An Atheist with a Religion?

An Atheist with a Religion?

So then, I took the plunge and joined my Unitarian Universalist church. I signed the book, went to new member orientation, made a financial pledge, and signed up for volunteer opportunities. I’ve decided that this is how I want to raise my daughter.

I am also co-organizer for Louisville Atheists & Freethinkers, and co-hosting on the Blasphemy in the Bluegrass podcast and participating with other local atheist organizations.

I have developed a rather weird relationship with religion, one that doesn’t get talked about much in the public discussion between atheists and believers. That is, being an atheist and identifying as an atheist but also having a church and a religion. What makes that even possible is the one big overlap between the atheist community and the UU church: they both full of heretics, and generally proud of it. A heretic being someone who decides for themself what they believe rather than accepting the word of an authority.

A Google search for “Unitarian universalist atheist” usually brings up a handful of posts about why atheists should not join Unitarian Universalist churches. So I’m pretty aware that there are voices in the atheist community who do not agree with me. At an earlier stage of my life, when I first encountered the UU’s I agreed with them. Their arguments usually focus on some disparaging things a former president of the UUA said about secular humanism. But the thing is, I haven’t encountered those attitudes in my own congregation. The other thing is that it is OK to disagree with the leadership here. For the first time in my life I can listen to a sermon and not feel deep shame and self-doubt if the minister says something that makes me uncomfortable. I just take a deep breath and acknowledge that I don’t think that is right and then continue listening calmly. If it’s important enough to me I can bring it up later. I could say it’s part of my spirituality right now to practice listening and resist giving into the temptation to have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. (I can split hairs on what ‘spirituality’ means later. :-p)

I’ll be writing more about this in the near future.

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“I don’t believe in that God either?”

“I don’t believe in that God either?”

One phrase I’ve come across with liberal religious people (most recently in a ‘common read’ book I was reading that had a bit about interfaith cooperation) is “I don’t believe in that God either.” You know, that judgemental God that hates gays and sends people to hell. The one that thinks women are not worth as much as men and commanded genocide in the Old Testament.

As an atheist I have a problem with this, because it always feels to me like the intent is to take all the oomph out of the atheist position, as if our objections were trivial. “I don’t believe in God.” “Well, tell me about the god you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in that God either!”

I don’t mind at all if someone believes in a thing they call ‘God’ so long as they do believe in a “live and let live” way. That is, if you are not trying to push your beliefs on me — verbally or by voting for politicians who want to erode the rights of the non-religious — I don’t mind if you believe something that you label ‘God’ or not. But this attempt at asserting common ground is misleading. I don’t believe in a God who is always kind and loving to everyone regardless of their religious belief either. Or one that created the universe. Or is one with the universe. Or created consciousness in the human mind (or in other animals or even plants). Or that used evolution and the big bang to create the world. I don’t believe in any of those gods either (though I accept the underlying natural processes as far as I understand them.) I simply don’t believe in supernatural forces and I don’t think we should apply the ‘God’ label to natural forces or objects.

“Tell me about the God you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in him either” is not a good way for the liberal religious to find common ground with atheists. I find it very off-putting. We can get along with each other while admitting and accepting that sometimes we just don’t agree about theology or what labels we should use. What matters is sharing the same basic set of values, regardless of your personal theology.

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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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Evolution in Bob Jones Biology Textbook

Evolution in Bob Jones Biology Textbook

I’m not going to write a post rebutting this now, and I’ll make the assumption that my readers are familiar enough with evolutionary theory to see what is wrong here. (Edit: I have added captions to the pictures.) These are a few pictures from the pages of the Biology for Christian Schools textbook that I mentioned in my previous post. This is actually what I was taught as fact in my Christian homeschool experience. If I had never gone to university and been exposed to different ideas, I might still even think this crap is true.

I may go into more detail why these are wrong in later posts, but for now I’ll just let the images speak for themselves (I’ve gone ahead and added rebuttals to the captions).

Click the images for a larger, legible view.

 

 

Edit: Just in case you felt your IQ slip a few points after seeing that, here is a good basic account of human evolution from Berkeley’s Understanding Evolution site.

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How following Christian advice hurt my social life.

This post gets rather personal and vulnerable. I am posting this as a specific example of harm done by a particular type of Christian upbringing. I think that surely I am not the only one, and this post will help others who experienced the same thing.

I knew next to nothing about the culture of my peers when I was in school. I listened only to Christian music (CCM) until I was 17 years old and I didn’t watch the popular shows — largely because the folks at Focus on the Family said they were bad. Mom told me not to watch The Simpsons specifically, and shows like Friends were out too. (An odd exception was The Lion King, which I think was the only animated Disney film we ever purchased. FotF approved it because they thought the story of Simba mirrored Jesus. However, my main take-away from the movie was the “circle of life” concept, which is not what they were intending to push. But anyway… ) I had very little opportunity to watch shows without my parent’s supervision while I lived at home, because only one TV was connected to satellite and the antennae reception was terrible where we lived. I could watch what I wanted early in the morning, or what I could pick up on the tiny tv in my room on antennae, but this was very limiting. Dad pretty much had full control of the TV all during the day. As a result, I knew basically nothing about the music and tv shows of my peers, and had very little I could talk to them about. I didn’t get their cultural references. What was even worse is that I thought that a lot of their stuff, such as Bevis and Butthead and Metallica and Ozzy Ozbourne and all (secular) rap, was actually evil. Brio (the magazine from Focus on the Family for teen girls) said as much, and I took it seriously. I tried to get my friends to listen to the Christian music and go to vacation bible school with me as my form of witnessing, and you can guess how that turned out. My belief that I being rejected because I was a Christian did nothing to help me overcome the real problem. I learned about eighth grade that most of my peers, even the worst bullies, were Christians from Christian families too, and I found that revelation to be a shock. (There is a story about Christianity being pushed in the classroom behind that revelation, and I may get to that in a future post.)

The fact that I have a natural tendency to take things literally and not notice ‘unspoken rules’ did not help either. Basically, I was the awkward homeschool kid before I even started homeschool. I’ve made some great strides socially since then, connecting to others though interests in TV shows, like Doctor Who, and though my atheist group. Right now I am more social than I ever was in school. However, I still carry that social anxiety baggage from my school experiences. There are some things you never entirely get over.

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