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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

RYBS: Which Two Tablets?

Read Your Bible Series - Week 16

Which Two Tablets?


Since there seems to be a perpetual pursuit of displaying the, "Ten Commandments" in many of the Southern states, I thought it prudent to review what it is these political and religious zealots are pushing.

First, let's look at the original set outlined in Exodus 20, given to Moses after he spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai (because there's no way a man could carve two stone tablets in 40 days):
And God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
* You shall have no other gods before me.
* You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
* You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
* Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
* Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
* You shall not murder.
* You shall not commit adultery.
* You shall not steal.
* You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
* You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You'll note that I placed an asterisk beside the verses that contain the commandments.

So we have two of these "laws" that make perfect sense - don't steal and don't kill.  We have three that should be done out of respect for your loved ones - don't lie, don't cheat on your spouse, and treat your parents respectfully - but none of these three are enforceable, much less reliably determined.  Plus, what about all these parents lying to their kids about Santa or the Tooth Fairy?  Or what if a person has horrible and abusive parents, or likewise a person with an abusive spouse?  In my opinion, people are perfectly justified at times to break any one of these three commandments if they have a legitimate reason to do so.

The other five?  Nothing.  Zilch.  The rest of the "laws of god" are nothing but victimless crimes invented with the sole purpose of unnecessarily burdening people with artificial guilt.  Nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, nothing about torture, and nothing about discrimination.  Nope, these human atrocities are simply not important enough to a loving, omnipotent god to be included in his top ten.

And as horrible as this list is, isn't everyone already aware that these ten were destroyed by Moses?  Hasn't everyone seen the white-bearded Charlton Heston chuck those two tablets at the golden calf in, "The Ten Commandments"?  (If you're interested, all this happens in Exodus 32.)  Those two tablets were lost when Moses threw a temper tantrum like a 3 year-old.

So what does god do?  Moses tells us that he ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights AGAIN so god could create a second set of tablets for him.  What a patient and forgiving god... am I right?!?!?

Now you might think that the second set would match the first set, but you'd be wrong.  Oh, would you be wrong.  Exodus 34: 1-3:
The Lord said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain."
One quick comment on these verses.  Isn't it hilarious that religious men that receive "messages" from the almighty creator of the Universe never seem to have or even want any witnesses?  For some reason, these guys always need to be alone to receive the word of their god.  Isn't that right, Joseph?

Moving on to the second set of ten...  Exodus 34: 14-26:
* Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
* Do not make any idols.
* Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
* The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
* Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
* Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
* Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and
* do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
* Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
* Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Yeah.  You guessed it.  Nobody likes to talk about this set of ten because they're all completely worthless and even more stupid and empty than the first ten.  He even left out the only two from the original that had any worth at all!

Nice.

Plus, if Moses was the guy that wrote both of these, you'd think he would have the wherewithal to make sure that the second list actually matched the first one.  I mean, he was the only one that ever set eyes on the first set of tablets before he destroyed them.  Even if he forgot the first ten, just write down that both lists matched and nobody would've ever been the wiser!  I admit that I'm no holy man, but it seems to me that the most important thing to religious folks is consistency.  But who am I to argue with perfection.

All sarcasm aside, if these idiots are going to argue that the, "Ten Commandments" is a historical document and can be displayed, "...along with other historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta," then why is it then, that they are ignoring the second set of ten?  Aren't these two tablets the ones that really matter, since Moses destroyed the first two tablets and god took the time to carve it into stone AGAIN?

The answer is simple - they don't bring up the second set of commandments because the new commandments are unconditionally stupid and they make reference to events we no longer observe.  Plus, the first set of ten are much easier for laypeople to grasp because there are at least two or three points that still bear any consequence in our society.  But if you're really honest with yourself, eight of those original ten really don't matter that much.  As a matter of fact, I think my ten are much better than either of these sets, and I've never even created a universe.

Let's face it, your local pastors and religious politicians don't like the second set of ten.  They never have.  It makes no sense for them to muddy the political waters with the real story behind the commandments.  So they continue to do what they do best - they cherry-pick the parts that win them votes, they gloss over the uncomfortable topics that might isolate a voting block, and they conveniently obfuscate any discussion that might educate their constituency about what's really written in that book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

RYBS: Bridle Them With Guilt

Read Your Bible Series - Week 15

Bridle Them With Guilt


This week we'll review a strange passage that is found in Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament.  Here we have a supposed prophet, Malachi, issuing warnings to the people of Israel if they break various covenants with god.  I think you'll find that one of these warnings still finds a prominent place even in our modern version of this religion.

Starting with verse 6:
"I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty.
Wait a second...  The Lord does not change?  Liar.  By my count, the "Lord" has changed more times than the Green Lantern!  Well, okay, maybe not THAT much.  But still, we do need to recognize that no matter what the Bible claims, or your local Pastor for that matter, the definition of what god is to our species seems to change as we evolve.

Funny how that works.

Malachi continues:
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
"Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How are we robbing you?'"
How indeed!  Now there's a good question!  How does a mere mortal rob from something that created everything?
"In tithes and offerings."
Oh, of course!  Tithes and offerings - something that you are commanded to give to someone that owns, or could create, anything and everything.  Got it.

And technically, I don't think this is robbing at all.  To me, this sounds more like an example of, "failure to make timely payments."  But then again, how could the author of Malachi guilt everybody into doing something they likely can't afford if he didn't make them feel as if they had committed a crime against god?  I mean, the "Lord" had to eat, right?
"You are under a curse - your whole nation - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe," says the Lord Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.
Let's understand this correctly.  The "Lord Almighty" needs a proper tithe of food in his house in order for him to provide even more, "blessings" of bountiful food, crops and fruit.  I will grant the apologists out there that there isn't a direct threat of repercussions against those that didn't tithe properly.  But this directive from Malachi does suggest that if the people of Israel continue to rob the almighty, they would be missing out on a much larger prize, what with the opening of the floodgates of heaven and whatnot.

I find this absurd.

Why does this god always need people to do something before it is willing to do the right thing for people?  As a supreme being, I would see no point whatsoever in this exercise.  If you have the means to help people, or provide enough food and water for everyone, or protect their crops from being decimated by insects, then you should do it, no questions asked.  Why require those people to give you something first?  Something that you already have or could create!

Furthermore, this is direct proof that even the men that lived that long ago knew precisely how to manipulate people in such a way as to make them willing to do something against their own best interests.  It's the greatest con ever invented.  And over the past two thousand years, the techniques of that deception have done nothing but get more devious and more manipulative.

Don't believe me?  Just take a Sunday - any Sunday - at any of the various local churches and sit in on one of their services (if you're not there already.)  Then make sure you pay attention to how hard they go about selling that whole ten percent thing.

There's almost a magnificence in its cruelty.