Raising Responsible Citizens

My son has always been with me whenever I voted, and we discussed how it was important to always participate in the political process, to know and research the candidates and issues. As he got older, Arizona had the Permanent Early Voter List and when I would get the ballot, we would research the candidates, including the local City Council people and the propositions together, so we were informed and would discuss the issues. I asked him for his opinions and never told him that he was wrong, but would ask questions about the opposite side of the issue. Even if he was already on the side that matched what I was going to vote.

My son was so sad when he couldn’t vote for Obama the first time in 2008, but he registered to vote as soon as he was 18, has voted in every election since, and last year, attended his first political rally for Bernie Sanders. As we were leaving, I asked him for his thoughts. He stated that the best way he could describe Sander’s speech was to quote Spock “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”, that’s what Bernie Sanders wants to do.

Considering my son is a logic-driven Star Trek fan, and I joke that he is half-Vulcan, it was a huge compliment to Bernie Sanders.

When we got our permanent early voter ballots for Arizona’s “presidential preference election” he already had his filled out for Bernie Sanders and as soon as I got home, he handed me mine, and once I filled out mine, we put them in the blue mailbox that night. 

We have been paying attention to the clips from debates, and some of the stump speeches from all candidates on both sides, and we are both bothered by all candidates on the Republican side. Not just those running for president, but also those running for the House and Senate, and state legislatures. Those must change soon, and term limits must be put in place for House and Senate congressmen. Until there are term limits in Congress, we will continue to see obstructionism, backdoor deals that only help the richest people and corporations, banks and CEOs, not average citizens and certainly not anyone living near the poverty line.

I am so happy to see young people like my son, and others, who are paying attention and getting involved, it is their future that I worry about.

Religions are just security blankets

To understand that all gods were created by man, is the first step to understanding that there are no gods. Every god and goddess imagined by man was shared within a person’s family or tribe as a means to give reason to chaos, to help the members of that family or tribe to sleep better at night. In the most ancient times, when earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, wars,  cyclones, mudslides, sickness and wild animals killed beloved family members, the stories of an all-powerful god calling that person “home” to wherever that God lived was a way to help the survivors sleep better at night.

It has always been a security blanket for the mind, and that is okay. Some people always need that security blanket to deal with death of loved ones, and especially in dealing with their own eventual death. Some people grow out of needing their security blanket and seeing it for what it is, and a few were raised with no security blanket at all.

There are many different patterns and sizes of security blankets in the world, and not every blanket is right for every person. Each person must find the security blanket that is the most comfortable for themselves, usually the same blanket as their parents and neighbors, because it is the one they grew up with. That too can be okay, but forcing every person to use only one type of blanket is wrong, just as forcing everyone to discard their blankets and grow away from needing them.

Unfortunately, some people see that their security blanket must be the best fit for everyone and use their power of persuasion or threat of violence to strangle other people with their blanket, using their blanket as a means of control of others around them. The more people who give them power, give in to being suffocated by that person’s blanket, the bigger and more suffocating that blanket becomes. Most Fundamental blankets are this smothering, strangling whomever they can.

Forcing women to give up their voice, their rights of equality is one manifestation of an overreaching stranglehold of what was once a security blanket but now a stranglehold of vile hatred and control of mind and body. This is not just the blanket that becomes a burka, but the blanket of fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalists of any other religion that forces capitulation.

I would have no problem with people having their own security blanket to help them sleep at night, but as long as people keep trying to change one another’s minds, especially through threat of violence or death, to change from one blanket to another, there will not be peace. This is disheartening, but true. What can be done? Recognize and accept that there are lots of patterns and sizes of security blankets and it is only a matter of personal opinion and one’s own comfort that determines which blanket they hold onto at night, or none at all.

To have no need of a security blanket is refreshing, enlightening, and once unencumbered, it is easier to see just how restrictive that blanket has become, to realize just how much it blinded the view of the wider expance of the world, galaxies and the universe, and to feel true freedom for the first time.

Whatever helps you sleep at night is okay, as long as you don’t smother someone else with your blanket.  Trying to debate or convince someone into wanting a piece of your blanket is NOT evangelizing, it is suffocating, strangling, and inexcusable.

Why Is America’s Sense of Black Humanity So Skewed? | Alternet

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/why-americas-sense-black-humanity-so-skewed?akid=12535.1076872.vrAoZU&rd=1&src=newsletter1028106&t=9&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

What is so disturbing about this article is that @ProfessorCrunk is 100% correct, and yet the majority of White America won’t see it. We must start seeing this as a very urgent issue that must be resolved by the White majority.

WE, as the owners and recipients of White Privilege, must make that change in our society, because right now, it appears as if the 1960’s civil rights movement NEVER happened.

What is wrong with this country when any ethnic minority is seen as less than human, whether they are Black, Latino, Native American, Indian, or Asian? We are all human, we are all worthy of respect, dignity and due process of law. We are all one race, one people, the only difference is whether our ancestors migrated through Europe, Asia, or straight from Africa, and how long ago. And this includes people who have recently immigrated here, legally or illegally.

We are ALL Africans through our Mitochondrial DNA. The evidence is overwhelming. We cannot treat people differently just on the basis of skin tone. We must forcefully reject the idea that anyone else is less human based on their skin tone, their neighborhood, or their families. Each individual has the right to be treated with respect.

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My 2 years of church

I’m an atheist, I’m also a Humanist. So, in 1998 when my then husband realized that he was dying from lack of affordable healthcare and untreated diabetes, he felt the need to get back to his religious roots and start going back to church. The Salvation Army Church was one that his parents had attended with their four children and the one that he felt was the right place to be. He was certainly scared of dying, and in looking back over the previous decades of being a free spirit/hippy, he realized that he had quit going to church in his teens. (about the same time he started drinking beer and smoking marijuana, go figure.)

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So, at about 44, he realized that he was dying. Diabetes is a slow, painful dying off of various internal organs. He had a partial paralysis of his upper GI, diabetic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, hepatitis B, and in late 1999 he had end stage renal failure and went on dialysis. He was in constant pain from his nerves in his legs and feet dying off and firing constantly to try to tell his brain. On bad days, his upper GI was in a state of perpetual Reverse. he couldn’t even hold down water, would throw up everything in his stomach, then have dry heaves for HOURS. Diabetics need to have food regularly, for their medications to work properly. Without holding down food, or even the medications, he was only going to get worse. The only time he had any relief was when his cousin came over and shared a joint. (Two puffs and within seconds, his dry heaves STOPPED and didn’t start back up for hours.)

Back to church. Having come to that realization that he was going to die, he decided that he needed to “get right with God”. This was news to me, as we never really discussed religion, but I loved this hippy husband of mine and knew that he needed to do something to ease his mind. That was my only concern, letting him ease his mind and so that he could have something to focus on other than his last few years, knowing he wasn’t going to see his son or mine reach adulthood. So, I left a decent paying job that had me working on weekends for a job that would give me Sundays off. It would have been better if the first job could have let me just change to different days off, but it wasn’t possible to get any one person to cover the tasks I covered alone. They would need two and they knew it. (So, I moved on and they still needed to find two people to cover my one shift!) That was early 2000, about the same time my husband started dialysis. The new job wasn’t that great, small office, and I lasted a year. I’m certain that they canned me because they realized that my husband’s medical bills were going to cost them more than they thought I was worth.

In 2001, just weeks after finding a new job, he had a stroke. The signs were obvious, so I took him to the hospital near his family, so they could also visit, but that ER sent him home stating that the MRI didn’t show a stroke, even though ALL of the typical signs were there! It took two days for me to trick him into going to another hospital. This one started to bitch me out for not getting him there sooner, until I told them what the first hospital had said/done.

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Now he was helpless, in the hospital, then in a Rehab hospital for a couple weeks, then home. No one along the way, in the hospital, rehab or his dialysis caseworker said ANYTHING about different state programs that were available to us as a low income family. I had to quit work to stay home to take care of him. Not even the church could do anything but pray, which did about as much good as nothing at all, other than make them feel like they were helping. Living on $685/mo with Rent at $600/mo isn’t possible, people. Finally, the caseworker at dialysis asked “why don’t you use AZ Long-Term Care System?” I was like “Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me about this before I had to leave my old job!?!?!?!?!?!!” Seriously! I could have used that info about 2 months prior, while he was still in Rehab, learning how to use a wheelchair.

I found another job, had some minimum wage guy come cook his meals and take care of him while I worked. Speaking of meals, a Diabetic Renal diet is NOT affordable by any means. No Salt, No Sugar, Low Potassium, Low Phosphorus, Double or Triple portions of LEAN meats. The most expensive cuts are the leanest. Low Phosphorus means no dairy products. No Potassium means no green veggies. He was eating so many eggs a day that he swore he was going to start farting feathers.

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While he was at home all day and I was working, he started watching TBN, and was believing everything that Paul Crouch, James Dodson and all the others were spouting all day. He became even more religious, wanting to be in church both Sunday services, Wednesday nights and in the Pastor’s weekly radio ministry aimed at the prisoners in the local jails and prisons, trying to help them get away from gangs and straighten out their lives. So, I took him to all these places whenever he could physically attend. Because I loved him, I knew he was scared, and I understood what he was doing – He was like a college student cramming for finals, except these were the Final set of Finals that he’d ever encounter. What can a person do, when their loved one is dying, but help them find solace wherever they can?

On February 7th, 2002, he mentioned a new health issue, so I brought him back to the second hospital that he went to for the stroke, they knew him fairly well by then, with all his frequent flyer miles in their beds. This time, it was Colon cancer. They went into surgery the next morning, and removed the tumor. While he was still waking up, the doc told me that it was stage 4. Even if he fought it with chemo and radiation, he would only have 6-12 months to live. I said “With everything else he has going on, he couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.” Hospice of the Valley was called, they were remarkable, bringing out a hospital bed, bedside commode, and oxygen the day before he was due to be released. He came home on Valentine’s Day. More prayers, the pastor even came out to see him in the hospital and then at home. Morphine had him knocked out most of the time, and delusional most of his waking moments, but the pastor stuck around and prayed anyway. (Yeah, that’s going to help when he’s seeing not only the pastor but Batman and Robin in the room.)

On February 21st, just one week after coming home, he fell down in the bathroom (he refused to use the bedside commode, as there was no privacy.) I called the ambulance, they saw that he was on Hospice and asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital or just get help back to his bed. He wanted to just go to bed. We didn’t know it then, but the fall had caused something to tear open in the surgical site, and there was some internal bleeding. The next day was Dialysis day. He said he didn’t want to go, but I told him that he needed to go, anyway. Heh. I should have let him stay at home. He got there, and his blood pressure was so low, they couldn’t read it. They sent him to a third hospital, close to them and then called me. His family and I all met, to discuss what we should do, if the hospital should perform any live saving measures if he were to code out. We determined that we would wait until the next morning to decide whether they should do anything or not. We would meet up at 9AM the next morning. But before 6AM, I received a call that he’d died. When we had his memorial service, it was nice to see all the family & friends come from near and far, but where were they before he died? That was the last day I stepped in a church for any type of service.

Why don’t I believe in god? Why the hell should I? Why should I believe in something that didn’t make any substantial difference in my life, in my child’s life or really anything more than a little bit of comfort to a scared dying man? I don’t need to believe in some afterlife, I have this life, and I need to make the most of this one life that I know I have here and now. Because the one thing I learned when he died at 46 years old, was that Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone and we cannot live for a possible tomorrow in some other life after this one when we only have right now. Saying I’m sorry to the person I’ve actually hurt, instead of saying the lord’s prayer later over dinner doesn’t help ease the mind of the person I’ve hurt. Saying Thank You to the people who are there for you right then, instead of just remembering them in your nightly prayers. Actually helping someone out when they need it instead of the useless “I’ll pray for you” which doesn’t help one bit. Help with some housework, help with some shopping or other chores, help with whatever you can afford to do, but “I’ll pray for you” is worse than useless to the family caregiver who doesn’t have the ability to get half a night’s sleep, much less a full night’s sleep because there’s too much to get done.

I’m not angry at any god, I’m angry at people who think they can help by only praying. Praying away their own sense of mortality, of helplessness, and of their own fear of dying some day in a similar fashion. I’m angry at all the people in his church, and to some extent in his family, who were never around when he was alive to help, but offered empty condolences of “he’s in a better place now.” How about the truth? He’s not suffering any longer. He’s not in pain any longer. That’s the better euphemism, honestly.

To say he’s in a better place? No, his cremains are in a box in the laundry room closet, that’s not necessarily a better place. Ok, some of his cremains are on a favorite mountain side of his, some are in the ocean off Hawaii and some are scattered hither and yon by his family, but the rest, they are in a box. It’s not anything fancy, in fact it’s a Pop-Tarts box.

Proselytizing Atheism…

In my last blog post, I had a very intriguing question posed by a reader:

“Thanks for sharing your views on atheism.  It’s very interesting to hear a first-hand perspective of how you view God and religion…. Do you see they [sic] need to proselytize as an atheist?

As I can only specifically talk about my Atheism, but I can generally speak to Atheism in America, I have given this some thought and a s it turns out, a very lengthy reply . So, instead of putting that reply in the comments, I have brought it forward to a new post.

As Atheists, we feel the need to make certain that the fundamental evangelical Christians do not continually try to oppress and trivialize our freedom of speech and the freedoms of other non-Christians in this country.

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself, and where I’m coming from. I grew up in a small rural town in the Northwest, my parents never really talked about religion, and as a kid, going to church with Grandma was more about getting to spend the day with Grandma. She is a moderately Christian person, as are my father and his three sisters. My mother’s older sister and her husband are Catholic, and her brothers are all religious to varying degrees. My grandma says everyone has free will, therefore only I can choose my own path, though my father, who may not have attended church in my lifetime, has certainly more conservative views. My first cousin has a daughter in a Christian college, though I am not certain what she is learning there.

I would never consider trying to actively convert anyone even within my own family to my viewpoint, though I have the hardest time reconciling the fact that the man who taught me the scientific names of all the trees in the woods around us before I started first grade, and who taught me about plants, animals, evolution, dinosaurs and ice age mammals, would now tell me that I am going to hell for not believing in a God that he never even talked to me about as far back as I can remember. I don’t see how he could be surprised that both my brother and I are Atheists.

When my last husband was alive, and was so sick from untreated diabetes and knew he was dying, we were in church every chance he could be there. He went from a laid back, easy-going hippy kind of person to a Paul Crouch & James Dobson quoting conservative person within the span of 3 months. I loved him and would do anything I could do to help him feel better, physically, mentally and emotionally. I understand why he was devoting all his waking moments into prayer, and his need to be at church services every possible moment. The truth, obviously, was that he feared dying, as most people do.

In fact, I quit a very stable job that had great medical benefits (so he could finally have insurance coverage) because they would not change my schedule to have Sundays off. I was our only income, meager as it was, but his mental and emotional health was more important at that time.

I realized that the drastic change in his words and actions was due to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of death. Fear that there may really be a hell waiting for him if he didn’t “get right with God.” I knew that his fervent prayers were not going to actually heal him, but at least it would ease his mind, so we went to church, tithed money we really needed for food and utilities, and even participated in the pastor’s local radio ministry.

So, where was his God? His God, just like all 6500+ other gods and goddesses that have been described since the dawn of written languages, does not exist any more than Zeus, Odin, Baal or any other deity, all of which have also been revered, prayed to, offered sacrifice, and worshipped throughout history. My ancestors’ gods are just as invalid as the Christian God, no matter how much I would prefer someone telling me that Odin & Thor were real. (Just for a nice twist of fate).

Regarding preaching, proselytizing, etc, we (Atheists) only started  getting vocal when we saw the way the fundamental Christian community has been increasingly hateful against anyone different from themselves. There have been non-believers throughout history, and there have been many who vaguely tbelieved in possibly an impersonal deity who set the whole universe in motion then left, no personal god to pray to for guidance or intercession, they were the deists, like Thomas Jefferson. Even the most devoutly religious, John Adams, knew that there MUST be a clear line drawn between the government and any form of religion.

In the last 50-75 years, there has been a very well planned interjection of religious belief into our country’s laws. It has been slow, deliberate, and insidious. It gained traction during the cold war and McCarthyism’s “Red Scare” of communism, and has only gained momentum in the last 10-15 years.

McCarthy and many of the government leaders of the House & Senate started linking a type of government, communism, with the scariest thing they could imagine, “godless heathens”. They had been listening to their very charismatic preachers, ministers and reverends who preached fear and distrust of anyone who was not a “God-fearing Christian”. The interesting thing is that Russia, per Wikipedia, has 41% Orthodox Christian, 4.1% unaffiliated Christian, 25% “spiritual but not religious, 4.1% other orthodox, 6.5% Muslim, 5.5% undecided and 13% Atheist. Their Christianity goes back to the Kievan Rus’ in the 10th century. So much for godless.

Americans were duped and lied to about the “godless Russian communists” as we were taught to fear them throughout the last half century. This lead to a revival, a push for more Christianity in the US, and more evangelicalism to feel superior to the country we feared the most – Russia. Then, a more pragmatic approach prevailed for a while and the cold war ended. As a culture, though, Americans, especially American Christians, still tie communism (politics) with Atheism (lack of religion), and tie Capitalism with Christianity.  This is in error, but still are tied together by Christian leaders in this country.

The laws passed in this country over the last 20-50 years have been increasingly religious-biased. For our nation, founded on secular principles of keeping any religion out of Government, to start passing state and federal laws that are so blatantly Christian is disturbing, to say the least. Laws that restrict access to healthcare for women, laws that define “traditional (Christian) marriage”, laws that remove empirically-proven scientific knowledge and attempt to replace it with religious beliefs in creation, laws that try to put religion in public schools and in government buildings, and many more – these are some of the many reasons Atheists, and even religious Secularists, have had to become more vocal about this disturbing trend and our demand to make it stop.  

Back to proselytizing… My brother and I are both ordained Ministers with the American Marriage Ministries and the First Church of Atheism. This does NOT mean we have an actual church, nor do we go evangelical and start trying to convert people. Other Anti-theists and Atheists may actively try to get religious people to start thinking rationally and critically, but that isn’t quite the same thing as evangelizing to non-believers like some Christians do. 

We are both Ministers for one reason only – to perform marriage, baby-naming, and possibly even funeral services for people who do not have a religious belief or don’t have a house of worship that will perform these services for them, particularly when it is a same-sex marriage. I don’t even charge anything for my services, though I will accept tips.

Other ministers with the AMM & FCA do actually charge for their services. That’s certainly fair, since most theist ministers do charge for these same marriage services as well, or at least request a donation to their church/synagogue/mosque/ashram.  We don’t “Preach the gospel of science and Darwinism” as some Christians seem to think. We encourage rational, logical, skeptical thought. We request evidence. We cannot take it on faith that a new drug may cure or treat a disease, we want to know that there were double-blind tests, that those tests were not biased in any way, and they were successfully replicated by other scientists and they all followed the same scientific method for that peer-review. We ask for more than blind faith, because we have tested the “power of prayer”, and the evidence shows it was non-existent. Prayer will not reattach a severed limb, no matter how steadfast and fervent the prayers are offered.

There have been too many children who have died slow, painful deaths at the hands of prayer by their very devout parents and religious leaders. There have been too many people who have been willing to give their last dime to a televangelist, fervently hoping to make up for their past choices so they can buy their way into heaven, based on their fear of death. This belief and fear of a fire & brimstone hell has made many Christian preachers, ministers, and reverends very wealthy. 

Megachurches are one example of this, as is the Roman Catholic church. With that wealth comes power to impose their beliefs upon their politicians. And their tax-free status makes them even more wealthy and powerful.

Atheists and secularists see this trend and are horrified by the implications. For example, when looking at countries of this world, I see a distinct trend, based on their importance of religion in their everyday lives and their country’s actions, both in how they treat their own citizens and their neighboring countries. Here a few notables from Wikipedia and the percentage of people who believe religion is important:

Sweden – 16.5%
Denmark – 18%
Czech Republic – 20.5%
Norway – 20.5%
United Kingdom – 26.5%
Australia – 32%
Russia – 33%
United States – 65%

Now, at the other end of the spectrum, these countries all have at least 95% of their citizens who say religion is important:
Rwanda, Bahrain, Cameroon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Cambodia, Comoros, Yemen, Burma, Jordan, Laos, Pakistan, Senegal, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Guinea, Zambia, Burundi, Djibouti, Egypt, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Morocco, Somaliland, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Then there are the two who report 100%, Bangladesh and Niger.

The countries who have the better record of taking care of all their citizens, of quality education, and are known for being peaceful neighborly countries have very low percentage of people who believe religion is important in their country. The countries who do place a greater importance on religion are generally considered third-world countries and we see them in the news often, due to wars, genocide, and civil strife. Whether there is a direct correlation between the two or not, it is a  disturbing trend, especially given our country’s current religious push towards a more theocratic government. The risk is too great, so we must speak out. That is what the Friendly Atheist videos are attempting to do, and what my blog post was trying to share.

Watch “How to talk to religious people about atheism?” on YouTube

How to talk to religious people about atheism?: http://youtu.be/oUeY3NB4TK8

My preferred line of discussion with theists, especially Christians, is to first talk about children they know who sometimes need a favorite blanket, stuffed animal or something else that is a security item for them to help them sleep at night.

Now, with that in mind, think about what it must have been like to live three, four or even ten thousand years ago, with wars, and diseases, and natural events like a mudslide, earthquake, or massive storm. How would a parent help their children to be able to sleep at night after suffering a cataclysmic event like that, they need something to help make sense of what just happened. Why did their loved one die in this horrific manner?

The parent looks away, trying to think of something to say, and looks outside, sees all the stars in the night sky, and being the storytellers that came about with the refinement of language, starts to tell their children about some supernatural force must have needed such a loved and wonderful person or people as the ones who died. Or maybe it was to help a child overcome their nightmares of thunder & lightening, or whatever kept their child awake at night.
Through generations of these stories being passed along and shared, from adults to children, they grew rituals and ceremonies to go with the stories. That was the birth of various religions.  They were born from a need to alleviate fears about the world around them that they didn’t understand. Religion is a collection of stories told to their kids, their loved ones or to themselves to help them sleep at night.

As for Jesus, I doubt that there was only one man born back around then that may have believed he was a son of God. In fact, there were many false prophets at that time in history, there were many people who did truly believe they have heard the voice of their gods. The man called Jesus may well have been one of those people, or an amalgamation of many of those men. So, how did this story of “his teachings” survive where others did not?

First, we don’t know for sure that all of the things attributed to Jesus were actually spoken by him, just like modern day quotes are often attributed to the wrong person. Many stories of Jesus are plagiarisms of previous stories.

Second, this man called Jesus had a better marketing team, not just the 12 apostles, but all of the other followers, they kept relaying these stories to their families, friends, neighbors and nearby countries. They may have wrote letters to nearby countries and their leaders, and had the first wildly successful marketing campaign.

But, son of God? No. That is just fantasy. Just hopeful, wishful, delusional fantasy.