Family Doesn’t Feel Like Family Anymore

I’ve shared part of my story before, I was raised in an extremist baptist church in Indiana. Half of my family still takes part in that brand of faith and our relationship is strained at best. There’s many things about me of which my family does not approve. They don’t like that I’m attracted to women, they are offended by my masculine persona, and they can’t stand that I’m an atheist. To be fair, there’s plenty about my family of which I do not like. I don’t like that they are zealots, I’m offended by their bigotry, and I can’t stand their denial of science and facts. These issues have continued to divide us over the years, creating a chasm that becomes more and more daunting to cross. 

Every time something’s happens in our country that is driven by hatred, bigotry or denial I cannot help but be reminded of my family. I feel guilty as if my ties to them link me to this kind of behavior and then I become resentful of these ties. Two events very recently have stirred up these emotions inside my heart and head. The banning of transgender individuals in the military and the Charlottesville Nazi Riot. Let me state quickly that my family memebers are not white supremacist and I am certain that they condemn such violence and blatant racism. However like many white, conservative Americans, they are in denial of their own racism and the affects of their actions on minorities. That is why they make no apologies for voting in a president of such low character and open bigotry. And as much as they silently support measures that hurt minority races, they very openly cheer on the discrimination of LGBT individuals. It’s frustrating, and I take it personal. I can’t seem to help myself. 

My family no longer feels like my family. Yet we have these amazing memories from my childhood that tear at me at different times, especially during the holidays or at a function with my fiancées family. These memories play over and over in my head so distant yet I’m present with them. And I wonder why I do this, why I hang onto people who have rejected me at my core and only want me because I remind them of their past. I guess there’s guilt about my mother. She and I were close when I was young and she’s still a woman I admire in many ways. And my siblings bring a smile to my face if anyone asks me about them. I love them, and yet I resent them so forcefully sometimes. 

My favorite movie is It’s A Wonderful Life. In it the main character, George Bailey, wishes he never existed. Not that he could die but that he simply never was. This best describes how I feel about my family some days. I don’t wish to cut them off and leave them, yet I often wish I had never existed in that family at all. As the saying goes though, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. So for now I’m the liberal, lesbian atheist stuck with an ultra conservative, baptist family. And how will I handle the mixed emotions that rack my brain? A day at a time, and hopefully in the same tolerance and love I want for myself. 

– H

The Bhagavad Gita: Part One

The conflict of war and peace in religious texts

I’ve always been fascinated with religious history. Despite my lack of belief in a god, I cannot help but be in awe of the everlasting impact of religion on the development of mankind. It has reached almost every corner of the world in some fashion or another and it is impossible for one to determine what life would be like if religion had never existed. The infamous line of John Lennon’s Imagine, “imagine no religion” is actually incomprehensible when we consider the words literally. Though the study of religion caused me to lose my faith in god and religion, I have since developed a deep respect, and fear, of what I consider THE most important aspect of our past, present and future. But I’m rambling and this post is about one religion and one specific text in particular. I’ll have to delve into a philosophical musing about a world without religion later.

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important spiritual texts of Hinduism and certainly the most well known and popular. I admit that I have not studied much of Hinduism in the past, only covering a few basics. However this year I am trying to do deeper study on 4 of the worlds largest religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. I have not included Christianity because that is constantly an ongoing study for me. I’m also trying to gain a better understanding of cults; the atmospheres, traits and similarities which took up a lot of my study towards the beginning of the year. So now I’m diving into Hinduism and it is very hard for this former monotheist to understand and comprehend.

I started with a course on Cultural Literacy for Religion: Hinduism. Its part of the Great Courses on Audible which I recommend for anyone who wants to casually learn about about any subject. Along with that I’ve been reading the Bhavagad Gita. I’m enjoying it to be honest. Of course I’m reading an English translation and my lack of interpretive skills prevent me from knowing the exact meanings of the story; however, I believe my translated version is quite solid.

The first thing that stuck out to me was the conflict of ideas between war and peace. While the ultimate goal of the Gita seems to be to teach one to achieve eternal serenity, the firs two chapters focus on Krishna convincing Arjuna that killing his relatives in battle is not something he should mourn. Arjuna actually seems like the wise and compassionate one as he grieves and avoids this violent task.

Chapter 1:25-35  – Arjuna saw standing there fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles, brothers, sons and grandsons and also companions….. Seeing all these kinsmen thus arrayed, the son of Kunti (Arjuna), Filled with the utmost compassion, sorrowfully spoke: Seeing my own kinsmen, O Krishna, arrayed and wishing to fight, My limbs collapse, my mouth dries up, there is trembling in my body and my hair stands on end;…. I do not desire victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasure. Of what use is kingdom to us?….. These I do not wish to kill though they kill me, O Madhusudana (Krishna); even for the kingdom of the three worlds; how then for the sake of the earth!

I see a very compassionate and wise leader who does not see how violence, against his own people I might add, would solve his problems. And I would expect a god to understand this hesitation, though I don’t know why I expect this. I have yet to find a religion where violence is not demanded or exalted, though it is often also condemned. And Krishna is no exception as he replies to Arjuna in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: 2-3  – The Blessed Lord said: Whence hath this despair come to thee in this (time of) crisis? It is unbecoming to an aryan, it does not lead to heaven, it is disgraceful, O Arjuna. Yield not to this impotence, O Partha (Arjuna), for it is not proper of thee. Abandon this petty weakness of heart and arise, O oppressor of the foe. 

Now I must point out that in Hinduism attachment to anyone or anything is considered imprudent and a hindrance to attaining the highest spiritual state. Perhaps Krishna is simply pointing out Arjuna’s weakness for his attachment to his kinsmen. However, at no point does Krishna condemn the violence at hand and is actually there to do battle WITH Arjuna. It is interesting that 4 of the major religions actually call for violence, when necessary. And its convenient that any time one finds someone who refuses to comply to their religious code then violence is “necessary”. One of most eye opening readings in my own journey was in the Bible in I Samuel chapter 15 when God commands Saul to slaughter an entire community.

I Samuel 15:2-3  – Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 

Saul does most of what god says but he keeps some of the good livestock alive for his people. This pisses God off and is his final straw with Saul which leads him to choose David to be king instead. Seriously, if you like action, war, sex, betrayal and violence then you’ve GOT to read the Old Testament.

But back to the Gita, I admit I was disappointed in another religion endorsing the need for violence. Perhaps it was necessary for the rise of civilization, we will never know because violence was used so often in the homosapien’s drive for survival. And while the wise sage will always tell his followers to live in peace, it seems that the gods will always drive their followers to choose violence. Regardless of this, I am still enjoying my reading and will soon write a post about some of the passages in the Bhagavad Gita that I do like. Until next time…

-H

 

Resources: The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eliot Deutsch / The Bible, King James Version / Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know taught by Professor Mark Berkson

Gay and Atheist

A belief is held that I’m an atheist because I’m gay and my atheism perpetuates me to stay in my gay lifestyle

Coming from such a conservative background and then enduring a pretty difficult coming out experience, often prompts people to speculate about the root “cause” of my atheism. As if its some kind of disease I contracted along the way and in time can be cured through doses of prayer and thought submission. And in part I can see why someone would assume that resentment drove me from god. It certainly drove me from church and created a need to find answers outside my realm of comfort. In some ways I can’t help but compare my journey’s of coming out and godlessness; and the fact that they both happened simultaneously makes those comparisons easier.

The other day someone mentioned that perhaps I was resentful of god even though I didn’t believe in him. This has been mentioned to me on several occasions by more than a few people. And even those who love and accept me as I am still struggle with understanding my complete lack of a belief in a god. I could not resent a god any more than I could resent Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. However, since god and religion are so intrinsically intertwined my resentment towards religion, and I must admit it’s there, makes it difficult for me to explain my complete separate feelings towards the two.

And then you add the fact that I’m gay. And that I was shunned and abandoned by my religious friends and family because of my homosexuality and naturally everyone assumes they have me figured out. A belief is held that I’m an atheist because I’m gay and my atheism perpetuates me to stay in my gay lifestyle. This vicious cycle that I could escape if only I would let go of my resentment for god and allow him back into my life. The fact that I don’t believe in a god is completely ignored; and I honestly believe that some people believe if I were to quit being gay or quit being an atheist, the one change would solve the other problem as well. Wow. It’s exhausting just thinking about it, I don’t know how people live with those thoughts.

This thinking is a huge common misconception about the atheist, agnostic and non-believer community. The idea that our lack of belief perpetuates our so-called moral deficiencies is exactly why some feel so deeply against atheism. However, we know that many who fervently believe in a god also participate in REAL morally deplorable actions. How many stories have we read of pastors or christian workers that participated in or allowed child abuse? What of the beheadings, torture, and stoning of women by Muslim leaders? We see constant actual wrongdoing by religious people all the time and shame on us if we ever attribute their sin to their belief in a god. Yet atheists almost always have their lack of belief brought up when they fail or are perceived to have failed.

According to some in my past, my being gay is a failure or sin. Of course I don’t believe that at all. But even if it were true, what would my atheism have to do with anything? Plenty of those in the LGBTQ community believe in a god, attend a church or even are clergy members themselves. And plenty of the most anti-LGBTQ individuals have committed terrible atrocities to their fellow beings. My point is simply that this stigmatism against the atheists is easily refuted if we’re willing to look objectively at the facts. Despite my fierce feelings about religion, I also respect the rights of belief. And I respect the peace and direction that religion or a belief in a god affords others. All I ask is for the same respect myself.

-H

The Resentment of God

Like most people I wear many hats and I tend to wear mine proudly. I’m an atheist, a lesbian, a liberal, a humanist and a history nerd. I’m also a recovering alcoholic. And since I put my entire life on display, my sobriety is just another topic I openly discuss. I tried a lot of different ways to get sober. A lot. Finally AA worked for me. I don’t speak for AA, no one does. I only speak for myself. And I also suggest that people use whatever program or avenue works for them. But since I mostly use AA, I talk about that in my recovery posts. 

This week has been interesting for me. I wrestle a lot with the way god is constantly shoved down our throat. And I hate the fact that when I say I’m an atheist, someone  always pulls me aside afterwards and explains that god will come if I ask. Lately I’ve felt this even more keenly. It’s definitely fostered a resentment and disenchantment with the program; and while I’ve had no thoughts of relapse, I have wondered how important it is to have a recovery group. Then the other day at a meeting I heard a man adamantly insist he does not believe in a god and then go on a bit of a tirade about the subject. Most people were visibly uncomfortable, but I was alive. I always identify with people but still often feel alone. In that moment though I felt that I had a real friend in AA. Not simply someone being patient so they could change me, but a person who recognized that I could be good and sober without a god. Sometimes I wonder. I must admit that despite the evidence of countless atheists who have stayed sober without a “god of their own understanding” I’ve wondered if my lack of faith will hinder me. In some ways I’m sure it does. A constant skeptical mind is often a hindrance and not an asset. 

But then in addition to being reminded that I’m not a lone, I was also reminded of the true loneliness of alcoholism and lack of a program. Another man shared his story a few days later. He had been sober for 4 years and the night of his fourth anniversary he picked up a drink. I realize non-alcoholics/addicts cannot understand this behavior. But every person in that meeting got it, trust me. For the last year and a half he’s struggled with getting sober again and as of today he had 12 days alcohol free. He tried many different methods to regain his sobriety  but finally went back to AA because that’s what had worked the first time. Again, whatever works for a person, do it. His story shook me though. He spoke of his resentment and how it drove him from AA and I thought of my own resentment. I cannot afford to go out again. My life was a living hell and I prayed that if there were a god, may he simply let me die. 

But there was no heavenly help for me. I had to do the work. I had to get up every day and go to a meeting. Many days I went twice, occasionally I went three times. I had to reach out and ask for help when I just wanted to isolate. I had to get into a meditation habit and a journaling habit. I had to be honest with myself and adress my character defects. And today I have to continue doing the work. I don’t have to do it alone though, I’ve chosen a method that gives me a support group. And though I don’t agree with everyone, and on some days want to walk out because of religious nonsense, the truth is I need to be sober. The truth is my life is shit without recovery. And the truth is this program works for me most days so why am I letting my personal feelings drive me away? I don’t have to believe in a god to be sober. And I don’t have to believe in a god to have a god centered program help me. Some would disagree. To each their own. This is the recovery that has worked for me and the only thing that’s worked so far. I tried rehab, spiritualism, therapy, online forums, books, family pressure and more. But a 12 step program with too much god and shitty coffee is what has worked for this proud atheist-alcoholic. 

If you’re struggling in AA as an atheist, I encourage you to remain strong and remember you can do this and it’s worth it. And I promise you’re not alone. And if you’re in recovery and believe in a god, I challenge you to allow others to have their own recovery and beliefs. Don’t tell them how they’re doing it wrong, none of us have the answers. We wear our hats and not only do they help define us but they allow others to recognize our differences. Most importantly they allow us to gain a wider perspective on life and that perspective is invaluable if we use it. Stay strong my friends. 

-H

The Rights of Children

The controversy of two parents who ran a YouTube prank channel, which focused mainly on pranking their children, erupted this week when two of the children were taken out of the parents custody for allegations of child abuse. Below is a link with the story from USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/03/youtube-stars-lose-custody-children-after-controversial-prank-videos/309560001/

Of course this incident sparks a debate about a parents rights vs a child’s rights. The truth is I believe these parents truly love their children; however we live in a society where the rights of children are rarely championed as equal to the parents. In fact, many pastors still hail the Biblical admonition “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24 and 22:15) as proper parenting advice. In the U.S. children do not have the right to an accredited education, they don’t have the right to life saving vaccines, they can be hit and beaten as long as you call it spanking, and those who are LGBTQ can be forced to undergo conversion therapy. These are all choices we allow the parent to make, but they each have lasting ramifications on the children who bear the brunt end of these choices. 

In the videos posted by the owners of YouTube channel Daddy O’five, the parents have fun at the expense of their children. Which is mostly disturbing when you watch several videos of the children crying and begging their parents to stop pranking them. The videos have since been deleted; however, YouTube self proclaimed anchor Philip Defranco did an excellent segment on the pranksters. Check it out if you get a chance. https://youtu.be/fvoLmsXKkYM

The point is we need to have an honest conversation about how children’s rights in this country. And no, I’m not a parent. I can’t comprehend someone telling me how to raise my child. However, as a child that was denied a real education which has handicapped my professional growth, a child that was rejected for being gay, and a child that was subjecated to the humiliation of being spanked by my 60 year old male principal, I do have a clear perspective on the situation. Children are our future and deserve the best future we can provide. This begins with giving them a future through mandatory vaccines, equipping them with an accredited education, and protecting them from abuse. These are basic rights to which all adults are entitled, so why not our legacy as well?

-H

Spiritual Experience

Spirituality – the deepest values and meanings by which one lives

When I got sober everyone was quick to point out I would need a “spiritual experience” and “conscious contact with a higher power” in order to survive. I thought I was screwed. How was this voluntarily lost soul going to get spiritual? The truth is my definition of spirituality, like most peoples, was outdated. Today I can honestly say that I have had a spiritual experience. There was nothing supernatural or religious about it; that was not necessary for my sobriety. But my life has gone through a great change and it has made me a better and more hopeful individual.

First, allow me to share the new age definition I found that really helped me in the beginning:

Spirituality: The deepest values and meanings by which one lives

This definition put everything is such a simple perspective. Before I got sober I did not live my life by any values and the meaning was nothing more than survival. After I left my chult (my pet name for my church/cult) I just threw everything out the window. I felt abandoned and rejected and wanted to sit in my self-pity, licking my wounds and blaming everyone for my position in life. I drowned in my alcohol trying to escape any feelings that might rise and after several years of sliding deeper and deeper into this pit of despair I finally hit my bottom.

As I neared the end of my descent, I discovered meditation which became the first true ray of light to break through the darkness. My spirit of hope was reborn and I began to allow myself to feel emotions I had suppressed for decades, since I was a young child. However, though I was enjoying the clear mind and lowered anxiety that meditation brings, it was not enough to calm the screaming obsession of alcohol. If I couldn’t drink I wanted prescription drugs and if that didn’t work then I wanted sex. I do believe that alcohol sets off a physical craving in an addicts brain; however, there is also a separate obsession of the mind to use any means of escape possible.

For three months I used meditation and spiritual readings to keep me sober, but my other activities shot up. (I don’t want to mislead, my dealings with drugs have been light, more of a substitute when alcohol was not available. However to any adults who have anti-axiety meds, sleeping pills, pain killers, pretty much most prescription drugs, dear god PLEASE make sure those are locked away and not just sitting in your medicine cabinet. The addicts of the world will thank you when we use your restroom and realize there’s nothing for us to steal.) Anyway, I began turning to other means to escape the feelings creeping out from the rock I had stuffed them under. My actions were incredibly harmful to those in my life, but I was convinced that my new “spiritual enlightenment” meant that they were the lost ones and my wasn’t I forgiving for being patient with them.

Eventually though I drank again. I had been sober exactly 100 days and figured that was a great reason to celebrate. This went on for another 6 months during which time I lost my relationship, my home, and many friends. Along with increased financial debt and my job hanging on by a thread I was broken. In typical addict fashion I planned out my suicide and considered killing myself before finally deciding to get help first. That’s when  I walked into a 12 step program and had my spiritual experience.

The reality that I was an absolute, selfish jackass stung a little at first. I spent months crying about what a horrible person I was while those with more sobriety rolled their eyes and waited for me to get over myself. But as my mind cleared and I listened to the stories of others, I learned that I did not have to be this person. Yes my self-absorption had caused me to throw out most of my morals and values. And no I didn’t bring back ALL of the teachings of my childhood. But honesty, open-mindedness and willingness were a start.

Today I can say with strong confidence that a principled life is the key to happiness and success. The addict in me reaches for instant gratification, but the spiritualism I continue to develop reminds me to first weigh outcome and consequence. A humanist approach to life forces me to think of others and not only myself. Humility, love, acceptance, and altruism are some of the values I have chosen to adopt. Truthfully these do not always come naturally to me though I am ashamed to admit it. As for the meaning of life, I find meaning in helping others and being loyal to those close to me. Life meant nothing to me before I got sober and allowed spirituality to guide me. Today I WANT to live, I WANT to make a difference, I WANT to inspire and help others to live a full and happy life. That is one reason I started this blog. I believe politicized religion is very harmful as opposed to personalized religion. So I created an outlet to discuss and address many of the issues that political religion creates in our world today. It’s also a way for those who feel ostracized by their lack of belief to come together.

If you’re struggling with addiction, please get help. There is a way out. Check out recovery.org or call their hotline 1-888-499-8846. If you’re struggling with depression then call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255. If you just need to talk then reach out to a friend or confidant and be honest about where you’re at. If you’re a recovering alcoholic or addict and you don’t like how religious your program seems then check out aaagnostica.org , aabeyondbelief.org or smartrecovery.org .And most importantly, don’t let your fears or misgivings stop you from bettering yourself. If I had let the “god talk” in my recovery program stop me from getting the help I needed then I wouldn’t be writing this post today.

I hope every person finds a spiritual path regardless of which direction it guides them. Living our lives by values and meaning will bring about a greater peace on earth.

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.  – Thomas Paine

– H

How atheism caused me to put more value on life

By seeing how morals evolved with the evolution of mankind, I could trust that religion was not necessary for morality.

I often hear the argument that atheists believe in nothing and therefore have no purpose in life. It’s really a transparent lashing out by those who cannot fathom purpose without a god. The truth is that I found a freedom and renewed zeal for life once the boundaries of religion were broken. To be fair, I was part of the extreme version of Christianity. My life was nothing but rules and fear of harming my relationship with god or losing it completely. The messages and lessons taught in the church and my Christian college classroom constantly reminded me that I was no good and only gods grace and mercy made my life of any value. Those who had turned from god had lost their purpose and fellowship with them would ultimately harm my purpose. I became obsessed with a never ending pursuit of imperfect perfection (because true perfection can never be achieved but damn you if you don’t hopelessly strive for it).

Even once I accepted that I was an atheist, I did not believe there was measurable evidence of a god or creation, I still wondered if my morals would suddenly tank. The book Origins of Virtue by Matthew Ridley helped me immensely in the beginning. The book detailed how humanity has created and evolved the morals of thriving and compassionate societies. It really comes back to survival of the fittest and and the way in which the human race has become the dominant species. Empathy was developed as our ancestors realized that by working together we succeed. By seeing how morals evolved with the evolution of mankind, I could trust that religion was not necessary for morality.

Of course some of my ideas about what was and was not moral changed. Many views about sex shifted to amoral, while I adopted human rights as a value over biblical demands of obedience. I found that my relationships with people mattered more. In the past, I had no problem abandoning a friend who had strayed from my beliefs, today I enjoy the variety of perspectives and lifestyles my friends lend to my growth. The biggest gain I have found is the drive to enjoy this one life and my one moment to leave an impact on my world.

When I believed in an afterlife, I spent my time worrying about that life instead of this one. Was I doing everything right? Was I doing everything wrong? What happens to my loved ones if they get off our path to heaven? Now I find immense joy in living today with no worry of a judgement day or eternal damnation. I can prioritize what is important to making life count instead of building my life around the guidelines of a fairytale.

The other day a woman on my Facebook thread, a Christian, admitted she was finding inspiration from different versions of the Bible. If you know anything about fundamental baptists, they believe the King James Version is the ONLY authority from god. So for the entire day I watched this woman get shredded by her Christian friends for veering away from gods word and I thought, what an awful way to live. For a person to spend their lives living in past beliefs or obsessing over a future afterlife, how frustrating and depleting. Atheism allowed me to live in the now and I’m incredibly grateful for this new perspective on life.

– H