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.
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:
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
"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….
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….
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….
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….
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.'
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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?
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?"
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
(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."
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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!
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,
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!
grab a Coke, give the world a hug, and have a nice day while Al Gore
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
up in the clouds,” and to hell with future generations that
have to live here on this planet….
interested, here is an interesting website with an article from a
Russian scientist who says that volcanic eruptions slow global warming:
this scientist is correct in his assessment, I simply don’t know.
Actually, I hope he is.
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