Angry Atheist or Justifiably Angry? by Christina Knowles

Religion  We’ve all heard of the stereotype of the “angry atheist,” and I’m really tired of it and all it implies. If you really want to know why this atheist is sometimes angry, I’ll tell you, but you aren’t going to like it. I’m tired of being told that I am angry at a god I don’t believe in. I’m not, but lately I have been angry at some of those who believe in this god.

In general, I am a happy and pretty serene person. I am easy to get along with, I don’t get mad very easily, and I can’t think of any wrong done to me that I don’t easily forgive very quickly. However, I am angry at religion, at least organized religion. I don’t really have a problem with vague beliefs of some abstract spirit world where are there are no holy documents dictating how everyone else is supposed to live, regardless of whether or not they also believe it.

The kind of religion that makes me angry is the kind that is preventing progress, inhibiting intellectual reasoning, brainwashing children and cultures, interfering with the rights of others, and destroying our world. That’s right, destroying it. And I’m not just talking about the terrorism of some Islamic groups, or the overt oppression of homosexuals and women, but, at least in the United States, I blame fundamentalist Christianity for the dumbing down of the world when it comes to science, the environment and climate change, over-population, and for popularizing the belief in the superiority of mankind and his “dominion” over animal life and nature, as well as attempting to morally justify the worship of capitalism and making it acceptable to vilify and oppress the poor. Religion is leading to a mass extinction on our planet.

Any species that takes more than it needs from its environment eventually becomes extinct. The only way out of this that I can conceive is education. Education in science, history, literature, social studies, math, in everything, including de-bunking religious superstition. As long as people are conditioned to check their brains at the door and believe a book written by bigoted men thousands of years ago, men who had no understanding of science and every reason to perpetuate thought which put them in control. This book causes good people to discriminate against other good people, this book causes women to accept or even welcome their own subjugation, and this book causes intelligent people to dismiss intellectual thought in lieu of “faith,” which leads to denying scientific fact and embracing fantasy notions of escaping this planet for an imaginary perfect place where none of the people they find offensive will be allowed to go.

And when you believe there will be a new earth, why take care of the old one? Why not have “19 kids and counting” if a god will take care of all of them or rapture them up and take them to heaven? We don’t need to worry about the exponentially growing population and the fact that we do not have enough resources to support them or enough jobs available for them as they become adults. And if animals do not have souls, and men do, obviously, men can do whatever they want to them. And prejudice and discrimination against those who do not agree that your god makes the rules is suddenly justified because you are just “trying to save them” and are worried about their eternal souls.

One of the most disturbing things about American Christianity is the apparent worship of capitalism and the disdain for the poor. While, in the past, Christians prided themselves on caring for the poor, this new generation of Christianity seems to prefer quoting aphorisms about God helping “those who help themselves,” “no working-no eating,” and “teach a man to fish,” etc., effectively blaming the poor as being lazy without looking at factors such as opportunity and oppression, instead, promoting corporate greed as God’s blessings for the entrepreneurial spirit. They seem to think that if they please God enough, enforcing his edicts on the world, they, too, will be blessed with riches.

But if you really want to know why I am angry, you first have to understand my perception of religion. While Christians may think I am lost, I think, as a former Christian, that I have awakened and narrowly escaped a cult. I believe that Christians are nice people, more often than not, who have been deceived and brainwashed into joining a damaging and intellectually debilitating cult. This cult lures people in by quoting the nice parts of the bible, and there are a few, very few. These people are drawn in by the idea of an all-powerful and benevolent being who personally created them and loves them. They aren’t immediately informed about this god’s past immoral and psychotic displays of rage on humanity. And when they do run into these passages, eventually, they are explained away with such illogical nonsense as “We can’t begin to understand God,” or “Because God is perfectly just, He has to destroy sin,” (even the innocent children, apparently, and despite the notion that He created it), or my personal anti-favorite, “You just have to have faith.” Why? Why would anyone think it a good thing to believe something for absolutely no good reason, contrary to the observable evidence, and with no supporting evidence of its own? Especially, blissfully ignoring the fact that this god seems strikingly similar to a very flawed, over-emotional, prideful, vindictive, and sexist early Middle Eastern man. This is exactly what I mean. This cult ensures its survival by making sure its members believe that looking too closely at its logic is a bad thing and blind faith is admirable.

I’m sure at this point, some people are thinking that I sound like I am mad at God. I’m not. I don’t believe he exists, but if the god of the bible were real, I certainly would not find him worthy to be worshipped or obeyed, not to mention that he seems to be a trickster engaged in the longest hide and seek game of all time. However, I am mad that this mythology is continuing to block progress and affects millions of people who do not share these beliefs. I am angry that persistent sexism exists because of religion. I am angry that discrimination of all kinds of people exists because of religion, that wars are started over religion, that disdain for the poor exists because of religion, that scientists are scoffed at because of religion, that we are killing ourselves, plant life, and animal life because of religion. I don’t mean to single out only Christianity for the blame; there are other factors, but, in my opinion, it is this dominant religion causing the most harm here in the United States. I am angry that in America, there are still some laws on the books that prevent an atheist from holding political office, which is completely unconstitutional. Personally, I would rather see a person who depends on reason in charge of public policy than someone who wants to determine what is right and wrong from an ancient book that should have long ago been relegated to the status of mythology, a category to which it most certainly belongs. However, we all know that even if there were no “religious test” for public office, the “moral majority” of America would never elect even the most ethical and upstanding atheist as president. An atheist would be forced to pretend to have the popular religion in order to have a chance for a political career in the United States.

Yet, Christians cry religious persecution all the time—whenever they are prevented from forcing their religious dogma on others. It is not enough anymore to spread the gospel, they must enforce their imaginary god’s laws on rational people who think they are delusional. I apologize if this is too blunt, and I want to make sure everyone understands that I do not think Christians are stupid. They aren’t. They are brainwashed, usually from birth, indoctrinated into a culture of Christianity and held there by fear of hell, fear of losing community and family, and being ostracized as godless heathens. When Christians do allow themselves to doubt and question, they are quickly reined in and corrected. And even when they no longer believe, they fear admitting it. I was once among them, and I feel for them, but I refuse to stand by silently while they destroy the world I, too, must live in. So, yeah, I am angry, and I do feel the need to say what I think is really going on, but I am not mad at an invisible dictator in the sky whom I do not believe exists.

I am not an angry person. I am a person who gets angry, especially when it really matters. I am a moral person, and I want to see us solve problems and move forward in a way that best protects our future. So you see, in this way, we aren’t really that different. We both think the other is ruining the world, we both think the other is deluded. However, I don’t think you are going to hell. I think you can be woken up. I think you can snap out of it and realize the wool has been pulled over your eyes. I’m sure you think I could come back to Christianity, but I won’t because I never want to believe something for no reason again. I want to see a new age of reason emerge, and the United States return to its former position as one of the world’s freethinking leaders of democracy and scientific thought, rather than being known as the largest free country still holding on to magical thinking and holding back progress. Reason, in the end, is the only savior out there, and I’m justifiably angry because we are encouraging ignorance and fantasies over rationality at the cost of our future.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

Living for Breaks by Christina Knowles

To-do listToo often being a teacher means living for breaks. Fall break, spring break, winter break, and summer break—that’s when we will begin living again.

In the life of the teacher, particularly high school English teachers, but also for most kinds of teachers, breaks mean catching up on everything from cleaning the house to exercising. There simply is no time during school to do anything other than school work.

I’ve tried to change. Every year I make new promises to myself about how I’m going to erect boundaries and take time for friends, family, and personal interests, and every year, I get trapped in the I’ll-get-to-that-on-break lie. Here’s the problem. By the time break comes, I have accumulated so many things on my list of catch-up-on-break items that I can’t possibly get through half of them, and thus, I am sometimes even more stressed out over breaks.

For example, I have not properly cleaned my house in over a month, I have piles of mending to complete, piles of stuff to organize, the paint is chipping—all the paint—on everything, and things are breaking and wearing out all around me. I quit exercising about three weeks ago to catch up on grading and to get more sleep that I lost out on while grading papers and attending nighttime parent-teacher conferences. I quit meditating several weeks ago on Sunday mornings to plan for the coming weeks of school and to write tests I had to administer before the end of the quarter. I quit cleaning the house to grade papers before parent-teacher conferences. I put away the book I was writing when school started and haven’t touched it since. My poetry collection is waiting for me to finish the cover, but I said I’d do it over break. My fish are gasping for breath in want of fresh water, and my dog forgot what it was like for his mother to walk him. I have so many pictures on iPhoto that I’m not allowed to take another photo on my phone, but I haven’t had time to save them somewhere else. I need appointments for my teeth, my car, and my body. My hair needs cutting, I haven’t had a manicure in six months, and my summer to-do list isn’t even halfway completed, and now it’s fall break.

When you are a teacher and everyone knows you have break, they naturally assume that now you will not be neglecting them—at least for two weeks. Your friends, your family, your kids, your husband, and your dog all expect that now you will finally spend time with them. And I want to—very much. However, after I schedule them into my calendar, the rest of the list looks pretty hopeless.

Of course, there were even a few school things that I thought I could nonchalantly slip into my fall break schedule—re-reading the chapter I’m teaching after break, writing a new unit, finding an example paper for that assignment the students are finding difficult. Why did I think I’d have time to do that over break? Because there isn’t time during my workday, or even in the evening when I finish grading.

Some may wonder how I find time to write this blog? I find time because if I don’t write, I will surely lose my mind, and then I will never finish my list.

On a positive note, I’m really glad I realized the futility of catching up on things so early in my break. Maybe now, I will be able to cast aside my hopes and expectations and actually relax. I’m not sure I can, but admitting the truth is the first step toward tearing up the list. We’ll see. Maybe I can just put everything on my winter break list because who needs to spend time with family celebrating Christmas? Maybe I’ll start living for retirement.—Christina Knowles

Originally posted in 2013

Photo source: pieceofmindcounselling.com

Democratic Socialism and the American Dream by Christina Knowles

Bernie-Sanders-Defines-Democratic-Socialism-not-a-dirty-word-2016-presidential-campaign-election--e1441232881750-620x442NOTE: This blog was originally posted December 5, 2014, but I decided to repost it after seeing various attacks on Democratic Socialism after the Democratic debate with Bernie Sanders. In the days following the debate, I’ve seen Democratic Socialism ignorantly compared to Nazi Fascism over and over. Also, please note that the abolition of Capitalism is not the goal of Bernie Sanders or of many supporters in America, but just to decrease the power of the corporate elite while empowering and creating a safety net for the poor and middle class, which will strengthen our nation as a whole, as well as being the moral thing to do.

Lately I have been so discouraged by the sentiments expressed by people around me regarding those in need. I consider myself a liberal, but I find myself feeling more like a moderate in some ways when I hear the views of those around me. It seems most people I am around are either much more liberal in their views of the causes and plight of the poor or much more conservative and cynical in their views than I am. It occurs to me that that is the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals—conservatives are too cynical and liberals are too idealistic. I think I’d rather be idealistic.

Often at work, surrounded by conservatives, I hear the poor discussed with such contempt. They say those who utilize social programs, who depend on government programs, are lazy and expect others to take care of them without lifting a finger to help themselves. This infuriates me. Do they realize how easy it is to lose everything and become homeless? How some people don’t have a support system in place if trouble arises through no fault of their own?

But then I went to a community discussion group comprised mostly of liberals and heard the opposite extreme, that it is never their fault, that no one chooses to live off of welfare, that everyone would rather work and take care of themselves. They have no responsibility for the hand life has dealt them. And I find myself annoyed with this thinking as well.

I think that it is often through no fault of their own that people fall on hard times and cannot pull themselves up and out without help, but I also think there are people who take no ownership of their problems and who would rather not work, but collect a check instead of working hard for inadequate wages they cannot live on anyway.

It seems to me that to really put a dent in the problem of poverty and homelessness in America, we have to decide what kind of people we want to be, reevaluate our values. This was once a country that promoted the idea that regardless of the circumstances of one’s birth, everyone had the same opportunities to succeed and raise his station in life. It has always been a myth that we have the “same” opportunity, but at least there was an opportunity. The truth is that every year, it becomes harder and harder to move up to a higher income class if not impossible. But forget moving up. We are struggling to stay in the one we are in. Every year we lose citizens from the middle class to the poor. We aren’t raising our stations; we are lowering them. Most of us are one catastrophe or illness away from poverty.

Look, I work hard to earn a living when I would rather stay at home and write poetry, so I know what it feels like to resent seeing someone standing on the corner collecting money for nothing. I know what it feels like to not be able to afford to go the doctor because I didn’t have enough in my account for the co-pay, but I made too much money to qualify for any assistance. For years I gave an extra few dollars on my utility bill to contribute to their Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), but one month, when I was a single mom and couldn’t afford to pay my utility bill, they refused to help because I made too much money. I don’t begrudge help to those who are truly in need at all, but we need to do more to stop the middle class from sliding into that position. Sometimes it is easier to give up and be indigent and qualify for aid, rather than struggle as the working poor with no help.

When we get past the idea that poverty could never happen to us, then we may be more willing to support social programs to help others. When did we become so selfish? We won’t even help others unless we believe that we may need help someday. Of course, that is a gross generalization, but why such disdain for the poor among conservatives? I think it is a mixture of cynicism and a love for rugged individualism.

I also get really tired of hearing that liberals just want someone to take care of them. Well, I’m a liberal who hasn’t been out of work in thirty years. I am the hardest working person I know, putting in hours and hours of overtime every week with no compensation. That’s right, I’m a teacher, and I have never in my entire life expected something for nothing. In fact, I can’t stand the idea of someone else supporting me. I want my independence, and I like knowing I can pay my own way. But I also realize that life happens. I am not immune to the misfortunes of this world. I could get sick, unable to work. I could get laid off and be unable to find another job. I could lose my house and be out on the streets. I could get in a position where I couldn’t take a shower or get a clean set of clothes to even look for a job. When you’re homeless, what do you even put down for an address or a phone number on your application?

If you don’t have a support system in place, like family and friends who could give you a place to stay until you get on your feet, what would you do? I can hear the conservatives now. “There are shelters, resources, places to help them out.” Every time I hear this, Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice comes to me, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Sure there is help, but do you know what it would take for a homeless person to take advantage of them? We have no decent transit system, and all these services are separate and far apart. How would you even find out about them? Pull out your iPad and Wi-Fi? I hear the response, “They could do it if they wanted to. They have to help themselves.” I kind of agree with this, but on the other hand, if you’ve been beat down by the system and life in general, will you even have the wherewithal to take on such a task? It would seem overwhelming.

Sure, I think, if it was me, I would pull myself out of it, but no one really knows how bad it is, and how we would react until put into that position.

So it seems to me that conservatives are overly harsh and cynical about the poor, and liberals are overly magnanimous and idealistic about them. What if there is an in-between? What if we expect them to help themselves, but we provide the jumpstart for them to do it? What if we made it more profitable to work even an unskilled, dead-end job than to collect welfare? But conservatives don’t even want to raise the minimum wage. They’re asking for people to go on welfare.

I am a Democratic Socialist, so most people think that means that I want everyone to have a free handout, take what you earned and give it to someone else. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In Socialism there are no free rides, no sitting back, doing nothing and collecting a check. Everyone works or they don’t get to participate in the system.

Here’s a scenario: I lose my job as a bookkeeper because I am no good at math. I don’t want to get kicked out of my house, and I like to eat, so I look for a job. The only experience I have is as a bookkeeper, but all my references say I’m not suited to this kind of work. No matter where I apply, no one will give me a job. I apply for government assistance. I qualify and am given a work assignment in a clothing factory that provides clothing to prisoners and orphans. I discover that I am good at sewing. I do a good job and my boss is happy, but I only make the government assistance minimum wage. I can live on it, but I’d rather make my old income and in a nicer environment, but at this kind of job that I like and am good at. My boss gives me an excellent reference, and I am hired by a trendy art-nouveau-type clothing manufacturer at the same pay I made as a bookkeeper. Why the same exact money? Because the hours of one human being’s life is equal to another’s. We want to believe that our pay is based on how hard we work, but do you really believe that? No, it is the profitable value we place on the service you provide. It has nothing to do with how hard you work. If it did, teachers would be the best paid people on the planet and corporate executives would make much less than cooks.

I hear the conservative voices in my head once again saying, “But what would be their incentive to work if not to make more money?” The incentive would be 1) to keep a roof over your head because you could still get fired if you don’t do your job well, and if you like your job, you want to keep it rather than exchanging it for something you may not, and 2) you would choose your job according to your natural talents or passions rather than how much it paid—this is the best reason to do it. If people get to work all day at what they love, they tend to put their heart and soul into it. Would you rather have a surgeon who had a passion for science and medicine and wanted to help people, or one who just wanted money and social position?

Oh, and you wanted to know who was just lazy and who really needed help? Well, here’s your solution. If they refuse to take the work assignment, they don’t get any assistance. In true Socialism, the community matters, not just the individual. The individual does well if the community does well, so there are no freeloaders. Now if someone is developmentally or physically disabled, they are given a job that they are able to do. The only people who would be exempt from a work assignment but could still get assistance would be the severely physically or mentally ill.

Socialists don’t want to take what’s yours. They want everyone to do their part, and care for each other when they need it. We want people to be valued as human beings instead of a bank account or earning potential. We think a street sweeper should have just as much respect as the executive of a bank or a doctor, and his life and his time are just as valuable and shouldn’t have a monetary value placed on them. If a person works 40 hours per week, then he should be able to live as comfortably as anyone else who works 40 hours a week. But I think Americans work too much anyway. Thirty to thirty-five hours would be healthier and more productive.

And education should be free, so those who are apt to achieve academic success can do so without being drowned in debt for the rest of their lives. They can give back to the community by serving as doctors, scientists, and teachers because they love it, not for money but for passion. Socialism isn’t about everyone being the same and not standing out, just equally valued. Free education would truly level the playing field so that regardless of the circumstances of your birth, you would have the same chance to follow your dreams as anyone else. Only your motivations and natural abilities, or lack thereof, would affect your achievement.

Sure, no one would be rich and no one would be poor. Money never made anyone happy. In excess, it is only used to control and oppress others anyway. But this would never happen in America anyway. Democratic Socialists don’t advocate for forced, all-or-nothing change. We can balance things without completely ridding the world of Capitalism. We can support workers, small businesses, and create a safety net that is good for everyone and still be the land of the free, still celebrate entrepreneurship and personal innovation.

The conservative voice in my head asks, “But isn’t that Totalitarianism? Weren’t the Nazis Socialists?” No, actually they were Fascists and just called themselves Socialists. At most they were a distorted dictatorial socialism. It’s true that in Socialism, the government plays a large role and has to regulate many things, taxes would be higher, and the money collected would pay for many of things we need but cannot now afford like complete and continuous health care coverage, education, and public recreation and transit. But in Democratic Socialism, the people are the government. We would need a true democracy to pull it off—none of this republic rubbish, where those we elect do not represent us at all. We would decide how to spend our money. The popular vote would suffice for most things, but before the conservative voice tells me that the 49% can be enslaved by the 51%, understand that constitutional protections of civil liberties would make that impossible. Civil liberties should never be up for popular vote. Side note: Democratic Socialism is more in line with the teachings of Christ than Capitalism, but Christ is not accused of being a Nazi.

But even if Democratic Socialism isn’t your thing, let’s at least admit that Capitalism breeds greed and encourages contempt for the poor. I believe Capitalism causes poverty, at least our crony capitalistic plutocracy does. It doesn’t create jobs; it creates indentured servants and gradually worsens their conditions, hoping they won’t notice, and finally sends their jobs overseas to those who cannot afford to refuse them. We are undoing everything that the labor movement fought to improve for some fantasy ideal popularized by Ronald Reagan and his “trickle down theory.” I think after waiting thirty-plus years for it to work, we can try something else now. In fact, Reaganomics pretty much caused the banking crisis and the bailout of the banking system by deregulating them in the eighties as well as increasing the deficit by practically eliminating the corporate tax burden. Yet, he is lauded by conservatives as a great president because he could deliver a patriotic speech with sincerity. And I do believe he was sincere, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue his failed policies forever.

In 1931 James Truslow Adams coined the term The American Dream when he wrote “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” This original version wasn’t bad, but it has evolved into much worse. When I ask my students to tell me what the American Dream is, they usually respond with “To get rich,” or the more realistic ones say, “To have a house, a good job, and provide comfortably for a family.”

But we have moved past the image of a middle class home with a white picket fence, two cars in the garage, two children, a pet, and a retirement account. Today in the light of a struggling economy and tough job market, the dream may look more like affording a decent apartment. having health insurance, and worrying about the future later.

Although Adams coined the phrase, the ideals behind the expectation of life for Americans have been around since the Declaration of Independence was signed, or maybe even since the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Rock. All those who come to America have certain expectations and dreams. Those born in America seem to have expectations, but they are more unconscious, and therefore, even harder to attain.

It’s time we redefined the dream and our values along with it. We need a definition of the American Dream that we can be proud of, one that embodies valuing people instead of profit margins and defines happiness and contentment as success rather than fat bank accounts. How would you define the American Dream for modern times? I have an idea for how I’d like to define it:

1) A land where every person, regardless of race, country of origin, gender, religious belief or lack of it, regardless of sexual orientation, and regardless of political or philosophical view 2) would have the same opportunities available to them should they choose to grasp them. 3) They would only be inhibited by their own natural skills and abilities and by their own inclinations and motivations, 4) and their social class at birth would have no bearing on their chances of success 5) to pursue happiness in any way they saw fit that 6) did not infringe upon the rights of others to do the same and did not endanger society or the people therein. 7) A land wherein such people would have guaranteed civil liberties under a constitution of their own design, 8) and all other issues arising, not considered civil liberties, would be subject to a popular vote.

This is how I see the American Experiment. This seems like what America should care about, and it’s very similar to the ideals of our founding fathers whom my conservative friends are so apt to quote. Isn’t this the heart of their intentions? Certainly not the worship of money and the subjugation of the poor. If they were here to see their precious experiment in self-governing torn asunder by corporate lobbyists and super PACS, they would probably redefine it too.

And to my conservative friends, stop acting like you are against big government involving themselves in our lives when you support controlling a woman’s body, forcing religious views on the non-religious, supporting corporate greed over workers, denying science in favor of enabling the fossil fuel industry, and entering every conflict around the world. Your definition of government seems to be of the corporation, for the corporation, by the corporation while Democratic Socialism encompasses the true intentions of our forefathers by embodying the ideals of the people, not corporations, as the government.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

Morals Change–And It’s a Good Thing by Christina Knowles

scalesI hear a lot of people complain that morals are changing. Shouldn’t they evolve as we learn more? This leads to the inevitable debate of objective morality vs. relative morality. Morality seems somewhat subjective, but not completely relative, at least among thoughtful and intelligent beings. For example, we tend to believe that things are right or wrong on a standard of well-being. If the well-being of living creatures, for instance, is the standard, then we can develop an objective morality based on this even though circumstances will always dictate shades of gray in individual situations. So it must change as we change, right?

Over time, morality does indeed change. For instance, we now have more liberal views on things like punishing children, working on Sunday, considering a menstruating woman unclean, and understanding that homosexuality is not a choice. Certainly, we can acknowledge that most people now view slavery as immoral, genocide as evil, and democratic societies obviously have a different morality than totalitarian ones. At one time, great majorities of people considered these things right for one reason or another, so we know that morality changes.

Religious people tend to think we get our morality from a divine being, but this does not make sense if morality changes unless they are acknowledging that their god changes his mind as well. However, many do not admit this is the case. I would submit to them that they are more moral than the god they say gave them the basis for their morality. Even most bible-literalists in the Christian faith are far more moral than their god by today’s standards.

For example, the god of the bible told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar to prove his obedience. Abraham was willing to go through with this until God stopped him at the last moment, satisfied in his allegiance. When asked if they would be willing to sacrifice their own child on an altar if they thought their god had commanded them to, most Christians find the idea repugnant, which is a good thing. They often try to circumvent the point by saying that God would never ask them to do such a thing. I’m not sure why they think he would ask this of Abraham, but not them. Perhaps because their god, apparently, no longer shows himself to anyone. At any rate, they would not do it, which reveals that modern morality is more in line with well-being than the god who supposedly distributed this morality.

Another objection to this example is the contention that God would never make Abraham go through with it because God is good. However, Abraham seemed to have a close relationship with God, having direct access to God on more than one occasion. It seems he knew God and his character well, yet Abraham seemed to believe it was within God’s character to demand this sacrifice. He believed God would make him kill his son—and again, he supposedly personally knew God. And if modern Christians are right in thinking God would never ask them to do something like this, then at the very least, this is another indication of God’s changing character, or in my opinion, that he was just a creation of a harsh and cruel society of ancient men whose ideas of morality and what a divine being would be like are much inferior to that of modern man.morality-quotes-3

This is just one example of the numerous detestable and immoral things the god of Abraham demanded of his people. He also demanded genocide, rape, slavery, and the oppression of people based on race and gender. To say we get an objective morality from a source like this is ridiculous. We are much more moral than that. Their god seems to have the morality of an ancient Middle Eastern, patriarchal, and scientifically uninformed people group. I wonder why. –Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

The Terrorism of True Religion by Christina Knowles

atheism-it-cures-religious-terrorismI know that right now is the wrong time to say this. I know there never is a right time according to the politically correct mandate we all live under today, but I’m sick of being politically correct. I’m sick of worrying if someone is going to be offended. I’m probably going to get hate mail for this, but I can’t be silent on this any longer.

The heinous infection that is Islam is spreading across the world. And don’t bother telling me that it is a religion of peace. If you are Muslim, and you think your religion is one of peace, then you are doing it wrong. You don’t even believe your own holy book.

But I won’t stop there. It wouldn’t be fair. Judaism is not a religion of peace. Christianity is not a religion of peace. These three main religions have their roots in violence, their gods are violent, and their people are violent if they literally follow the rules of their holy books.

The fact is, fortunately, most of these believers don’t follow their religion, don’t listen to their holy words, don’t accept the hatefulness of their gods. Why not go one step further and dismiss the whole religion? If you need to reinterpret your holy book to raise the standard of your religion to the higher morals you already have, then dump the whole thing. You are more moral than your god, unless you are a terrorist, in which case, you are doing your religion correctly.

Many people fall back on the ideology that the Old Testament or the Quran are to be taken figuratively, or that the New Testament overrides the old. But this is just an excuse. Jesus condones the horrific acts of God all through the New Testament, and if you have to twist the words of the Bible or Quran to make them more palatable, then it’s not a book worth following, or even reading, for that matter. By the way, these books were supposedly taken literally by the people living in the time they were written, so apparently, they were written to be literal.

And being against the acceptance and practice of ridiculous belief systems is NOT racism. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with faith. I find it hard to fathom that in this day and age, we would praise the ability of blindly accepting that which makes absolutely no sense, is contradicted both by science and its own words, and is supported by zero evidence, as a trait worth aspiring to. It’s time for religion to come under the same scrutiny and criticism allowed in every other claim of knowledge. It is not exempt because you may be offended.

It’s true, the end of religion won’t be the end of all violence, but it would be a great start. It’s time to grow up and realize that Santa is not coming. Your parents, as well-meaning as they were, lied to you. Only when we embrace facts and science can we end religious terrorism. Every prayer you send up for the victims of terrorists validates the idea of fantasy creatures who command the eradication of those who do not believe and encourages this notion that faith is a good thing. It is not. It most definitely is not.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

Easter and the Concept of Blood Sacrifice by Christina Knowles

sacrifice-to-junoAs we enter the season of the Christian holiday, Easter, the concept of the blood sacrifice of the innocent weighs heavily on my mind—or should I say, the fact that people are okay with this concept, weighs heavily. So often Christians seem to brush past the gruesomeness of this tale without really thinking about it, but others dwell on the horrors yet seemingly only recognize the injustice of the punishment and feel guilty and grateful that Jesus was sacrificed instead of them. Needless to say, I have a lot of problems with either of these views.

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus even happened, but let’s say for a moment that it did. The idea that it is moral for an innocent life to stand in substitution for the punishment of an actual guilty party is abhorrent. Of course, the counter argument to this is that he is giving his own life freely, not sacrificing someone else. This still makes no sense. Who made the rule that there has to be blood to pay a price for sin in the first place? God makes the rule, knowing that he’d have to kill his own son to meet the requirements of his own rule. His own rule does not make sense in the first place. Why would the blood of an innocent atone for a guilty party?

Besides, he did not just sacrifice himself/son (however you want to look at it). All throughout the Old Testament, God requires the sacrifice of the innocent—lambs, pigeons, doves, goats, children, including Isaac. The story of Abraham and Isaac, wherein God tells Abraham to slaughter his son, and then at the last minute, says he was just testing him, aside from being cruel and sick, is said to prefigure the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s son. So, how is it righteous to slaughter an innocent animal on an altar for the forgiveness of transgressions by man? You guessed it! Because God said so. He made the rule, yet we are supposed to be eternally grateful that he had Jesus slaughtered brutally, so we could feel guilty (and loved which just creates more guilt in this situation) throughout all eternity. There is clearly no logic in the idea that the blood of the innocent makes up for anything done by someone else. Conversely, it creates another sin to compound the first.

But this saves us from going to hell—which God created, a place supposedly created for Satan and his followers, but for some reason, he is perfectly willing to allow us to go there as well, even for the sin of being unable to believe the unbelievable—unless, of course, he gets his blood sacrifice. Although this is clearly illogical, heinous, and in no way moral to the average person if we took God out of the story and replaced him with any other being, we do see this concept over and over throughout mythology and in many ancient pagan religions. Blood sacrifice was known to be part of religious ritual and even for the forgiveness of sins among early Hebrews, ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Pre-Columbian civilizations, and is suspected in countless cults, not to mention being the subject of numerous ancient myth stories. Obviously, this is a concept familiar and acceptable to primitive mankind, but should we still think it sounds like a good idea today? Should we calmly accept it as the foundation of the beliefs of a modern and educated culture? Do we really think it is justice for a rapist, a murderer to go to paradise because he believes that Jesus took his punishment? Would this make sense to you if you were not conditioned to believe it?

If God wanted to forgive mankind, he could have made any way he wanted to to accomplish that. He could have just forgiven those who were sincere—he’d know their hearts, right? He could have made them do something to make up for their crimes—maybe something along the lines of restitution? Something that fits the crime? If this story was not in the bible and drilled into our heads since birth in our country, would we not find this story abhorrent, immoral, and illogical? We are so used to hearing it that it sounds normal, and when everyone around you believes it, it’s easy not to even question it. I encourage you to question it, examine it, and do so with the attitude of someone who has never heard it before, and see if you can possibly still believe it. This is my challenge for you this Easter if you are willing to accept it.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2015

Photo via talesbeyondbelief.com

Atheists on High Live-Streaming Event

atheists-on-highJoin me on October 12, 2016 at 7 pm (Mountain Time) as I guest co-host Atheists on High. According to host, Skeptic Bret, “Atheists on High is a four man wrecking crew, assembled to dig into the hard conversations that everyone has in their head when nobody is listening.”

This is sure to be a lot of fun, and hopefully enlightening, as we delve in to topics such as separation of church and state in our education system and any other topics that happen to inspire us at the moment.

This is a rowdy crew and tends to be explicit, so parental guidance is suggested.

Follow Atheists on High on Facebook to get notifications for the live-streaming podcast.

See you there!

Originally published in 2016

Clinton Vs. Trump: How Do They Stack Up Against Jesus?! by Christina Knowles

what-would-jesus-do2Since many on the evangelical right of this election want the candidate who most shares their values, I thought I’d make a check list to see which of the two front runners most resembled Jesus. So, compare and decide for yourself, which candidate shares your Christian values:

trumpvs-clinton

So, there you have it! Now, you can make the right decision according to your own Christian values because you’ve asked yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Do what Jesus would do this election season–Dump Trump!–Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2016

Stephen King’s Under the Dome, An Anti-Religious Right Political Allegory for Our Time by Christina Knowles

rennie-trump            I finally finished the 1,072-page Stephen King novel, Under the Dome, published in 2009. I started it over a year ago and lost interest about 400-pages in. I started watching the television show, which seemed nothing like the book and did not inspire me to continue reading. However, I am one of those people who cannot stand to abandon a book unfinished, so I recently picked it up again and started over from the first page. I am so glad I did, and I am glad that it was in the midst of this ridiculous election season that I completed it. I had no idea that it was a political commentary of the 2008 election season, and King’s criticisms are even more apt in this election year. Fair warning, this review contains spoilers, so read at your own risk.

under-the-dome            The super-short synopsis, just enough to paint a backdrop for this review, is that an inexplicable and impenetrable (except for a reduced air flow) dome descends suddenly over the small town of Chester’s Mill, blocking them off from the outside world. In a matter of a week, all hell has broken loose as one egomaniacal character decides, against democracy, to lead the people his way, which happens to be evil and corrupt. While some fall in line out of a false sense of security, others passively stand by, and a few actively resist.

Immediately, it struck me that King was influenced by two very classic tales and one dirty election season to write this novel. The first classic tale is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, wherein, a group of boys are marooned on an isolated tropical island with no adult supervision. Quickly, the island descends in to chaos when the democratically elected leader of the boys, Ralph, is challenged by a thug who decides he wants to be the leader, Jack. Ralph represents Barbie in the novel. Barbie is given leadership by the military leaders, who are monitoring things from outside the dome. Barbie cares about the people and is reluctant to take the leadership role, but takes on the responsibility for the good of the people. Jack represents Big Jim Rennie in the novel, an over-bearing egomaniac, who lets baser instincts rule and enjoys bullying weaker people around him, much like Jack bullies and finally kills Piggy with the help of his newly developed cult followers.

And this is where it begins to mirror the 2008, as well as the 2016, elections. In the novel, Barbie represents civil and intellectual leadership (President Obama), and Big Jim Rennie represents the Evangelical Republican Right. Throughout the novel, Big Jim Rennie talks disrespectfully about that president with the middle- eastern middle name and how he does not recognize his authority over Chester’s Mill. Sound familiar? Additionally, Rennie is a fundamentalist leader in the radical right wing church in Chester’s Mill. Rennie is corrupt, running a meth lab for profit, and justifies it by the good he does for the community and the church. Rennie thinks he and his cohorts are the only ones with a direct line to God and going to heaven, despite their heinous acts, including rape and murder. To Rennie, the ends justify the means, and he is able to excuse all his racism (his views on immigrants sound just like Trump’s), sexism (he treats women exactly like Trump does), and his disdain for the poor (sounds just like Romney and Trump). Oh, and Rennie makes fun of the handicapped and hates homosexuals too. Of course.

In Chester’s Mill, there are three main groups of people. The religious fanatics that resemble the Westborough Baptist Church. These people include Rennie and his misled and amoral followers. The next group are the members of the First Congregational Church of Chester’s Mill (the Congos, they are called in the community). This group is the “normal” religious folk, the ones who go to church and kind of believe, but are not dogmatic in their beliefs. They believe live and let live. The pastor is a woman who doubts the existence of God, but she continues to pray anyway. She is of one the good people, who eventually sides with Barbie against Rennie’s group. Also, in this group are the citizens who go to church outside Chester’s Mill, but are not fanatics. These include the Catholics. This is an obvious commentary on the Religious Rights’ influence on politics and their insistence on legislating based on their own beliefs, while the “normal” Christians are not so dogmatic, question their beliefs, and do not think they should force others to live by those beliefs. The non-fanatical Christians in Under the Dome, eventually side with Barbie.

The last group is the non-believers, of which Barbie, the protagonist, is one. The people who claim no religious beliefs and think the rules should be based on democracy and reason are the leaders on the moral side in Under the Dome. As a secular humanist, I really appreciated this divergence from mainstream stereotypes and its connection to recent politics. Barbie represents fairness and reason in the novel.

Julia Shumway, another protagonist and journalist, is the token “good Republican.” Barbie continually says to her, “You don’t seem like a Republican.” And she does not. She is reasonable, fair, and represents journalism. She backs Barbie and fights Rennie from the beginning. I believe she represents fiscal conservatives, who have reasonable views on social progress. Perhaps, she even represents Independents.

Rennie is willing to do anything to be in charge, and engineers smear campaigns to discredit Barbie and his followers over and over, and eventually resorts to violence. Finally, climate change and the environment become an important part of the novel after a fire breaks out, and the dome prevents the smoke from getting out and clean air from getting in. Throughout the novel, Rennie wants to keep the dome up because he likes his reign of terror and control over the people and does not want it to end, even though it’s killing them. He continues to deny that their environment is not sustainable.

Barbie constantly works toward solutions to conserve energy, maintain order and civility, and solve the environmental problem of the dome. These are obvious allusions to climate change deniers on the right. Rennie even talks about God delivering them and not allowing them to die from bad air. Barbie relies on science to work on the problem with Julia and another protagonist in the novel, Joe, a young sciencey teen. Do you think I’m imagining these political statements? No, they are very clear in many passages in the novel, but check out this one:

When Rennie is held up selfishly in a fallout shelter while people are dying all around him, one of his cohorts says, “’What if the air doesn’t clear. The TV said—?” and Rennie responds with a tirade of right-wing vitriol:

“’Oh, dear, the sky is falling, oh dear, the sky is falling!’ Big Jim Rennie declaimed in a strange (and strangely disturbing) falsetto. ‘They’ve been saying it for years, haven’t they? The scientists and the bleeding-heart liberals. World War III! Nuclear reactors melting down to the center of the earth! Y2K computer freezes! The end of the ozone layer! Melting ice caps! Killer hurricanes! Global warming! Chicken-dirt weak-sister atheists who won’t trust in the will of a loving, caring God! Who refuse to believe there is such a thing as a loving, caring God!’

Big Jim pointed a greasy but adamant finger at the younger man.

‘Contrary to the beliefs of the secular humanists, the sky is not falling. They can’t help the yellow streak that runs up their backs, son—“the guilty man flees where none pursueth,” you know, book of Leviticus—but that doesn’t change God’s truth: “those who believe on him shall not tire, but shall mount up with wings of eagles”—book of Isaiah. That’s basically smog out there. It will just take a while to clear out.’” But, of course, it doesn’t. Most of the town dies because of the air quality.

And under all this, there is another story going on, which relates to the second classic to which I referred earlier—The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Serling. In “Monsters” an alien race experiment on a town by isolating them, cutting off the power, playing with them by turning on and off law mowers, etc. The fear cuts through the town until they turn on each other, the town descends in to chaos, and in fear, one of them shoots one of their own people. The chaos in Chester’s Mill is much like this. People begin fearing each other and lashing out without due process. This is made most obvious when Barbie and a fellow kind and reasonable person, Rusty, are imprisoned on trumped up charges, framed for the rapes and murders that Rennie and his son, Junior, commited, are beaten, and are to be executed without due process. The townspeople go along with it because they hear Rennie’s propaganda and believe the lies even though they are concerned and doubtful.

Like The Twilight Zone episode, it turns out that the dome is caused by alien children, who are keeping them covered like an ant farm, for their own amusement. The realization of this causes Julia and Barbie and their friends to think back on times when they were once the bully and the bullied, like ants under a magnifying glass. They each recount the feelings of standing by and watching while someone else bullied someone and they did nothing, and the experience of children, pulling off the wings of flies and subjecting ants to heat under a magnifying glass. Barbie remembers stopping because he realized that the ants “had their own little lives.” Julia recounts a humiliating memory of being beaten and stripped naked by a group of girls as a child. One girl came back and gave her a sweater to put around her to cover her nakedness. Because of this, they decide to beg for mercy from one alien child looking at them through the dome. Julia convinces the alien that “they have their own little lives” and immediately the dome rises from Chester’s Mill. King ends the book by speaking of Barbie reflecting on Julia’s childhood memory of the girl who gave her the sweater: “Pity was not love, Barbie reflected . . . but if you were a child, giving clothes to someone who was naked had to be a step in the right direction.” Ending the book on this note seems to me to be a call to care for one another, to end the cruelty, the selfishness, and have compassion on one another, something characteristically absent in both the 2008 and the 2016 divisive election seasons.

So, although this book took far too long to tell the story, what a story it tells. The allegorical characters and the allusions to our current situation are all too poignant. Do we really want a Lord of the Flies political system? Do we want a society where fear and fanaticism overrule science and reason? Do we want a Big Jim Rennie bullying women and the handicapped as President Trump? Without kind, ethical, reasonable leadership, we, as humans, tend to follower baser instincts, especially if that is the group mentality. This is an important message, and I thank Stephen King for delivering it to us in palatable way without toning down his obvious frustration with the radical right. And I believe it is telling that the network version of this book happened to leave out all the political details that make this book great. So, if you’ve seen the show, but haven’t read the book, take the time. It’s well worth it. Five out of Five stars.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2016

All quotes are from Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Published by Scribner, 2009.

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