Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

an answer to prayer

November 28, 2010

I was talking to my mom on the phone yesterday, telling her about my new job (YAY).  The whole thing happened so quickly– there was less than a week between applying and accepting the job offer– and my [Christian] mom made this observation: “I know you probably don’t see it this way, but it seems like an answer to prayer, doesn’t it?”

And since I absolutely avoid all types of religious debates with my mom, and since I am not in the habit of being in any way rude to her, I didn’t say, “It can’t be an answer to prayer if I didn’t actually pray.” Instead I went on to tell her why it happened so quickly (both the reason I was sure of and the reason I suspected).

But that’s not the whole story. 

I only had a day to prepare for the interview and I spent the whole day doing it.  And that night as I went to sleep I thought, “Boy, I sure hope I get this job.”  And where a few years ago I would have prayed, you know what I did, last week, as an atheist?

Said a prayer.  To Persephone.  It went a little something like this.

Dear Queen of the Underworld,

I hope your winter is going well.  We miss you up here.  I would be very happy to send you a nice photo of California springtime, to encourage you during these cold months, especially if you would be so kind as to help me get this job.

All the best,

Alice.

And since I got the job, I was gonna hit a Friends of the Library Bookstore for a nice photo to send Her way.  I guess I’ll burn it?

Yeah.  Probably best not to tell my mom about this one.  She’ll think I’m totally off my rocks.  Which I might be.  But this amuses me.

Advertisements

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.

sex

December 1, 2009

For those of you who read my last post and are wondering, “That’s it?  She left her husband because he was reading her email and wouldn’t let her use the mobile phone?”

Well, no.  I found it easier to write about the small things– the little warning signs.  The big, overarching, negative themes of my marriage are a little more difficult to be calm and write about.  I know what they are.  I just have to dust off my English Major skills, be objective… and outline a three-paragraph essay.

Just kidding about the essay.  (Mostly.)  Here goes.

When you’re an Evangelical Christian, there’s not too many reasons to get married young.  Of course there’s the reasons people assume, and snicker about: a) the young couple wanted to have sex but wouldn’t because their Christian beliefs prohibit sex before marriage, or b) they were already having sex, felt guilty about it, and decided to make it legal.  I’m pretty sure everyone assumed one of those were the case when I got married at age 18.  But actually, here were my reasons: a) I liked him, b) we had a good time together.

Sure, we made out, and it was fun.  But I was perfectly happy making out, and didn’t have any religious angst over not being able to Do It.

That’s mainly because I wasn’t sexually attracted to him.

I hadn’t experienced lust yet, in my short life.  I was very sheltered.  I didn’t even know what lust was, really (except sinful).  I didn’t know how to be in a relationship, or even what to look for in a mate.  My parents skipped over that critical parenting step (to be fair, they said I should find a godly man, but didn’t say anything about compatibility), and I didn’t figure it out on my own through dating or another adult mentor.

All I had was a vague sense of superiority– as an individual, because I got married young and I knew what I was doing (ha), and as a Christian, because we didn’t have sex before marriage and we are still happy.

Of course we were happy.  We were 19 years old, and with him active duty Air Force, the military took care of everything.  But I’m getting off the subject, which is, I wasn’t sexually attracted to him.

With no advance planning, we eloped on a Thursday, and after all that drama (and the commute to Lake Tahoe’s charming selection of 24-hour wedding chapels) (which is a cute story in itself, though I’m not sure how cute it is now that we’re divorced…), I just wanted to go to sleep.  My husband, of course, wanted to have sex.  But since we were at his place, if we were to have sex, it would be on a bunk bed (the top bunk, fyi, with the lower bunk unoccupied).  “Can’t we just wait ’till the weekend?” I asked.

But he couldn’t wait.  He had to talk me into it, too, and I gave up graciously: “Fine, let’s just get it over with.”  It was painful– really painful– and embarrassing.  I had no idea what to do, but apparently, he didn’t need or want me to do anything.  I just lay there and actually cried a little.

The next time we had sex– at my place, on an actual bed– was better.  Sex got to be fun, and it was pretty much mind-blowing at first. But I have never forgotten that first night. He didn’t care what I wanted.  It felt like I didn’t even need to be there.  I said no, and he didn’t take no for an answer.  So the first time I had sex, with my husband, on our wedding night, it was rape.

There’s so much wrong with that that it’s hard to unpack.  Firstly, that I didn’t want him– not a good sign for a married couple, but an issue that I was completely unaware of.  Second, that he didn’t care about my desire to have a nice “first time” or my desire to rest after an emotionally exhausting day– we both had to go to work the next day, and I would have to drive over an hour to get there first thing in the morning!

His pushiness and sense of entitlement to my body regardless of my will, and my lack of desire for him — to say nothing of his blindness to the fact that I didn’t want him– these would be the issues that broke down our marriage.  It killed any love I might have had for him, leaving me only with a sense of duty to be a good wife.  I enjoyed being a good wife, most of the time.  But it killed us in bed.  A sense of sexual obligation combined with a complete lack of desire is the death blow to intimacy, in bed and otherwise.  And he never learned any sensitivity or generosity– why should he?  He only had to break me down with guilt, or just wait until I was tired enough and then keep me from sleeping if I didn’t want to have sex.  I’d eventually get out the bottle of KY and roll over just to shut him up.

After about five years of sex being a chore, as he was starting to get on top of me, I finally said what I was thinking: “I feel like a whore.”  He immediately got up, left the room, left the house, and didn’t come back until the next day.

As you may know, that’s not a good way to solve a problem in a marriage.  Unless maybe you’re in some kind of fundamentalist, polygamous sect.

“At first,” he said to me, in our bedroom, “I felt really bad.  I don’t want to be the cause of you feeling like that.”  I remember feeling a huge sense of relief, that finally we were going to work on this, maybe fix it.  But then he continued.  “But then I decided that it’s not my fault you feel like that.  It’s your fault.  And you have to do something about it.”

“I decided that it’s your fault,” he said.  I remember that very clearly.  And that was it.

Sure, I should have fought it, fought the “decision” that he made for me.  I didn’t just accept it right away; I know I argued.  I don’t remember what was said.  But a couple things prevented me from completely rejecting his decision.  One was the feeling of absolute shock at what he had said.  I was not prepared for such cruelty, and didn’t know what to do about it or his refusal to see my perspective or take even an ounce of blame.  I can’t force him to treat me like an equal human, after all, even if I occasionally had the strength to assert myself as one.  The other thing that prevented me from fighting him was the 25 years of programming from Christianity, telling me that I am not in charge and that my husband gets the final say.  I’ve been two years out of Christianity now, and I still feel an automatic submission to males.  I have to watch myself carefully and fight it really hard, but it’s stuck in my subconscious, on every issue, from pastors to professors, and yes, to the so-called head of the household.  I’m starting to understand why some women may decide to be lesbians or celibate and treat every male they come across like an idiot– that’s certainly the easy way to fight one’s upbringing.  When you add my personality trait to avoid conflict and be accommodating, I was not much of a match for someone like my husband.  Certainly not when we’d been married all of our adult lives and I didn’t know any better.

Over the next few years, we would try a few new things in the bedroom.  I would read erotica to get myself in the mood, but I found I’d rather just do that and masturbate than try to get it on with him.  I got a sex positions guide that was like a deck of cards, but that ended up giving sex a sort of clinical aspect. I didn’t feel anything when we were together.  I mean, my buttons got pushed sometimes, and sex would feel like maybe sex is supposed to– I was starting to figure it out after reading all that erotica– but I can push my own buttons by myself.  I don’t need an inconsiderate, insensitive, bullying, orgasm-obsessed (his orgasm, mostly) partner to get on top of me and get sweaty in order to have good sex.

Then, two years ago, I found that I no longer believed in the Christian god.  I think we both knew that that was the beginning of the end.

I started making some gradual changes, and he started making some, too.  He quit his job to go back to college, and we had some money problems that he wanted to solve by simply asking his sister for money.  He wouldn’t stick to the budget I’d set, and he had some money in a separate account from financial aid which he spent however he wanted, while I paid the mortgage and most of the bills with my salary and his GI Bill income, which was about to expire.  I wanted to stop going to church, but he pressured me, and somehow I found myself going to more church activities than I’d done for a long time.  He tried to get me to hang out with his friends, where he could keep an eye on me and where I felt mostly ignored.  Of course I was trying to make atheist friends, which he fought tooth and nail.  I started drinking so that I could loosen up enough to even lay in the same bed as him.

So this is the time when all the “little things” started happening.  Neither of us were acting like we were on the same team anymore.  He was becoming more and more authoritarian and misogynistic, and I was becoming more independent.  I had a brief struggle with depression, which he blamed on my atheism.  I knew our relationship was over.  I just had to admit it to myself.  Or, as he put it on that day he decided for both of us, I had to do something about it.

So I told my husband that three things have to happen if I am to continue living with him.  I will not go to church and he will not ask me to go to any church event.  I will have separate property that he will not touch (a long-standing disagreement– everything was “ours”).  And I will be the only one to initiate sex; he will not touch me otherwise.  He agreed immediately, then threatened suicide and disappeared.  A couple of his friends called me that evening, worried, because he’d called them and told them I’d left him and that he was suicidal.  He was gone all night and I slept perfectly, by myself.

Let’s just say I knew which one of my ultimatums would be a problem.

I spent the next week unable to sleep, waiting for it.  And  sure enough, I was informed that sex is required.  I don’t remember the exact words.  It was something about how I can’t expect that from him; it’s not really a marriage if we don’t have sex.  And you know, he’s right.  It took a few more days to gather up the rest of my courage and leave him.

Funnily enough, I was trying to explain to my mother the problems in our marriage when she said, “Your father and I haven’t had sex for years.”  But they are still married and live in the same house!  “That wasn’t an option for him,” I told her.  “And anyways, I was so unhappy.”

My mother gave me this advice: “Happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Well.  How do you respond to that?  By saying, “You should know, mom, you’ve been depressed for years, you’re just jealous that I did something about my unhappiness and you prefer to stay in yours.”  But I didn’t say that.

If that wasn’t bad enough, my husband told my brother that I’d left him and he didn’t know why.  So my brother calls me and asks me, “What happened, you seemed so happy!”  He’d seen us the previous week, at my mom’s Disneyland birthday trip.

“I wasn’t happy,” I told him.  “I’ll tell you more details when I’m ready.  Not now.”

He says: “I just want to know why he’s being kicked out of the family.”  I didn’t give him the necessary response, which was, “Well then, you marry him, see what he’s like in private, and then when you divorce him, I’ll support you.”

I pretty much quit talking to my family for now, and not least because my ex is still in contact with them, and I don’t want him getting any information about me through them.  I’ve called my mom a few times, emailed my dad a bit, visited my good sister when she was in town for Disneyland…  And now my grandma is sick and wants me to move back up there and live with her.  And I hate letting my ex spoil my relationship with my family this way, but if I went up there, I’d be trading in the people who support me and believe in me for the people who should, but don’t.  And I need the support right now.  Trouble is, I don’t know how much my grandma needs me.

Shit, that was long enough.  Felt good to get it out of my system.  Of course now my wrist hurts and I’m hungry  🙂

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.

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.