Thursday, March 17, 2011

Does Religion Diminish the Meaning of Good Deeds?

With the nuclear disaster occurring in Japan, people worldwide have opened their wallets to lend a helping hand.  I feel that supporting each other emotionally, materially and financially in difficult times is the most basic of things we should be doing.  I know that many religious charities are contributing their help to the situation and I got to wondering about motives.

Undoubtedly, everyone donating believes it is the right thing to do.  I was compelled to donate for a couple of reasons.  Life on earth is seldom easy.  Every day we face threats from the environment and from each other.  There is always suffering happening in greater scope than we can possibly imagine.  Fortunately, we have the ability to help alleviate that suffering sometimes.  We can make things better for each other.  I cannot offer the people of Japan a room in my home or a meal or a change of clothes but I can send money to organizations which will help meet those needs.  My second motivating factor is more selfish.  If I am ever in a catastrophic situation, I want to know that other people around the world will have my back.  I live in a tornado-prone area which lies between two fault zones and there are two nuclear reactors within 50 miles of where I live.   I know it could just as easily be me.

Some people however, are donating for different reasons.  Certainly most Christians feel compelled as I do to help their fellow humans but many are donating solely because their church or house of worship has told them they should.  Some might even think it will help them get through the pearly gates when their number is called.  My first thought on this type of donation is that it is a meaningless act and may even be considered to be an act of cowardice.  Do they think that God would not know that they were not donating out of the goodness of their hearts?  Is it only ultimately out of fear of Hell that they do good deeds?

Of course, in the end, motive doesn't matter.  The important thing is getting help to those who need it.  It is also possible that many of these people would not donate without a mandate given by their religious institution so regardless of reason, the bottom line is that it probably helps in the long run.

So what do you think?  Does religious giving diminish the meaning of good deeds?  Do you think it matters?

Those interested in making a donation to help the citizens of Japan in their current crisis or any other humanitarian need should consider the following organizations: (Non-Believers Giving Aid)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Well, I'm ten posts in now.  Seventeen Facebook friends gone and two people already stopped following the blog so it seems as good a time as any to see if I can elicit some feedback from you fine individuals!

Any commentary on post length, subject matter, frequency, ect. would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks for reading and thanks for your thoughtful consideration!

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Is It Like To Be an Atheist?

"Being an atheist is a lot like being the only sober person in a car full of drunk people and they refuse to pull over and let you drive" - author unknown

So what's it really like to be an atheist?  Well, while there are frustrations akin to the quote above, but for me, most of the time, it's just kind of weird.  It often feels like I live in a different reality than 90% of the world and now that I think about it, that is probably true.  While I certainly cannot and do not speak for all atheists, there are some commonalities among us and many I have spoken to have echoed some of the peculiarities I have highlighted below. 

Being an atheist in the USA today often puts one in an awkward position.  Our society is saturated with religion.  It is not unusual for me to encounter some kind of religious propaganda or speech several times per day.  When you are an atheist, you never know how people will react if they find out that you are a non-believer so responses need to be carefully measured.  I have been called lots of names.  I have been told I am evil.  I have been preached to by those trying to "save me".  I've lost friends.  Everytime I encounter religion, there is an internal battle in my head as to whether I should be myself and be honest or just stay quiet.  I speak in code a lot so I can say what I think without jeopardizing anything.

When I drive my son to school in the morning, I typically see 10 - 20 cars with the little "Jesus fish" magnets on the back.  I wonder why these people feel the need to wear their religion on their bumpers.  It seems conceited to me; like they're making sure everyone knows they're in the special "club".  Do they expect that other Christians will be more likely to let them in when they merge? 

Almost without fail, I will hear the phrase "God bless you" when someone sneezes at some point during the day.  This seems kind of strange to me, too but I generally figure that people are just trying to be polite.  I never know how to respond when it's directed at me.  "Thank you" doesn't feel genuine.  "Thanks, but not likely" seems a bit rude.  "There is no God" is pretty much out of the question.  I usually just go against my thoughts and say "thanks" and then I feel like I've been dishonest or hypocritical.

At least once a week, someone will tell me about some facet of their church; the spaghetti dinner, their youth group, their choir.  Sometimes they tell me about how moving the service was.  Again, I am at a loss for how to respond.  Especially to the Catholics.  I don't understand how they can support an institution responsible for destroying so many lives.  I look for positive things in the story that I can comment on but it's difficult.  I smile and nod while wishing the conversation would end.

Sometimes, people will tell me about how God was watching out for them or how God helped them with a personal struggle or difficult decision.  I want to ask these people if helping them with their decision is the reason that God wasn't available to save the kids who just died somewhere in a car accident but I don't.  If this were any other topic on which I thought they were mistaken, I would speak up immediately and let them know the facts I have learned.  I try to filter out the God aspect and respond to the underlying issues they are speaking about.  Sometimes I only get as far as "Well...hmm".

Once I get home, I usually check in on my Facebook page.  There is usually a post somewhere on my wall asking me to pray for someone.  If it is something personal to someone I know, I will usually offer some personal consolation or an offer to help if there is something I think I can do.  If it is for a disaster or a general cause, I will usually post a link to the cause and/or send a donation because I believe that prayer is a way to feel like you are helping without ever actually doing anything whereas donations and word-of-mouth are real help.

I sometimes post atheist-related material on my Facebook Page.  The first time I did, I received a message asking if I knew it was there.  When I said I did and that I was aware of what it was and had put it there intentionally, I was immediately "unfriended".  When I put up a link to my first blog post, I lost fourteen friends within an hour. 

I see articles on the internet telling me that atheists are America's most-distrusted minority.  This seems completely backward to me.  The atheists I know are some of the most ethical people with whom I am acquainted.  Overall, they have an extemely strong sense of right and wrong and are more likely to act on things they feel are wrong or to stand up for what they think is right.  I feel that as an atheist, there is no forgiveness for me at the end of my life so I damn well better get it right the first time.  Forgiveness comes from those I have wronged.  If I mess up and that person does not forgive me, I have to live with that.  On the other hand, there is no divine punishment.  My punishment happens in the here and now when I have to live with and face the consequences of the choices I make.  For this reason, I am very careful in my decision-making.
Image courtesy of Surly-Ramics at

So yes, my lack of belief sometimes makes things awkward which is bad considering that I am somewhat socially awkward to begin with but there is an upside to it, too.  First and foremost, I have freedom of thought.  I do not have to worry that the things in my head will be counted and judged.  I am free to question and explore as far as I can conceive.  I can look for truth and accept it when I find it.

I do not need to hold onto fear of death.  There are no worries about Heaven or Hell.  I have come to terms with it as a natural process.  I am not rushing to welcome it but I no longer need to fear it.  When I suffer the loss of someone I love, I can understand it.  It is painful but I know that it is part of the package deal when we get to experience life.  I do not need to worry about whether or not they were "saved".  I do not need to wonder why God thought he needed them with him more than I needed them here.

I have come to truly appreciate every moment of life on this earth.  I understand the likelihood of me being here was extremely small and yet here I am.  I am one of the lucky ones who is here today to marvel at nature's beauty and I have a brain that has evolved enough to understand my good fortune.  I get the privilege of staring up at the sky and wondering at the stars.  I get to watch history being made.  I get to watch our understanding of the universe unfold.  I get to learn.  I get to love.  I get to sing.  I get to dance.  Life's impermanence makes each day, each moment, so incredibly valuable.

My life has become unbelievably rich.  My atheism has led me to explore many scientific disciplines and I have discovered that I have a true love of astronomy and biology.  On more than one occasion, I have looked through a telescope and been moved to tears because of the beauty of it.  I have been amazed looking through a microscope thinking about all of the processes that led to what was seeing.  I am blown away by the beauty of natural processes and humbled by the immensity of our universe.

I have also had the pleasure and honor of meeting many wonderful, caring, like-minded people through the internet and through local meet-ups who have taught me much, engaged me in thought-provoking conversation, shown me books and videos which have expanded my understanding of the world and who have shared their friendship with me.

I have a confidence in myself and a clarity of thought that was inconceivable before I gave up my belief.  Because my conclusions have come to me after much thought and study, I can be more certain of their correctness.  Much of the material I store in my brain upon which I build my worldview is now backed by evidence-based knowledge instead of the emotional "knowing" of things taken on faith.  It is a concept that is immensely hard to convey to anyone who has not gone through the process of losing their faith through applied skepticism.  It is an entirely different way of processing information.  Sometimes, though, this benefit works against me such as when I have to deal with the frustration of not being able to get someone to understand the faults in their logic.  In fact sometimes, it's kind of like...being the only sober person in a car full of drunk people who refuse to pull over and let you drive. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why You Should Love Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin is the sort of guy who can insult your religion, your country and your kid with a smile on his face and make you feel like he just might be right and you should thank him for pointing out their flaws.  He is able to gently convey a brutal honesty about our world and our lives, keeping us laughing at the absurdity of it all the while.  And, as Alan Alda said, "When people are laughing, they are generally not killing each other."  Yeah, so spread the laughter, ok?

Here are a few of my favorites.  Enjoy! (NSFW):


Friday, March 11, 2011

Democracy Is Dead

No words can really convey my feelings going into this post.  The most adequate attempts of "infuriated", "outraged" and "incensed" can only provide a small window into the depth of my anger at what is being done to my country.  By now many of you have heard that the Wisconsin Republicans rammed through their bill stripping rights from union members.  It made me physically ill when I read the headline.  They have effectively managed to destroy democracy in Wisconsin and the ripples will be felt nationwide. 

The big spin on this is that it has to be done to "balance the budget".  Echoes of the same are being heard right now in more than a dozen other states including Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Indiana and Georgia.  Folks, make no mistake, this has nothing to do with the states' budgets.  This is about corporate power and wealth concentration.  The cornerstones of democracy - education, independence and freedom - might not yet be completely dead but these unwanted kittens are dangling over a river and corporations are holding the bag.

Destruction of our democracy by cutting funding is a clearly stated long-term plan of the Republican party.  They believe that big business or "the market" should be the ultimate authority.  They don't advertise it but it's certainly not a secret.  And it is going to get much, much worse.  Once they are done breaking the unions, we will continue to see them actively pursue their goal of tearing apart our democracy.  All the while, they will institute steps to curtail voting among minorities and young people and anyone else likely to vote Democratic to remove any threat to their power.

We will have a front row seat to watch them dismantle any programs that rely on the federal government such as Social Security, HeadStart programs, Medicare and Medicaid, public education, the EPA, public broadcasting, family planning, public health, food safety, heating assistance for the poor, job training and college grant programs and it will all be done under the banner of "Balancing the Budget".  The attack on these services is already well underway.

Image: Simon Howden /

They will strip away these programs and at every step, most Americans will sit by and deny that there is a problem.  Some will even defend the cuts.  They will say that we are broke.  They will say that we must eliminate the debt.  We must get rid of the deficit.  They will say we are living beyond our means.  Bullshit.  Our country is not broke, it is broken.  Money that should be going to help those in need and to efforts to strengthen our society is instead routed toward big business.  No matter, these steps will still be justified as "necessary" and the downward spiral will continue. 

We are funnelling money to the ultra-rich at a faster and faster pace through initiation and continuation of massive tax cuts.  Corporations are paying little to no tax; billionaires pay at the same rate as people making tiny fractions of what they earn and new ways are constantly being created to help them pay even less.  The money given up in those tax cuts is needed.  It has to come from somewhere but it's not going to to come from the rich and the corporations; it will come from the programs essential to the middle and lower classes.
Image courtesy of Daniel St. Pierre via

We will watch them destroy every program that benefits the vulnerable; the poor, the elderly, the under-educated, the underprivileged and the chronically ill.  Defund and destroy, defund and destroy;  marginalize the working class and kill off the poor.  This is their strategy.  They will take all of the power away from the citizens and hand it to corporations.  We are about to become slaves.







Knife photo:
Liberty photo: <p><a href="">Image:</a></p>
Piggy Bank photo:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So, What Do Christians Really Believe, Anyway?

I had a discussion recently with a fellow non-believer in which he said that he didn’t think Christians truly believed as they say they do.  I found this to be an interesting assertion.  It is something I have actually considered before and the conclusion that I came to was that yes, people do truly believe but they don’t necessarily believe in what they say or even what they think they do.

                                     Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut via
Let’s begin by looking at the basis of Christianity, the Bible.  There are two ways to interpret the Bible; literally and non-literally.  In following a literal interpretation, one can be consistent but must perform a fair amount of mental acrobatics to make it work within the framework of society’s knowledge as it stands.  You have to be willing to deny all evidence in the world around you to maintain that faith.  To be consistent with literalism, one must believe that the world is flat, the sun goes around the earth, light was created before the sun, billions of critters fit on a boat and eight people were able to care for them and other statements that defy logic including reconciling the many inconsistencies that exist within the Bible itself.

Literalists believe because it simply must be true.  They cannot accept that they could be wrong; nor do they even allow themselves to consider the possibility.  They know in their hearts that God loves them and that if they follow his laws, even when they contradict the laws of man or are hurtful to others, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Some feel their faith so strongly, that they are willing to deny all logic and reason and accept all of this in the name of faith.  I would go as far as to say that I think these people are living in a state of delusion where God is the final answer to every question.  It seems to me that these people have the most sincere and consistent beliefs but also the most illogical and least in line with reality. 

Those who follow a non-literal interpretation are able to apply their logic to varying degrees but lose the consistency of their belief.  I often wonder if these people have even read the entire Bible.  They seem to choose which pieces to believe based on their own personal biases.  For example, many choose to believe that homosexuality is wrong but eating shellfish and getting tattoos is fine or might accept that the earth is vaguely spherical but believe in divine creation.  They might believe that God is loving and forgiving but not remember the parts that say he is vengeful and jealous.  The Bible offers no guide as to which passages should be taken literally and which might be up for interpretation.  How do these believers know that they have chosen the “right” rules to follow?  These individuals may believe deeply but they fail to recognize the way they compartmentalize their thoughts in order to allow their religion to conform to their knowledge of the world and the rest of their beliefs.

Some non-literalists will go as far as to say that the Bible is simply a collection of stories to live by; a guide for how to act humbly and charitably.  They might even recognize that many of the stories such as creation, the flood and Christ’s death and subsequent rising are themes that have been repeated for many millennia in hundreds if not thousands of cultures differing only in names and specific details.  I am particularly baffled by these people because I do not understand, if one does not believe that the Bible was divinely inspired or that God has a personal interest in their lives or that Jesus died for man’s sins, how one can possibly call oneself a Christian. 

It has been my experience overall (with a few notable exceptions) that the Christians I know are incredibly good people.  They are honest, caring, thoughtful and generous.  They want the best for those they love.  They want to help others and improve the world around them.  They think that it is “good” to believe in God because believing in God makes them “good people”.  They believe that God is taking care of them and that he listens to their prayers.  They believe that God gives them comfort and guidance.  They believe that it is arrogant to think that there is “nothing greater than ourselves”.  And they believe that their goodness will be rewarded.  To stop believing would mean they were immoral, they and those around them would suffer and they would be left powerless and unloved.

What they do not allow themselves to see is that the things they consider to be “good” are coming from within themselves.  If belief in God were the only thing making people “good”, then we should see those who de-convert resorting to all kinds of immoral behavior but this just doesn’t happen.  Atheists are not running rampant, a stream of crime following in their wake.  Would these believers really stop caring for others if they gave up the sacred or would they continue to care for those in need because it is the right thing to do?  Would their loved ones fall apart if the prayers of the faithful were not bestowed upon them or would they continue to experience the ebb and flow of life with its triumphs and tragedies?  Would they feel alone or would they realize that as human beings, we are all in this together and are inherently connected to one another?  Would they really think that there is “nothing greater than ourselves” or would they find themselves incredibly humbled by the vastness of our universe and our place within it?  I submit to you that they would come to understand that being a “good person” does not require God.

So while many people call themselves Christians, the space between different Christian’s belief systems is often not just a jump but a chasm with some teetering on the brink of Godlessness.  Some believe that the Bible is communication direct from God, some view it as a divinely inspired guideline and some just believe in belief.  I think that the ones who fall off of that brink may find that the drop isn’t too far at all. 

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Educate Women, Save the World

Today is International Women's Day so I thought I would take the opportunity to mention a few inspirational women, their impact on the world and the need to continue in their footsteps.

When discussing influencial women, we often hear the names of such heroines as Marie Curie, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony or more contemporary women like Sandra Day O'Connor , Sally Ride or Madeline Albright.  I would like to mention some amazing women of whom you might not be aware:

Maria Agnesi (1718 - 1799) - Wrote the first math book by a woman and became the first female math professor at a university.

Emily Davies (1830 - 1921) - Founded Girton College, Cambridge University, the first college in England to educate women.

Elizabeth Blackwell - In 1849, became the first woman in the United States to hold a Medical Degree.

Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879 - 1904) - Advocated for women's rights in Indonesia and vocally criticized the lack of education for women.

Begum Ramayana Liaquat Ali Khan (1905 - 1990) - Pakistani activist who organized a women's nursing and first aid corp despite intense pressure against women working outside the home.  Also arranged a women's conference which resulted in the formation of the All Pakistan Women's Association, an organization for the educational, social and cultural betterment of women.

All of these women have one thing in common: they fought for education for women.  In today's western world we often take women's education for granted.  Unfortunately, this is not yet the norm in other cultures where women are still heavily oppressed and are kept from working outside of their home.  What many may not realize is that the oppression of these women affects all of us, world-wide.

Poverty in developing countries contributes to deforestation and habitat destruction for many species, the tragedy of human trafficking, the spread of diseases and over-population on a planet with finite resources.
Educating women is the single most important step to lifting people out of poverty.  Per Wikipedia:

" Empowering women has helped some countries increase and sustain economic development. When given more rights and opportunities women begin to receive more education, thus increasing the overall human capital of the country; when given more influence women seem to act more responsibly in helping people in the family or village; and when better educated and more in control of their lives, women are more successful in bringing down rapid population growth because they have more say in family planning."
Educate women, save the world!

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Children, Atheism and Religion

When my son came home a few days ago and announced, "Charlie's* an atheist like me!", I felt my chest tighten.  After a deep breath, we had a short discussion about personal beliefs and why some people might get upset with him if their beliefs are different from his and then I reminded him that he is still learning and suggested he might want to hold off discussing religion at school.

Then the guilt came.  Had I just made him feel bad for expressing what he thinks?  Why was I trying to talk him out of being confident?  Why should he not look for bonds with other children whose families might be similar to ours?  Why should he be asked to not discuss his family's beliefs?  Would a child raised in Christian or Muslim or Hindu tradition be told not to bring up such topics?  My first reaction should have been one of joy for him that he had found someone with whom to empathize but instead I shut him down.

My husband and I make a tremendous effort at teaching our son tolerance.  He is well acquainted with stories from the Bible, and knows the basics of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Pantheism, Deism, Judaism, Wicca and more.  We tell him what we believe and why and encourage him to ask the same questions of others.   We want him to make an informed decision when he decides which beliefs will ultimately be his own.  Having done a fair amount of religious study myself, I am at least somewhat aware of just how much he doesn't know yet and it bothers me to hear him call himself an "atheist" because he cannot possibly have enough information to make that decision for himself.  He is placing a label on himself out of familiarity.  I don't like to hear children being labeled in the traditions of their parents because they do not have the cognitive abilities to fully understand what those labels mean much less the greater implications of being associated with those labels.  But labeling himself prematurely wasn't really what had bothered me so much.

The truth is that I told him to keep quiet out of fear, selfishness and shame; fear that others will use the difference to shun or bully him, selfishness for not wanting the other parents to look at me "that way" and shame because I have been conditioned to believe that there is something wrong with being an atheist.  Many of us have it drilled into our brains from a young age that atheists are "bad people" and it is troubling to realize that despite knowing this to not be the case, I still have that reaction within me.

So how do I teach my child to be proud of his family while being cautious of intolerant people and navigating my own inconsistencies?  How do I teach him that we are good people?  How do I let him know that whatever decisions he makes about who he is, if he comes to them honestly, are good decisions?  How do I let him grow up being ok with himself?

For now, I just have to keep reminding myself that he has some advantages in the game.  He does not carry the baggage of being raised in a religious home and deciding to leave his traditional beliefs behind.  He has not been taught that thoughts can be "bad" or that he is always being watched and judged by an omnipotent, omnipresent father figure.  He is still innocent and has a clean slate to build on.  He is not me. 

I can also assure him by showing him daily what I know to be true; that atheists can be good people.  Our family treats others fairly and with kindness.  We help where there is need.  We are honest and ethical and caring.  I can encourage him to speak with others openly and respectfully.  I can teach him through example that there is no shame in choosing rationality over tradition or superstition by not letting myself, or him, be held back by who I used to be. 

*Not his real name

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I love books.  My house is practically overrun by them.  There is something almost magical about them; someone's thoughts condensed and polished and sandwiched between two covers for the purpose of sharing one's mind with others.  My son's school, like many, hands out periodic Book Club flyers offering children's books at a discounted price.  My son gets new books and the school gets credits toward books for the classroom; it seems like a perfect set-up.

We normally get two flyers with names like "Dragonfly" or "Bumble Bee".  This time, we received a third flyer, "Virtues".  It only took a second of reading the book titles; Noah's Ark, Show God's Love, Bible Stories for Girls, The Lord's Prayer, Baby Angels, etc. before I realized that we weren't talking about "virtues" like patience, kindness and charity.  We were talking about Virtues like following the laws of the Bible, going to Sunday school and saying prayers before bedtime.

My Humanist pride was wounded but I still wanted to see what they were offering inside the flyer for Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist kids.  We sometimes buy books from varied perspectives in an effort to teach our son about the world around him.  I was surprised (but should probably not have been) to find that there were none; not one single non-Christian "virtues" book.  There were some non-religious books in the collection but all of the religious ones were explicitly Christian.  This is a problem.  What is the implication of a flyer entitled "Virtues" which includes only a Christian perspective?  That non-Christian children are of a lesser moral quality than those raised as Christians.  It sets the stage for these children for a life-long status of "less than".  No child should ever be made to feel that way and the fact that this was given to first graders makes it even worse.

Most non-theists are well familiar with the challenges of living in a majority-Christian society and the discrimination that can often be a part of that.  Many of us have lost friendships, jobs, even family, over the disdain others hold toward us for our lack of belief in a deity.  You just never quite know how people will react once they find out.  We are often stuck with a choice of standing up for ourselves at the risk of being shunned or keeping our mouths shut and receiving decent treatment.  And sadly, when we do choose to stand up for ourselves, sometimes people elect to extend their discrimination to our children. I spent a few restless nights worrying about what was the right thing to do.

So what's an atheist mom to do?  Because my son's school has stated repeatedly that they place a high value on tolerance, I decided it was worth a go to bring the issue to their attention.  I figured in a best-case scenario, at least I could get them to stop including the "Virtues" flyer in our mailbox.  I typed a carefully-worded e-mail explaining my point of view and then obsessively reviewed it multiple times looking for any trace of whining tone or "angry atheist" sentiment.  Then I saved it as a draft without an address in the "To" line and waited until I felt brave.  I sent it to a friend who works in education and she gave it her seal of approval.  Still not feeling completely confident, I sent it to Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, and asked for his thoughts which he graciously provided.  After incorporating a couple of his edits, I swallowed my fear and clicked "Send" and waited to discover whether or not I had just sealed my son's fate as school pariah for the next five years.

I received a reply that evening.  I looked at the e-mail sitting in my in-box several times without opening it.  At long last, I decided it was no use putting it off any further.  When I finally worked up the nerve to double-click, I was prepared for just about anything.  Much to my surprise and relief, I really didn't need to be so worried.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  The administrator understood my concerns and was in agreement that the flyer should not have been sent out.  She said she planned to contact the Book Club to find out if it was meant for parochial schools and was sent in error or if it was meant to be included and if it was intentionally included, she would discontinue their relationship with the Book Club.  Wow.  I had to read her reply twice to make sure I had read it correctly.  This was a far better outcome than I had even hoped for!

I am so glad that I did not let my fear hold me back.  If I had decided not to speak up, I would have been left wondering - wondering whether the teachers and administrators were bigoted, wondering if I shared their values as much as I thought I had, wondering whether in fact, this was the right school for my child.  But now I know.  And I can sleep soundly until the next challenge comes along.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The War Against Workers

Like many Americans, I have been watching the anti-union legislation being pushed in several states over the past couple of weeks.  Despite being framed as a budget issue, I fail to see how anyone can call this anything but union-busting.  With Wisconsin being at the forefront of this battle, Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker maintains that these steps are necessary to balance the state's budget.  Clearly, a balanced budget is an ideal that all states should strive for but Governor Walker is not being quite honest about the situation.

It is seldom mentioned that the governor started his term a few months ago with a surplus.  What happened to that surplus?  It was given away in the form of tax breaks to wealthy multi-national corporations.  Now the middle class is being asked to pay for those tax breaks.  The union members have already agreed to lower pay and decreased benefits.  They have said that they would concede even more if only the right to bargain collectively were left intact.  Collective bargaining allows workers to ensure that they work in a safe environment, receive proper training, fair wages and work in a good general environment.  Loss of collective bargaining gives all of the power to business which apparently, is right where Governor Walker thinks it belongs. 

Unions do something else, too.  They get out the vote.  And not generally for Republicans.  If Republicans can break the unions, they stand a much higher chance at retaining and gaining seats in the legislature.  Their goal is a permanent Republican majority.  It is widely known that the Republican party largely supports big business and vice versa.  A permanent Republican majority is a fast pathway to a pure corporatocracy, also known as fascism. 

So what does the America of a permanent Republican majority look like?  We hear from them constantly that they just want to cut governmental "waste, fraud and abuse".  This "waste, fraud and abuse" includes such things as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public education, college grants, food safety and environmental regulation.  Cuts of this nature will lead to an America filled with poor, ignorant, uneducated, unhealthy workers who have no say in their own lives.  But that makes us oh so much easier to control now, doesn't it?

Even more interesting is the way they are able to pit public employees against the privately-employed.  Union rights are framed as something "taken" from the rest of us; an unfair advantage.  I am continually surprised at the number of people who actually believe this.  Public employee pensions and health care are not a gift paid for by taxpayers.  David Cay Johnston at explains:
Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.
How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services.
Thus, state workers are not being asked to simply "contribute more" to Wisconsin' s retirement system (or as the argument goes, "pay their fair share" of retirement costs as do employees in Wisconsin' s private sector who still have pensions and health insurance). They are being asked to accept a cut in their salaries so that the state of Wisconsin can use the money to fill the hole left by tax cuts and reduced audits of corporations in Wisconsin.
Unions in the United States are responsible for the 40-hour work week, worker safety, minimum wage, child labor laws, overtime pay and weekends.  The fact that unions can bargain for a fair wage means a decent living wage for the rest of us.  Unions are not the enemy.  They are not taking anything from us.  They are fighting every day on the front lines of the People vs. Corporations and they deserve our support.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Liberal Atheist Hippie

So, as it turns out, the things I enjoy talking about most, religion and politics, are things which one is apparently supposed remain mum on in polite conversation.  I've never been obsessed with being polite but I do like to maintain my friendships and I think it is really nice when family members retain me as a Facebook friend so it seemed a blog was the next natural step to holding onto my loved ones and my sanity simultaneously.

I am unapologetically, as the title states, a liberal atheist hippie.  My politics are often in flux but I currently consider myself to be a Democratic Socialist, most closely aligned with the Green Party.  I advocate evolutionary progressive change toward socialistic goals via a democratic process.  In the words of the Democratic Socialists of America from

We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit, alienated labor, race and gender discrimination, environmental destruction, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo.

We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane international social order based both on democratic planning and market mechanisms to achieve equitable distribution of resources, meaningful work, a healthy environment, sustainable growth, gender and racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.
Although I do consider myself a progressive, I will listen respectfully to the viewpoints of others (this does not necessarily mean I will hold any respect for any particular opinion).  I have, on occasion, even found myself in agreement with conservatives.  I am willing to consider other points of view but if I think you are wrong, I will tell you and I will tell you why.  I expect the same from others.

With regard to my atheism, it is a conclusion I came to after a long and exhaustive search for truth.  I was raised in a Methodist household but began to question in my late teens.  I remained a Christian still for several years.  I read the Bible cover-to-cover twice and realized that I had been misled in a number of ways.  I spent some time studying comparative religions and made an effort at Buddhism, which seemed to most closely reflect my values and beliefs.  In the end though, I found that even Buddhism did not really ring true for me.  After much research and deep thought, the only honest conclusion I could come to was that there is no God and there never was and that religion, as an oppressor of truth, freedom and equality was not something of which I would ever again be a part.

And yes, I am a hippie.  Or so I am told.  In my teenage years, I became very interested in history, politics and political activism.  I found myself greatly inspired by Beat authors Kesey, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Cassady which led to learning about sixties counterculture.  The messages of equality, feminism and peace resonated with me and hippie history became my history.  As one would expect, that road eventually ran past the Grateful Dead and I didn't just get on the bus, I wanted to drive it.  I followed them around the USA on various tours from '89 - '95.  I long considered the Dead and the culture surrounding them to be my people and my home and in many ways, I still do.  When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, it was a devastating loss for me.  As most of us do with our losses, I eventually found a way through it and I now consider the jam band scene to be my musical home.  Some people choose to apply the "hippie" label to me, some tell me the hippies are all gone and that I can only be a "Deadhead".  Whatever.  I'm fine with either (or both).

So this is where it begins.  It has been many moons since I last did any writing outside of e-mail and what's required of me at work and it feels really good.  I am looking forward to seeing where this path leads.  If you enjoy reading about politics, philosophy, skepticism and/or music, please consider becoming a follower of Liberal Atheist Hippie.