Opposite World.

If the theory of infinite parallel universes are correct, then, at some point around the time when the election began, I feel like my universe split in two, and I took the wrong exit. I feel like it’s 1984, a few years late.

War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength.
–George Orwell

We’re now stuck in some Twilight Zone nightmare where I clearly saw the President-Elect mock a disabled reporter. It’s on tape. But he never did it. We now live in a world where the man who wanted to abolish the EPA is now going to head it. We’re listening to confirmation hearings for a billionaire woman to head up the Dept. of Education who has zero contact in her lifetime with public schools. And Christians put a man in power who will not heal the sick, not feed the poor, not house the homeless, and who lies compulsively.

When Muslim extremists bombed the World Trade Center, people wanted to know where the outrage was from the Muslim community. But now that we stand on the precipice of registering Muslims as if they were Jews in 1939 Germany, now that we have a man installed into power who, instead of loving the poor, considers them losers, now that we have a man whose possessions are already being unpacked in our White House, who is so blatantly un-Christian–where is the outrage from Christians?

I grew up in a Christian home, went to CCD, read the Bible cover to cover. I know Christianity, and folks, this ain’t it. Or maybe it is…just in a new incarnation. The new incarnation of Christianity isn’t about love and giving. It’s about stuffing your wallet, stepping on the guy on the rung below you, and letting people freeze to death on the streets. It’s about rebranding the love of Christ into a dog-eat-dog paradigm where mercy is anything but a virtue.

And during this process, hate has been emboldened, dignified by the leader of the free world and his everyday behavior. And that, dear reader, is directed at nearly everyone, atheists included. Evidence no longer matters. Facts don’t matter to them. Education is for elitist snobs who just don’t get the common man. Good works aren’t of value–but giving lip service that you’re in the Club of Christ will get you advantages you don’t even deserve.

Because being a Christian is no longer about believing in Christ. It’s part go along to get along, part how can I benefit, part social climb, all money grab, all power grab. It’s a label to show one deserves preferential treatment, it’s a way to get votes, it’s a way to manipulate others into bending to your will.

And then there’s all the atheists in my life. Like anyone else, I hang out with people who reflect my values. That is not to say I don’t have friends of faith, I do. But they practice kindness and compassion, and when it comes to rejecting others of no faith, or because of things that conflict with their faith, they don’t take the bait. They refuse to hate, even if their elders tell them to. And I get that some people need religion, the harsh reality of our lives on this speck of dust hurtling through space and time is too much for most people. But for whatever reason, most of my friends are atheist, or at least don’t care enough to spend any time on religion. And it’s clear that they believe this is their one life, because they are the ones in my circle who are the most giving, the ones who try to solve problems the most, the ones who realize what you leave behind is your legacy. Atheists have no desire to go to war, have no desire to blow up the society to prove a point.

So, in my new Opposite World, standing up to the Trump supporters in my own family has resulted in the ending of a great many relationships. Because even though I’m not religious, it’s still important to me to be honest, and I realized today that I can no longer chat amicably with them about their new garden or their kids’ grades, when we have much more important issues that we’re ignoring–because we’re family. I can’t tell my own kids to tolerate a grandfather who says the n-word all the time, or the aunts and uncles who blame minorities for the fact that they chose not to leave an economically dying area. When I go along to get along, I become an enabler. And while tonight I doubt anyone over there is shedding any tears over my departure from their lives (they tend to go straight to blaming he other party for everything), I feel as if I have shed an old, dirty, sick layer of skin. I don’t have to pretend anymore that I think they’re good people. Yes, they love their kids and pay their taxes, but they are, at the same time, passing this poison on to their kids. They shouldn’t get comfort and support and companionship from me, friendship or tacit approval. I have to decide there are some views that are deal-breakers for me. I have to set that bar, even while they move their bars lower. And yes, there were consequences. These people are gone now. And if it were all bad, it would be a no-brainer. But our kids our cousins, went to each other’s birthday parties, danced in their grandma’s kitchen together on Christmas. We’ve hugged these people hundreds of times. Worked on each other’s houses, ate together. These are not tendrils that were severed. They were vines that grew through decades.

The worst part about this is that I knew. I knew years ago how they thought. Who they hated. Tried to disenfranchise. It took this election to make me realize that I had to take responsibility for letting all that slide. I had to look at myself and acknowledge that I hadn’t adhered to my own standards, because I didn’t want people mad at me. I didn’t want to make waves. And they assumed that because I was as white as them that talking with me was their discriminatory safe space. The only one to blame for creating that perception is me. That’s over now. People change, and I am always opened to changed people. But unless that happens, I am always aware that I have a finite amount of time left on this hurtling speck of dust. I need to spend it with people who lift each other up, who love, who problem solve, who move forward toward cooperation and equality.

There is no wiggle room with a Trump voter. Already, they’re getting a severe case of buyer’s remorse, and so they’re all trying to back away from their candidate’s ever-worsening behavior. They don’t want to be responsible. So, they take a cafeteria approach. They say they’re not racist, not homophobic, they don’t want to kick out all Muslims. No! They voted for him because he’s a businessman! Well, you also voted for the man who put a white nationalist in charge of the press. You voted for the man who called Mexicans rapists. You voted for the man who wants deportation forces to go house to house to pull people out onto the street, to banish them. You elected the man who doesn’t take Putin’s cyber hacking seriously. You elected the man who will sign the repeal of healthcare for nearly 30 million people, causing deaths that didn’t need to happen. You elected the man who ridiculed a disabled reporter. And the people he is putting up for his cabinet are as bad or worse, and he knows it. He calls detractors losers, while the next hour pledging unity. Trump voters cannot cherry pick their reasons for endorsing him. They cannot plead ignorance in an age where everyone has access to the Internet. Everyone could see him laughing that if his supporters beat up protestors, he’d pay for their lawyers. Everyone can pull up the video of him ridiculing the reporter. Then the video of him lying about it. Trump voters must be made to accept responsibility for what they’ve done, just as the ancillary players, Russia, the FBI, and the alt-right will hopefully be taken to task for theirs.

Because in Opposite World,
War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength…

…and the atheists are the ones who feed, heal and love.


Ticket to Ride.


One “argument” many atheists run up against is, “What’s the point?” Because if there’s no God, there’s no divine plan, there’s no ticket to eternity, then life must be pointless, right?

When my kids were young, I struggled with a way to import to them that even though they didn’t believe in a deity, or weren’t spending their lives prepping for an eternal afterlife, that their lives mattered.

It’s easy, particularly with today’s scientific capabilities, to feel pointless about it all. We are on a speck of a planet in just one galaxy, among countless other galaxies. In the scope of the universe, my existence is as insignificant as a single skin cell is to my entire body. If it sloughs off, or it doesn’t, my body will go on without a notice. The universe is kind of the same way–with our whole planet (which is why I’ve never understood why occupants of Earth don’t take care of it better–it’s like there’s some superpower who’s going to fix all of the damage we’re doing).

But what finally occurred to me, and what I’ve imparted to my children is that the experience of life itself is enough. You’ve got a ticket to the ride. Against all odds, after millions of years of evolution, and billions of years of the evolution of your environment, you’ve made it! And it won’t always be fun, and it won’t always be comfortable, but you’re here. Not only that, but you’ve landed in a place and time where you can become educated, you can think for yourself, you can grow, and you can explore. And unlike kids in other parts of the world, you can do this, right now, in relative safety.

But just as important as your journey is the legacy you’ll leave behind to those who follow you. The way you live, the things you learn, the compassion you show, the solutions you come up with for making everyone’s lives better, those are the things that matter. Not because of eternity. One day, the sun will burn out, life on Earth will be impossible. Unless somehow we have found another like planet, and have used science (not prayer) to get there, then it’s very possible that everything we’ve done here, good or bad, will be lost to the ages.

So, the question is, then, what can we do for the next generation? Can we find or support ways to clean up the planet? Can we show how we value education, in hopes that someone else might break out of the cycle of ignorance and mythology that keeps women down? That keeps children starving? Can we agree not to live in fear, so that we can be the most effective we can be?

And, can we be grateful simply for the amazing happenstance of our existence in the first place? Why can’t that be enough? For me, it is.

Pissing on the Perimeter.


We have a saying around here regarding people or animals who steadfastly claim their territory, “pissing on the perimeter.” This is something any pet owner will know from male cats on their car tires, or dogs insisting on marking a certain bush every single walk.

This behavior doesn’t seem to be exclusive to just animals, because if this year’s brand of “war on Christmas” is anything to judge, zealous Christians are marking their territory, and once again, it’s on the retail front.

I work retail on occasion, and I say, “Have a great holidays!” and, thus far, I haven’t been bitten back at. However, I have heard, before I get to that point, customers coming in saying, “Imma be politically incorrect and say Merry Christmas, whether anyone likes it or not!”

Then, last night, I was at a meeting for the kids, and one of the moms said, “Well, we say Merry Christmas in our house,” in response to my Happy Holidays.

Here’s the thing: When it’s Easter, it’s Happy Easter. Why? Because there’s nothing else, save Passover, at times, running concurrently with Easter. The same isn’t even close to being true with December. Hanukkah is currently ongoing, Kwanzaa is practiced during this time, as is Winter Solstice, and Bodhi Day is celebrated by Buddhists on December 8th. Pancha Ganapati celebrates Lord Ganesh from December 21 to 25 in Hinduism. And Paganism celebrates Yule from late December until early January. This is a time of reflection and celebration for many, many people. The American trend over the last few years of claiming this time of year only for their celebration is self-centered and narrow-minded. And ignorant.

It used to be that we embraced learning about and seeing the traditions of other cultures. And, to be fair, I do believe the majority of people in the US are still that open-minded and open-hearted. But for the vocal shrinking minority, the more desperate they see the straits of their religion getting, the louder and more angry they have gotten.

I’ve already written about the false war on Christmas, and how clear it is, with the overwhelming amount of lights and decorations that there clearly isn’t one. But it’s not about fewer Christmas decorations, it’s about having to share (a Christian value, I was told). Moving a Nativity scene over a little so there’s room for a Menorah. Or scooting both over for the Pagans. They’re so insecure about the ability of their faith to take hold of the “on the fencers” that they cannot abide by the suggestion that there is anything else, any other valid life paradigm to consider. If they are “tolerant” then “false prophets” gain a foothold. It’s not just a war on Christmas, it’s a war all year long to them. Any suggestion of another philosophy is Satan himself attempting to convince people that America is not a Christian nation (which it isn’t).

When I see someone who is so firm in the insistence that it is Christmas, and nothing else, I see someone who is uneducated about what America is, and what religion is. I see someone who is afraid. I see someone who is angry. The data is clear–churches are closing their doors, even with tax-exempt status, they can’t afford to stay open. There’s one in my town alone, but I’m betting that a simple Trulia search in your area will turn up a former church that is on the market, to be repurposed for something else. If you don’t attend church at all, you can still find plenty of friends. You’re no longer an outcast.

Because people refuse to band together to chastise people, by and large, for what’s in their hearts anymore. Because we are now so intermixed, that there are gay teachers in our schools, gay families in our neighborhoods, Muslims who are friends with our kids at school. And atheists (or Secular Buddhists, like myself, which is, essentially, the same thing). And for every person who refuses to turn their backs on a fellow human being who they see as a good person, because they don’t live the same way, those who DO sit in judgment get more angry, more desperate and louder.

So, I said to the woman at the meeting, “We’re Buddhists, so for us, it’s Happy Holidays.” I saw the surprise in her eyes, because I think she assumed that, like she had been told, most everyone is a Christian. Certainly not someone she’s met via volunteering. But now she knows, and I can only hope that she is thinking outside of that box. Because we do celebrate the holidays in our house, and our celebrations are no less valid than yours. This time of year belongs to everybody, and get your back up if you like, but that’s the reality, and I will not cower in shame or hide because it makes your tradition feel better.

Please, don’t pray for me.


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Yeah…not so much ^.

Anyone who is online much, knows how often people put up stories of others in peril, whether they be animal or human, countries or causes. Many times, the poster writes asking for prayers, or, if not, they are offered in reply after reply.

I don’t have a problem with prayer, per se, as I meditate, and consider prayer a form of that, even though they’re talking to nobody. But, it does cause people to be quiet and focus, and no matter how it occurs, I think we can all agree that in a world with too much noise, and far too much in terms of stimulus, time for reflection, no matter how one couches it, is important and rare.

Where prayer and meditation part ways, however, is that, many times, people who pray have such an overwhelming conviction that their requests are being heard by the man in the sky, that they honestly feel that no more action need be taken.

As atheists, we know nothing could be further from the truth. Whether meditation is part of our lives or not, we know that if there is a problem, wishing and hoping simply won’t solve it. Instead, action, often after brainstorming, is the only hope for things to change or improve.

We know that whether or not we pray for God to guide the hands of a surgeon, the outcome of an operation will be the same. For believers, a good outcome means that God heard everyone’s prayers. A bad one means God chose to call that faithful person home to Heaven.

I feel that this is a way for we puny humans, who are clearly microscopic in the scope of the universe, as we hurtle through space on just one tiny planet among countless others, to feel as if they have control over things they do not. Prayers will not shrink a brain tumor. Prayers will not save an accident victim. What hope do we have of actually having control over those situations? Study, education, science and putting the time in. How can we end hunger? By feeding the hungry, not by wishing them fed. How can we heal the sick? By studying for ways to do so.

I don’t have a complaint about the act of prayer, if it calms and centers the person praying. What I DO have issue with is when prayer becomes an excuse for the faithful to allow bad things to continue to happen. In that sense, religion is sapping our resources, of mind, of labor, of donations, and more.

The popularity if the Power of Prayer really gathered steam in the 80s, with books and speaking tours, speeches from pulpits. From that, the Culture of Prayer has overstated the mystical side without reminding the faithful that action is part and parcel of the prayer/meditation process. But by admitting that actions are the child of the prayer process, faith leaders would have to admit, at least in some small way, that God will not swoop down with a magic wand and solve it all for us. That diminishes His power, which cannot happen.

This is not to say that many of the faithful don’t have a history of good works. But, how many times has prayer been offered up as the alpha and omega of the process of helping? If even once, it’s too much. But I suspect, given how many times I see prayers offered instead of donations for an animal needing expensive veterinary care online, given how many times I see prayers offered instead of shifts filled to feed the hungry, or prayers offered instead of taking a child to a hospital (Google faith healing deaths), then I must protest. Your good intentions are just that, intentions. They don’t stop wars, they don’t fill bellies, and they certainly will never, ever cure cancer.

Pray if it makes you feel better, but then get up off your knees and do something.

Undercover in the Boy Scouts.


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hen my son was born, one of the things I vowed NOT to do with him was Boy Scouts. At the time, the scouts were even more anti-gay than they are now (small steps have been made to allow gay scouts, however don’t plan on being a leader in your adult years). And I still feel as though they haven’t done enough to be inclusive.

Then my son said he wanted to join. He didn’t just say so, he was full of enthusiasm and smiles, and, in short, I have a hard time denying him anything that isn’t harmful. Plus, I’m kind of figuring he won’t last into Eagle Scouts, like so many other things he’s been over the moon about.

So, okay. He can join the scouts. This was made easier by the fact that the friends who invited us I know are atheists–the wife has said as much to me to my face. So, I didn’t really expect, being unversed in the Boy Scouts in general, the issue that religion creates for a non-believing family.

Yes, there is the Pledge, with Under God, but that’s easy enough to get around–my son says it out of rote from school, and I just mash my lips together, redistributing my lip gloss, for just those two words. Then, there’s the whole God insertion in the scout pledges. I expected that, as well.

But what really threw me was the religion badge. Not just the badge, but the fact that it is the second badge in the book. Basically, to get to the next level in scouting, you must go through this badge. And basically every religion is represented–Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, and Protestantism. Then I saw it, my saving grace–the Buddhist medal.

For over 20 years, I have studied Buddhism, as a Secular Buddhist. Once I became an atheist, I still wanted something that would make me a better person. I have depression, and trust me, that wasn’t made better by the realization that we’re worm food. So my quest became to be the most effective, most compassionate person I could with the life I was given. And studying Buddhism has helped me in that regard. I’m not promised any candy-lined streets for eternity, but I can begin to look at my fellow man or woman in a different way–less judgmental and adversarial.

My Buddhist studies have been a known entity in my children’s lives, albeit not an overbearing one. There are Buddhist symbols and statues here and there, but not overwhelmingly so, and there’s a photo of HH The Dalai Lama in the house as well. And, we’ve had intermittent conversations about Buddhism, whether it be during a car ride, or in response to some conundrum. And always, it has been made clear that this was a philosophy to help become a better person, not a religion.

Which is why the BSA classification for Buddhism as a religion is both confounding and a relief. For my son, who hasn’t been a practicing Buddhist, it’s simply a way he can stay in the scouts. But as a non-theistic philosophy, it’s essentially no different than atheism, so what in the heck is the point? Then, I came to realize the huge percentage of LDS within scouting. In fact, scouting is included in church activities for LDS boys, and huge swaths of the program are funneled through the LDS church. This does have an influence on the culture of the scouts as a whole, as do the numerous other churches that charter packs. It’s easy to see, when demographics are considered, why it has been so difficult for religion to become less of a spectre within Boy Scouts.

Which is frustrating, because since nobody else would lead my son’s age group–guess who had to become a leader? Which, frankly, makes me feel like a liar–a feeling I don’t like, because I endeavor to be as honest as I can, or I endeavor to be silent where honesty is not possible. Now, I am in a position where I might not be able to tread that line so easily.

The good news is that not only are the badge activities something that has to be done at a meeting, but they can be done by the families of the scouts. In this way, I will be able to send the scouts home with that second badge as “homework.” But I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time I’m tasked with finding a solution between the religiosity of the scouting program, and my personal standard to be honest.

These things happen when former game plans change with a beloved son’s entreaties. Can I give him a scouting experience without causing him to pretend he’s someone he’s not? Yes, I can. But it’s going to be mentally exhausting.

For the record, he is worth it.

We are the people in your neighborhood.


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Today, I was walking in the park with my kids, and a little girl we’ve known since she was three, six years. As is wont to happen on long, meandering walks, much philosophizing took place. This led, eventually, to talk of beliefs. “I don’t think there is a God,” she said, without fear, without sadness, without the feeling of being gypped. This, it occurred to me, is how a child who has never been fed stories of eternal life and all its perceived benefits, internalizes the reality of life and it’s transient nature.

I came into my atheism as an adult. First Santa went. Then the Easter Bunny. Then angels. Then, after a great deal of trying to believe otherwise, God went as well. But turning your back on belief isn’t as simple as walking away. It means sitting quietly while your elders continue to tote the family spiritual line (because firstly, you don’t want to out yourself and later on because you realize that you don’t want to break your loved ones’ hearts before they pass on), biting your tongue, feeling as if you’re lying to them, even though you’ve never said a word. It means pursing your lips during the Pledge of Allegiance when everyone else says “Under God”, it means wondering if you have a right to celebrate Christmas without the belief systems. You never realize how many aspects of life religion touch until you walk away from it. The food you eat, the beverages you do or do not drink, what days you work, how you begin your meals, how you end your days, how you feel about good things that happen, and bad, the clothing you wear, the people you hang out with, the people you marry, how you marry them, how your children are welcomed into the community, everything. It’s a adjustment, even for someone like me who wasn’t particularly devout to begin with.

But my kids, and more and more of their friends won’t have to struggle with that (unless they go the other direction later in life and decide they believe in something). And what also impressed me was how matter-of-factly she said it. I think we’ll be seeing this more and more as adult atheists come out of the confessional, and child ones, who’ve known nothing else simply state their truth. And I think people are going to be surprised.

I remember the old days (and, frankly, they are present day for some parts of the country) when as soon as you arrived in town, you had people beating down your door, wanting to know which church you were going to, and woe to you if you said “we don’t attend a church.” That’s all your new community needed to know. Instantly, things would start to vaporize: friends for your kids, clubs you’d be invited to join, people who would patronize your business if you owned one, people who would piss on you if you were on fire, frankly. Today, that is not so much the case (thank goodness). But it didn’t stop there. Say you were committed to a church. And if you didn’t show up on a Sunday, then people immediately wanted to know why. The inference is that if you didn’t attend services, you’d best have a good reason, and you’d best be back asap.

As a former Catholic, I know that priests would track you down if he hadn’t seen your face looking up from the pews in one or two Sundays. That isn’t the case in most parishes now. But I do know that if you are LDS, for instance, and you don’t show up, they will send someone to your home to find out why. Not on the first Sunday, or not if they know you are out of town (though if you’re on vacation, you probably want to post that you’re attending Sunday services at the local ward anyhow), but soon.

But now that those ties are loosening for the majority of Americans, now that they can sleep in on Sunday without worry that someone will be pounding on their door, now that people kind of mind their own business better, the lines on who is religious and who isn’t is blurred. Now, unless people advertise it, your own neighbors won’t even know what your belief or non-belief is. Whereas the first question used to be which church you would be attending the very next Sunday, now, people ask where you came from, how many kids you have, what you do for a living, etc. I have noticed that people may never even ask that question at all. I have lived across the street from one woman for nearly a decade, and I have no clue if she even believes. But I do know that she loves her dog, has a nice boyfriend (they are older), who also has a nice dog, that they like to go out on walks together, that she sometimes stays over at his house, or vice-versa, and that she has a cool beanie collection. I know she likes to shop second-hand stores and is involved in environmental activism. I know she likes jeans, flannel shirts, and is often a night owl. My neighbors know about me that if they need a cup of sugar and I’m not home, they can walk right on in and get one. They know that if they need to use the rototiller, they can. They know if they need someone to watch the kids in a pinch, feed the dogs while they’re on vacation, keep an eye on their house, or a ride home if they break down, they can call me. So far, I don’t think we have anyone on the block who would care if they did know about my non-belief, I’m just fortunate to live in a neighborhood where people are pretty chill. But I haven’t always lived in those areas, so I am aware of how that could change things.

Still, it’s interesting to think how many believers assume that they are among like spirits in their own personal bubbles. Why? Because the people next door or around the corner are nice, generally (yes, we’ve all had “difficult” neighbors), because most people are giving and supportive, and kind. But while many believers have been told that morality is forever chained to devotion and faith, the rest of us are going about, quietly living our lives and proving them wrong, even though they may never know it.

Lazy Parenting.


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My young son’s first pet died the other day. Along with the tears and the sadness, he now had some questions. Specifically, he wanted to know, where was his pet? And this is when it hit me: it would be so much easier to be a religious parent at this point. Because, instead of saying, “He’s out back, buried in the yard, where he will become part of the Earth again. The grass will grow above him, the deer that come through our yard will eat the grass to live,” I would get to say, “He’s up in heaven where he was greeted with a big hug by Heavenly Father, who then put him in a HUGE field with lots of other friends and tons of toys, all the food he wants, the sun is shining, there are butterflies in the air, and he’ll never be sick again, and he can live forever. And if you’re good enough, when you die, you’ll get to see him again!”

When considering the two answers from the perspective of a little boy, I think it’s pretty clear that the second one is, far and away, the winner. It’s hopeful, soothing, it gives him happy pictures to think of when he’s missing his pet. And as a Mom, seeing his pain over this loss, I just wanted to make it better. And for a second, I envied the moms who would be able to explain their version of animal heaven to their kids, ruffle their hair and take them out for conciliatory ice cream.

But, it would be a lie. A nice lie that would make him feel better, but I would be lying to him, and how would that prepare him for a lifetime of wresting with our mortality? Of course, it wouldn’t. So, I gave him the first answer, and it was NOT satisfactory to him. So, he decided that his pet was going to come back as someone else. My answer to him was, “Some people do believe that, specifically, many Buddhists.” I am a Buddhist who does not believe this, but let that point rest for now.

For while my husband, kids and I can speak freely about what we do or don’t believe, it occurred to me years ago that one or more of the kids might not be able to navigate a finite life. I get this. When I was a child, it was much easier for me to believe that everyone I loved would eventually be reunited for eternity in a paradise with golden streets, no sickness or pain, and all the ice cream you could ever want. The part of my life where I finally had to admit what I did believe–that once one dies it’s lights out–involved a lengthy period of mourning all of the benefits I once thought were mine. But, for me, there came a point where the integrity of what I believed in became more important than the perks of that belief. 

So, in the end, my son, who is still under 10, tweaked my version of what happened to his pet to enable him to deal with the loss. Because my job is not to tell him what to believe. I don’t have a book to crack open, to read him quotes about what other people tell him to believe, either. 

I don’t know what each of my children will eventually believe. Maybe, like most of us, it will be an evolution through numerous beliefs. That is not for me to say. I can only answer the questions as honestly as I can (which often means “I don’t know”), even if it’s not what will make them happy at the time. Even if it’s not “the better deal” at face value. Because I know that, eventually, my job as a parent is not to make them happy all of the time. My job is to give them the tools to successfully deal with reality. That’s not always easy and frankly, it’s a lot of work. But since I know that this life is my ONLY chance to do what’s right, it’s a job I want to do to the best of my ability.

Here comes the boogeyman.


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This is a flier that has been going around Facebook. I Googled it, and it is, indeed, a flier for this organization: http://objectiveministries.org/kidz/. But, as silly as it is, it’s only part of years of Christian propaganda. But this flier, in particular, and the kid-focused site on which I located it (Including a “Professor” that is telling kids WRONG–Dinosaurs still roam the Earth, and the Earth is less than 10,000 years old!”), at this point, just caused me to roll my eyes. I can’t even begin to start to think about what these irresponsible parents are doing to their kids, and the problems that will plague us for generations as a result.

But, back to the matter at hand. The flier. Poor Mr. Goat. It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and that poor bastard just wanted to sleep in, and lo and behold, there is a knock on the door. Or, perhaps Mr. Goat was just going out to get his morning paper, when he was accosted by the Faithful. Whatever transpired, I think many of us can agree that Mr. Goat has a good reason to be grumpy! If Mr. Goat is anything like most of us atheists, he made up his mind years ago, but, lacking a church or large organization with which to form a united front, Mr. Goat probably keeps his beliefs to himself. Frankly, this is not a bad take on things. And Mr. Goat has had it up to his snowy white horns with people insinuating their beliefs into his personal bubble. Over and over and over. At public meetings, at public schools, on public lands during the holidays, during political campaigns, on TV, on monuments on public lands. In spite of a War on Religion, Mr. Goat cannot catch a break. But it’s harder to avoid them when they approach you in front of a supermarket, or on your own doorstep. The cutesy clothes and the demure, hyper-friendly nature, he realizes, is really a passive-agressive tactic. It’s a shield against Mr. Goat’s grumpiness.

And please note, little children are not to attempt to convert Mr. Goat! He’s far too cagey for that! No, he can be convinced, surely he can, if only we get the right people to him! Because even the hardest, grumpiest heart can be soften for the Faith, if only we pray hard enough and visit even more. Yep. That ought to work.

It’s not surprising that the flier is rudimentary. It’s for kids. Not only that, it’s for kids who are being taught not to think for themselves, not to embrace science, not to question. But what about Mr. Goat? He clearly thinks for himself. Science isn’t something to run from, it’s not the tool of the Devil. Some things we still can’t explain, but hopefully the environment will sustain us long enough to discover those answers. Which makes him worthy of the best in the Come to Jesus Crew. Only experts need apply to bring Mr. Goat around to the Truth, and no amount of effort must be spared to do so, because they are truly only looking to save everyone’s soul. And each soul that they cannot reach, is a terrible tragedy and a victory for Satan.

What the authors (and I use that term loosely) of this flier know, although they will not be truthful with the children reading it, that once a person’s made up their mind, if it s a strong mind, it won’t be changed. They know, from years of experience that the uneducated, the mentally ill, the poor, the desperate, the broken-hearted, those are the ones who are most fertile ground for conversion. The addicts. They can’t stay clean without God. The murderers in prison–they may never see the light of day again–they can still be free again (and embracing religion in prison gets you lots of Brownie points with the parole board, or it used to). But people like myself and Mr. Goat? Like the Native Americans, may haps we can be converted at the business end of a gun, but of our own free will? We’ve done that work. We’ve thought that out. We look at the world around us, and we see there is nobody up there. They trot out the arguments of free will, or they argue that there are reasons we can’t understand for that infant who was raped so badly by a stepfather she was killed. They tell us we have to have faith that there’s a reason for greater good that God allows eight-year-old girls to be employed as sex slaves in Thailand. They tell us it is not for us to question why a dog is dragged behind a pickup truck until her paws were degloved. It’s all God’s plan.

Yeah, right.

The Gift of My Early Death.


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I died in 2010. October 5 to be exact. I went in for an relatively safe procedure, which went well. But, unfortunately, the hospital staff left me alone in my room after without telemetry, and I went into respiratory depression and died. A nurse not my own walked past my door on her way to lunch, peeked in, saw that I was blue and purple, and a code was called immediately.

Two doses of Narcan later, I awoke, just as they were getting ready to intubate. I had stopped breathing for several minutes.

When friends hear of this, they are rapt. “What did you see? Did you see the light? Did you see Jesus?” The answer to all of those questions, which I answer truthfully, is no. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Even that light sense you have of yourself when you are sleeping? Gone. I was utterly devoid of any sensation whatsoever. The only thing I do remember was that when I was being brought around, it was utter quiet and dark to complete and total chaos. I had panic attacks when hearing lots of noise, tearing paper, beeps, and anything associated with the 16 people who had suddenly appeared in my hospital room when, as far as I knew, I dozed off watching Oprah.

But here’s what I realized because of that experience. When I die, I won’t be sad. I won’t miss loved ones. I won’t be in pain (or eternal Hellfire), I won’t be floating, I won’t be seeing loved ones gone before. The light that was me will go out, and that will be it.

Growing up in a religious household, I learned to look forward, if I were good enough, to an eternity of great things; visiting with my beloved grandmother, seeing all my old pets again, eating whatever I pleased without getting fat, taking up the harp. Then I got older, and I started to think. What if I did take up the harp? And became a virtuoso? Then the same for piano, cello, clarinet, flute, guitar, AND the thermion? Then, what if I memorized all of Shakespeare? Then Thoreau? Poe (if he were allowed)? What if I then took up cooking and became a gourmet chef? Then, I would cross stitch every pattern I could find. Then learn shuttle tatting, crochet, knitting and watercolors. Even though I have no talent for much of this, I could become a master, because I’d have an eternity to study. After that, I could take on every other subject under the sun, and once I was done with all of them, I would still have an eternity.

And that’s when it hit me: Heaven, eventually, given enough time, would be Hell. And that’s why, when I did die, and found it to be the total absence of anything: cold, heat, pain, joy, suffering, bliss, it was actually reassuring to me.

So, since then, when I start to go down that depressing mental tunnel of “if I died tomorrow, I would miss the kids’ weddings and graduations and my grandchildren and…” I stop. I am not going to taint the gift of today with the sadness I won’t feel once I am separated by death from my loved ones. I have changed the way I look at life. At the beginning, we’re each given a ticket. Some of us get an E (I’m using outdated Disneyland terminology here, so bear with me). Some are not so lucky, and get an A. Most get something in between. You get your ticket. And when your ride’s over, it’s over. Some of us have a measure of control over when that will be, i.e. avoiding certain behaviors, staying fit. But in the final analysis, each and every one of us will reach the end of our personal ride. Since I can’t say how much longer humanity will exist on this fragile planet, I try to leave a legacy in other ways. I am an avid scrapbooker. I want to leave behind, page by page, snippets of how life was during my time. I pass on stories from relatives no longer with us. I try to raise good children, try to reduce my carbon footprint, rescue animals. I prepare, every day, for the day my ride ends, and, like a candle, I am snuffed out.

But we don’t want it that way. We want more. Finite isn’t good enough. We want MORE. It is in our nature. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll get it. Or even that, if we did, we’d end up being happy with that outcome.

So when I am asked what I saw on the “other side,” and I answer, and see their faces fall, I at least add, “But it was perfect.” And, in the grand scheme of our place, as individuals, in this world, in this universe, it is.

Misleading Silences.


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urlLast year, I lost a friend I had had since we were 12 years old. I made a crack about someone misbehaving in her religion, and she went off the deep end. It was then I realized–she still thought it was my religion.

Being a non-believer, unless you’re a militant atheist, means keeping your mouth shut–a lot. My parents don’t know I’m a non-believing Buddhist (secular Buddhist) because they are very old, and would be crushed if they were told I no longer believed in God. The same goes for many of my elderly relatives. Simply put, they don’t have enough time left to work through their grief over my non-belief. In this case, my silence is a kindness. Not because I don’t want to be truthful with them, but because I know them, and I know what hurts them.

People in my community don’t know because I live in a small town, and I’ve instructed my kids to keep mum, as well. Shunning is alive and well in America’s small towns. Just ask anyone who’s gay in the South. And, to be honest on that front, I’m not sure casual acquaintances should really be delving into each other’s spiritual lives. Frankly, I think a lot of the problems people are having is because their opinions are so “out there.”

But this woman, this was a different thing. I met her in middle school, and we stayed friends all through high school, marriage(s), children, everything. And over the last few years, she and her husband have been swinging really far to the Right, politically, to the extent that during the last Presidential election, her husband unfriended me because I was putting up pro-Obama posts on FB. Once he added me back, all seemed semi-well, although I could see her Right-wing opinions gaining steam. I realized that was not a topic we wanted to talk about. Still, there was plenty of other things to talk about, we each have three kids, we each work out of the home, and there was the past. Decades of the past. And all went okay until I made that crack. And it wasn’t even directly to her. She had somehow found a third-party thread that I had made a comment on days before. I hadn’t linked to it or anything. So I thought I was “safe.” Well, I wasn’t.

When I saw the ferocity of her message to me, one thing was clear: I couldn’t fix this without un-becoming who I am. After a few months to ruminate, I did send a lengthy email to her husband, (who had told my husband he hoped we wouldn’t stay mad at each other much longer) laying out exactly who we are. And we’re not bad people, by the way. Non-believers, yes. Cynical, yes. But known everywhere we live as the work-hard-for-the-community family, or the give-the-shirt-off-their-backs family. Because we (don’t) believe the way we believe, we understand how urgent each day is, and how important it is to improve something each day, whether it be the lot of a shelter dog, a friend who needs help renovating his house, getting some food to the food bank. We KNOW each day is precious and finite, and we don’t want to waste a single one. And, to be fair, they’re not bad people, either. I was never angry with my friend for her outburst, because I understand the power of the paradigms many people operate under. Some of my friends are in religions so enmeshed that if they dared defect, they could lose their spouses, their children, their extended families, and for darned sure their friends.

But, this was the first time it had happened to me. Sure, I had stopped moving forward on some newer friendships because I could see how it would go if I was honest. I could hear the disdain for people they thought were other than myself in their voices. Because my children attended a religious school (which was, by far, the best in the area), they assumed. And, to be fair, I didn’t correct them. But at the same time, I have never lied about being a believer, either. I just kept silent.

Which is what I had done with my friend. Through summer vacation visits, to be fair, religion just wasn’t discussed. And, we hadn’t visited her since her shift from a moderate to an ardent believer.

Since then, I have been posting more about my Buddhism, and my non-belief via subtle things that pop up on FB. They’re the parts of Buddhism anyone can agree on, but as they rack up, I am seeing who is still here, who is falling off. Honestly, I haven’t noticed that much of a difference. One of my friends sent me a sand Buddha one holiday. I get likes from people whom I was getting along with better, anyway. Which makes sense.

I think what I learned is that with certain friendships, those that are cured by time, that are more than casual, I need to put out there who I am and then, ironically, take a leap of faith. And to remember that change is the one thing in this life that you can always count on. A friend you may have had for decades may simply go in a totally different direction than you. It happens. It’s sad. And I have mourned its loss, because it’s important to have people who knew you when you were a child, though it’s simply not always possible. I thought we would be friends forever. I didn’t anticipate her sharp turn one way, and I’m sure she didn’t anticipate mine. I didn’t share my spiritual views with her, because I knew the reaction I would get (which I did), but I should have. That part of the fault is mine. I took responsibility and wrote that email, leaving absolutely nothing out, because the situation had gotten to that point. I should have done it sooner and trusted things to go how they were supposed to. So, I am changing how I interact with people in the future.

Non-believers are often silent, not because they are ashamed of who they are, but because they are afraid of the reaction they’re going to get from believers. They have a history of rejection, either personally, or based upon how they have seen other non-believers treated. Or, they may not want yet another lecture or sales pitch on the error of their ways. Trust me, we’ve all heard it over, and over, and over again. Still, others stay silent out of respect for the beliefs of others, knowing full well that respect may not extend back the other direction. Oftentimes, we’re just tired. Tired of it being assumed that because we’re non-believers, we don’t have morals, or the ability to know right from wrong, or can’t find purpose in a finite life, or, or, or. It’s mentally exhausting, so many, like me, have deigned to live their lives as an example.

And with all the lip service out there from people who act in a completely counterintuitive way, I think people of all beliefs could do a little more of the money-where-the-mouth is thing.