‘I Love God, Even Though God Is Not Real’

I realize my last blog was depressing as shit. Sorry about that. Hey, it’s been a rough few days for all of us. But I don’t hang around here trying to bring you guys down. So here, to put a smile on your face, is a little blast from my past. I re-read it today and it did manage to put a smile on mine.

•••

Nov. 10, 2011.

The best part about writing a parenting blog? Sometimes your kid composes the blog for you. Remember the time she drew a picture of G
od, and it turned out looking like a yellow cyclops with male pattern baldness and a handlebar mustache? Good times.

Well, it happened again this week when Maxine walked into my room while I was getting dressed and showed me this little goody. If you’re not familiar with kindergarten composition, it’s meant to say: “I love God, even though God is not real.”

See what I mean? Silver platter.

So here’s the story.

It’s Monday morning, and I’m telling Maxine about Eid al-Adha, which I wrote about for Monday’s blog. I’m explaining how Muslims all over the world are celebrating a holiday that consists of sharing meat with people who don’t have food, etc. I ask her if she wants to hear the “God Story” about how the holiday came to be, and she answers with an enthusiastic “Yes!” So I tell her about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son to God. The name Abraham rings a bell for her, and she asks if she can get down her “God Book” (which is what she calls her beginner’s Bible) and flips through the pages looking for Abraham.

He’s, of course, hard to find because every other man pictured in this book is a middle-aged white guy with a long beard, but we eventually find him and she’s thrilled. Then she goes on to show me a picture of Noah and his ark and insist that it’s a picture of “God making the world.” At that point, I duck out of the room to get dressed, and leave her chatting happily to herself about God and Abraham. [Read more...]

Paris Shooting: Depressing News Gives Way to Depressing Thoughts

If news of the Paris shooting by Muslim extremists didn’t leave you shattered, here’s a little something that might. A story posted recently on the German news website Deutsche Welle features the picture you see below under the following headline and subhead:

IS to turn Syria schools into religious indoctrination centers

Over 670,000 children have been deprived of education after the Islamic State ordered schools to be closed. Schools will be reopened only after the curriculum is Islamicized, with religion replacing standard subjects.

 

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Devastating right? The only thing worst than senseless acts of terrorism is knowing that the terrorists are trying very hard to turn an entire country of children — children who wear Minnie Mouse pajamas and flowered headbands and silly smiles — into more terrorists.

Here’s the bulk of the DW story:

“In December there was a decree of the Islamic State ordering the stoppage of education in areas under its control…This is seriously affecting the schooling of an estimated 670,000 children,” The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Christophe Boulierac told the press.

The Islamic State ordered that schools teach only those texts that were “compliant with religious rules,” Boulierac said, adding that teachers in IS-controlled areas of Raqqa, Deir-al-Zor and Aleppo were to undergo training.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS intends to eliminate all courses except Islamic religion, as it regards subjects like mathematics, philosophy, and chemistry as “blasphemous.”

Around 4.3 million children in Syria are enrolled in school in these areas, the Syrian Education Ministry said. Of these, at least 2.1 million were out of school or not attending classes regularly.

And if that wasn’t all bad enough, there’s this: [Read more...]

7 Reasons Not to Wait Until Your Kid is ‘Older’ to Discuss Religion

DSC_1395-2As more and more Americans move away from the religions of their youth, and embrace more secular lives, addressing religious matters with young children is becoming increasingly more tricky. Nonreligious parent don’t generally wish to “indoctrinate” their kids, or to overwhelm them with too much information. Some parents even worry that religion, if shared, will hurt their children the way it may have hurt them when they were young.

As a result, many secularists treat religion as something to be talked about later — when their kids are older.

But I think that may be a mistake. I believe that the best time to broach the topic of religion is when kids are quite young — as young as five. Here’s why.

  1. Little kids aren’t idiots. 
Kids can handle a lot more than we think they can. At age five, many children are able to grasp the differences between fact, fiction and belief; they understand that faith is something some people believe to be true but isn’t necessarily true. And, even at these young ages, exploring what various people believe only enriches their ability to think critically about the world around them.
  2. They are good listeners — to a fault.
    You may not talk about religion to your young kids, but they are hearing you anyway. Maybe religion comes up in conversation with your friends. Maybe you make occasional off-handed comments, or you watch shows and movies that reference religion in a way that appeals to your sensibilities. There’s no doubt: You are sending messages about religion whether you intend to or not. Better to intend to, right?
  3. Religious tolerance is a learned behavior.Building compassion between groups of people who oppose each other’s ideology is essential to creating a better, kinder future. But if you’re not talking about religion, you’re not opening the door to religious tolerance. You wouldn’t ignore the fact that people are different races or ethnicities, right? So why do ignore religious differences? No matter what someone looks like, where they come from, how much money they have, or what god they worship (or don’t worship), they deserve kindness. The earlier we drill that into our children, the more time they have to live that message — and spread it around.
  4. They want to know!
    There are few things more interesting to talk about than the existence or nonexistence of God to a young child. God is like the superhero of superheroes. Contemplating a higher power may even be a rite of passage for young human being. The problem sometimes is that kids can’t ask questions because they don’t now what questions to ask. They don’t have reference points. So help them out a bit. Give them a few reference points, and watch the questions roll in.

[Read more...]

Six Facts About Ryan Bell’s Former Faith

Ryan-Bell-Headshot-300x199This week, former Seventh-day Adventist pastor (and fellow Pathos blogger) Ryan Bell will finish up his so-called Year Without God — meaning he will officially announce what other news outlets have already reported: After a year of studying the intersection between faith and non-faith, Bell has landed rather solidly on the non-faith side. “I don’t think that God exists,” he told NPR.

In other words, his year without God will soon become his life without God.

So say we all: Welcome, Ryan!

Now, I know quite a lot about what goes into not believing in God (because it’s a whole lot of nothing, frankly), but I didn’t — until very recently — know a single thing about Seventh-day Adventism. And, as it turns out, it’s a pretty interesting little Christian religion they got going on over there.

Here’s some stuff I dug up about it.

Unknown1. Jesus is coming… and SOON.

Seventh-day Adventism (and, yes, the “d” is lowercase; don’t ask me why) grew out of Millerism, a movement founded by William Miller in 1833 and based on the belief that Jesus was returning to earth somewhere in the 1843-1844 vicinity. Biblical math being what it is, Miller did have to move the exact date of Jesus’ arrival a couple of times, but EVENTUALLY he settled on Oct. 22, 1844. The problem was — and this is going to shock you guys — when that day came, nothing happened. Millerites called it “The Big Disappointment.” I’ll say! After that, the movement split up. Fast forward to 1863 in the great state of New Jersey: The few folks who stayed the course changed their name to Adventists and found a super-clever way to save face. How?  By telling themselves that shit did, in fact, go down on Oct. 22, 1844 — just not the shit they thought would go down. Instead, they reasoned, Jesus had moved into a certain sanctuary within heaven and began his process of “investigative judgement” — that is, judging human beings and deciding who deserved to go to heaven. Jesus is definitely still planning to come VERY SOON, they say, but this time none of the world’s 17.2 million SDA congregants is banking on a specific date. Smart. [Read more...]

How to Unravel the Santa Myth Without Breaking Your Kid’s Little Ol’ Heart

This is a reprint from a blog I wrote last week for the PBS NewsHour.

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FullSizeRender-293x300When I became a parent nine years ago, I made this deal with myself: No matter how uncomfortable it might be at times, I would always tell my child the truth. Way too often, it seemed to me, parents risk the trust of their children by telling them lies — white lies, black lies, all the lies — and rarely are any of them really necessary or justified. Plus, honesty was a value I wanted to model.

That worked out great until Santa Claus came along and screwed everything up.

I don’t remember when my daughter, Maxine, first heard about Santa. Chances are good I wasn’t even aware of it. The symbol of “the spirit of Christmas” is so ever-present in America — steeped in our culture the same way God is steeped in our culture. As an American child, there was no way Maxine was ever going to miss the Santa boat.

Seen in the right light, Santa is not a lie; he’s a mystery.

Still, it takes parental support to keep the Santa boat afloat, right? Parents buy the gifts; parents fill the stockings; parents take their kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap; parents help pour the milk so the kids can make sure Santa is greeted warmly when he shimmies down the chimney at night. And, if I didn’t want to burst the little bubble implanted in Maxine’s head by society, I was going to have to do what I said I wouldn’t: lie.

I’m not the first to have mixed feelings about Santa Claus. In his 1993 book, “The Trouble With Christmas,” Tom Flynn laid out five main arguments against engaging in the Santa myth with children:

  1. To perpetuate the Santa myth, parents must lie to their kids.
  2. To buoy belief, adults often stage elaborate deceptions, laying traps for the child’s developing intellect.
  3. The myth encourages lazy parenting and promotes unhealthy fear.
  4. The myth makes kids more acquisitive, not less so.
  5. The myth appears to exploit age-appropriate cognitive patterns that religious children use in forming their ideas of God.

[Read more...]

Quick! What the Hell is Hanukkah?

These are the things I’m ever able to remember about Hanukkah:

— It rhymes with Monica.

— It last for eight days.

— The colors are blue and white.

— Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.

— And something about a candlestick.

Listen, I’m not proud. I’ve already admitted that my brain, as Thomas Dolby so eloquently put it in the year 1988, is like a sieve. It’s no use coming down on me now. But in my own defense, what I do remember is factual — only the candlestick is called a menorah (rhymes with fedora) and “Dreidel” is not just a song but a game — and not some Kick-the-Can alley game, but a full-on poker game. Like craps. And do you know how much I like craps? Because the answer to that question is really, really a lot.

Of course there’s a bit more to Hanukkah than that — and my friend Mira (who teaches Judaism and speaks fluent Hebrew) was able to tell me all about it. (And she only laughed at my ignorance a couple-few times. Thanks, Mira.) So here it is: your friendly Holiday Cheat Sheet, Episode 4. [Read more...]

What’s the Real Nativity Story? Kid, You Don’t Want to Know

Giveaway 1Recently, my daughter was looking at a copy of The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids —  author Brendan Powell Smith’s LEGO depiction of the Christian nativity. The book is fun and funny, and I figured she’d love it. But, when Maxine got to page 11, she slammed it shut.

“I don’t like this book,” she announced.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said. “It’s not right. Mary came to Bethlehem ON A DONKEY.”

I reopened the book. Sure enough, there was Mary and Joseph walking to Bethlehem.

The Christmas Story

“Actually,” I explained, “the Bible never says anything about a donkey. That part was added in later by other people.”

“No!” she said, all pissed off. “MARY RODE A DONKEY!”

Then she slammed the book shut again.

Wow, kid, I thought. You’re going to have a hard time when I tell you the rest of it.

•••

Historically speaking, it’s highly — and when I say highly, I mean HIGHLY — unlikely that Jesus was born in a stable, or placed in a manger, or visited by three magi. Because it is highly unlikely that Joseph and Mary made that trek to Bethlehem in the first place — on a donkey or otherwise. According to scholarly research on the subject, Jesus was probably born near his hometown of Nazareth, and it was probably not in December, and the birth was probably pretty unceremonious. After all, historically speaking, Jesus didn’t rise to prominence until he grew up and started his traveling ministry. [Read more...]

A Nine-Year-Old’s Guide to Success in 12 Easy Steps

IrrationalWhen I started a book and blog about secular parenting four years ago, my daughter was 5 years old and, more or less, unaware of my writing life.  What she did know, she once summed up, rather spot-on, to a little kindergarten friend of hers.

“When I say stuff,” she told her friend, “my mom writes it down.”

Now, Maxine is 9 and all too aware of my book, which — having taken an unreasonable amount of time to finish, by anyone’s timeline, including her own — will be published in early 2015. She is pretty excited by this — largely, I had thought, because her name will be in the book and because she has a strong suspicion that the dedication may have something to do with her.

But it wasn’t until recently, while driving her home from third grade, that I understood there was more to her anticipation than that. In a series of “steps,” which she proceeded to lay out for me during the drive, Maxine described, in adorably irrational detail, a guide to our combined success as people.

Here’s what she said:

Step One: Write a book in, like, four years.

Step Two: Publish the book.

Step Three: Spread the book around the world.

Step Four: Make the book into a movie.

Step Five: Walk the red carpet.

Step Six: Get famous.

Step Seven: Die. [Read more...]

Most Christians Don’t Mind If We Take the Christ Out of Christmas

why-the-religious-right-is-losing-the-war-on-christmas

In the meantime, start your engines, folks, Christmas rancor is here again!

God, I love this time of year. When annoying Christians squabble endlessly about their right to celebrate Christmas in the way they see fit without anyone intentionally spoiling their feelings of joy by saying shit like “Happy Holidays” (The horror!),  and annoying atheists squabble endlessly about their right to enjoy every single thing about Christmas except the Christ part and, when asked about it, are sure to point out, often smugly, that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, so WHO’S THE ASSHOLE NOW, HUH?

It’s pretty exhausting, no?

Luckily, most of us Christians and atheists are not this annoying. Most Christians aren’t at all bothered by seeing “Happy Holidays” scrawled across their friends’ beautiful Christmas cards; they’re just grateful to get them at all. (And frankly, that’s just not a priority.) And most atheists aren’t at all bothered when their relatives thank Jesus for their Christmas feasts or put up nativity scenes in their front yards; just keep the eggnog coming. [Read more...]

Why Atheism is Not a Religion, Belief is Not Faith, and No One is Marrying Any Goddamn Pizza

when-i-do-good-i-feel-good-when-i-do-bad-i-feel-bad-thats-my-religion-abraham-lincolnIf you have ever been asked, or have wondered yourself, whether atheists must hold some shred of faith in order to hold that particular worldview, then please stop by Neil Carter’s blog, Godless in Dixie, where he pretty well puts this issue to rest in a post titled, “Do Atheists Have Faith?”

“This assertion” that atheism requires faith, Carter writes, “doesn’t irritate me because it’s clever or insightful; it irritates me because it’s nowhere near as clever or as insightful as it sounds.  In fact, it’s a logical fallacy called equivocation.”

Equivocation, incidentally, is the type of ambiguity that occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous — not for grammatical reasons, but rather because the phrase, taken as a whole, has two distinct meanings. Carter explains it better:

Equivocation happens when one’s argument hinges on a single word that has different meanings in different contexts, but one uses the word as if it has only one meaning for all situations.  Remember in third grade when you would say “I love pizza” and your friends would reply with “Well then why don’t you marry it?”  They knew good and well what you meant.  The word “love” means different things in different contexts, and they were capitalizing on the ambivalence of the meaning in order to make a joke.  The words “faith” and “belief” work the same way.  If I say that I believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun, it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as what you mean when you say you believe an invisible spirit made them.  They are both beliefs, technically speaking, but they are not both faith—not, at least, in the usual sense of the word.  One of those beliefs is based on empirical observation and science while the other is based on, well, something else. [Read more...]


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