New digs


Clipart image from acclaimclipart.com

My blog is back up after a much longer than desired outage!

I apologize for this: my web host did not provide an easy way to upgrade to the new version of WordPress on my previous installation, so I needed to figure out what to do to get my old content from my old installation to a brand-new installation running their server software that they claim they will keep updated. We shall see…

I was able to get the blog to look fairly similar to the previous format so that it looks refreshed as opposed to radically new. We’ll see how it turns out.
Now that it’s up and running and I can actually post again, expect more content to come soon!

 

Love never fails [A post in memory of my mom]

A universal sentiment for atheists and believers alike.

My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly last month. She died from what appears to have been a massive stroke. She had just seen a doctor, and while she had a few relatively minor health issues (as many 50-somethings do), she had just seen a doctor a few days prior to her death. There was nothing to indicate to her doctor or to any of her friends and family that she would suddenly be gone.

I simply could not believe the devastating news at first; this was nearly everyone’s reaction upon hearing it. It just didn’t make sense. From what my stepfather told me, my mom had a very fun night the previous night and had gone to bed happy. He goes to work early in the morning, so as was often the case he didn’t wake her up when he left and just let her sleep.

When he arrived home, she was already dead and had apparently never gotten out of bed. I mention this because it means she very likely died in her sleep and either did not suffer at all or suffered only very briefly. As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, my father died just a little over a decade ago after several years of painfully battling cancer. The suffering he went through made me question the existence of an all-powerful, loving God. My mother at least was hopefully not a victim of lengthy, unbearable, meaningless pain before she died. Although it is always difficult to lose a loved one, knowing they went as quickly and painlessly as possible is some comfort.

As you might expect, her death brought up a whole swirl of religious thoughts among her grieving family and friends, myself included. (I will go into these more in detail shortly, including the pastor who nearly ruined my mother’s funeral.) Not being religious at all anymore, and feeling certain that my mother isn’t in a “better place,” brought both comforting and distressing feelings in me. I know that dying is a natural part of life, and that helped me to some extent. A number of people said it didn’t seem or feel “fair” that my mother died so young.

I will admit that a part of me felt, and still feels, that way. Logically, however, I know that there is no cosmic fairness that determines when and how someone dies. Death is just a part of life, and we all will eventually die. Somewhat coincidentally, I had just become acquainted with George Hrab‘s song “Everything Alive Will Die Someday,” which helped comfort and remind me of death being a natural part of life.

But the other side of atheism is knowing that my mother isn’t in some magical place looking down on us, either finally at peace or having fun in paradise. I knew that other people (including family) saw the wake and funeral as a chance to see loved ones and celebrate her life on Earth — and for many if not most gathered there, what they believe to be her new life in heaven. A couple people have said they don’t know exactly where she is, but hope that she’s somewhere.

I don’t feel this way, however: I know with about as much certainty as possible that my mother, as much as I love her, simply doesn’t exist anymore. I’m sure most people who knew her don’t share my views on this, though. What was at least a somewhat comforting occasion to most was downright depressing to me. The wake and funeral felt to me overall as a sort of meaningless death ritual taking place around the rotting corpse of my mother. That was very difficult for me. I did what I felt was right though and played along for the most part, talking to loved ones and recounting memories of my mom.

Memories of her and her life will live on as long as we let them, but my mother herself is no more. On good days, I take time to remember and even laugh about fond memories of my mom, although there is still a great deal of sadness that I’m sure, if my experience after my dad’s death was any indication, will take quite some time to subside.

I was surprised actually at the wake and funeral, how few people actually said she was “in a better place.” Maybe it’s become too cliché now to say. Most people either said that they were very saddened and sorry for our loss, and/or their thoughts or prayers were with us. Their sentiments were appreciated. While the wake, conversations, and sympathy cards did include some “God” talk, there was only one thing that very much upset me, and it turned out that it upset some other people as well.

My mother had become more religious in recent years, but still was not a bible-thumping, church-every-Sunday sort of person. There was some basic Christian imagery and words chosen for the wake, but also some more general themes (peace, love). I think this reflected her well and I’m sure is what most of the family wanted. The chapter that was chosen to be read at her funeral was one that I thought was appropriate for a group of family and friends who are nearly all Christians, but also as a general message, too: 1 Corinthians 13.

As many believers and nonbelievers alike will recognize, this is the famous chapter that includes the lines “Love is patient, love is kind […] Love never fails” and ends with “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Of all of the Bible verses that could be used, I was happy this one was chosen since it includes one of the most universal (as opposed to dogmatically-Christian) sentiments in the Bible, at least as it is widely taken by many people. The power and importance of love is a warm way to remember a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and so many other roles she filled for the people she loved and who loved her so much.

But the pastor officiating the service did not leave the verse at this. In his message, he told my stepfather, me, and the rest of assembled grieving loved ones that my mother’s love did fail, and that our love for her also failed. He paused after each of these pronouncements, I presume to allow the full effect of his words to sink in. He then continued, saying that human love always fails, and that it is only Christ’s love that saves us.

I was shocked and infuriated that he would use those verses to deliver a message so dark and drenched in dogma at my mother’s funeral. My mother, despite any faults she may have had (who doesn’t have faults?), was perhaps the most loving person I have ever known. She very well may have believed some sort of afterlife, or specifically in heaven, or even in Christ’s saving love for her. But there isn’t anyone in that room who knew my mother who would actually think she would have approved of a pastor telling her husband and children that her love had failed us, and that our love had failed her. It felt like a hijacking of her funeral.

Fortunately, immediately after the service, when the funeral director was giving directions to the cemetery, he added a few much more positive words to end on a more upbeat and compassionate note. It was still a Christian message, but focused on life and death in nature, and love and memories. A few family members mentioned afterwards that they thought the pastor’s words were overly dark and “depressing.” So even some devout believers felt that message was just too much and inappropriate, although they didn’t put it in those words. My wife also agreed with this and we talked about it briefly. It gave me some comfort to know that I have loved ones who are not totally blinded by what was surely a valid, though cruelly heartless and insensitive, interpretation of their religion at my mother’s funeral.

But here’s what’s most important: I don’t feel the pastor, despite his best efforts to evangelize instead of comfort, ruined the commemoration and celebration of my mother’s life and love. In spite of the pastor’s words, and how difficult her sudden death has been on me and on my family, how much she’ll miss, how much we’ll miss her, there is something that comforts me. Not religion, but love. My mother is dead. But my mom loved me, and as long as I live, I will love her. Life ends, but love never fails.

Back in the saddle again

I apologize for my extended silence on my site and in the atheist/freethought/skeptic scene in general for quite a while now. For a little over a month now, I have been working 15 hour days (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more). That stretch is finally over, thank no one! (Well, you didn’t expect me to thank God, did you?)

There’s been a lot going on in the godless community — perhaps most importantly, the victory by the FFRF in the National Day of Prayer case, saying that day is unconstitutional. That really picked up my spirits when I read about that and kept me chugging along.

I plan on getting back little-by-little back into the swing of things, catching up on world and personal atheist-related news, including fun yet thought-provoking stories about the religious wedding I had to participate in recently.

See you soon!

Atheist Blogroll

Check out this atheist themed blogroll!

I am now a member of the Atheist Blogroll! This blogroll, run by Mojoey, includes over 1000 other atheist/agnostic/freethought/skeptic/etc. blogs on it. In return for joining the Atheist Blogroll, all Mojoey asks is that members post about it briefly and include the blogroll or a badge on their blog. I’ve read that WordPress often has problems with blogrolls, so for now I’m using a badge (which you’ll see to the right of my blog). Here’s Mojoey’s description of the blogroll.

The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

If you’re new here, please feel free to check out my blog, which talks about atheist and freethought news, humor, and state-church issues. You can post comments, subscribe to the blog via RSS, or check out my links on the side (my main site, my Atheist Nexus and Twitter pages, etc.).

I’m looking forward to finding more atheist sites thanks to this blogroll, and hope more atheists will be able to find me as well. See you soon!

God-awful week

It’s been a god-awful week for me personally. Nothing at all compared to the horrible situation in Haiti (Doctors Without Borders is one of the many secular charities helping there). But probably the worst week I’ve had in a very long time.

Things seems to be looking up, though. And this afternoon I finally had a little time to breathe, and was able to finish writing a song parody I got the idea for about a week ago. I’m pretty happy with it, and I plan on doing like I had done with my Baby Lord parody on my previous blog: posting a version of it online here with the lyrics. So please stay tuned!

I have to get going, but in the meantime, for those who may not have seen this yet (or heard about it on Dogma Free America), there’s been news about a US Defense Department weapons contractor who’s been sneaking Bible verses….onto guns. Not only is it illegal for the government to be providing weapons to soldiers that advertise Christianity, but there are obvious problems with using these “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ” (as some have called them) while waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan…

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-military-weapons-inscribed-secret-jesus-bible-codes/story?id=9575794

2009 in review; 2010 in preview

The Beach Boys’ The Sounds of Summer: nice warm sounds for a cold winter, or a reminder of a blood-thirsty God?

2009 was a pretty big year for me personally and for this site. Here a few highlights, as well as an idea of the general direction I see this blog and my site going. More regular posts about the whacky world of religion and irreligion will start again tomorrow or Wednesday.

  • On January 5 last year, my Xanga post about God’s death toll (as tabulated by Steve Wells) in which I compared God’s ginormous death toll in the Bible to the Beach Boys’ song Kokomo, among other things, helped foster discussion on Dwindling in Unbelief as well as a mention on http://good.is. This helped inspire me to explore my online presence further and consider getting my own site, expanding my blog beyond just commenting on the Bible.
  • Over the next several months, I finally finished blogging Genesis and decided to finish reading the rest of the Bible before blogging more in-depth on it (still working on that!).
  • On June 28, I officially launched http://iamtheblog.com as its own site and blog.
  • On July 11, my email about orthodox Jews complaining about apartment lights switching on automatically on the Sabbath was featured on Dogma Free America. Rich Orrman, the host of Dogma Free America, mentioned my name as “I Am The Blog” since I told him that I’m not “out” as an atheist yet.
  • On July 13, my comment about author Robert Wright is read on the American Freethought podcast, hosted by John C. Snider and David Driscoll. Two of my favorite podcasts deciding to read my comments on the air in the span of a few days? When it rains, it pours!
  • At the beginning of August (I believe August 2), I came out to my wife as a non-believer. This was probably the scariest thing I have ever done, and it’s worked out a lot better than I expected. I still haven’t shown her this blog or other places I post or visit online, but she knows I don’t believe in the Bible and that I don’t know for sure, but don’t think there’s a God. (Since then, the word “atheist” has come up a few times for various reasons, so she knows I’m an atheist.)
  • On Aug 15, I attended my first freethought-related event…in a church. It was a talk by (in)famous anti-evolutionist Brian Harrub about creationism. It had been publicized on a few atheist/freethought sites, and my wife and I went.
  • I took an active interest in, and helped spread the word about, FFRF’s complaint letter over the illegal prayers given at the beginning of Memphis City Council sessions.
  • On Oct. 18, I attended my second freethought-related event…again in a church. Renowned author and scientist Victor Stenger gave a talk about (The) New Atheism. My wife and I went to this together as well.
  • On Dec. 3, I attended my third freethought-related event…this time NOT in a church! I saw a talk by Dan Barker, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), of which I’m a member. He spoke on the importance of state-church separation, particularly as concerns the Memphis City Council invocations. I wrote in detail here and here about the talk and my personal reaction to it.
  • Just before the end of the year, my site went over the 100,000 hit mark and 14,000 unique visits mark. I don’t know how good or bad that is, but to a  newbie like me, it sounds good.

So that’s quite a whirlwind of activity this year! I feel a lot better about myself as an atheist, but feel like there’s more that I can and should do both with this site and with my atheism in general. Some goals for me for 2010 are

  • Posting more regularly to my blog and diversify my posts. I started my Xanga blog posting mostly about the Bible (with some humor or serious stuff here and there). I now post almost exclusively about news stories and my comments on these. I think putting together a wider variety of content, from humor to commentary to news, will make this site more useful and more attractive to visitors.
  • Encouraging more interaction on the site. Although I’ve had a slow increase overall month-to-month in my hit count, comments have not really picked up. I’ll have to brainstorm some ideas on how to make the site more friendly to people who’d like to comment, or other ways to interact with the material. I’ve had a number of comments on blogs I’ve reposted on Atheist Nexus, with some increase in traffic to my blog, but not a big increase in comments. I also have to integrate my main site (with links, resources, etc.) in with my blog better, so both parts are updated regularly with useful / interesting / etc. info.
  • Stepping up my participation in the atheist, humanist, and freethought communities. I currently am a member of FFRF, and participate sometimes on Atheist Nexus and Think Atheist, and more rarely on Dwindling in Unbelief and a few others sites. I think participating more both in official brick-and-mortar organizations (I’m considering several) as well as more often or on more sites online will increase the impact I can have in the atheist community. I want to go beyond just commenting on stories; I want to try to help improve the visibility and acceptability of atheism in the United States. How is the question…
  • I also plan on achieving world peace and time travel, but this may take a while. :-) I realize my goals are pretty ambitious, especially considering that my time will be stretched even thinner in 2010 than in 2009 for several reasons. But I’m enjoying learning more about atheism and freethought, and am looking forward to the challenge.

Thanks again to people who have been visiting my site, and I hope 2010 goes well for you!

Happy New Year!

I wanted first of all to wish everyone a happy new year! 2009 was quite a year both personally and in the world. This weekend or early next week, I will do a quick roundup of important atheist-related news and events related to this blog and to me personally. A lot happened this past year, so I think it’s good for me to reflect on that and think about what 2010 holds in store.

I’ve also posted a Disclosure statement. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has ruled that blogs should have a disclosure statement indicating any financial ties they may have that would influence their content. I don’t receive any money at all from my site, and feel that I already indicate pretty clearly where I get my news and information from, but felt I should post a statement anyway. You can click here to see it, and can be viewed by clicking the “Disclosure” tab at the top of my blog.

I wish everyone a very happy secular and irreligious New Year!

“Christmas is Pain” and other fun holiday songs

I’m going to be visiting with my family soon, so there may be fewer updates on the site for a while. I’m hoping to sneak in some time online, but if not wish me luck! This will be this first year that I’m out to my wife at Christmas, but no one else knows I’m an atheist. That should make things interesting. We’ll be seeing mostly my immediate family, which is (at least in the past) less in-your-face about religion. My mom seems to be getting more religious as the years go on, and my brother is religious, but not Christian. So I guess we’ll see.

Here are a few holiday tunes from the hilarious and talented singer Roy Zimmerman for your enjoyment. He often treats themes of peace and irreligion in his songs.

  • “Christmas is Pain” looks at both the darker and funnier sides of Christmas (“the 8 tiny reindeer have left an embarassing stain”);
  • “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas” is a take off of the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (I think the music is actually better in this one than the original, as are the words;
  • “Hula Yule” is about how Christmas will be like after global warming (I wonder if the folks who met in Copenhagen had heard this one);
  • “Buy War Toys For Christmas” is pretty self-explanatory (“Kids are dropping napalm on their Christmas trees / Singing “Happy Happy Birthday” to the Prince of Peace”);
  • and last but not least, the first song I heard of his, Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa wishing us a “real good time…no matter what your race or religion — or lack thereof”.

Whatever you’re doing or not doing for the holidays, have a good one!

Barker visit, Part 2: roundup and personal reaction

Dan BarkerPhoto source : The Daily Helmsman

Here is Part 2 of my roundup on Dan Barker’s visit on December 3 in Memphis. In this part, I’ll mention a few more highlights as well as my personal reaction and thoughts. For Part I, click here. For an excellent recap of the Dan Barker event, read Oliver’s post (oliver_poe on Twitter) on the Mississippi Atheists website.

I’ve already mentioned in my first post much of his talk about state-church separation, so I will focus on other aspects here. Perhaps the most notable thing about Dan Barker’s talk was the fact that it was a fair-minded plea for state-church separation, filled with anecdotes, examples, and humor that could appeal to both believers and non-believers. While Barker does also talk on things such as Biblical errancy, his goal in this talk was not to promote an atheist agenda but speak on state-church issues.

A nice example of this were Dan’s arguments defending religious believers. (No, that is not a typo.) Unlike the exaggerated image of angry, close-minded atheists held by some believers (and too often painted in the media), Dan Barker made it very clear at several points that religious people do a lot of good in the world.

One believer argued during the Q & A that humans by nature are not altruistic, that we are selfish and introverted by nature. Barker countered that humans are actually very social animals, and that being empathetic and altruistic comes naturally to people. Barker said that Christians, believers of different faiths, as well as nonbelievers, are just as good and kind at heart. Because of this, he argued the human qualities of kindness and generosity “transcend” religion. Instead of just attacking religion, Barker was trying to find common ground among believers and non-believers.

Dan Barker also made it clear that he does not think that the government should go on the offensive against religion, just keep religion out of government. He cited the example of the much-mediatized solstace plaques that have been placed in a few state capitals (including Olympia, Washington; Springfield, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin). The plaques, which state among other things that “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell” are only placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in response to Christmas displays in state capitals.

In response to a questioner about the goal of such plaques, Barker made it clear that they are actually pleased when governments choose to ban all displays during the holiday season, which is what happened in Olympia after the FFRF’s plaque spurred a number of groups to post displays in addition to the Christmas one. Barker argued that banning these diplays was a victory since there shouldn’t be “religion OR irreligion” (emphasis his) in government buildings, including religious prayers.

He argued that non-believers deserve just as much protection as belivers both in Memphis and nationally. Using national statitics, he argued that few politicans would openly come out with policies that would discriminate against Jews, who represent a little over 1% of the population, while many politicians openly oppose atheists and agnostics, who represent between 9-10% of the population. The Memphis City Council, like all government bodies, should represent and support the rights of all citizens, not just believers. Instead of having Christian or other religious prayers at its meetings, the Council should neither support nor attack any religion. (As an atheist, he likened the situation of seeing councilmembers praying to seeing an airline pilot pray. A pilot should be confident in his flying skills, not asking for outside help to fly the plane. Barker joked that if he saw a pilot praying before take-off, he’d get right off the plane.)

Barker also mentioned the Founding Fathers, at a number of junctures: something that believers often do while trying to defend religious incursions into government. Barker mentioned the Jefferson Bible, for which Jefferson literally cut out with a pair of scissors all of the superstitious (miracles, etc.) parts of the New Testament. He said that while some founders were Christians, most were Deists who wanted religion separate from government. He said that as a believer, he used to think of the Pilgrims and Founders as being related to each other, when in reality they were separated by over 100 years and religious beliefs.

In order to address the fact that the Founders didn’t put the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in the Constitution (Jefferson wrote this in a letter), Barker said that the concept is there even if the phrase isn’t. He gave other examples of phrases that aren’t in the Constitution or Bill of Rights that have become commonplace descriptions of the ideas found there: the words “Bill of Rights“, “interstate commerce“, “separation of powers“, and “checks and balances” also are not in the constitution either, but you don’t hear religious people criticizing those who talk about the Bill of Rights saying there is not such thing.

Barker did not completely spare religious teachings in his talk, however. There were a few critiques about religion, the majority of which were in direct response to questions attacking church-state separation or atheism. Dan Barker poked fun at the creation story in the Bible, which includes a talking snake (Barker, who is part Native American, mentioned that his tribe also had a snake myth). He also mentioned that Jesus clearly supports slavery in the New Testament, using it as an example in his parables (saying you should beat some slaves less than others) instead of speaking out against it.

Barker mentioned that Jefferson famously said that finding good in the Bible was like trying to find “diamonds in a dunghill.” Barker also defended his right in the public sphere to say that he finds the teachings of Christianity, and the Christian god, to be morally offensive, in particular the idea that humans are by nature unclean and sinful. He said that real life debunks this notion, that we see headlines of criminals in the paper (of which religious leaders aren’t exempt, he pointed out) because they are exceptions to the norm. If that’s how everyone was, then it wouldn’t be news. He also cited studies have shown that countries that are generally areligious, such as Nordic countries, often rank as the happiest and least plagued by crime and other social problems.

There is more I could comment on, but I think that sums up the main points of interest about the talk that weren’t covered in my first post or Oliver’s post.

I have a personal confession to make: I am somewhat of an admirer of Dan Barker. I was very religious when I was younger, and can identify with Dan Barker’s journey from belief to unbelief. My grandmother thought I would be good pastor material, and I seriously considered becoming a pastor. So when I first heard about Dan Barker, a minister-turned-atheist, his story really hit home with me. I’ve read his book godless, am a faithful (or faithless) listener of Freethought Radio, and have listened to and viewed many of his talks and debates online. So I was very much looking forward to seeing what he had to say about the Memphis situation, and state-church separation in general.

After the talk, I waited in line to meet Dan Barker. He talked to me briefly and was very personable both to me and the people who were in line ahead of me (he even gave out a free copy of his book to someone!). I asked him to sign my copy of his book, and I mentioned to him that I am a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I had a bookmark “Imagine No Religion“, which FFRF had sent me for free when I ordered his book from them. I showed it to him and the person next to me said she thought at first I was trying to give him a religious tract!

Since I am not “out” as an atheist, except to my wife, standing in line in a public venue to meet Dan Barker and have him sign a book entitled “godless” for me was a big, and somewhat frightening, step for me. While I did not come out and say “I am an atheist”, it was the closest I’ve ever come to be open about my atheism in person. I told him my name for him to sign it, but I don’t think anyone there knew or recognized me, so I guess I am still officially in the closet for now. Dan Barker was wearing an “A” pin, part of the Richard Dawkins coming out campaign for atheists. Maybe someday soon I will feel comfortable enough with friends and family, and secure enough in my job, to be an open atheist, too.