Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Familial Pressure: How loyalty to the family is tested through church attendance or lack thereof

I thought I was clear enough to my family(grandmother and great grandmother) about my views on religion and church attendance. I was wrong. My grandmother and I had heated discussion about family business and individual treatment of each other. She said she didn't think I loved her and the statement hurt me enough to reduce me to tears. I now know it was a heat of the moment response but the utterance of those words hurt me very deeply. Considering the fact I was the person who was by her side during her battle with cancer, I could not understand why she would think that. We cleared up the problems and each of us calmed down but I was still very weak. I don't like to fight with the people I care about. My grandmother came to me and asked me to attend church with her and my great-grandmother on any Sunday I choose. In my weakened and emotional state I agreed.

My great-grandmother was my primary care-taker for the first 15 years of my life. Going to church each and every Sunday was a tradition. Suits, ties, dress shoes, singing and listening to the pastor "preach the word of God", was what I knew I'd be doing at least 3 times a week. She attributes her life being demonstrably better because she gave her life to God and to this day she holds steadfastly to that claim, despite the poverty stricken conditions, drugs and death we saw on a weekly basis in our community. In her eyes, at least God was there to shield us. The church was a safe haven. It's where we gained validation as people and a connection to a higher power. The church made her happy and she smiled each time she spoke about it and enjoyed attending each service. She loved the atmosphere and the people. Those things were carried with her when she moved at Atlanta, from Charlotte North Carolina early last year. She lamented about not having a "church home". When she found one she was grateful and happy. Her and my grandmother began to attend regularly and still do. My grandmother attributes her triumphant victory against cancer to God's love and care.   She wasn't a church goer as much as she is now until her mother moved here. Until today there was not a push to get me to join in. Both knew, but only my grandmother really understood what an 'atheist' is and why I didn't go to church.

I talked to my girlfriend soon after the heated discussion between my grandmother and I and told her I was going to church. She wanted to know what the fuck was wrong with me. Deciding to go was totally out of character and inconsistent with the man I have shown myself to be. She alerted me to the traditional aspect of my own family and how I can be manipulated by others even if done unconsciously on their part. I understand the place my grandmother and great grandmother are coming from. They see the church as a benefit and something good and they wish for me to partake in it. I figured I had some talking to do so I ended the phone call with my girlfriend.

First I talked to my great-grandmother and asked her why she wanted me to go. She said she wanted me to hear what the preacher had to say. She wanted to 'show me off'. In some churches steeped in old traditions, when a family member is spoken of, it's discourteous and even disrespectful to the parishioners of that church  for that family member to never be seen. You have an obligation to show up to prove you are not a ghost. Very silly but that's where that comes from. When I was first asked to attend my grandmother said "it'll really make her happy if you go", but when she heard me speaking to her mother the 'her' turned into a 'we'. She said "it will make us happy if you go and you should do anything to make us happy". That statement is simply not the case and is a form of guilt. Their happiness need not depend on me going to their church. I don't love them any less or treat them badly because of not attending. It's not something I find healthy for myself or even for them. I have never asked them to not attend church but if they never went again I would be happier. I asked them both "If I asked you not to attend any church again and not give your money to them, would you do it, even if that made me happy"? Both with a strong tone said "no". From there I articulated why I thought their request was a guilt trip. The initial deal was a one time only thing. In further discussion the 'one time' evolved to 'sometimes'. I was able to articulate my view and my reasons for rescinding the offer in a way I had not done before. They will continue to be happy even though disagree with my decision. I was angry even though they could not tell. My loyalty to each of them was under the microscope. All of my past deeds and good action were contingent on attending or not. I fought against that view and gained a better understanding of myself, my positions, theirs, and I came away stronger. I am happy with my approach to them. I hugged each of them and told them "I cannot do this because it will not make me happy".

Their happiness is important to me. I love them both very dearly but I cannot and will not go to church again unless it's for a wedding or a funeral service. I know going is not an admission of faith, but I view the church, religion and a lot of it's gatekeepers as mental road blockers and they conjure up talk which makes reality scary which results in a lot of people not dealing with their lives. Instead they 'give it all to God'. They(churchgoers) are not encouraged to take full responsibility for the things they say or do. It's not a place I want to be and it's a place I will not go. You may think I have a phobia or I have had a collection of bad experiences but you are mistaken. Majority of my experiences were good or okay. It's not a place that I am willing to put my name and my being behind. It's not a place which fosters an account of reality in such a way to empower you to deal with your own life and it's many circumstances. No love or loyalty to a family member or anyone else is enough for me to disavow the person I am and forego my own happiness, even for a short time to appease them. Each of them has to learn no matter our generational differences, I will not attend church. We can still love, laugh, cry, yell, scream and hug without me attending their church. They now know that and I am happy they do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Existential Surrender: Avoiding Responsibility & Reality

I've often heard about the power of prayer. It's the thing to do in times of need, suffering, advice, direction and can be done at any moment. The exercise is encouraged by many in the clergy and used as a way to gain political credit and capital by politicians and even touted as fruitful in local barbershops. When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer I was counseled by a number of nice people to pray for her. I thought the idea of petitioning a deity who allowed her to get cancer and based on it's own omniscience, knew that would happen, does not need me to speak on it's terrible plan in such a way to ask for it to be changed. It needs to have a more intelligent plan. In fact, fuck it's plan and we will deal with the circumstance. The best method was to find her the appropriate set of physicians, deal with tight ass insurance companies and get her the necessary radiation treatments she needed. I could have prayed and I know she did, but I do not think her prayers had any impact at all with her current status.(surgery was successful and she is in remission).

If prayer has any kind of power or effect then it ought to be tested to see if it has any kind of real efficacy. A number of large, well designed scientific studies have REPEATEDLY FAILED to find any evidence that suggests sick people who are prayed for recover much faster or more completely than those who aren't. Some have argued prayer is not meant to be something which has specific effects in the natural world and is just something used to bolster faith. Those apologetics are utterly useless. Faith is a parasite. It's not something befitting of thinking, knowledgeable people. It's the refuge for the bombastically ignorant, the pious pompous assholes, and people who don't want their prejudices/biases shred to pieces. (Prayer is the placebo for the self)

Prayer is nothing more than a psychological escape from responsibility and reality. It's a temporary/false paradise, and a petition to a specific deity (no matter how it's semantically defined) to have reality bend in such a way to comfort us and or gain what we want. Prayer isn't work. Prayer does not feed starving children, heal people of diseases, create an environment which fosters critical thinking and healthy skepticism, nor is it a virtuous exercise. Many people pray for others or at least they claim they do. If they found out their prayers caused any harm at all, I wonder would they reconsider the exercise. Or someone who prays to gain a specific job because they want it or need it. I think we can be moderately certain other people have also applied for that job and need/want it for their own set(s) of reasons. You would also be praying that THEY DO NOT GET THAT JOB. You would be petitioning your deity to show favoritism and perhaps may negotiate with the deity by offering more money in the collection plate if you obtain the position.

If you want the job, then you need to know people or do a damn good job in the interview process. If you want to do well on a test, then you must study vigorously for it. You want a better car? Go out and earn it. Get off of your knees and do real work which has demonstrable effects. You have to take responsibility for the life you have and stop worrying or wishing for another one. The time spent praying for family members who may be dying is time you do not spend with them. Praying to gain a specific position is time not spent working on your resume or ironing your damn clothes. Take the reigns of your own life and stop petitioning something in the sky to shine it's light on you and your interests. Doing so is terribly arrogant and wreaks of fantasy and intentional blindness to reality.

Prayer is unnecessary. Surrendering personal responsibility and avoiding real action in your own life is a massive disservice to yourself. It's the willful deigning of your own abilities. I do not care how many clergy, celebrities or whomever yap incessantly about the power of prayer. It's useless. In order to maximize your own potential you must do work and do it well. No more petitioning and negotiating with god(s). Get to work. Help other people by doing work and not by clasping your own hands together or holding prayer revivals. Face reality on it's own terms. It may not be the most ideal thing you want to do but it's certainly better than creating a fantasy world. It's your life and you ought to own and act responsibly with every aspect of it. Ditch prayer as the fruitless exercise that it is and embrace your own humanity, ingenuity, goals, and interests. This is your only shot so do it well.

Black Woman: Thou shalt attend church!

I remember growing up with my great-grandmother and witnessing her involvement in our neighborhood church. Holidays or special occasions, such as children performing a scripted account of a story from the Bible or prominent visitors from a nearby church always prompted a certain dress code. The pastor of the church, along with his dutiful wife would instruct the ladies of the congregation to wear specific colors, hats, shoes etc. My great-grandmother was considered a "mother" of the church. She was granted prominence and her voice would be heard on important issues(clothing and food oriented. Not the direction of the church). She was allowed to sit on the first row with all of the other "mothers" of the church. They were seen as the beacon of what a dutiful woman ought to be. The "mothers" would be together with their prayer cloth over their legs with their huge hats and listening to the very bombastic pastor. The same kind of role was instituted at another church we attended before I left Charlotte, North Carolina. Victory Christian Center also showed deference to older women and touted them as the pinnacle of dutiful women. Strong and sacrificial. Obedient and loyal.

The younger women of both churches were encouraged to prepare themselves for "god fearing men". They were cautioned against the "evils" of pre-marital sex and a strong emphasis was placed on purity or in today's crude terms, "low mileage". She's supposed to wait until she is married to engage in sex because she is only supposed to be with ONE man. That is her reward for obeying and following the destiny god has set out for her. The woman's value was determined by 2 things; her loyalty to her church & to the man who "picked her". The young men were told to gain experience. They were given license by specific members of the church to use "other women" in preparation for the good woman god was going to send their way. Any woman who didn't obey and in any way strayed away from the divine path was deemed unclean and slutty. She was relegated to the bottom of the social church class and was greeted with gossip, sneering, cold shoulders and name-calling. Breaking from the ranks was a rare event and when done the woman would become a target. Sermons would be dedicated to call out her specific behavior. I don't know what happened to the 2 women who were called out(not specifically by name, but due to the gossip we all knew), but I hope they were not broken by the shabby treatment of mean-spirited, intolerant religionists.

The view of a loyal black woman is still preached about and demanded by black men right now. I'm an atheist. I'm a black male who is not afraid to say it. I know I am afforded a lot more room when it comes to criticizing religion than that of black women. I am rarely asked if I attend church. The assumption is I don't have to attend, but my blackness indicates that on some level I do believe in a higher power. Black women who are agnostics/atheists/free thinkers are not afforded the same kind of latitude. Take the two following questions; Do you go to church? Which church do you attend? The first question can be answered simply by an affirmative or a negation and is typically asked only of black men. The second question is far more nuanced and is aimed specifically at black women. The first assumption is based on the integral connection between femininity, blackness and their duty to maintain their place in the church. The question has already been answered for the black woman. She's supposed to say "yes....". That is her role and her duty. Once she provides a church name, she has done her job and automatically receives praise and smiles. If she does not attend church and does not believe, then the questioner will attempt to employ the Socratic method to all aspects of her life.

The way she wears her hair, clothes, the type of profession she has, education(type of degree), and so forth will be up for debate and not just in a private setting. Her entire existence and value will be for all to comment. Her body will become a moral playing field for men who seek to "put her in her rightful place". They will create legislation and public policy to restrict her rights/choices as an autonomous human being. She will be deemed untrustworthy, reckless, selfish and so on, for exercising her personal liberty. She has violated the 11th commandment; Thou shalt attend church and believe in God. She is not allowed to pursue her own interests unless it coincides  with the will of men. She is not allowed to not have children. (another way in which she is valued) She must toil at home with the kids(be fruitful and multiply, but damn a job!) while the man brings home the bacon, which she is expected to cook. Failure to fall into line is social suicide. More men will target her and privately witness to her about how good god is and how they ought to re-think their decision. However in public these men must maintain the non-believing black woman is an infidel, while privately trying to tame her into the docile character they want her to be. She is not afforded the immediate and indefinite line of social credit offered to black women that provide a church name to the aforementioned second question. She is a blight on the ass of humanity and she must be stopped. Something is off about her and she is too strong and too independent.

The last perspective is offered for a few reasons. First, black female atheists/agnostics/freethinkers have a different set of supposed expectations in which to deal with and overcome. Second, their value and existence is placed in a narrow set of ideals that's not befitting of someone who's autonomous. Many black men uphold what I stated in the previous talk and probably employ other methods which I didn't mention. I don't know them all. Third, I am tired of the churches, the applications of religious dogma, and the ideas of a god(s) defining black women. I'm tired of black men who use their religion and power to keep them down. Churches continue to herd black women toward sub-par men and goals. As long as he believes in god, he's good. It does not matter if he is terrible with money, treats you like shit, has no goals, no desire to work, etc. He believes and that's enough. What he lacks, the black woman is supposed to pick up the slack. That is the view of a slave and perpetuated by people who wish to keep black women in a mental prison and thereby giving them full access to her body. I am happy to see more black women come out boldly and substantively against the rhetoric offered by churches, the dehumanizing aspect of religion and define themselves for themselves and not to please some sorry ass piece of shit man, who only respects her as long as she does what she's told, puts him first, and only pursues her interests and long as he agrees.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Atheists: Yes we do exist.

You may have heard or seen the following statements or some variation of them; Atheism is a white person thing or Atheism is for white people. You may think "what the hell is wrong with that person to spout such an ignorant statement", and I think the thought is right but let's examine a few things. Due to a lot of purposeful misinformation, widespread delusions, outright lies, and intellectual laziness, atheism is perceived as a white only exercise. The fact that I and other Black atheists exist, proves the earlier statements to be false but the perception has become a reality and it's something we have to fight against. Within the black community there is a widespread and deep belief that not believing in a god, or advocating for science is akin to "acting white". The same can be said if you enunciate, wear clothes that fit you, or read some damn books. Those thoughts are not only expressed by young people but by older people too. Some older Black folks think their words, thoughts and actions are above reproach, simply because of their age and any thinking that challenges them is disrespectful. Having "too much knowledge" and the willingness to use it, express it and correct others when they are wrong can be detrimental and can lead to familial separation and social suicide among other things.

Note: "acting white" is used by people that place white intelligence in it's own special category above their own intelligence. They see themselves and their thinking as inferior and anyone who does not buy into the inferiority is attempting to "be white". To them, white people are seen as the readers, thinkers, non-believers, so if you are any one of those things, you are "trying to fit in" or "curry favor with white people". You are viewed as a traitor to your own race.

Black folks(in America) trend the highest when polling when asked do they believe in god. I take the polls at face value. Many of our recent historical figures, such as MLK Jr, are usually quoted with some reference to their particular religious belief. Sports stars, such as David Tyree, then a New York Giants wide receiver who made a spectacular catch in the Superbowl that ended the New England Patriots perfect season, has publicly expressed that his belief in God has helped him in hard times and helped him win the Superbowl. Steve Harvey, a comedian and radio show host has publicly condemned atheists as "not having a moral compass". He has counseled Black women with "relationship books" and tells them to avoid men without faith. Many pastors, reverends, prophets and "prophetesses" are heralded because of the position they have within the church. They are afforded respect and absolute deference to many things and can say and do just about anything and receive little to no push back. None of the aforementioned names may mean anything to you but my point is this; the power of celebrity, specific positions within a church or even demonstrable intelligence in academia or entrepreneurial success can/will be used as justifications for believing in God. Certain figures will be juxtaposed to you as a way of saying "they believe and look at them. You have no excuse to not believe". Those are powerful moves to a non-skeptical mind. We like to give authority to others in a multitude of areas when they've only demonstrated reason and competence in one or two fields. (perhaps that can be applied universally)


Why do I say I exist? I think there is power in numbers and I think my voice is meaningful. I want to be heard and I want to contribute.  I happen to wear atheist shirts because I want others to know that I am not ashamed. Part of the problem with "atheism is a white only thing" is that some Black atheists refuse to speak out. That's right, some of this is SELF-IMPOSED. You cannot be accounted for if you choose to remain silent and as the saying goes "closed mouths don't get fed". Now some of the silence is due to a lack of an environment in which to express the fact that they are an atheist without being peppered with negative judgments about their lives, mental/emotional states and their thinking. Some of the silence is "not wanting to proselytize" like the believers do and there is some refusal to gather because that might look "too churchy". I call bull shit on the last two. I think the we all benefit from the healthy skepticism that each one of us can offer toward religious/spiritual claims and dogma. We can also gather and do fun things together, like go to the movies, have some damn drinks, bowl, clean up the community, and PREACH the message of rational thought, advocate for science and trash anti-science and pseudo-science, healthy skepticism and critical thinking to other people. Social networking has been a useful tool in reaching out as well but when/if you can GET OFF THE NET and talk to people. I do understand that everyone is not like me and some are non-confrontational. Different people have different personalities but contribute where you can.

This post isn't to say that the Black atheist experience is more deserving of attention or is better than or harder than any other but it is to say IT IS DIFFERENT AND DISTINCT in some ways. I'm sure my post is non-comprehensive and incomplete in some way. I can say I've met other Black atheists. We exist and we are here to stay. I think we should speak out, not just about atheism, but also about women's rights, advocate for responsible and informed voters/voting, get involved in the political process and bring use the skepticism we have for religious/spiritual claims to all important aspects of our lives and our community. We should be outspoken about good solid reasoning and high standards of evidence for gigantic claims.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My father is an atheist: What that means to me.

I've only been "out" as an atheist for a little over a year. The process of dumping religious or spiritual content, thoughts, motivations etc took more than 5 years to completely shed. I grew up going to church every Sunday with my great-grandmother back in North Carolina. I was required to read the Bible and recite scripture every week(I did poorly at both tasks. I'll leave it up to you to determine why I sucked at it.). I did not grow up with my father or mother as central figures in my life. I can attribute a lot of my foundational  beliefs and attitudes to my great-grandmother. Most of the family I knew was very religious even though they only practiced in the presence of others. When I reached high school, I left North Carolina for my current city, Atlanta. The church going continued with me going with my dad's mom(my grandmother). 

In this city is where I began to learn the mitigating circumstances around my parents not being around and it's where I found the answers I wanted for a long time (some of the answers were good and others were not). I was able to establish relationships, sometimes very fractious and challenging with both of my parents. My father is a very eloquent writer and very persuasive. He'd write me a 2 page letter and leave me with more than 25 things to think about (I may post one so you can judge for yourself). He's the one that introduced me to philosophy, which I later studied in college. When we did speak any comments about religion would be made by me and me only. He never wrote to me explaining any religious beliefs he may have had and I don't recall asking him. His mother told me he was a Muslim and I was okay with that and went on believing it, until this past week. A few months ago he wrote me a 3 page letter alerting me of the similarities I have with my mother, which infuriated me to some degree (my girlfriend can attest to that) but he made some profound points. I wrote back, expressing that he was right and that I hate when he is but I also told him that I am an atheist. 

I didn't receive a reply by mail. I thought he had written off my letter and I was frustrated until he called. I asked him about the letter and he said he had received it but he wanted to know something. The looming question of course is ARE YOU AN ATHEIST? I said YES and he and I both felt a sense of relief. We both felt that we were not alone in the family (his mom knows I am an atheist but doesn't know about him). My father was relieved and shocked but not shocked all at the same time. Relieved because it's not just him, shocked that I am so bold about it, and not shocked because he expected it at some point. He told me he thought that I would eventually become an atheist due to my intelligence and educational accomplishments. He said he didn't want to influence me in any way because he did not want his mother to think my becoming an atheist is HIS fault. I told him I make my own decisions and it took a while for me declare it proudly, boldly, and to deal with any fall out. 

Now what does that mean to me? I greatly appreciate him encouraging me to investigate ALL of my beliefs. How did he do that? Simply by engaging me and asking good questions. I also had a thirst for knowledge and wanted good reasons to support what rattles around in my head and comes out of my mouth, which cannot be taught per se, but it can be encouraged. I still employ the model today and it helps me weed out bull shit. I know I'm not alone in the family, but that's an added bonus. If you follow me on Twitter, you may think I've been an atheist for about 10+ years. I'm very passionate about it and I want to share it. If I choose to have kids, I plan to employ the same method my father did with me. Encourage them to figure things out. Introduce them to philosophy and encourage them to read. I'm going to make sure they are scientifically literate and have great bull shit detectors. This is a new "tradition" in the family and one that I want to preserve and continue. Where an ugly cycle was ended, a better one has begun and I'm happy to be a part of that. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Making God Unfalsifiable: Making Metaphysical statements to prove there is a God.

I hate metaphysics. I think it's a branch of philosophy that posits that there are 100,000 restaurants but never offers to take you to any one of them just to see what the food is tastes like. Metaphysics in this sense leads to salivation and leaves you hungry and empty. No menus and just positing the possibility of 100,000 menus. I like food so don't tease me with the idea and then leave me without being able to taste it. I've run into this kind of argument for the existence of a god or gods, in some supernatural sense. The argument hinges on a few things; that we as human beings are fallible and we do not know everything, a god of a metaphysical description is possible (the possibility is not impressive in any way), the ability to string a number of concepts within reality together, call it coherent and sound good while doing it. Usually the argument in a conversational setting runs like this; We know of many things and objects within reality but we do not know what is outside of reality. We have not been able to determine the cause of many or all things and we are still ignorant to our reality in many ways. We have not adequately explained the origins or the purpose(s) of life and we cannot rule out the possibility that a god exists.

Without qualifying which god they are speaking of or where they obtained this concept of a god, which they believe is far more than a concept (i.e. it's very real and has some significant role in our reality), let's look at the argument as it stands. We do know of many objects exist in reality as well as quantifiable phenomena. The odd part of some metaphysical claims is the claim about what is outside of reality. The claim is made within reality and the natural world as we understand it. What knowledge or evidence does the person have to claim that something outside of reality exists and/or has bearing on our reality and that thing outside of reality is "god"? Those are just statements used with the language we have developed over time to express a thought. The thought does not have any explanatory power within our reality. It's a load of hot air. The thought could be wrong, misinformed, held onto because it makes the author of it feel good and does not square with the facts on the ground.

There are things in our reality that may be unknown but that does not make them unknowable. We are still trying to gain an understanding as best we can, with the evidence we have in reality to explain our world/universe. The rest of the argument is an argument from ignorance/god of the gaps. It's a good way to demand absolute certainty with respect to knowledge about the world/universe (which we can't get nor need) and pitch an argument for the existence of a god, because of not possessing all knowledge of the natural world/universe, and place metaphysical statements about the god in gaps in understanding or knowledge. Not knowing a specific cause (one may not even exist at all or be necessary) does not give any credit to a god or gods being that cause. Even if the universe came into existence because of a FIRST cause, then all you have is a first cause. You have no reason or evidence to suggest or claim that the first cause is god.

The possibility aspect is an example of low standards for believing something as big as a claim about the existence of a god, whether the claim is metaphysical or not. Everything is possible under that standard. It's possible that in 10 seconds I will burst into flames and my entire home will burn down. You may think that sounds crazy but it IS possible is it not? If I adopt this weak standard of possibility, simply because I cannot rule it out, then how is the belief I have in me bursting into flames any more ridiculous that a god that exists outside of reality or caused reality into existence? It's possible that Santa Claus actually exists and so does the tooth fairy. It's possible that apples can vote within the next 10 years and chicken sandwiches can play football. Should we conduct our lives because of those possibilities? I don't think so. For the god claims to fly, metaphysical statements do not cut it. It's the epitome of verbal vapor without any explanatory power about our natural world/universe.

Life does not have to have a purpose in order for it to exist as it does. This includes all types of life which includes humans. That is not a bad thing. If you're worried about your life having a purpose, I think it is up to you to give your life purpose. We have no evidence to suggest a god, creator, or transcendent consciousness, or underlying intelligence exists at all. A lot of people have been very good at playing with words to express empty thoughts about our world. They play with emotional strings and some attempt to use science in such a way to support their claims but are later refuted by hard scientists. Most people do not see the refutations of the 'sciency' claims. They make appeals to us with shared experiences, usually through strife and unpleasantness to demand that something outside of reality must exist and in some cases, we are accountable to that thing i.e. god. Making statements about the existence of a god are merely assertions until proven otherwise. Insisting that the statements are true and have explanatory power are just more statements. Show me something other than words to prove that this god you speak of actually exists. Otherwise you are just blowing hot air.