which to wrestle.

During various staff and class "get to know you" games, I often hear "If you could have dinner with one celebrity, who would it be?" After listening to this book, I would answer Penn Jillette!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The God Stories of John Piper and Rachel Held Evans

It is getting difficult for me to read Christian writing. I will pull up an article that addresses something I am interested in, but the Christian author will often speak as if God is clearly like this or that.... whereas I find scripture, and life, to bare a different testimony.

Case in point, the latest by Rachel Held Evans. Today, Rachel rebuked John Piper for his tactless and horrid take on the recent tornado tragedy in Oklahoma. She feels he misrepresents God and is making God out to be a cruel and unfeeling bastard. She wants to tell a different story about God. She writes about how a loving God weeps with the people of Oklahoma.

Here is where I have the difficulty.  They are BOTH telling STORIES about God. Those stories are simply the outgrowth of what is going on in their hearts. John Piper IS a cruel and unfeeling bastard. He is a man who is annoyed and impatient with any human being who does not march to his tune. So when he reads scripture, that is the god he sees... and there is plenty of scripture to prove him right.

Rachel, from everything I can tell, is a wonderful soul. Her heart aches for hurting people and she sees the potential for wonder in everyone. When she looks at scripture, she finds a loving god who never gives up on anyone... and there is plenty of scripture to prove her right.

So which is the accurate view of God? I am fond of saying the bible is a Rorschach test if you are religious. What you see when you read it, the parts of it that stir you, the verses you want to live by - they are all just a mirror, showing you what you look like inside.

If I have to live with religion in this world, I would much rather live with Rachel's. However, I can't fault Piper without faulting Rachel. Each are telling us what they think God is like, and stating it as if it were so.

But it isn't so...

God isn't angry or jealous John - you are.

God doesn't think people are precious or valuable Rachel - you do.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Facebook Faith #17 - But These Go To 11

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

My friend Brook posted this pic on Facebook this morning and it made me think about religion. Primarily because Brook has used the phrase "These go to eleven" as a descriptor for how most religious people explain their faith.

If you have seen the exchange above, you know that Nigel has strengthened his amps and re-marked them at 11. Of course, volume rating in this sense is completely arbitrary.  There is no objective decible marker for 10. What counts as 10 in terms of decibles would vary from amp to amp. Saying one's amp goes to 11 is completely meaningless... but it makes Nigel feel as if his band has something that no other band has. The fact that his amp goes to 11, in his mind, makes Spinal Tap unique.

When I am in religious conversations on Facebook, Brook will often, like an audio drop on radio, pop in to say "These go to 11". This is shorthand for stating that the person I am talking to is stuck in a logic loop. Their religious item is true BECAUSE they say it is true. Their religion is superior. Their religion is unique.

Their religion goes to 11.

An example of this is when an evangelical states that their religion is different because they are not actually in a religion, they are in a "relationship". The fact that there is no functional difference between how they relate to their god and how my Mormon friends relate to their god would be pointless for me to bring up.

Their religion goes to 11.

On the flipside, various Mormon friends of mine state that one of the things that makes their religion different is their claim they are god's "one true church" on the earth. The fact that pretty much every other church group makes a similar claim doesn't seem to hinder their belief that they are unique.

Their religion goes to 11.

So what about your religion? How does your religion get that extra push over the cliff?  What makes yours one louder?

When all the other religious blokes are playing at 10, how have you remarked your religion as 11?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Facebook Faith # 16 - Church and State Go Good Together

This meme takes many forms. It is usually posted by someone who believes that America becomes a better nation as it enforces more Christian law and language on its citizens - and will break down evermore tragically as it ceases to do these things.

The most obvious flaw occurs at the end:
"It was intended to protect the church from the state, not the other way around."  
Let's say that in a forward direction, so we can hear it properly,
"the state should not have any protection from the church." 
Ergo, the church should be able to do to the state (citizens) as it likes.

Of course, anyone trumpeting this meme would object and obfuscate that interpretation. So then, we should ask if they are lying? Or just given to brazen, meaningless hyperbole? Either answer would fit with most proclamations of religion.

The other, not so obvious, flaw is its self serving argument. Though the statement sounds broad, its execution would be most narrow. The writer may claim to want religion at the helm, but in truth, it is not meant to be that general. Give the reins of government to any "church" other than the writer's own, and listen to the howling commence.

This is why the original phrase was written - Jefferson was assuring a group of Baptists that a majority religion would not use governmental powers to infringe on their rights. Religion, generally speaking, wants to multiply. It wants to convert everyone. Part of government's job is to give you the freedom to say no to religion's desire to assimilate you. Government cannot do that if it too has been assimilated.

However, the writer of this meme, and those who post it are of a different opinion. Assured of their rightness, they see no harm in using governmental powers to nudge you in their direction. In their view it is to your benefit - to everyone's benefit - to see religion and life from their point of view. They believe that under the right circumstances- their circumstances - church and state harmony is a good thing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy 15th Birthday Kathryn!

Today, my little girl turns 15. She starts High School in the fall. She has gone from a cute little bundle of joy, to a talented student, actress, and musician whose life is full of friends and fun.

I am very grateful for my two children and how much they love each other. As my 11 year old son and I were leaving the talent show at Kathryn's school last night, Jake said, "Kathryn's birthday is tomorrow.... I have to get to the store!"

"What do you want to get her?" I inquired.

Jake thought for a moment, then replied, "Everything."

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Time To Take The Test!

I posted this picture on Facebook along with this comment:

But it gives me the warm fuzzies knowing that our nation and its states are forcing our schools to spend all of their time, funds, and talent to develop a generation of massively proficient bubble testers.
 I wanna look all these politicians and "school reformers" straight in the eye and I want to tell them what cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit they really are! Hallelujah! Holy shit!.... Where's the Tylenol?

That led to a conversation about standardized testing and my personal frustration with it:
Who I am as a teacher, will be judged over the next 5 days by how my students perform on a multiple choice test. Literally... those 5 measly tests. What I was to my students as a teacher, how I communicated with parents, how I maintain the classroom environment, what I contribute as a staff member...... NONE of that factors in to my teacher effectiveness.... my worth is judged by those tests. Do teachers feel pressure to think of everything they do in terms of test prep? .... you bet your ass they do.... is that really what we want? Nope. We (as a nation) see the wall we are driving into, but we can't turn away...
If you feel some level of frustration with our nation's educational system, remember that your local teacher is probably on the same page with you.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Children and Religious Choice

Watch this video before reading... it is only a minute...

Andy, why do you pester people about their religion?  If it gives them peace, why do you care?

I get this question rather frequently... and I ask it of myself rather regularly.  Why do I care?  Is this just the need to be right wrapped in a different ideology?

If religion were just a pleasant set of dictums encouraging folks to be nice to each other, and giving peace about meeting loved ones after death.... well, there probably wouldn't be much to harp on.

However, religion is rarely so simple and innocent.  See the kid above? That could be a video of me. I remember feeling that same pressure around that age.
Andrew, if you have the opportunity to share the Gospel with someone and fail to, and they die tonight, their soul will be held to your account!
I did not go to Westboro. Mine was a fairly typical conservative evangelical church - of the kind that dominates the religious discussion and politics in America. Even as I got older and my faith became more liberal and I went to (seemingly) more liberal churches; I found the pressure in those churches for kids to evangelize their peers was strong.

I am sure the parents, and church, of this boy would say that he has made a commendable choice to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I would argue that choice had nothing to do with it. In order to make a choice, you must have an unbiased education in all options. He has been completely brainwashed and never had any options in the matter. In truth, he is utterly defenseless before his family and religious community.

He never had a prayer....
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