What Can We Do?

Faith and Hope.

Fear of God.

Why Do You Believe or Not Believe?

When Believers and Unbelievers Collide.

Formative, Normative, and Cultural Doctrines.

God is in control. Aren't You Glad You Went Green?

Free-Thought Radio Interview with Betty Brogaard.

DIMFI Interview with Betty Brogaard.

Books by Betty.

"Freedom to Reason"

by Betty Brogaard


Betty Brogaard


What Can We Do?

Biker Bob’s blog article last month titled “The Future” was well written, and some of the comments that it engendered were insightful. I hope you don’t mind if I pick up on that theme from a slightly different, expanded angle and in a different context.

I just finished reading a science fiction novel (Book IV of Voyagers: The Return by Ben Bova) set far into the future. It depicts earth suffering from disastrous greenhouse flooding. Almost all countries have been taken over by ultraconservative religion-based governments such as the novel’s New Morality in the United States. Population is ballooning throughout the globe, and resources are running out. In addition, the planet is heading for nuclear war with nations refusing to dismantle whatever stockpile of warheads they have.

In the novel, the memoirs of a very old retired school teacher are shown in about three places. She says that it took her a long time to understand what was happening in the schools. The kids didn’t read T.S. Eliot or Shakespeare anymore because they were too difficult. They didn’t even read Dr. Seuss. And forget Hemingway because he used foul language and openly depicted sex. The New Morality took smiling advantage of what was going on and used it for their own purposes.

The retired teacher says there was a slow, patient, inevitable dumbing down of the schools including the students, teachers, and the administrators. And she admits that “we let them make things easier.” She describes the process:

"The overarching goal of education was to achieve equality…[A brilliant child] is no better than the intellectually challenged [child]. [We can’’t hurt the feelings of children who are autistic, have attention deficit disorder or were born with Down’s syndrome]…by putting them in separate facilities with specialists to look after them. [It was decided that they deserved] to be mainstreamed and attend school with everybody else….

"Equality of outcome…was our aim. Everyone was to be treated equally; every student would finish school the equal to every other student. And what was the easiest way to achieve equality? Teach to the lowest common denominator. Make certain that every student got exactly what every other student received. No fast lane for the so-called bright ones. That wouldn't be equal….

"Self-esteem. We tried to teach the kids to have pride in themselves. It took me years to figure out that for a youngster to have pride in herself she had to be able to accomplish things, achieve something to be proud of. But somehow we left that part out of the curricula….

"So we taught less and less of the things that made the kids feel unhappy with themselves and spent more and more classroom time on teaching them self-esteem…Arithmetic made them feel bad, so we eased off on the math. And the spelling. And the reading assignments. And homework….

"…Parents didn’t want their kids exposed to political beliefs that went against their own politics. So we stopped teaching civics. When an activist group decided that the Declaration of Independence was a subversive document…we stopped teaching about the American Revolution altogether….

"Darwin. When I first started teaching we were forbidden by the state legislature to use the word 'evolution' in class. Then we stopped teaching biology altogether. And physics. And chemistry. Instead we taught general science, including 'alternative' concepts such as intelligent design and astrology. It was a lot easier on the children, and we teachers didn’t have to defend ourselves against righteous parents who got blue in the face over 'godless secularist ideas.'

"We went along with it. The kids were happier; the pressure groups were happier. A few die-hard scientists and university academics warned that we were turning out a generation of ignoramuses, but they were happy ignoramuses and we could keep our jobs and avoid all the painful conflicts."

The retired teacher goes on to say that in spite of all this, there were a precious few kids who managed to get ahead anyway. A handful of schools managed to cater to those budding geniuses thirsting for real knowledge, but they were always distrusted and carefully watched. Their work was closely controlled by the government and the New Morality.

To me, much of this sounds like our present, dangerous, unstable world. These are alarming times.

I agree with Biker Bob that we need to get involved in helping all people--believers and nonbelievers--to help “minimize whatever societal problems we can.” How can we do this? Is cooperation between individuals and nations even possible?

Faith and Hope

So many evil deeds are carried out every day throughout the globe. I sometimes can't bear watching TV news or reading newspaper articles about war atrocities, genocide, and the enormous cruelty carried out by individuals against other individuals for no apparent reason other than the thrill it gives to warped minds.

One of the most tragic murders I've heard or read about locally in recent years happened on Halloween in 2005. The victim was an attractive, unmarried woman, 25 years of age, who earned her living as a freelance photographer. Apparently she was a happy, family-and-church-oriented daughter, sister, and aunt who lived with a friend next door to her parents.

While on a photo shoot, from what newspapers reported and what scant information can be pieced together from one of the two convicted perpetrators, she allegedly was kidnapped, stripped naked, spread-eagled and bound in a bed, repeatedly and brutally raped, tortured with a knife and finally shot numerous times. This young woman was humiliated and tormented until her life was snuffed out. Her lifeless body was then burned.

A shirttail relative of this horribly abused, victimized woman and one of my co-workers expressed to me her belief (faith) that the murdered woman did not experience any pain during her ordeal since God was watching over her!

"Why would you think that?" I asked.

"Because it just makes me feel better," my friend pitifully replied as tears welled in her eyes. "And she was a wonderful Christian!"

I said nothing in an attempt to reason with her. I just gave her a big hug and let her cry.

I would describe this dear friend as devout, morally scrupulous, generally thoughtful, and polite. She is a widow and a caring mother and grandmother. She is a dedicated, knowledgeable employee in a women's health clinic. She works tirelessly for her church and attends mass regularly. Yet, she had no objective proof for the validity of her statement. She only had "faith" that her God protected this young woman from actual, physical pain because, otherwise what happened was too horrible to contemplate. I wonder if my friend thinks that God also watched as the young woman cried out for mercy while she was raped and mutilated; or did he simply turn his back on her after he fixed it so she at least wouldn't feel physical pain.

To me this is a graphic example of what faith (firm belief without logical proof) does to a person. It distorts rationality. If my friend's God has the kind of power to eradicate pain, why didn't he step in and prevent this senseless atrocity from happening in the first place?

In several thesauruses (or thesauri), the words "faith" and "hope" are synonyms. To me, no matter how strong a person says their "faith" is, it's really just "fervent hope."

Fear of God

In a speech in Germany, Pope Benedict attacked both Islam and secularism. During the course of that speech, he said that atheists are "afraid of God." This sticks in my mind because, ironically, an acquaintance of mine had asked me if I was an unbeliever because I fear God! (And she's not even Catholic!)

I simply answered, "How can I fear or be afraid of anything that doesn't even exist?"

I went on to say, "Frankly, in certain situations, I'm actually much more afraid of militant religionists. I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley somewhere."

(Of course, I can't even remember a time when I was ever in a dark alley.)

Many followers of religion malign and kill each other in great numbers over insignificant issues. Austin Cline, in an article about fear of God and atheism, stated: "Beliefs [of religious adherents] can cause them to develop inflated egos all out of proportion to anything that is really deserved. This does not mean, however, that any of their beliefs have any basis in reality or that their gods, spirits, fairies, and whatnot are anything to be afraid of."

Fear based on religious faith that cannot be proven true often leaves emotional scars. Many of those who were in the Worldwide Church of God and other legalistic belief systems can attest to that fact.

Of course, I know that atheists are in the minority, but our numbers are growing. Fear would most probably greatly diminish if we understood what Clarence Darrow articulated in a most astute article. This agnostic (primarily famous because of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee way back in 1925) said:

"When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death."

I admire that man. We need more like him.

To me, the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, but the end.

Why Do You Believe or Not Believe?

Many "searching" people, or so it seems to me, are looking for a religion that does not stand in judgment of others and that does not tell them what to believe. What they are seeking is a religion that has no religious demands, a religion without authority and without condemnation of any type. But there is no such religion!

The primary definition of "religion" is a belief in a superhuman controlling power, i.e. a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship. Without this description, the word "religion" has no meaning. If individuals want to be free of the pressures to conform why don't they simply take hold of that precious freedom to think for themselves while it still exists? Religion, traditionally, is the institution that is said to give safety, peace of mind, and community which is what most postmodern people are seeking. If this is so, then I wonder why there is such misery, even among believers, and evil throughout this world.

The Unitarian-Universalist (UU) fellowships embrace people of all faiths and non-faiths. Their membership includes disgruntled or disheartened Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Hindus, agnostics and atheists, pagans and Wiccans, humanists and Taoists, perhaps a few Muslims, etc. They come together without a unifying creed or theological interpretation to which members must subscribe. Attendees, ostensibly, are encouraged to freely and responsibly search for truth and meaning for themselves in their own way.

These fellowships, obviously, are not communities of wholly like-minded individuals. I once attended over a period of a few years a UU fellowship (and still do on occasion if the advertised sermon topic appeals to me). Even though I never signed their membership book, for the most part gathering with the UUs for Sunday services was a pleasant, educational experience. It served as a peaceful transition from orthodoxy as I struggled to come to terms with my growing unbelief. By then I had severed my membership in both the Worldwide Church of God and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Eventually and ironically, the UU meetings became too ecumenical for me as I became more familiar with the many different religious viewpoints in that fellowship. I was searching and trying to "pick brains," but not one person ever gave me objective reasons for their particular belief positions. Even though I met a number of nice people, they seemed somewhat threatened if I questioned how and why they came to adopt their positions. My experience with the UUs was little different from the orthodox church I had left after I started asking pointed questions about its doctrines and creeds.

I did not become an unbeliever because I was angry with any deity or human being, for that matter, nor because my life was filled with disappointment or anguish. My humanistic atheism developed gradually through intensive personal research and study over many years. I began my investigation of religion because I had so many questions about the Bible and what I was taught it means, what others of different denominations say it means, and why a presumably loving, all-knowing god allows evil to perpetuate.

In a recent Gallop poll, 60% percent of Americans say that religion can answer all of today's problems, while 26% say religion is old-fashioned and out-of-date. I don't know what the remaining 14% say. Perhaps they include the many people who are looking for a religious or spiritual high without the burden of religious or spiritual baggage. They want to believe in something without objectively investigating their beliefs. They want to be a part of a community that gives them a sense of security but doesn't require religious doctrine or rules.

As a sometimes-despised atheist, I know that the majority of people, especially in the United States, do not respect my stance. Religionists would much rather have nominal believers or even those who say they're agnostics in their midst. After all, they might say, there is hope for them.

I respect sincere, nonmilitant adherents of any religious faith even though I disagree with all of them. I do, however, have a hard time with those who want community and meaning from a "spiritual" group but don't even know the meaning of the word "spiritual." (Please see my recently published second book, The Homemade Atheist, for an explanation of my feelings on the subject of spirituality).

If you want community without religious attachments, then join a country club, the Rotarians, or a bowling team. But be assured that you can't be a member in good standing of an established church without at least an outward appearance of conformity to certain rules or commandments of the god or gods which church members say they worship.

Like a TV commercial for a popular cookie once advertised, "If you're going to eat a cookie, then eat a cookie." And I say, "If you're going to believe in god, then believe in god--but know objectively why you do--uncolored by emotion, fear, or bigotry.

When Believers and Unbelievers Collide

A few weeks ago, I took my car to the mechanic because of a noise in its front end. It turned out there was nothing seriously wrong with it. But car problems are not what I want to talk about. Rather, it's about one of many false impressions that people have about agnostics or atheists in general.

My Christian mechanic is a kind, gentle, honest person and married to one of my late husband's high school classmates. Before he became ill and died, Fred had told this man--I'll call him Karl, but that's not his real name--that I was no longer a believer. Until over a year after Fred's death, nothing was mentioned to me personally by Karl or his wife about my unbelieving status.

(And, by the way, I didn't hold it against my Fred for talking to his Christian friends about my de-conversion. He needed to confide in believers just as I need to confide in my unbelieving friends for support. I'm quite sure Fred asked many to pray for me. When I left religion, this was one of the few times in our long married life that Fred and I weren't able to express our deepest feelings to each other. Our love was just as strong, but a "knot" formed in our otherwise smooth relationship.)

Anyway, during the course of a conversation around the first of this year, Karl told me that Fred had informed him of my leaving religion and church behind. We then had a short discussion about my humanist atheism. My first book (Dare to Think for Yourself) was mentioned, and I asked Karl if he would like to read it.

"Well," he said, "I'll take a look at it if you will agree to watch a Lutheran TV program that I think you'll find interesting and may change your mind and bring you back to God."

"Okay," I replied, "I have no problem with that." In fact, I watched two of the telecasts and later told Karl that the man was a fine speaker, but he didn't convince me that I am wrong. I told him that he sounded like any other conservative televangelist and offered no proof for his beliefs.

Karl said nothing about my assessment of the messages from the Lutheran pastor whom he no doubt respects and admires other than, "You have too many questions, Betty."

Later, Karl returned my book through an employee of his without a note or a relayed "thank you" or any other comment. So at the recent encounter mentioned in the beginning of this short article, I asked if he read the book and what he thought of it.

I had never heard this gentle man gossip about another person, utter one curse word, or denigrate anyone (except maybe politicians). On that day, however, the expression on his face hardened; and he said, "Betty, I think you're a tool of the Devil."

I just smiled, shrugged and replied, "Well, Karl, I don't even believe there is a devil. In fact, I don't believe there is any so-called spiritual entity of any kind."

"Then I suppose you think that when you die, that's it. No afterlife, no looking forward to heaven or fearing hell?" he spat out.

"That's right, Karl. But I enjoy this life. I look forward to every day. I enjoy helping others and doing what I can to alleviate pain, loneliness, and suffering. I volunteer at a local food bank, contribute what little money I can afford to help those in disaster stricken areas as well as animal welfare agencies."

"Why do you do all that? What do you get out of it when you are an admitted atheist? What do you hope to gain?" he asked in bewilderment.

"I don't know that I personally get anything out of it except the satisfaction of helping others," I responded. "Unlike when I was a Christian I don't expect a reward for doing something good or to earn points with some sort of god or even with other people."

Karl just glared at me without comment, and I took that opportunity to excuse myself and let him get back to his work.

I don't think I'll ask him if he would like to read my recently published second book (The Homemade Atheist). I don't want to antagonize him further and maybe lose the services of a good mechanic--or, more importantly, friendship, if I already haven't, of a couple whom I've enjoyed knowing for about 19 years.

But such things happen. Believe me they happen.

I wonder how many others (both believers and unbelievers) have had similar experiences.

Formative, Normative, and Cultural Doctrines

In the introduction of my book, The Homemade Atheist, I asked, "Why are there so many different doctrines on the same subject from the same book? It has been an enigma to me for years that if God exists and is perfect, and if he indeed has a standard by which all should live, why doesn't everyone understand the truth he apparently meant to convey in the same way?

Wide variations in belief exist in all religious systems partly because of three main methods of scripture interpretations: (1) formative; (2) normative; (3) cultural.

  • The Formative Method, according to some Biblical scholars, includes glossolalia  which was not intended to be used throughout the life of the church. Speaking in tongues is only addressed at any length in the Book of Acts (where actual languages seem to have been spoken somewhere on earth to establish the legitimacy of the church) and the first epistle to the Corinthians where "unknown" languages were spoken and interpretation had to be given. These "spiritual gifts" might have been given because there was yet no New Testament. The Formative Method is also sometimes used to explain the deaths of Ananias and Saphira after they lied to the Holy Spirit in the person of Peter. Their deaths, also, may have been recorded to give the new religion God's sanction. And even though lying still goes on in the church worldwide (no pun intended), I don't see wholesale death occurring in "holy" sanctuaries today because of deceit and lying.
  • The Normative Method of interpretation establishes an unchangeable standard or pattern for believers everywhere and at all times. Examples in this case would be proper Christian conduct (especially for women) at home and in communal worship, prophesying and preaching (which many believe are quite different), and the Lord's Supper. (References: 1 Corinthians 11 and Galatians 3.)
  • The Cultural Method is used by denominations claiming that the entire Bible was influenced by cultural conditions at the time of its writing such as length of hair for both sexes. And especially concerning women, since females today are most often as educated as males are, it is, therefore, so say some scholars, appropriate now for women to teach, pray, and preach in worship assemblies. But this argument from cultural bias could be used to dismiss anything in the Bible if it does not suit someone's sensibilities in the modern world.

I am not lobbying for either the formative, normative, or cultural methods of interpreting scripture. To me, the real question is whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and how one can tell. As I read it, there are many unfulfilled prophecies, scientific inaccuracies including the mention of mythical beasts and the belief that the earth has corners and is flat in this revered work. And a perfect God is its author?

God is in control. Aren't You Glad You Went Green?

Many of you probably have  seen this email about the Icelandic volcano eruption. It was forwarded to me by a retired-Lutheran-minister in-law. He, more than likely, received it from one of his former parishioners. (Ah, yes, he taught his congregations well.) I would love to tell all of them: "If God is always in control, then he must have caused the volcanic eruption in the first place." Actually, whoever wrote this admitted as much by the use of “a single act of God.”

God is in control---ALWAYS!!!!!

Aren't You Glad You Went Green?

6 billion people try for 5 years.... then the earth burps, and it's all for naught!

For all of you out there in America and across the globe who have fought so hard to tackle that hideous enemy of our planet, namely carbon emissions, I have some really bad news that will be very painful for you to process. But it is my duty to pass it on to you anyway.

Are you sitting down?

Okay, here's the bombshell. The current volcanic eruption going on in Iceland, since it first started spewing volcanic ash a week or so ago, has to this point, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet. Not only that, this single act of God has added emissions to the earth estimated to be 42 times more than can be corrected by the extreme human regulations that have been proposed for annual reductions.

I know, I know.... (now have a group hug)...it's very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids, buying reusable fabric grocery bags, sitting up till midnight to finish your kid's "The Green Revolution" science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat,
going on vacation to a city park instead of to Yosemite, nearly getting hit by a car every day while riding your bicycle to work, replacing all of your one dollar light bulbs with ten dollar fluorescent light bulbs that don't give as much light or last as long (and you cannot dispose of ANYWHERE legally)...well, all of those things you have been doing all this time, at great inconvenience and great expense, have all gone down the tubes in just the past week...

The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth's atmosphere in the past week has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce that evil beast, carbon. And, those hundreds of thousands of American jobs you helped move to Asia with expensive emissions demands that were put on American businesses... you know, the ones over there that are creating even more emissions than when the companies stayed

home creating American jobs, well that must all seem really worthwhile now. I'm so sorry. And I do wish that there was some kind of a silver

lining to this volcanic ash cloud but the fact of the matter is that the brush fire season across the western U.S.A. will start in about two months and those fires will negate your efforts to reduce carbon emissions in our world for the next two years!

So grab a Coke, give the world a hug, and have a nice day while Al Gore contemplates suicide!

I forwarded this on to some of my free thinking friends. None of their responses were positive. In fact, they were a bit disgruntled that Christians have this attitude. Here is what one of them, with a background in Christian fundamentalism before “seeing the light“ of unbelief, wrote back to me:

I think you should respond to this, Betty. [I didn’t. What good would it have done?] He is really nasty, isn’t he?? Just what the world needs now . . . folks like him. The last line is just about as “nice” as his fellow Christians that are “praying” for Obama’s death… So now, with this attitude, we’re supposed to “give up” trying to do any more green things for our planet? Oh, I forgot, we shouldn’t care . . . Armageddon is near . . . and all these wonderful folks will just be “swept
up in the clouds,” and to hell with future generations that have to live here on this planet….

If you’re interested, here is an interesting website with an article from a Russian scientist who says that volcanic eruptions slow global warming:


Whether this scientist is correct in his assessment, I simply don’t know. Actually, I hope he is.


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