Good Reading

How will I ever finish a book again when there is such excellent reading online? I have a link on my blog to Memoirs of an Ex-Christian, and the blogger, Kevin, sometimes leaves comments on AgnosticMom.

Today his wife, Cori, of Cori’s Blog left a comment on one of my posts. Not knowing who she was, I checked out her blog. From what I could tell from my quick browse, she’s an intelligent, liberal Christian. It might be worth taking a good read.

Before I had time to really dive in, I figured out she might be married to Kevin. I clicked on a link where she referrenced him as her husband, and sure enough, there he was.

I have to direct you over to his April 13th post, Consistency of Thought. It is short and concise and makes a great point. I wanted to copy a part of it and quote him here, but felt a need to copy the entire post. Instead, I decided to just point you in his direction. Go enjoy! (And of course, come back here).

To Easter Bunny or Not To Easter Bunny?

The following article was written for the Humanist News Network. Meant for publishing this week, it is being postponed until next week because of a fundraising campaign. I wanted to make sure AgnosticMom readers get to read it before the Easter holiday.

The last thing I expected when I got married was to face the possibility of giving up Santa and the Easter Bunny. Deny my future children the magic of believing in those imaginary characters? Staying up late into the night, hoping to catch a glimpse of what no child has seen before. Knowing that the most popular person in the world thinks of you every year. The truth is, I knew they weren’t real for one or two years before I finally admitted it to myself. I made the joy last as long as I could.

My husband’s siblings, though, did not grow up “being lied to,” as they put it. My mother-in-law insists that learning about Santa devastated her as a child. She felt her mother betrayed her trust and lied to her. While some of the family members are still staunch against the tradition, a few of the others agreed to go along with their spouses, including my own husband.

With Easter only days away, I thought this a good time to discuss the topic. One question that enters the minds of some young atheist and agnostic parents is whether or not to have Santa and the Easter Bunny, if you decide to celebrate those holidays at all. How do we justify giving our children the fantasy of an Easter Bunny while denying them the security of a Jesus?

I love Santa and the Easter Bunny. I cannot imagine my childhood without those wonderful nights of exhilarating anticipation. They brought a joy that only Disneyland could match. Discovering they were not real did no damage to my psyche. It was more like discovering the secret to a great magic trick.

Having considered my mother-in-law’s experience, I set up a number of guidelines regarding the fantasy characters that grace our holidays. Hopefully, the use of these guidelines will not only prevent the rare devastation that a handful of children feel. They will demonstrate the difference between imagination and reality; between our perceptions and the facts, between the stories humans tell and the actual truths they represent.

First, parents need to take into consideration the child’s character. For example, my mother-in-law has an inner drive to get her facts accurate. In her mind, you don’t move forward on something without first verifying each detail. Most children are not this way, which is why most children walk away from their Santa beliefs with a smile and a tradition to pass on to their children. If you, yourself, are more like my mother-in-law, then you can guess that some of your children are likely to be the same way, as well. If this is the case with you, then you may consider banning Santa and the Easter Bunny altogether. But I think revealing the truth at a younger-than-average-age is also an option.

Age, in general, is another factor to consider. For most children, somewhere between six and eight is a good time. Part of the devastation, when it happens, is because the child has been defending Santa’s existence to friends. It is socially humiliating for an older child to learn they have been asserting something that everyone else knew was wrong. A good way to know it is time to reveal the secret is when the child asks you directly, “Is Santa real?”

So how do we make the Santa/Bunny scenario work to our advantage as atheists and agnostics? I figured it out as I was trying to avoid my mother-in-law’s mishap of my children perceiving us as lying. I made a decision at the beginning that I would not tell elaborate stories of how Santa gets his belly down the chimney or how the bunny gets those baskets into the house.

When my oldest son, Blake, starting asking these questions, I replied with my most common of all replies, “What do you think?” I encouraged Blake to think the problems through. The Santa/Bunny scenario provides an opportunity for both critical thinking and imaginary play. At the younger ages, imagination really goes to work. As they get older, they adopt critical thinking. As skepticism creeps into the questions, you know revelation time is near.

I prefer to wait until the child asks straight out, “Is Santa really real?” With many children, like myself and my first child, the desire to believe hangs on longer than the actual belief. We should allow them to believe for as long as they want. But when they want the truth, parents must give it.

And how do we handle the truth? We could say, “No, Santa and the Easter Bunny aren’t real.” But I don’t think that answer demonstrates the reality, nor the reason for the stories. As Joseph Campbell taught, humans have always couched real principles into stories we tell over and over and pass on through generations. Santa and the Easter Bunny are stories of life, love, and the joy of giving. Parents are Santa to kids in ways they won’t understand until they become parents themselves. Like the Easter Bunny, parents bring life and hope to their children.

So when it comes time to answer the golden question, a more meaningful reply is, “Do you know who Santa is? Mom and Dad are Santa and the Easter Bunny.”

Parents can use this revealing of truth to explain how humans are a story-telling people. We have always told stories to express ideas. Some stories generate more belief and conviction than others. The Bible is a compilation of stories which many people have come to believe as literally true. Santa is a good analogy of how people want to believe in the stories of gods. Most stories have an amount of truth within them, as well as an amount of embellishment.

I finally told my oldest child the truth before Christmas last year as he was turning eight years old. When the day ended, I asked Blake if Christmas felt different now that he knows Mom and Dad are Santa. He told me that maybe it did a little. But that somehow, seeing the unwrapped Santa gifts, and going along with the game for the younger siblings, the magic still felt real.

Parental Differences

An AgnosticMom reader, katie, asked the following question:

My boyfriend and I have been talking a lot about marriage, kids and our future together. He’s a wonderfull man and I love him deeply. However, He is a theist and I am agnostic. We have never found it difficult to be together as a couple even though we have many differences. We both are science minded people and evolution in his mind is truth. We also agree on most social issues. But, for him god is a much stronger presence in his life than it ever will be for me. How can we raise children together without completly confusing them? Please, any suggested reading or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Welcome, Katie! I love to hear a little about the backgrounds of AgnosticMom readers.

Since you called your boyfriend a deist, I am assuming he doesn’t go to church or believe in religion, including the Bible or other scripture. Is that correct? Is it accurate to say he believes in a Creator Diety who also has a hand our personal lives?

Katie, if my description is correct, then I have to say you are very fortunate as an agnostic to fall in love with, and to have a rich relationship with a science-minded deist. I think your views are not so far off from each other as to cause confusion for the children.

Here is why: The power that he attributes to God actually exists. You just don’t believe it is from a god. But my guess is that you acknowledge the incredible power of the human will and mind. When a religious person claims the help of a diety to overcome a struggle, non-believers like us know that that power actually came from within themselves.

With your children, you can focus on the actual power that does exist, that you agree on: the power of will, the power of love, the power to learn how the world works and make scientific and medical advances, the power to solve problems.

You and your boyfriend differ in the source for that power: He believes it involves God, you believe it comes from humanity. That is the sidenote which you should acknowledge to your kids. Mommy thinks it comes from within us. Daddy thinks there is also a god who helps it happen.

Focus most on things you agree on. The areas where you disagree should be explained as a non-issue and with respect for each other’s views. This will give the kids the appropriate message that it is alright for them to come to their own conclusions rather than rely on other people for their opinions. It will also teach them to respect others’ differences rather than feel a need to make people agree with them.

In my opinion, it is more problematic when one of the parents is actually religious and insists on a number of tenets that a person must follow, while the other parent doesn’t . What often happens is the religion and religious spouse set the other parent up to look like someone who doesn’t want to obey God; someone who isn’t going to be saved unless they convert. I feel this undermines the authority and respect of the non-believing parent.

Katie, if my assumptions about you and your boyfriend’s beliefs are inaccurate, feel free to clarify and we can delve further into the subject. If it is much more complicated, I will refer you to Sweet Reason. She writes a regular advice column for the Humanist News Network. You can probably search her site for a similar question, or ask her your own. Just say that AgnosticMom sent you, please!

Other readers: Do you and your spouse have opposing beliefs? What about your parents? Please share with us your experiences, along with how you/they dealt with it. What was effective and what wasn’t? Thank you for your comments!

Another Missing Link Found!

This time it is the vital transition animal between land and sea. ID/Creationists love to talk about this “missing link” that biologists and palaeontologists have been confident about finding someday. Open a bottle of wine, because we have found Tiktaalik.

This according to New Scientist News about a team whose work has paid well:

After five years of digging on Ellesmere Island, in the far north of Nunavut, they hit pay dirt: a collection of several fish so beautifully preserved that their skeletons were still intact. As Shubin’s team studied the species they saw to their excitement that it was exactly the missing intermediate they were looking for. “We found something that really split the difference right down the middle,” says Daeschler.

Tiktaalik had a mobile neck and had lost the bony coverings of the gills that fish use to fan water to maximise their oxygen intake. These suggest that the fish may have been at least partly air-breathing, like modern tetrapods (Nature, vol 440, p 757 and p 764).

The transitional features are not just in the gills. They are also in the fins:

They found a wrist-like arrangement near the tip of the fin, so that the end could bend forward and provide vaguely foot-like support. “It could flex the elbow and extend the wrist so the tip of the fin could lie against the ground. It could do a push-up,” says Shubin. In other words, our ancestors’ limbs were probably co-opted to serve as support structures before they had evolved to look much like legs at all.

Here are a few other general descriptions of Tiktaalik from a different article:

1) Some 375 million years ago, the creature looked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It swam in shallow, gently meandering streams in what was then a subtropical climate, researchers say. A meat-eater, it lived mostly in water.
2) “This is clearly an animal that is able to support itself on the ground,” probably both in very shallow water and for brief excursions on dry land. On land, it apparently moved like a seal, he said.
3) The creature was dubbed Tiktaalik (pronounced “tic-TAH-lick”) roseae, and also had the crocodile-shaped head of early amphibians, with eyes on the top rather than the side. Unlike other fish, it could move its head independently of its shoulders like a land animal. The back of its head also had features like those of land-dwellers. It probably had lungs as well as gills, and it had overlapping ribs that could be used to support the body against gravity, Shubin said.
4) Yet, the creature’s jaws and snout were still very fishlike, showing that “evolution proceeds slowly; it proceeds in a mosaic pattern with some elements changing while others stay the same,” Daeschler said.

A Science Lesson For Children?

Right now, at this very moment, my kids are watching a movie based on the Skydancer toys. I just heard one character proclaim, after making an observation:

“The only scientific explanation for it is, Magic Does Exist! And if it does, then I believe in Magic!”

The character’s faith statement then released her into the air as a spinning propeller, which I would guess enabled her to accomplish some unearthly feat. Based, of course, on science.

Testimony From God or Misguided Convictions?

Let me tell you about Lester Maddox, whose obituary I found in the New York Times. Then I have a question to ask.

Maddox had strong convictions about what he referred to as states’ right:

These included the view that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, that integration was a Communist plot, that segregation was somewhere justified in scripture and that a federal mandate to integrate schools was “ungodly, un-Christian and un-American.”

His opinions were no less fixed on other issues. He was opposed to drinking, smoking, liberal clergymen, atheism, socialism, the press, civil rights workers, “do-gooder foundations” and the wearing of miniskirts in the state Capitol. He advocated short haircuts for men, the Baptist Church (at least, its more conservative members), the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the singing of “God Bless America,” a tune for which apparently he had an insatiable appetite. He liked it so much that at one public event, he ordered that it be sung no fewer than three times, and people in the crowd could see tears in his eyes.

If you believe in God, and in our ability to feel of his spirit, would you think a man with the above opinions capable of feeling it? Of being inspired by it?

Considering how he probably interpreted the song, “God Bless America,” would you expect God to infuse Maddox with his spirit at the level of moving him to tears?

In 1966, Georgia elected Lester Maddox as state governor. The Times article explained, “Mr. Maddox, who had never before held elected office, explained that God had been his campaign manager.”

If you believe in God and his inspiration, do you imagine God would inspire and bring to office a man like Maddox?

From the same article: “Mr. Maddox explained his segregationist views to The New York Times in November that year, saying his position stemmed from “a love for my people, because I believe it to be Christian and . . . American.”

How do you explain his definition of love? Of being Christian and American? I am sure every one of us here (and most Americans, for that matter) despises Maddox’s beliefs. But Maddox truly believed them. Maddox had convictions. And he thought the strength of those convictions meant they were godly.

I remember the semester I went back to school, just a week after returning home from my Mormon mission. I was at the top of my spiritual game. I decided to do a cultural history research paper on the Quran. If you are not familiar with Mormon missionaries, you need to realize that having immersed ourselves in religion, religion, religion for such a long period of time, our way of thinking when we get back is . . . let me just say it is skewed.

Somehow my cultural history paper turned into an attack against a point of religious doctrine in the Quran. In my reading of the book, I got “inspired” about a flaw I saw in the doctrine. This inspiritation, which I felt as a fervent message from the mind of God, himself, practically pushed the keys on the keyboard as I wrote a paper I was sure would transform the perspective of my professor. Never noticing that my “inspired paper” had gotten completely off-subject, I turned it in.

It wasn’t until I got the paper back with a big “C” at the top, after I’d had distance from the religious fervor of the writing moment, that I began to question my experience. Did God actually direct me to write a misguided paper on a subject different from the assignment? As time went on, I began to sense that my paper was a product of my own religious arrogance.

So my final question, as you consider Lester Murddox and the passions he was sure came from God:

How do you know that your inspiration from God,or your beliefs from God, aren’t just the power of the human mind to have enormous, emotion-driven convictions?

Blake

A couple of weeks ago I was catching up on the HNN podcasts, listening to cartoonists discuss their take on the controversy behind the Mohammad cartoons. Blake overheard the discussion which prompted this surprising conversation:

Blake: In the Muslim Bible, does it say Jesus is God?

Me: The “Muslim Bible” is called the Quran and they call their god, “Allah.” The Quran doesn’t say Jesus is God. It says “Allah” is God, and Jesus was a good prophet.

Blake: So they’re bad then, aren’t they?

That was one of those questions that makes you wonder if someone is abducting your child at night and feeding them information you know you didn’t pass along. All the while I’d been thinking Blake was on the on-ramp to the Agnostic Highway. I guess somewhere along the way he exited for a pit stop at Christian Town.

Perhaps I haven’t been direct enough about my own beliefs. I like to encourage the kids to come up with answers themselves, so when they ask me questions, I usually say, “What do you think?” Still, I am pretty sure I have given a direct answer in the past that I don’t believe that Jesus is God, nor that there is any actual person who is a god. Of course, I usually turn it back to them with, “But what do you think?”

I could be more direct, but the kids seem to change the channel on their attention-dial when I start talking instead of asking. This time I figured out a way to be direct, impactful, and ask a question at the same time.

When Blake asked me if Muslims were bad because they were voting for the wrong god, I asked him back, “I don’t believe Jesus is God. Does that make me bad?”

First was the look of wide-eyed shock that stunned me as much as my question stunned him. And then, within seconds, a big smile crept upon his face as he laughed at the idea of Mom being bad and he belted, “NO! You’re not bad!”

While the ending was effective, there’s also that nagging question of why he would compartmentalize like that: good people vs. bad people. Why would he decide an entire group of people are bad because their religious beliefs differ? I know that part of it is his awareness of all the recent turmoil in the Middle East and Europe involving Muslims. But I always remind him that not all Muslims are that way; that most Muslims are good people.

Blake is a logical-thinker. While he loves fantasy, he is enthralled with math and science, which contribute to some of his fantasy world. I understand that linear-thinkers like Blake tend to see things more in black and white than artistic thinkers do. I have noticed this pattern again and again.

There is also the lingering affect of the primitive world humans evolved in, where we adapted and survived by aligning ourself with our own tribes against other tribes. Now that we live in a global world where we mix with sll types of races and religions, will we someday evolve away from this natural instinct to pit ourselves against groups of people unlike us?

I guess it will take time for Blake to have more exposure to different people, to various religions, to conversation between us. And that’s okay.

Big Love

Is anyone watching HBO’s new series, Big Love? What a fascinating show. While I can’t handle the more violent shows myself, the truth is, anything HBO puts out is high quality. At least the shows we watch.

Big Love is about a modern polygamous family living in secret in a Salt Lake City suburb. Polygamy is such a bizarre and fascinating topic. Having grown up Mormon, polygamy was always looming as a future possibility. Sure, the Church makes sure everyone knows it banned polygamy, but the reason for the ban was because it was illegal and the pressure from the outside to stop was immense. As much as Mormons would like it to go away, the doctrine and the principle remain.

As young teenage girls at sleepovers, and as college women in our BYU dorms, we sometimes talked about the prospects of polygamy in our futures. What if it became legal someday? Would God command us to take it up again? If that never happened, it was sure to return during the Millennium (the thousand year period between the Second Coming of Jesus and the Final Day of Judgement). Since we are living in the “Last Days,” most of us felt pretty confident we would be a part of the Millennium. And that was likely to include polygamy.

If we somehow avoided polygamy before and during the Millennium, it was sure to come up in the eternities of the Celestial Kingdom, the highest kingdom of Heaven. Plural Marriage is a Celestial Law in Mormon doctrine. A hypothesis is there will be more women than men in the Celestial Kingdom, and polygamy will be necessary to give all women their Celestial Glory. Plural wives and many offspring also add to the glory of the man.

So as girls and young women, we sometimes whispered to each other during late night discussions how we would react to a commandment for our husbands to take a second wife. (Funny that we always saw it from the point of view of being the first wife. I guess we never imagined being the second or third).

Would we be able to do it? Could we overcome our jealousy? Or, the most honest, yet lowly question: would we maintain our position of being the favorite wife? Our only hope was that by then Jesus would cleanse our hearts and give us charity, or the Love of Christ, so that we could do it in happiness.

These were not questions and conversations of fundamentalists. These were of mainstream Mormons from across the country.

Now that polygamy is no longer in my personal future of possibilities, I can watch Big Love in fascination, rather than fear. What I enjoy about the show is a chance to see polygamy played out among modern people, rather than the backwards people living in communes (although you see that, too). It allows us to put ourselves in the place of the spouses; to imagine what it would be like. Because the very struggles that polygamous spouses endure in modern life, are the very struggles that the pioneer Mormon women endured when it was still a Mormon practice.

While the show is not perfect (I am still waiting to know the motives of the individuals for entering a very challenging lifestyle), I have really enjoyed the first three episodes. It’s on tonight, so if you’re interested in taking a peek at a very different kind of family, hook up your HBO, microwave some popcorn, and enjoy . . .after you put the kids to bed, that is.

Teachers Struggle To Teach Evolution

There has been a lot of news recently on topics that affect us. I have been short on blogging time the last few days, so I am posting a small amount of information regarding a couple of the articles (this post and the previous post). I am giving all you readers the go-ahead to discuss the topics at will. Feel free to provide any other relevant links.

Gregg100 sent a link to this excellent article. It is fascinating and worth reading from beginning to end. The article describes the difficulties of high school Biology teachers when it comes time to introduce evolution to their class.

Teachers feel nervous and hesitant. Many of them avoid using the word, “evolution,” altogether. Most of the teachers have a very low-level knowledge of evolution, as it is only a small part of all they teach. Some don’t know how to answer the questions of the more savvy Christian students who have prepared to disarm the teacher with all kinds of talking points and questions they know the teacher doesn’t have the answer to.

In the article, one Christian student describes his battle plan, which is to “say as much about God as I can in school, even if the teachers can’t.” You can imagine how disruptive a determined student can be and how difficult one could make it to get the course material across to students. In fact, some teachers skip the evolution section altogether.

I think you’ll enjoy the article, so click on the link above, get a good read, and then come back here to share your thoughts.

The Bible To Be Taught In School

Georgia just passed legislation worth looking at. Here is a very short article that Hifi provided on the new allowance of high schools to provide educational courses on the Bible.

I have to wonder what kind of outcome this will have. Often non-religiously led biblical studies actually de-convert the religious and I heard some callers on a talk radio show both lamenting and rejoicing at the fact.

Of course, that usually happens at the university level, where students are ready to leave the nest. I see this less likely to happen at a high school level. Especially in Georgia.

Either way, you can bet the motivation behind the legislation was to strengthen religion in our country, not to deconvert the religious. I am less concerned about the fact that students will learn about the Bible (it was the New Testament itself that handed me my very first instance of doubt some eight years ago when I embarked on a re-read of the book). Knowledge of biblical stories will help students understand much of the world’s literature.

I am more concerned about the fact that Christians are becoming so bold as to enact the law in the first place; that they passed the law with no discussion, with 50-1 votes for it in the senate and 151-7 in the house.

What are your thoughts?

Raising a Healthy Family Without Religion.