Sunday, January 02, 2011

Yes come eat at my table but...

Thanks to for this graphic
Yesterday evening, one of my family members asked me if we could leave off with the 'religion slamming" (I'm not quoting; I don't remember the exact words). I didn't really understand why until a guest pulled a gold cross out of their shirt... To be clear, this guest has been here many times; they're not a stranger by any means and said guest happens to be sleeping with one of my family members, despite what their religion says about that (crack...).

I am atheist, full on and unapologetically so. I come from a very religious family - a family that is socially, culturally, educationally and by employment, religious. Nine - and soon to be ten - generations of the men on the paternal side of my family are ministers. In short, I was immersed - literally drowned - in religion from forever. My dad and my step dad turned the sod for the church I attended. That church also housed my (secular) kindergarten class; as such, I literally spent every day in the church, including Saturdays, because my dad and my step dad were deacons and my mother a Sunday-school teacher and they prepared for Sunday services on Saturdays.

I have read the bible - several versions of it - and for many years had no reason to question (or really understand) anything I read in there; I, like pretty much everyone I knew, just took it on faith.

In my early adulthood, I travelled abroad for some months. That sojourn resulted in a greatly enlarged world view and in a daughter. The pregnancy, which was without the benefit of marriage or partner, horrified many people in my church. I was shocked but not surprised by their reactions - and shocked at mine; I almost instantly lost respect for a huge number of people who had preached love and acceptance and now were very loudly and publicly denouncing me. Hm... Voila the first chink and the first glimmers of light into the vacuum that is religion.

Shortly thereafter, my mother, in a rare moment of honesty, revealed that several of those who were most despising of me had their own pasts: two affairs and a babe conceived out of wedlock - a son who was my age. I also became aware that our minister and his wife despised each other and spent little time together.

Two years later, my then brother-in-law (I had married) who was dogmatic in the extreme, revealed he was engaged in an affair with the Sunday-school teacher, who herself was not only married but still living with and sharing a bed with her spouse.This is the same brother-in-law who was red-in-the-face furious that I and my finance, whom I would marry in fewer than six months, were enjoying the physical benefits of marriage before we had the official go-ahead.... His excuse for his affair was that 'god' wanted them to be together... The idea that if god wanted it, he/she/it would have made it happen prior to the woman's marriage and two children seemed to escape my dumb but dogmatic relative.

My spouse and I shortly shifted to a different church, where we attended for two or three years, until one fateful morning, when the minister there gave a sermon on corporal punishment of children. Yet again totally misinterpreting the 'spare the rod, spoil the child' verses, he suggested to a congregation of more than 350 people that children between NINE and 18 months are the most needing of physical punishment because they are the most rebellious.

Nine MONTHS??? That was the last day I attended church. Statistically, 10% of the children in that congregation were being subjected to abuse, many on a daily basis. He also totally missed the point that 'rod,' is a misinterpretation of 'standard.' The verse actually means that if you don't give your children standards to live by, you will spoil them, meaning they will be literally misguided (without your guidance). That verse absolutely does NOT incite parents to beat their children into submission despite it being interpreted that way by a child-hating church (children being the evidence of 'original sin.')

That minister's extremely wrong and misguided sermon tore open the shroud that I'd been suffocating under. I didn't quite leave the faith but I left the institution.

Over the next fifteen years, thanks to many wonderful writers and in not small part to the galaxy of information that is the internet, I set upon a path of doing exactly what the bible suggests; I asked a LOT of questions and after several years, came up with the answer "This stuff is essentially BS."
Reading, among many, Richard Dawkins, Steven J. Gould, Sam Harris and the deliciously sarcastic Christopher Hitchens (who himself has been a very faithful catholic and Jew), I have come to the firm and frankly unshakable conclusion that there is almost no probability of 'god' and the tiny probability that remains is infinitesimal.The point is that I have read and read and researched and asked questions; I haven't decided willy-nilly to pitch my faith/religion.

All that said, I have no goals of conversion. As much as I personally find belief in baseless, illogical, unsupported fantasy a waste of intelligence, I defend people's right to believe whatever they to believe - or not believe.

Where all this relates to the events at our dinner table is this: if I am surrounded by religious people, I do not request that they not discuss their religion around me because I find it offensive as I am atheist. But that request was made of me in my house - that there be no discussion (slamming, in the terminology of the request) because one person at my table in my house was religious. In short, a request that we suspend our logical assessments and not discuss them was made because such discussions were offensive....The idea that it was offensive to ask me that in my house at my table seemed not to occur.

Here's the bottom line: if one's philosophy cannot stand to scrutiny and if one is offended by that scrutiny, one must have a very close look at one's philosophy: It is not the discussion of the philosophy that is a problem; it is clinging to a philosophy that cannot stand to research that is the issue.

Here is the challenge: yes, I will discuss religion with the religious BUT, in order that those discussions be on equal footing, I suggest - strongly - that the religious be prepared by reading and researching. I've read their texts extenesively. I've studied them, I can quote them and so it is only fair that the religious be as prepared as I am; they should also read what I've read in order that they can do what ever good debater does; be able to effectively argue an issue from all points of view.

It is unfortunate, however, that the religious regularly refuse to read anything that might contradict their 'beliefs.' I say such refusal comes from a very human, instinctual knowledge that they know, somewhere in their consciousness, that what they say they believe in doesn't stand up. People will usually protest - and in some cases protest violently - things they feel they must defend but which they know to be false; the second a person knows they're wrong is the second the gloves come off - not because there's any way to recover but because one wishes to save face.

In my house, everything is up for discussion but discussion is not equal to conversion; I have no intention of - or responsibility for - divesting anyone of their belief system; however, in my house, as everything is up for discussion, one either has to be prepared for that or not come round. But to come to my house and request that I not discuss their religion because they're offended? No. That is offensive to the extreme.