I have always been a big believer in the right to choose. And I’m not talking about abortion. (As a sidenote, as an extension of my belief in choice, I also happen to be pro-choice pro-choice. Glad we cleared that up.) I see so many people claiming to have made a choice in one way or another, when really they’ve hardly considered the other options at all. Being unaware or ill-informed about one side of an issue does not lead to choice – it leads to dogma. Continue Reading
Wowzers – I was going through my external hard drive tonight (it’s full of old documents, pictures etc…a real time suck!) and came across this document. I wrote it in early 2001 when Brian and I had recently started dating. Religion was clearly weighing heavily on my mind:
The one thing about valuing rational thought is that you don’t get to pick and choose where you apply that thought. As parents, my husband and I believe strongly in teaching our kids how to evaluate evidence and make considered, educated decisions. In turn, I have to do the same thing when it comes to parenting – and it isn’t always easy.
Today’s parents are afraid. We are afraid of perverts and pedophiles. We are afraid of cars and traffic and head injuries. We are afraid of sex and drugs and what teenagers will do when given any opportunity at all. We are afraid of razor blades in candies and terrorists in airplanes and serial murderers. Now don’t get me wrong – we should be afraid of some of these things but we need to be rational about it. Continue Reading
Back in December, when Declan was about 8 months old, he was having an awful time sleeping. He had had some teeth come in and in the haze of many middle-of-the-night wakings, I had pulled him into bed with me. He learned very quickly that he liked it there and wanted to stay. I had been conscientious from the beginning of making sure he knew how to self-soothe. I had been through that with my daughter and had made sure he was always put down while still awake. He had been doing really well until he realized there was an alternative. And like all humans, young and old alike, he was quick to unlearn what didn’t suit him. Continue Reading
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.
I was interested to read some of the comments to my recent post On a Mission. I thought my approach was very tempered and a good way to open a dialogue. Nothing feels less comfortable to me than never addressing a major issue. I know there are times to address it and ways to approach things respectfully and lightly but never? Never, ever? That just feels wrong. So while I appreciate the idea that I should just leave things alone and the sentiment behind it, that ain’t me. I feel too strongly about this to just sit back and watch someone I care about become a morg. :)
The good news is, I got a great response from my BIL. I didn’t really think he would take it badly but I guess you never really know until you try. I won’t repeat verbatim what he wrote because I feel like that would be bad form but basically he agreed with me that credit should be given to doctors, technology, science etc. but that crediting God is also important because for many, it really is their faith that keeps them going. Fair enough I suppose.
He maintains that he has seen prayer at work (and gave me an example of a woman in his mission who has been trying to get pregnant and only a week after receiving a priesthood blessing, found out she was expecting. Oh, and the missionary correctly predicted it would be a girl) and that it is the greatest outward expression of inner faith. He wasn’t the least bit offended and so I am happy that I have started a discussion at the very least.
It is too easy for myths and stereotypes about atheists to persist when we fail to identify ourselves as such. So, in my reply to his email, I thanked him for his response and told him I thought it was well-considered and respectful (which it was) and that as an atheist, prayer is likely not something we will ever agree on but that there is always value in trying to understand the people you love. Baby steps.
The example of “prayer in action” that he gave me is so typical and so pervasive. To be able to see the example for what it is requires a lot; an acceptance of true coincidence, an understanding of basic statistics and probability, an appreciation for the human brain to create what it wants (“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – Mark Twain) and the maturity to recognize that a lot of stories, are just down right lies. How do you effectively deconstruct this example in a way someone of faith can grasp where you are coming from? I mean, I know that there is only one way to end a drought (whether it be of the moisture or the baby variety) and so a prediction like that will almost always be true with time. I know that there are only two options for a baby and that predicting it’s a girl is not statistically relevant – not even close. I know that people tend to count the hits and ignore the misses and that it’s just as likely that the missionary told her she was going to get pregnant several times before she actually did, or that the story was revised to be even more faith-promoting with each repetition. I know that by no means does this example prove that prayer works and yet, for some, it does.
I feel lucky to have a strong background in science and I credit that largely for my atheism. I studied neuroscience with some very impressive people with wicked minds and an almost universal lack of belief in God. I learned how to think, deconstruct, spot the faulty assumption or premise and apply the scientific method to the world around me. It is not realistic to think that everyone could (or would want to) have that kind of experience. So, how do you teach basic critical thinking to young people in a way that isn’t threatening?
This could be a whole other post, but I’m a big believer that this should be taught to every student in the world. At least it would be a start.
Will keep you updated on BIL.