Thursday, August 27, 2009

Divine Justice?

Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist published this post today. It is regarding a statement made by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill regarding Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber who has recently been released from prison because he has prostate cancer and is not expected to live long.

Here is the controversial statement [emphasis mine]:

Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against
our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain
forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade. Those who have
been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive.

Mr Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one
that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is
terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

So, is this just another I'm-a-theist-and-I-assume-you-are-too statement aimed at those who give their god credit for all, and ignoring those who do not relate to it? Or is it something worse? Is this statement benign, or is it deeply disrespectful?

I'm going to have to go with disrespectful. Implying that al-Megrahi's disease is some sort of punishment for his crimes disturbs me for a few reasons.

First, what about all the people currently and throughout history who have committed crimes that were as heinous or even more heinous than those of al-Megrahi, who have gone on to live long, healthy lives? Where is the divine justice there? Are the families and loved ones of the victims of these unpunished crimes to believe that God did not see fit to punish the guilty person? Nice.

Second, there are a staggering number of moral, productive, upstanding members of society who are stricken with terminal disease every day. They are given the same "death sentence" as al-Megrahi. Does this imply that these people are dealt this illness and suffering as a result of some divine justice that is beyond our comprehension? After all, God works in mysterious ways... What a horrible idea to impose upon the families and loved ones of the terminally ill!

I understand the spirit of what MacAskill was trying to say; he was expressing that the man is going to suffer and die, his suffering is not something the judicial system imposed upon him, and it will not make a great deal of difference whether he does this suffering in a prison or at home. I get that.

MacAskill's choice of words was poor, though. It was not simply a metaphor to be glossed over. In my opinion, it was potentially hurtful to a lot of people who are already hurting over undeserved and unbearable circumstances.

Powerful people should choose their words wisely.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Beliefs Should Make You Happy!

So. My daughter, her best friend, and I were at a hibachi-type restaraunt recently. The man sitting directly across from us had on a motorcyclists-for-Jesus type tee shirt. Awesome.

The table was full. There was Jesus motorcycle guy, a family of a husband and wife and two little girls (toddlers), and the three in my party. Jesus motorcycle guy (let's call him JMG) asked whether everyone was local or from out of town. The other family was local; we were traveling.

I have a point. Be patient.

The next question JMG asked was where the family next to him went to church. Not whether they went to church; where they went to church. Of course, as the odds would have it, they belonged to a big local church and so that was cool with JMG. I started to sweat. "Oh, dear fuck. I hope he doesn't ask us about church" kept going through my head over and over and over. I am not one for public debate, but I'm also not a liar. So if he asked, I was screwed.

He didn't ask. What he did ask was where my "other half" is. He assumed, since I'm eating with two preteen girls, I must be married.

Well, I am married, but I'm in the process of a divorce. Kind of. It's complicated. But I had an out.

I told him that he was on his way to Iraq. Which is true. JMG immediately asked for his name and said that he would pray for him, and that he would put him on their church's prayer list.


Well, 1) I'm a wimp and I hate confrontation, and 2) my husband/soon ex husband is a christian, so I suppose he would be happy that he's on the prayer list of a group of total strangers. So I just say thank you.

Then, JMG starts talking about his motorcycle evangelist group and how they are mostly veterans. I just really want him to stop. Please, just stop.

I nod politely. I thank him for his service to our country. I don't mention that I don't believe in prayer, Jesus, or his (or any) god. My daughter and her friend are just as sweet as they can be, and don't say anything either (they are both nonbelievers as well).

So, as we left, we were all three just very happy to be out of there.

So. What if I had been the vocal one? What if I had openly discussed how proud I am to be an atheist, and how the atheists in the military suffer gross discrimination, and what a wonderful thing science is and how much it has improved our daily life, and how ignorant and damaging it is for people to deny science and try to defer its progress because of silly superstitions and ancient books filled with vile stories and gross inconsistencies? All of those things are true; all of those things are valid. Would I have been treated with as much respect?

I can tell you. NO. No, I would not. And that makes me angry. It does not make me angry enough (yet) to cause a scene during my vacation; but it does make me very, very angry.

I'm sure many of you have read Greta Christina's blog post on why atheists are angry, but I am just now starting to get it. Really get it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big Deal? No. Not Really.

So. A couple of nights ago, I did something that I expected to be very difficult. I told my daughter that I'm bisexual.

Now, let me explain that I know that my daughter is not a homophobe; her best friend is the daughter of lesbian parents. She has argued the rights of homosexuals for years. She has a gay uncle who is awesome and she loves him and his partner very much. So I knew she wouldn't have a problem with the fact itself.

But she is 13. My fear was that she would be upset that I had "hidden" it from her for so many years. The truth is, there was just no good time to tell her. I mean, I've only been with men since she's been alive (her father, and then her stepfather). When exactly is a good time to say, "oh, by the way, sweetie, I am also attracted to women and had girlfriends before you were born."?

Yeah. I'm thinking that a daughter just doesn't want to hear about any of that. Kids just don't like thinking about their parents having sex with anybody. It's icky.

But, the conversation came up because we were casually talking about a friend of mine who is bisexual. I'm not sure how it wrapped around to including me, but it was very comfortable and natural, and she didn't feel like I had been hiding anything from her at all. She understood that it just isn't something that I would blurt out to her randomly. It is about my sex life, after all, which isn't something I talk about to her a lot. Because, you know. It's icky.

She and I do talk about sex in general, because I want her to know that I am here for her when she needs to talk to someone. She knows that I want her to wait until she is older before she starts having sex. She knows the reasons (emotional risks, disease risks, pregnancy know; real reasons. Not just "God said not to" which was all I was given as a kid). She also knows that I understand that sex is a normal, natural thing, and that her body will scream at her to start doing it before it is the best and safest time. I want her to know that she can talk to me about that without risk, and without judgement. I've been there. I understand. Yeah, sex involving your parents is icky. But sex in general is not. It's normal, natural, and awesome.

So, I guess the point of this post is that I have an awesome daughter. I am very, very fortunate and I am grateful every minute of every day for her. And also that I'm bisexual.

Hope that didn't freak anybody out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have a friend who has been my best and dearest friend since infancy. I will refer to her here as S. She is and always has been a devout christian, and for most of our lives, I was, too. I have only been really, comfortably an atheist for about a year; skeptical for about three.

S and I could not be closer if we were sisters. That sounds cliche, but it is the honest truth. She and I have been through the worst of pain together, and the most wonderful joys together. If I had to name the most important people in my life, S would be very, very close to the top. Right there with my mother and my daughter. S and I share everything with each other; she knows everything about me, good and bad.

Except for the fact that I am now an atheist.

I have not told her about my atheism. She knows that I am very scientific and skeptical; she laughs when people tell stories about ghosts and superstitions around me, and proudly tells them that I'm very science-thinking and I don't believe in things like that. So it should be a breeze to tell her that I've taken the final rational step and stopped believing in the ultimate superstition, right?


I was once an enthusiastic christian like S. I could not imagine not believing in God. It seemed impossible and ridiculous. It wasn't superstition; it was TRUTH. This is how she feels. This is how she assumes that I feel.


S and I take our daughters on an overnight camping trip every year. It is awesome. We slather ourselves in SPF 5000+ with a topcoat of bug repellant, light a fire, and roast things that are full of sugar and fat. Then we put up our tent, hike, sit and talk, watch my daughter read to her (much younger) daughter, and just enjoy being together. I look forward to it every year.

This morning, S called me and enthusiastically asked me if my daughter and I would want to do our camp out at Godstock this year.

Yes. Godstock is EXACTLY what it sounds like. Praise & worship christianity's version of Woodstock, but with no sex or drugs.


I told her that I might have something going on that weekend, and I'd have to check my calendar (I may actually really have something; I wasn't lying about that). I was glad I had an out; but what happens next time? When she wants us to come to her charismatic church? When she wants me to come to a women's retreat with her? When she wants me to take the 'Encountering Jesus' session with her? What am I to do then?

I have to tell her the truth. And that is going to hurt.

There is a fantastic blog post at The Friendly Atheist today dealing with issues just like this. I read it, and it has given me a little hope that this can work out, and things will be okay in the end; but I really dread the initial struggle.

I guess all I can do is hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. But if there is anyone in the world who will still love me, despite huge worldview differences, it is S.

UPDATED 11/11/09: Well, S and I had the conversation tonight. She was so totally cool about it; I am ashamed of ever being concerned in the first place.

I know that she is concerned. I know that we will have many conversations about this. But she is awesome. We love each other. That is never going to change, no matter what.

I love you, S.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Big Step

So. Last Tuesday, I went to my first atheist group meeting. It was a happy hour at a really cute little bar, and I had a great time. I met several fantastic people, and the conversation was awesome. Usually there were two or three really cool conversations going on at the same time, and it was a little frustrating that I couldn't keep up with them all at once!

I remember being a christian, and listening to my ex husband talk about the atheist group he had joined. I remember wondering what atheists do at meetings. I just couldn't imagine; did they just sit around and talk about how they didn't believe in God? How could that be stimulating?

Of course, now I realize how stupid that was. It was like wondering whether christians just sat around all the time talking about Jesus (which they do a lot). Obviously, even the most fundamentalist evangelical has interests outside of his faith.

I'm really ashamed now of how I used to view people without faith, and I honestly wonder how I could have ever felt that way. It seems so ridiculous now; but honestly, when christianity is driven deep, deep into your psyche from the time you are a small child (a baby, really), it really seems like it is the truth, and you just can't imagine believing anything different. Anything different is absurd.

I digress; this post was supposed to be about the atheist group.

The biggest thing I came away with from the group is how easy it is to talk to reasonable people. Even if I said something totally boneheaded (which can be quite often), no one jumped on me to attack; no one said anything to make me feel stupid. The harshest thing I heard all night was, "Hm. I don't think I can quite buy that, just because you said you were certain..."

Ouch. What cutting words. ()

Everyone was open to debate; everyone was open to discussion; everyone was interested in the stories of others. It was like spending two hours with the friendliest people on Earth.

Those damn, godless atheists.

I know that the new will wear off, and I'll stop being so amazed at how great the meetings are. But right now, it is just so nice to spend time with a group of people who are thinkers; who are skeptics; who are willing to learn from others who have a different point of view. Those things are all the total opposite of all the people I knew as a christian.