blaming lovelessness on atheism?

I’ve purchased a book called “all about love” by bell hooks (the lowercase in intentional by the author). I was mostly enjoying it up until the chapter on spirituality where she seems to basically blame the lack of love and emotional fulfillment in modern society on “secular individualism” and “materialism.” I think she says some things that make sense here about the need to step away from consumerism as a means of fulfilling our emotional needs. But it also seems like she is saying all “true” spirituality is love, and the opposite is secularism/consumerism/atheism/nihilism. And that chafes on me very badly. It makes me not to read this book any more. 🙁

Example quotes:
“A culture that is dead to love can only be resurrected by spiritual awakening. On the surface it appears that our nation has gone too so far down the road of secular individualism, worshiping the twin gods of money and power, that there seems to be no place for spiritual life… The crisis of American life does not seem to be generated by a lack of interest in spirituality. However, this interest is constantly co-opted by the powerful forces of materialism and hedonistic consumerism.”

“Organized religion has failed to satisfy spiritual hunger because it has accommodated secular demands, interpreting spiritual life in ways that uphold the values of a production-centered commodity culture.”

I don’t think she actually means to say atheism and secular philosophies are nihilist and void of love and meaning. I think she’s just using the terms to contrast with her own version of “true religion,” saying that the problem of lovelessness in our society have been caused by secular ideas and can only be fixed by a true “spiritual awakening.” Believe anything you want, be spiritual,  just don’t be secular!

Maybe it’s just an unavoidable consequence of a belief that “God is love.”

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Moral Lessons from the Bible: God as the Perfect Father?

I’ve heard at times from non-fundamentalist friends and family that the stories of the Bible are not to be taken literally but that they provide moral lessons. Sometimes I have to wonder what moral lessons and truths they are talking about.

For instance, there is one story in the Bible in particular that honestly and seriously confused me about how a loving father should act. God is presented in the tradition of Christianity I was raised in as the perfect Father, and we were taught that this story happened literally. It is the story of Genesis 3, usually titled “The Fall” or something like that. It’s a bit long and I don’t want to reproduce it here, but if you want to read it you can find it on BibleGateway.com.

The gist of it is that God had told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Well, in the KJV “the tree in the midst of the garden”) or else they would die. To made a fairly short story even shorter, Eve is persuaded by the cunning talking snake into taking a bite, and then getting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. It’s what happens next — and the explanations and rationalizations I was taught — that confused me. Do Adam and Eve die? Well, not right away, but it is presumed that one day they will (the assumption was always that they were immortal before, and now they are mortal even though I don’t think the text actually says that anywhere so I’m not entirely sure if that is part of the story or if it was just “interpreted” into it.)

Anyway, no God doesn’t kill them — not right away anyway. He does worse. He curses them and all of their descendants with hard labor — tilling of the ground for men and painful childbirth for women. God does not only carry out this threat, he compounds it even to the point of cursing all the good things he had created in the previous two chapters.

What does this say about how a perfect father acts toward his children? I was told, and believed, that it means that if a father ever makes a threat to a child to try to ensure obedience and the child disobeys (for any reason) than that father is honor-bound to carry out that threat. If he doesn’t, then the child will lose respect for him, and all sorts of nastiness will supposedly result. In God’s case, it would be a blemish on his spotlessly perfect nature, and we couldn’t have that. It’s just all-important that the children OBEY and face serious and painful consequences if they don’t.

Of course they said if a father is not God, he shouldn’t make terrible threats like that to start with — but then that meant that earthy fathers should not really be like the supposed perfect Father — which I found confusing when I was a kid.

Obedience is the key lesson here — not healthy child development or flourishing, not development of a loving and trusting relationship, not an understanding that just being told to do or not do something is simply not good enough to expect compliance from a young child. And Adam and Eve were like children in this story — not even knowing good or evil before they ate the fruit. It’s just obedience based on “do what I say, or I will hurt you” that God expected from them.

There is also a related lesson that reaching for knowledge and understanding is wrong. That trying to understand why an act is good or evil, rather than simply obeying for it’s own sake, is sinful.

Are these good moral lessons? I don’t think they are.

Or it could just be a ancient myth with no real moral lesson to teach. A just-so story from people who live a long time ago to explain why life is so hard. In fact, I have a idea that is exactly what it really is.

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Brief Reason Rally Thoughts

Brief Reason Rally Thoughts
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A view of the Washington Monument and some fellow ralliers on their way to the Lincoln Memorial. Note the verse on the t-shirt.

The walk to the Rally from our hotel was long, but fun. Ed and I were wearing our “LouAville Atheists and Freethinkers” shirts which got a lot of notice and comments and also signaled to all the other rally people to where we were going. We had some good company and interesting scenery on the way, including a pass right by the Washington Monument. I’d seen it from a distance before, but never so close up.
We arrived at the Rally at about 10:30am, about 1/2 hour after the official start time. Once we got there, we found a nice grassy shady spot under the trees alongside the reflecting pool and settled in. We were far enough from the stage to just barely be able to see what was being projected on the large screens, but we had no problem hearing everything as long as the sound system didn’t glitch.
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Bill Nye is addressing the Reason Rally crowd about the need to take climate change seriously.

There were several speakers at the Reason Rally that I had not heard of before, which was fine for me since I’ve been to enough conventions that I’ve heard many of the well-known speakers many times before. It was good to hear fresh voices. One of my favorite talks was the guy from Hollywood Squares, John Davidson. (Yea, I had to look up his name since before the rally I had not heard of him.) He talked about how he’d been an atheist though much of his career, but spent most of that time hiding that fact. He talked about how he’d turned down a gig once because the sponsors wanted him to either pray or sing a gospel tune at the end of it — though he didn’t tell them why he backed out. It was very interesting to me to hear the ways that being a closeted atheist had affected his life and his career. It was only fairly recently that he came out as part of the Openly Secular project.

Another top moment for me was when Penn Jillette did a duet with the singer who had been berated for being an atheist on Ecuador’s Got Talent. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the video, Google “atheist on Ecuador’s Got Talent. She shows some amazing composure and courage though the whole ordeal.)
And I loved yelling “ATHEIST!” with about 15,000 other people during Dave SIlverman’s talk, too.  🙂
I was at the Reason Rally in 2012 so I can’t help but make a few comparisons. The 2012 rally had a more tightly packed crowd, and more of a “We’re here, we’re atheists, get used to it!” type of feel. More like what I’d expect of a rally. The 2016 Rally had a bit more of a toned down feel which was more like “We’re here, we’re atheists, now how do we make the world a better place?” vibe. There was a large crowd, but it was spread out — especially at our distance from the stage — and we were able to sit on our blanket on the banked area and still see the stage. This time I am a mom, and I welcome the more “family friendly” aspect of the rally. As the movement matures it becomes not only about knocking religion off its pedestal (though that aspect is not going away) but also about the scientific and humanistic concerns like social equality and climate change. I think this is a good thing, and a sign that the moment is maturing. After all, atheism is only about the a rejection of the claims of theism, but atheists — real flesh and blood atheists — have concerns that go well beyond that.
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Fan of Reason in one hand, and Sonic Screwdriver in the other. That’s my girl!

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