The Devaluation of Human Life

For generations we’ve been able to fight for the recognition of the rights of more and more people by appealing to the way rejected were being victimized and brutalized. Gandhi counted on the British people becoming revolted when they saw Indians brutalized over and over again for peacefully protesting. Martin Luther King Jr counted on the hearts of the American people being softened when they saw non-violent protests being met with batons, rubber hoses, dogs, and tear gas. But something has changed today. Today, many Americans no longer seem to be able to feel empathy with anyone other than those like themselves.

The outcast now, instead of seeking someplace to be accepted, reaches for a handgun and, without regard to the lives of those they kill, snuff out life after life in an effort to be heard. People whose only crime was being born poor, or being born not white, or making some bad choices, are no longer met with the kind of resoluteness of FDR and LBJ that a solution must be found so that we can all share in the American Dream. Rather, we instead find ways to blame them for their predicament.

People are no longer seen as valuable but, once again, they’ve become expendable. We know that there are people making our clothes and electronics for next to nothing and while being guarded by armed guards and we don’t flinch. We see black person after black person being killed by the police while having done nothing wrong and our first reaction is to look for something they did that was wrong and blame them for their own murder.

Sympathy and empathy seem in very short supply today in America. We feel no qualms about subjecting the poor to humiliating restrictions when they receive financial aid because we now have decided that it is forced charity instead of seeing each person as deserving of adequate wages and looking to fix the system.

I read a story today about a woman who was merely seeking an accommodation from the TSA because she has two metal rods that have been fused to her spine. Instead, she was belittled and ridiculed by the TSA officers. I read another story where some first graders tried to poison and kill one of their classmates out of sheer spite.

Where has our humanity gone? It’s left politics. While I suspect the unprecedented obstruction to President Obama is at least partially racially motivated, in all honesty, I am flummoxed to even begin to grasp what would be bad enough about one man that you would stop the entire country from moving forward for nearly a decade.

I know a lot of us are excited about the growth of those who have admitted they are atheists and that we’re chomping at the bit to find a place of secular community where we belong. But what does any of it matter if we merely end up living together in nihilistic despair?

Many others are upset by what they see as the collapse of religion and with it, they claim, our morals. But tell me, what will saving your religion be worth if, in the process, you lose what made you human?

Our society, the whole thing, has become a seething pit of hatred, viciousness, and revilement. Before we spend any more time learning new reasons to hate one another, how about reaching across the political divide, across the religious/non-religious divide, across the class divide, and start seeing each other as people again who all deserve to live and to have abundance?

After all, do we really have that much more left to lose?

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The Dawning of Hope

medium_life-after-god-1458021600When I was young, there was only one place that I grew to enjoy: Church. People made fun of me at school and I was brow beaten and put down at home. The one solace I had was Church. People there treated me like a peer. They seemed to value my input and seemed eager to let me help to shape small parts of how the whole functioned. It was one of the very few places where I felt safe, where I felt at home, and where I commanded some small modicum of respect.

So, as you can imagine, as I began to lose my faith, it felt like my whole life was unraveling. My source of friends, my source of entertainment, my source of standing in the community, and the source of my wife were all tied to the Church. And since the time I left the Church I have clung to my Facebook and Tumblr communities looking for something similar.

In that time I’ve managed to forge some new Internet-based friendships and even a bit of community but it felt like a pale and weak replacement for what I had before. I had lost the feeling I’d had before that I was an important and valuable part of a vibrant community.

My wife will tell you that I don’t do anticipation well. I try not to think about holidays, trips, or special occasions too much or too far in advance. So I was trying to keep my expectations in check when I started listening to Bart Campolo and Ryan J Bell but I felt a small stirring inside. I continued to try keeping those expectations in check when I heard about Sunday Assembly and, especially, the Oasis Network. But I couldn’t help it any longer. Those small, small sparks of possibility began to run away with my imagination.

I began to think that perhaps I could once again be an important part of a vibrant community again. So, I looked for another option and I’ve now been exploring Unitarian Universalism for a few weeks now. It looks like a promising possibility.

Yet, I couldn’t help but tear-up with happiness today when I listened to the latest Life After God podcast. Gretta Vosper, the atheist cleric from Canada, has joined forces with the Oasis Network. Put that together with the growth of both Bart and Ryan’s work and I can’t help but feel a little giddy and excited. Maybe I’m not doomed to be an outlier insurgent barely eeking out a social existence. Maybe the day will come when Sunday Assembly‘s goal of providing a place for fellowship in every town that wants one is met.

I don’t know. It’s still a small and faint hope. But it’s growing much faster than I ever imagined it could. I only hope I can contain myself as I wait for it to reach us here. In the meantime, I’ll explore with enthusiasm Unitarian Universalism and be trying to keep in check that small, small hope that there will come a day when a secular fellowship exists here in the Piedmont.

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Is There A Secular Community Out There?

I feel like12711075_807539649356739_1824879046233805348_o I’ve begun to acclimate to the atheist scene online. After spending about a year listening to atheist podcasts and reading atheist blogs I’m ready for something more positive. I understand some of you are anti-theists. There are some times when I sympathize a great deal with the viewpoint. However, it feels like it’s time for the secular world to begin moving beyond anger and potshots at religion.

Recently my mind has been sent racing by all of the positive community-building that’s begun to occur. Sunday Assembly, the Oasis Network, Life After God, Bart Campolo, and many more people and groups seem to be taking the first baby steps toward building local secular and humanist communities that are indigenous, uniquely humanistic, and that can compete with churches for doing good works and building social networks.

Local communities and the positive actions they take in the world are what I miss most since leaving religion. I didn’t even realize how much I missed it until I began to hear Bart Campolo on his podcast Humanize Me and Ryan Bell with Life After God talk about secular values and about building community. Suddenly I remembered that it was community and good works that first drew me and others to religion.

I recently began to realize that I’ve always been looking for a way to better humanity. I got lost in Christianity for a really long time trying to make it all work but, in the end, that’s why we want it to work: to be a community that cares for one another and reaches out to those both in our group and around our geographic areas.

And even as I’ve been excited to see Sunday Assemblies cropping up around the South, I’ve been disappointed and disheartened that no such group seems to be able to form here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina. A group has been trying to organize a Sunday Assembly for the past couple years in Winston-Salem but it seems that there just is not enough support to launch something so ambitious.

I am feeling so pumped lately about all the positive stuff going on in the secular world. It’s beginning to really feel like humanism is growing but, just like the weather fronts, it seems to flow all around us and skip this area completely. So I would like to make a request for anyone who is either in the Piedmont Triad or knows someone in this area who’s tired of just knocking religion and, instead, wants to try to grow a local community of humanists that works for positive change to contact me so that, even if we are less than a dozen and even if we’re less than a half dozen, we can at least begin the hard work of creating something locally indigenous, uniquely humanist, and focused on building community.

I know you’re out there. There are thriving secular communities in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington. Surely some people like that must be here as well. And, if I have somehow missed a group of you who are already doing this, please let me know! I’d love to become a part of the secular community here and I don’t care who starts it, gets credit for it, gets to
be the leader, or anything else. I just want to begin the work that is so evidently needed.

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Is Christmas Weird for You?

My wife thought it was odd that I was listening to so much Christmas music this year as an atheist. I have to admit that I had realized it as well. It took a few days before I pieced together that a general change in perspective I’d been experiencing had been accelerated by a change in my mix of brain drugs. However, the more I thought about it, the more that it made sense that Christmas not be a particularly religious time for me and that it didn’t feel weird to be that way.

Let me back up a little bit. I grew up in a bit of a religiously unusual household. Beyond the normal weirdness that being raised by a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Fundamentalist brings, I had the added benefit of having been brought up in the Church of Christ.

For those not religiously in the know, while things have changed a great deal in the last 25 years, generally members of the Church of Christ did not used to recognize religious holidays as valid. We were free to celebrate them as civil holidays but don’t you go bringing some damn creche into my display of Santa Claus stuff.

I can get into all the whys and wherefores in future entries, if there’s an interest, but suffice it to say that they felt that since the Bible did not endorse celebrating a special day for Jesus birthday, the weekly celebration of “The Lord’s Supper” was the only religious holiday with which we needed to concern ourselves.

So I grew up with all of the usual trappings of Christmas such as the holiday specials and the songs and such but doing so was rather like a mental minefield. I was trying to weave my own narrative from what was out there about Christmas that would allow me to appreciate it as a civil holiday without seeing it as a religious one.

So, even though I considered myself a Christian growing up, I had already been dealing with this question a lot longer many others who become atheists. So I was cool with all of the quasi-religious trappings of the holiday having already considered them either superficial or irrelevant years ago.

In many ways I was extremely grateful to those great pioneers of the American Christmas like Coca-Cola, Irving Berlin, Hollywood, Charles Dickens, and television executives. Thanks to them I already knew how I felt about Christmas without having to even begin the religious. Christmas was a time each year when we chose to give in to the better angels of our nature. We gave people the benefit of the doubt. We showed people that we cared about them. We made it a special time of year for everyone, even the poorest among us, so that, for at least a small part of the year, you wouldn’t think about what a shithole your life was the rest of the time. And it’s to keep the masses buoyed up long enough to get through to the rest of the year.

Christmas was about make-believe, it was about children, it was about joyousness, festivities, family, friends, and showing how much you cared. Did it really matter why we were celebrating like this? Did it diminish the goodwill that was fostered? As a functional deist, the reasons didn’t matter so much as the mere fact that it existed at all.

So, as a now-atheist, who seems to be quickly developing a spiritual but non-religious side, let me wish you and yours a very merry holiday and all the childlike wonder you can stomach.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Io Saturnalia, a Joyous Solstice, and however else you mark this end of the year among yourself, your family, and your friends. May your celebrations be joyous and filled with wonder and may your hearts be filled with gladness.

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Why Donald Trump, and His Supporters, Scare the Hell Out of Me

Donald Trump and his supporters scare the hell out of me. And they should scare the hell out of you as well.

Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant, recently conducted a focus group with Trump supporters and this was what he told the press that had been watching from behind one-way glass when the focus group left:

“You guys understand how significant this is?” Luntz asked the press breathlessly when he came back into the room behind the glass. “This is real. I’m having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking.”

“I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them,” Luntz continued. “Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.”

Trump is no longer funny. He’s got a real chance of winning the White House. This focus group was shown video of Trump being misogynistic, flip-flopping on positions, and mocking others and they walked away liking him more than when they walked in.

“When the group listened to a clip of Trump claiming that as president ‘the military is going to be so strong’ that ‘nobody is going to mess around with the United States,’ nearly everyone registered approval on their dial meters of 100—a seldom occurrence among focus groups.”

One member of the focus group said, “When he talks, deep down somewhere you’re going, ‘Holy crap, someone is thinking the same way I am.’” Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that way “deep down” or anyplace else and the fact that there are large numbers of my fellow citizens that do think that way is terrifying.

And Trump is winning over more than just conservatives: “Trump’s unapologetic focus on strengthening the border—he wants to build a wall and deport all 11 million immigrants before letting many back into the country—excites many conservatives, as well as some who don’t traditionally vote Republican.” (emphasis mine)

I urge you to go to the Time Magazine website and read the entire article.

This is shaping up to possibly be the most important election of our lifetimes. It may well determine what direction this country goes in for decades to come. It’s time to educate yourselves, mobilize your friends and families, and get ready to defeat Trump.

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Transgender 101

Transgender signAround 2007, while evaluating blogging platforms, I checked out Tumblr. I quickly realized that it wasn’t a blogging platform in the traditional sense. It more closely resembled a social network where you could follow the blogs of others with like interests and see the updates to the blogs in a newsfeed. I began following some Doctor Who blogs and didn’t think much else about it until some time later.

After I’d been there a while and had diversified the blogs I was following I started to see other types of posts show up in my newsfeed that were rather more personal. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had stumbled on one of the few social networks where many of society’s outcasts felt able to bear their souls. Gays and lesbians, those who self-harm, the genderfluid, those who are asexual, and many others who felt that society didn’t understand them.

As time went by, reading their pleas for acceptance and their explanations about what it meant to be each of these things began to soften and then change my views on things. However, it wasn’t because I identified with any of these categories. It was because, due to my weight (even as a toddler I had to wear “husky” clothes) I grew up being betrayed by those I thought were my friends until I just stopped trying to make friends anymore. All throughout adolescence my feelings of social isolation and worthlessness grew both at school and at home. Though I may not have been threatened with physical harm or cyberbullying, I could understand and empathize with being an outcast as well as being ridiculed and mocked.

You would expect adults to have learned to accept others who were unlike themselves but, for people in many of these groups, the isolation, the guilt, and the threats never end. All they really want is to be accepted for who they are and to be treated as an equal with everyone else. What was often standing in their way was fear of the unknown and prejudice against those who are different.

I know I didn’t understand, and didn’t want to understand, people who conflicted with the morals I had accepted. In fact, I pushed away a good friend of mine because she came out as a lesbian. I tried as best I could at the time to understand but the ideas of morality handed down by an iron age god and the narrative I’d been taught by some of that god’s followers explained same sex attraction kept me from being able to accept her for who she was.

Eventually my thoughts and ideas did change. In fact, it was one of several reasons I eventually became an atheist. I couldn’t buy the goodness of a god who would condemn these people as morally bankrupt because of circumstances that were beyond their control.

Humanist ethics begin with empathy and so I’d like now to return the great gift I was given when I came to understand and accept these groups of people on their own terms by, hopefully, helping others come to empathize and understand them as well.

Because it’s been in the media so much recently with the stories about Caitlyn Jenner, I wanted to start with those who identify as transgender. I had just started to research where to find the most accurate information about this group when I came across the perfect resource. I listen to a dozen or more podcasts each week and one of them is the Gaytheist Manifesto. The podcast is hosted by Callie, who’s a trans woman, and she is both an activist and is trying to form a community for those who identify as both gay and atheist. It just so happened that, coincidentally, this week’s podcast was called Transgender 101. In this episode Callie invited on a new acquaintance who didn’t know much about what it meant to be trans to ask any questions he might have, no matter how personal or awkward, so that the episode could be shared with others who lack an understanding about what it means to be trans. And so I invite you to follow this link to this episode of the podcast and give it a listen. I learned several things from it and I’m sure that, especially if you’re unfamiliar with those who are trans, you will too.

Finally, as always, once you listen to this episode of the podcast, please feel free to engage in discussion about this with Callie directly through social media. You can also start a discussion below in the comments or on any other social media that I frequent.

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Normalize Unbelief: A New Name and a New Focus

Bernie_Sanders_2016

Bernie Sanders may be the best hope for progressives of all stripes to get back our country from those who are in process of stealing it.

When I was struggling with leaving conservative politics I was alarmed by what seemed to me to be a sharp turn to the far right starting about the time Scott Walker was elected in Wisconsin. It’s entirely possible that it was merely my perception that had changed but, regardless, I have become increasingly alarmed as Republicans have continued to push further and further right until what used to be the center now seems like the extreme left.

At that time I began to see clearly the real agenda that the Republican party has had all of these years. That they didn’t want smaller and more responsive government but, rather, they wanted less democracy and they were willing to strip it out right before our eyes if we let them. It is distressing to me that even as this radical coup d’etat continues to roll forward at increasing speed that these people continue to be elected. It seems that it is nearly daily now that new stories come out about how Republicans have moved another step toward stealing democracy away from the American people and replacing it with some weird kind of alliance between those who want a wealthy oligarchy and those who want a theocracy. During this same time fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have continued their quest to entirely merge themselves with the Republican party and thus have made themselves the enemies of everything we’ve tried to build in this country.

As these changes have been happening my existential crisis has cleared into a realization that I haven’t moved all that far. Rather it’s those on the right that have moved at breakneck speed away from the rest of us. So I no longer seek merely to survive my existential crisis but to become a part of this opposition movement I have watched slowly come together over the past five years. This coalition is of those who want what our Founding Fathers promised: a republic where everyone is equal. It contains some who at one time were moderate Republicans, until the party forced them out and it also contains liberal Christians and many atheists and humanists.

It is well past time that we must declare who we are and take a stand against this quickly growing threat to our country. As such I feel a need to declare where I stand, which is that I stand for taking back our right to equality from those who feel they have a right to take the Christian Privilege they have enjoyed for much of the past 1700 years and use it to squash anyone who stands in their way. I also stand with those who agree with the Progressive Movement from a century ago in realizing that the traditional ideas of poverty, wealthy, and government are just flatly wrong.

A quickly growing part of this movement are the atheists and other unbelievers, often referred to as “nones.” As I have become more acquainted with the atheist movement in the US over this past year or so I’ve realized that there are quite a few people out there who are actually unbelievers who are embedded among the enemy. For one reason or another they have found their faith to evaporate and yet they continue to have financial and/or family obligations that prevent them from being able to openly declare themselves to be unbelievers. I have come to feel that it is necessary for those of us who either never had or have lost our belief in a supreme being to take the responsibility for continuing to pave the path away from fundamentalism that many who have gone before have begun.

And so, with these twin, and intertwined, goals I am announcing the death of Surviving My Existential Crisis and the birth of Normalize Unbelief. I hope that even those of you who still consider yourselves believers will continue with me. Our desire for a return of our secular state unites us even if you don’t feel that you should abandon your faith in a supreme deity. I have no desire to trash religion in general but it’s application as a bludgeon and as a way to drag our society back into medieval times.

As always, please feel free to engage either in the comments, on Facebook, Tumblr, or over on what’s left of Google+. Good luck everyone, we’re going to need it.

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