Saturday, August 29, 2009

We cannot depend on humans to do the right thing when they think god wants them to do something else!

In a recent interview with KUED our new neo-con governor Gary Herbert said the following:

We don't have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing. We ought to do
the right thing because it's the right thing to do," Herbert said. "Where do you
stop? That's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going
to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes."

This is a ridiculous argument. We have laws and “rules” because we cannot depend on humans to do the right thing. He is implying that we will just not discriminate because it is wrong. He is wrong. Humans do not do the right thing because it is right when they can find a self serving loophole. In Utah god is that scapegoat.

Nationally we have become more accepting of the fact that homosexuality may have a genetic component and that someone who is gay may be normal in that sense. That means they are not an abomination as the mean-spirited Sen. Chris Buttars alleges. I have written at length about my journey in this realization and believe that we have to start asking ourselves:

  • Does this hurt anyone?
  • Am I being forced to participate?
  • How would I feel if I was treated similarly?

What about the threat to marriage? Marriage is often defined as the fabric of our society or the cornerstone of our society. It probably will not surprise most of the readers here that I disagree. I am of the opinion that marriage is the function of claiming property. In the beginning marriage was a tribal way to define a man’s property. Women were chattel to be assigned and controlled by men in the same way livestock and crops were divided and controlled. In today’s society marriage is still a way of making claim to another but with a few modern refinements and a little more equality for women. Civilly it is also the way we divide the property in the marriage when the relationship falls apart. Why cannot gays engage in these civil contracts?

This issue is not about marriage it is about civil rights. It is about not discriminating against a vulnerable minority of our population; a minority that contributes to the success of our state and our nation. I challenge anyone to take god out of the argument here and defend on a secular level why the government should not provide this group with the same protections you and I receive through our majority status.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who would have thought Roger Ebert Ponders Such Things

I liked this essay. My Facebook friend Fred Hunting posted this link and I think it is a worthy read. My favorite line was is final sentence. "I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Sums it up

I have not seen a more comprehensive explanation of what atheism is. The video takes a few jabs at what most religious folks have to say about an atheists morality and other agruments against atheism.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Reason Project

I was watching Bill Maher last night and he had Sam Harris, the founder of The Reason Project, on. Bill Maher apparently sits on the advisory board for this organization.

Mr. Harris and his organization supports an open direct dialogue regarding religious dogma using science and secular arguments to dispel the irrational notion of God and to explore trans formative events using the same.

I found the concept that we are engaged in a war of ideas to be very intriguing. I recently watched a video production with Richard Dawkins in which he said we need to confront the nonsensical ideas of astrology, mysticism, holistic medicine, and religion because they are retarding the growth of the species. In the above clip Sam Harris discusses a similar notion.

I would imagine, with most of my religious friends, actively confronting their beliefs would make me an unpopular guest. However, I do believe when someone uses religion as a justification for poor behavior or bad public policy it is fair game to 'prosecute the war of ideas'.

The Reason Project did have some tools on their web page that I found useful and somewhat exciting. The one that has the most use to me is "The Scripture Project" which has annotated versions of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the Qur’an. I started reading the Book of Mormon recently and I found some of the annotations made here were similar to the things I had noted myself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Gracious Old Lady at 114th and Redwood

A couple of days ago I was driving home and I saw a couple of men standing on the side of this home. They were pointing at the home and walking around it is some official capacity and I said to myself, "that house has limited days left." Today I was on my way home and I discovered to my dismay that the old home had come to and end. Alas, a deep sigh, and a moment to pause.

I photographed the home this last spring. I wanted to have a study of if it so I could watercolor it when I got time. I am certainly glad I didn't procrastinate any longer or I would have missed the opportunity.

It did leave me in a nostalgic mood to see the disruption of the dirt where the foundation once stood. How many months did it take to build? How many families did it provide shelter and more importantly a home where dreams were nurtured and realized. How quickly it came down and how quickly it will be forgotten.

.... a moment to pause....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Children are the Challenge-The Argument

My last post addressed how I have chose not to give religion to my children and how that affected my daughter Jessica. I have thought the post may leave the reader with the impression that I am a typical religion hating atheist. While that may be true to some degree it is a judgment made without context.

I grew up in American Fork, Utah. My mother moved to the community when I was about 5 years old. She had recently divorced my father. When I was 7 we moved into our family home after my parents reconciled and remarried. I remember the first contact my parents had with the local LDS bishop. We had been moving in all day. The LDS bishop came to the door to welcome my parents to the ward. My father greeted him at the door with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The bishop’s response was “Well I guess we won’t be seeing you in church!”

My parents made the attempt to become active in the LDS church. This was a religion handed down to them from their parents and grandparents. They didn’t have any real understanding of the church or its teaching and I dare say none of them have read the Book of Mormon. I was the beneficiary of the passing of generational superstition. My folks believed that sending me to church would give me a good moral foundation.

I took to my calling as a little boy. I faithfully attended church services every Sunday and the meetings for Boy Scouts and Mutual. I was so dedicated that I often got my siblings up on Sunday morning, (while my parents slept) had them get dressed and took them church with me. Mind you I was about 8 or 9 taking my 6 year old and 7 year old sisters. I probably new very little about making sure their hair was combed and their clothes matched.

At 8 years old I was eligible to be baptized and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At eight, I knew I had doubts that I could live up the expectations. The doctrine indicated that I would be baptized and my sins would be washed away and I would have a new start. I am not sure what sins I had committed up to that point or that I needed to be free of them. I found it odd that I was going to have them washed away at my one and only chance at salvation at age eight. I thought it might be better to wait until I had committed a really big sin first so that I could get more bang for my buck out of this washed away sin salvation thing.

Despite sending me away to church to get my moral foundation my parents were still active in my upbringing. Alas that is what ultimately spared me a lot of pain as I moved into early adolescence. My bishop called me in for an interview to determine my moral ability to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. He asked me about my testimony and my church attendance and then the interview digressed into my sexual habits. He wanted to know if I was sexually active with the same sex, the opposite sex and if I masturbated. I was 12. I denied all of the above because I had no idea what any of it really meant. I was a late bloomer and still prepubescent. I later told my mother about the interview and she was outraged. It was discovered that he had also asked the same questions of my 10 year old sister. My Father and Mother both met with the Bishop and told him the line of questions was inappropriate and they forbade him to ask them of any of their children. That man was arrested and convicted of Sexual Abuse of a Child several years later. When I was 20 I found out that he had told several of the boys in the ward to stay away from me because I was a homosexual. The boy who told me about it was this man’s victim. He wanted to isolate me from the group and the only reason I was not his victim was because my parents were active in my upbringing.

My father has advised me often that I should send my children to church. His rationale is, “What can it hurt at least they get a good moral foundation.” I have said before that there is a ton of emotional baggage that comes from religion. Guilt, irresolvable double binds, hate, intolerance, and self loathing are but a few. We worry more about what our children see on TV and who their friends are than who we let play with their minds in a religious context. We have no proof that there is salvation on the other side but we are willing to damage our children in the hope there is. I have seen religious people allow horrible things happen to their children at the hands of a religious leader because they believe he is called of god. These things range from emotional abuse to physical and sexual abuse.

Religion was not the basis of my moral conscience it was my parents’ involvement in my life, my own personality traits, and an innate sense of guilt and responsibility that provided me with character to be a moral person. There has been as much evil done in the name of god and religion as good and I do not think that with the mixed results that religion has delivered it is the appropriate mentor for my children.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Children are the Challenge-Jessica

As a parent we make decisions we hope are right for our children and we don’t find out if it was the right choice until many years later. For me it was the decision my wife and I made to raise our children without religion. 23 years ago I was an agnostic with atheist leanings and Lisa was a quiet Christian with Mormon leanings. Today as you well know I am a full blown atheist. Lisa is, I believe, a quiet Christian who has little to do with the LDS faith but allows her husband to go on and on about his beliefs.

I have been known to say out loud that exposing your children to organized religion is tantamount to child abuse. I recently finished Christopher Hitchens’ book God is not Great- How Religion Poisons Everything. He makes a case for religion as a form of child abuse but mostly focuses on the ritualistic abuses including circumcision and other forms of genital mutilation. From my experience it is the emotional fodder that I was most concerned about with regard to my children.
This is the first in a series of five entries I will make on this topic( I only have five children so five is enough and six is too many). I am starting with Jessica. She is not my first born and so you can see I am addressing her out of turn but she is the one I feel represents the best argument for avoiding indoctrination but also represents as a parent how I have failed to fully mitigate the results of the outcome.

Jessica is now 19. She is a beautiful child with a strong spirit. She is smart, very empathetic, and wracked with guilt. According to her mother, she is closer to her Dad in personality than to her mother. When I became the father of a daughter I thought the most important thing I could do for her is to help instill in her the belief that she could do anything and be anything she chooses. I wanted her to know that she could be successful without a man in her life and to find her version of success independent of her relationships with men.

When Jessica was about six she stopped dinner to tell us we needed to have a blessing on the food. This had been modeled at her grandparent’s home but not in our home. She was told that she could pray quietly to herself but the rest of us were hungry and we would continue on with the activity of eating, Several months later we were at my in-laws’ home having dinner. They asked one of the family members if they would give a blessing on the food. Jessica piped up and said, “Ooohhhh my dad doesn’t like it when you pray at the table. Well actually, it’s okay to pray….Just don’t say anything about god or Jesus Christ!” This of course brought an awkward moment of silence to the table with disapproving eyes fixed upon yours truly.

During same period in her life her uncle made a point coming up to our home in Taylorsville, Utah and picking her up to take her to the LDS ward in Lehi, Utah. Her grandmother bought her a children’s version of the Book of Mormon. For me this was intrusion and I objected loudly to both. The visits to church ended. However I was not permitted to throw the BOM out. I believe the book is in a box in my basement this very day.

I mentioned before that Jessica is wracked with guilt. I have empathy for this trait because I personally feel guilty for things I haven’t done yet. When she was in first grade she came home from school and I asked her how her day went. She looked at me and burst out in tears. “I think I cheated.” I asked her why she believed this and she said,” I was taking a test and I looked up and I accidently saw the answers on my friend’s paper.”

Irreconcilable guilt is my number one reason for avoiding indoctrination of my children at a young age. For a child like Jessica this guilt can be debilitating. Jessica is very obsessed about doing the right thing. Not because she has a Christian background and is concerned about heaven and hell but because she really tries to be good because it is the right thing to do. She has a strong moral compass and has not had a significant exposure to Christianity. Now this strong moral compass has not inspired her to do the dishes when she asked or to clean her room but she will not mistreat anyone intentionally and would not sleep for days if she had believed she had. Jessica has relationships with homosexuals, Mormons, and kids on the fringe. She is able to appropriately determine what is appropriate and what she wants no part of.

Some of the most heated discussions with her brothers include sexist comments, homo-insensitive remarks made without regard to sensitivity. So ask you can see the experiment worked….success! Not so fast. There have been other consequences to raising my oldest daughter without religion.

Jessica has attended some functions with the young women’s group attached to her friend’s LDS ward. On one event she was wearing a shirt that both her mother and I approved of and felt that it was flattering on her. She was pulled aside and told the shirt showed too much and was asked to pull it up. Jessica was very self conscious afterword and has never worn the shirt again.

Jessica is at the age where she is looking for relationships and dating is definitely on the agenda. However, in Utah where Mormonism dominates the culture, she finds that she is not “good enough” for many of the boys in our community. There is significant pressure to assimilate into the LDS culture. Most of the boys who find her cute cannot reconcile their desire to date her with the fact she will not be able to go to the temple with them and she is not willing to convert. Unfortunately, Jessica takes this personally.

I am not without fault in this dilemma either. As she would let it be known that she liked a boy whom we knew to be LDS I would ask her, “…to what end?” I would then cite one of my favorite lines from The Fiddler on the Roof: “A bird may love a fish but where would they make a home together.”

I live in an area dominated by the LDS church and it is not normal to allow your child to date a non-Mormon without significant parental intervention. If the subject of your affection is not willing to convert, significant pressure is placed on the child to terminate the relationship. Now I know this tribal response is common in other religions….my point of reference is the LDS church.

Jessica doesn’t know, at 19, what she believes. She is reluctant to challenge any of her friends’ religious beliefs or to ask direct questions about the doctrine because she wouldn’t want to offend anybody. She really struggles to find where she fits in and sometimes believes that she will never be taken seriously by the boys because she is not willing to convert. As her father I believe she is an amazing young lady with a ton of actual and potential assets. It is my desire that she not convert to any religion because I think it would be disastrous for her in the long run. I want her to fit in but there is reality that as a family we are slightly different.