Dealing with family

Little-known fact: not everybody is entirely tolerant of atheists. Sometimes the intolerance is made even harder when those displaying it are family members. Today I received a private message from a cousin on Facebook. For her privacy I will not repost her message, but for the sake of showing that it’s important for us to stand up for ourselves — even against family — I will repost my response. In my response I refer to specific things she said in her original message, so it should be easy enough to catch the gist of it.

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If I might…

Yeah, I’m very in-your-face about my atheism. This is because Facebook is the only place I have to express my feelings about it. Religious people can be open about their beliefs publicly; whether you like to admit it or not, atheists cannot — not in Texas, at least. This is why I share my feelings on my private Facebook page (my account is set to friends only and has been for some time now).

I do not act like I know everything. Religious people seem confused when it comes to atheism in these regards. On the contrary, I do not feel like I know everything; in fact, I’m not going to presume to know the answer to all life’s difficult questions is “God.” I’ll leave that know-it-all attitude to the religious.

I’m not going to touch the fact that you sincerely believe I’ll “rot in hell” for eternity, because I don’t think you actually believe that. I believe it makes you feel like a better person to say it, but if you actually believed millions of people alive today would spend eternity being tortured, you’d go insane.

Fortunately in this day and age, atheism is on the rise. More people are thinking rationally and logically. Sure, I get emotional about it sometimes but in the end the one and only reason I am not religious is because I cannot — as a rational person — agree that the ideas put forth by religious people make even a shred of sense. I’d like for there to be a Heaven, but it doesn’t make sense. I’d like to think there’s a god out there who intervenes and answers prayers, but it just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, wanting something to exist does not make it exist. And “faith” just doesn’t make sense to me.

You wouldn’t rely on a 200-year-old book for medical advice; why would you rely on a 2,000-year-old book for moral advice?

But all of this will go right over your head. You’ll continue to never doubt anything you were taught to believe in as a child. You’ll continue to feel guilty every time doubt rears its ugly head. You’ll continue to believe things that just don’t make sense. You’ll continue to believe because you’re scared. I’m not scared. I know that we live and we die, and so my outlook is to make the absolute most of my short, short life. You said I believe once we’re dead, that’s it. Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s it for our physical bodies, sure, but what we achieve in our lives resonates in the lives and memories of others long after we’ve died.

With that said, again, atheism is on the rise. More and more teenagers and young adults are shaking off the guilty feeling they get when they’re faced with a difficult question they don’t know the answer to. More and more teenagers and young adults are refusing to accept “God did it” as the penultimate answer. My hope is that your children — as the next generation of thinkers, makers, and dreamers — realize the answers they’ve been spoon-fed since infancy just aren’t cutting it. My hope is that one day they’ll recall the fantastic stories they’ve read in the Bible and say to themselves (or even out loud), “Now that just doesn’t make sense.”

Despite the fact that you might actually believe I’m going to suffer eternally after I die (again, I don’t think you seriously believe that) I hope you have a happy life. I guess that’s where you and I differ: you’re okay believing millions and millions of people will suffer forever while you enjoy an endless paradise, whereas I’m just not that selfish or spiteful. Every human being has the same fate: you live, you die. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to do wonderful things in between and be remembered after. Either way, we all end up in exactly the same place.

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Just for fun, I went through every single thing I’ve done/posted/uploaded on Facebook from July 1st up until the receipt of her message, just to determine exactly how in-your-face I am about my atheism on my personal, private Facebook page. I specifically noted things of a religious nature, political nature, and scientific nature. Everything else is categorized as — let’s just be adults and admit it — “nonsense.” Here are the results out of 106 posts:

Religious in nature: 17, including one scary picture of Jesus and one post where I just happened to mention the word “atheists.”
Scientific in nature: 6
Political in nature: 8
Nonsense: 75

Summary: I am 16% in-your-face with atheism and 71% in-your-face with nonsense.

 

 

Suburban Atheist

Did you know that atheists really just hate god? That we only claim to disbelieve in god because of some terrible tragedy that happened early in our lives? Here, in a retelling of the very first post I ever wrote for this blog, is the chilling tale of how I went from atheist, to Catholic, and back to atheist.

It all starts with me being born on the dirty floor of a scary, shadowy motel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a frigid night in November*. Fresh out of the womb I was broken in a couple places, crying, splotchy, and covered in a particular goo I hope to never be covered in again. More importantly, I was atheist.

That’s right, folks. I started my life crying, gooey, and atheist. Scared and alone, I couldn’t even imagine a god existing. Everything around me was all there was. This is only the beginning of my horrible tale, however. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it gets even worse!

Though I grew slightly larger, I remained atheist for the first couple years of my life. It got to the point, though, where as a child I would believe anything my parents told me. There was a Santa Claus. There was an Easter Bunny. There was a god who made everything and would never let bad things happen and would always take care of me. But wait, wouldn’t Mommy and Daddy always take care of me? Who cares? This god fella sounds amazing! Even more powerful and mystical than those birthday party clowns who made amazing balloon animals and pulled rabbits out of hats!

By now we had moved to Texas. I grew up in Suburbia. When I wasn’t going to church on Sunday or school in the morning, I was running around outside with my friends, on lawns that were always green and freshly-mowed, with water pistols and water balloons that were so full we had to be careful not to burst them on ourselves before we could soak each other. I was climbing trees, scraping knees, teasing bees, and refusing to eat my peas. We had several pets including dogs, fish, and iguanas. I was always occupied. I praised god and Jesus once a week, and then spent the rest of the week, well, being a kid in Suburbia.

Church life was about what I imagine it would be like for most kids. We went to St. Jude Catholic church on Sundays, I had a youth group afterwards, and that was it. I can’t even say whether I ever paid attention to a single sermon during Mass. I was a kid, after all. I brought coloring books and plastic dinosaurs to church. I knelt when my parents knelt, opened the books and pretended to sing when my parents sang. Sometimes I actually sang, which was fun because I liked the songs. I had no idea what they were about, but I liked them.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what the Bible was about. I just knew what my parents told me: Jesus was this guy who was the son of god but he was also god, and that’s okay because I’m a kid and I’ll believe whatever my parents say, and Jesus did good things and then he was crucified, but that was also okay because he did it so we could all go to Heaven, which was a really great place where everybody went when they died, so I guess we never really died, which was good because this meant I never had to be scared about dying.

And things stayed this way for a while.

I went to school and was placed into the “Gifted & Talented” program simply because I was good at math, and I met the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life, Mrs. Judith Barnes. Mrs. Barnes encouraged us to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems. She was my GT teacher for six years, so for six years I received more and more encouragement to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems.

I read about things that fascinated me: dinosaurs, rocks, the solar system, animals, bugs, different countries and cultures. And then I did what my parents probably didn’t expect me to do: I put down my illustrated children’s version of the Bible and picked up an actual grown-up Bible.

And I read it.

Not the whole thing, mind you. I was, after all, still a kid. I was probably around ten years old. But I read enough of it to stop, think to myself How would Mrs. Barnes want me to read this?, and suddenly realize that it couldn’t all possibly be true. Then I realized that the story of Jesus was the only fantastic story I’d hung on to that my parents had told me, having already let go of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I found myself wondering why?

Why was I still hanging on to this Jesus fellow? Santa and the Easter Bunny had both been used to teach me valuable lessons about being good and having fun – why couldn’t Jesus have also just been a device to teach me to stay true to myself, despite how others might treat me, and to strive to see goodness in all things?

So sometime probably in my early teens, I stopped worrying about god and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. For a while, I hung onto the notion of a god that snapped his invisible fingers, made the universe pop into existence, and then just sort of minded his own business after that and didn’t interfere with anything, but I finally let go of that belief too, later on in my teens. And by the time I finished high school I was full-blown atheist.

All the while I was just a middle-class kid in Suburbia with two loving, never-divorced parents, an older brother who I fought with now and then about nothing in particular, a big backyard with a swingset (replaced later on by a pool with a diving board), and a bunch of dogs.

And that’s the story of how one simple childhood tragedy can cause any person to turn their back on god forever.

*Slight exaggeration. I was actually born in a clean, well-lit hospital room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a November morning, which I imagine was still probably pretty cold.

Wasps

I originally posted this today on my personal blog, Fancy Hollywood Frogs, but as it pertains to atheism (in the sense that wasps are evident of a cruel or nonexistent god) I thought I would share it here too.

I hate wasps.

I’m not talking about WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), though they sure annoy the hell out of me too, but wasps – the spindly, black-and-yellow, six-legged, winged harbingers of misery and impending doom.

Yeah, one of those.

Wasps serve no purpose whatsoever other than to scare the ever-loving shit out of me. They are aggressive, hideous, and haunt the worst of my nightmares. Oh, and they come with a weapon. Not that anybody needs to be educated on what wasps are, but they will sting you. Not only will they sting you, they’ll hunt you down for miles just so they can sting you. And you know what else? Unlike bees, which lose their stingers (and die) after stinging someone or something, a wasp will just keep stinging. With no regard whatsoever to your overall happiness, a single wasp will release up to six pints of venom into your body through its stings.

Wasps do not care about your well-being. They will happily kill a man and then fly home to their colonies of buzzing death and brag to all their friends. Wasps are known for their ability to kill entire crowds of people without so much as blinking one of those horrid, black eyes. For the record, looking into a wasp’s eyes is like peering into the depths of Hell itself.

There is nothing on this world (or, I would wager, on any other world) worse than a wasp. They are evil, conniving, and full of pent-up teenage angst. Except instead of wearing dark eyeshadow and cutting themselves, wasps will cut you. Because some of them carry knives. Wasps are worse than Hitler.

Here in Texas we have what are conveniently called “red wasps.” These are like normal wasps, except their bodies are red and their wings are as black as their hearts (picture below). According to a website called “What’s That Bug?” red wasps are known for their non-aggressiveness. Oh wait, except they are aggressive, according to the editor’s note at the bottom of the page linked above:

April 11, 2011. We have gotten so many comments of first hand accounts of aggressive Red Wasps that we feel compelled to withdraw our statement that the Red Wasps pose no threat.

The editor then goes on to say, basically, that there must be some new species or subspecies of red wasps that are pissed off, all the time. What’s worse is they won’t tell us what we did to make them so angry.

Death on six legs.

I had an encounter with a red wasp yesterday. There I was, minding my own business, when I caught a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. I spun around to see what it was, but nothing was there. Suspicious, I took my next few steps very carefully. Suddenly, from about ten yards away I spotted something flying at me fast. I ducked to one side and saw the unprovoked, pissed off kamikaze wasp soar by my head. With barely enough time to readjust my footing, the wasp pulled a perfect 180º and came at me again. I ducked the other way and managed to evade the hate-copter a second time.

Now when I turned to face it, the thing was already preparing to strike at me a third time. It was hovering in the air at eye-level, about two yards away. Hovering. It was just watching me. This insect was judging me, trying to determine whether it could take me in hand-to-hand combat. It was soon clear that ultimately the wasp decided it did not fear me and wanted nothing more than to taste my blood. It came at me again and I swatted at it with an open palm but missed. I spun to face it just in time. It was now right. in. front. of. me.

My enemy and I danced for a while; the wasp swerving this way and that, growing angrier by the second while I flailed my arms about in a panic, wondering nothing but whether this would be the day I died. With a stroke of luck, my open hand made contact with the wasp and it fell to the ground. One slap, I knew, would not be enough. Wasps are like zombies: they will keep coming after you until you put a bullet into their brain. Even if I had managed to find shelter while it was still incapacitated, the wasp would have eventually found me. Maybe not right away – maybe even six years from now – but the important thing to know is that a wasp will never forget you, and it will never find solace until it has killed you.

So I stepped on it. I crushed my foe under my shoe, but when I removed my foot with a sigh of relief it was still moving. I think it even managed to flip itself over onto its feet after having landed on its back – I’m not sure, though. My next act was not a conscious decision I made, but an animalistic impulse. I drove my heel into its pathetic, wounded body and dragged it across the pavement until it had been properly shredded.

My only regret is that I did not then gather its body parts and craft myself a necklace out of them, to serve as a warning to any other would-be attackers.

Wasps are proof that either god does not exist, or he hates us.

The countdown is nearly over!

Two days ’til rapture.

So what exactly does that mean? It means a great world-wide earthquake, to start with. As already determined the earthquake will begin precisely at 6:00p local time everywhere. This gives us in Texas and the central United States a good 19 hours’ warning. I’d say that’s plenty of time to get away from large, heavy structures that likely wouldn’t survive an earthquake. Simultaneously, 200 million or so Christians will be “raptured,” meaning their physical bodies will be lifted off the earth and into Heaven. What is yet to be determined is whether their clothes will be raptured with them. In addition, the ground will split open and all of the dead who in their lives believed in Jesus will also ascend into Heaven.

Gross.

Anyway, the rest of us will be left behind – yes, just like in the books! For five months (because the world will cease to be on October 21) those of us who didn’t perish in the earthquake will suffer terribly: war (even without all the crazy Christians?), plague, starvation; not to mention the terrible natural disasters that will happen. This summer we can expect to see hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, storms, hail; basically all the same things we see every summer.

I can only imagine all the pissed-off non-Christians who will be left behind. I said jocularly in my last post that we atheists will be all that’s left in this world, totally free of religion. That’s obviously untrue. We’ll still have all the crazy Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Rastafarians. If I believed any bit of this was true, I would be worried about the crazy religionists who aren’t super thrilled about learning that everything they’ve ever believed was wrong. Naturally (and I’m talking about you, Jihadists) some of them will take out their frustrations on the rest of us. No doubt there would still be war. And this time, all the crazy Christians in the US government and intelligence agencies won’t be here to protect us. Which brings us back home.

The majority of the US government and government agencies will disappear. The majority of the US armed forces (Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, et al), FBI and CIA, police and fire departments will be gone. There will be bedlam, anarchy, riots, looting, fires, depression, terror – just absolute chaos. Most of my friends and family will have disappeared. My wife and I, along with a pretty small group of close friends will be left behind and, if we survive the earthquakes on Day Zero, we’ll have to work together to survive the next five months…

…to be continued.

What’s the what?!

Hey there to the readers that Dave has managed to attract.  My name is Brandon and I have been invited to take part in this blog about various subjects close to my heart.  Let me start with a brief introduction.

I grew up in Tulsa, OK.  I went to church with my family all the way through high school, though less and less as the years went on.  I have been skeptical all of my life, and I can’t recall a time when I believed in god and did not believe in Santa Claus.  At first I kept my unbelief to myself.  I think I first told my parents that I didn’t believe in god when I was ten or eleven.  I even went through a phase in my early teens where I tried to believe, studying the bible harder and having discussions with preachers and religious friends, but the more I studied it the less sense it made…to me.  The other people that I spoke with seemed to ignore the problems that we spoke about, always using the bible as a reference for their argument.  I studied history and science more as I got older and found it more and more exciting and interesting.  I still love learning about science and history, and the more I learn the more I realize how incredibly inaccurate the religious texts are.  That combined with their incessant self-contradictions make it perfectly clear that religion is man-made and bankrupt.  The fact that so many people choose not to think about the obvious facts, not to mention that so many people just take it for granted that the bible is historically accurate in any meaningful way without doing the tiny amount of research required to disprove that falsehood, often makes me feel like a sane man among crazy people.

I should mention here something that I will go into more later on.  I used to be disturbed by my lack of faith.  That is not to say that I had faith and was fighting it.  I had no faith and that seemed so uncommon to me at a young age that I felt there might be something wrong with me.  I rarely spoke of it, so I wasn’t actually able to learn what my friends thoughts were, and in the end that turned out to be somewhat self-fulfilling.  Oddly enough, all of my good friends from elementary school grew up to be atheists as well, which leads me to believe that we all shared a lot more in common than we knew at the time, and we all spread out and lost contact until Facebook came along and allowed us to reconnect and realize our mutual faithlessness.  The other things that we all have in common are that we are all very happy people, all successful in our jobs, nearly all have families with children and all ended up fairly well educated.  I know that many religious people feel that a full and happy life isn’t possible without faith, though I can’t say that their reasoning makes sense, and they frequently make a big deal out of coming to faith or being born again.  I recall the day that I fully gave up on trying to believe in god and let myself just believe what I intuitively believed all along.  That day a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I felt like I was seeing the world as it really is for the first time.  I’d always doubted and there had never been an argument that was convincing to me in any way, but until I fully embraced my irreligion I was never able to see it for what it is; I only had inklings.  However, leaving all of that behind was the best thing I ever did, and any atheist worth their salt will likely agree with this statement.  Except the lucky ones that never had all that nonsense dumped on them in the first place.

My wife and I live in Texas now with our four-year-old son.  It literally creeps me out to see so many churches all over the place.  It’s disturbing to see people throw their crazy right out there for all the world to see.  We are not looking forward to sending our son to friends’ houses for the weekend and getting the “do you mind if he just goes to church with us on Sunday morning and then we can drop him off afterward?” questions that are bound to come up.  My son is incredibly smart and I look forward to having discussions with him about the cosmos and our place in it.  I love knowing that when he asks me difficult questions I actually have answers, and if I don’t know I find out and then explain it to him in a way that he can understand.  My best hope is to give him as much knowledge as I can and let him make his own decisions.  That’s what I did, albeit by myself, and it worked out just fine for me.

My purpose here is mostly just to vent and to share the thoughts and realizations that I occasionally have about religion.  It’s so present in society that it’s impossible to ignore, plus around these parts people are more than happy to start a religious discussion with a stranger, assuming that they also believe, so it’s not like I am given the option to actually opt out.  Instead I find myself forced, far too often, to discuss this nonsense with people who don’t seem able to actually hear the words coming out of their own mouths.  Thus, the truth behind the B.S. sometimes seems clearer, and this is as good a place as any to voice my thoughts on the matter and see what other people think.

Finally, fair warning: I am more than happy to have a calm and rational discussion with believers about religion and faith, but the moment they stop being rational I gotta quit.  Otherwise I start to get too irritated by the willful ignorance.  It’s always been my biggest pet-peeve, whether about religion or anything else that can easily be known and understood.