Sunday Sermon: An All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Infallible God Could Do Better Than This

I’m still Facebook friends with some of my Christian friends, so I get to see a few bible verses and god-related posts. I don’t mean the re-shared images with “God Loves You” type text, though I get those too. I mean the hardcore stuff. It doesn’t really bother me because I usually skip right over them without reading.

But I was thinking this morning about the double standard that exists about posting religious things on Facebook. No one thinks twice about posting about their faith, but if I were to post something about atheism, it would be seen as negative, divisive, or in some other way inappropriate and offensive.

That’s why I started a Facebook page for this blog—so I would have a place to post my non-religious or anti-religious thoughts and have a way to comment on other atheist’s pages without offending any of my friends—even though I don’t use it often.

This morning, I woke up to a bunch of god garbage. I didn’t read it, but it was long and it was from one of my hardcore lifestyle Christian friends (not just a Sunday Christian), so I’m sure it wasn’t anything I was in the mood for, especially pre-caffeine.

It did it’s job in that it got me thinking about god.

The thing is, it didn’t get me thinking about god in the way he wanted. It got me thinking this:

An all-powerful, all-knowing, infallible god could do better than this.

This statement isn’t anything new to an atheist, I know. It’s just that this statement is where all thoughts about god lead me to these days.

As I was saying in my last post, I have woken up to how bad the world is. Not that there’s not any good. I’m not saying that, just that there’s a lot of bad. A lot. And all thoughts of a god—one that is like the Christian god is imagined to be—lead me back to that statement.

Let’s say that god is real. Even so, fuck him. Seriously. What the actual fuck is the point of him if the world looks like this?

I know the answers. I was a Christian, after all.

God doesn’t make the evil things happen.

But he doesn’t stop them either.

God gives us free will and wants us to choose him.

But bad things happen to Christians too, who have chosen him. And not just bad things perpetrated by evil people whom god may not want to interfere with, but even natural disasters and diseases, which are the very things god should be able to control.

God has a greater plan that uses the bad things to bring us closer to him and build his kingdom.

Children need to be raped to death in order to build god’s kingdom? Fuck that god.

Really there are countless other terrible things that one could substitute for that example, and the all lead to the same place:

An all-powerful, all-knowing, infallible god could do better than this.

Another Angry Atheist

There are many reasons why I haven’t been blogging here regularly. One of the main reasons is that every time I start writing a post, it comes off sounding very angry, and I don’t want to be the stereotypical “angry atheist.”

One of my goals as a conservative blogger (back when I was conservative) was to be a nice person. I mean, I am a nice person, and if you know me IRL, then you know that. It’s not like I was pretending to be nice.

But when it comes to political discussion, there’s a lot of anger and sarcasm and vitriolic contempt. And I specifically made an effort to not be part of that.

I feel like, if I blog now, I am going to come off as angry, and people are going to conclude that it’s because I don’t have god in my life anymore. I’ll be just another angry atheist.

But I am angry.

There is so much to be angry about in this world.

Poverty.

Oppression.

Racism.

Sexism.

Bigotry.

Murder.

Rape.

Hate.

The list goes on.

If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. Or you have no feelings. Or you delude yourself into thinking everything is OK by believing that there is some all-mighty divine being that WANTS it to be like this because he has some great mysterious plan that makes all of this shit all right.

Well, I don’t have that delusion anymore. The veil has been lifted, as they say. I see things as they actually are. And I am angry. Well, on the good days, I’m angry. On the bad days, I can’t stop crying. Because the world is kind of a terrible place, and I no longer have my religion to shield me from that reality.

So, yeah, maybe I am just another angry atheist. How could I not be?

Why the Photoshopping of Lena Dunham Matters

I’ve always been fat. My weight has fluctuated over the years, depending on my lifestyle at the time, but I have never been thin. It also never bothered me. It’s how my body has always been, and I’ve always had my fair share of suitors, so I never thought there was anything wrong with me, despite our culture’s best efforts to convince me otherwise.

I thank my mom for that: for always focusing on my abilities, talents, and personality; for never criticizing my looks or suggesting I go on a diet; and for never shaming her own body in my presence.

Despite my mother’s remarkable parenting, a few years ago, after my husband and I split up, I became obsessed with being thin. What started out as healthy changes ended up turning into disordered eating, self-loathing, and a string of bad and harmful choices.

Over the last year, I have worked very hard at loving myself, rebuilding my self-confidence, and being at peace with my body. Every bit of work people are doing in the name of body-acceptance has been a blessing to me, and I love all the people who are out there challenging the media, calling out fat shaming, and building a culture of love and acceptance.

So, when I saw the Vogue photo shoot of Lena Dunham – who is known for embracing her less-than-conventionally-perfect figure, often appearing nude in her HBO series “Girls” – I was livid. Why, why, why would they do that to her face? Her beautiful face does not need to have a sculpted jaw line and pointed chin.

And this reaction was before the website Jezebel obtained and published the unretouched photos, showing that Dunham’s face had indeed had a little digital work done.

And for publishing these photos, the Internet had a collective freak out. Jezebel was “shaming” Dunham. Jezebel was “anti-feminist.” And worse, the touch-ups were “no big deal” or even “needed.”

Lena Dunham herself responded to the controversy by saying that Vogue is a “beautiful fantasy” and not “the place that we go to look at realistic women.” She also said, “I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing.”

It’s a bad thing because the photos are still telling women that in order to be beautiful, they need to have their faces digitally altered because they can never be beautiful enough the way they are.

When I was at my lowest weight, an ex of mine saw a picture of me with my new body. His response was: You still have those chubby cheeks.

It was like a dagger to my heart. I was as thin as I could get. I was starving myself to the point where I could barely choke down food if I tried, and yet I still had those chubby cheeks. And chubby cheeks are not what beautiful women have.

As far as Vogue being a fantasy, well yeah, that’s easy for a woman on the front lines of the war against the media’s unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies to understand. And Dunham is surely doing her part by showing her so-called flawed body for all to see in the show “Girls.”

But not everyone is watching “Girls.” Perhaps most importantly, girls are not watching “Girls.” And they’re the ones who are not aware that those fashion mags are a fantasy. They are the ones who are looking at those pictures as the ideal of what they need to look like to be beautiful.

There’s an episode in season 4 of the 80s/90s TV show “Full House” where the oldest daughter, DJ Tanner, played by Candace Cameron, wants to lose weight for her friend’s pool party. She ends up going on a starvation diet and over-exercising, which causes her to pass out at the gym. During the touching parent-child talk portion of the episode, DJ says that when she looks at the fashion magazines she never sees round faces like hers.

More than 23 years later that hasn’t really changed.

So, yeah, it’s great that Vogue had a woman on the cover who is different than the typical cover girl. And I’m glad that Dunham got that opportunity because she’s amazing, and I am obsessed with the show “Girls.”

But if they need to photoshop that different-than-typical woman’s face into something that is more typical of a cover girl, than does it really make a difference who’s on the cover?

On New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve always hated the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I think that people should make changes when they recognize the need for changes, not on a specific date.

There’s also the fact that New Year’s Day is completely arbitrary and meaningless. I prefer to reflect on my life around my birthday because that is my New Year’s Day.

Another factor is that I live in Vermont, where it is pretty much a frigid hell hole this time of year, hardly the time to think about new beginnings. My birthday is in the spring, a time of rebirth, another reason I prefer it to New Year’s for thinking about what I’d like to become.

As it happens, though, I have been working on making some major changes in my life for the past few months. I have plans and goals, and I was waiting until after the holiday stress had passed to put them into action. So now they feel like New Year’s resolutions.

And this is kind of unsettling to me.

It’s not because I am committed to the idea of NOT doing New Year’s resolutions. It’s because making resolutions that are attached to the year makes me feel like the quality of the entire year is tied to the success or failure of those resolutions.

That’s a lot of pressure.

I just want to get through the next month making better choices than I did last month. And then the same thing the month after that. And so on.

Then, hopefully, I can look back at 2014 and say it was a good year. But I can’t know what that will look like right now, so the idea of setting goals for the entire year today, when 2013 isn’t even over, seems foolish at best.

I have a vision of where I want to be in the future, and each month I plan some action steps to help me get there. But, if I fail one month, it doesn’t mean it was a bad year. Life is a journey.

A friend of mine posted the following quote on facebook today:

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.

My response seems like a fitting way to end this post.

True, but remember that every day is a blank page. So if you fuck up the first few – or 30, or even 100 – pages of this new book, there’s still time to make it a good one. The most interesting books are full of hard times and bad decisions (and rebelliousness and sex, but that’s a different matter). It’s all about how our heroine handles what life throws at her.

Happy New Year, all the same. And thanks for stopping by.

Our Deepest Fear

God references aside, I love this quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
― Marianne Williamson

Go on out there and let your light shine, a message to me as much as to anyone.

Life Without God, 4 Years Later

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog, and it’s been even longer since I posted consistently. I’m not here to promise a triumphant return to blogging, though I would like to get back into it. No, I’m just here to post an update on what things are like for me now that it has been four years since I left Christianity.

I wrote a series of posts about how I became a Christian, how I became more Christian, how my faith fell apart, and how things went after I left Christianity. So I thought it only appropriate that I should do a post about how things are now, especially since I haven’t been blogging enough to give you some idea about that.

Let me start by saying that I am still not a Christian. You probably figured as much. I’m pretty sure that’s something I would’ve posted about, and I’m guessing this post would have a different title, were that the case.

I still do not believe in god. I really see no use for it in my life. Well, I take that back. I fully am able to understand why people turn to religion. Life is hard. So hard. There are times that I find myself wishing I could believe in god again. It made things so much simpler.

It also helped control my anxiety. I have always struggled with anxiety, but it was much more manageable when I was a Christian. Whenever my anxiety would rear it’s ugly head, all I had to do was pray it away. This was especially effective when dealing with my social anxiety. I only had to focus on the fact that Jesus was by my side, and I was OK. I knew that the only thing that mattered was that I was doing my part to build god’s kingdom. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought of me. I believed this so strongly, that my anxiety stayed in check most of the time.

That has not been the case, since I left Christianity. I have had quite a struggle, in fact. For a long time, it made me wish I did still believe in god. But I realized recently that it wasn’t god, it was my belief. The mind is incredibly powerful. But I don’t need to believe in god to use the power of my mind to quiet my anxiety.

My anxiety disorder hasn’t been the only difficult thing that I have had to deal with since leaving Christianity. I also have become a lot more cynical. The world is full of selfishness and cruelty. I was pretty sheltered from it when I was a Christian. Or maybe I chose not to acknowledge it but instead see the best in people. Whatever the case, the past few years have been brutal with the realization that the world is not the way I thought it was.

Still, through it all, I am at peace with my lack of god in my life. Not having a belief to guide me has forced me to really take a hard look at things. It’s allowed me to look past tradition and convention and determine the kind of life I want to lead. It’s made me a better person, in that I don’t have a standard with which to judge other people’s actions, and I can more clearly see that most people are good people just trying to get through life the best way they know how.

OK, so I guess I do still see the best in people, contrary to what I said above. It’s just that I am aware of the cold reality of life at the same time.

I think that’s made me more compassionate. Life is not as simple as “God will provide” or “I’ll pray for you.”

If there is no god, you have to figure out your own plan. You have to find alternative ways to show people that you care. It’s a lot more work, but it’s also a lot more rewarding.

And you get to have sex without feeling guilty about it after, so there’s that.

I’m not evangelical in my atheism, though I was never really very evangelical in my Christianity either. I don’t begrudge people the right to have – and the comfort of having – their beliefs. I get it. I just don’t feel like I need that, and I don’t see any rational basis for believing in any religion or spiritual belief system that I know of.

That doesn’t mean that I am a total skeptic though. I do believe there are things we can’t explain yet. I do believe there is value in spiritual language to describe some of the concepts that are otherwise difficult to explain. But for the most part, I just don’t see the point in believing in fairy tales.

So that’s where I’m at, four years after realizing that I didn’t believe in Jesus anymore. Sure, I am no longer a model of Christian virtue, but I am still a kind, caring, honest person. I am living my life in a way that is true to myself and respecting others’ right to do the same. I’d say that’s good enough for me.

Why People Don’t Tolerate Anti-Gay Views, And Why That Doesn’t Make You Persecuted

I read a post today over at CNN’s Belief Blog called “When Christians Become a ‘Hated Minority.’” It’s basically about Christians feeling like they are being forced to stay quiet about their anti-gay views for fear of persecution.

I find it odd that Christians are upset at being held to common standards of decency. I didn’t realize it was ever acceptable to dive into unsolicited rants about how much you disapprove of someone else’s life. I always thought that was considered rude.

From the article:

“The media will hail someone who comes out of the closet as gay, but someone who simply expresses their personal religious views about homosexual conduct is attacked.”

I am going to try to explain why these two things are different.

One of them is a person sharing something about himself. One is someone sharing a belief that another person is doing something wrong, unnatural, and against god.

One is a person talking about himself; the other is a person making a judgement about another person.

Is the difference not clear?

Let me give another example.

Imagine a religious person walking up to a fat family in a restaurant and loudly proclaiming that gluttony is an affront to god and obviously this family is living in sin and needs to repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.

Would that person not be “attacked” for “simply expressing his personal religious beliefs”?

Imagine a religious person walking up to a woman who is showing a little skin and loudly proclaiming that she is a sinner, who is tempting men into fornication and adultery with her revealing clothing, and she needs to repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.

Would that person not be “attacked” for “simply expressing his personal religious beliefs”?

Imagine a religious person walking into a tattoo parlor and quoting from Leviticus while proclaiming that tattoos are an affront to God’s word and that they need to repent and seek forgiveness.

Would that person not be “attacked” for “simply expressing his personal religious beliefs”?

Imagine a religious person walking into a family court and ranting about the sanctity of marriage and how all of the people getting divorced are going against God’s plan and committing terrible sin and need to repent and seek forgiveness.

Would that person not be “attacked” for “simply expressing his personal religious beliefs”?

Heh, actually in all of those examples, I would be surprised if the person wasn’t literally attacked.

My point here is simple. You do not get a free pass to be an obnoxious, judgmental asshole just because you hide behind your religion.

That does not make you persecuted; it makes you subject to the same standards of decency we all are.

Even if you believe that homosexuality is a choice, you are not exempt from the expectation that you need to act like a decent human being and not a complete fucking douche bag.

All of the examples I listed above are actual choices. Go pick on those people for a change and see if that is tolerated any better than your bullying of homosexuals, who incidentally just want to be free to love and/or marry whomever they are attracted to. Get the fuck over it.

Shatter Nicely Flashback: Why I Still Celebrate Easter as an Atheist

As I was frantically trying to get everything done for Easter, I thought I would re-post this piece I wrote two years ago. It’s still true today, which is why I have a million things to do before my family comes over on Sunday expecting food. (Apparently, the week leading up to a big holiday you are hosting is not the best time to have a crazy 6-episode-a-day “Doctor Who” watching marathon.) Enjoy your weekend, whatever you celebrate!

This past week, I have been preparing for Easter. Planning a menu, finding a few new recipes online, shopping, cleaning, decorating, and all the other stuff I love, yet hate, about holidays. During this time, I have thought a lot about why I still want to celebrate Easter, even though I am an atheist.

I have always thought there was immense value in marking the passing of time and important events with celebrations. Getting together with family and friends – especially when there is delicious food involved – is good for the soul (meaning, of course, our emotional/psychological well-being, not a literal soul, in the religious sense).

Living in Vermont, winter is long, cold, snowy, dark, and did I mention long? Spring is a season that just begs to be welcomed with a large celebration! And why wouldn’t we want to celebrate it? It is the time of the earth’s rebirth. The grass is turning green, the birds are returning, the trees are budding, the bulbs are blooming, and, most importantly, the snow has melted. Another long, snowy winter has come to an end. Pass the ham!

I noticed this year that a lot of stores have spring-themed decor, rather than just religious-themed, making it even easier to have a secular Easter celebration. Now I can have flower cupcake papers and butterfly serving dishes, alongside the traditional bunnies, eggs, and chicks.

Now, I know I don’t have to celebrate spring on Easter, but the vernal equinox is usually still way too cold, and it’s a convenient way to plan the date and make sure I don’t forget to mark this special time of year.

So, while Christians are thinking about their stories of the death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means to them, I will be taking a break from my hectic life to celebrate family and welcome spring, thankful that I no longer need to plan my cooking around the church service.

Have a happy Easter, and thanks for reading Shatter Nicely!

 

Bad Arguments and Birth Control

There’s been a lot of talk about why it is wrong for an employer to refuse to cover contraceptives in their employee health insurance plans, and why it’s not a violation of religious freedom for the government to require that employers do cover contraception.

Pretty much without fail, every time I read such a discussion someone makes the argument that contraceptives are sometimes prescribed for a medical problem, not just to prevent pregnancy.

I hate this argument.

It totally detracts from the real reason that employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on the health insurance plans they offer their employees – health care is a private matter between a person and his or her doctor. Period. End of discussion. Your religion does not get to enter into the doctor’s office with me, regardless of whether you issue my paycheck or provide me with access to health insurance.

The argument made by employers as to why they shouldn’t have to cover contraceptives, if their religion deems them immoral, is that it infringes on their freedom of religion for the government to force them to do so.

Okay, then Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t have to cover blood transfusions for their employees. Is that what you’re saying? Because if it’s not, your argument is invalid.

We do not need to go down the “birth control is sometimes prescribed for medical conditions” road because it weakens the main argument. The obvious response to that is, “Fine, we’ll cover it for medical conditions, but not for birth control.” See the problem? That’s not really what we’re after here.

What we are after is a world where people cannot impose their religious beliefs on other people’s health care choices.

Another argument I hear is, “Why should an employer have to subsidize an employee’s immoral lifestyle?” (Assuming that providing contraceptive coverage will cost the employer more, I guess. And assuming that birth control is only used in immoral situations, or that birth control itself is immoral, I guess.)

Along that line of thinking, should health insurance also not cover STD treatment? Getting your stomach pumped after a night of heavy drinking and/or drug use? Medical treatment required after an accident resulting from drinking and driving? Where do we draw the line if we want to refuse to subsidize an “immoral” lifestyle? What is immoral? Who decides that? How can that reasonably be determined in the context of heath insurance for every immoral act and every medical treatment? Answer: it can’t. This argument is invalid also.

There are so many logical problems with the arguments for not covering contraceptives that there is no reason to capitulate.

Employment does not equal ownership, and employers should not be able to influence an employees health care choices based on the employers personal religious beliefs.

That is not an infringement on the employers’ ability to live in accordance to their religious beliefs. The employer can live however he or she chooses. Employees have the right to access whatever health care they and their doctors deem necessary, and that is a private matter.

A New Year

I’ve never really been the type to make New Year’s resolutions. If there are things you know you want to change about your life or new habits that you want to start, you should do it as soon as possible, not wait until an arbitrary date on the calendar.

But there is something about the end of a year that always makes me want to look back on the previous year, which inevitably leads to the discovery of things that need changing.

2012 was not the best year for me. I dealt with a pretty severe depression, the worst poverty that I have ever experienced in my life, four months with no health insurance, a child moving out, a substantial weight gain, and the realization that some people in my life that I had always assumed were there for me really aren’t.

It was a difficult and lonely year.

As trite as it sounds, I learned a lot from it. That’s usually just something people say to make themselves feel better, but I really believe that I am better off having learned the things I did this year about myself and others, and the world in general.

I have always been pretty optimistic. I see the best in people always, almost to a fault. (I literally had someone tell me once that was one of my faults.) I am also fairly gullible. Since I rarely-to-never lie, I assume the same of others, which is almost never a good assumption, I have learned.

The reality is that people don’t usually have others’ interests in mind; they are looking out for themselves. That has been a tough reality to face.

I am not saying that people are all bad. And I am certainly not saying that I am going to stop seeing the good in people; that is an integral part of my personality. To be honest, I am not really sure what I am saying, other than I have realized that I really need to focus on taking care of myself and stop caring so much about what other people think.

Often “advice” is really just judgement that holds us back from being true to ourselves.

I know what I want to be in this world. I know what I believe, how I want to live, what I want to do for a living. I have a vision of where I fit into this world, and when I picture myself living true to that vision, I am happy. That is the kind of thing a lot of people spend their entire lives trying to figure out, but I think I have.

My problem is that I care too much what other people think, and I have let other people’s opinions keep me from being happy. I didn’t do the things I wanted to because I was trying to make other people happy, and I made myself miserable. I did not get where I wanted to be, and I have no one to blame for that but myself.

When people criticize you for your choices and make fun of your dreams, it’s often not out of genuine concern, but out of their own closed-mindedness and fear of taking chances in their own lives. It takes a lot of courage to be yourself, and people hate to be reminded of what cowards they are.

My resolution for 2013 is to be true to myself and stop caring what other people think. I know where I want to be when I reflect back on this year. I also know how to get there. I just need to believe in myself and tune out all of the naysayers and unsolicited advice givers.