Thoughts on Ramadan

This is a slightly unusual topic for me, since I don’t usually write about Islam. However a couple of things have brought Ramadan to my attention this year and it is on my mind.

First of all, it came up in a team meeting at work a few days ago. We were discussing the goings on at work, which has been particularly hectic lately. My manager made a bit of a side-note request that we be a bit patient with her since Ramadan just started. I was slightly taken aback at first, but then was just like “oh, ok.” This was the first time, ever, I had every heard any mention of religion from her, even though I did know from previous discussion that she comes from a pretty large and traditional family from Egypt. It was an odd revelation in the middle of a work meeting, but it’s an interesting thing to know nonetheless. And then, after that, are interactions became totally religion-free once again.

What brought it to my attention just as I was coming home today was a story on NPR about Ramadan in connection with the fact that much of the United States is having a terrible record-breaking heat wave. The disturbing bit about this being that Muslims are apparently not supposed to eat or drink anything while the sun is up. The main question being discussed was about Muslims who are working outside in 100 degree heat during the day, but are not supposed to drink anything? That just sounds dangerous to me. I would think surely there are exceptions to the rule for people who work in such occupations. :-/

My other thought is that Ramadan makes Lent look like nothing. If course the whole idea of following either such religious restriction seems odd to me. Why make yourself physically miserable it you don’t really need to? I would like to know, what motivates people to do things like this?

Here is the link to the NPR story: Heat Wave Tests Muslims During Ramadan

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“Spiritual growth”?

My atheism became known while I will still living with my parents, a couple of years before I increased my independence by moving out. More than once during this period, Mom sent me notes though email or left on my bed to scold, guilt, console, or apparently say anything that she thought might cause me to accept Jesus once again and renounce my disbelief. (It appears to me that this was her motive, at least.) Once, when she realized I was not going to church anywhere anymore (though I had been going various places on my own from time to time, seeking what I could consider a believable faith) she stated in a letter that as long as I lived at home I was required to go to church somewhere (anywhere!). This was part of a larger requirement that I seek what she referred to as “spiritual growth.” I went to the closet church I could find that looked decent, though I saw the things I found unbelievable in Christian faith as much there as anywhere else I went. I stopped going after a few weeks, and the topic was not brought pushed at home again. I don’t think much in the way of spiritual growth was achieved in this way.

On the other hand I think I have achieved more in real “spiritual growth” as an atheist than I did in all my years as a Christian. I have experienced the type of growth that I think I never could have truly achieved within an evangelical Christian context.  I have learned to trust my reasoning abilities, to always strive to learn new things, and to change my beliefs to be ever more consistent with my new learnings. I’m much more likely to think out an issue, come to my conclusion, and trust in that conclusion even against popular opinion until someone rationally convinces me otherwise. The fear of doubt and reliance on authority was instilled in me by the Christian notion that salvation depends on unquestioning belief* and obedience to God. I knew even when I was still a believer that (the wrong kind of?) knowledge and self-confidence could be dangerous to belief and would undercut the authority of those that have set themselves up as speaker for God.

I’ve made it my goal to grow in confidence, willingness to stand out and speak my mind. Willingness to be different. And I have gone though enough cycles of being absolutely convinced of something only to have my mind changed by new information later that I’ve grown in tolerance of the disagreements I have with others over religion and other contentious topics. No matter how convinced you are that you are right, there is always a possibility that your view might change in the future**. Everyone molds their worldview on the experiences and information they have had in their lifetimes, and remembering this is inspiration for humility and compassion for others. I am still working on growing in that area.

*The tradition that I was raised in was somewhat lenient on what was allowed to be questioned, such as the nature of Hell, or whether or not God created everything in literally 6 days. However if you doubted that it was historically accurate that Jesus existed or rose from the dead, or that he was literally both God and man, or that the Holy Spirit was real, your soul was in danger. I was taught directly that you can be as good as person as you could possibly be, but if you don’t believe in Jesus you don’t go to Heaven (and there is only one other alternative.)

**If this gives anyone the idea that I might convert back to Christianity, be sure you know that the amount of evidence that it would take to convince me would be on par with what it would take to convince me that the sun revolves around the earth after all. Possible perhaps, but not very likely.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I used to have a Christmas tree ornament that I would hold and ponder at this time of the year. I no longer have it, and I’m not sure if I threw it away, or just left it in some dusty corner of my childhood home. It looked very much like this.

(Image from

That’s right. A thick, long iron nail (maybe pewter, in this case). The whole point is that back when I was a Christian I saw Christmas mainly as a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The nail was to remind me of death and sin and blood in the midst of all the cheer and warmth and celebration of Christmas. I would hold it and ponder my sinfulness and complicity in the killing of Jesus (nevermind that the event, if it is not only mythology, happened thousands of years before I was born.) What sweet thoughts.

I used to think that these dreary thoughts were profound and edifying. Now I’m just horrified by the very idea that I ever thought that way. Christmas is a season of hope, though now for me it is about the hope that light and warmth will come again even though it is now so cold and dark. The lights on the houses remind that light is not gone from the world, even if our hemisphere tilted away from the sun’s rays for the time being. This need for hope in dark times is, I think, the root of all the winter holidays. The sun, and our longing for it, is the reason for the season.

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Observations of an atheist abortion clinic escort…

I hadn’t been in a couple of months, but yesterday I decided to get up early to escort at the clinic. Thursday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so the issue of choice and personal freedom was on my mind. After not being there for a while the scene was especially eery, or maybe that was the fog from the river. It’s easy to forget about the gauntlet these women are forced to run in order to go to the doctor.

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Where does joy come from?

Once when I was in Sunday School the teacher told us that the difference between happiness and joy was that happiness depends on your circumstances but joy comes from God. I was not the only one in the class to question that analysis. It looked to me as just an example of a word game, namely changing the definition of a word to fit one’s own preconceptions. This also was right about that time that I decided that going to Sunday School was a total waste of my time.

But that does leave the question, what is joy, and where does it come from?

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