Sunday, April 15, 2012

G is for God, or the Lack Thereof – April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

I wrote this and submitted it to someone who was asking for stories of how and why people became atheists.  I have decided to include it here, as well.  The link to the other site containing this article is. My part is the same, but there are other stories there as well. I already know that I will probably get heat from this, but I'm standing by it.
I know a lot of people who have been “converted” to one religion or another. I, on the other hand, was raised in a solidly Southern Baptist family and, for want of a better word, eventually de-converted from Baptist to Atheist. Far from preventing me from straying from religion as they hoped, my family’s ideas, actions, and attitudes made me less of a believer over the years. I have always believed that the only reason most of them ever did the “right” thing is out of fear of otherworldly reprisals.
My earliest memories of going to church are of crying when I didn’t get to go to Sunday school. I now know that it was the social aspect that attracted me, even though I was often treated badly or ignored by my classmates. Their families had moved up, financially, faster than mine and I was often ostracized for not dressing as well as the others. I now realize that an undiagnosed hearing loss, which left me clueless to the nuances of things around me, also contributed to my lack of conformity.
In an attempt to fit in, I was baptized around age 10 or 12. I knew even then that I didn’t really mean it. I only vaguely remember deciding to be baptized. My recollection of it may be hazy, but I know that I did it mostly out of peer pressure. I was still something of an outsider among the kids in both my school and my church (many of whom were the same people) and I somehow thought being baptized would bring me more acceptance. Despite my need for acceptance, the process left me feeling like a charlatan. The whole thing went against my logical side. Long before the whole “intelligent design” movement, I asked several people including my parents and my Sunday school teacher, who was also one of my teachers in public school, if it wasn’t possible that there was a compromise between evolution and creationism. My inquiries were met with a resounding “No!” That rejection of any possibility of free thought opened my mind to the possibility of being free of my family’s delusions. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go straight from wannabe believer to atheist with no steps in between. I started out as a questioner.
My initial salvation from religion began when I was a teenager in the form of my best friend’s freethinking family. Though she and I drifted apart many years ago, I still think of the good they did for me. In fact, I still think of her mother very fondly and visit her on occasion. If it weren’t for that family, I don’t know what I might have done when my mother, who was the center of my world, died when I was barely fifteen. Everyone in my family except my father had spouses and children to rally around them and Daddy, well, he had his church – the same church I already felt out of step with. My friend’s family served as my anchor when I felt everyone and everything else had set me adrift. Without their support, I believe I would have gone into a serious downward spiral.
The other thing my friend’s family gave me was permission to question, to wonder if what I had learned was based in fact. Questions that were met by my family and church with “No,” and “Don’t question, just believe,” were met with discussion and encouragement when posed to her family. With them I was exposed to other religions, specifically Catholicism, which was their family’s “official” religion. With them, I attended masses in both Latin and Spanish. The Latin I knew nothing of and the Spanish I knew a little of, but they explained things as they went along, or after the fact when appropriate. Prior to this, my only exposure to “other” churches was attending my sister’s wedding in a Methodist church and a couple of visits to the fundamentalist Baptist church my niece attended. They were so strictly fundamentalist that I was asked to leave a skating party I attended with my niece because I wasn’t wearing nice enough clothes, specifically a “Sunday school” dress.
In my experience, being honest meant being ostracized and shouted down – most of all by my family. I did get a few licks in, though. As a rebellious teenager left alone with a detached father, I learned how to lash out when I wanted attention. It was not uncommon for me to threaten to date a black or hispanic boy or, worse yet, a CATHOLIC! My favorite jab at Daddy, though, was to refer to the bible, his beloved bible, as a book of Jewish fairy tales. That one statement could cause a full relief map of the state of Texas to appear in the veins on Daddy’s forehead.
Daddy never did give up on his religion. One day, Mere weeks before his death at age 94, he asked me what I was reading. I told him and he thumped, literally thumped, his bible and said, “This is the only thing I need to read.” Because of his age, and my refusal to mar his last days with dissent, I neither laughed at him nor answered with what I thought. Later that day, I vented by updating my Facebook status with, “If you never read anything other than what you already believe, how do you know that what you believe is true?”
As an adult, I tried never to begrudge Daddy his religion. Before he died, I made a nice hand-stitched cover for his old bible. I fear it gave my family false hope of my impending “salvation,” but I would have done the same no matter what book it was. I also helped arrange for him to be buried with his bible. It was his companion in life so I felt it was only right that it accompany him in the casket. My main reason for this was to minimize the potential for fights and bad feelings among several of his grandchildren who had already expressed an interest in having the bible. Putting the bible in his casket with him took it out of play. When the man from the mortuary asked if we didn’t want to keep it, I told him that too many people wanted it and this was a way of preventing family squabbles. I refrained from telling him I felt it was just so many pages of fiction and there are plenty more copies of it to go around.
Daddy wasn’t the only religious zealot in our family. My oldest sister, more than 15 years older than me, can hold her own as a religious fanatic. Once, when my son was acting up, as children will do, she told me to put the heel of my hand on his forehead and tell the devil to “be gone.” Now bear in mind that this woman has one son who has been in prison since his late teens for murder, and her oldest son has almost completed his life’s work of drinking himself to death. Looks like that plan really worked for her; and still, she has the gall to wonder why I don’t believe.
Her daughter is my favorite family bible-thumper despite the fact that for quite some time she was a member of a Christian sect that I considered to be a true cult, where the pastor often used the pulpit to rail at her parishioners for a variety of personal transgressions because, after all, anyone and anything she didn’t like was “evil.” My niece and sister, among other family members, now know my opinions about religion, but at least my niece has finally learned that she will never be able to change my ideas and attitudes, so she accepts them. That doesn’t stop her from occasionally trying, but she has learned to gracefully accept “shut up” as an answer. I wish her mother would do the same. She loves to make little jabs at me whenever possible. Her most recent attempt involved quite pointedly discussing with her daughter, in front of me, how “When we go to heaven, God will make us forget friends and family members who weren’t saved so we won’t be unhappy.”
It’s no surprise to me that I hedged about my (non) religious views for years. It’s only with the advent of the atheist groups online, which I found through a nephew who also happens to be an atheist (thank you, Donald [ ]), that I have become more open about my views. Many people who matter very much to me still disagree with my views, some quite vocally so. Nevertheless, I find feeling free to express my thoughts and feelings about religion to be liberating.

Friday, April 13, 2012

F is For FREEDOM – April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

What happened to freedom in the USA?  When did we begin to lose it again?  There are those who would go back to the days of McCarthyism, which apparently they consider “the good old days.”  Today’s scapegoats are no longer “communists”.  They are women, poor people, and gays – basically anyone who might take away money or power from the “haves.”  I’m not talking about just the financial “haves.”  I’m talking about the biased and bigoted “haves” as well.

The “haves” are the ones who would make it a potential felony to demonstrate in the presence of the Secret Service.  This country was FOUNDED on dissention and demonstrations.

The “haves” are the ones who would make it illegal the videotape the police, or audio tape a court session. 

The “haves” are the 1%.  They are the people who believe they should pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.  After all, they are worth more financially so doesn’t that make them worth more socially?  They are the ones who expect extra tax breaks on the premise that they will “create jobs” then they outsource to other countries and put hundreds of people out of work.

The “haves” are the hyper-religious, and even sometimes the moderately religious.  They feel threatened by anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe in their version of god.  More than that, they fear and hate anyone who doesn’t believe in God.  Basically they fear that which is different.

The “haves” are the people (mostly conservative men) who want to control women by limiting their access to health care, contraception and, yes, abortion. 

The “haves” are the people who believe they can, and have the right to, “close down” Planned Parenthood.  NEWS FLASH!  Planned Parenthood is not a public agency and you don’t have the authority to close them down.

The “haves” are the people who can afford their medical insurance or to pay out of pocket, so they don’t see why anyone should need a safety net. And no, there really is no medical safety net unless you are in abject poverty with children to raise, are disabled, or are over 65 – or you’ve been elected to the US Congress or other high office.  (I’ve actually heard someone say, “If they can’t afford medicine, they shouldn’t get sick.”)

The “haves” are the people who don’t have to worry about their Pell grant being cut off mid-semester, not because they aren’t doing well enough in classes, but because they are progressing too quickly, or who are told they have already “received their limit” when they were counting on the money they were promised to pay their rent and buy food.

Mostly, though, the “haves” are the people who fear that someone will learn that they aren’t perfect. 

I have news for you “haves.” There are more of us than there are of you, and we already know you’re not perfect.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

E is for Ed-U-Ka-Shun– April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Sorry I'm falling behind in my quest. Maybe I'll finish this April challenge some time in May.

Please excuse me while I step up on my soapbox.

Education, or the frequent lack thereof, is one of my major pet peeves. Uneducated education can come in several forms: home schooling, religious schools, private (often elitist) schools, and substandard public schools.

My problem with home schooling is twofold. First, I honestly don't believe there are many people out there who are truly qualified to teach a child everything he needs to know. As a reasonably well educated person, with an associates in Computer Science and a BA in English, I would never presume to believe I could teach a child, for example, higher math. Yes, I had quite a bit of math in college, but that doesn't make me an expert. And as for the sciences, forget about it. I am a “literary” type of person and, although I know enough about most of the sciences to appreciate them and (hopefully) discuss them intelligently, I could never answer the more in-depth questions that could arise – nor would I have adequate access to other educators who would have the needed information. Second is my distrust of home schooling. Almost everyone I have known who home schooled their children has done so in an attempt to control the information they receive, whether that is ideological, social, racial, or any other “al” you can think of. I've heard people who home schooled their children say they don't want them exposed to “unacceptable” ideas like evolution, other religions, racial equality, etc....

Next on my list is religious schools. For the most part, religious schools exist for the sole purpose of indoctrinating their students in the guise of education. In many of these schools, science is considered evil unless it can be presented in a way that promotes the religion of the founders of the school. I dare you to find a Southern Baptist school that teaches evolution instead of creationism – or a Catholic school either, for that matter.

On down the list of non-educational education is the elitist private school. In some of these, the children are so insulated against other “classes” that they have no idea what real life is. In their world everyone has a vacation home and a trust fund. This can be as bad as, if not worse than, religious or racial separatism. By virtue of their elevated financial status they may well be some of the leaders of our future, which does not bode well for lessening the gap between the haves and have nots.

Last, but not least, on my list is inadequate public schools. While there are quite a few magnet or charter schools out there that provide an excellent education, there are also many schools that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, educationally speaking. If a child lives in an area with inadequate schools and his parents aren't motivated or, in many cases, able to personally transport their child to a better school, that child is cheated. On top of that, we have all heard about the push by certain groups to eschew teaching evolution in favor of creationism. Personally, I don't think that creationism has a possibility, at least equal to evolutionism rather than a sole fact-based concept.

I have one last point to make. Isn't our job as parents, grandparents and/or educators to teach children to think instead of just telling them what to think?

Think about it, then encourage them to think for themselves.

OK. I'm off my soapbox now,

Sunday, April 8, 2012

D is for Decisions – April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

I hate decisions. I don't mean just the big ones like, should I leave one job and go to another (apparently better) one. Those I can work through logically even if, due to factors beyond my control, those decisions turn out not to be the best. I mean the day-to-day decisions. Unless I'm “in a mood for” something or someone requests something specific, I hate deciding what to make for dinner, what restaurant to go to (unless a Chinese buffet is an option), which brand and/or size of a product to buy, etc. . . . I rarely care what kind or color of furniture I have except that I want it to be comfortable and not too fussy, and overly ornate window dressings tend to irritate me. I don't even care what color a room is as long as it's not vile. I don't even care what kind or color my car is as long as it is reliable, not too much of an eyesore, and doesn't invite the police to stop me.

On a personal level, once I find a style of clothes I like, I'm prone to stick with them until they're woefully outdated. Even among those limited styles, my color palette is somewhat limited as I tend toward black, blues, and the occasional maroon or purple. Nor am I the type to fuss and worry about my hair – I believe that simple is best. Just cut it where I can comb it and go. I never learned how to do all the elaborate things that others do with their hair. This part is rather odd, as I grew up with a mother who loved to go to the hairdresser and my oldest sister is one of those “never a hair out of place” people. I honestly believe that she has shampooed her own hair far less times than she has had it shampooed by someone else. The frugal side of me rails about that type of primping.

I think I've always disliked decisions because I've always worried about how those decisions might affect others. I used to worry about every word I wrote lest I should offend someone. I even censored my own journals, when I wrote them, in case someone read them and was offended. Then, recently, I realized that most people really don't give a damn about what I say, and of the ones who do, most of them don't censor their opinions to avoid upsetting me.

This realization has made it easier for me to openly express my more “unpopular” views such as atheism and other topics on which I disagree with many people I know. I guess that means I don't dislike decisions so much any more.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

C is for Contraceptives – April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Ah, the hot-button subject. EVERYONE should have easy, if not free, access to contraceptives if they want them. I win!

What? You say that there is still debate about it? I heard a reference today to contraceptives being “against the Catholic church's conscience.” How in the hell can anyone with half a brain think that what is, effectively, an un-taxed corporation has a conscience? That is utter, unadulterated bull!

Of course the leadership of the Catholic church doesn't want its members to have unfettered access to birth control. With it there would be far fewer gullible people to support the church! It's the same with Mormons. What is the one thing (other than Mormons) that you see more of in Utah than anywhere else? Twin strollers. This isn't because they have more twins. It's because they have more stair-step kids. Take it from me, unless you are independently wealthy, stair-step kids are damn hard to feed, clothe, and educate!

Why, you ask, should I be considered an expert on this topic? Hmmm... Maybe because I had 4 kids, 4 and under and, nearly 4 years later, 5 kids 8 and under! What they didn't tell us back then was that antibiotics frequently interfered with the pill's effectiveness, and I was often on antibiotics because I was prone to incessant earaches and tonsillitis, so it never quite worked right for me. Don't get me wrong. I love my kids and wouldn't change a thing . But shouldn't women – no, FAMILIES – have at least a chance of deciding how many children they want and how far apart they are? Do these idiots who want to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to get contraceptives know what pregnancy after pregnancy does to a woman's body? What about abstinence? They're already bitching about there being so many one-parent families that need help. Try cutting your husband off from sex so that you don't get pregnant and see how long the marriage lasts. Presto, more one-parent families!

When it comes right down to it, shouldn't readily available contraceptives be considered a boon to men as well? How many poor, lower middle, and middle class men are child support poor? If anything you would think men would want more effective birth control! And not just condoms. Aside from everything else, people in a truly committed relationship generally hate having to use condoms.

And then there is the topic of overpopulation! Haven't we been hearing for years that Earth is overpopulated? We still hear dire predictions of what will happen if the population keeps growing like it has. Not that I hold 100% to everything about overpopulation. I think that in some cases (China) it has been taken to ridiculous extremes.

Another thing. I know people who honestly believe they are not cut out to have children. So should they be denied the basic comfort of close interpersonal relationships? If a person doesn't want a child, or genuinely believes that he or she would not be a good parent, he or she shouldn't be forced to abstain from all sexual contact to avoid becoming a parent solely because of a bunch of uptight men? (And a few women, I might add.)

In short, to all those contraceptive naysayers out there....... GET A LIFE!

Friday, April 6, 2012

B is for Babies -- April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge (Unofficial)

OK. Today is, hopefully, a non-controversial post.

As a mother of 5, grandmother of 20, and great-grandmother of 1, I would like to think I know a lot about babies. I live with my son, who works nights, and his fiancee, who works days, and I am between jobs so my current job is that of a live-in grandma. Not the worst job in the world by any means. It is, however, a lesson in humility. I've seen babies who were fine on breast milk and/or formula until they were several weeks old and babies who needed more than just milk almost from birth. I've dealt with colicky babies and calm babies, good eaters and poor eaters, little ones who had to be burped after every half-ounce and infants who screamed bloody murder if they weren't completely full before the bottle was pulled from their mouths, babies who were never sick a day in their lives and babies who got sick every time they turned around.

I relearned last night that the only thing anyone really know about babies that each one is different. I was taught this lesson by my youngest grandson, who is 23 days old at this writing. During the day he is a very good baby, only crying when he is hungry or needs changed, but at night he gets fussy. I wasn't aware of exactly how fussy he was at night because his mommy usually takes him to her room at night. Last night was my son's night off and he had “bitty butt”, as I call him, in the living room. He would settle in for a few minutes than start fussing and work himself up pretty badly. The only time he seemed to calm was when one of us was holding him tight, and he would only sleep until we put him down. We finally found the solution. As soon as we swaddled him he went right to sleep and slept like a baby....well.... like most parents hope their babies will.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A is for Atheist -- April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge (Unofficial)

WARNING -- BLASPHEMY ALERT!!!  If you think this might offend you, it probably will.

A is for Atheist.
That's what I am.
So please do not send me
Your religious spam.

I trust what is proven,
Things scientists show,
Not “heaven” above us
Or “hell” down below.

No book only proven
Within its own pages
No evidence needed
Just myths from past ages.

And if in the end
I am wrong, which I doubt,
You go to your heaven
And please leave me out.

For endlessly praising
Some self-centered god.
Sounds terribly boring
And quite smacks of fraud.

For why would a deity
So desperately need
Millions of people
His ego to feed?

So pray me no prayers
And leave me no tracts.
Just treat me as equal,
And show me true facts.

April A-Z Challenge -- I missed the signup.

I guess I should have been watching things more closely.  I've decided to do the challenge even though I'm starting late and not in the "official" list.