We, who are openly atheist, often encourage others to come out publically as atheists because when more people admit to unbelief, the more we are accepted, the less discrimination we experience, and the more rationality can be spread around, in general. But, it’s not an easy thing to do. A gay friend once told me that it was harder telling her parents she no longer believed than it was telling them she was gay. Yet, most people don’t realize what it is really like to come out as an atheist in religion-obsessed America.
Do you want to know what it feels like to be an atheist in America?
It feels like realizing everything you thought was true is wrong.
It feels like being off-kilter and having to reevaluate everything.
It feels like losing everyone you thought you knew and trusted.
It feels like losing all your friends and starting over.
It feels like being stabbed in the back by the sister you nursed day and night through her cancer.
It feels like being cheated out of everything rightfully yours by the only sister you have left.
It feels like being looked on with suspicion by your own family.
It feels like being rejected by your own son and not getting to see your grandchildren.
It feels like being seen as a moral degenerate by people who don’t have a moral bone in their bodies.
It feels like being WAY more moral than most of the Christians you know.
It feels like being a second-class citizen.
It feels like being discriminated against at work.
It feels like being feared by your students’ parents.
It feels like being forced into the “angry atheist” role when all you ever wanted was to just get along.
It feels like your boss pretending to care about your work environment, but really she just doesn’t want to be sued.
It feels like spending tens of thousands of dollars on your step-daughter’s medical bills and having her unfriend you on Facebook.
It feels like people lying about you to ruin your career.
It feels nauseating, listening to people thank God, pray to God, blame God, anything God.
It feels like people thinking they are better than you.
It feels like people judging you all the time.
It feels like people ignoring all the charitable work and self-sacrificing you do because it doesn’t matter if it’s not for God.
It feels so unfair that people hate you just because you’ve grown beyond them.
It feels like things finally make sense.
It feels like being the only sane one in the room.
It feels lonely.
It feels freeing.
It feels like I am an adult.
It feels like I can choose to live my life in the way that seems best to me.
It feels like I appreciate each day, knowing this is all there is.
It feels like me.
It feels right.
It feels totally worth it.
So, to those struggling with whether or not to come out, only you can weigh the consequences in your own life, but as for me, I don’t regret it.—Christina Knowles
Of course, I dislike the concept. I am not a missionary. I have no religion to spread. No message to proselytize. I don’t normally care what someone believes if it doesn’t affect me. But I’ve heard the religious describe atheism as a religion we’re trying to spread, which is highly offensive. Shaking free of ancient belief systems that have no more merit than Greek mythology and expecting evidence to accept the unbelievable does not qualify as a religion.
I’ve also heard that we are scared that religion is becoming more popular, so we’ve become missionaries against their religions. We may be scared, but not that religion is growing. Atheism is growing, a natural consequence of ready access to ideas and information on the internet. Nevertheless, some of us are scared, scared of a nation that seems more inclined toward theocracy than ever before in our entire U.S. history.
When beliefs seemed more benign and simply ritualistic, not spoken of in polite conversation, there was no need give it a second thought. A bemused smile or a shake of the head was sufficient. However, our country, and even our world, is under a growing and alarming threat posed by religions that seeks to undermine basic civil liberties, impose antiquated and prejudiced values on others, and maybe most sinister of all, denies science and common sense on an unprecedented level, threatening to destroy the very earth under our feet in a way that cannot be undone. Laws can be overturned and rights restored, but we have reached the tipping point when it comes to climate change. The denial of basic science and the indoctrination of America against facts, even by people who should know better, perhaps, do know better, but are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the collateral damage inflicted by their aggressive domination of the earth is of no concern to them. The earth will last as long as they need it to, and what happens when they are gone is of no consequence to them. They lead the blind and uneducated by reinforcing archaic notions of being saved miraculously by the gods. Who cares if we are destroying the earth when our god intends to destroy it and create a new earth and promises a heavenly Eden in its place?
These politicians and corporate predators pander to a deluded and ignorant public who, because of their own confirmation bias, see these politicians as heroes of the faith. All a crafty, self-interested politician has to do to gain the support of these fundamentalists is to say that they are saving them from an imagined moral decline, pretend to care about the pro-life movement and the sanctity of marriage, and they forever own the minds and votes of this programed group. They tell them how to think, how to vote, and teach them to fear the rational educated who could actually save them. This group is already pre-disposed to indoctrination, having been thoroughly relieved of critical thinking skills by their religions.
So, is it time for missionary atheism? Do we need to take a more active stance in proclaiming reason over superstition? There is too much at stake to stay quietly in the closet. The risk of losing family and friends, to straining relationships, and to being looked upon with disdain and suspicion pales in the light of the greater threat to our world. Those of us who have shaken the scales from our eyes to see reason, to overcome childhood conditioning and think for ourselves, to demand evidence and logic for extraordinary claims must come out openly and strongly so that others may wake up from the delusions passed down from generations of conditioned superstitions and ignorance. Most of us have been there and woken up, and we were glad we did.
I’m not suggesting a massive deconversion campaign. I am asking that we no longer stay politely silent when those around us claim a god is blessing them with a new car while millions of innocents in Aleppo are slaughtered in the streets. They don’t even realize the depth and magnitude of their fallacies, and they never will unless someone is forward enough to point them out. Let’s make it socially objectionable to float around in a cloud of delusion, at least publically. Let’s show them that atheists are everywhere, in their families, in their offices, in their clubs, and on their teams. We are citizens with a voice, and we need to start using it.—Christina Knowles
I’m an American. I tear up over Pearl Harbor footage, I swell with pride reading the Declaration of Independence, I am fiercely independent, and I believe freedom is the highest good. But I still don’t get it.
I’m referring to the disturbing Nationalism sweeping our country, the dangerous Nationalism encouraged and flouted by our own president. I’m talking about the sacralization of our National Anthem and our flag.
Certainly, everyone does seem to be in an uproar over, first, the fact that some NFL players, beginning with Colin Kaepernick one year ago, were “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in protest over police brutality, specifically aimed at African American men. Next, people were incensed over Donald Trump stirring up his base in true Trump fashion, suggesting that we would just love it if one of these NFL owners said, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired! Fired!” (Criss). Of course, Trump could not help tweeting on Saturday, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….” and “…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” (Criss).
And now, some Americans are furious that several NFL players locked arms in solidarity during the anthem at yesterday’s games. In true American rebel fashion, #TakeaKnee became an instant trending hashtag across social media because, as all Americans know, when someone tries to interfere with your freedom, particularly your freedom of speech, you respond by doing exactly the opposite of what the presumptuous offending party told you to do, especially when he’s an authority figure. Nothing could be more American.
So, why do so many other Americans have a problem with this response? Apparently, this is a common symptom of Nationalism, and a result of sacralizing our symbol of freedom. By sacralizing our symbol for freedom, we condemn the very freedom we say we love.
Let’s back up for a second. Our flag is a symbol for our country, which embodies many ideals, most commonly freedom, independence, and determination. We feel pride when flying our flag, not because the flag has actual value, but because it represents something we believe is real—something about American character and values. When we say that soldiers died defending our flag, this is a metonym for our country’s ideals and way of life. It is a piece of cloth. It is not actually our country.
Yet, when we transpose all of our feelings of what we love about our country on to this piece of cloth and elevate it to the sacred, we do ourselves and our country a disservice. Once sacralized, we can no longer look at it reflectively, with an unbiased eye, with a view to grow and improve. It becomes a dangerous form of Nationalism through which, as opposed to ordinary patriotism, we are unable to see ourselves clearly and with an objective eye. It (the National Anthem, our flag, our country, our ideals) is perfect and can never be questioned. To question it, would be to defile it and be, in essence, blasphemy.
But, not everyone sacralizes the National Anthem or the flag, or even the actual America. To many, it is the ideals behind them that are held in high esteem, and when the realization of those ideals is in question, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the National Anthem is an obvious symbol to which we turn in order to draw attention to these contradictions between what we say we stand for and what we actually do. It’s a logical connection, and it in no way indicates that we are not patriotic or that we do not love and appreciate our country, and it certainly has nothing to do with disrespecting soldiers. We fly a flag at half-mast when we are grieving; we fly it upside down to signal distress. We do not stand for the anthem or pledge our allegiance when we see a discrepancy in the ideals we say we represent and in the reality of what our country, or our leaders, in most cases, shows that we actually represent. This is clearly Colin Kaepernick’s thinking when he explains, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Gillespie).
According to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion, conservatives tend to sacralize symbols and traditions like the flag and the anthem, while liberals tend to sacralize other things, such as compassion and human rights (Haidt). They aren’t disrespecting soldiers who gave up their lives fighting in a war; they are making a logical connection between what we say we stand for and what we will stand for.
And while we’re at it, let’s stop referencing the rules for flags and NFL players. It is completely irrelevant what the rules are, or even the laws, for that matter. The most effective protests throughout history have been illegal. It’s called civil disobedience. If protestors concerned themselves with whether or not they were allowed to do something, women would still be unable to vote, and Rosa Parks would never have sat in the front of the bus. It’s effective precisely because it is not allowed. The risk of consequences demonstrates the level of commitment and the intensity of the desire for change.
I submit to you that those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance, whether it be to protest the president encouraging the squelching of free speech, or the systemic racism endangering the lives of black Americans, are the most patriotic of citizens. These protestors recognize what the flag and the anthem, and indeed, our country, are supposed to stand for, and refuse to settle for anything less than the ideals that form this great experiment. Truly, standing to honor that which fails to live up to all we mean it to be is dishonoring to America itself at its very core. As historian Howard Zinn once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” So, show us how much you love America, and take a knee.—Christina Knowles
Criss, Doug. “A president shouldn’t tell an NFL team what to do, Trump tweeted … in 2013.” cnn.com. Updated 25 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.
Gillespie, Nick. “Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests” 23 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.
Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion. Vintage Books, 2013.
A diverse collection of poetry, thought-provoking and breathtaking, inspirational, and altogether wonderful, Knowles’ memoir is moving, hustling the reader through memories and philosophies that had me laughing at times and weeping at others. Engaging, unexpectedly page-turning for long-time lovers of poetry, and eye-opening to those discovering poetry for the first time, these verses, sometimes eloquent and elusive, sometimes brutally honest and abrasive, will draw you into the ancient art of poetry and leave you hungry for more. The author leads the audience, expertly, through a journey simultaneously spiritual and rational. Like a depthless ocean of free-thought, it tossed me back and forth, presenting views on both faith and logic, but it never fails in thoroughness, sincerity, or heart. The poet’s captivating imagery, descriptions of nature, metaphorical prowess, and artful rhyme schemes are a treat for anyone with an appreciation of literary devices. To those who merely dabble, occasionally, in poetry…
If we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Yet, we don’t forget, and we still repeat it. Perhaps, the narcissistic tendency to justify all our personal actions sufficiently blinds us from our own reflection.
For the last century, America has boasted and puffed itself up as the greatest democracy that ever was, the shining city on a hill. We ignore America’s horrific past, the massacre of its native peoples, the brutal enslavement of a race brought here against their wills, the internment of loyal Americans because of their ethnicity, the oppression of women, the obliteration of civil rights during the Red Scare, the denial of civil rights to marginalized groups currently, and the continued conquests of world domination under the guise of aid. We blow out of proportion that which we do right: Our fierce determination, our stubborn independence, our personal commitment to liberty, our strength against all odds, and our citizens’ numerous humanitarian efforts.
But our claim to fame is our beloved constitution, which really is our best redeeming quality. And, ironically we modeled that after the Iroquois Constitution and the Magna Carta, yet we insist on our originality. I love every concept in the Declaration of Independence and many of the beautiful words of our forefathers. They are admirable ideas, profound truths, and something to be proud of. I am patriotic regarding these things. I love my beautiful country. I love the rights I enjoy under our constitution. I love our spirit and our right and willingness to speak our minds. I love how most Americans are willing and eager to rush to someone’s aid, foreign and domestic. This is what it means to be American.
I am not un-American for recognizing the limits and flaws of Capitalism. I am not un-American for believing that affordable health care for all of our people is the very least our country can do for its citizens. I am not un-American for believing that we should take care of our elderly, and to believe they should not have to struggle to work until they die, poor and abandoned by the country they contributed to their whole lives. It is not un-American to expect more. It should be un-American to keep quiet in the face of injustice, to fail to fight for the human rights of others.
Instead, the fascists now in power would have us believe we are un-American if we do not worship Capitalism, hate our neighbors, crush those who cannot compete, and leave the weak to die in the streets.
But I will not be bullied into Nationalism. I will not be a flag-worshiping robot, insisting we can do no wrong. I don’t care if you think I am un-American because your definition of American is not who I want to be.
Interestingly, we are the only large democracy that obsesses over such Nationalistic terms. However, they were very common in highly oppressive Totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union because dictators need blind patriotism in order to manipulate the masses, to turn otherwise decent people into bigoted ideologues that will do their bidding. This is Trump’s America, the next Totalitarian state.
Are we willing to see the truth of our own identity? Can we recognize ourselves in history’s mirror? Or will we repeat the mistakes of other countries that allowed themselves to be caught up in their own grand illusions, denying the possibility that we are too good to let these things happen while we stand idly by? Maybe it’s time to idealize kindness, compassion, liberty, and truth, instead of a flag, and then perhaps, that flag will mean something once again. I will always love America, yet I am not ashamed to be un-American.—Christina Knowles
As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”
Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.
At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.
He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.
Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.
The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.
He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.
He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles
Facebook is getting tedious, more so by the day. Constant misinformation, misattributed quotes, and fallacies run rampant on political memes. Facebook posts have reduced my estimation of the collective intelligence of our population, but worse, it’s reduced my belief in the basic goodness of humanity. Not only are these tedious to see, but it’s a full-time job posting Snopes and Politifact links to these comments, but I try to be a good citizen. But don’t get me started on trying debate an issue on social media. It’s a lost cause that sucks you in and won’t let you go for about twenty-four comments, two unfriendings, and a blocked participant. I’m not against all political posting. I love when people post actual news articles, thoughtful opinions or news that raises awareness, and links to insightful editorials. I like to have a calm exchange of ideology, as long as we adhere to facts for evidence and not tabloid headlines, but how often does that happen?
Then, of course, we have the “god blessed” me posts, crediting God with everything from parking spaces to the random luck of the wind failing to blow down a fence. (Wow! Aren’t you special! I guess your neighbors aren’t cozy with the big guy, huh?).
The next most annoying thing about Facebook is over-sharing, where people admit way too much, like how they were fired for stealing office supplies, to having gotten so drunk, they woke up with a total stranger. Really? This is information that only your best friend should have. Don’t force me to judge you, please. It’s not who I want to be. (Caveat: Sincere opening up and sharing who you are with the intention of self-expression and engaging in a relationship with your friends is not offensive, but someone never taught these people about the circle of trust.)
Then, there is the under-sharing, the ones who post some vague melancholy comment, and when someone asks what’s wrong, they say, “I’ll text/PM you.” If it was so private, why publicly build everyone’s curiosity by posting anything at all?
But, honestly, the most annoying posts on Facebook to me are the ones that try to manipulate me. I don’t surf social media to be guilted or forced to re-post or comment to feed your fragile ego. First, we have the chain letter post. The one where you are commanded not to simply share it; you must COPY and PASTE it into your feed, especially if you do not want to have your hair and fingernails fall out by morning. If you do repost in the proper manner, you will enjoy a landslide of money, blessings from Jesus, and all forms of good luck. If you don’t, well, you obviously don’t love your mother.
The other form of Machiavellian Facebook posting is compliment-fishing by pretending to hate yourself. I mean how can you really keep scrolling past a photo with the caption, “I look so (Insert word of choice: terrible, ugly, fat, old) in this picture.” I feel like I’m being forced to say, “No, you don’t. You’re beautiful.” Even if I mean it (which I often do—some of the prettiest people do this), I don’t like being manipulated into feeding your ego. But I have to on the unlikely chance you really mean it and are so depressed you are about to off yourself. I mean, someone would have to be a little depressed if they actually do mean it and want to draw these inadequacies to the attention of the world, right? Truthfully, whenever I see these posts, I can’t imagine why they think this of themselves or why they’d want to announce that they think it (again, over-sharing). Anyway, I feel manipulated because I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s low self-esteem resulting from my lack of compliment-commenting. It really is exhausting.
So, remind me, please, why were we complaining about pictures of dinner, glam selfies, recipes, and cat videos? –Christina Knowles
If you are in the Colorado Springs area on January 14th, please join me for a book signing party, celebrating my brand new release,Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems! I’d love to meet you!
Copies of The Ezekiel Project and Signs of Life will be available for purchase, and I’ll be signing those and any you bring in. While you’re there, enjoy a wonderful homemade Mexican meal from the Hernandez family, featuring old family recipes from Señor Manuel, himself. You will receive a discount if you purchase a book or bring in one to get signed.
Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.
Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.
So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.
Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.
Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles