90 Days with God by Christina Knowles

IMG_2137Ninety days ago, I was convinced that I was doing something wrong. I was once again struggling with my faith–not in God–but with the bible. I just couldn’t make myself believe that it was the inerrant word of God, or the word of God at all. It seemed full of contradictions, there was no original text to track changes, and even if there was an original, it wouldn’t prove it was true, just old. Many things seemed to contradict what we know from science, but most of all, God did not seem like a perfect and divine being to me. He seemed like a man, a man created by a patriarchal culture, a flawed man, who valued vengeance and demanded worship to feed a man-sized ego that seemed to go against my idea of an all-powerful perfect and good god. Not only that, the god of the bible seemed to contradict himself. He demanded things from us that he did not deliver on himself, namely humility and mercy. He also created imperfect beings, gave them free will, and then demanded that they “freely” obey him, accept him, believe in him, or be punished.

Furthermore, it really bothered me that it blatantly states many places in the bible that God causes certain people to not believe; he closes their eyes and hearts to the truth, so they cannot receive him and salvation. How is that free will? And how is that fair? Supposedly, he then uses them to fulfill his purposes. Not only does this seem unfair, it seems downright evil. But because I believed God had revealed to me his existence, I thought it must be me. I’m not praying enough, or I have unconfessed sin, or I don’t have enough faith because I don’t read the bible enough, everything that most churches will tell you that you need to do in order to develop a close relationship with Christ. I have been told that I over-think everything, and I shouldn’t expect to understand it all. So I decided to do everything I could to do what was supposed to help me believe and have the right attitude. I committed to spending ninety days with God, praying, asking for faith, asking for God to reveal truth to me, reading the bible, journaling about what I read, and worshiping with music and meditation. Today I completed that commitment.

Every day I started by asking forgiveness for my unbelief and by praying Psalms 51:10-11, which says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
 And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence,
 And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (NKJV). I prayed for God to work in my heart, help me to understand what was illogical to me or make me not care that certain things didn’t make sense to me, to soften my heart toward the scripture. In short, to have faith, and I was sincere.

I began reading the New Testament in Matthew and read through Acts. Everyday I would read a chapter or more, continuing until coming to a logical place to stop in the narrative, or slowing down when I required more thought on a passage. I would highlight it, meditate on it, pray for understanding, and then journal my thoughts and a prayer or two to God. I would end with another similar prayer, but more personal. Later in the day, I would listen to praise music and worship along with it.

When I first made this commitment, I honestly thought to myself that this was my last chance. I had devoted hours, days, and weeks to reading theology, bible commentary, listening and calling into Christian talk shows, and looking for answers to questions I didn’t understand. I thought if this didn’t work, I was done. I would devote no more of life to searching in vain. The first few weeks were hard. I didn’t want to do it, I dreaded it, and I even had nightmares about the church being a cult that I needed to escape. Some people said this was a spiritual attack, and others said it was my subconscious telling me what I really thought about the religion.

Previously, I had always thought that most of my problems were with the Old Testament-version of God. He is the one who commanded that whole races be wiped out, including small children and people who had nothing to do with whatever the rest were guilty of. He was the one who said to stone children who disobeyed, kill homosexuals, and plunder villages, leaving no one alive. But while reading the New Testament, I saw similar contradictions. For one thing, Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles advocated for the behavior in the Old Testament and keeping the law. And then I read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. To paraphrase, the early church members sold their personal belongings and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to distribute to anyone as they had need. Well, Ananias and Sapphira sold their land, and gave some of the proceeds to the church. Peter confronted them saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4, NKJV). Ananias, after hearing these words, fell down and died. Then Peter asked Sapphira if the amount they gave was the whole price they had received, and she lied, saying yes. Then Peter, knowing she lied, asked, “‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5; 9-11, NKJV). Presumably, God struck them down for having an unfortunately natural human reaction. Yes, I realize that in Christianity, natural human reactions are sin, but if Ananias and Sapphira would have been given a minute to think about it, feel guilty about it, they most likely would have changed their minds and given it all. I mean, they didn’t have to give any of it, so they obviously believed in the cause, but the normal human reaction is to be afraid, afraid to give up everything and trust. If they were condemned for a momentary lapse of trust, then we are all doomed.

Whenever I’ve heard this story taught in church, the pastor always emphasizes that Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, not just men, and it wasn’t about the money, and God knew their hearts. So what? Does that make it right? Does that mean they deserve to be struck dead? I’ve always had a problem with a major tenet of the Christian religion–the idea that because we are all sinners, we deserve to go to everlasting punishment. I agree, no one is perfect. No one is worthy–wait, worthy of what? Heaven? Life? In the bible punishment for sin is death. Okay, that seems reasonable in some cases, maybe. But flaming torment forever? I don’t believe anyone deserves that. To me that sounds like a human invention, an angry vengeful, wronged, and bitter human answer to taking care of people who do things they don’t like. So, I don’t care if it was about the money or lying to God or being selfish or lacking faith. They didn’t deserve it. And I don’t believe a loving father-God makes examples out of his children, so others will learn. Would you let one of your children step in front of a speeding vehicle, so the rest of your children will learn to look both ways? I long for answers, but everywhere the answers are shallow, don’t make any sense, or just fall way too short of logic. You may be thinking, and I’ve been told this many times, that I am arrogant, thinking my idea of right and wrong, good and evil is right or better than God’s. I do rely on my moral judgement and inner conscience to determine right and wrong, but we all do; we don’t really have a choice unless we choose to blindly accept what anyone tells us. Christians do this when they choose to believe in Christianity rather than Buddhism or Islam or anything else. It seems morally right or better to them. The idea of the Christian god lines up with their moral judgements about who God should be better than other religions, and as it turns out, I think I am more moral than the god of the bible.

I continued reading, praying, and worshiping anyway, but my heart moved further and further from God. Did I even want to believe this stuff? The miracles didn’t bother me. If God created the world, then he could part the Red Sea, but the fact that he doesn’t obviously reveal himself to most of the world makes me wonder, makes me doubt. Doesn’t he want everyone to believe if there is really eternal torment at stake? Why the big game of hide and seek? The stock answer from Christians is faith. But if God felt it no problem to reveal himself to the Old Testament people, why not us? Why are we expected to believe on less evidence than them? Why the rule change? We need to believe without seeing, but they didn’t? Wait, I thought God doesn’t change? He seems to change a lot between the Old and New Testaments, but not enough. Just about as much as the culture had changed–hmmm, I was beginning to see why.

The other stock answer is free will. But this also makes no sense. Satan supposedly knows who God is, has personally met him, knows his power and his reported goodness, but he was still able to reject God, so the free will argument does not work. Theoretically, God could step out of the sky and introduce himself, and we could still reject him. So why not? Where is he hiding?

Another disturbing thing to me is the magnitude of contradictions in the bible about the basic tenets of salvation. Every religion claims to know exactly what, as Paul puts it, is the “Way” to salvation, but how could they, when it is not at all clear in the scriptures? For example, and I could give you many, it says in Acts 2:38, Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (NKJV). Catholics believe we have to be baptized to be saved, and Protestants believe it is by faith alone we are saved, and baptism is merely a symbolic gesture, part of the public profession of faith. When I ask Protestant Christians about this, I always get referred to a different part of scripture that says the opposite. But that only proves it’s contradictory, not which way is right. The very fact that it is contradictory may point to none of it being right.

Then the other thing that many Christians disagree about, but seem to think is really a non-issue, is the idea of predestination or Calvinism–that God chooses to whom he will give knowledge and faith, and who will be saved. Here is one verse among many that supports that: “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
 Lest they should see with their eyes,
 Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
 So that I should heal them’” (John 12:39-40). Verses like this made me think that I must be one of those people that God blinds because no matter what I do, I doubt. But then there are verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). Again, this doesn’t prove anyone can be saved; it just proves the bible contradicts itself, and no one, no matter what they say, can know the true “Way.” By the way, if I am one of these people God blinds just to send to hell, even though I earnestly and honestly sought him–well, that’s a pretty sick game to play with people he supposedly loves. Another example of the character of “God.”

Now some Christians say that this is not important; we can go on regardless of which way it is, but I can’t see how. If the bible contradicts itself, it cannot be trusted, so therefore, all of it is in question. I do see obvious moral lessons and wisdom from some parts of the bible that are valuable, as I do with the wisdom of many religions, but I cannot base my beliefs on it, especially when so many things in it contradict my own internal moral values, things like God ordering the killing of entire groups of people because some of them have rebelled, or raping and pillaging, subjugating women, or condemning homosexuals for feelings they did not choose. The more I study the bible, the more it seems like merely a book written by very flawed and prejudiced individuals with no knowledge of science, sometimes good, sometimes helpful, often not, very often damaging to society.

So the conclusion of my ninety days with God is that I don’t believe I was spending time with a god at all when I was studying the bible. I don’t know if there is a god or not. Maybe there is a creator who put things in motion and had a plan for us, maybe that plan involves us learning to love each other and to live in peace with each other on our own. Not so much a creator who is pulling the strings of our daily lives, shutting the hearts of certain men to use as villains in his master plan, not so much condemning us for doing what comes naturally, but one that put a higher calling inside of us, an altruistic impulse that causes us to become more than we what we are, that inspires me to be more than just me. Or more likely, this impulse evolved as helpful trait for community survival. I don’t know if a god set the world in motion and left us to learn these lessons on our own and evolve into a better human race, or maybe there is a  creator who is not good at all. Maybe he created life and then left us to evolve on our own, no not involved in the details of our lives at all.  But I can’t know if any of this is true, and neither can anyone else. In fact, the more I study science, and evolution, in particular, the more I doubt that there is any creator at all. And if there is, who cares? It doesn’t seem to affect my daily experience. I see no evidence that there is one, so I should live as if there is not one.

I, however, am not a relativist. I do believe there is an absolute truth, and this truth exists whether or not we know what it is. But I don’t believe anyone who says they do know it, and I don’t believe this truth is found in the bible. I am only capable of judging things by my own carefully constructed standards, the same as everyone else. I think that Christians who accept the bible’s morality do so because it already agrees with their own internalized morality, so it seems right to them. Or they haven’t read the bible and are just going by the nice ideas they’ve heard are in there. Or they are so indoctrinated from years of living in a Christian culture that they just don’t recognize how abhorrent the bible is.

Finally, I don’t need or want a reward for being good, and neither do I deserve to go to hell for being human. I’ve come to terms with this. I may be wrong. If I am wrong, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t make myself believe something I don’t, and I’ve decided that even if I did believe it, I wouldn’t follow the evil god depicted in the bible. I feel like these past ninety days was me trying to brainwash myself into believing again, and it wouldn’t work because once I woke up and realized that the bible is just a flawed book, I couldn’t un-know it. I’m breaking free of the cult of religion once and for all. (By the way, I believe my dreams were my subconscious mind telling me what I believed all along.) From now on I will live as the free person I am, free to be good without god, and determining how I can make the world a better place for me and everyone else, especially since this is likely the only life we will ever know. It’s even more reason to live a good life now and enjoy it without all the stress of making sense of something that makes no sense. So, the result of my 90 days with “God” is that I found out there is nothing wrong with me. I have just awakened to reality. If you are a believer, I highly recommend spending your own 90 days getting to know your “God.” You may be surprised at what you find.–Christina Knowles

Originally posted in 2013

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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

Missionary Atheism? Let’s Start by Coming Out by Christina Knowles

quote-a-fool-s-brain-digests-philosophy-into-folly-science-into-superstition-and-art-into-george-bernard-shaw-26-83-67  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

*Originally published January 2017

Coming Out as an Atheist in America by Christina Knowles

AmericanAtheistsWe, 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

Originally published in 2017

The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu       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

photo via seidoryu.com

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com. 

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Fickle by Christina Knowles

thinker-close“Fickle”

I’ve heard the shaming speech

“She’s fickle”

Because I am ever learning

Reading books and reaching

Thinking, incessantly they teach me

I talk it out with others

Explorers discovering

Ideas, vast and illuminating

Amassed in dusty volumes innumerable

The spectres of a thousand dead thinkers

They linger; searchers speak

They are my kin

I listen, the voices in them swirling

I examine each to each, intuit

every chasmic breach

Still I’m open to believing

Receiving, their insight

Perception, just a glimmer

In the blackness of the sky

It remembers the light

A million light years away

Does that make me fickle?

Easily led astray?

No, I am not gullible

but logical, rational in the extreme

Reasoning through the proofs

Evidence supreme while Wonder plays her part

Mysterious and elusive

Deleterious to the unknown

As the wisdom of the ancients

Mingles in the understanding of the present

A common endeavor—truth

So I may reconsider

I guess I am fickle

Or should I shut my mind up tight?

Refuse to see the light?

Hang on to a fantasy

And close my eyes after glimpsing reality?

Unswerving and blind

Comfortably stable

No, I’ll be fickle

Reliably capricious

Always acknowledging

For some, life is a path toward enlightenment

A journey that has no clear destination

No deterministic end

A winding path, a road with a bend

Even a switchback or two

Just a rest stop here and there

A place to catch your breath

To be aware

That knowledge is an adventure

Spreading out before me

A road measured in years rather than miles

And wisdom is a temporary state of mind

I won’t be shamed for being fickle

My mind is mine to change

And the path I choose so fine

 

 

My Brother’s Keeper

As a high school English teacher, I have my students write essays on controversial topics to teach persuasive argument.  It has come to my attention throughout discussions regarding various issues on which they are writing, that many of the next generation of voters are startlingly selfish, uncaring, and downright hostile to the idea of helping others. Of course, it is not true of all of them, but many of them express this hostility openly, and it scares me. Is this a result of the current political climate, in light of such hot-button topics as the Affordable Health Care Act, the increasing deficit, or the bleak outlook of the economic situation in America? Are they simply regurgitating frustrations voiced by discouraged and over-stressed parents?

Apparently, these students do not believe in helping the poor, the elderly, or the disadvantaged in any way. This lack of compassion made me curious as to the cause. It seems to come down to a misguided sense of fair-play.  Kids, in my experience, seem to be concerned with fairness and justice; however, their ideas of fairness too often only include what is fair for them, not others, and only if the fair treatment is in their favor. In other words, they are not interested in getting what they deserve unless it is good.

Increasingly, I’ve seen a general attitude in America that has gone from the Individualism, which has always been a trademark of our society, to a worldview that states, “What’s mine is mine, no one deserves to share in anything that I have earned, regardless of help I have received to obtain it, and if you are poor, you deserve it because you are not ambitious enough to get what you need for yourself.” Oddly enough, most of these same students receive cars, smart phones, iPads, expensive wardrobes, and countless other luxuries from their parents without accepting any responsibilities, such as turning in homework, keeping a decent G.P.A., or treating others with respect. I have noticed that the students who work for their own things and receive less help from their parents have a similar disdain for anyone who needs help, as they see themselves as being able to provide for themselves already.

Discussion after discussion of these issues has led me to believe that it all comes down to a worldview of selfishness. These students believe that 1) the primary purpose for living and the highest good is to be happy, 2) they have no responsibility to anyone other than themselves or their families, and 3) the dignity, quality of life, or happiness of others is irrelevant to them. This shockingly cold and compassionless trend is quite disturbing to me. Call me crazy, but I think we are responsible for each other, and as unpopular as it may be to say, nobody makes it on their own. Sure, people vary in ability and ambition, and the choices we make, and the fortitude with which we approach the challenges in life, make a decisive impact on the outcomes we achieve, but we still had some help or advantage, which we owe to others along the way.

I do understand the sentiment of most Americans who think that things should be fair, and that there is something inherently right about those who work the hardest enjoying the results of that labor. However, this basic notion of justice has taken on an insidious life of its own that now resembles something more akin to radical Ayn Rand Individualism. When did Americans get so hateful? When did all human compassion disappear into extreme selfishness that is actually heralded as being patriotically American? I was raised to believe that we were a compassionate, humanitarian nation, who stood up for the underdog and welcomed the downtrodden and abused into a better life. Everywhere people are accusing others of expecting entitlements, yet they expect their own entitlements. Are we not entitled to certain basic things just by virtue of being born? We absolutely treat our children as if they are.

I believe all people are entitled to dignity, food, shelter, kindness, compassion, and medical treatment simply because they were born. They should be required to work in return for these things unless they are incapable. If they cannot, then they should be helped to learn how to acquire these basic necessities for themselves. If we can, we are responsible for helping them. At the very least, we are responsible for making sure there is a fair and reasonable path to these necessities. Why? Because they are our brothers and sisters, because they are God’s creation, because it is inhumane not to, because helping them is the best thing we can do for ourselves, our children, our country, the people we help, and for God.

Let me interrupt myself to attempt to dispel a myth. I believe America is the “Land of Opportunity,” but not equal opportunity. Anyone who believes that everyone has the same shot at success as anyone else, probably hasn’t looked at the situation of inner city kids. Do they have the same opportunity to attend a good college when their neighborhood school can’t keep a qualified teacher for more than a few months? When their K-12 education doesn’t even remotely resemble that of even the public school in the more affluent neighborhoods? Sure, there are scholarships and grants available, but will they qualify if this is where they got their education? Even if they were able to go, would they have the academic, social, and professional skills necessary to succeed? Of course, there are always the rare exceptions who manage to defeat the odds, not despite them, but because of the tenacity being underprivileged inspired in them. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. I’m tired of an America that worships the successful corporate executive, who inherited a business or the money to start it, had his parents pay for his Harvard education, which he was only allowed to attend because his grandfather paid for the new wing, treats his employees like commodities, puts profit above all else, moves his company to China to make even more billions of dollars, not because his business is failing, but because it is never enough. But we blame taxes for de-incentivizing him to hire Americans. No, I’m sorry; he’s just greedy. The love of money is supposed to be the root of all evil, but in America, it is cause for hero-worship and emulation.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to go to work all day when I’d rather be doing something else, while someone else refuses to work and lives off of the system. Call me idealistic or naïve, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I think almost everyone would rather take care of themselves and have a sense of pride in their accomplishments if they had the skills they needed to do it. These might be technical, academic, social, emotional, medical, or psychological skills that they lack.

“Teach a man to fish,” they say, “and he will eat forever.” But do we teach him to fish? Or do we just tell him to go fish? This past week I was listening to a Christian radio talk show, and a representative of the Denver Rescue Mission was being interviewed. I didn’t catch his name, but in this interview, one of the employees, a former refugee from the Congo, described how he now heads up the branch of the mission that mentors refugees and helps them to get established in their new country. He explained that when political or religious refugees come to this country, they are given a small amount of money and pretty much are on their own to figure out what to do. They often do not speak English, do not understand our business system, housing system, they may not know how to get a bank account, fill out an application, or anything that they need to do to survive. When one of these refugees comes into the mission, they get a mentor to show them how things work in America, help them to learn English, and they provide them with long-term help in getting established here.  Don’t they deserve this basic help just on the merit of being a fellow human being in need? Many people think not.

Another service the Denver Rescue Mission provides is for people who are trapped in the “cycle of poverty.” They have one to two year programs where a person can focus on working on self-improvement without having to worry about paying rent or buying food. They are able to train for jobs, work on emotional issues, or whatever is keeping them trapped in poverty, so that when they are done with the program, they can be self-sufficient. It’s charities like this one, and other para-church organizations and secular charities who make a real difference in people’s lives and in our communities.

What scares me is that this trend among the youth toward self-absorption and disdain for helping others signifies a bleak future for this type of humanitarianism. Additionally, what kind of harsh and unkind world will we be living in if we allow this trend to continue? We can and should give what we can to these types of organizations, but perhaps the most important thing we can do for others is to teach our children to care about their fellow man again. Teach empathy, compassion, and kindness, and put less emphasis on getting a good paying job and a stock portfolio. Let them know that choosing a profession that helps people and makes the world a kinder place is even more admirable and worthy of praise than a six-figure income and five thousand square foot house. Teach them that if the world is going to be a place worth living in, then we must be our brother’s keeper. –Christina Knowles

“The Denver Rescue Mission is the oldest, full-service Christian charity in the Rocky Mountain region. Thriving today as non-denominational organization; no one is denied services because of gender, race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, handicap, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, or marital, parental or military status.”

How can you help? Visit The Denver Rescue Mission online: http://www.denverrescuemission.org

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