Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I am not a witch

November 15, 2010

Anyone who knows anything about Evangelical teachings knows that witchcraft is bad.  So bad.  I was raised to be wary of fortune-telling, palm reading, Ouija boards, magic tricks (even though they were tricks), any stories with wizards, wizards, or spells in them (never saw “The Wizard of Oz,” though “The Little Mermaid” was warily permitted despite the witch Ursula).  We were not allowed to make-believe or play anything even remotely related to the occult.

And even though the Bible teaches that witchcraft is real in 1 Samuel 28, as a child, I wasn’t really clear on whether witchcraft is bad because it works— i.e., there are real powers there that we shouldn’t use as Christians– or because it was rebellion against God to try to get something without Him.  I imagine that’s a difficult theology point for parents, since you don’t want to be saying that shit actually works, but if it doesn’t, then why is it such a big deal to forbid it?  This could also get awkward if kids start wondering why prayer is supposed to work but casting a spell isn’t.  Either way, it’s irrelevant, since I don’t believe in gods or magical powers anymore.

So I did something a little weird.  I bought a pack of Tarot cards.

They are beautiful cards.  I got the Rider-Waite Tarot, since that’s kindof the traditional standard– the King James Version of Tarot, if you will– and I think I’m going to have some fun with them.  I am interested in symbols and mythology, so after I figure out what everything means (I got a book from the library), I’m really gonna start practicing and playing with them.

What I’m really looking forward to is using them for my writing.  One of the ways I write is to just make characters and start telling stories: no planning the plot, no story arc, no character development… not really anything, just telling little stories for fun.  Of course the downside to this is that I get stuck when I don’t know what happens next.  So what I’ll do is read the character’s cards and get an idea for the lesson or event or person that should be happening next.

Fun idea, yeah?

As for using them for myself: reading my cards, or for someone else… I’m not sure how I want to do this.  I want them to be for fun, but I also want to be cautious and work out some sort of rules for myself because I can see how this could get addicting.  Side note: a friend (who is an atheist) divorced her husband in part because he was obsessed with reading Tarot and really starting to creep her out.  Thing is, even if I don’t believe there is anything magic about them (and I don’t), and the person whose cards I’m reading believes the same, there’s still a strange pull of the attention, a drawing of curiosity… and that weird feeling when the cards say something useful or dead-on-accurate is a powerful feeling.  I’m going to assume it’s simply a human phenomenon.  Otherwise there’d be no religion, right?

And you know how if you read your horoscope, it’s basically just advice, like, “watch out for pride,” or maybe, “today is a good day to ask for a raise.”  Harmless advice, and probably even good advice.  I’m thinking I’ll use the cards like that if someone ever says, “do me, do me!”  There are general meanings of each card, and of course ways to interpret the cards for relationship or financial questions. 

Seems to me that this will end up being a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy.  I remember playing with “Chinese fortune sticks” (no idea) with a friend, and we took turns telling each other’s fortunes by pulling out a stick from the jar and looking up the number in the book.  On one of his fortunes, I zinged him– because I knew him pretty well and I linked the fortune to his personality.  But his eyes got really big and he got nervous and put them away, saying he’d never play with them again.  (Superstitious Catholic?)  But it was me who knew him, not the fortune sticks, they were just a tool.  But what I said really scared him.

So this has the potential to be at least somewhat useful, a little fun, and a little scary… and I can see how I’d have been burned at the stake for seeing into someone’s soul or “knowing” something I have no business knowing.  Fortune-tellers obviously don’t have magic: they have insight into human nature and psychology, and they know enough about their clients to make meaningful statements.  I just hope I can give reasonable advice if it ever comes up, and maybe get some good insight into myself using the cards as a sort of mirror.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I think I get it, now.  Tarot and other divination and occult practices give power to individuals, not to gods.  Practicing Tarot might seem like accessing the beyond, or tapping into some spirit world, but really it’s simple human insight and making it mysterious– or perhaps it is the reverse: it takes the mystery of humanity and sorts it into symbols and myths and stories so that we can understand ourselves.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’m kindof excited.

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emotional immaturity

January 21, 2010

I’ve got a lifetime of Christian programming and ten years of abusive marriage to recover from.  I know this.  Now, the details are getting filled in.

My housemate scolds me sometimes because I’m “not as scared as I should be” about the economy and my lack of employment.

And it occurred to me that I’m not scared because I don’t feel anything.  I’d been dishonest with myself — and in denial– about my emotions throughout my marriage.  This doesn’t even count any emotional immaturity resulting from being taught to “give it all to Jesus”.  But I said to my friend, “I’m trying to act as if I was scared.  I know I should be, but my feeling receptors are broken.”  I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself, just trying to be a grown-up and act rationally and take care of myself despite my shortcomings.

Then I realized I’m also recovering from a lifetime of programming that tells me, if I trust God and trust my husband, everything will be okay.  This was a breakthrough for me, actually, because lately I tend to sit around and behave like everything is going to work itself out.  (I know, even a Christian would tell you that their god doesn’t promise to give you a job if you don’t get out and apply for one.)  But this was  a wake up call.  I need to outsource more of my brain and put a big sign up on my mirror: DO SOMETHING!  IT’S NOT GOING TO DO ITSELF!

In conclusion, I will now purchase my own copy of the A+ study guide, start studying basic Unix commands, and apply for a job at JPL.

“Jesus is not a swear word”

October 3, 2009

My parents were fundamental evangelical Christians and raised me to be the same.  This all went according to plan until rather recently– I told my parents about my atheism shortly after I discovered it myself, Christmas 2007.  (Happy Holidays mom!!)  My mom is still a Christian, though she is fairly private about it and doesn’t attend church any more.

My dad started leaving Christianity around 1997, when we left the shrinking fundy church I grew up in.  The new church was Presbyterian, so it was a lot more feel-good and happy Jesus-loves-me kind of stuff.  This was a departure from the old church, which was cultish in the amount of control they tried to wield over congregates.  My dad finally got a chance to look back and realize all the shit they put him through.  After a few years recovering from the worst of it, and deciding which parts of Christianity he doesn’t believe anymore (most of it),  he started attending the “Center for Spiritual Enlightenment”, who had a focus on spirituality rather than religion, which is good for people like my dad. They are not judgmental and do meditation and talk about humanism.  Good times.

Then, recently, he looked up “atheist” in Wikipedia and realized he was one.

He and I were talking today and he says, “You ever see those bumper stickers that say, ‘Jesus is not a swear word’?”

“Yeah!  But Jesus is totally a swear word.”

“Can’t it be both?” he asks.

“Well,” I say, “If people didn’t think Jesus was a god, it wouldn’t be a swear word.  So you can’t really have the one without the other.”

Irony: when Christians propose a deity who is offended by the misuse of its name, because this invites and causes that misuse by people who do not believe in said deity.  I have to laugh… because literally, it is Jesus’ purported god-ness that makes us want to use his name as a swear word, so it’s not just ironic, it’s almost poetic.

But enough of that.  It is time to eat pork chops.

mixed marriage

May 1, 2009

As I think I mentioned, I hosted a Meetup for people in my atheist group who are in an atheist-Christian relationship, as well as other people who are struggling with the results of coming out as an atheist to their family.  About an hour early, I checked the RSVP and discovered that the Meetup leaders — both atheists — were coming, and this was a little frustrating since, well, they weren’t invited.  I am sure that they were coming to show support, but I don’t think they realized that their being there could be a point of discomfort.  And sure enough, my husband was not happy.

So I was starting to get stressed out before anyone even showed up.  Off to a great start.  My husband can be a control freak about social situations (I didn’t quite realize that before now), and he felt like he was being ambushed.  I kept telling him that everyone was coming to discuss their relationships and support each other, but I don’t think he could get past the idea that he was about to be “outnumbered.”

Also, he called my group an atheist church.  I would have loved to talk about that, but was too busy trying to stay calm.  So the two cups of coffee were probably a mistake  🙂

The meeting itself went fine.  There was a point where people were starting to discuss why “the other side” felt and believed a certain way, which can be dangerous, but it went fine.  My husband was very open to sharing, and then asked me later why people were asking him so many questions.  “It’s because you talk a lot, honey.” 

Then he asks me, later, “Why did everyone give me advice?”  Because you shared your problems, dear. 

Needless to say, he was on the extreme defense.  So much so that despite the devout Catholic, the Seventh-Day Adventist, and the woman who “wants to believe but can’t anymore,” he later said he was the only believer in the room.  It’s almost as though anyone who expresses doubt or frustration is not a good enough Christian.

And I also learned that my husband is still upset that I won’t tithe my income (yes, it’s our money, but it’s my income, and I’m not giving it to a god I don’t believe in) (I don’t see him tithing his income, either) (we never have tithed regularly).  Also, the way he tells the story of my coming out to him, you’d think we had a raging fight and threatened divorce.  I remember being rather quiet and matter-of-fact, trying to be honest, and I remember him yelling.  Not sure what I would have had to be upset about.  Of course he was mad, but what would I have yelled back?  “How dare you be the same person I married!  How dare you?!”

Well, I ought to quit thinking about this, for now at least.  I am getting upset.  I took a muscle relaxer that night, and went to Sunday School the next morning.  And I usually enjoy irony, but I was not amused at the fact that I go into the lion’s den (hehe) twice a week where I am the only atheist in a room of Christians, and my husband gets freaked out thinking that the atheists are coming into his house and he is unprepared.

If he gets one thing out of that night, I hope he remembers that we didn’t choose this, our unbelief.  We are at peace with it, we might even embrace it, but we did not choose it.

That reminds me of a story.  After the Hitchens debate last month, I was telling an acquaintance at Sunday School about it, and I said that we had gone with an atheist group I hang out with.  She didn’t even blink when I said it, and at first I was impressed.  Then she said, “Did you convert any of the atheists?”  And I realised she didn’t get it.  I looked at her for a moment and just said, “No, we didn’t convert any atheists.”  She seemed sorry.  I wasn’t sure if I should add, “You know I am an atheist, right?”  But the moment passed.

backwards day and busy weekend

April 24, 2009

I usually work out in the afternoon, but I worked out at 7AM today, which might have been a mistake. I was already tired. I’ve hung on without coffee until now, and I’m sipping some Peets from downstairs while I’m trying to do legal research. And since “Damn it Jim, I’m a librarian, not a paralegal!”, let’s just say I’m keeping the Black’s Law Dictionary handy.

I was supposed to go a Planetarium show tonight, but since I am installing a friend’s garden tomorrow (across the county, no less) and then having a Meetup at my house, I’m thinking I better go homeearly tonight and drink clean drink tonight.  But the way things are going today, all this coffee will fail to revive me and then I will go home, drink some vodka-citronage-grapefruit juice, and proceed to lay awake all night.

The Meetup tomorrow night, by the way, is a sort of support group for atheists and their religious spouses or family members.  There are three couples attending, plus myself and spouse, and one person whose entire family literally got up and left the room when he told them he’d left the faith.  Needless to say, they all won’t be joining us tomorrow night.  I am a little nervous about the possibility for disaster, and honestly I should probably put a few plans together just in case everyone wants to sit around silently staring at me… but that isn’t usually a problem for the group.  It’s a delicate subject, but we all care about our relationships, so it shouldn’t be a complete disaster.

Oh yeah… I’ll have to buy some coffee and bake some sugary goodies.  Another thing to do tonight.  “Why not just buy sugary goodies, Alice?”  Because.  That’s final.  I will make them or there will be none.  Hmmm… carrot cake…

Everything happens for a reason II

April 22, 2009

Or, “Everything happens for another reason.”

Bacchus, I hate that saying.  Really?  Everything?  I didn’t clean out my recycled jars well enough before I put loose-leaf tea in them, thereby making some nice oolong smell like roasted red bell peppers; what was the meaning in that?

I guess that was unnecessarily snarky. 

Meaning is nice, don’t get me wrong.  It’s arguably even necessary.  I try to make every day meaningful somehow.  But many Christians I know are just addicted to meaning, obsessed by the idea of Providence, and completely reliant on the idea that their god is watching over them and acting in their lives.

My husband is starting to suffer from depression.  I was telling him last night that I am recognizing the same symptoms that I had, and if I can help him somehow so that he won’t need anti-depressants as I did, then it will have been worth it.  He sortof chuckled and said he understands; he believes that bad things happen to people so that we can help others who are going through the same bad things. 

It’s like a chain of misery.

Seriously: how is that comforting?  Does that really help people get through suffering– the thought that someday, I will be able to help someone else– does that give meaning to the suffering?  Does it really help?  The thought that helped me was, “I don’t want to live like this.  I want to be happy and content.  I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”  If someone were to try to say to me that a god allowed me to suffer so that I could help someone else later, I would have asked if there was a suggestion box somewhere, or if god is planning to retire any time soon.  Being a tool for  a god doesn’t even ultimately benefit the other suffering person, either, because the point it always god’s glory. 

I suffer and god gets the credit.  Tell me again how that is comforting?

Confirmation bias

April 20, 2009

I attend a “Marriage Enrichment” Sunday School class with my husband, and yesterday, we learned about confirmation bias.

I repeat: we learned about confirmation bias at church.

In other words, we learned about the mind’s tendency to see what it wants to see, and how to exploit that.

I don’t think I was sitting there grinning — the irony!  how it tickles! — but I might have been.  At one point the instructor (who knows I am an atheist) glanced in my direction and did a small “Oh shit!”-double-take, but didn’t say anything.  He’s a good man, and he’s wise about many things, but I was sorry to learn that although he is very well informed about science, he chooses to remain a young-earth creationist– not because he finds the evidence more compelling, but because it fits with his faith better.  That’s sad to me.

But yeah.  Confirmation bias.  That’s when you are running late to work and you’re already having a bad day, and you are certain that you miss every single light even though you hit a few green ones.  And then, what do you call the fallacy where you attribute an event to an actor even though there was no actor?  Like, you conclude that the reason the lights are turning red because a) Satan is attacking you, or b) God is turning those lights red to save you from an accident that would have somehow happened if you hadn’t had to stop for the red light.

How much more useful would it be to learn about logical fallacies and how to think scientifically and logically?  I should start a humanist Sunday School. 

I would like to add that there were no typos in this post even before I ran the spellcheck.

sin

March 3, 2009

I accidentally made my Mormon housemate sin again.  (The first time was when I made chile with coffee in it.)

“Alice, that bread pudding was really good!  What’d you put in it?”

“Uh, stale bread, milk, cream, vanilla, eggs… nutmeg…”

“What made it tangy?  Was that lemon?”

“Oh.  No.  That was the rum.”

“Rum??”

“Yeah.”  [Here I mimed pouring in a lot of rum]  “Glug, glug, glug.”

“But… it was baked, right?”

“Yes, it was baked.”

This from a woman who, on finding her dog had eaten spilled coffee grounds, exclaimed, “Oh, no!  Annie, you’ve sinned!”  I am pretty sure she was joking.  She then added, “You won’t be able to go to Paradise with me!”

Hmm.  “Do dogs get to go to Mormon heaven?” I inquired.

She didn’t know.

It’s a mystery.

January 30, 2009

Do you ever get annoyed when, during a debate with a theist, they retreat into “God is mysterious; we just can’t understand him,” when they are confronted with something contradictory or un-answerable?

 

So then, you say, “But you’ve just told me all this stuff about God; how can he be unknowable?  Either you know him or you don’t.”

 

And then the reply is, “We can only understand what he has revealed to us,” and maybe, “Humans are incapable of fully understanding the mind of god.  We’ll get to learn everything in heaven.”

 

And that’s pretty much a conversation-stopper.

 

But…

 

Were you ever in conversation with a theist who tried to stump you on what banged the big bang?  “Maybe,” they say, “it was God?”

 

And you say, “No, look, just because we don’t know all the details about something doesn’t mean God did it.

 

And they respond, “But you should consider the possibility, if you are as open-minded as you say you are.”

 

So you say, “Of course I will consider it if we find evidence to support it, but we don’t have that.”  (Hopefully, during this discussion, you have already defined “evidence” and explained how a hypothesis needs to be testable, repeatable, and disprovable.)  “Besides, everything we know now about the way the world works was once a mystery that we solved because we found evidence.  So even if something is unknown now, it isn’t unknowable, and we will learn about it someday.”

 

And this may also be a conversation-stopper, though I don’t think it needs to be.  We can talk a lot more about science than we can about Heaven and where it is and how we get there and what we find when we get there.

 

But it occurred to me that these two arguments are very nearly the same; they both simply say, “We don’t know yet.”  If one is invalid, shouldn’t the other one be?

 

Plus, do we really want “conversation-stoppers”?  I’d rather end a discussion with something we agree on rather than one party slinking away wondering why they couldn’t explain the reason the other party’s logic was faulty, and then coming up with a really good reason at 3 AM that night.

Bible study: the day after

January 30, 2009

It wasn’t actually a Bible Study, it was a Small Group.  With churches I’ve attended in the past, these have tended to be the same thing.  But I forgot that this church is pretty light on the Bible learnin’.  And, there’s a bit of a personality cult going on with the pastor, Mr Appeals To Emotion. 

So anyways, this Small Group was like a mini-church, where we had worship songs and a little tiny lesson on DVD prior to the discussion.  When humanism came up, we were supposed to define the humanist worldview, and someone immediately said, “I am god,” as in humanists believe that they are gods.  I was surprised (in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been) and I started to offer an accurate definition of a humanist worldview, and the group leader looked at his little guide and said no, it was a little more along the lines of what the first guy said.

I smiled.  “I am a humanist, and I can tell you, that’s not what it’s about.”  That got their attention.  They asked me to explain more and so I did.  I don’t think I did too great of a job, but I think they got the main point, that humanists believe that we can make the world a better place based on what we learn using the scientific method, and how it’s also a system of ethics based on human knowledge rather than divine revelation.

The best part was probably when the woman sitting next to me looked at the leader and said, regarding the “I am God” thing, “That’s probably just the spin the church is putting on it.”

Good for her!

Anyways, it never really came out that I’m an atheist, though the leader and his wife know.  I was going to mention it at an an appropriate time, but then my husband told his testimony, which is very powerful.  So it quickly became an inappropriate time to tell my un-testimony  🙂

One person did say, though, following my husband’s testimony, that she didn’t understand how anyone could hear that and not believe in God.  Oh, how I wanted to tell her.

It was a stressful night.  I really felt like I didn’t belong there.  I would like to be a sort of ambassador for humanism and atheism, but I couldn’t get over the awkwardness of trying to be considerate.  So, maybe next week.

I did learn something very useful, however, about worldviews.  Well, actually, I think “philosophy of life” would be a more accurate term than worldview, since a philosophy determines what you do, why you do it, what you expect to result from it, and how to function in the world and interact with others.  I learned that my philosophy has been a sort of going along with whatever happens.  Of course I would have said I had a Christian philosophy, but as far as my personal behavior (as opposed to my belief system), I was definitely a go-alonger.  This came under some pretty serious pressure two years ago, and I realized that it’s not a good philosophy at all.  It failed me at the most stressful period in my life, and a good worldview would get me through that unscarred and improved (or at least improved).

So last night reminded me to get back to work assembling a worldview and a value system that I can hold to– something that can get me through stressful periods.  I was working on defining my values this morning.  As for humanism, I need to examine it more closely and learn what I agree with and be able to describe it to the random people who will ask me what I believe.  (Like the random people who ask me about Pascal’s Wager.  Agh!)

So the Small Group was surprisingly useful.