Sunday, August 23, 2015

Prosperity, Politics, and Schadenfreude Gold

Hopefully all of you have been keeping up with the current fiasco that is the modern religious right.  As for me, I've been eagerly waking up every morning just to see who's going to be next!  What must it be like for those people that have been lifting these delinquents into prominence within the religious community?  I wonder how hard they cringe when they see, "Breaking now..." scrolling by on their television screens?

I can tell you what it's like for the rest of us - it is outright, no holds barred, unadulterated joy!

Since people tend to have a very short memory these days, I feel it's my responsibility to start out by saying that this kind of thing really isn't all that uncommon.  There's Ted Haggard, John Paulk, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Henry Hyde, Mark Foley, Bob Livingston, George Rekers, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Bishop Eddie Long; just to name a few.

But since we had so much of it this week, I'm going to do something I normally don't do - I'm going to cover a some of the stories revealed over the last few days so in twenty or thirty years I can look back on these stories and have a good chuckle when I'm an old geezer.

First, I give you Donald Trump.  Here's a guy whose companies have filed for bankruptcy four times, and thus far is the front-runner for the Republican nomination.  The man sounds like an eight year-old when interviewed or participating in political debates.  Admittedly, it is quite possible the reason he sounds like an eight year-old is that we are witnessing the extent of his vocabulary.  Yet he still remains the front-runner.  He makes morally asinine and fiscally impossible claims on very complex issues like immigration, the budget, gun control, and civil rights.  Yet he still remains the front-runner.

As sad as it is, our once grand nation really has become, "Idiocracy".

Want more proof?  I give you John Oliver's Televangelists piece on his HBO show, "Last Week Tonight".  If you have twenty minutes to spare, I beg you to watch it.  It's worth every second!

You see, these pastors charismatically preach something called, "The Prosperity Gospel" where wealth is a sign of God's favor and blessings.  This idea works especially well for them, because all of this prosperity begins with "seed faith", where honest and hard working people are convinced to donate money so that one day they will get to "harvest" the bounty from that seed.  The people in these congregations are even told to charge $1,000 dollars on their credit card in order for God to wipe out their credit card debt...

I realize that it's easy for us to sit back and laugh at the sheer volume of people that these pastors and other religious leaders are able to bilk for millions and millions of dollars, but when we take into account that none of these people or organizations pay any taxes whatsoever, how are we all not enraged by what they're doing?  Instead of insisting the IRS pursue prosecutions for fraud, we shake an accusatory finger at the ones doing the bilking.  And it's not the fault of the IRS either; that agency is forced to ignore most of these religious racketeers out of fear of more budget cuts from their religious cronies in the United States Congress.  It's a vicious cycle of corruption created and maintained by the very people that want to force even MORE of their religion into our society.

And then... there's Josh Duggar.  This guy...  The hits just keep coming and coming.  (Cue rimshot!)

I am not at all surprised that his name showed up TWICE in the Ashley Madison account hack.  To me, this was the very definition of a no-brainer.  What I found the most offensive was his silly statement released after he had been caught.  Sure he's a hypocrite, and sure he admitted that he had multiple affairs.  BUT WHO CARES?!?!?  What bugs me is that he did exactly what other religious people have done and blame it on something outside, something intangible.  Like, you know, pornography.

That is exactly like blaming violence on video games!  Seriously, millions upon millions of people view some form of pornography every hour of every day.  Yet the number of divorces in the United States really hasn't changed over the past 15 to 20 years (as a matter of fact, I believe the divorce rate has gone down a bit.)  Blaming pornography is a distraction, a diversion.  He's doing what any good religious leader would do - find a scapegoat or claim you were deceived by Satan himself.

What a perfect out these guys have.

Then his poor wife, Anna.  She's so brainwashed by her religion that she apparently claims that it was partly her fault that her husband was so horny and lacked so little self-control.  And this is what religion does to women.  It teaches most of them that they are nothing more than property for men - toys for men to satiate their uncontrollable appetite for sex.  For even in the face of scandal caused solely by the transgressions of her husband, she's taught to think that she's partly to blame.  How sad is it that only religion is allowed to do that to another human being?

And finally, the annual bellyaching that the rest of us must endure from those that are the direct cause behind everything I've discussed in this post.  Every single year when the kids are set to go back to school, we get to hear all the whining and whimpering about school prayer from the religious right.  You guys really need a new playbook...

Okay, first of all, which god would you like them to pray to?  My preference would be Thor, because does anyone ever see Ice Giants walking around?  I didn't think so.  Thank you, Thor.

Second, how popular would a set of kids yelling, "Allahu Akbar!" be during this proposed school prayer?  If we allow Christians to pray at schools, then we must allow all the religious to pray as they see fit.  And that scenario would be the one where I know I'd be standing nearby with a big box of popcorn.

I mean, good grief Christians!  As if forcing every kid to go through the motion of bowing their heads will actually make them pray.

Wait a second...  I have a thought.  If you honestly believe that most of those kids are actually praying, even in church, then I'd like you to send me your email address so that we can get your "Prosperity Gospel" account started!

Friday, August 14, 2015

One Plate Less

Over the past few days I have begun one of the hardest moments of my life.  Now I realize that many people have already experienced this, and may not necessarily think this is that difficult a hurdle.

Well...  Deal with it, because it is for me.  I am going to miss grabbing four plates for dinner.  I'm going to miss seeing that beautiful face sitting next to me at the table and hearing all the drama and happiness she experienced throughout her day.  I'm going to miss looking over her head while we watch movies.

You see, I made it point to be as involved in my kid's lives as I could.  Perhaps that's why this is so difficult.  Since Rachel and Zack were born, my life has been filled with those two.  Our homes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas.  Our trips to Alaska, Wyoming, California, Colorado, and of course, to Disney.  These two have been our little traveling troopers - with nothing but eagerness and excitement to join in.

But now the time has come where our troop will be down by one.  It's that damn empty seat again.

And I realize that this is selfish and childish of me, but the closer I get to leaving our baby girl, the more I feel the weight of the emptiness of her chair at our dinner table and the emptiness of her seat in our car.

While parents are raising their children, we all have this understanding that one day these wonderful people will leave our homes to break off on their own.  But that understanding is buried under years of, "Daddy, can you help?" or, "Daddy, come see!" or time after time of your child just being... a child.  The thought is like a spot on your carpet you choose to ignore.  You know it's there, you see it every day, but at the time it seems better to simply wave your hand and deal with it when you have more time.

That's the problem, though.  For me that time passed far, far too quickly.

It came before I was ready.  It came before I had the courage to deal with it.  And it came before I had the strength say goodbye.



We love you and will miss you deeply, Rachel.  Have fun, work hard, and we can't wait to see what you accomplish over the next four years...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Lost That Claim To Be Saved

"For a person that's been saved, he sure seems lost."
That quote came from my brother in just casual conversation, and it made such an impression on me that I absolutely had to write about it. I wish that I could deliver so concise and so powerful a message as he did in just ten words.

Well done, sir!

First, I'll do what I do best and write about my own experiences living life, raising kids, and growing older. I'll begin by saying that I unconditionally love my wife. I'll even go so far as saying that I worship the ground that woman strolls upon. She's the most beautiful and intelligent person I know, and to this day I still cannot even fathom how I convinced her to marry me. (I think it was the alcohol...) I absolutely adore my kids. They're both brilliant, hilarious, kind, and compassionate. I wake up in the morning eager to see their groggy faces and tattered hair. And of course, as my work day wears on I find myself anxious to see them when I get home.

My family has always been my inspiration.

But the thing is, I live my life knowing that each breath I take could very well be my last. And in knowing that, I will make every effort to make even my very last moment worth living. I know that I will never, ever have enough time with these wonderful people, even if I live to a ripe old age. It will never be enough. Ever. I know I'm fortunate to be surrounded by such interesting and entertaining human beings, which is why I will always cherish every single moment with them.

Compare that with what you hear from people that wrap themselves in a blanket of religion. You know the type. The people whose actions and prejudices give us the expression, "holier than thou." These individuals don't think they're living life unless they're singing songs of their own self-loathing. They use words like, "worthless" and, "emptiness" and, "undeserving." They go on and on about their past; how wretched they once were and how they pray ever so hard now for forgiveness.

Now, keeping all of that in mind, let's go back to what my brother said. Does that last paragraph sound like a healthy outlook on life for someone who has supposedly been dipped in the waters of salvation? Does that sound like someone that's been "delivered" from all the sin and debauchery that's supposedly rampant in our society?

Yet that type of thinking is commonplace in religious circles. They are never good enough. They are never worthy enough. They are never faithful enough. And according to their pastors, their religious leaders, and the people they surround themselves with, they are simply not allowed to be happy with themselves and who they've become even after being saved by blood of Jesus Christ.

I know this sounds like I'm building up my own straw man, but I honestly wish I was. I read this type of stuff anywhere from Facebook posts to Christmas cards. You really don't have to search very far to find it. It's just about everywhere, as sad as that is.

And yet I pity these individuals. I pity them to the point where I wish I could convince them to go speak with a therapist. I sincerely worry about many of them, since much of what they say and write reminds me of someone who's suicidal.

But my hope is that anyone that reads this will take a moment and look back on their lives not as a constant downward slide of mistakes and depravity, but instead as a tapestry of learning and experience. Sure, we all fail, we all stumble here and there, and we all wish we had said or done something nicer. But then again, we also succeed, we all achieve here and there, and we all feel good when we help another person in need. All of these experiences - including those that give us pride and those that make us feel terrible - are what make us who we are.

So the person you see in the mirror is not one or the other - that person is both the achiever and the failure. Focusing on your mistakes over your successes doesn't make you a better person, it just makes you vulnerable to someone who's ready to sell you a cure for something you never even had in the first place.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Good Book

I had a thought this morning as I browsed my Sunday social media.  I may have discovered why it is that the religious people around me still believe a particular idea even though anyone can see it's not at all accurate.

I think that what I see happening around me is the result of children's Bibles.

No.  Seriously.

Bear with me on this...

If you grew up in the South, as I did in Arkansas, you were more than likely given a sugarcoated, tranquil, butterflies and rainbows, Super Friends version of the Bible.  I know I had at least three.  Those bibles had all the great heroes, all the great battles, all the great stories about Moses, Jacob, Noah, Jonah, David, Solomon, and Jesus... But what they didn't have were all the icky, nasty, savage, misogynistic, bloodthirsty and sacrificial details - save for the nails in Jesus, of course.

Those things read a lot like comic books, to be honest.  Each story was depicted with a lovely image of a ripped, zero body fat character surrounded by flowers, butterflies, well-groomed white lambs, people cheering, people playing trumpets, and topped off with a heavy smattering of light rays slicing through clouds in the distance.  Save for the single, dark and solemn image of a dying Jesus, of course.

I mean, they had to show the hole-in-the-hands Jesus thing to the kids.  I'll give them that.  Because let's be honest, that's the whole point of the Christian gambit...

But anyway, back to those Sesame Street Bibles.  WOW!  Those versions of the Bible were absolutely great!  A kid can really eat that stuff up, right?  Universal good against universal evil...  Chariots, swords, lions, snakes, epic battles, evil kings, righteous heroes, and a bad ass pacifist dude that walks on water and rises from the grave.

Am I right?!?!?

But what happened to these kids 20 to 40 years ago when they became adults?  One would hope that they would take the time to study, analyze, and discover how the Bible truly reads.  One would think that they would yearn to get to know the true nature of the people that wrote the Bible.  But judging by what I read, I don't think that is what happened at all.  I think people my age (and a bit older) still cling to the children's version of that book.  They won't acknowledge when their Bible is wrong.  They continue to put forth messages supposedly attributed to the Bible, but are demonstrably false.  They will not accept that their view of the Bible has been manipulated by the church under pressure from our modern societal norms.

The barrage of messages I see today scrolling across my Facebook and Twitter feeds regarding "Biblical marriage" is the most recent example.

Many of you that already know me will understand when I say that I blame Evangelical Pastors.  Given what I used to hear on Sunday morning from just about every Pastor in the area, those guys are not only aware that this current generation of religious people cling to the children's version, they're counting on it.

My point is this.  I have read over and over again how many religious people are doing us all a favor by just, "... agreeing to disagree" and, "... still loving all of you, even though I do not recognize 'gay marriage'".  (The extra quotes are theirs, not mine.)  But who are all of you kidding besides yourselves?  It really is disappointing to me that it doesn't matter how many verses I give to you to refute your argument, you still refuse to accept nothing more than the children's version of your religious text.

Why?

*          *          *          *          *

And one last thing.  I want to note what a wonderful week this was for me.  In light of the two SCOTUS rulings on the Affordable Heathcare Act and same sex marriage, I am starting to feel just a bit more hope than I've felt in a very, very long time.  I have never been so moved by so many people as I was on Friday.

Remember everyone, we are more alike than we are different.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Consequence of Presumption

There appears to be a common misconception among many religious people regarding families like mine that choose to raise their children without religion.  It's a phenomenon I've noticed over the past few years of raising a teenage daughter and preteen son.  The thought process of the religious person generally goes something like this:
They never take their kids to church.
Their kids are missing out on everything that God has to offer.  I bet they don't even talk to their kids about the Bible or about God. 
I worry that they don't tell their kids everything about God.  They must feel so empty.
I hate it that their kids don't even understand the damage their parents are doing to them and their immortal souls. 
I wonder if their kids even know anything about the power and forgiveness of Jesus?
Admittedly, this is an amalgam of just some of the sentiments my wife and I get from time to time, but hopefully you get the idea.

Now, I'm sure you can imagine how this can create a very stressful and tense situation for freethinking parents.  The funny thing about all of these sentiments is that none of them are true.  Not even the first one.  We did take our daughter to church, but not our son.  (He never wanted to go.)  We encourage our kids to read the Bible; the same encouragement we offer if they are interested in reading Homer or Aesop or the Epic of Gilgamesh.  We would never hide a book from them.  Because honestly, what good would that do?  I've always maintained that the best way to be informed on a topic is to research it yourself.  In fact, it is my opinion that the best way to make someone question their religion is to get them to sit down and scrutinize their particular religious text.  And by scrutinize, I mean read it for what it is.  Read it from cover to cover, without a devotional, and without a study guide.  You don't need someone telling you what it means.  Read what is actually written in that book.

And just so I'm clear, my family and I talk about religion frequently.  Whether it is an impromptu conversation as we drive to their activities, or a more in-depth conversation over dinner, we discuss whatever questions they may have about Christianity and how it relates to current events.  We even talk about the idea of the modern-day Christian heaven and hell!

The one thing that's very likely different in our house than a religious family is that we do not immediately assume that the Bible is correct.  Religious people tend to ignore that about themselves.  We try to teach our kids that it's okay to be skeptical and ask questions.  In doing so, we have found that this allows free discussion over any number of topics, be it Moses, or Lot (and his daughters), or Noah, or Paul, or Jesus.  We allow our kids to ask questions about the things they hear from their religious friends, and offer them guidance on how to find a logical answer.

We do not, however, tell our kids what to think or what to believe.  We do not hide things from them - especially stories that are found in the Bible.  I mean, we live in Texas... How could we?  Our main concern is that we give them the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, and never, ever, make them feel inferior to the two adults sitting at the table with them.  If either one of them thinks a story is too fantastic to be believed, then we allow them to tell us why.  If they think a particular idea is plausible, then we allow them the time to explain it to us.

We believe the Bible is no different than any other book that was written in antiquity.  If you can get through some of the nonsense, it is fascinating to see how human beings rationalized the world around them.  Plus, as parents that value education, we both fully understand that the Bible is a resource for recognizing other themes and ideas found throughout literature.  Knowing the history of a given theme, or recognizing the symbolism of a particular story, is invaluable when you're a student.  Why would we ever put our kids at a disadvantage?  And besides, we want both of our kids educated.  How could we deny them the opportunity to study any book from the Iron Age and Bronze Age?  Please try to give us more credit than that.

We do not, however, believe that the Bible holds some kind of mystical or celestial message.  It is not magical.  It does not contain any message or any revelation that would be beyond the current technology of the time in which it was written.  Sure, there are a few progressive sentiments scattered here and there, but for the most part it has a twisted and narcissistic deity at its center.  It is cruel.  It is bloody.  It is wildly misogynistic.

And my kids are free read the Bible for themselves and discover these things without me or my wife's intervention.

*          *          *

One other topic I would quickly like to cover is something that I'm sure many of you will recognize almost immediately.  It's something I refer to as the standard Christian smug affirmation:
I've been praying for you and your family.  I have been praying that God will keep blessing your family with love and good health.  I pray every day that you will guys will always stay away from all the temptations and sins of the world.
As if your prayers are the reason my family is as close as we are.  See, my wife and I had nothing at all to do with the successes and failures of our two children.  No... no.  That was God and your prayers.

I mean, my wife and I are atheists, but thanks...  I guess...

Now imagine for a moment, if my wife and I were as brash and presumptuous as this.  Imagine if we were to approach the outspoken religious people around us and say or write something equivalent to that:
We hold out hope that some day you will realize that it's all a lie.
Or:
We understand that it's not our child, but we have to get it off our chests that we wish that you would educate your son/daughter rather than fill him/her with senseless guilt and insecurity.
Not only do I think that's a horribly rude thing to say to someone, but boy would we be immediately labeled as, "angry atheists."  Justifiably so.

And yet, my wife and I get the Christian equivalent of these sentiments from some of the religious people around us.  Think about that for a minute.  These are the type of people we are expected to just put up with simply because they currently have the privilege of being the majority in this country.  We are expected to suffer through their nonsense because, sadly, they are so egotistical that they think their worldview is the right one.

It must be nice to be so presumptuous.

My point is simple.  The next time you think you're being a good Christian and feel like you just have to say something or you're going to burst... DON'T.  Just keep that kind of thinking to yourselves.  Because believe me, you're not being a good Christian.  You're just being a pretentious schmuck.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Heavenly Thinking

This morning I read a post on Facebook where an old high school acquaintance was lamenting a family member who had, "... turned away from Jesus," and how she, "... would miss him in heaven."

So I began to think about what that means.

If the Biblical description of heaven is to be believed, then there's something inherently wrong with it.  Let me explain.

Take Revelations 21:4 -
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
No mourning, no crying, and no pain.  This can lead to only two trains of thought.  I suppose the first is that your soul won't really care about your loved ones burning eternally in Hell.  Going by the, "old order of things" statement above, one could argue that your earthly need to be with your loved ones, and the sorrow of their permanent absence, has passed away and will be replaced by God.  This naturally leads to the conclusion that once you reach heaven, you won't miss your family member at all.  Nor should you care or even acknowledge the ones you assume are also there with you.  You have God, what more do you need?

The second train of thought would be that you will actually enjoy witnessing the eternal torture of your family member.  Given the argument that your soul would indeed rejoice being reunited with friends and loved ones, then your soul must also acknowledge those that didn't.  According to the Bible, there will be no mourning, no crying, and no pain.  Thus, your soul must find comfort in knowing that so many heathens are finally getting what they deserve, an eternity filled with misery and agony.  Even once beloved family members.

Then there are even more questions.  What about good Christian people who had catastrophic brain damage before they died?  Which person ends up in Heaven, the healthy believer or the invalid?  Furthermore, what has heaven to do with people who lose their spouses and remarry?  With which husband/wife do you happily spend eternity?

Which leads me to one of the more famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16 -
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And those that know me well have already heard my favorite question when it comes to that verse: What do you do when you still have eternity and you've already done everything?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thank You, Emma

If you haven't heard or read already, a few days ago Emma Watson gave an inspirational speech on feminism at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The text of the speech can be found here, and here's the video care of the HeForShe channel on Youtube:


I am so proud of her for her courage to deliver that speech at such an enormous venue.  Bravo, young lady!  Bravo!

In case you're wondering, she has accepted the role of the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador and has just started her HeForShe Campaign.  This campaign focuses on educating men that gender equality is not just a struggle to be led and fought by women.  Equality is everyone's right, not just the ones who just happen to have an X and a Y chromosome.

Also, one of the many goals of the HeForShe Campaign is to rid the world of the stigma of men considering themselves to be feminist.  I love that someone is finally addressing this issue.  Because if you haven't heard, YES, I am a staunch feminist!  For years I have wondered why some men refuse to stand behind their wives, daughters, mothers, or sisters and fight for their equality.  It's only in their best interests to do so!

Now repeat after me - feminism does not, nor has it ever been, anti-men.  On the contrary, feminism requires men.  For without men speaking out for the equality of the women in their lives, then those that do discriminate will someday find something about you that will give them the excuse to strip away your freedoms as well.

So thank you, Emma.  It's long past time that men stand together with all of the women in our lives, and move our world beyond this primitive, paternalistic madness left over from our sectarian and superstitious ancestors.