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Making Things Weird

My husband’s new favorite person in the world is Pete Holmes, a comedian with a brand new late night talk show immediately following Conan.  We’ve been going back and listening to Pete’s You Made It Weird podcasts where he sits down with a fellow artist and asks them three weird questions.  These do tend to get extremely off topic, turning more into casual conversations between friends that often erupt in hilarity.  Past guests have included Zack Galifianakis, Judd Apatow, Demetri Martin, T.J. Miller, Chelsea Peretti, Jon Hamm, and Jim Gaffigan, among many others.  Recently, we listened to Pete make things very weird with Sarah Silverman.

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One of the topics that Pete generally always brings up is religion.  Most of the time, his guests are atheists but he does have exceptions (Gaffigan, for example) and is somewhat of an exception himself; as a former Christian, he seems to find comfort in people who fully believe in God, heaven, and everything that goes along with it.  Sarah identified herself as agnostic, and then stated something that really stuck with me.  She pointed out how a person’s beliefs are almost solely based on where they are born.  It’s such an obvious fact, but I never put much thought into it before she said it out loud.

Thinking back, I cannot name a single person in my family who chose Catholicism.  They were all born into it.  Had my family been located across the globe, my upbringing would have been quite different as far as religion is concerned.  At no point did I choose to be a Catholic.  I was baptized while too young to know what was going on, put blind faith in Jesus being the son of God because that’s what my community believed, and grew up as Catholicism as my normal.  I had Jewish friends, I knew a little bit about Kwanzaa, but never questioned why other people fell into different religions, as I was happy with mine.  We had Christmas, so naturally I wasn’t questioning things.

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My atheism was and is a choice and it was the first honest choice I made regarding religion.  I chose that belief (or lack thereof) for a variety of reasons that I can clearly explain and justify.  But if you had asked me why I was a Catholic during the time I still was, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a list of good reasons.  It was just something that was expected of me; get good grades in school, don’t act up around the house, and believe in God and strive to get to heaven.  I was happy to believe whatever I was told to believe about Jesus so long as the Easter Bunny brought me goodies and Santa came to visit as scheduled.  There was not one single good reason for me to be Catholic, to put my faith into so much when I had so few reasons for doing so.

Can you tell me why you believe what you do and give me justification for it that makes sense and is based on something real and concrete?  If you can, you’re doing it right and should give yourself a pat on the back, regardless of what religion you claim and what God you hold sacred.  But if you can’t?  If your only reason is “that’s what I’ve always believed” or something else along those lines?  What are you doing?!?  Why put so much blind faith into something if you can’t even tell me the real reason why you believe it?

Blind-Faith1Everything can and should be questioned, especially when it’s something like religion that is so big in one’s life.  I could care less who believes what as long as they aren’t bringing harm to others, so this isn’t about my atheism being right and your faith being wrong.  It’s about not walking through life with blinders on.  It’s about questioning things that should be questioned.  It’s about being your own person instead of the person you were expected to be by your parents and/or community.  It’s about strengthening beliefs, whether it’s in a god or simply in science.  It’s about finding yourself.  Tell me here or tell yourself privately why you believe what you do.  See if you’re happy with your answer.  And if you’re not happy, see what adjustments need to be made.  Maybe you’ll end up feeling more confident in your beliefs, maybe you’ll discover a new path you should take.  Either way, it can’t hurt to give it a try.

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Why Celebrate?

I am an atheist, in case you’re new here.  Raised Catholic, I made the transition from a believer into an agnostic, finally landing on atheism for a number of reasons.  I’m not a “practicing” atheist because there is nothing to practice.  I simply don’t believe in any type of god and I don’t care one way or the other what anyone else believes, so long as they aren’t actively trying to change my mind.  I do however still celebrate Easter (in its commercial form with bunnies and baskets and colorful eggs) and I celebrate the heck out of Christmas.

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My son asked me the other day to explain why we celebrate Christmas.  Since he believes in God (as much as an eight year old can, anyway), I led with the birth of Jesus and a few details of why that is important.  I then told him that his daddy and I celebrate Christmas as a way to have fun with friends, show love to our family, spend quality time together, and to have a blast getting into the spirit and searching for the perfect gifts for the important people in our lives.  He nodded thoughtfully and then said “I love Christmas because I want to be with my family.  And so we can all get presents.  And because I love you guys.”

I don’t know what our boy will grow up to believe, and I really don’t care one way or the other so long as he’s happy, but I do hope that he holds on to the family piece of the holidays.  I’ve had lonely Christmases, either spent physically alone or spent with people who were so focused on both receiving gifts and trying to create a picture perfect meal surrounded by pristine decorations that they forgot to enjoy the people around them.  I prefer my broke Christmas day (when dollar store stockings were hung from a cheap entertainment center) over Christmas spent with family who only cared about whether or not there was something diamond encrusted in their stocking.

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Any idiot can go out and spend a bunch of money, even idiots who don’t have any so long as they can qualify for a credit card or two.  The dollar amount of the gifts you give and receive shouldn’t be what is important.  People always say that it’s the thought that matters, and while I may get tired of hearing it said, I believe it to be true.  My sister-in-law gets me a Coach purse every year because they’re pricey and it’s an impressive looking gift.  I appreciate the gesture but I don’t like or care at all about Coach or any other designer products.  My husband bough me socks one year that look like Chuck Taylor’s and they happen to be one of my absolute favorite accessories, even though the set of three couldn’t have been more than $10 or so.

Outside of the fun I have trying to find the perfect gifts for the people I love, I celebrate Christmas because it’s fun to be with my family.  Watching their expressions as they open a gift I worked hard to track down, laughing together over a freshly cooked meal, settling in under blankets to watch a Christmasy movie, and watching our dog tear into his stocking stuffers.  I don’t care whether or not we take a perfect photo of our morning to throw on social media, I don’t care if we don’t hear from each and every person we know via call or text, and I don’t care (obviously) about making it to any morning mass, sticking to a strict schedule.  I want to have fun, be relaxed, and enjoy the people I’m lucky enough to live my life with.

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I know the origins of Christmas and I understand that some people may not think that I have any business celebrating since I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God.  But let’s be real; as huge and as commercialized as Christmas has become, people in this country are kind of forced to deal with it whether they want to or not.  Most of us get time off from our employers since most of the world shuts down for at least the first few hours of December 25th.  Like it or not, it’s hard to overlook this holiday.  Why wouldn’t I want to take advantage?  Not only do I get paid time off to spend with my family, I am given the perfect excuse to go all out for the people I care about and put a smile on their face.

As long as you have love in your heart (and your religion or lack thereof allows for it), Christmas is a holiday you can celebrate.  It’s so much more fun to wish people a Merry Christmas than it is to be that grumpy sod insisting people say “Happy Holidays.”  Decorating trees and hanging wreaths in your home is a surefire way to make anyone smile.  If you have children, I don’t need to tell you how much fun it is to play Santa for them.  If it’s important for you to find the “true” meaning of Christmas, go for it.  But understand that the true meaning for you, or even historically, is not the true meaning for us all.  Definitions change and people differ.  As long as we’re all joyous on this occasion, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all doing it right, even if we’re not all doing it the same.

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I’m probably something of an oddity when it comes to being an atheist.  I don’t believe in the God I came to know growing up as a Catholic and I don’t believe in any other God from any other religion.  I don’t believe in an unknown higher power and I don’t believe that we were put here for some incredible reason that is meant to make our lives more meaningful.  I believe Jesus existed but I don’t believe that He was the son of a God and that he rose from the dead after being crucified.  I believe every answer for the question of why we are here and how we were created can be answered scientifically.  Yet for some reason, I do believe in the supernatural to some extent.

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I don’t buy into the idea that every single one of us will become a spirit after the last breath of air leaves our body, or that we are reincarnated and able to live on in another form.  It’s more of a belief that sometimes, a part of us is left behind when we pass.  Ghosts and hauntings were always a fun part of my childhood, mostly due to movies and television shows that I enjoyed.  Back when I believed in heaven and hell, I believed that any spirit not bound for one of those locations was doomed to walk the Earth as a ghost until they figured it out.  As I grew up and my beliefs changed, I abandoned that idea of ghosts in favor of one that fit the things I have seen and experienced.

I worked at a restaurant where an 18 year old boy had died while attempting to get high using the soda machine’s CO2 tank.  I had no idea this occurred until one afternoon when an older employee freaked out after yet another of us girls found ourselves locked in the supply room behind a door that had no lock on it.  On a regular basis, the supply room door would show complete disregard for the door stop and the lack of a lock and slam on us, locking us in.  We used to joke about a supply room ghost, but I never gave much thought to it or the random items that would fall from the shelves until the older employee told us that the young boy had died in that room and she believed that his playful spirit was still around.  She would never go into that room herself.

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Was it a ghost?  I have no idea.  But it could have been.  There was never a reason for the door to slam, no reason for a door with no lock to become locked to the person on the inside, and never a reason for items to fall from the shelves.  I didn’t view these events with the serious thought that a spirit could be responsible, just as I didn’t give serious thought to the idea that one of my college dorms was haunted or that my high school gym had a live-in ghost.  Since having an experience that I cannot explain, I became very curious and did a lot of research to see if there truly was something to it or if I was just allowing myself to become part of a joke.

I’m not going to give you a list of scientific explanations that give credibility to the existence of the supernatural because you either believe or you don’t.  It’s not my place to try to convince you and I’m not attempting to start a debate about whether or not a ghost could exist.  I’ve just noticed lately that atheism doesn’t really fit with belief in the supernatural.  And I don’t see why that has to be.  Most atheists like to throw facts and evidence in the face of religious folk, knowing they cannot counter because you cannot show concrete and irrefutable evidence of a God.  My belief that something supernatural could exist, be it spirits or simply residual energy, can be backed up by scientific evidence which is why I see some credibility in it.  Religion has nothing to do with it.

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For me, being an atheist means I don’t have a set of rules regarding my belief system.  I don’t have a God, I don’t have rules about how I spend my Sunday, and I live by a moral code rather than worrying about what counts as a sin and what is acceptable.  But even if I wanted to be an atheist who believes that people are sometimes reincarnated as dogs, I fail to see how that is an issue and how that contradicts my lack of belief in God.  I don’t identify as an atheist because I want to fit a specific mold, I identify as one because I believe in no God whatsoever.  That should have nothing to do with the rest of my life.

With vocal atheists like Ricky Gervais calling attention to the rest of us, atheism as a whole is being scrutinized more closely than it normally would.  Perhaps this whole “atheists can’t believe in ghosts” argument is simply a way at poking holes in my lack of belief and trying to show me that belief in anything intangible means I should believe in God.  It’s really the only explanation I can come up with for this nonsense.  The bottom line is that I will give credibility to things that have earned it.  The supernatural has earned it in my personal life and in the bits of research I’ve done.  It’s as simple as that.

A Fresh Start

There is nothing positive I can say about the Westboro Baptist Church.  Absolutely nothing.  I can’t think of a single thing they have done for this world that isn’t disgusting and hate-filled.  I fully support freedom of religion, but there is no excuse for the horrible ways the WBC takes advantage of this freedom and attacks people who are wholly undeserving of such terrible treatment.  I’m not sure if they are motivated solely by their religious beliefs or if there is a cry for attention there as well, but no reasoning can justify the things they do and the way they treat people, other children of God according to the bible they claim to follow.

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Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of church leader Fred Phelps, has been on my radar since she made a scene at one of Kevin Smith’s movie premieres.  Phelps-Roper left the movie premiere in typical WBC fashion; making a scene and bringing attention to her hate-filled church.  Smith and Phelps-Roper had been engaging in a heated back and forth on Twitter, which continued for a while after the movie premiere.  I followed their argument fairly closely and it honestly just made me sad.  Worse than what the WBC does is the way the younger members of the church are brainwashed into becoming close-minded sheep who waste so much time on hate that they have no time to truly live.

Recently, Phelps-Roper posted a link to her blog on Twitter.  She wrote:

“There’s no fresh start in today’s world. Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what you did. Everything we do is collated and quantified. Everything sticks.”  Don’t act surprised that I’m quoting Batman. At WBC, reciting lines from pop culture is par for the course. And why not? The sentiments they express are readily identifiable by the masses – and shifting their meaning is as easy as giving them new context. So put Selina Kyle’s words in a different framework:  In a city in a state in the center of a country lives a group of people who believe they are the center of the universe; they know Right and Wrong, and they are Right. They work hard and go to school and get married and have kids who they take to church and teach that continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make. As parents, they are attentive and engaged, and the children learn their lessons well.

This is my framework.  Until very recently, this is what I lived, breathed, studied, believed, preached – loudly, daily, and for nearly 27 years.  I never thought it would change. I never wanted it to.  Then suddenly: it did.  And I left.  Where do you go from there?  I don’t know, exactly. My sister Grace is with me, though. We’re trying to figure it out together.

There are some things we do know.  We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.  We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.  We know that we can’t undo our whole lives. We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.  Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags.” Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what we did. We hope Ms. Kyle was right about the other part, too, though – that everything sticks – and that the changes we make in our lives will speak for themselves.

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Megan Phelps-Roper has had enough.  She has left the WBC, a decision that cuts her off from the majority of her family whether she likes it or not.  She is now faced with the daunting task of starting over and shedding the hate-filled image she has lived in for most of her life.  As Phelps-Roper pointed out, the ease of acquiring information makes it impossible for her to fully escape her past.  To be honest, she doesn’t deserve to escape it fully.  Apologies should be made and bridges should be mended, but the acts should not be forgotten and pushed aside just because she now desires to be free of the WBC.

That said, Phelps-Roper does deserve to be given a chance.  It takes a lot of courage to walk away from something so big, leaving your family and everything you know behind.  It took a lot of guts for her to question the WBC’s message and to finally stand up and say that it isn’t right.  It’s going to be quite the challenge for her to move forward without the support of her family and her church community.  It’s going to be even harder for her to convince people that she has in fact changed and is ready to start over with a new outlook on life and on her community.

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If Phelps-Roper is serious and genuine, and I believe that she is, I wish her the very best of luck and I am hoping for her to find success and happiness in this new path in her life.  The fact that she is stepping away, after all the work she has done in social media to bring attention to the WBC, speaks volumes.  The mentality of the other church members makes me feel certain that she will not be welcomed back if she has a change of heart, so this is a very permanent step for her.  I hope that she is given the chance to prove herself and isn’t instantly dismissed by people who wish to hold her past against her regardless of what she is presently doing.

One thing we should take from Phelps-Roper’s decision is that it’s not only okay to question what we are taught, but it’s an intelligent decision to do so.  The teaching of any church, or even lessons from our parents or other elders, are just words coming from other human beings.  Imperfect human beings, fully capable of making mistakes and being misinformed.  We cannot allow blind trust to override common sense.  We cannot stand by and be content in a world view when deep down we feel that it is wrong.  We have the right to ask questions, we have the right to make our own decisions, and we have the right to educate ourselves.  For all her faults, Phelps-Roper made those first steps.  Here’s hoping more of the WBC, and groups like it, follow suit.

Choose Life Or Else

Recently, a federal judge in North Carolina has decided that a plan for his state to offer Pro-Life license plates is unconstitutional, based on the fact that there is no plan or proposal to offer Pro-Choice plates as well in order to represent both viewpoints fairly.  His decision was based on his interpretation of the First Amendment and that the Pro-Life plate without a Pro-Choice plate to counter it would violate that amendment.

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No matter where I happen to be headed, I always spot a vehicle with some sort of Pro-Life propaganda stuck to the rear bumper or window.  “Pro-Life:  It’s Not Just YOUR Body.”  “Babies Don’t CHOOSE Abortion.”  “Abortion Stops A Beating Heart.”  “It’s Not A Choice.  It’s A Child.”  The words vary, but the message is always the same:  Life begins at conception and to abort a fetus is to commit murder.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that a proposal would be made for vehicle plates to also display this message in North Carolina, following suit of many other states.  I’m just not quite sure I want to see it on any more government issued materials.

In my state, if you don’t wish to opt for the standard plate, you may pay extra and get a specialty plate for a university, various military branches, organizations such as Riley Hospital, D.A.R.E., and Breast Cancer Awareness, or sports plates for the Indianapolis Colts.  Some plates have an obvious message, such as D.A.R.E. to keep off of drugs and Humane Society to make a plea for the spaying and neutering of animals, but they are messages of safety, of common sense and reason, and of no controversy.  Only a fool would protest a cancer awareness plate.  Introducing a plate that addresses the issue of abortion is simply too much, yet I can go get one for my car if I wish.

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The debate on whether or not abortion is murder and whether or not it should be legal is definitely a hot topic.  It’s one that demands discussion and desperately needs some sort of resolution.  It has the power to divide our nation and to fill people with rage and discontent.  It often is the deciding factor on who we vote into office, who we choose for medical care, and even who we associate with in our personal lives.  It’s an issue that, in my opinion, is easily resolved by making abortion 100% legal and 100% safe for women who choose that route and who are early enough in their pregnancy for it to be considered.  It is not an issue, however, that is appropriate to slap on a government issued vehicle identification plate.

As an atheist, I was bothered enough by having to pay extra for a Colts plate so I wouldn’t have the standard plate on my car with “In God We Trust” emblazoned along the bottom.  Indiana is not a state who can say that 100% of its population believes in God and can therefore have “In God We Trust” come standard on plates.  It’s discouraging that an option does not exist that doesn’t cost me extra, but at least there is the option to have a godless plate in favor of choosing one of the many causes or organizations offered.  The judge’s decision to deny the Pro-Life plate due to the lack of a second option makes sense to me, as I can relate, but the denial should also be because it’s just not appropriate.  License plates can and should be a form of self-expression, but they should not dip into controversial issues and should not force viewpoints upon society.

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If the concern is children who aren’t being given a chance at life and if the goal in the Pro-Life plates is to generate extra funding to assist pregnant women who are conflicted and who need assistance, surely some middle ground can be found that will appease all parties without being forceful or inappropriate.  The concern is obviously for children, so why not come up with a plate with a background that emphasizes the rights of those of us who are too young to speak for themselves?  It needs to be kept neutral and positive, something that is unoffensive and unobtrusive.  As adults, we can do that.  Right?

Unfortunately I imagine that the majority of those who are in support of the Pro-Life plates, and those who already have one, are more concerned with having people be 100% informed that they are Pro-Life than about actually helping women in need and fixing the ongoing problems that the abortion debate has caused and will continue to cause.  They want their message to be heard loud and clear, demanding change without getting their hands dirty and doing any work in support of their cause.  If you feel strongly enough about something to slap it on your car and display it in public, you need to start feeling strongly enough to get involved and work to bring about change.  Talk is cheap, especially when it’s coming from license plates and bumper stickers.

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With over half of the country issuing Pro-Life license plates and only six states not concerning themselves at all with it, it seems that I am in the minority in thinking that these plates are stepping over the line.  At the very least, since it doesn’t seem that we can rid ourselves of these plates, all states who offer them should also offer a Pro-Choice version.  It’s not the path I would like to see us go down, but at least it’s fair to both sides.  Ideally, we’d find middle ground, but I doubt people can be reasonable enough to get to that point and find a neutral solution.

Let me be clear; I have no problem whatsoever with people choosing to slap Pro-Life stickers all over their car, or even getting a vanity plate that spells out some sort of Pro-Life message.  My problem is with the fact that it’s on a license plate background.  My issue is that almost thirty states have this plate and only now has one judge in one state spoken up and denied it because it mutes one side of a very controversial debate.  This is no better than trivial office spats where people leave post-its on a dirty microwave to try to get someone to step up and clean it, only here we are using license plates instead of post-its and abortion rather than a mess.  Either way, sticking notes on things solves absolutely nothing.  The abortion issue will not be resolved via license plate.  We need to knock it off.

Let Us Pray

This morning, a Captain that used to work in my office returned for his promotion ceremony to the rank of Major.  I decided to attend as soon as I found out about the ceremony, as the Major was always very helpful when we worked together and always threw me extra projects because he knew I wanted the work.  The ceremony was very nice; short and sweet and heartfelt.  It also was opened and closed by a retired Staff Sergeant leading the group in a prayer.

I am a former Catholic who is now an Atheist.  There is no religion out there that satisfies me and my lifestyle.  I celebrate Christmas and Easter still, but as family holidays rather than holidays based around God.  The last time I prayed was when I was living in a shitty room for rent, working a dead-end job, and escaping an abusive relationship.  It was one prayer at the end of many unanswered prayers.  Countless times, I had turned to God only to receive a deaf ear.  Countless times, I reached out to the church community only to have them judge me and tell me how wrong I was rather than offer guidance and help.  As I educated myself further and looked into various areas of Christianity, I came to the conclusion that religion is a fairy tale.  In my opinion.

When I am in a room and everyone bows their head for prayer, I can’t help but feel incredibly awkward.  Out of respect, I don’t play on my cell phone, blow bubbles with my gum, or remain seated while everyone stands to bow their heads.  Outside of standing and staying quiet though, I don’t participate.  My head does not bow down, my hands do not clasp together, and I do not whisper an “amen” when the prayer concludes.  I simple stand, casting sideways glances around the room, until the prayer concludes and I can sit back down.

This definitely could be construed as me being rude to the people trying to pray.  I’ve had it said to me that I should “fake it” when caught in a group prayer, going through the motions and saying “amen” at the conclusion of the prayer.  I don’t see abstaining in the manner I chose to do as rude though.  On the contrary, I think I’m being quite polite.  I didn’t storm out of the room or sit in my chair playing Angry Birds while the rest of the group spoke to God.  I didn’t get offended that I was thrown into a prayer without my consent.  I didn’t feel like religion was being forced on me and I didn’t make a scene.  I was quiet and just ignored it all.

For me, the rudeness comes in when people demand that cashiers no longer wish them a Merry Christmas, when schools aren’t allowed to have fun making Easter baskets, and when fun holiday decorations become an offense instead of something fun and eye-catching.  Freedom of religion is our right, and we can’t have the freedom to our own if we don’t allow everyone else the freedom to theirs.  This is why I don’t understand why Christmas trees aren’t allowed in certain places; why not accommodate everyone instead of taking the joy out of everything?  Why must people take offense to things that aren’t put into place for the purpose of offending?  If it’s not causing injury and if it represents love, what is the harm?

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have an opinion of other religions or lack thereof.  I fault no one for thinking I’m a moron or that I’m hellbound for being an Atheist.  I don’t expect everyone to understand it.  What I do expect is for them to have as much respect for me as I have for them.  For them to confront me about my belief that there is no God is as rude as it would be for me to tarnish their prayers with words of my disbelief and preferences.  Yes, I’m uncomfortable with prayer, but why should my issue be everyone else’s problem?  What right is it of mine to take away from someone else’s experience just because I don’t like it?

I’m no saint, but I think this is one area where I shine a tiny bit.  If more people just put their personal issues aside for a little while and have a little bit of respect for others, perhaps it would lead to more tolerance all across the board.  Rather than snap at the cashier who wishes you Merry Christmas, telling her you’re Jewish, maybe just smile and say thanks with the understanding that she is being polite, not trying to insult you.  Remember that you have the right to abstain from activities that don’t mesh with your beliefs, but you can do so respectfully; unless a survey of religious beliefs was taken beforehand, no one is trying to call you out or make you feel like an outcast.  Maybe becoming tolerant of this and going back to a time where we could put up Christmas trees in public places without backlash from certain groups.  Maybe it will bring on a tolerance for other things; sexual orientation, disabilities, race, social class.  Hell, maybe it won’t do a damn thing, but at least at the end of the day it’ll leave you feeling like a good person because you had a chance to be an asshole and instead decided to act like a nice and normal human being.

Yeah, Yeah, I’m Going To Hell

I recently received a comment on a blog I posted a while back about religion that told me I need to “open my mind” and questioned my beliefs because something must have existed before the big bang and “after the future,” whatever that means.  If you’re not familiar with my religious background, I was raised Catholic but abandoned my belief in God for a number of reasons.  I’m not shy about that fact, but I’m also pretty respectful about it; I don’t go around telling religious folk that they’re wrong/stupid/ill-informed unless they are in fact a moron who uses religion in a harmful way.  If you’re an ass who tells homosexuals they will burn in hell while hiding behind a bible, I’m going to blast you.  If you’re a God-fearing person who goes to church every Sunday and enjoys prayer, I respect your lifestyle and have nothing negative to say about you.

The idiot that commented on my previous blog, telling me to open my mind, represents the kind of religious person I dislike.  If someone asks, I’ll openly say that I don’t believe in God, but I don’t go around broadcasting that news to everyone while questioning those who disagree with me.  It confuses me that certain religious people lack the same respect for others; while waiting tables I was often left God pamphlets, I get told that people will pray for me because I’m not religious, I get questioned and almost harassed by certain people because I lack a belief in God, and I’m told I’ll “come around” or end up in hell.

In my opinion, I’m not the one who needs to open my mind.  My mind is completely open.  I am educated about Catholicism, my former religion, Christianity, as well as numerous other religions that are presently practiced and those that were practiced in the past.  I believe that everyone is entitled to believe whatever they wish and everyone is entitled to believe that others are incorrect if they believe something different.  I also believe that the ability to speak doesn’t give you the right to open your mouth wide and attempt to convert others to your religion because you think you’ve got it right.  You don’t get to tell people like me to open our minds just because we don’t choose to buy into the things you believe in.

I’m not a perfect person by any means, but I’ve never condemned someone for believing in God, for believing prayers can be answered, or believing in any sort of higher power or organized religion.  I may think Scientology is moronic, but I don’t seek out Scientologists and bash them for what they hold to be true.  I don’t think Jesus was anything beyond a great man, but I’m not going to tell people they’re wrong for believing he is the product of a virgin birth and the son of God.  I get to say whatever I damn well please on this blog because it belongs to me.  When I start visiting Christian websites and leaving rude comments on their page, then there is reason for religious people to attack me.  And I’ll tell you right now, it won’t happen.  I have better things to do.

Everyone has the right to publicly bitch though, so I suspect the religious crowd will continue to show up now and then and try to save me from eternal damnation.  What I would like is for them to open THEIR minds a tad and have some damn respect.  There is one person who I went back and forth with in comments for a while who made it clear that it would be great if I changed my mind and embraced the Lord, but who also was incredibly sweet about the whole thing.  They acknowledged that there are religious nutcases out there and they can be intolerable, but they also showed me the brighter side of the devout; the respectful side who wishes to save those they believe need it but who also don’t take it upon themselves to bully people into embracing God.  It was a breath of fresh air but it also made me a bit sad that more people can’t be that way.

If I’m a close-minded moron and if I face eternity in the fiery pits of hell for denying God’s existence, that is my problem and mine alone.  I’m not damning my son by telling him God doesn’t exist (he was baptized and he attends church every so often with my mother-in-law and other family) and I’m not standing on street corners with a megaphone trying to get others to give up religion in favor of Atheism.  I’m simply believing what I think is right and I’m doing so without being a criminal or horrible person.  I’m not being a hypocrite by going to church just because I think I’ll be struck by lightning or judged by my peers if I don’t, nor am I hurting a single solitary soul by believing God is a fictional character.  I’m not the one with the closed mind.

Reality Bites

My husband and I, the newest fans of the wonder that is Redbox, picked up The Devil Inside on Tuesday night since we missed it while it was out in theaters.  It didn’t seem to have a long run to begin with, plus I heard from various friends and from folk on Twitter that the film was too short and the ending was terrible.  I generally don’t put too much faith into randon reviews, but with everyone saying the same thing, I was all right with waiting until it hit DVD to give it a try.  In the words of blogger, Willie Waffle, “I can’t remember any time in my career as a movie critic when the crowd around me, winners of FREE tickets to see the movie before it was released, all started to boo.  The ending for The Devil Inside was so bad and people were jeering so loudly you would have thought Mel Gibson just walked into the synagogue on Saturday.”

The Devil Inside is a “found footage” horror film.  The first found footage film I remember seeing is The Blair Witch Project (which scared me at the time, I admit) and some of my favorite films have followed this format; the Paranormal Activity series, Quarantine, Cloverfield, and so on.  When dealing with a found footage movie, you need to make a few assumptions.  First, everybody will die, or at least the majority of them.  The victims are the ones filming, so the fact that their footage was discovered suggests that the people you are watching have died or are missing.  Second, the ending will not be a happy one.  We already know most or all of the characters will die or be lost in some way, so it’s foolish to hold out for an upbeat end.  Third, the ending will not tie up the story in a neat little bow.  The film will likely end abruptly, since this is after all, footage that was discovered after the event and not a produced movie.  To make an ending too neat is to break the illusion that you are watching found footage.  Fourth, the ending will likely be the death of the camera operator, since no filming can come without anyone to operate the camera.  Finally, the ending will leave the audience with many questions.  Paranormal Activity did this brilliantly, giving them an open door to a sequel, but they took it a different direction and went for prequels.  The Blair Witch brought a sequel, although not the best, because of the questions left by the first film.  Quarantine did so as well.  It’s a safe route to take if the makers of the film hope to make a sequel.

The Devil Inside follows Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) who seeks to find out why her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) murdered the three people attempting to perform an exorcism on her.  Along with a filmmaker and two priests, Isabella manages to isolate her mother in the facility she is being held so the priests can exorcise the demon within her.  After the violent exorcism attempt, they discover four separate voices on the video tapes, suggesting Maria is possessed by multiple demons.  At this point, Isabella and her colleagues begin acting strange; Isabella begins speaking cruelly of the filmmaker and one priest tries to drown a baby during a baptism.  This priest, seemingly possessed and talking in high and unusual tones, takes his own life.  Immediately afterward, Isabella suffers a seizure and is brought to the hospital where she murders a nurse and begins showing signs of demonic possession, including talking in a low tone eerily similar to one Maria spoke in.  As the priest and filmmaker steal Isabella away in their car, the filmmaker suddenly becomes possessed and crashes the car.  End.

Abrupt, unanswered questions, and no audience closure.  Was it the perfect ending?  Probably not; surely there is someone out there who can propose a better fitting ending to this film.  Perhaps they could have gone past the car crash and shown Isabella crawling out of the wreckage and flagging down a car, eager to possess a new victim.  Or perhaps they filmmakers considered alternate endings and felt the best way to go was to give the audience an abrupt end with the car crash.  Personally, I enjoyed it.  I have been racking my brain trying to decide if many demons fled Maria’s body and possessed all four main characters or if it was a single entity body jumping.  I wonder if anyone survived or if they truly did all perish.  I tend to think there was at least one survivor OR that a passerby became host to the demon, as I don’t think the demon would destroy its vessel without a back-up plan.  But I don’t know.

Why can’t we have a bit of fun with that?  Why do we have to have a nice and clean ending to everything?  Why can we not appreciate the found footage format for what it is?  I for one find it a bit boring when every story wraps up in a neat little package and the only thing I have to say afterward is “well, that was nice.”  I love having questions hang in the air after the lights come back on and the credits start to roll.  I have fun with trying to decide what happens from here and what the fate of the characters will be.  The Devil Inside gave the audience free reign to decide their own ending, and instead of being a little creative and having fun with it, the general public shit all over it.

I’m not saying you should fall in love with the ending of this movie or even that you’re wrong for not liking it.  I’m saying it didn’t deserve the horrible criticism it got, which I feel is a big reason it didn’t do well in the theaters, and I’m saying it was hardly the worst ending EVER as some people claim it is.  Don’t go to a found footage movie if you’re expecting a typical movie format and a pretty perfect end.  Don’t be so square and set in your ways that you immediately dismiss something as awful simply because it took you by surprise.  People are always complaining about how predictable Hollywood has become and how all movies are the same, yet the same people immediately reject anything in a different format that they aren’t used to or weren’t expecting.  It’s one or the other, folks.  Make up your mind.

God Bless Me

I’m curious.  If a Buddhist were to approach a Catholic and tell this Catholic that their beliefs are wrong and Buddhism is the proper path for them to choose, insisting that their soul won’t be safe until they do so, what would the reaction be?  Surely this action would be protested, as the Catholic has the right to their faith and beliefs without interference from this arrogant Muslim who is trying to impose and change a person’s entire belief system solely based on their opinion that their faith is the one who got it right.  Surely this would be frowned upon, as it is unacceptable to challenge someone simply because you disagree with who they worship or how they worship.

Even in the Christian faith, I’ve seen Baptists and Catholics clash and Episcopalians and Methodists disagree.  Those in religion A know for a fact that they are correct, while religions B, C, and D have either most or all of it wrong.  This by itself is perfectly fine; we are obviously entitled to our opinion and we have freedom of religion and the freedom to believe what we wish.  Although we do have freedom of speech, there is a fine line that out of respect should not be crossed when conversing with someone who doesn’t share your belief system.  It’s simply bad form to try to convince someone that they are wrong or damned for what they choose to believe and deny.

I consider myself to be Agnostic; I don’t deny that there may be some sort of spiritual forces at work here and there, but I don’t believe in organized religion, nor do I believe there is a God in heaven flanked by his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit as I was taught growing up.  I’m not comfortable in calling myself an Atheist as my husband does, but I do identify with them and share many of their opinions on organized religion, faith, and spirituality.  I feel that it would be ignorant for me to say nothing exists out there, especially because I do believe in the existence of ghosts and life after death, but I don’t buy into the religion of my upbringing or any other.  It’s a decision I came to gradually over the years and I’m quite happy with it.

What boggles my mind is that many people, mostly Christians, look at me as someone who requires saving and who needs to know God.  They see it as their duty to tell me I’ll “come around,” I’ll “see the light one day,” or to invite me to their church in the hopes I have some sort of epiphany and praise Jesus.  These are the same people who accept those of other faiths, even though the belief systems differ, but see me as abnormal because I have an absence of faith as it fits into organized religion.  They look at me strangely, as if I’ll burst into flames at any second, and they see me as an immoral person due to my lack of appearances in church and my idea that prayer is useless.

It is not my duty to spread the word to people I encounter and inform them that there is no God, no heaven, no hell, and no Satan.  No one has tasked me with saving people from their misguided faith and silly beliefs, telling them they are wasting their time in church and are teaching their children nonsense.  For me to say those things would be rude, insulting, and totally inappropriate.  I don’t agree with a lot of things people choose to believe, but I also respect their right to believe it and know that it’s not my right or place to make them feel foolish for worshipping what they wish.

I can hardly speak for everyone who feels similar to me when it comes to matters of the Lord, but it’s not a path that is chosen out of laziness and a desire to stay away from church as much as possible.  It’s not something decided on a whim.  It doesn’t make life easier or less stressful, nor does it provide some sort of social boost.  I think my mother would have rather me told her I was gay than tell her I didn’t believe in God, and my husband struggled on how to tell his own mother.  I get asked why I celebrate Christmas and Easter since the origins are religion-based.  I am asked what I teach my son and if I deny him a religious education.  It’s a bit of a stigma and seen as a flaw to not have an acceptable faith.

What I would like is for Atheists and Agnostics to be treated more like they are just another belief system.  If you wouldn’t approach a Jewish man and insult his temple and insist your Baptist church down the road is the only way to be right, don’t approach me and treat me as some sort of spiritual leper who needs your assistance.  Yes, there are misguided Atheists and Agnostics, but misguided people exist in all faiths.  It’s not your job or your place in the world to seek them out and “fix” them.  Bottom line, I’m not a bad person, I don’t need to be repaired, and I haven’t been brainwashed or misinformed.  Lay off and save your judgment and laughter for the afterlife, as I give you permission to mock away from your perch in heaven as I burn in hell.  Send me marshmallows.

This Is Never A Good Argument To Start

The other day, I overheard part of a conversation about God.  One person argued that what must be proved with concrete evidence are the things that are said to have been accomplished by man alone.  If you are to say we evolved into humans, you must prove it.  You must provide evidence on how the world was created.  While we are working to prove all these things to be scientifically sound, the religious man can simply say that God created the world and created man and woman in his image and no proof is needed other than the written and spoken words of other men who claim to have talked to God or walked with Jesus.  You can say “God did X,” or “God created Y” and it is so.

I don’t fault too many people solely on their belief systems, except maybe for Scientologists, and I wouldn’t grab a Christian and tell them that Jesus is a lie.  I do, however, find fault in anyone who is arrogant enough to claim that they don’t need to prove anything to show that God is our creator and controls our environment, but I DO have to prove that I am in control of my free will and destiny, that I must give reason for why flowers bloom and rain falls.

The convenient thing about religion is that it’s based off of beliefs and the unverifiable words of devout followers.  I Googled “proof of God” and “proof of evolution” to see what popped up.  The first result in God’s corner was this site which I quickly got annoyed with because it requires me to pick from a series of answers but also demands that I choose the one it believes is right in order to progress through the site.  This site from Godless Geeks isn’t exactly a religious site but did list many arguments I’ve heard from religious people (along with some downright hilarious ones), and this site takes the same idea and presents it in a friendlier way for you easily offended folk.  One site debunked a myth that Einstein proved the existence of God.  This site gives five reasons and concludes that they are reason that God exists.  Nothing on the first page of Google results was scientifically or logically sound; had you replaced God with Santa Claus, no one would buy it for a second.  For evolution, I get site after site of concrete evidence that can easily be proved and backed up indisputably.

Religion is based in faith and is a very personal thing.  Your beliefs should be ones that you’ve come to on your own during your journey through life.  I was raised Catholic and was told what to believe in while attending church, youth group, bible study, and at a very young age when my mother was into going to church.  It was never personal for me; I was told what to have faith in and why and was told what controls God has over my life and what He can do for me if I only ask.  When life brought negativity, I was told it was part of God’s plan, that He was testing me or trying to strengthen me.  When I accomplished something, God got the credit.  He could do no wrong.  It wasn’t until later that I realized how silly that was.  When I did good or received something positive, I must thank God, but when something bad or tragic happens, I should thank him twice as hard for the lesson it taught me?

I read through a few views on this site from a Christian, an Atheist, and a Muslim on why God would give diseases and physical hardships to people.  The Muslim argued that God gives life and can take it away, the Atheist argued that no compassionate God would do such a thing, and the Christian stated “the answer must indeed be that a good God is the kind of God that would give people these diseases, and that since He is the measure of goodness, it would be silly not to worship Him.”  What goodness there is in giving AIDS to babies and deformities to newborns is beyond my understanding, but apparently as Jim Carrey says in Bruce Almighty, “God is just a mean kid with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but he’d rather tear of my feelers and watch me squirm.”

Focusing back on my reason for starting this little rant, the person claiming not to need to prove God’s existence and insisting non-believers hold the burden of proof of their disbelief is 100% in the wrong.  It’s silly to state that you can simply proclaim that God did something and have that be the basis of your argument.  It’s arrogant to demand that others hold the burden of proof while you’re allowed to say “God did it!” and have that be it.  It annoys me to no end because I don’t approach people and tell them “you’re wrong, there is no God” when they mention church or prayer.  If they choose to read this, they are voluntarily subjecting themselves to my logic or fallacy and can flip the computer monitor off whenever they so choose.

I try to stay out of religious arguments whenever possible because it doesn’t matter to me or affect me whatsoever if people around me want to worship whatever God they believe in.  For all my faults, I at least have enough respect for others to leave them be.  I don’t question them or ask them to prove anything to me; it’s satisfying to know that if a debate ensued, I have enough ammo in my pocket to back up my statements in a concrete fashion as opposed to the “I think it, therefore it’s true” logic.

I had someone contact me through WordPress and try in a roundabout way to change my views and beliefs on a subject closely tied to religion.  They were quite respectful, so I didn’t mind the conversation, but I do think it’s interesting how people look at me as if I’m broken simply because I don’t buy into Catholicism or the idea that the bible is in fact the word of a God that no one can prove exists.  I don’t need fixing and neither does anyone else who is lacking in the faith in God department.  If my lack of belief buys me a ticket straight to Hell, so be it; it’s no one’s problem but my own and whoever I end up rooming next to down in the fiery pit.

I’m no less human than the most devout and dedicated person on this planet and I deserve the same respect and privacy as anyone else.  I should be able to tell someone who asks that I don’t attend church and not be attacked for it.  I shouldn’t be told I can’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t celebrate the true meaning.  I should have the right to exercise my freedom of religion or lack thereof without people taking it upon themselves to insert their opinions and beliefs into my life to try to prove me wrong or save my soul.  And just in case, if I happen to be wrong and there is a God up in heaven, you have my full permission to laugh at my expense from your fluffy cloud in the sky when we’ve all passed on.

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