We all knew he was dying. For the past few weeks I have thought about him for that split second before I turned on the radio or computer and wondered. I sent him a letter, two actually, in the weeks before he died – thousands of people did. We all wanted him to know that he had changed our lives, made us a little braver, a little less afraid and a lot more certain that we weren’t alone in our non-belief. Despite all that, I felt so sad when I heard. Continue Reading
I get a lot of emails and comments from parents who are recently “out of the closet” atheists and are feeling very alone. Many of you readers are the only atheist family you know and are struggling with how to parent and don’t have anyone to talk to. The comments I read always make me feel frustrated – there really are a lot of us out there but we haven’t figured out yet how to form a cohesive group without getting churchy about it. :) I am glad that this site has made some of you feel less alone and I am always happy to hear from you. Continue Reading
(The title of this post comes from a band I used to listen to in Junior High when I was pseudo-angry and really cutting edge but still deeply nerdy. They’re actually worth a listen if you can stand academic rap. )
In the past I have called for fellow Atheists to come out of the closet. Richard Dawkins is leading the charge to encourage non-believers to stop hiding
behind the term “agnostic” and tell the people they work with, live with and love that they are Atheists. I believe strongly in this principle and know that it is the surest way to gain acceptance and end the ignorance that so often accompanies the “A word”.
And yet (this is where the hypocrisy comes in) I haven’t done the same in my own life. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone who knows me knows I’m an Atheist. My family, all my friends and anyone who ever happens to bring up the subject of religion within a 10 mile radius of me, all know how I feel. (Although I have learned to be a little less
psycho militant about it as I’ve gotten older. It doesn’t exactly endear you to people.) On this blog however, I have remained anonymous and it has been nagging at me for ages.
There were several reasons why I chose not to use my name and simply go with Atheist Mom. It provides me with a sense of freedom to write about whatever and whomever I choose without the fear of repercussion. Mostly, I was concerned that my in-laws might be offended by what I have to say about their
cult religion. My husband also has a completely irrational fear that I would be endangering our kids by posting their pictures online next to the word “Atheist”. Irrational but not crazy. So, we’ve reached a compromise – I will post our pictures but not our last name. Is that still wimping out? It’s a tough one – I want to introduce you to my family and my life but I also want to protect them and my husband is a pretty private guy. I’m trying to remain true to my ideals without pissing off the man I love.
So, there I am – up in the right-hand corner. Atheist Mom…also known as Caroline.
And here are my adorable babes:
Yesterday our close friends baptised their baby in the Greek Orthodox church. We happen to know that the Dad is an atheist and the Mom, well, she may believe in God but I would hardly call her religious (let alone orthodox). Like many cultures, religion and family are intimately tied together and these celebrations are opportunities to do just that – celebrate. The ceremony was held at the same church where we attended our friends’ wedding – where he (a red-haired Scot) was officially baptised into the Greek Orthodox religion and partook in all kinds of weird ceremonial dress and dance to do it. It was a total blast to watch – nobody could help but draw parallels between what we were witnessing and the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.
Our daughter had never been to a church before and was full of awe, confusion and questions about what on earth was going on. In hindsight I maybe should have prepped her about what we were about to see but to be honest, I was more focused on the ouzo-infused after party than the event itself. As we sat in the hot and ornately decorated church (the walls are covered in gold, stained glass, pictures of haloed saints, complex imagery and oh, did I mention gold?), she asked me “Why is that man singing? What are they putting on the boy’s head? Why are they putting oil on his head? Why are there candles? Why do I have to be quiet? Why is the boy wearing that hat?” I am afraid I didn’t have many good answers for her. I couldn’t explain those things to an adult, let alone a three-year-old.
I explained that this was a church and that some people believe in God and they go to church. She knows that we don’t believe in God – that’s about as far as the conversation has gotten. When she asked me “Why do some people believe in God?” I sat there, baffled for a minute. “Because it makes them feel good honey. Just like you have pink blanky.”
She was happy with that and I realized, some of the tough questions really can be answered that simply.
After the news this morning about the horrendous earthquake and tsunami in Japan I can’t help but think about the people there and what they must be going through. I have visited Japan twice and absolutely loved it. It’s one of those places I could go to again and again (and often do, only these days it’s in my own imagination. Sigh.) I found the videos coming out of Japan so telling and reflective of the people and way of life there. People were calm and orderly. There was not a lot of screaming or crying. For the most part they evacuated as they had practiced doing a hundred times before, made sure the people they were with were safe and waited for further information/instruction.
I can’t help but attribute at least some of this to the fact that Japan is a secular nation. I understand that there are many cultural reasons why this is true but even those cultural reasons are shaped by a secular history. Nobody was running around screaming that God was punishing them or that Armageddon was upon them. Nobody will be holding placards urging fellow citizens to repent come tomorrow morning. They will not pray for deliverance – they will, as a nation, brush themselves off and get to work. They will use science and technology to analyze what happened and make preparations for a similar disaster down the road. They will re-build and they will mourn those who were lost. But they will not wonder what they did to “deserve” such suffering. They will not point fingers and find fault with atheists, lesbians or intellectuals. They know the only “fault” is the one that runs directly beneath their island and they will treat it as the natural reality that it is.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a doctor. Not because of the money or the prestige but because I really, truly am fascinated by medicine and the human body. I studied biology in school and couldn’t get enough of it. I studied neuroscience in University and found it inspiring and fascinating. And then, I sort of lost my way.
I did okay in University but not as well as I should have. I smoked a lot of weed. Partly because I like having fun and I was young and getting high was, well, fun. Also because it calmed me and made the constant noise of my ever-churning brain a little easier to handle. I actually set out at one point to make myself a little dumber. I thought life would be easier that way. I lost motivation to become a doctor and at some point, put that long-held dream on a shelf (along with my far less realistic hope of becoming an olympic volleyball player). I decided instead to combine my love of science and writing and pursue a Master’s in Journalism. I thought that way I could inspire others and provide the average person with a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for science and the natural world. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t going to change the world and I became jaded about the state of journalism in general, never mind scientific journalism.
I got engaged. I went to work in Korea. I travelled the world. My husband got into law school and so we headed home so he could pursue his career and I could work to support us. The dream of being a doctor never disappeared. It festered and would come to the surface every once and awhile. I felt like a failure. I felt good that I was doing well in my job and that my writing was supporting us during otherwise lean times, but I knew I had lost a part of myself in the journey. Every time I went to a hospital I felt sick with sadness and bitterness. When I met other people my age who were in medical school I felt fiercely envious. My husband knew this and it would come up from time to time but always, it was unrealistic.
Before long I had come to terms (sort of) with the fact that I had missed my chance. I was getting older. I was horrible at organic chemistry and always had been. Calculus left me even more stumped. We were in student debt up to our ears. I was bound to fail, even if I did try. I became a mother and decided to stay at home. We bought a house that came with a nice big yard and an even bigger mortgage. My life long dream of becoming a doctor was just that, a dream. And that dream was dead.
And then one day a few months ago, I had what Oprah might call a “lightbulb moment”. (Jeez, I can’t believe I just used an Oprah-ism.) My dream was only over if I let it be over. Too old? What does that mean exactly? I will be forty in seven years whether I go to medical school or not. So I can be 40 and still bitter or I can make this happen. As an atheist I am fully aware that this life is the only chance I have. If I don’t do this, it won’t happen. Ever. And ever is a very long time.
There were a lot of tears and many conversations with my husbands. There were even more conversations with myself. “Are you nuts?” You are nearly 33 years old and expecting another baby!” “You can’t do this! Oh, yes I can. No, really, you can’t. Can I?!” And so on and so on. My husband has been nothing but supportive. He asked me very simply, “If we were to have a conversation when we are 80 years old – would not trying to go to medical school be your big regret?” And I answered that yes, it most certainly would. (barring no major screw-ups from here on in. :) “Well than you need to do this. Let’s make it happen.” Can’t ask for better than that.
So, here I am today. Still scared and totally unconvinced that this will actually happen. But I am studying for my MCAT and for me, that has always been the biggest (and unfortunately, the first) challenge. I am scared shitless of this test. I am not good at math and really bad at mental rotation and conceptual chemistry. But I jumped into the deep end and although many study sessions involve tears, followed by renewed determination, followed by another round of defeatism and tears I feel like I have made the commitment to myself at the very least. I might write the test and bomb it. I might ace it and decide that I am happy having conquered that demon and leave it at that. We’ll see, but for now it feels good to be in a place where the excuses and past failures are behind me and all I have is a dream. It’s a very nice thing to have.
For most people, this is a simple enough question. We know how babies are conceived but if you believe in a soul, then the questions becomes a lot more complicated. This question lies at the root of many pro-life/pro-choice debates as well as the many different religious stances on sexuality, birth control, AIDS, and homosexuality. Your take on this question informs your belief in humanity and the essence which separates us from all other creations.
If you’re Mormon, it’s even more complicated. The Mormons believe in the premortal existence. A place where all the little souls of all the babies to be born are hanging out with God. (In the strictest sense, most religions believe in a pre-existence of the soul before it enters human form but surprise, surprise, nobody has made it as weird and convoluted as the Mormons). They also believe in three composite aspects of the human form; spirit, body and intelligence. Intelligence is a common human essence that is put into a spirit body which is then turned into a physical body. So, souls are not just souls, they are spirit bodies with their own intelligence. Still with me?
Unlike so many other religions that just let non-sensical doctrine stand, Mormons take the bold step of trying to explain this one step further. This is where they lead us into crazy land. So, the Mormons believe that since all these spirit body’s are around, they too must have been created. And how did they get created? Why, the same way physical bodies are conceived. So, now we have the Heavenly Father up in the sky with the Heavenly Mother and their infinite spirit body offspring. This is one of those things that makes non-Mormons go “Whu!?” because it is so against what many other Christian religions teach. The introduction of a heavenly mother who co-created each of us is viewed as blasphemous by many and another example of how the Mormons are not truly Christians.
“Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God. All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” MFP 4:203.
(As a point of interest, the Mormons also believe that there are spiritual tests and challenges in the pre-mortal existence that will inform your later position in life. These learning opportunities are discussed in “councils in heaven” – a sort of department meeting between uncountable spirit bodies and the big honcho, Daddy God. Up until fairly recently (1978) Mormons believed that people were marked with dark skin for being fence-sitters in the pre-mortal existence, in the War in Heaven. Religion is like the Rabbit Hole in Alice in Wonderland – the deeper you go, the weirder it gets.)
The idea of the Heavenly Mother is part of the doctrine of eternal progression. Ooooh, you’re going to love this one. So, the church basically believes that the Heavenly Mother and Father were themselves once spirit children who received a physical body and were then rewarded for their good behaviour by being given a universe of their own. They were begotten from a Heavenly Mother and Father, who also had their own universe. And so on, and so on. This one (obviously) gets murky and the church has made great efforts to distance themselves from this, at least publicly. This is true for many reasons, the most obvious being because the whole idea is insane. It also goes directly against the teachings of the Bible by implying that there is not one God by many Gods and that each of us (if you are a man of course!) can one day hope to be rewarded with a planet and Godhood. It destroys its own basic principle of the eternal family (hard to all be hanging out together when each male is off being a God to his own universe) and leaves the church out there in the same realm as Scientologists and Raeliens. Even some Mormons seem unaware of this doctrine, despite it being a fundamental plank in their Plan of Salvation.
Deciding how many children you want to have is a personal and sometimes difficult decision. My husband and I talk about it a lot and neither one of us is ure how many we want. There are so many factors to consider – the kind of family you want to have, how much money you have, how easy/hard pregnancy is on your body and how hard baby’s are on your marriage. As a Mormon, a third party enters the debate. God. Yup, you have to pray and reflect on whether there are more babies already destined for your family, hanging out in spirit land just waiting for this one chance to receive a physical body and realize their eternal destiny. No pressure there. My SIL has gone against the direct advice of Doctors and had more babies – all because she had received a revelation that there were more spirit babies waiting for her. (Her pregnancies make her sick, sick, sick for the entire nine months and risk her life every time. She has nearly died with three out of four births and I’m not convinced she’s finished.)
So there you have it in a nutshell. Where babies come from. That is, if you are part of a very weird religion. Everyone else just has sex.