Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

YFNA Geeks Out on the Bible, Part 1

Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist is geeking out on the Bible.

I am geeking out on it in the way you’d geek out on Catch 22, or a juicy Jon Krakauer expose, or Harry Potter for that matter; as an astounding collection of histories, cultural tropes and human experiences. Whoever you believe wrote it, it comes from somewhere, and the way we translate, read, quote from and interact with it from generation to generation is simply fascinating to me.

Glide conducts a Bible study group – more accurately called a Sacred Text study group, as I’m told they’ve studied everything from the Bhagavad Gita to the Qur’an – that I’ve been meaning to go to for months now. I’ve even heard rumors that they’ve read some Richard Dawkins, although what he’d say about being included in a list of sacred texts I cannot imagine. Regardless, and true to Glide philosophy, it is radically inclusive, which is why I thought it would be cool to go.

I’ve talked before about the powerful influence of story on the human psyche. Sir Terry Pratchett, the brilliant and uproariously funny British fantasy author, posits an imaginary 118th element he calls “Narrativium”, which he describes thusly: “It is an attribute of every other element, thus turning them into, in an occult sense, molecules. Iron contains not just iron, but also the story of iron, the history of iron, the part of iron that ensures that it will continue to be iron and has an iron-like job to do, and is not for example, cheese.” Pastor Don Guest began this evening’s conversation with a similar sentiment: “Myth is a way of explaining to another human being something that is difficult to understand.”

Next: Why Should an Atheist Read the Bible?

Enlightened Self-Interest, or Why This Is Important

Another break in the history to make a couple of points.

Right now the fabric of the country is being stretched beyond tensilary capacity. We all know this. There’s a level of hysteria in the discourse that is more extreme than anything most of us can remember. The racism, homophobia, economic oppression and religious hyperbole we’re hearing scares most liberals right off the pavement. Not just liberals. Conservatives, too, folks who may disagree with the administration’s decisions but don’t feel fomented into Hitler-mustacioed delirium. Folks who can at least spellcheck their protest signs before they get on the news. Folks who are still able to have a conversation. We’re all a little terrified.

The either/or-ness of the conversation is debilitating. From what we see in the media, it’s either Christian Values or naked homosexuals dancing in the street. (For the record I personally see no problem with naked homosexuals dancing in the street. We do it all the time here in San Francisco.) It’s either Pro-life or festering abortion clinics strewn with damned fetuses. Health Care Reform is tantamount to slapping a hammer and sickle sticker on your forehead and slipping “Mein Kampf” into your breast pocket on your way to your friendly neighborhood death panel. But how much of that is influenced by the media, by the pundits who shape the conversation itself? I know people who disagree with Health Care Reform who are not slavering spelling-disabled maniacs. The way that the media is portraying them drives them crazy, so much so that when proponents of reform want to talk to them about it their defensive mechanisms engage and they might end up shouting. Take away someone’s humanity and they start acting like an arsehole.

 Most of these issues get painted in a religious context. The people who tend to shout the loudest about America as Christian Nation are the people who tend to vote against marriage equality, racial equality, womens’ right to choose, comprehensive sex ed, economic justice-oriented market regulations, separation of church and state. So as atheists we tend to position ourselves not only against those seeking to oppress human rights but against religion en toto. And in doing so we foreclose on the possibility of collaboration with communities of faith who are working against oppression rather than contributing to it.

I just spent some time searching for data on the comorbidity of atheism and liberalism vs. conservatism and couldn’t find a thing. If anyone has any numbers on this please send them to this atheist. My guess, though, is that atheists are more likely to be socially liberal than conservative, primarily because they are not bound by dogmatic regulations that dictate how they think about homosexuality, race, gender, economics, education, reproductive rights, etc. Discourse on these issues therefore tends to get contextualized as a hot-mess pissing contest of belief/nonbelief instead of evidence-based explorations of what might be best for humanity. Tempers flare. Mud is slung. Everybody leaves in a huff thinking “Those atheists/religious people are just fanatical morons.” And we all go back to our corners seething, dedicated anew to finding validation for our own beliefs to vanquish the other guy’s. How exhausting.

But here’s the thing, the truth that we atheists don’t see when we’re running for the hills because the fundies are foaming at the mouth and we don’t know what to do with them. There’s something different happening. I think it’s been happening for a long time but I haven’t been exposed to it, and now I see it all over the place because my eye is trained to it. Or maybe it is something new that’s arising in faith communities, and if so we as atheists must come out in support of it. What’s happening is this: people are taking their faith back from the malignant institutions that have subordinated it. They are thinking harder about the off-handed commandments of their churches and evaluating them based on what they feel is humane and righteous. They are wresting free the right to interpret what spirituality means to them and thus expanding their ability to tolerate difference.

They are thinking critically instead of swallowing dogma.

I have had conversations in the last year with devoutly religious people who have begun to challenge the idea that homosexuality is a sin, because they see beloved family members living happy, moral, constructive out lives. I’ve read commentary by conservative Christians rejecting creationism in the face of the overwhelming factual evidence of evolution. I’ve seen countless instances of people shaking their heads and saying “No, you know what, that does NOT add up to my idea of God.” And they’re making the choice to stand on the side of humanity rather than church doctrine.

We must stand beside them.

We must make this alliance. There is no future in a secular world that shuns believers who do the same work, strive for the same goals, simply because they believe. There are people out there – I have seen them, I have worked alongside them – whose faith compels them to march, fight, speak out for liberation rather than oppression. There are people out there who read the Gospel as an incitement to love radically, include completely, celebrate universally. We must give up trying to convince them not to believe. It’s none of our goddamn business, anyway. We must set aside the discomfort and frustration we feel about their faith and collaborate with them in healing the injuries this war of philosophies has incurred.

Enlightened self-interest. We do what is right not only because it is right but because it preserves humanity, of which we are a part. This is what many atheists hold up as the foundation of their morality, a morality that we well know is perfectly attainable without the infrastructure of religion. We fight to make that known. Let’s live up to it.

How to Make an Atheist, Part Deux

I write this on an evening when I expected to be at Bible study, but it was pre-empted by the Last Supper Commemoration at my church. It just gets weirder all the time. More on this later.

Ok, where was I? Somewhere between annoying people at home on Sunday afternoons and worshipping Cerridwen in the oak forests of Blackpoint. (A brief aside: if a tremulous Watchtower-bearing Jehovah’s Witness kid knocks on your door on behalf of the glowering adults standing behind her, be nice to her. There is a commonly held belief in the faith that grumpy people disturbed from their Sunday relaxations are less likely to be sh*tty to children if they’re the ones who knock. This is an unfortunate misconception.) 

I prayed at night. I had done so since it became obligatory when my mother converted. It was a rote comfort, like counting sheep, like lullabies. When the Witnesses excommunicated us they took my concept of God with them, and though I still made my ritual list of pleases and thank yous before I slept each night, it didn’t feel like there was anyone on the other end of the line. I was 13, I could barely talk to my father who lived in Arizona, and the idea of an invisible father even farther away was not only unpalatable, it was indigestible.

Enter The Mists of Avalon.

What I WISH is that someone was standing by to provide the feminist analysis of Zimmer-Bradley’s opus. I was craving something that affirmed rather than excoriated what was happening to my body. I was craving something that gave me a context for this feeling I had that the big father in the sky could not see me, did not want me, could not comprehend me. What I found instead was a new language for the same list of pleases and thank yous, and a fanatical penchant for occult jewelry.

Some people have postulated a belief gene. If this is true then I think I am without one. I could psychoanalyze it and point out that I received rather spotty and unreliable parenting, such that the idea of an abiding faith in the constancy of any character, let alone a metaphysical one remained frustratingly out of reach. I wanted to believe, oh how I wanted to, and if I sort of cocked my head and squinted one eye and sang this one particular song (the weird little tune hummed to a black cat familiar by the witch who shared my name in the film “Bell Book and Candle” – conveniently I too had a black cat) I could, for a moment, imagine a presence outside of myself. But it was fleeting and invariably left me feeling more lonely than when I started, and the loneliness seemed like my fault, as though my spells and prayers went unanswered because of the fundamental wrongness of me.

What is there about religion that invites us to contemplate our deficiencies?

I will not inflict upon the reader a full account of the many fruitless years spent searching for some kind of belief. Suffice it to say that by my mid twenties what I had was an awkward and motley assortment of superstitions, wishes, vague intuitions, epic myths and, let’s be honest, occult jewelry.

One morning I woke up and realized that I didn’t believe in anything.

I realized that I had never believed in any of it, had never seen any of it profit or do what I wanted it to do. My heart had been broken despite my fervent love spells. My body had been broken despite my desperate prayers to gods and goddesses. My will had been broken despite my attempts to be indomitably witchy. None of it had worked. And suddenly it all just fell away as the empty recitation it had always been.

Let me clarify here. This was not about “How can there be a god/goddess/whatever when all these bad things have happened to me?!?!?” I find such sentiments self-absorbed and arrogant to a staggering degree. This was simply an abrupt and unceremonious recognition of the non-magicalness of reality. And it was astonishingly unburdening. Profoundly relieving. Years of effort and anxiety dissipated like a stomach ache. It was marvelous.

So began my liberation.

Next up: The Atheist Closet, Coming Out in the Bush Years, I *Heart* Richard Dawkins, The Thing About Glide.