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.


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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.

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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.
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.