Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kids and Zingers

When kids bring God to dinner

Humanist Network News
May 4, 2005

"What's that Communion thing Grandma does at church?"

It's one of those zingers kids like to hit you with at the dinner table, usually while you're focused on someone else's spilled milk, or the smoke suddenly billowing out of the oven. And as mealtime zingers go, I guess it could be worse. (Take "My snake just escaped!" -- for example.)

For humanist parents, zingers involving religion -- and especially those involving religion and relatives -- are rife with both opportunity and risk. The wide-open potential of such a moment is undeniable: without even trying, here you've got an opening to discuss not only the extended family's religious beliefs, but the reasons you don't share them. To a humanist parent, this is something like going to McDonald's and discovering prime rib on the menu. But let's face it -- with careless handling, even prime rib will cause food poisoning. If your extended family is really religious, like mine, dealing with a zinger thoughtlessly now could turn the next family reunion into one giant Unhappy Meal -- the kind that generates belches for years to come.

If religion dominates the present and children are the future, the fateful intersection of religion with childrearing might be one of the most important topics today. Scientist Richard Dawkins himself takes it on in his April 28 article for Salon, [See: The atheist (story by, April 28, 2005).] He criticizes parents who give their kids religious labels like Catholic or Muslim, noting, "We wouldn't dream of speaking of a Keynesian child or a Marxist child. And yet, for some reason we make a privileged exception of religion."
(Section deleted by me)
I do agree with him, though, about the harm of molding children to conform to the expectations of an inherited faith....
(Section deleted by me)

But some might also ask if we're kidding ourselves. Don't we freethinkers also give our kids ideas about "the cosmos, life, and morality" when faced with a zinger like the one above? Are we, too, guilty of labeling our kids?

I certainly hope we are raising our children to know about our values -- and without apology! -- but I do think there's an important difference between religious parenting and what most humanists practice. The goal of religious parenting is to raise a child to follow the family faith, using authority and revelation as resources. The goal of humanist parenting is to raise a child to craft her own lifestance, using reason and free inquiry as her resources. One assigns the child's religious identity; the other expects him to develop it himself.

As a Catholic child (and therefore a victim of "label abuse," according to Dawkins), I received plenty of instruction on what to think about the universe and my place in it. Whatever questioning occurred did so within strict boundaries involving church authority and the presumption of a supernatural realm (both strictly outside the limits of scrutiny). My husband was raised in a similar way by Southern Baptists.

For our own children, however, authority and faith were simply not reference points. As humanist parents, my husband and I gave objective, common-sense justifications for the ideas we offered our kids. We were careful to distinguish fact from opinion. And we tended to describe rather than endorse -- even when presenting thoughts we do endorse for ourselves, personally. "Some people believe..." and "We think..." were phrases our children heard frequently.

In this way, we did not raise "atheist children," even though both have, indeed, become nonreligious adults. We raised children who were exposed to the ideas of their atheist parents -- ideas they were free to challenge, accept or reject. We raised children who were also given information about others' beliefs and opinions, as appropriate. This would please Dawkins, I think; it turns out he is just as hard on parents who label children "atheist." I have a feeling most humanist parents would earn his approval on this score.

I started with a dining room zinger involving children, extended family, and religion. It seems only fair to invite you back to the table for the ending.

"Communion is a Christian ritual," began my answer to our daughter's question. For Protestants, I added, the Communion wafer symbolizes Christ's body sacrificed on the cross. At 10, our daughter knew the Jesus story.

"But for Catholics like Grandma," I continued in what I hoped was a neutral tone, "Communion is the most important part of their faith. It's not just a symbol: they believe the priest changes the bread into Christ's actual body during the Mass, and the wine into his blood. During Communion, people go up to the altar to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus."

She put down her fork and stared at me in disbelief. "No way!" she said.

Really, I assured her. It's what Catholics believe. It's what I was taught to believe when I was young.

She went back to her food, quietly eating. I wondered if the discussion might be over, or if I'd somehow blown it. This was her grandmother we were talking about, after all (even though I was pretty sure my explanation and Grandma's would have been 99 percent the same). Our daughter was deep in thought.

After a few minutes she looked up from her food. "Why don't they just do a science test and find out if it's true?" she asked.

On some nights, there's just no end to the zingers a kid can throw at you during dinner.

Mary Ellen Sikes is the Associate Director and Web Analyst for the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Editor's Note: For more information on humanist parenting, click the "Parenting" tab in the left-hand sidebar that appears on every page of the Institute for Humanist Studies website, or visit:

The Institute for Humanist Studies encourages readers of Humanist Network News to forward articles freely, including to list-serves. Please read our terms of use, however, before republishing anything contained in HNN.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Personal Improvements

I have found a potential flaw in myself. I don't actually know if it's a flaw, perhaps it's a personality quirk? Perhaps it's not a fault at all - maybe it's something good?
At any rate, lately I've been trying for improvements in myself. For example, I have a tendency to procrastinate. I've been trying really hard to address this. So far, I've been MOSTLY successful. It's hard to break habits, but since this one will benefit me in school, work, life, it's not that hard to do. I'm actually kind of surprised.
Basically, I'm thinking about things that bother me, basically to find out WHY they bother me. Is it something I can overcome or is it a basic makeup of my basic personality and life outlook? I'm taking stock of myself, in other words.
And I've found that I DESPISE hypocrisy. DESPISE. I don't just dislike it. I don't hate it. I despise it. I'm sure most people would say they also dislike/hate/despise hypocrisy. So maybe I'm not alone, and this is a good trait for humans - although you've got to wonder why, if hating hypocrisy is something that's good for humans, so many people are hypocritical. I know that there are times I myself have been hypocritical. Maybe it's something you can't help being, because life is so full of gray-nothing is really black and white, and having a position about one thing can never be fully secure, there are always caveats. A person thinks and declares, let's come up with something that really bothers me: that women shouldn't work if they have kids. They argue that it's harmful to children. That women are the empathetic, caregiving sex and shouldn't work. In many cases, they argue this even as they're working themselves. This just pisses me off. At least back up what you're saying: act the way you supposedly think; especially because you're arguing that ALL women should act in a way you yourself are not acting. Anyway, hypocrisy really bothers me.
I was thinking about this the other day on the bus, of all places, because of a particular incident. There was a woman on the bus talking on her cell phone, a lovely conversation involving some guy. I must point out that she was with a friend. Now, for about ten minutes she just talked and talked on her cell phone, occasionally she would relay information to her friend. She finally hung up. Wait for five minutes. A cell phone rang and a woman answered it and proceeded to explain to her friend that she was on the bus, that's why it was so loud, and how did the other day go. The woman WHO HAD JUST HUNG UP HER CELL PHONE! turned to her friend and said - "I just hate it when people answer their cell phones and have conversations on the bus. It's so rude." I wanted to just glare at her until she could read my thoughts: you just did that, you IDIOT! But of course, I didn't. Instead I started thinking about how we're all hypocritical. Sometimes it's more blatant than others. So I'm trying to figure out how I can avoid being hypocritical: I despise it in other people, so I should definitely try to avoid doing it. Since I think it happens without people realizing it, it may be difficult to accomplish.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Flashback

Dave Barry on College

College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly two thousand hours and try to memorize things. The two thousand hours are spread out over four years; you spend the rest of the time sleeping and trying to get dates.

Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

1. Things you will need to know in later life (two hours).

2. Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours). These are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology, -osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them. If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and have to stay in college for the rest of your life.

It's very difficult to forget everything. For example, when I was in college, I had to memorize -- don't ask me why -- the names of three metaphysical poets other than John Donne. I have managed to forget one of them, but I still remember that the other two were named Vaughan and Crashaw. Sometimes, when I'm trying to remember something important like whether my wife told me to get tuna packed in oil or tuna packed in water, Vaughan and Crashaw just pop up in my mind, right there in the supermarket. It's a terrible waste of brain cells.

After you've been in college for a year or so, you're supposed to choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and forget the most things about. Here is a very important piece of advice: be sure to choose a major that does not involve Known Facts and Right Answers. This means you must not major in mathematics, physics, biology, or chemistry, because these subjects involve actual facts. If, for example, you major in mathematics, you're going to wander into class one day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of the quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result to five significant vertices." If you don't come up with exactly the answer the professor has in mind, you fail. The same is true of chemistry: if you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen combine to form oak, your professor will flunk you. He wants you to come up with the same answer he and all the other chemists have agreed on.

Scientists are extremely snotty about this.

So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy, psychology, and sociology -- subjects in which nobody really understands what anybody else is talking about, and which involve virtually no actual facts. I attended classes in all these subjects, so I'll give you a quick overview of each:

ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have read little snippets of just before class. Here is a tip on how to get good grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a book that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say that Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in your paper, you say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland.

Your professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and never liked Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are enormously creative. If you can regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple stories, you should major in English.

PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and deciding there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch. You should major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams. Psychologists are obsessed with rats and dreams. I once spent an entire semester training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain sequence, then training my roommate to do the same thing. The rat learned much faster. My roommate is now a doctor. If you like rats or dreams, and above all if you dream about rats, you should major in psychology.

SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is far and away the number one subject. I sat through hundreds of hours of sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never once heard or read a coherent statement. This is because sociologists want to be considered scientists, so they spend most of their time translating simple, obvious observations into scientific-sounding code. If you plan to major in sociology, you'll have to learn to do the same thing. For example, suppose you have observed that children cry when they fall down. You should write: "Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies of prematurated isolates indicates that a casual relationship exists between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or 'crying,' behavior forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will get a large government grant.

For my Trekkie Fans, especially Sara and Kay!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Real Americans

I have to say...Jon Stewart is hilarious.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Pledge

This is something Nick and I have actually debated before. I'm starting to come around to his way of thinking regarding the pledge, but I never thought about the viewpoint of a teacher before, so this article was very interesting.

Confessions of an Atheist Teacher: My Pledge Was a Lie

I don't exactly remember the first time I said the Pledge of Allegiance as a public school teacher, but it must have been in a classroom of twenty-seven 4th graders at around 7:55 on an August morning in Virginia in the mid-90s. We must have stood with the windows to the soccer field on our left and our Jamestown display on the right, facing the flag at the head of the classroom near the chalkboard. After that first day, I have a vague idea that a student was assigned the rotating job of "Pledge leader," getting me off the hook for the other 179. Maybe that's why my first year of Public Pledging is an elusive ghost of a non-memory.

I've met Big Brother, and it's me
Now it's two years later. I've been demoted to kindergarten -- remedial, at that. My job is to keep a hyperactive 5-year-old in roughly the same hemisphere as his classmates as often as I can. In "morning circle" he sits on my lap on the floor, both of us Indian-style, while everyone does calendar and show and share. Then we all get up for the Pledge, my little charge with great bounding enthusiasm after too much sitting still, and I stand there with him, showing him how to be a good little Pledger with his hand over his heart and the words flowing from the tip of his tongue, just like his classmates. As a good example, I stand that way too and say the words and make eye contact while he tries hard to parrot me and keep up with the others.

"One nation, under God," we both say every single morning. One day it hits me: does his family even worship a god? They live on my street, and both cars always seem to be in the driveway on Sunday mornings. But there's no mechanism for asking; absent an official request initiated by my little guy's parents, we Pledge away just the way Uncle Sam tells us to.

I realize with some amount of surprise that I feel guilty. Putting words in a child's mouth -- words he may or may not have chosen himself -- makes me feel I've overstepped my bounds as a state employee. I'm teaching -- no, training -- him to blindly, obediently say an oath of allegiance to a country -- a commitment no five-year-old can begin to understand. I've become the worst kind of Big Brother, the kind that preys on the minds of innocent little kids, shaping them to suit someone else's idea of national purpose. And pretending I believe those words myself, just to motivate him to say them too ... well, I begin to see myself as a lying hypocrite, cast in that role by my employer.

Don't tell
That same year, I'm assigned to a new supervisor in the special ed department. We get to talking during planning period and she learns that I once attended a Catholic boarding school in her home town in Maryland. She assumes I'm still Catholic, but I correct her matter-of-factly. "I'm a humanist now," I tell her. "That means I'm nonreligious."

"Oh, Mary Ellen," she says, with the sound of excited conspiracy in her voice. "I know now what our goal should be for this year -- to bring you back to the Catholic Church." Tension builds between us during the school year; this is the teacher who will evalute my performance and determine my raise, if any. I try to avoid the topic of religion altogether, but she just can't. One morning, just before spring break, she spontaneously exclaims in front of another teacher, "Jesus has risen whether you believe in him or not, Mary Ellen!"

In May, I ask to be reassigned the following year, and I am. I never tell the principal why, and he never asks, but more importantly I've absorbed a painful lesson about being a religious minority in a public school. The lesson: tell no one.

Freedom: just for students?
Fast forward to 2001. I've survived elementary school, mostly by working in the computer lab where morning exercises aren't an issue. Now, I've been promoted to high school. Five periods a day my students and I delve into Web design, HTML, and a programming language called Visual Basic. At ten every morning the school broadcast is supposed to interrupt whatever we're doing. We turn on the TV to hear the day's announcements, say the Pledge, and observe the state-mandated minute of silence.

I'm supposed to stand and model the Pledge for my students during that time, then enforce the minute of silence, but I don't. I sit at my computer, working on the day's assignments and testing my students' code. If the kids want to Pledge, and then be silent for a minute, they can do that. But I don't instruct them to, and they don't -- ever. They work, eat, and socialize, and I don't stop them.

I keep waiting for the principal to tell me that a parent has complained about my not observing morning exercises -- not even demanding silence during "the minute" -- and I wonder what I'll say if that happens. After years of "fitting in," I'm feeling liberated in the freer atmosphere of high school; I'm ready to assert my rights.

The problem is, I'm not sure I have any. It's students, not teachers, who've been granted freedom of non-participation by the Supreme Court. When you hire into a government teaching job, you agree to push the government's agenda. Right now, that gig includes an expression of religious belief I haven't held since the age of ten. What's an atheist teacher to do? What's any teacher to do? It's uncharted territory, and teachers are navigating without maps.

Testimony to the Supreme Court
By 2003, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Pledge of Allegiance case, I'd left behind the world of public school education. I now work in the humanist movement, where morning rituals are a matter of individual preference and never, to my great relief, involve the government's God. The entire freethought community rallied behind Michael Newdow when his case was accepted; supporting amicus briefs were filed by my employer, the Institute for Humanist Studies, our coalition partners, the Secular Coalition for America, and quite a few others. Students' religious freedom and the theme of "coercion" were common threads.

In reading these briefs, I began to wonder if the High Court has ever considered the plight of teachers forced to push the majority deity on kids as a condition of employment.

In a testimony which was eventually submitted as part of the American Humanist Association's brief, I tried to provide that perspective. I wrote: "My active participation in these daily exercises was then, and remains now, a source of internal conflict centered around deep-seated ethical principles inspired by my worldview. From my vantage point as a state employee entrusted with the care and education of its youngest citizens, my leading the Pledge by state mandate required me to choose between my professional duties and the Constitutional freedoms of my students; between a peaceful standing in my school community and the exercise of my own Constitutional rights; and between my school's standards of learning and a daily practice requiring children to abandon the critical thinking and free inquiry demanded of them in every other setting. There were no correct choices; each bore a price for someone...

"In a civics lesson, my children might have learned that oaths are solemn promises of serious intent, never sworn casually," I continued. "Instead, they innocently and blindly swore the Pledge each day, hands on heart, for no reason other than that I -- their authority figure, placed there by the state -- led them.

"I was there to show them how to position their bodies, where to fix their eyes, where to place their hands, and what words to say in rote unison -- words that were neither theirs nor mine, but had been established by their government as the orthodox expression of patriotism. My students were to repeat this ritual 180 times per school year for 13 years -- two thousand, three hundred forty Pledges per child, not counting athletic and extracurricular events."

Now that the Court has chosen not to rule on the constitutionality of 'under God,' but rather to sidestep the issue by focusing on a technicality, it's my fervent hope that more parents will step forward to challenge the 1954 act of Congress which baptized the Pledge in the name of a monotheistic God. But I hope that teachers, too, will take up the cause. To date, they've been reluctant to speak out, and some educational associations have even supported the preservation of the religious Pledge.

Arguments in favor of that phrase (including those forwarded by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her concurring opinion) claim that 'under God' is but a ceremonial reference to our heritage as a nation founded on principles of religious freedom. But these semantic runarounds miss the real point. Teachers, more than any lawyer or judge, know that to a child, God means God. Teachers know, too, that when they use the word in an official classroom ritual, they've endorsed the idea of that God in every child's mind. It's just as simple as that.

-Mary Ellen Sikes, IHS
The Institute for Humanist Studies encourages readers of Humanist Network News to forward articles freely, including to list-serves. Please read our terms of use, however, before republishing anything contained in HNN.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Election Thoughts

Religion Threatens '08 Presidential Race



October 14, 2008

The 2008 presidential race has been the strangest and most unusual campaign in modern times. It has also involved, to an unprecedented degree, the most troublesome and dangerous threat to our political way of life, the insertion of religion into electoral campaigns. This appeared initially in the form of "guilt by association" attacks on Barack Obama because of the church he belonged to and sermons his pastor preached. Later, the same criteria were applied to John McCain because of the beliefs and statements of ministers who had endorsed him. Both presidential nominees were forced to renounce their religious supporters--one for sermonic declarations that were critical of America, and the other for spreading religious intolerance.

Obviously, this is not the first time religion has been introduced in a presidential campaign. John Kennedy was challenged over whether he could be a practicing Catholic committed to the pope and a loyal American committed to the Constitution. In previous campaigns, the religion of a presidential candidate has been an implicit issue in "culture war" debates on abortion and gay rights. However, all past history is but a prelude to the role that religious beliefs and theology have played in the present campaign. What is important to realize is that when we use the word "religion" in our American political culture, it really is Christianity that we are talking about. It is widely accepted that an agnostic or atheist could not be elected president--even if he or she were a Nobel prize-winner and decorated veteran of Iraq. And it is still uncertain that a person of the Jewish tradition could be elected president. Nevertheless, we can be sure that this state of affairs is a direct violation of Article VI of our Constitution: "There shall be no religious test."
A candidate's religious faith may not influence his or her presidential policies; there is no such thing as a Christian tax reform policy, or a Jewish policy on immigration or a Muslim universal healthcare plan. Our founding fathers understood this distinction, and that is why they created a republic in which church and state are separate and no religious criteria determine a candidate's fitness for public office.

It doesn't matter whether this country was founded as a Christian nation. The fact is, today polls indicate that 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians--and 40 percent of them are "born-again Christians." To understand why so many insist on the errant claim that we were Christian in our origins, there is some interesting evidence. At the beginning of the country, nearly every colony was settled with an established religion. When Connecticut was founded in 1639, its doctrine of origin explained that the whole purpose of government was to "maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Most of the colonies had their established church (for example, Virginia was Anglican and Massachusetts was Congregational).

However, in 1787, more than a hundred years after the early settlers arrived, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wrote a constitution that, in contrast to the colonies', doesn't even mention God. All but two states--Rhode Island and Vermont--had religious tests for public office, but the Constitution prohibited them. It established a nation that was neither Christian or secular. The convention founded a democratic republic where a lot of its people went to church.

What the founding fathers did not reckon with was the power of the Christian interpretation of the settling of this country to morph into a sacred narrative, a holy story line. It began with the early Jamestown settlement and its entrepreneurial adventurers, and continued with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, whose zealous Puritans held an almost fanatic belief that they were God's chosen people to found a New Israel, a "shining city on a hill," as John Winthrop predicted in his sermon to the passengers aboard the Arabella.

This sacred narrative indicated that this new nation had a calling as dramatic and soul-shaking as the one Saul of Tarsus received on the road to Damascus. That calling was a mission to bring light to the darkened masses of the world. It began as we moved across the vast expanse of this continent, destroying, dehumanizing and incarcerating the Native American population of the land--all in the name of Christianity (Protestant). It was similar to what Spain did all across Latin America to indigenous people in the name of Christianity (Catholic). This mission was so powerful and so explicitly believed by American leaders as a role for this nation that it resulted in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. It was this belief that in the nineteenth century led to our invasion of the Philippines in order to Christianize them, and to the invasion of Cuba in the Spanish-American War (where the mythic battle of San Juan Hill helped elect Theodore Roosevelt president).

The danger of this sacred narrative is that has always been connected implicitly to our violence and wars against our enemies, who were anyone who challenged our imperial, predestined leadership in the world. Of course, one could argue that this holy story line ended with the twentieth century--except that the majority Christian church has supported every war we have ever fought, right up to the present war in Iraq. Why do you think it was so easy for George W. Bush to sell his phony war to religious people? It is because deep down some of us really believe that this nation has a calling to save the world wherever or whenever it is threatened by evildoers. It is the old "chosen people" doctrine transposed into American exceptionalism. It is our destiny still, as the "greatest and most superior nation," not to "save the heathen" but to spread "democracy and freedom," to determine who is morally fit to possess nuclear material, to decide which countries are good or evil--in other words, to be the world's leader, militarily and politically, so that all the world's people look to America for their emancipation.

The danger to our fragile democratic experiment can be seen most clearly in the way in which both political parties have now bought into the sacred narrative, meaning that one's theology is predeterminate of whether one is patriotic or 100 percent American. Is this the reason there was no public outcry when Pastor Rick Warren staged a national televised event in which the candidates were put on the spot to find out if they were truly Christian believers (he called it discovering their "worldview")? Governor Sarah Palin was spared this interrogation, but we can be sure that her "inexperience" is not nearly so dangerous as her belief that God has been preparing her for the vice presidency and that Iraq was a "task that is from God."

A New Awakening

We need a New Awakening because we've been asleep while religion surreptitiously seeped into every nook and cranny of our government. Even before the Air Force Academy scandal of proselytizing evangelicals, the Justice Department was full of Christian-trained lawyers running prayer and Bible study groups and an atheist soldier was being removed from the war zone because of threats from his fellow soldiers. If we do not believe that these are threats to our political way of life, then the danger is greater than we may realize.

No one on the present scene has been more prescient or spoken more eloquently on this subject than James Carroll, the Boston Globe columnist and author. In his book House of War and the movie Constantine's Sword, he spells out in no uncertain terms the danger that the interjection of religion and American exceptionalism poses for our democracy in the vastness of Pentagon powers and military dominance over diplomacy in our foreign policy. The flaw in Carroll's viewpoint is that he places the blame only on fundamentalist Christians, but it was liberal Democrats and moderate Christian churches that remained silent as religion was exploited for political gain.

Our American system of governing is designed for a people of incredible religious diversity. We have countless religious entities and each one has subsets. There will never be a religious consensus--and that is a good reason for the separation of church and state. Being American has nothing to do with whether we are male or female, rich or poor, the color of our skin, where we go to church or if we go to church. As Oliver Thomas, a constitutional lawyer and Baptist minister, puts it: "Being American is about the principles and ideals set forth in our framing documents.... In a word, the American consensus is civic, not religious." That is why it is out of order, inappropriate, if not a grave mistake, to force our presidential aspirants to submit to a religious interrogation in order to judge their fitness for office.

We need a national dialogue to address the issue of the ways in which we have allowed Christian beliefs to be wrapped around political positions and parties. Politicians and those who vote for them ought to be able to defend their fitness for public office and the policies they stand for solely on the "civic consensus" and not on religious beliefs, on which as a people we have no consensus.

About Rev. Howard Moody
Rev. Howard Moody is minister emeritus of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. more...
Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Library Thing! You Make My Heart Sing!

I know we barely got started discussing my last issue, but it's depressing me a bit so I thought I'd share something much more fun. Right now, I'm working on uploading all of my books into a personal library. It's called LibraryThing, and it's totally free. If you google it, you'll be able to join free and add your books - make your own library! Also, my library catalog will be public, so all of my friends can see which books I own. Have fun with it guys, it's awesome! I've been having a lot of trouble keeping up with my catalog manually - I just have a basic Excel document with a list of my books, organized by author. Yes, that's right. I'm a nerd. You all love me anyway. And Library Thing is totally cool.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Catholic Church question

Right now I'm reading the "Philadelphia Grand Jury Report on Abusive Priests and the Cardinals who Enabled Them."
I have many reasons to be glad I am no longer Catholic. But the sexually abusive priests and the church officials who cared nothing about the victims makes me jump for joy over not having to deal with religious doubts. If it hadn't already happened, I think this would have done it. I agree that you can't blame a whole religion on some "bad apples." But I do wonder how it is that the people who protected the "bad apples," are somehow ignored. Perhaps they're not. Perhaps people really are outraged and they're really trying to do something about it (Though I haven't actually seen any sadness for the victims from the Catholics I know)- I don't know how you can get rid of a cardinal who knew that a priest was sexually abusing children - it's not like a democracy; the people can't vote him out, can they? Basically I'm outraged and I'm not even Catholic. I can't imagine how they are feeling. No on seems to talk about it, but I might be missing things. I sometimes wonder if protecting the good name of the church is what most Catholics are interested in and so the outrage is more that the media reported it? I hope that's not true. I'm sure that's not true. Even I'm not that cynical.
There's a list in the report about what the priests did to the children. I thought it might be interesting to share what the Catholic Church's representatives were (and I looked up what the church considers a priest, from the Youngstown Archdiocese - before diving into the list. According to this site, which is a Roman Catholic site, not just something I picked up off of one of my liberal web pages, a priest is "a man who is chosen by god to act as a living bridge between heaven and earth..." "Priests are living instruments of Christ the eternal priest." (I know that a lot of these kids were Catholic, so they probably knew this. I wonder what it did to their psyches and their faith to imagine that it was Jesus, as a priest, who was hurting them.) "By means of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, priests bear the presence of Jesus Christ."
If there are Catholic readers out there, please tell me if I'm in possession of wrong information.
They're all bad, but for some reason, this one made me cry the most:
- A boy who told his father about the abuse his younger brother was suffering (because you have to protect your siblings!) was BEATEN to the point of unconsciousness. And the kicker that made me cry. "Priests don't do that!" said the father as he punished his son for what he thought was a vicious lie against the clergy.
Also, it's only a partial list and I didn't include what the officials did to protect the priests.

- a girl, 11, was raped by her priest and became pregnant. The Father took her in for an abortion.
- A 5th grader was molested by a priest inside the confessional.
- A teenage girl was groped by her priest while immobilized in traction in hospital bed; he stopped only when the girl rang for a nurse
- A boy repeatedly molested in school auditorium, where priest/teacher bent boy over and rubbed his genitals against the boy until the priest ejaculated
- A priest regularly began forcing sex on two boys at once in his bed
- A boy woke up intoxicated in a priest's bed to find the Father sucking on his penis while three other priests watched and masturbated themselves
- Sorry, can't print this one, it's just too wrong. I'll let you find out on your own.
-Priest told 12 year old boy that his mother knew of and had agreed to the priest's repeated rape of her son.

I hesitated a bit to post this, but I got some good advice from a friend and I realized that this is fact - this actually happened, and you can't really whitewash it. You shouldn't whitewash it. And now that I think about it, I know of a few Catholics who I am sure were and are outraged - they're close friends of mine actually. But is there any place that talks about this issue, from a lay Catholic's point of view, about why people haven't been leaving the church in droves or demanding something to address the issue, or anything really, that might indicate that the people of the church are just as horrified and outraged as I am and NOT because their precious church, who apparently needs protection from people's opinions (though it is the "true" church of god and you'd think god could protect it), needs to be kept out of the media so that people's opinions about the church don't go downhill. Do Catholics care about the victims? I mean, I'm sure they must, but why does it seem that I only hear about the church protecting the priests and not these poor kids?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thoughts on religion

I came across this the other day, and since I live in this great free country of ours and have the right of free speech, which some people are against, I thought I'd post it on my blog. I thought it was both funny and insightful. Even though I think it's funny - I'm still allowed to be a citizen, and if I so choose, thanks to the constitution, I'll be able to run for office (though I might not get elected, of course!).
Clearly, criticizing religion is bad, and if we lived in biblical times, I'd be stoned or burned or smited by god. But we don't - and besides, even if I criticized religion and someone decided to stone me, I'd imagine they'd get tried and probably convicted of murder - I guess even the bible can be wrong about morality, what a shock!
Yes, that's right, you sense sarcasm, brought on by frustration; frustration of ignorance, really, and frustration of people who presume to judge others based on their own morality, which doesn't seem that moral to those who believe that murdering all the firstborn children to punish their parents is wrong.

Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I'm bored tonight, so even though I'm sure you all haven't had a chance to comment on my last post, I'm going to post something more. I just wondered what people thought of some of these random questions I have when I'm bored and my mind wanders.

1. What do you think of sperm donation?
2. Do any of you know how to make pad thai? I can never find a recipe that I think is easy enough to try.
3. Has any one wondered about WHY some foods seem to taste better from a restaurant rather than at'd think it'd be the other way around.
4. Do you think insurance companies should cover Viagra?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'm getting a little crazy with the posts

Just in case you haven't seen them. How many of you laughed hard enough to fall out of your chair?

I love Queen Latifah!

Monday, October 06, 2008


This is a new blog I'll be linking to sometime in the future. In the past, I think we've discusses/debated/argued about the "role" of women in society and such. I thought you readers might be interested in reviving the discussion, since I never did figure out what women's natural "role" is - those of you who believe in such a thing could maybe help me? Anyway, here's the link. Feel free to peruse the rest of the sight, there are some interesting thoughts.

Moment of Zen (Who else wishes they knew ballet?)

And the link:

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Click Me!

Some people may find this offensive, but I thought it captured some of the frustration I was feeling when talking with people who are of a different mind than I when it comes to beliefs and religion and such. For the record, I'm not trying to be offensive, just working through some of my frustration and reading a lot about humanism, secularism, and religion, and one of the ways I work through it is by laughter.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Thanks Nate!