Guest Posts

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Yoga Will Open You Up to Demonic Power

yoga is satanic

Guest post by ObstacleChick

My brother recently posted on social media a link to an article in Charisma Magazine regarding a sermon by John Lindell, pastor of James River Church, a church with four campuses in Missouri (Ozark, Joplin, and two campuses in Springfield) along with live streaming option. The title of the sermon is “Haunted: Pursuing the Paranormal.” According to the church’s website, this James River promotes the Bible as “accurate, authoritative, and applicable”; a Triune God; symbolism of communion of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to empower us for life; that belief in Jesus along with baptism in water, setting our minds on God and His purposes, and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit will allow us to lead the power-filled lives that God intends for us; that Jesus is coming back again to rule and reign on this earth and that history will end as the wicked are judged and the righteous will inhabit a new heaven and earth.

If you have nearly an hour to spare and care to watch his message, please watch the following video. (I was cooking at the time, so at least I was productive while listening to this ridiculous message.) Otherwise, I have provided a very brief summary below.

Video Link

In the sermon, Lindell warns of Satanic and demonic influences of five major practices common in our “post-Christian” society. He opens the sermon describing Satan as a fallen angel created by God who convinced a third of the angels to rebel with him, thus becoming demons. He says that as a created being, Satan is not all-powerful or all-knowing, and that Satan is a murderer, a liar, and a destroyer. He will be defeated by God one day.

The first practice Lindell warns against is seeking information via the paranormal, such as reading horoscopes, consulting psychics, using an Ouija board or tarot cards. He says that these people are either charlatans trying to take your money or they are opening a door to Satanic and demonic influences. The second practice is attempting to connect to powers, energies, or forces by using physical objects such as crystals or amulets or dream-catchers which supposedly open a portal to demonic activity or influence. The third is practicing Wicca, and the fourth is the typical admonition not to watch movies or read books or participate in any other media not promoting Jesus/God/True Christianity. The fifth is the warning against practicing Yoga, and his description of yoga is one of a false demonic religion (Hinduism) that opens one up to demonic influences.

As an atheist who does not believe in deities or any other supernatural forces, beings, or auras, my reaction to his sermon is that this is all ridiculous fear-mongering in order to keep the congregation away from any outside influences that might run counter to the teachings of the fundamentalist religion. Indeed, Lindell says that opening one’s mind is dangerous. Of course it is dangerous to fundamentalism, as someone may learn concepts in biology, physics, sociology, psychology, archaeology, or any of a variety of other scholarly pursuits that contradict dogmatic religious teachings.

What fascinates me is that these Christians believe that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and all the angels are on Team Good and Satan/Beast/False Prophet/Anti-Christ and demons are all on Team Evil. It reminds me of comic books or novels, but these Christians believe that Real Live Spirits are duking it out for possession of our puny little human souls. Pastor Lindell believes that physical paraphernalia such as crystals, Ouija boards, and movie posters as well as the practice of chants, mantras, or poses (as in yoga) open up actual portals that allow these demonic spirits to affect us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (and frankly, I don’t know what spiritualism is so I use the term loosely). Pastor Lindell states that all religions other than Christianity are false religions and therefore demonic. Practicing these religions is tantamount to inviting demons into one’s home.

Yoga isn’t my favorite type of exercise, but I do it from time to time and find that it can be good for stretching and for improving my flexibility and balance. These aspects are important as we get older, particularly for those of us who do exercise in a single plane of motion such as running and weightlifting. Additionally, I like wearing yoga pants, as they are comfortable and encourage easy range of motion. Never have I experienced any demonic influence or activity while wearing yoga pants, though according to my husband and 16-year-old son, they may have had lustful thoughts – possibly demonically inspired – when seeing attractive women wearing yoga pants. That’s their problem, not mine.

Here’s what my fervently devout Christian brother commented on the article:

In its origin, design and intent, yoga is worship of Hindu deities. The word yoga means ‘to yoke’ and by extension ‘union’, as when two oxen are joined together under the same harness to plough a field. It refers to the yoking or union of the individual with the divine, and specifically, to Hindu deities. In India, hatha yoga is the physical path to the divine; the devotee dedicates his body to god through ritualistic exercise and hygiene practices. The centerpiece of yhoga is the sun salutation in which an invisible entity receives homage through a series of bowing, kneeling and prostration poses and is entreated through a series of supplicatory skyward reaching poses and prayer gestures. Aside from the salute, many yoga poses represent Hindu deities and/or are designed to direct or contain energy flow, like canals and locks that channel or dam water.

Yoga is idolatry and incompatible with Christianity. Despite the practitioner’s best intention, yoga cannot be divorced from its original purpose and redirected to some other use such as mere exercise or communion with the God of Abraham.” (Quoted from an article written by Corinna Craft)

It is no secret that meditation and prayer exert positive activities in the brain. Research shows through magnetic resonance imaging that the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex — the mid-front and back portions — are activated during prayer or meditation. These regions are responsible for self-reflection and self-soothing. Meditation and prayer can also trigger the release of oxytocin and other “feel-good” hormones in the brain, therefore positively reinforcing the behaviors. Stretching, on the other hand, promotes other types of benefits such as increased flexibility and range of motion, improving posture, and increasing blood flow to muscles. Paired with meditation, as in certain types of yoga, these activities can allow one to experience physical and mental benefits concurrently.

Of course, a fervent Christian who believes that yoga provides demonic pathways would say that demons are deceiving us by creating mental and physical rewards for allowing them into our plane of existence. Honestly, if someone believes that there are demons, that demons are actively seeking to influence us, and that certain objects or activities open portals allowing demons to enter our plane of existence, I really don’t know how to have a rational conversation to allay those fears. Extreme forms of fundamentalist religion do a fantastic job of labeling anything “other” as “demonic,” thus inducing fear in followers in order to dissuade them from seeking activities or knowledge deemed by the religious authorities to be inappropriate. My husband suggests that I continue to be a quiet contrarian, gently stating viewpoints explained through scientific and historical evidence. Perhaps one day a nugget or two of truth will get through to my brother. In the meantime, I will practice my downward dog while wearing my yoga pants.

Is My Life Noticeably Better or Worse Now That I’m Not a Christian?

guest post

Guest post by John

I don’t remember the exact date when I decided that I would not label myself as a Christian anymore. It’s probably been a couple of years — a gradual process, not a one-time event. Ironically, my deconversion was mainly due to a very in-depth, two-year study of the Bible and its history. Don’t get me wrong, I had studied the Bible for years previous to this. But it was always with the denominational glasses I had on at the time, and the theology books about the Bible that were written by authors within that same camp. Once I started studying with an open mind (at least as open as I could manage at the time) and read books by many different authors, wow! . . . I finally came to a place where I just couldn’t believe it anymore.

Recently, for some reason, I started thinking about my life when I was part of the Christian religion versus where I am now. Back then, I was happy where I was. I didn’t leave the church because of some hurt or disappointment, it was just what I thought I was supposed to do at the time. Once away from the influence of the church, I was able to study and ponder more freely, using my own mind to decide what I believed, and not what I was told to believe.

Now that I don’t hold to any of those beliefs, I’m also happy. It’s nothing that I can quantify, so it’s just my experience. I think I’m happier and better equipped to handle life now. I’ve learned a lot about the human brain and my own personality. Through that understanding and some meditation practice, I was able to come out of a four-year depression. I prayed and prayed for my depression to be lifted from me, but it wasn’t until I gained some understanding of how my brain works that I was able to take steps to head out of it.

I have some level of pain in my body most days. It’s from various things such as scoliosis, arthritis, years of running, karate, weight lifting, etc. I was very active in my youth and always just pushed through the pain. I eventually got to the point where I had to abandon most of my athletic activities. During this time, I prayed and prayed for healing. Nothing changed. I eventually found a tai chi instructor and started doing yoga. I was also able to find a good chiropractor. These helped me greatly! It could be argued that these were “answers” to my prayers. I guess that could be, right? But I did go looking for these tools hoping for some kind of relief. I am now relatively pain free compared to several years ago.

I am better off financially than I was when I was in church. I faithfully gave ten to twenty percent of my gross income to the church, trusting that God would take care of my needs. I didn’t go broke or anything like that. In fact, I had some pretty amazing things happen along the way to keep me going financially. But after I quit giving all that money to the church, I was able to come out of debt for the first time since graduating from college in 1991. I’m all for giving to charitable organizations. I still give to organizations that I believe in. But when I took some time and started saving and/or paying my debts with the money I gave to the church, I was able to pay off stuff and have the money to give without putting myself in a bad financial situation.

What about all those friends that I left behind? Good question. I enjoyed the fellowship that I had with lots of people in the church. But once I left, I realized that those were task-based relationships. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have them, whether at work, our kids’ activities, or people we meet while doing our hobbies, etc. When I left the church, I did not hear from one church member. Again, they were task-based relationships, and I get that.

I have fewer “friends” now than I used to, but the friendships that I have now are deeper and more real and they let me be myself, and vice versa.

That’s something I really don’t miss! Putting on the “church face,” especially if you are on staff. “How are you today, pastor?”  “Blessed and highly favored, brother. Ha ha ha haaaa.”  I rarely felt the freedom to be real with people. And I rarely felt that they were real with me.

Remember all those bad things that we thought would happen to us if we didn’t do what we were told to do? Well, guess what? I don’t attend church anymore, I don’t read the Bible anymore, I don’t pray anymore (I no longer believe that there is a god to pray to, at least not the Christian version of god), I don’t tithe anymore . . . and nothing tragic has befallen me because I don’t do any of these things. Oh sure, I have to deal with the occasional cold or unexpected expense or the death of a loved one. But that’s just life! I had all those things going on when I was a Christian. Now that I’m away from religion, I feel as if I can see a little clearer. I have non-religious friends and religious ones, and they all deal with life, just as I do. Sometimes tragedy befalls us. No one is exempt. But, oddly enough, I feel like I handle the difficulties of life better now than I did in my religious days. I’ve learned to flow with life better — the good and the bad. Instead of wondering why a prayer wasn’t answered or why God would let something happen, I just realize that everyone has ups and downs. Sometimes people make good decisions and sometimes they make bad ones. I’ve learned a lot from secular Buddhism and Taoism over the last few years, and that helps me. I’m not saying I never get down or frustrated or angry. But I much prefer my current mindset and outlook on life to the way I used to see things.

I rarely feel bad about myself. Depending on the flavor of Christianity people come from, they are constantly told that they are sinners; worthless crap that Jesus had to die for so they don’t go to hell. Man, that just sounds weird to me now! I’m not saying that I’m always what people would call a saint. But I try not to be a dick, choosing instead to treat people the way I would like to be treated. Oh, by the way, that’s in the Bible. LOL! And sometimes, I do act like a dick, but I do my best to treat people decently. I remind myself that life can be really hard and people are just trying to get through their day. so I try to be kind. Not for any future heavenly reward, and not for any medals, or a better life next time around. Just because . . . It feels good to be kind with no hook or ulterior motive. (Like, if I’m nice to this person, maybe they will come to church with me. Gag!!!)

Anyway . . .

Overall, my life is better now than when I was a Christian. At least my outlook on life and the way I handle things seem to be better. I wouldn’t go back to the religious days.

My Credo by Paul McLaughlin

creedoA guest post by Paul McLaughlin

I was not raised in a religious family, so my path to atheism was much smoother than the terrifying, rocky road traveled by so many others who comment and post on this site. My father was diddled by a camp counsellor and rejected religion for himself. My mother died when I was 17 after a long struggle with cancer, so I don’t know much about her religious beliefs, other than that she didn’t believe in heaven. They both thought it important to send (not take) their children to Sunday school. So, the message I got was that religion — meaning middle-of-the-road Protestant Christianity — was something I should be exposed to, but it wasn’t important enough to warrant providing me with any guidance. Thankfully, I was never inculcated with the belief that I was born sinful and depraved, and if I don’t accept the truth of the Bible, I would face eternal hell and damnation, though I was aware of Christian eschatology.

When I was nine-ish, I had a Catholic friend named Jimmie. Every Saturday morning, we would go up to the Catholic church and I would wait outside while he went in and said his confession, which, he said, was so he would be free of sin at mass the next morning. Then we would spend the rest of Saturday raising hell.

When I was 14, I took confirmation classes at the local Presbyterian church, not because we were Calvinists, but because it was the closest church to where we were living. It was a mainline church — no speaking in tongues, rapturous praise or healings, just intellectual Calvinism with a dour Scottish Canadian aftertaste. Even at that age, I could see that you can’t reconcile free will and predestination. If you’re predestined to go to heaven, why be good? And if you’re predestined to go to hell, why be good? The minister and I agreed that I wasn’t to be confirmed. I’m still not.

A couple of years later, after my mother died, I found myself sitting in a nearly empty church willing myself to believe in God, Jesus, anything. But I just couldn’t do it. So I said to myself, what will happen to me if I give up this effort to will belief? The answer, as I learned over the next 50+ years, was that good things happen and bad things happen, but believing or not believing in god has no impact on what actually happens.

Shortly after that, I went to university and studied history, comparative religion and especially existentialist philosophy. My religious beliefs crystallized into a credo that I have carried with me for the rest of my life.

  1. There is no god. That means, no Christian god, divine Jesus, Holy Spirit, archangels, angels, saints, virgin mothers, Satan, devils, demons or any other imaginary creatures in the mythical Christian heaven and hell. It also means no Jewish god, Muslim god, Hindu gods, Greek gods, Norse gods, native Great Spirits — no gods at all. None.
  2. There is no divine, spiritual or metaphysical force in the universe that is concerned about the fate of individual humans or humankind in general — no fate, karma, luck (good or bad), balance, horoscope, traditional sayings or anything else controlling or even influencing what happens to people. In other words (and this is not an original thought), the universe is completely indifferent to individual humans and the human species.
  3. Souls? Don’t believe in them. I believe people have personalities that emerge from our biology and our experiences and are remarkably persistent over time. However, when we die, we’re done. There is nothing that is me that lives on. Whatever me is beyond a bunch of organic chemicals, is no more. (Memories of me may live on in the memories of those who know me and in the records I leave, but when no one remembers me and all the records have been lost — which will be the fate of most of us — I will be nothing.)
  4. There being no afterlife, there is no need to fear death.
  5. Evolution is the best current explanation for millions upon millions of empirical observations.

Evolution is not progressive. Species do not evolve traits for a purpose, they evolve traits as a result of random mutations that fortuitously but unintentionally improve the species’ survival chances in the face of constant environmental pressure and change. Evolution does not work toward what lies ahead; it has no goals.

For example, our species didn’t develop eyes so we could see, we have eyes because billions of years ago some organisms randomly developed light sensitivity; that light sensitivity was positively associated with species survival; as time went by, organisms with light sensitivity developed more and more complex light-sensitive organs with positive survival implications. Our eyes are not the epitome of a progressive evolution toward human eyesight. They are just one of many diverse light-sensitive organs that emerged from the random mixing and mutation of DNA in the context of environmental change. We don’t even have the best eyes.

  1. Likewise, the human species is not the goal or end result or peak of evolution. The idea that humanity is the progressive end result of evolution is a theological, not a scientific position, though it has been held by many scientists. Humanity developed very recently (in geological time) and is in all likelihood a doomed branch of a branch of a branch of the evolutionary tree. It is just one species among millions, most of which are extinct, with no privileged status. The inevitable fate of humanity is extinction, though we may be one of the few species to actually bring about our own extinction. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent it. Bacteria have better odds of survival than humans.This one took me longer to wrap my head around.
  2. I believe that living my life according to humanistic values and principles provides a better life for me as an individual and improves the society I live in. Improving my society is positively associated with survival of my species, a social species. I believe that humanistic values and principles are better for individuals and society than religious values and principles, but not because of any supernatural warrant of their superiority. I believe this to be the case because I have empirically observed that it works.

Some humanists promote the belief that there is a universal moral law that humanistic values make the world a better place. By doing so, they make humanism into a religion, where, instead of a mythical deity or universal force at the centre, the focus is on a mythical entity called “humanity.” I find it ironic that one of the oft-repeated mantras of humanism, a nontheistic belief system, is that human life is sacred. Go figure.

  1. I believe that the following modern fallacies are highly dangerous to the survival of our species:
  • God would not allow the human species to extinguish itself through nuclear war.
  • Global warming and other forms of environmental degradation are not a real threat because God favors us.
  • War is okay if God is on your side.
  • Extreme nationalism is okay if it is cloaked in evangelical fervour.
  • Racism is okay if you can find justification for it in the bible.
  • The 2,000+-year-old collection of a stone-aged tribe’s myths, legends and laws is the inerrant word of god. Same thing for the 1,300-year-old Koran and the less-than-200-year-old Book of Mormon.
  1. So, how should a person who wants to be good act? This is what has worked for me:
  • Be kind.
  • Be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, as long as the people who hold them don’t try to harm you.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat well.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Create good memories.
  • Create a community around yourself consisting of people who want to help you when you need help by helping others when they need help.
  • Focus on the people close to you — in my case, family, friends, staff, clients — people for whom you can make a difference.
  • Don’t spend time and energy worrying about things you can’t do anything about, like earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes, etc. in places far from home, or the moronic president of another country.
  • Be wary of people who claim they have “the answer” to a problem because it is so easy for such people to slip over into proselytization, extremism and fanaticism. Answers that affect large swathes of people always have sweeping unintended consequences that, if predicted, are usually downplayed in their proponents’ zeal to change the world. Real change is usually a lot harder than it first appears.
  • Avoid psychopaths, sociopaths, adults who are still adolescents, narcissists, excessive neurotics, maladaptive perfectionists, and people whose minds are closed due to religious and political ideologies that promote divisiveness and intolerance.
  • Avoid people who don’t think for themselves, sponges and sharks, two-faced arseholes, power-hungry social climbers, people who lack a sense of humour, champions of big ideas, liars, thieves, con artists and mental and physical abusers.
  1. So, you might ask, am I not in despair about there being no deities, no heaven or hell, no afterlife? After all, what I describe is a bleak, cold, uncaring existentially absurd world in which I have no future after I die.

Well, no, I’m not in despair. To despair, I would have to believe that things could have been different — that is, the universe could have been designed to be more accommodating to human needs, and in particular, to my needs. To me, that would be the height of hubris – to believe that I and my species are so important that everything that has happened since the big bang was about creating a world for us.

So at 72, when I look back over my life, I realize it could have been better, but it could also have been worse — a lot worse. If I were religious, I would say I have been blessed, but since I’m not, all I can say is I have been fortunate. I hope that in the years I have left, I will be able to help a few people who are close to me to feel that they too have been fortunate.

Is Religion a Choice?

jesus kfc

Guest post by ObstacleChick

My daughter is a freshman at Vanderbilt University, and my husband and I joined a social media group specifically designed for parents of the class of 2022. Parents were invited by the university to join it as a way to introduce themselves to each other and to provide a forum for parents to post concerns, questions, and comments. For some parents, it has become a place to seek solace as they are missing their children. For others, it is a forum for complaining on behalf of their child (or perhaps not on behalf of the child but about something the parents are concerned about). Still others use it to share information about the best companies that deliver fresh cookies or birthday cakes to campus, or to compare notes on their child’s success using Uber vs. Lyft.

Recently, a parent posted an article from the student news publication regarding religious holidays. The article was written by a Jewish student who wanted to take some days off class for Jewish holidays and was told by her professor that he/she considered the absences unexcused. The student was furious as she canceled her flights home for the holidays. The student appealed to the Director of Religious Life, and he stated that professors have discretion in allowing absences for religious holidays. Unsatisfied with the answer, the student appealed to an Associate Dean, who stated that mature students know how to make the choice between education and religion. The Dean equated being religious to having a musical or athletic obligation – that religion is a choice in the same way that other activities are choices. The student maintains that one’s religion is not a choice and detailed that some of her family members had died in the Holocaust. The student also argued that as academic calendars are usually structured around Christian majority holidays, only those who practice minority religions are affected by the calendar structure and must seek accommodations to practice their religious faith.

The student then appealed to the Title IX Office, which developed a religious obligations form that students can submit requesting religious absences to the Title IX Office at the beginning of the semester. The Title IX Office will submit the form to the professors who then must grant students their requests for religious accommodations.

My first thought was that the university could provide a list of major religious holidays from a broad range of religions to professors at the beginning of each semester so that professors could anticipate conflicts that may occur. However, how extensively should the university go in researching major observances of religions? How many religions? Obviously, we all know the Big Three Abrahamic religions as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. Many have heard of Sikhism, Wicca, and Rastafarianism. But what about other religions that are not so well known, like Jainism, Bahai, Shintoism, Tenrikyo, Juche? I suppose the easiest logistical answer is for professors to excuse anyone for any religious request, but it may be that some professors were concerned with students taking advantage of religious liberty to rack up excessive absences. Perhaps the religious obligations form filed through the Title IX Office is the easiest way to accommodate students on a case by case basis.

Logistics aside, I did take issue with the student’s assertion that religion is not a choice. I think she is confusing the idea that many Jewish people consider themselves to be of Jewish heritage regardless of practice. People do not have a choice regarding their ethnicity, but they do have a choice whether they practice a religion, as many of us deconverts can attest. For example, I was raised in a household that practiced Southern Baptist Christianity, but I no longer consider myself to be a Christian of any sort. I made a choice to stop practicing Southern Baptist Christianity decades ago, switching to a more progressive Christianity for a while, and later to no religion at all, taking the label of agnostic atheist. Perhaps I could claim a Christian heritage, though I do not have a desire to do so at this time. I joke that my children’s last name confers upon them their Irish Catholic heritage, though neither has set foot in a Catholic church more than a handful of times and each takes the label of non-religious (and atheist in certain circles).

One may also make an argument that some people may feel that they have no choice but to practice a certain religion. Certainly in some countries where religious freedom does not exist, one may need to appear to practice a certain religion for one’s safety. In other cases, it may be difficult for one to break from one’s family’s religion, making relationships with family members difficult for the deconvert. Most of the time, children have little say in the matter and must follow whatever religious practices their parents require. But for an adult in a nation with religious freedom, whether one practices a religion or not is one’s choice. It may be inconvenient or place strain upon one’s familial or social relationships, but it is still a choice.

Do you think that practicing religion is a choice or not a choice? What are your thoughts on the way a university which strives to be diverse handled the situation?

Proselytizing

good news about jesus

Guest post by ObstacleChick

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15,16)

Those of us raised in Christianity recognize these verses as the “Great Commission,” the charge to go forth and spread the message of Christianity to the rest of the world. As the only Christian religion in the western world for nearly 1500 years, the Catholic church took this message seriously. Since the Edict of Milan in 313 CE decriminalizing Christianity and gaining Emperor Constantine’s patronage, and later the Edict of Thessalonica of 380 CE making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Catholic church was intertwined with government for centuries. Spreading a religion is quite easy when supported by the government.

Some Evangelical Christians have taken the Great Commission seriously as well, raising large sums of money to support missionaries to proselytize the “lost” throughout the world. Sometimes the “lost” include Catholics, who are not considered “True Christians” by many Evangelical sects. Anyone who is not part of “True Christianity” is considered “lost” and thus ripe for evangelizing. Evangelical Christians are also exhorted by their pastors to proselytize to their neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Where I grew up in the Bible Belt, most of the people I knew were more or less the “right” type of Christians — Southern Baptists as we were, a variety of other types of Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, Church of the Nazarene, etc. It wasn’t until I was 16 and went to work that I met people who were Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, or other “wrong,” “liberal,” or “apostate” Christians. I even met some people who were Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish. It’s possible that I met a few atheists and didn’t know it! The horror!

During college, I was exposed to ideas that led to my further questioning of Evangelical teachings of inerrancy of the Bible, and by the time I graduated I knew that I needed to escape from the religion. So I applied to graduate schools far away from Tennessee, away from my family and from any pressure to attend their church. Moving to New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from New York City, I was exposed to a wide variety of people and ideas. While it was a culture shock at first, I thrived on learning from the people I met.

My husband was a high school math teacher who started his own tutoring business providing classroom support and SAT and ACT test preparation to high school students. He works with students one on one at their homes, and sometimes he gets to know the students and their families quite well. Before we had children, one of the early clients invited us to a barbecue at their home. They had a large, lovely home with a landscaped yard and beautiful pool. Somehow, my husband and I found ourselves surrounded by a group of guests who all appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. We had a nice conversation, and suddenly a coffee-table book appeared and one of the guests started showing us pictures of the Bahá’í temple and explaining the Bahá’í faith to us. They told us the miracle story of their prophet Bab who had survived a firing squad of 750 shooters and was found back in his prison cell when the guns fell silent. He was brought out again to a new firing squad as apparently the original executioners refused to participate again, and this time he was killed by gunfire. The Bahá’í evangelists continued to tell us about their religion, and we listened politely.

What. The. Hell?

After we left, my husband asked me if we were just part of some sort of intervention. I explained to him that no, we were targets of proselytizing. As he was raised nominally Catholic and had never experienced proselytizing before, he was very surprised that it could occur in the United States. I explained that Evangelical Christianity does the same thing with their own faith and then commented that the Bahá’í stories were strange. As he aptly put it, their stories were no more strange than Christian stories of a virgin giving birth to a deity’s son who teaches and does some miracles, is crucified, and who supposedly was resurrected from death after three days. I couldn’t argue with his statement.

My husband and I did not become Bahá’í, by the way. In fact, within a decade we had both become agnostic atheists.

A few months ago while we were doing a Spartan race (obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty), a thunderstorm came through and racers were removed from the course and sent to various sheds on the ski slope for safety. When the race resumed, it was nearly dark, so those of us with headlamps were able to make our way safely through the woods. I ended up coming across a young man without a headlamp who had gotten separated from his teammates, so I led him through the dark. He was a Jehovah’s Witness whose entire family were employed at the sect’s headquarters in upstate New York. Cognizant of where the conversation was heading, I let him know that I was raised Southern Baptist before he could start witnessing to me about Jesus. He seemed to be satisfied that I knew Jesus, and technically I did not lie. I debated letting him know that I was currently an atheist, but I didn’t want to scare the poor kid with the knowledge that he was alone in the dark with a middle-aged atheist wearing a headlamp. While I was 28 miles into a 30-mile race and thus physically depleted, my mind was still sharp, and it’s likely that a Jehovah’s Witness would believe that atheists are controlled by Satan which might be scarier to him than the black bears inhabiting the mountains.

Have you ever been the target of proselytizing? What did you think about the experience? Did it lead you to find out more about the religion or did you find it annoying?

Knowledge

tree of knowledge

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise. — Thomas Gray

A little learning is a dangerous thing. — Alexander Pope

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. — Confucius

Knowledge is a weapon. I intend to be formidably armed. — Terry Goodkind

No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire. — L. Frank Baum

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse. — African Proverb

Knowledge is power. — Francis Bacon

In Sunday School, children learn the story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind. When I was a child, the Sunday School teacher would read the story to us – and if we were lucky, she would populate a felt board as the story unfolded. Typically, after the story, some sort of craft or game would follow, helping to reinforce the lessons contained in the story. Sunday school was fun, but as an adult I can see how much indoctrination occurs in such a setting.

The story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind is quite brilliant in that it attempts to explain the following to people who lacked explanations to their questions about their origins. The story tackles the following topics:

  • the origins of humans;
  • the presence of good and evil in the world;
  • what happens if people disobey their deity;
  • why women have been treated as second-class citizens;
  • why people desire to have sex;
  • why childbirth is so painful;
  • why the serpent slithers on the ground and why so many people have an antipathy for it;
  • why there is death;
  • why people wear clothes;
  • why we cannot return to a perfect world on earth;
  • why we have to work and why it is hard.

I am many years removed from learning these Bible stories and more than a decade removed from church attendance. Looking at some of these stories years later, as an atheist, I see aspects of the story that I had not considered before. It is also interesting to look at these stories in terms of mythology and not as the literal historical fact that Biblical literalists profess.

One thing I find fascinating today is the concept of the Tree of Knowledge. In Sunday School, it was described as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were instructed that they could eat of any tree in the garden except for this tree, for if they did, they would “surely die.” It is hard to understand how newly-created humans who have no experience, no education, no knowledge, could comprehend concepts such as “good,” “evil,” and “death.” Maybe the deity or deities “created” their brains already programmed with certain concepts, instincts, tools necessary for survival, but the story does not explain any of that. Carl Jung posited the concept of “collective unconscious,” the supposed part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious. There is no evidence of the existence of “collective unconscious,” though it is an interesting concept to ponder.

But let’s return to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The phrase literally translates as the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the Hebrew language. But the pairing of opposites may be an example of merism, a literary device that depicts meaning by pairing direct opposites – and in this case, it could be a merism that denotes “everything.” Some scholars believe that the merism does not denote a concept of morality but is merely inclusive of “everything.” In any case, many Christian sects teach that Adam and Eve were punished for their disobedience, and that the punishment carried forth through all Adam and Eve’s descendants — including those of us who are alive today. I have not heard preachers expand upon the concept of Adam and Eve being punished for seeking and acquiring knowledge, though some may have. It is true that there are plenty of Bible verses that warn against seeking worldly or carnal knowledge, and knowledge of content outside the spiritual is denigrated. Human knowledge itself is denigrated as being inferior to the knowledge of God. I searched online for a comprehensive list of Bible verses that denigrated knowledge and could not find one such list, but I found many verses in both testaments denigrating knowledge. I also found a variety of verses that state that true knowledge can only be found through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If one considers the Tree of Knowledge as symbolic of knowing everything, then why was it that god or gods did not want the humans to have knowledge of everything? Was God meaning to protect the humans or was he trying to prevent them from attaining knowledge? And why would God try to prevent humans from acquiring knowledge? There is so much good that has come from humankind’s attainment of knowledge. We have learned more about how the world works, how to prevent diseases, how to harness the earth’s resources for better living conditions, how to increase our crops and how to supply fresh water. However, we have also learned more efficient ways to kill our fellow humans, and we have polluted the earth. We have created borders to exclude our “tribes” from one another. It is said that with much knowledge comes much responsibility. Perhaps the creators of this myth, ancient though they were, understood the great power and great danger of knowledge when conscientious stewardship is not applied.

From my own personal experience, knowledge of the world outside the Evangelical bubble was key to my deconversion process. In fundamentalist religions, people are warned against the outside world, often prohibited from owning certain books or gaining access to the internet and discouraged from attending secular schools. The outside world is labeled as evil, with pastors/rabbis/imams railing against the dangers to be found in the outside world. Some religions scare their members with images of demons and hell lurking around every corner, to be found in each book or library or website. The goal of fundamentalist religions is to retain its membership — to indoctrinate a new generation — and to do that, they must convince their followers that TRUTH can only be found within the safe confines of their fundamentalist religious world. As my friend who was raised in Reform Judaism commented when I told her the story of my upbringing in Evangelical Christianity, it’s a cult designed to keep its members trapped within.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil can be, then, symbolic of all the exposure one encounters outside the confines of fundamentalist religion. I have eaten from that tree. I can no more unsee or unread or unlearn the ideas I found outside those confines any more than I could uneat a fruit. I could try to purge it from my mind as one might try to purge a food or poison from one’s body, but the effects of exposure are not easily reversed. At least, for me they could not be. Nor would I desire a different outcome.

What do you think about the myth of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Do you see this story as a warning about misuse of knowledge, or do you see it in another way? Please let us know in the comments.

Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Eternally Shielded in Rome

sistine chapel

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

When you go to France, people expect you to complain about the French. On the other hand, if you go to Italy, they expect you to rave about Italians.

Well, I confound both expectations. I have been to France several times, and lived there. Yes, there are rude and arrogant French people, particularly in Paris. But I live in New York, so I am rarely put off by other people’s attitudes. And I have encountered many French people who are helpful and generous, including some who have become friends.

Moreover, as someone who loves history, the arts and bicycling, there seems to be no end to what France can offer. Oh, and they sure know how to do food!

Of course, I can say the same for Italy. Now, I will grant that, on the whole, Italians are, if not warmer, then at least more emotionally demonstrative than the French are. I’ve met some who are generous and truly wonderful in all sorts of ways. Oh, and dare I say this? I prefer Italian coffee.

Still, on my most recent trip to Italy — the summer before last — I didn’t enjoy myself, at least for part of it. In fact, I was depressed enough that I didn’t even want to taste gelato.

You might have guessed that part of my trip was in Rome. Don’t get me wrong: I was happy to see the Forum and Coliseum, and to wander through ancient streets on foot and by bicycle. But, even in the seemingly endless sunshine of Roman summer days, I felt as if were enveloped in a gray rain.

At first, I thought I was just feeling guilt over leaving Chairman Meow, my aging cat whose health took a turn for the worse after I booked the trip. I called my friend, who was taking care of him. She assured me that he was okay, and I had no reason not to believe her: She rescued him and nursed him to health before I adopted him.

Still, I could not shake the gloom that gripped me. That I couldn’t fathom any reason for it made it all the worse.

It finally made sense when, as you might have guessed, I visited the Vatican. It’s one of those things you’re “supposed” to do in Rome; mainly, I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel again. I did, but even seeing one of the greatest accomplishments of one of my artistic heroes couldn’t lift my spirits.

I felt as if I were being crushed, and it wasn’t because of the crowds of tourists that surrounded me. And it wasn’t just the stifling heat and lack of space that made it difficult to breathe. Rather, I felt more like I was stuck in a vise-like pair of giant scissors. I just wanted to get out. The last thing I wanted was to get sick in that place: I might’ve gotten the best medical care available, but I felt as if I would never get out of the grip of the pincers I felt around me.

Later, I realized that those levers I felt at my sides; the crush I felt against my chest, were human legs and another human chest. Except that, even in that crowd, no one was that close to me: I would not allow it. In fact, I also wanted to get out of there because I did not want to end up in the hands of the Carabinieri if I kicked or punched — or in an asylum, in a foreign land, if I screamed.

What I realized, later that night, was that for the first time in years, I was re-living the sexual molestation and abused I suffered, as a child, from a parish priest. And, although I didn’t verbalize it, I understood that I was in the world headquarters, if you will, of the very organization that enabled my abuser. Even so, I would never get to say anything to the old men—priests—who run the organization, any more than I would have the opportunity to confront my long-dead abuser.

I also understood why I visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore — one of the major Papal basilicas and the largest Marian church in Rome — just once, even though it stood less than a block from the hotel where I stayed. Although I was awed by the mosaics as well as the other artwork — It was fabulous, even in comparison to other artistic and historical treasures of a city so full of them! — I couldn’t wait to get out of it and away from the piazza that rings it.

At that moment, the enormity of the place, and its close association with the Papacy, was enough to make me want to scream. But the following night, I was looking for something else on the internet when I came across an article about the basilica — or, more specifically, the cardinal who was its archpriest from 2004 until 2011.

He was none other than Bernard Francis Law. Although he wasn’t involved in the diocese in which I grew up, I couldn’t see him as anything but someone who covered for priests like the one who abused me.

After he resigned as Archbishop of Boston, Law moved to Rome. Shortly thereafter, Pope John Paul II appointed him to his post at Santa Maria Maggiore. This move made Law a citizen of Vatican City and, thus, immune to prosecution by US authorities.

When I looked at the domes of Santa Maria Maggiore again, all I could see were golden parachutes. That there were beggars around the church didn’t surprise me; I could only wonder how many other functioning but broken people — people broken by the priests shielded by Law and others like him — shuffled past the church on Esquiline Hill every day. For a few days, I was one of them.

The rest of my trip to Italy — which I spent in Florence — was better. But I needed to get home: I had much work to do. And, I confess, when people asked whether I had a good time in Italy, I nodded and mouthed the usual platitudes about the food and culture and history.

P.S. I am of (mostly) Italian ancestry.

1 Corinthians 6:14: Unequally Yoked Together

unequally yoked together

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  2 Corinthians 6:14

During my years as an Evangelical Christian, I heard many sermons warning Christians not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers with regard to marriage, friendship, or owning a business together. The illustration was always of two animals that were not similar in size or strength being yoked together to pull something heavy. A picture was always painted of two animals walking in circles or the transport going awry in some way.

As teenagers and young adults, we were warned to never date unbelievers because that would lead to disastrous outcomes. Our pastors and teachers would give anecdotal examples of Christians marrying a non-Christians in which the Christians were bullied or convinced to give up their principles. Often the non-believers in these stories would mistreat the believers and lead them down roads of debauchery. Or the non-believers would lead the believers away from Christ, only to abandon the believers, leaving the believers’ lives in shambles (for Jesus and the church to swoop in to rescue and rehabilitate them). The pictures painted were quite bleak. The reasoning behind this advice was that a Christian and a non-Christian supposedly have completely different worldviews and sets of values guiding their choices.

I met the man who became my husband through some friends. My close college friend was dating a guy who was the fraternity brother of my husband. In the early 1990s at our university, it was still customary for fraternity brothers to dress up in a suit jacket, khakis, a button-down shirt, and a tie to attend football games. Female students would dress up as well, typically in a nice dress (usually black) with nice shoes and jewelry. A fraternity brother would ask a female student to be his date to the game, meaning that they would meet at the fraternity house for cocktails, go to the game for a while, then return to the fraternity house for more cocktails. Later in the evening, after everyone had changed clothes, there would be a party at the fraternity house, typically with a live band. It was the South, after all, where traditions died hard. However, it was a lot of fun. (Our daughter attends our alma mater, and apparently the formal dress and the game date part has changed, but the pregame cocktails and postgame activities remain the same.) My fraternity friend set me up with his dateless fraternity brother for a football game. I figured that I wouldn’t have to actually spend much time with the guy; that we would both just hang out with our respective friends with the respectability of having a date to go to the game remaining intact. Instead, we hit it off and ended up dating. The rest, shall we say, is history.

When we met, I was in the process of leaving Evangelical Christianity, but as deconverts know, many deeply-held ideas are difficult to shake. My husband was a nominal Catholic, meaning that his family attended mass on Christmas and Easter, along with the occasional wedding or funeral. When we met, he said he was Christian and seemed confused when I asked him “what kind?” He seemed to think “Christian” covered everything. Au contraire, mon ami! I explained to him that there were many different denominations of Christian, each with its own doctrines and practices. As we became more and more serious, I knew that we were an “unequally yoked” couple. He would alternately refer to himself as “Christian” or “agnostic”, but he respected all beliefs or lack of belief. He had a strong set of values, stronger than those of many Christians I had encountered, so I knew he wasn’t a bad person. I knew he wasn’t “saved,” but I was having doubts about the necessity of Evangelical salvation, so I let that go. We got engaged, and while the concept of being unequally yoked nagged at me a bit, I continued to push those thoughts away. I had no intention of converting him to Evangelical Christianity; first, because I was having doubts myself, and second, because I realized it would sound ridiculous to an outsider.

Oddly enough, my family barely questioned my husband’s Christian beliefs. They knew that he had been raised Catholic, but they really didn’t ask us many religious questions. I don’t know if it was because they trusted me to vet a marriage partner or if they were afraid to have an argument with me. Many of my family members are afraid of me for some reason (probably because I am not afraid to speak my mind and to disagree with their ideas). In any case, we were married in our university chapel by a Methodist campus minister. We had our wedding reception, complete with a full bar and a DJ, at the fraternity house. I warned my Southern Baptist grandma before the wedding that we would be serving alcohol and having dancing at the reception, and she told me that it was between me and my husband and that she would stay for a little while. Grandma was a complementarian, after all. After dinner was served, my uncle drove my grandma home while the rest of us partied.

During our early years of marriage, we tried a variety of churches including Catholic, for a while. We ended up at a Congregational United Church of Christ for a few years while our children were little. It was an open and affirming church, with a husband and wife team of pastors. I became a deacon and joined the choir while my husband joined the finance committee. After a few years, each of us had our deconversion experiences for different reasons. He openly called himself an agnostic and then an atheist, while I spent several years saying I was “taking a break from religion” while I sorted out the details. Our children were so young that they do not remember much about our church-going years, and both consider themselves to be nonreligious and will occasionally use the term “atheist” to describe themselves, depending on the company present.

We are equally yoked atheists at this time. Because I was raised in such a hardcore Evangelical environment, I am more anti-fundamentalist than my husband is. He considers most religion to be benign, a way to teach people love and morals and to give comfort during times of suffering or heartache. I witnessed and was a part of the ugly side of Fundamentalist Christianity. I did not talk about it for many years, mainly because the memories were often painful and my embarrassment regarding the anti-intellectualism was too intense. As my daughter began exploring universities in the Bible Belt, I started talking with my family about my experiences so that they could understand the Bible Belt culture. I wanted them to understand a bit more about why mom reads books about evolution, about the history and archaeology of the Bible, about deconversion experiences, and about atheism. Each of my personal stories is met with looks of “WTF”. They are even more stunned to hear that many of our family members still believe these things.

I suppose an Evangelical pastor could use my story as a sermon illustration of why unequal yoking is detrimental to one’s “Walk With The Lord.” While I did not enter a life of total debauchery or divorce, I did deconvert from Christianity. I am an apostate. Though the pastors of my background (and some of my relatives and friends from my past) would consider me in the “once saved always saved” crowd, I am well outside the world of the True Christian®, and in their estimation I have led my husband and children to the eternal fires of Hell. In my estimation, for one to remain in Evangelicalism with beliefs at odds with the findings of history, archaeology, and science, it is vitally necessary to insulate oneself (and one’s family) from outside influences that reveal the tenuous nature of religious doctrines. Therefore, it makes sense that Fundamentalist leaders would urge their flocks to avoid becoming entangled with nonbelievers or to attend secular educational institutions.

Do you have a story regarding the concept of being unequally yoked, either your own experience or the experience of someone you know? If you were or are part of an unequally yoked pair, did you experience any trepidation? Please share your story in the comment section.

This Week With Christians on Social Media

social media

Guest post by ObstacleChick

I didn’t even make it through a week before finding a lot of really good Jesus-ified quotes. My personal favorites are the pumpkin quote and the one in which the writer believes that Jesus/God prevented all sorts of awful atrocities before they happened. Let me know your favorites and your thoughts in the comments!

“Have you prayed about it as much as you’ve talked about it?”

OC: Can Christians stop talking about praying? Why can’t they just go pray in private? That’s what Jesus would do . . . he even said so.

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch and brings you in (John 15:16). Then washes all the dirt off of you. (2 Corinthians 5:17). He opens you up and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, and greed, etc. (Romans 6:6). Then he carves you a new smiling face (Psalm 71:23). And he puts his light inside you to shine for all the world to see (Matthew 5:16).”

OC: . . . And when Halloween is over, you sit on the front porch and rot until someone throws you in the garbage.

“You don’t have to please others. Just do what God wants you to do, because at the end of the day, it is only He who can satisfy your heart. Not the approval or applause of other people.”

OC: I kind of like it when other people applaud. . . and I haven’t heard God applaud. He’s pretty silent. Silent God.

“He who counts the stars and calls them by their names is in no danger of forgetting his own children.” – Charles Spurgeon

OC: Nah, he doesn’t forget him, he just lets awful things happen to them.

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing — God”

OC: God, you sure have a terrible way of showing it — hurricanes, cancer, children being abused, accidents that you could have prevented . . .

“When you pray be sure that you also listen. You have things you want to say to God. But He also has things He wants to say to you.”

OC: He needs to speak up — I never could hear him. Maybe he should have sent me an email.

“I believe the time is coming when we will not be able to take our Christianity as casually as we do now.” – A.W. Tozer

OC: I wish they’d all take it so casually that it would just go away. . .

“Have you ever stopped and wondered what God has done in your life that you aren’t even aware of? Maybe He healed you before you even knew you were sick. Perhaps He saved you from a fatal car crash that never happened. I have felt like God has protected me more times than I count, so I can only imagine how many times He has rescued me when I was unaware that I was even in danger. Take a moment to thank God for protecting you. He is always watching over you and He’s there for you even when you don’t realize it. What an awesome God we serve!”

OC: And your evidence that these sicknesses or illnesses that almost happened but didn’t happen because GOD intervened is what? That’s like me saying, oh, I almost won the lottery but then I didn’t because of the devil. Or sin. Or something.

“Simply believing in the existence of God is not exactly what I would call a commitment. After all, even the devil believes that God exists! Believing has to change the way we live.”

OC: Well, I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in the existence of either God or the devil. But just for the sake of argument – what is it about the existence of God that would provoke me to change the way I live? Fear of retribution? And you think that’s a good motivation?

“Dear God, please: 
Teach me.
Keep me.
Hold me.
Help me.
I want to be better than I was yesterday. 
Tomorrow is a new day! Repent and get closer to Jesus!”

OC: If I have a goal I want to achieve, I design or find a plan that lays out the steps I need to do in order to reach that goal. Reaching the goal is not always guaranteed, but the process of completing each step helps me to gain the skills or knowledge necessary to potentially reaching a goal. Never have I achieved a goal by sitting back, repenting to God/Jesus, and asking him/them to do all the work.

Quote of the Day: Trump’s Economy vs. The Economy Most of Us Live In

robert reich

As White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow recently put it, “The single biggest story this year is an economic boom that is durable and lasting.”

Really? Look closely at the living standards of most Americans, and you get a very different picture.

Yes, the stock market has boomed since Trump became president. But it’s looking increasingly wobbly as Trump’s trade wars take a toll.

Over 80 percent of the stock market is owned by the richest 10 percent of Americans anyway, so most Americans never got much out of Trump’s market boom to begin with.

The trade wars are about to take a toll on ordinary workers. Trump’s steel tariffs have cost Ford $1 billion so far, for example, forcing the automaker to plan mass layoffs.

What about economic growth? Data from the Commerce Department shows the economy at full speed, 4.2 percent growth for the second quarter.

But very little of that growth is trickling down to average Americans. Adjusted for inflation, hourly wages aren’t much higher now than they were forty years ago.

Trump slashed taxes on the wealthy and promised everyone else a $4,000 wage boost. But the boost never happened. That’s a big reason why Republicans aren’t campaigning on their tax cut, which is just about their only legislative accomplishment.

Trump and congressional Republicans refuse to raise the minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 an hour. Trump’s Labor Department is also repealing a rule that increased the number of workers entitled to time-and-a-half for overtime.

Yes, unemployment is down to 3.7 percent. But jobs are less secure than ever. Contract workers – who aren’t eligible for family or medical leave, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, or worker’s compensation – are now doing one out of every five jobs in America.

Trump’s Labor Department has invited more companies to reclassify employees as contract workers. Its new rule undoes the California Supreme Court’s recent decision requiring that most workers be presumed employees unless proven otherwise. (Given California’s size, that decision had nationwide effect.)

Meanwhile, housing costs are skyrocketing, with Americans now paying a third or more of their paychecks in rent or mortgages.

Trump’s response? Drastic cuts in low-income housing. His Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also wants to triple the rent paid by poor households in subsidized housing.

Healthcare costs continues to rise faster than inflation. Trump’s response? Undermine the Affordable Care Act. Over the past two years, some 4 million people have lost healthcare coverage, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund.

Pharmaceutical costs are also out of control. Trump’s response? Allow the biggest pharmacist, CVS, to merge with the one of the biggest health insurers, Aetna — creating a behemoth with the power to raise prices even further.

The cost of college continues to soar. Trump’s response? Make it easier for for-profit colleges to defraud students. His Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is eliminating regulations that had required for-profit colleges to prove they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll.

Commuting to and from work is becoming harder, as roads and bridges become more congested, and subways and trains older and less reliable. Trump’s response? Nothing. Although he promised to spend $1.5 trillion to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, his $1.5 trillion tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy used up the money.

Climate change is undermining the standard of living of ordinary Americans, as more are hit with floods, mudslides, tornados, draughts, and wildfires. Even those who have so far avoided direct hits will be paying more for insurance – or having a harder time getting it. People living on flood plains, or in trailers, or without home insurance, are paying the highest price.

Trump’s response? Allow more carbon into the atmosphere and make climate change even worse.

Too often, discussions about “the economy” focus on overall statistics about growth, the stock market, and unemployment.

But most Americans don’t live in that economy. They live in a personal economy that has more to do with wages, job security, commutes to and from work, and the costs of housing, healthcare, drugs, education, and home insurance.

These are the things that hit closest home. They comprise the typical American’s standard of living.

— Robert Reich, Alternet, Here’s the Truth About Trump’s ‘Great Economy’, October 21, 2018

Happy Halloween!

halloween

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Halloween is one of those holidays that is tremendously fun for kids, but most of us are probably unaware of the origins of the holiday. The ancient Celts (inhabitants of the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France) celebrated the festival Samhain on October 31 whereby people would light bonfires and wear costumes, typically animal skins and heads, to ward off ghosts. November 1 marked the new year for the Celts, conveying the end of harvest and the entrance into the cold, dark months of winter which were associated with death. The Celts believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the living and dead were blurred so that ghosts would come to earth and wreak havoc. While people tossed crops and animals into the bonfires as sacrifices to the Celtic gods, Druid priests would tell fortunes and make prophecies about the year to come. At the end of the night, people would relight their hearth fires from the bonfire in order to bring protection for the new year.

As the Romans expanded their empire into the Celtic territories, they brought two festivals with them which were incorporated into the Celtic Samhain. Feralia in late October was the Romans’ holiday to commemorate the dead. The second was a festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruits and trees (hence, the practice of bobbing for apples on Halloween). In 609, Pope Boniface IV created All Martyrs Day in May, and later Pope Gregory III moved the festival to November 1 and included all saints and all martyrs in the festival named All Saints Day. In 1000, the church made November 2 All Souls Day to honor the dead. All Souls Day was celebrated with costumes and bonfires similarly to Samhain, and All Saints Day was colloquially called All-Hallowmas with the night before (the traditional Samhain day) called All-Hallows-Eve (later shortened to Halloween).

The celebration of Halloween made its way to the colonies with the British and Irish immigrants. While the Puritans were rigid and prudish and did not allow much celebration of Halloween in New England, Halloween was celebrated in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southern colonies. As immigration from Ireland increased in the 19th century, further celebration of Halloween spread throughout the United States. From 1920, the celebration became a community event with special emphasis on fun for children. Today, there are parties for adults and for children, plus trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treat celebrations, and fun for kids at shopping malls. Many people of all ages enjoy dressing up in costume and having a good time together. In fact, my 16-year-old son recently said he misses the fun that he had as a kid on Halloween.

My brother is 12 years younger than I, born to parents who were almost 39 and 41 at his birth. My mom and step-dad worked full-time and had little interest in doing anything extra for their son outside of basic care. They would take him to the park sometimes on the weekends, but that was about it. He was expected to play on his own until he was old enough to play outside with neighborhood kids. We lived in a rural area where everyone owned a minimum of one acre of property, so houses were not very close together. Trick-or-treating consisted of parents driving their kids from one house to the next – the kids would hop out of the car, run up to the door for candy, then run back to the car to drive to the next house. I remember my mom taking me out to trick-or-treat a few times when I was a kid, but when our church started having a Halloween party for kids, she took me to that instead. During the 1970s and 1980s there were huge scares about razor blades and needles being put into candy, and hospitals would offer to x-ray the candy for safety. Everyone was warned to throw away homemade treats because they might be poisoned or filled with broken glass or razor blades. I remember one year my mom wanted me to throw away a wrapped Rice Krispies treat from elderly Mrs. Massey up the street – like Mrs. Massey was going to harm children with broken glass.

By the time my brother came along and wanted to trick-or-treat, my mom and stepdad had no interest in taking my brother trick-or-treating and they refused to do so. Not yet having a driver’s license, I dressed my brother up the best I could and walked the neighborhood with him so he could trick-or-treat. I’m not sure what he did when I went to college, but I suppose he went out with friends. At some point when I was in my 20s, my mom started saying that she thought that Halloween was a Satanic holiday and that Christians really should not celebrate a holiday that glorifies death, Satan and demons. Being in my 20s and no longer an Evangelical Christian, I told her she was crazy, which went over quite well (NOT!), but we disagreed about a lot of things such as homosexuality, abortion, and the role of religion in public discourse.

Now in his mid-30s, my brother has become increasingly religiously devout in the past couple of years. While he does not belong to a church (mainly because he can’t find one with which he agrees), he prays every day, teaches his sons his version of Christianity, and is part of a Skype/online men’s prayer group. Recently, he started frequently posting Bible verses along with quotes and articles from Christian ministers. He prefers content dealing with sin, the mightiness of God, and the consequences of sin. His politics are quite right-wing Trump-supporting, flavored with a hefty dose of fear of “Luciferism,” Communism, Atheists, Demons, Satanism, and Pro-Choice Feminist “Jezebels.” He posts articles from Charisma magazine, which is a far-right Christian fear-mongering site. Sometimes I’ll read an article he posts, laugh out loud, give a good eye-roll, then become sad that he believes these things.

A couple of weeks ago, he posted a Charisma Magazine article regarding Halloween. The author goes into great detail citing supporting verses about why Christians should not celebrate Halloween under any circumstances. Instead, they should proselytize their neighbors who come to their door to trick-or-treat. So neighborhood parents bring their little kids to this author’s house for candy and instead they get an earful about JESUS. Nice. Way to destroy the fun for the kids.

My husband who was raised nominally Catholic (meaning, his family went to church on Christmas and Easter), and who doesn’t know a lot about fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, read this article. He commented that the author cited verses to support her point of view, sometimes just snippets of a verse, each one taken completely out of context. He asked if it was customary for Christians to use verse references in that way. I explained that the practice is so common that it has a name — proof texting — which is why it is so easy for Christians to utilize verses or parts of verses to support just about any argument that they like or don’t like. He then stated that he felt bad for our nephews because they aren’t allowed to celebrate a fun children’s holiday because their dad thinks that Halloween is Satanic.

My brother posted the little meme above regarding verses in the Pentateuch that “prove” that God doesn’t like it when we dress up like witches, wizards, vampires, and ghosts. Personally, I thought that the vampire reference was a stretch as the verse refers to those who consume blood, and frankly, there are many cultures that do eat blood (blood pudding, black pudding, black sausage, blood tofu, blood soups, to name a few). Interestingly, there are over 600 rules for the Jews in the Pentateuch, yet Christians typically will say that Jesus came to fulfill the law and therefore we do not have to follow the laws. But when it is convenient Christians will call back certain laws from the Pentateuch that suit their purposes. I also find it amazing that Christians believe in ghosts, demons, and Satan as if they are REAL LIVE beings, but that is another topic entirely. Maybe I am able to celebrate Halloween without fear because I do not believe in the existence of supernatural beings.

Personally, I can picture young Jesus dressed up in a centurion’s costume trick-or-treating around Nazareth for dried dates with his pals. He probably would have told Evangelical Christians to lighten up and let the kids have a little fun. But that’s just me being a sacrilegious atheist. May you all have an enjoyable and safe Halloween!

Everybody But the Church Understands

rape is never the victims fault

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Not so long ago, rape was seen merely as a “sex crime.” I say “merely” because its “sexual” designation made it, at best, less worthy of attention or, worse, something the victim brought on herself. (Rape was also, for all intents and purposes, defined as something done to a woman by a man.) Thus, it could be seen as something that happened because a woman was out at the wrong time or wearing the wrong clothes — not a way in which one human being violated another.

But then a shift occurred. As someone who is not a criminologist or a scholar in any related field, I can’t tell you what caused the changed. What I know, however, is its result: policy makers and law enforcement officials are, increasingly, treating rape as a violent crime. While there are still police officers and departments, as well as public officials, who treat victims with condescension or even hostility, increasing numbers are doing what they can to give rape victims the same sort of attention and avenues of redress afforded people who have been mugged or suffered other random assaults — which, of course, is what they deserve.

Thankfully, I see a similar sort of change in the winds for people who have been sexually molested by priests or other authority figures, including employers, teachers and directors. One result is that more of us are coming forward, whether in the days or weeks after the incidents — or even decades later, as I finally did.

This is not to say, of course, that coming forward is easy or without repercussions: why do you think I’m writing under a nom de plume? But the fact that I, and others, have been able to speak up, in whatever ways and to whomever (I’ve told a few good friends as well as a therapist and social worker) shows that at least some people have a different, and more accurate, perception of sexual harassment, molestation, abuse and assault from the ones they had just a few years ago. And, of course, people who hadn’t been paying attention are now focused on the issue.

The change I see is this: people are starting to understand that when a priest takes advantage of an altar boy who doesn’t yet know the names of the parts of his body the priest is touching — or a director demands sex of an aspiring actress — or a coach or trainer forces him- or herself on an athlete whose life plans depend on staying on the team and keeping a scholarship — it’s no more a mere “sex crime” than the attack of a waitress on her way home from the lobster shift — a work shift that covers the late evening and early morning hours — or forced intimacy by a spouse, shift  partner or paramour. Instead, the abuses I’ve described are abuses of power imbalances — and, perhaps even more important, abuses of trust.

That last point cannot be overstated. People usually enter marriages trusting each other. Employees go to their jobs trusting that their supervisors or employers will treat them with personal and professional respect. And, every day, parents entrust their kids with — and teach their kids to trust — teachers and coaches.

And priests. In communities like the one in which I grew up, priests were trusted more than anybody else. That is one reason why abuse and molestation from them is so traumatic and alienating: The faith parents and other adults have, and teach their children to have, in their priests—whom they see as representatives of God — makes it difficult, if not impossible, for kids to speak up, even if they have the language to do so.

That implicit, unquestioned trust in priests makes abuse from them all the more egregious: violating that trust is worse than almost anything else that can be done to a vulnerable child — or, for that matter, to adults who lack the confidence to speak with other kinds of professionals. Very often, people like the ones with whom I grew up could confide in almost no one else, and they and their kids don’t have much else in their lives besides work, school, family and the church.

People are outraged over sexual abuse from priests, as well as other authority figures, because they’ve come to understand what I’ve described. My closest friend, the widow of a blue-collar worker, “gets it.” So does another friend who grew up without religion and says she never experienced abuse from anybody. So does a male friend who has practically no formal education.

Lots of other people get it, too. Sometimes it seems everybody does — except for Church officials. Rather than seeing sexual abuse by priests as an exploitation of trust and power, the church blames other things. Like the Sexual Revolution — never mind that victims have been reporting abuse they incurred decades before the SR supposedly corrupted us. Or homosexuality — forgetting that nearly all men (including priests) who sexually molest boys never have any sort of sexual experience with adult men, or any desire for it.

That last fact about the proclivities of pedophiles is something that I knew even before I had the language for it — or for my own body or desires, for that matter. I suspect most people these days understand as much, even if they’ve never read the research that corroborates it.

I understand. They understand. Everyone, it seems, understands — except for church officials — that priests preying on vulnerable young people is, more than anything, an abuse of trust. Perhaps it’s just not in their interest to understand. In the meantime, if not the sexual revolution or gays, they’ll find something or someone else — including the victims themselves — to blame.