Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Lone Atheist

About two weeks ago my two girls left for Bible camp, the younger one for the first time. It's become such a tradition now, that I don't even question it though I do question the means of paying for it when we are relying on some government assistance and therefore are eligible for financial assistance for the camp itself (nevertheless, my husband sometimes insists on paying for it out of pocket). My oldest has been going for years now and enjoys it. There are a lot of fun activities to do, and she gets to see friends she normally wouldn't see. Still, it bothers me because I would never be given the leeway of enrolling them into a secular camp. My opinion is oftentimes ignored because I don't believe in the truth as far as my husband is concerned.

My beliefs are irrelevant.

I have pushed at that a bit though. I went back to school which has infuriated John to no end at times. I decided that homeschooling was no longer working for us and enrolled the girls in school last fall. I enrolled them in a local charter school where they have access to some form of the arts every day and is the only elementary school in the city to have a drama class. That was certainly a rough transition because again, my husband didn't agree with it but as he did nothing to help when I was struggling with the homeschooling, he no longer got to have a say on the matter. The girls WERE going to get an education and if he wasn't going to do it, then they needed to go to school. He was literally sleeping on the job.

On a lot of issues, it is like this. I do my thing, John does his. Our values are different and it's not just due to whether one believes in a deity or not. I believe in equal rights and ending as many of the "isms" as possible. He believes that he is part of a group of people specially called on and blessed by God himself and therefore, anyone who does not believe as he does will, at some point, cease to be or recognize the error of their ways and believe what he believes (believe what the Bible says word for word or be thrown into the Lake of Fire). And I won't even go into his beliefs regarding other races and cultures.

I'll give you a recent example. A few months ago, a booklet was sent home for summer enrichment classes. They had these classes back when I was their age and in school and back then, I would pour over the book for hours looking for the perfect classes to take. Natalie, being Natalie wasn't quite so enthused and I had to push her to look at it. Isabelle, there wasn't really anything for her to take (not this year anyway). We found a few classes she could take that wouldn't interfere with Bible camp in July. Unfortunately, all of the classes she wanted were taken (that's what happens when you can use the internet to sign up and you wait until the LAST DAY to sign up--oops). There was one class I found for her that was an art class that sounded like something she might enjoy. It was called Zentangles. Looking at the description, it really just mentioned using shapes to create pictures. Okay, so abstract drawing, cool.

We get to the week of class. John, suspicious of the word ZEN in the title, has to go looking it up to make sure it's not something sinister. He finds a number of things on it including that it's used for mindfulness (oh hey, a connection with DBT, now I wish I had known that beforehand!). The shape drawing can lead to a meditative state. Now, you would think that this would be a good thing, right? Well, not for John. For him, meditation equals Buddhism. And Buddhism leads one to worshiping false gods. He found this article online: and printed it off. He was going to share the article with the teacher and included a note on the back:

Did you know that Zentangles is a form of and promotes meditational behavior, and derives from and leads into the Zen concept of exploration of the Buddha-nature? It is a subtle and unconscious, unstressed introduction into Buddhism, a false religion.

I wish I was making this up but I took that word for word from what he wrote. I kept the article to show my therapist. Fortunately, John never did show this to Natalie's teacher (like he/she would even care) and Natalie did complete the class because seriously, it was just drawing lines and shapes to make a picture. She would draw a pony and then a bunch of lines and shapes around her pony. She also, on the first day, colored in a drawing which is something we have done for mindfulness in my skills group. But that leads me to my next point.

I am in a therapy program that stresses mindfulness/meditation as a way to control emotions. 

Mindfulness of current emotion, of current thought, is HUGE for those in dialectical behavior therapy. And meditation is not a load of woo either. An article in the Scientific American magazine from November 2014 titled The Neuroscience of Meditation goes rather thoroughly into the practice of meditation and how it can change the brain. It is being studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and one of the subjects looked at is a Buddhist monk. Does it have origins of Eastern philosophy? Yes. Can it be used without religious significance? For sure! I go to a Catholic hospital. One of the therapist is a nun. There are no issues with this program being used. DBT was developed by someone who suffered from the borderline personality disorder herself.

But I'm not using the Bible to cure my emotional issues. 

And that's not acceptable as far as he's concerned so he tends to not see any improvements I've made though others have noticed. But really, from my understanding of the Bible, God himself could use some DBT skills. I mean, talk about emotional disregulation!

And that's just one example. Probably the biggest issue is that sundown Friday to sundown Saturday is to be used for church only. There is to be no working, no spending money (no grocery shopping even), no chores outside of cooking. The girls are not to go to any parties or any other activities during that time. Yeah, pretty much every single birthday party and town event occurs on Saturday. Over the winter it's not too bad with parties because sundown is earlier but during the summer, the girls miss out on a lot and it really sucks. He won't back down from it either. And while I know that it's a deal with his church and not Christian churches in general, it is a big issue in our household and something that is really hard for the girls to understand especially with this past year being their first year in school.

If I didn't have my freethinker's group, I don't know what I would do. That's been such a relief for me. I'm able to get out once a month (most months) and spend time with people who are open-minded. Living with someone who only thinks one way, who only believes what one book tells him, is incredibly hard at times. There is not much you can talk about with someone who is that closed minded. To someone like that, the world is black and white. My therapist and I talk about it (no, I'm not seeing the nun though she's really nice but the therapist I do see speaks more my language) and talk about how it is fear that rules someone like that. We talk about my trying to understand that fear and being more compassionate because of it but there are times it is just too hard for me. I'm not able to empathize. And for sure, I'll never believe what he believes. I did try and I gave up a lot in the process of trying and in the end, lost part of myself.

I'm still trying to find that part, the part that would be there if I wasn't married to John.

One thing I've heard a lot is that the reason I'm an atheist is because of John. I was questioning my beliefs long before I met him. I was questioning them back my freshman year of high school. I don't think that would change. What might be different is what I would have been drawn to instead of Christianity. I had been dabbling in paganism when we first met and forced myself to abandon it because of his beliefs. Would I have stayed with it? Or would I have found another path instead? It's hard for me to know. I'm sure his belief system has influenced mine in some way especially as forceful as he has been about it. But how, I can't be entirely sure. It gets lonely sometimes though, being the lone atheist here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why Do We Need Heaven?

Writing last night's post kind of gave me an idea for another post. I was going to include it in the post last night but since it goes off of that topic a bit, I decided to make a separate post.

A Little Background 

I was baptized Lutheran (Catholic church wouldn't baptize me when I was born in 1980 because my parents had a civil marriage and my dad's first marriage was never annulled) but my mom had left the church when I was about five. At 10, I went to a Catholic church for the first time. I was enrolled in Catholic school shortly after that and had a crash course in Catholicism in the two weeks from the time I left public school to the time I started Catholic school. I knew nothing about religion really prior to that. I attended Catholic school from the second part of grade 4 through the first part of grade 9. I went back to public school starting the second semester of my freshman year of high school. I attended a Catholic University for three years but did not graduate and for the most part, I had avoided the religion classes. I had already more or less left the Catholic church at this point.

After marrying my husband in 2003, he rejoined his church in 2004. The religion he is part of is called The United Church of God. It is a split-off of a split-off of a split-off from the original Seventh Day Adventist Church. It is a Sabbath keeping church (Sabbath for him is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) and keeps Biblical holy days including one called the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast is an 8 day holy week that is to give an idea of how the millennium of peace will be following the tribulations. The last day of this, the 8th day, is a separate holy day where the focus is on the final judgement of all mankind. I have attended services during a couple of the Feasts I attended (before I finally determined I was an atheist) and have somewhat of an idea about the belief systems here, probably more so than I do about the Catholic's beliefs regarding heaven so that's kind of the direction I'm coming from here.

A Perfect Community

Going back to my last post, regarding the movie, The Giver, I'm struck by the beginning where it goes into the communities following the wars. Forgive me for any spoilers though this doesn't describe the actual plot of the movie. There were wars leading to destruction (as wars tend to). Following these wars, communities were built. These communities are created and everyone is the same. There are no differences, no colors even. There are rules that everyone must follow. Everyone has their place. There is no famine, money, no contests, no winners or losers. Language is to be precise. You say what you mean and you don't exaggerate. You don't lie. Families are assigned. There are no relationships. There are also no animals and the climate is completely controlled. No suffering, no sadness. There is no fear. All needs are met.

Sounds like heaven, doesn't it? And even better, in heaven, you don't die. You live forever. Sounds like the perfect place to be. But, I'll be honest, it doesn't sound that perfect to me. It actually sounds kind of like a nightmare.

There's something to be said for challenges, for struggles. 

The positive and negative experiences of life give us something to live for, to fight against. What would the draw of living forever in the perfect place be? What would there be to live for? You're going to live forever. The kids you have will live forever. Day by day will be the same. You would follow the rules of the Bible day in and day out (ALL the rules, no cherry picking here anymore). Emotions couldn't be allowed. They could become dangerous. Even love because that could leave to jealousy and envy, even hate. We would have to be dumbed down because being overly intelligent would be problematic. Or worse, we would know everything there is to know. There would be no quest to improve things because it's the perfect world. Improving things could cause problems.

I wonder why there is such a need for heaven? I think the biggest reason is that the idea of death is such a frightening thing. We want to know that there is something beyond this life, that we will continue to live on after we die. We especially want this for those who died too soon, for those who didn't even get a chance to live because where is the fairness of that? I think people think of that aspect more so than what heaven would actually be like what heaven would HAVE to be like based on what it says in the Bible.

I don't believe heaven exists. 

And while I do sometimes fear death, fear that point where I no longer exist and struggle a little with that concept, I realize too that it is up to me to make my life one that is worth living because this is it. This is the only life I have and I need to make the most of it. And I think that is what drives us as a human species. DEATH motivates us to LIVE and to make the most of life, to try and answer the questions of the universe to know things we didn't know previously. We want to improve our lives and improve the world. I don't think that a perfect world would motivate us to live in such a way. We all need something to reach for, some reason to LIVE.

Thoughts? Would love to read them.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Elimination of Emotion in Future Worlds

I had an epiphany during today's skills group and it was sort of lead from my having viewed The Giver last night for the second time. It's a great movie and I recommend it. I have read the book as well (own an autographed copy of the book which I need to read again as it's been a few years). There's a scene from there I noticed especially. I think I'm kind of sensitive to these sort of themes in movies because of my own struggles with regulating my emotions (the movie Frozen is another one that really pushes the emotional buttons for me) but watching this I'm reminded of similar themes in other books I've read. Here's a clip from the movie:

So the idea is in order to have this perfect society where everyone is safe and fed and has a home, there can be no emotions, not just unhappy ones but happy ones too (there's a discussion between two of the characters later on in the movie so again, if you haven't seen it, check it out; I don't want to spoil too much of it).

Dealing with Difficult Emotions

By that I mean emotions that are so overwhelming in some cases, you can't function. How do you deal with that? How do you reach a place where you can use skills to deal with the emotions? And in talking about that, one thing that comes up is dealing with myths regarding emotions. Some myths being that emotions are bad, that we are our emotions. Emotions are not bad though. They are sometimes necessary; they are oftentimes lifesaving. They meet needs. And perhaps in a "perfect" society where all of our needs are met emotions are unnecessary but I don't think that's right either.

Emotions good and bad are eliminated.

It occurred to me that in a lot of dystopian type novels, emotions are somehow eradicated. In The Giver, it is through daily medication. In Brave New World, it is with something called Soma. Fahrenheit 451 used entertainment such as large walls of TV screens (eek, that one is hitting kind of close to home!). Utopian worlds do it too. In Star Trek, the more advanced species are the ones who have conquered their emotions and let only logic reason (except for that time of mating which always seems to throw people's emotions out of whack, dang hormones!). The more savage species is the Klingons who war and can't control their emotions and warlike ways. Some of the major characters are the ones who are half one of these species and half humans and have to struggle with the more emotional side of their genetics. Spock of the original series was half human and half Vulcan and struggled with his human side because of the emotional side. B'lanna, from Voyager, struggled with her half Klingon side and it was the human side that stabilized the emotions somewhat.

And yet having emotions is what makes us human. 

Having emotions also attracts those who were not human to be human. Data from The Next Generation (feel free to think I'm a total sci-fi nerd here) rejoiced when he finally was able to experience emotions as for him, that meant he was completely human. The Doctor from Voyager also worked to learn more about emotions, both the good and the bad (you can't have one without the other unfortunately) and used his desire to achieve more human like traits such as having emotions to help Seven of Nine reach her more human side (by again, reconnecting with the emotional side she had more or less lost while with the Borg).

So it's kind of interesting how we as humans have a sort of love/hate relationship with our emotions and how some see suppressing those emotions as the ultimate way to advance as a species. Perhaps we fear the primal side of those emotions. However, one skill we learn as those who are especially emotional is to accept our emotions, both the positive and the negative. The emotions in and of themselves are not the bad thing. It's our response to those emotions that can be destructive.

Thoughts? I'd love to read them!