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I have been watching all the videos from Skepticon IV and I really wish I could have been there.  I particularly liked Hemant’s and Greta’s presentations.  While I am more an more comfortable with my atheism, it is still sometimes a lonely existence and I think of how fun it would be to share an experience like this with like-minded people.  Unfortunately my schedule does not easily allow for this (nor does my budget).  However I’m getting more bold about revealing my atheism and in turn, I’m finding out that some people around me share my point of view.

Refreshing.

I also want to acknowledge JT Eberhard’s presentation about mental illness.  I have struggled in the past with major depression (was nearly hospitalized) and moderate anxiety.  While my family was unflinchingly supportive as I sought out help, my husband was slower to come around because he viewed it as a sign of weakness (if you saw JT’s speech, this is mentioned).  After the first two weeks I was in therapy and on medication, I made a complete turnaround.  I was able to stop taking my meds (only to go back on temporarily a few years later) and have come to pay more attention to my moods.  Going through treatment taught me to get more in touch with my emotions, since bottling them up to not burden anyone doesn’t really work all that well.  In fact it usually results in another relapse.  Now when I start getting that panicky feeling for no reason, I can often talk myself down because I now recognize it for what it is, a total overreaction by my flight or flight response.   And if I’m in a funk for more than a few days, I take a look at what I’m doing and how I’m being.  Often if I shake up my routine a bit and get in more sunshine and activity I can avoid that downward slope into depression (I’m solar powered, who knew?).  This is what works for me, and I want to avoid going back on meds because I hate that fuzzy feeling I get when I’m on them.  Yet I know that if I reached a point where shaking up my life a bit will not pull me out, I would not hesitate to seek out counseling and medication if warranted.  They really can be a miracle for those suffering.

Before I was prescribed Prozac for the first time I was sleeping 12-14 hours a day and still moving through my waking life as if I were half-asleep.  I would cry at damn near any perceived slight or frustration, and I would have random panic attacks for no good reason (it was fun feeling like I couldn’t leave the restroom at work without totally flipping out).  When I finally decided to seek out a referral from my regular doctor, the combination of fear, relief, and disappointment in myself triggered a 2-day crying jag.  That right there let me know I was on the right path.

I was tired of not being able to function.  I was tired of trying to fake normalcy for everyone around me.  I no longer wanted to live the way I was, but I wanted to live.  JT is right, we need to remove the stigma on mental illness.  Being depressed is not a sign of weakness, having hallucinations is not a sign of weakness, having panic attacks is not a sign of weakness.   They are signs that there is a chemical imbalance that needs to be corrected.  Much like diabetes, or hyperthyroidism, or any number of diseases and disorders that require maintenance medication.  Seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

It is a sign that you are strong enough to realize  you need help.

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At what age is it appropriate to read “A Handmaid’s Tale”?

My oldest daughter is almost 13 and I think I may have her read it soon.  Especially after the past few months of legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, and many states making women jump through hoop after hoop to obtain an abortion (I was going to add more links, but there are too many).

Today during lunch, my mother, mother-in-law and I got into a spirited discussion about abortion rights.  Kind of a heated and strange topic for Mother’s Day (or not).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my mother is very much pro-choice.  I always thought she leaned more anti-abortion, but I suspect that legislation in recent years, augmented by emails from a very pro-choice friend of hers, has given her the courage to state that nobody has the right to dictate what happens to a woman’s body except the woman herself.

Why is this topic on an atheism blog you may ask?

It is my experience that religion and anti-choice tend to go hand in hand.  The subtle difference between ethics and morals is missed.  Just because your religion dictates a certain moral code does not mean that we all must live by that code.   Your religion may teach that abortion is a sin and wrong and should be outlawed.  I don’t share your religion, so I do not necessarily share your moral code, yet that does not mean I live without morals.   Many on the religious right try to force their beliefs on everyone, despite what the law states.

Margaret Atwood’s novel illustrates what could happen if everyone were forced to live under one moral code, whether or not you believe in it.   My daughter is intelligent and emotionally mature.  She recently read Fahrenheit 451 and Animal Farm and was able to discuss both with me and I sense that she likes to read books that challenge her to think about society and what is accepted versus what is acceptable (not always the same).  Books that challenge one to think and form their own opinions seem rare these days.  These modern classics seem perfect for sparking interesting conversations and often help you see society from different viewpoints.  Any other suggestions for similar books that are captivating reads?

This past year or so has been a trying time for women’s rights.  They are being chipped away at piece by piece, starting with the easiest and most contentious target, women’s health.  Lawmakers like to frame their argument, claiming it is trying to reduce abortions, when they are most likely increasing unwanted pregnancies and STDs due to birth control and low-cost health care being taken away.  I guess if you are a low-income, single woman you shouldn’t have sex.   Ever.  And if you do you are forced to have a child you are unable to care for.  All those people who care so much about keeping your fetus alive care so very little once you have an actual child.  Because now you are a parasite on the system, living on welfare.  It puts a lot of people in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Lately I fear I’m becoming a broken record on the issue.  I see myself moving fairly quickly from a sometime feminist (only caring about what directly affected me), to a full fledged cheerleader of women’s rights and a cog in the machine that must make a change in the world for all women.  It has been my intent not to react due to fear, but fear has been the driving force of this evolution of mine.  Fear that my daughters will grow up to live in a world where important choices regarding their health are made for them, without any regard as to circumstance.  Fear that they will live in a world where women are still not given full credit, and still fear to make their opinion heard.  Fear that a world could once again exist where they will be labeled as criminals for taking control of their reproductive health in the way they see fit.

A little fear can be a good thing if it creates a space for us to rise up and challenge the source of that fear.

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So, I was out of town for the weekend and just got around to watching Real Time with Bill Maher from Friday, May 14.

I was interested to see what S.E. Cupp had to say since there seemed to be a bit of a buzz about her book and the fact that she was a guest.

My verdict?  S.E. Cupp is an idiot.  She may be earnest and have the strength of her convictions, but she’s an idiot.

The first alarm bell went off when she talked about Joy Behar saying that teaching creationism is child abuse.  Ms. Cupp goes on to say that this is ridiculous, creationism taught as an allegory* is not child abuse, completely disregarding the fact that those who wish to see creationism taught in school are not teaching it as an allegory, they are trying to teach it as a “factual” alternative to evolution, or Darwinism.  This, in my mind is nearing child abuse, it is teaching, with authority, something that is not factually true, and in fact cannot be studied, proven, or disproved.  If the schools in my area (which I pay about 1/3 of my taxes to) were to teach this garbage, you bet I would be vocal about it.

There is also the pesky little problem of creationism being only one viewpoint – the Christian one.  Once again, I would be first in line saying they need to also teach how the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe and touched us with his noodly appendage.

Ms. Cupp’s second attempt at defending her argument was saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was basically about land rights.

Ok, I’ll give you that, but she is ignoring the fact that religion is often used as justification for the escalation of violence.  This violence often starts with one faction trying to make a “land grab” in the name of religion.  Or in the case of the middle east, believing that the Jews were rightfully thrown out of the holy land, or that nobody can claim it until they are pious enough to deserve it.

It seems as though she already has a conclusion and she is trying to massage facts to back it up, instead of amassing and analyzing data, and then coming to a conclusion.

Personally, I think she’s using the controversial fact that she’s an atheist defending Christianity to sell a load of horseshit.

*allegory (from Merriam-Webster): the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression

Creationism isn’t the truth.  Creationism is a fictional story to try to explain the truth.

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No Questions

The more I read atheist and free-thinking blogs and literature, the more I am amazed at how unquestioning I was about certain things.  I was just reading at The Atheist Yogi about her feelings when reading Chronicles of Narnia and how it was written to parallel Christianity.  The interesting thing is, I read the entire series just a few years ago (and I’m in my late 30’s) and even then, I never really saw that.  Maybe I just wasn’t looking for it, I saw it as an entertaining read, another fun piece of fiction.

At first, this realization that there are a lot of things I never questioned or looked at from a religious perspective made me feel as though I had been a fool in the past.  The more I think about it, the more I think that I just never questioned religion all that much.  When I “believed” (it’s in quotes because I don’t think I ever really did), I had the belief that all religions led to the same god, it’s just that they called him different names.  I don’t think it is much of a leap to move from that to wondering or questioning if religion is “real” at all.    I think I didn’t have interest in it at a very young age.  What I remember most about church is liking the music, especially at the guitar mass at Christmastime.  And it wasn’t the beliefs that I questioned, but the practices.  Like, why can’t I wear shorts to church? (Never did get a reasonable answer to that one).  Why can’t I get communion? (when I was a small child).  Why do I have to go to church at all if God is everywhere? (that was the first step to not going at all).

Interestingly, I never really questioned the tenets of faith and religion themselves.  Not until I had shed all belief did I see how easy it is for children to just accept and do what their parents do.  I have always questioned why 13 seems to be the magic age where you are considered an “adult” in religion (Bar Mitzvah’s & Confirmation), yet you are not allowed to really make that decision as an adult.  Even as a young teenager, I really didn’t want to be confirmed, but went along because it was expected.  And all my friends were getting confirmed as well.  Looking back, what 13 year old has the experience and the knowledge necessary to really make an informed decision about something that is supposed to be HUGE in the Catholic church?  Even though I didn’t want to be confirmed, I would have been hard pressed to actually give you an answer as to why.  Except that maybe I felt I wasn’t ready to make that decision for myself.

I read with fascination how others questioned the impossibility of the ark and the flood.  It never occurred to me to ask.  It was just a story to me.  Or the fact that Adam and Eve had two sons.  Where did everyone else come from?  Was never on my radar.  My DNA does not carry the faith gene, yet I tend to be naive and trusting to a fault (I do think that people are basically good – most of them anyway).  Is it possible to be a skeptic but not a cynic? I tend to have a positive attitude, and was told recently that I have a certain “lightness of being” that is refreshing to be around.  I know cynics.  I love one.  He claims not to be a pessimist, but a realist.  It’s all fine and good, but it can occasionally drag me down.  Cynicism in some instances is good, and I try to teach my children some skepticism, especially where advertising is concerned (“Don’t believe a word they tell you!  Find out for yourself!”).

Did your questioning arise later in life, after you spent some time in adulthood, or were you one of those kids who asked “Why?” incessantly until you got an answer you could be satisfied with?  Nowadays, I tend to ask “Why?” more often, as well as “What exactly are they trying to say to me/sell to me/get me to believe?”.  Yet I still feel as though I come off as flaky when I change my opinion on something.  But isn’t that what we all do?  Accept that something is the truth until some evidence comes around that proves otherwise?  And aren’t we all free to change our opinion?

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It never really occurred to me when I started having doubts that there is a sort of process I am going through towards being fully “out” as an atheist.  Other than my spouse, only one other family member I think really knows where I stand on the whole belief thing.  That in and of itself is a bit of a relief.  As for my parents, I think my mom knows but we don’t discuss it, and I don’t know about my dad.

What I’ve found to be one of the toughest areas is on places like Facebook.  Part of the difficulty is that I went to a catholic high school.  This has resulted in my fellow alumni running the gamut from tree-hugging godless liberals to conservative christian right wing tools (at least in my opinion).  In my info, I played it safe and put in ‘Humanist’ in the religion area.  It’s heartening to see that the people who I feel are the most sane are the ones who tend to be the least religious, and a lot of my former classmates will take on and challenge those who seem to argue from religion first, and facts second.  Over time, I’m slowly letting my feelings be known.  I became a fan of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bill Maher, & Richard Dawkins.  We have a 20 year reunion coming up and I’d like to be confident in who I am and who I believe, should conversation steer that direction at all.

The whole process is helping me approach a point in the future where I can answer personal questions about church, god, and faith with an unequivocal answer.  Currently, I tend to waffle a bit due to fear of how my answer will be received.  One of the best interactions I’ve had recently is with one of my cousins.  I am her teenaged son’s godmother.  Her young daughter asked me if I believe in god and I told her I’m not sure.  My cousin asked if I was uncomfortable or offended that I had been asked to be a godparent.  I was pleasantly surprised that it really wound up being a non-issue, and she was more concerned about how I felt than the fact that her son has a godmother that most likely doesn’t believe in a god.

I’m hoping to be a little more active on the blog, as well as commenting on other godless blogs.  I have yet to pop my Pharyngula commenting cherry, but it’s my self-preservation instinct kicking in.  It feels a bit like diving into a shark tank wearing nothing but a shark-bait bikini.

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Found at Pantagraph

Apparently more than 850 people in Illinois want “In God We Trust” on their license plate.  It is a specialty license plate that requires an extra charge to purchase if you so desire one.  Purchase of it is “…to raise revenue for families of Illinois National Guard members and reservists facing financial hardships”.  Which is wonderful.  Obtaining this specialty license plate is entirely voluntary.

Do you think we could get enough people that would want to buy a plate with a secular or even better, atheist message on it?

The secretary of state’s office only prints specialty plates when more than 850 registered motorists are willing to pay for them, spokesman Henry Haupt said.

If we could pull it off, do we have a choice as to where our money goes?  If so, what organization would you choose to receive the revenue?

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My brother and his family are visiting for the holidays.  They are polar opposites than my husband and me.  We recently got a card signed “God Bless”, which was understated for them.  Last year we got cards that illustrated the extent of the indoctrination their kids have received.  Not many people in my family know the full extent of my heathenism.  My husband knows of course.  My mom is pretty clued in while my dad is pretty clueless.  One of my aunts gets it I think.  Other than that, it’s a big unknown.  My family is not known for deep conversations.  Not surprisingly, there seems to be a correlation between those I’ve had in-depth discussions with and how accepting I perceive them to be.

Every year, my husband and I suffer some mild to moderate irritation at the not-so-subtle holier than thou attitude from a certain someone.  Now, I can talk a good game, but when push comes to shove, I tend to bite my tongue to avoid any ugliness, I lean strongly towards diplomacy.

Year to year, I seem to be gaining more self-confidence.  With this wonderful gain comes a tendency to speak my mind more and more.  I worry that the next time something asinine and self-righteous comes out of this person’s mouth that I’m going to dump a big stinking atheistic turd on the dinner table, you know, sort of accidentally on-purpose.  But that would only gratify my immediate need to not hear total stupidity and would hurt more others in the long run.  So I’ll probably keep my mouth shut, or stuff it full of food.  If I gain 5 pounds over the holiday, I’ll know why.

It does bother me a bit that I can’t be “out” about my atheism.  I wish I had the courage to, but I don’t.

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