Monthly Archives: August 2009

Atheist Bumper Stickers, Funny but not for my car

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Image by Napalm filled tires via Flickr

The question of whether to bedeck our bumpers or not to bedeck our bumpers with atheistic messages is one with no easy response. On the one hand, we feel entitled to express our religious views as openly and as frankly as many Christians do with their schools of proclamatory fish and their “No Christian Left Behind” attitude. On the other hand, we don’t necessarily want to scandalize the neighbors. In a sea of “One Nation under God” stickers, atheists often feel they have to choose between censure and silence.

For those who decide to make their rejection of faith public, deciding on the right bumper sticker can be a tricky matter. Is saying you’re “Proud to be an Atheist” enough? Is asking “In case of Rapture, can I have your car?” too much? Will a sticker that’s playfully irreverent be perceived as arrogant and antagonistic? Will a sticker that gives no quarter result in a keyed car door or a punctured tire? In the end, it might be better to endure the rapture stickers of theistic drivers in silence rather than to slap something equally offensive onto our own bare bumpers.

Unfortunately, when we drive in public, we have very little control over who sees our bumper sticker or what they think of its message. You never know if the next person to read it will be the pompous hypocrite you were hoping to provoke into rethinking his own vehicular verbalizations or the quiet Jewish kid from down the street. And given that most of us can ill afford to offend the people who live and work near us, discretion is usually advisable. After all, what will your boss think when he sees what your evolved Darwin fish is doing to his Christian ichthys?

An atheist friend of mine recently learned this lesson the hard way when a Christian coworker spotted his “Don’t pray in my school, and I won’t think in your church” sticker. When his attempts to evade the coworker’s car failed, he found himself apologizing afterwards for what surely must have been perceived as an insult. The fact that some Christians select stickers that effectively threaten non-believers with an afterlife spent in an eternal lake of fire in no way made him feel any better about matching their offensiveness with his own.

So while it may be tempting to counter indignity with contempt, a more rational and humanistic message, such as “Coexist,” might serve you better. After all, the negative reputation you earn from that single inflammatory message can stick around long after your bumper sticker has disappeared from the other driver’s field of vision or has been removed from your car.

If, in spite of what any sense of decorum might tell you, you decide to bedeck your bumper with the most controversial statement you can find, be prepared for disapproving gestures and accusations to come your way. You may be ready to argue it out with an equally opinionated theist driver, but it takes a certain brand of jerk to keep from flinching when the blue-haired granny in your rear view mirror shakes her head in dismay.

Religion = Insanity

I wish more people could see that the same psychological attributes that make a”good religious person” also make a lunatic.

Take the case of Phillip and Nancy Garrido of Berkely, California for example.

The man kidnapped an 11 year old little girl 18 years ago.  She was at the bus stop and he pulled up and yanked her into the car and drove away with her. Imagine how frightened she was. Her stepfather saw the incident and chased the car on his bicycle but couldn’t catch them, so he called 911 and for 18 years, everyone believed that he did it.  It ruined his marriage. He lost friends over it. He was the only one who saw the incident and no one believed him.

Anyway- kidnapping jerk keeps this little girl locked up at his house for 18 years. I can’t even imagine the horrors she endured. Some of those horrors resulted in the birth of two children,  one at age 14 and the other at age 17. Two children that we know of. They’re both daughters. Two living daughters born of this insanity.

Anyway, I remember when the girl was kidnapped. I was 17 years old and I saw her on the news, a lot. I remember mostly because she was blonde and cute and her name was distinctive.  Jaycee isn’t one you hear every day.

Apparently her daughters are cute, too.  I wonder if this lunatic abused them as well.

Anyhow. He’s a minister.  He’s one of those evangelical guys who hands out pamphlets about religion in public places.  A man of God.

His neighbors said he was normal, they liked him.

Anyway, the girl (who is now 29 years old)  has been “rescued” I wonder what the depth of this brainwashing has been. Can she ever live a normal life again? Her poor mother. Her poor children.

What the fuck was his wife thinking?

Anyone who can look at the world of science, reason and rational thinking and still believe that there’s a magical god in the sky who grants wishes is INSANE. Not to be trusted. Capable of other insane thinking, too.  Real is real, imaginary is imaginary. Religion is imaginary.

Anyone who can imagine a god that favors his political party, parenting style, haircut, food choices or building of worship is CRAZY.

I created my children, so I think I can relate to the perspectives of a God, being that he’s supposedly the creator of the Universe and let me tell you, I don’t care what my kids’ hair looks like, I don’t want them worshiping me or imagining a silly horrible afterlife for not following my rules. All I want is for them to be themselves. I want them to honor their innermost creativity and explore things they’re interested in. I want them to be their best without bothering others, or preventing others from being their best. I’d like them to uplift others by deed and example and make productive contributions to the lives of those around them, to generally bring happiness to themselves and others.

If there is a God, I am certain that he’d want the same.

On a side note- watch the education nazis blame this torture on homeschooling, saying that this girl’s education suffered. OOH- i just thought of something. Her mother, who had actually mourned for her daughter all these years is in for a serious mental trip. A grandchild the exact same age Jaycee was when she was taken, plus a 15 yr old granddaughter and now, this woman with a funky past who really IS her daughter.  What a crazy ride they have ahead of them. I’m happy for the mother that her daughter is alive.  I’m fascinated by the psychological affects this will have upon all of them. I hope they’re not religious, or this whole recovery process could be marred. “My prayers were answered” without regard to the prayers of the million other parents of kidnapped kids who won’t be coming home at all, much less with a set of time-lapsed duplicates of themselves in tow.

Sunday School for Non-Religious Kids

Sunday morning at a community center in a suburb of Portland, OR. A group of children, ages 4 to 12, sit in a half circle, eyes wide, mouths ajar, staring at the man in front of them. He performs a magic trick as part of today’s Rational Sunday School activity, “Magic and Illusions”. Mike Mitchell, founder of Rational Sunday School, parent of two young-ons, and magician for a day has just captured a ghost inside a napkin. He invites the children to touch the napkin and feel for themselves. Unfortunately the ghost “collapses”, the children break into uncontrollable laughter, and Mike wipes his forehead.

Today’s meeting is much more work than usual. The twice a month meetings are generally split into two groups, “The Little Ones” and “Tween Talk”. Mike has spent hours researching, watching magic  videos, and practicing his tricks at home. After each trick Mike explains to the kids, how it worked and why. The “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs” confirm the class is a success, and the children thank their magician cheerfully before running off for free play time.

Rational Sunday School, as the Sunday morning childrens’ activity for children of atheists/humanists is called in Portland, is not a particularly new movement among humanists in the US. As a matter of fact, The Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island has had a Children’s Ethics Program in place since the 1960’s. The group meets each week as part of the Ethical Society’s Sunday Platform, with children between the ages of 5 and 13. Sharon Stanley, the Children’s Ethics Program Director says, “Our themes encompass Ethical Culture history and themes, Comparative Religion, Current Events, Social Action projects, and the 6 Pillars of Character.”

In addition to Sunday morning activities the Society offers field trips to [… other places of worship], including a Mosque and a church, making sandwiches at a local soup kitchen, bowling, game nights, and other fun trips. “I think the children who attend an ethical children’s Sunday program discuss ideas and participate in activities they will never have in school, and might never participate in in their regular lives,” says Sharon Stanley, and adds, “[The teenagers are] smart, self-assured, honest and totally involved with the issues and politics of the day.”

Portland and Long Island are not the only places in the country with such groups in place. Albuquerque, NM, Palo Alto, CA, and Chicago, IL offer similar programs, and their success shows. The Palo Alto Humanist Society has offered Sunday School off and on since the early 80’s and has been quite popular for several years. While the younger group has no over-riding curriculum and activities are led by a different person each week, Peter Bishop, one of the founders of the Palo Alto Sunday School, has written a textbook for the older “Humanist Philosophy Class”. “[…] Humanism is a  living, breathing, way of life, not just some dry, irrelevant set of ideas,” says Mr. Bishop.

The Palo Alto Humanist Community has been featured in Time Magazine in November of 2007, and in March of 2008 the ABC News “Nightline” did a segment of Faith Matters on their Sunday School and their entire community.
The Humanist Society of New Mexico has a very new program in place, currently for children, ages 4 to 9. Jeff Cornelius, leader of the family co-op states, “We have decided to focus on five key areas that we see as critical humanist education. These areas are based in part on the philosophy expressed in the book Parenting Beyond Belief. They are Religious Literacy, Ethics, Personal Responsibility, Critical Thinking, and Experimental Science.”

In this group, involved parents are responsible for the planning of the activities. “Normally we start with a story and then sing some songs. The children are spontaneous in their reactions to the characters and story topics. Then we have a snack time and let the kids run around a little […]. We conclude with a science experiment, which always lights up their faces with surprise and questions,” says Jeff proudly.

Dale McGowan, editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief agrees with this approach to teaching children. “I would try to blow their minds […] – to simply get them to say WOW and mean it. Why go looking for mythic sources of amazement, when the real world is so accommodating,” says Mr. McGowan, who has one entire chapter in his book dedicated to “Seeking Community”. When asked what a rational children’s program ideally should look like, Mr. McGowan stated, “It should, first and foremost, be human and humane – fun and emotionally satisfying. Critical inquiry would be part of it, although I wouldn’t call it that, or anything like it. I’d call it “Asking Great Questions”. It should be wonder-based, not framed like some noble Arthurian Quest for Truth. There would be no weird black-and-white head shots of famous freethinkers around the room. I would want critical thinking activities to never exceed a one-to-one ratio with activities exploring empathy and ethics. And both should be further complemented with pointless fun.”

Atheists, humanists, agnostics, nonbelievers, whatever you’d like to refer to yourself, you’ve learned that you are not alone. As a matter of fact, according to different studies the number of non-theists in the US ranges anywhere between 10 and 18% of the adult population with the highest occurrence of nonbelievers in the youngest age brackets. Nonbelievers have always “been around”, but it has become easier in recent years to admit to one’s own atheism, when asked the infamous “Which church do you go to” question. What remains a problem is to find the kind of community religious people in this country have available to them, simply by belonging to a church, mosque, synagogue etc. Nonbelievers, like their religious peers, generally like to surround themselves with like-minded people, to be loved and understood, to discuss issues of everyday life, politics, faith, and of course to provide the same sense of community to their children.

If you are lucky enough to live anywhere near the above mentioned groups, congratulations. A simple phone call or e-mail will get you in touch with the responsible person, and you are good to go. Of course the majority of readers cannot count on the existence of such a group. Fortunately the resources are plentiful, and with just a little bit of ambition and passion, you can get your own group started. The following are 10 steps to a successful Sunday School/community in your neck of the woods.

1.Use a search engine to locate possible Humanist chapters in your area. A good place to start is the AHA (American Humanist Association). If you find a chapter, great. If no Sunday School exists yet, suggest to get one started and find out how many families with children might be interested.
Or try your luck on www.meetup.com and www.yahoogroups.com for groups of atheists/non-theists/humanists. Or start your own. It takes only a few minutes.

2.Advertise on www.craigslist.org, in local newspapers, in supermarkets. Post flyers in stores, community centers, libraries and other public places. Creating an e-mail address for that purpose is a good idea. No need to announce your true identity to the world quite yet.

3.With as little as three or four families you are good to go. Have your first brainstorming meeting, or, if you already have a whole set of great ideas, present them to your group. You can meet at a coffee shop, a restaurant or the library, or if you’re comfortable enough, meet at your house. Don’t leave the meeting without a few answers. a) When is the first Sunday School going to happen? b) Where? c) Ideas for subjects to be covered.

4.Have your first Sunday School activity at your house, a park, a coffee shop. This can be as simple as story time and a few songs. (See sidebar for more ideas and resources.) Plan the next activity and ask for volunteers to lead it.

5.Ask your “members” for mouth-to-mouth promotion of your group.

6.After several weeks or even a couple of months have another meeting with parents. Brainstorm new ideas. Ask for feedback, and don’t be afraid to ask for volunteers to step up to the plate and lead activities. Come up with a creed or adopt one from the chapters mentioned in this article. Decide whether you’d like to follow a set curriculum or take the “wing it” approach.

7.Try to meet a couple of times a month (later more often) to get the children acquainted and comfortable with each other. Field trips, play dates, and museum visits are always great ideas for socializing.

8.Parents Night Out!

9.Find a place for our activities. Some libraries and community centers will let you rent their rooms for free (although some will require you to be a registered club) or for a small fee. Agree on a “membership fee” to pay for room rentals, material fees etc.

10.Once your group grows, decide whether you’d like to stay a private group or join an organization like the AHA, which will help when you try to add more structure to your program.

Whatever your goal or vision, it doesn’t take too much of an effort to find like-minded people for your cause. As Mr. McGowan pointed out, “It’s easy to perpetuate the false notion that we are a shrinking minority at risk of being snuffed out by an aggressive religious majority.”

It is important to know that “Rational Sunday School” has not been created to teach anti-religion. Religion bashing is not taught in any of these groups. The picture of bitter atheist/agnostic is not one that should be conveyed to the next generation. The real task is to raise this generation with a true understanding of who they are, why others may be different, and that it is okay that way. And to say it with Dale McGowan’s wise words, “I want to know about the world, because it is so cool, and because I’m so incredibly lucky to have ended up a conscious thing in the midst of it.”

Making Peace with Christmas

The topic of government-sanctioned Christian holidays is always a touchy one for atheists, not to mention for followers of other faiths. Although most atheists accept that Christianity is the majority religion “in” this country, we don’t particularly like being told that it is the religion “of” this country.

All the same, we’re not all anarchists, and we can’t blame Christian celebrants for wanting to spread the cheer. One way or another, we have to make our own peace with these omnipresent religious festivals. For some of us, this means treating the holidays like any other day. For those of us with Christian family members, however, ignoring Easter or Christmas altogether is not always an option.

This often means finding a way to participate in something that has more or less become an American holiday without compromising our own beliefs. Obviously we’re not going to attend midnight mass or sunrise services, and forcing us to recite scripture would no doubt result in discord, if not outright rebellion. So we often find it easier to embrace the various non-religious images and icons associated with Christian holidays. Rather than waging a war on a publicly celebrated Christmas or Easter, we use Christmas trees and Easter bunnies as tools of peace.

This may seem ironic given that Christmas trees and Easter bunnies were passed down to us by our pagan ancestors. When Christians and atheists come together to celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps it is the pagans who have the last laugh. Nevertheless, it is that very hodge-podge of symbolism and meaning that makes it easier for atheists to take part in the holidays alongside Christian friends, neighbors, and relatives.

No doubt some Christians dislike seeing their holidays watered down by non-Christian symbolism and excessive materialism. On the whole, atheists might tend to agree. We have the same love-hate relationship with conspicuous consumption as people of faith do. But so long as Christian holidays are celebrated openly and publicly, with holiday paraphernalia in stores and offices for weeks on end, non-believers will be forced to find their own holiday traditions. For better or for worse, a holiday that is celebrated openly belongs, in part, to all of us.

In spite of our differences, both atheists and theists ultimately regard Christmas and Easter as opportunities to spend time with loved ones, to give thanks for our health and prosperity, and to celebrate with gifts and a hearty meal for all. Although we may not see eye to eye about whether Jesus or axial tilt is the reason for the season, we can at least agree to pass the mashed potatoes.