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 Butch Girls Tale

The blurred lines of cults and religion

It’s odd how things all come together at once. Today I was doing some research for a future post about the rise of Protestant Christianity in America. I stumbled upon a New York Times article from 1993 about a “renewed debate on the word “cult” in religious circles”. A few weeks ago the new book Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn popped up on my suggested audible books (I guess that tells you what kind of books I read). My girlfriend and I were on a road trip and decided to give the book a try. I didn’t know much about Jonestown other than it’s infamous end and this book did not disappoint. A few days later the anticipated release of Hulu’s The Handmaids Tale premiered and again, I found myself fascinated with a story I had somehow missed. Two stories of the extremes of religion. One real and one fiction, yet the similarities and present day possibilities were unnerving to say the least.

I commonly refer to my past church as a chult (a church/cult mix). I do this because people find it too offensive to have their faith called a cult. Sure everyone is mindlessly following the same rules, wearing the same outfits, abiding by one mans interpretation of “gods truth” but no, that’s not a cult. We seem to have the idea that unless you’re buried in a bunker and married to a guy with 15 wives you cant possibly be in a cult. But what’s interesting is we find that even those buried in the bunker with 14 other sister wives ALSO don’t believe they’re in a cult.

With the recent break in the silence surrounding Scientology we are given a prime example of true cult behavior. People like Leah Remini, Mark Rathburn, Mike Rinder, Marc Headly and more reveal a religion that most of us thought was strange yet harmless (references below for these stories from Scientology). These people lived open and successful lives. They weren’t hiding away, they didn’t dress in outdated clothing, they were just like everybody else. Until we realized they weren’t. Until they spoke out about the abuse, the lies, the manipulation, and the loss of control over their lives. They spoke of friends and family members who had completely disowned them simply because they no longer believed that little aliens were living inside of them. That sounds ridiculous right?

Yet the other day, I spoke with a man who keeps his atheism a secret because he doesn’t know how his family will react if he tells them he doesn’t believe in a magic man in the sky. If you can not accept that a talking snake brought about the fall of man or that the ark housed ALL the species of the world then what happens to you? If your loved ones aren’t biblical literalists, yet firmly believe there is a god in the heavens directing our lives, how do they react to your non-belief? It’s true that in today’s form of modern religion we see a more open-minded approach to the concept of god. Yet just as strongly as the left swings left the right swings right, and today we live in a country where a reality TV star is our president because religion still has power. It has great power and the world in The Handmaids Tale doesn’t seem as far fetched as it did at its release 30 years ago

And yet for decades journalists have avoided using the word cult for fear of offending the religious right. And it’s true that this word is an easy out occasionally tossed around. The excerpt below is part of the NYT 1993 article that opposes the use of the word cult.


My favorite word is “exotic”. Is that the term we’re using to describe the subjugation of women and rampant sexual abuse? Exotic? Hey, I guess anything is better than the word cult right?

My “exotic” religion covered up countless cases of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Much like the Catholic Church out leaders moved an offender from one parish to the next rather than hold him accountable for his actions. (I use the pronoun him because I have yet to find a case within my former cult where this applied to a woman). We were taught that women were created specifically for men (Genesis 2:18-20) and therefore should be in submission to men (Ephesians 5:22-24 ). We were not allowed to listen to music post 1950, were forbidden from going to the movies, were held to strict dress and appearance standards and were encouraged to “pull away from” (i.e. shun) those who left gods will. Incredibly gods will aligned perfectly with whatever the pastor believed at the time. And as some read this they say “that sounds like a cult”. Yet I wasn’t locked on a compound, I could marry whom I pleased (provided he was of the male variety) and I had free access to the outside world. But I was not free. I knew this. No matter how many times the preacher screamed from the pulpit that if we didn’t like his sermons the door swung both ways, I KNEW it wasn’t that simple. Telling people they are free and allowing them to be free are two very different things. In the above excerpt we see that Dr. Richardson goes on to say “We must remember that 99 percent of minority religions are benign and peaceful and just want to be left alone. When they abide by the law they have this right.” The problems with this are first, that many branches of major religions are the ones actually doing the most damage. And second, much of this harm is able to be done thanks to the law. The law doesn’t protect people from being brainwashed. It doesn’t protect a woman from being culturally bullied into giving over her money to her husband, or from being taught to acquiesce every time he wants sex (marriage rape). Children are not protected from fraud educations, abuse under the guise of corporal punishment or lack of proper medical treatment. Even in cases where religious parents have been held accountable for abuse or poor medical treatment, its usually done so AFTER the child is critically injured or dead. The law doesn’t protect students of Scientology from signing a billion year contract that enslaves them to the whims of their leaders. Yet we all know that these things are wrong and most of us understand that these people are not truly free.

There are those of course who will read this and say “But they ARE free! The wives can leave at any time, the students of Scientology can simply walk away and even the children can report abuse to a teacher or leader.” I imagine these are the same people who believe that turning one’s life over to Jesus under penalty of eternal damnation is actually a “choice”. These people I do not debate because we are arguing with two completely different mindsets towards two completely different end results. . As for the problem of  religious cultural intimidation in our country one may ask “Well then what is our option? To monitor every household and every religious place of worship?” No, I believe in the rights of Americans and the freedom of worship and that is an issue I will address in a post soon to come. Today I am simply asking people to be honest and aware of the affects of these so called “minority” religions on our society.  I 100% concede that there are millions of Americans that belong to a church or a faith that in no way could be construed as a cult. I absolutely understand that religion in itself is not a cult and in fact brings much comfort and positivity to countless lives. I have never been on a crusade to erase personal religion or beliefs and I never will. But there is a rise in extreme religion in America and this rise cannot be ignored nor tip toed around.

-H

 

References:

New York Times: Debate over ‘cult’ is renewed More say religion is important in their lives Two groups speak as one against violence (1993) search.proquest.com/…D4940C28C6047FFPQ/11

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015 Documentary) – Available On: HBO GO / iTunes / Google Play Movies

Leah Remi: Scientology and the Aftermath – Available on iTunes / Amazon Video / Vudu

Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

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

The Netflix Biopic of Madeline Murray O’Hair Was a Joke

I was so excited to watch the story of Madeline Murray O’Hair. I admit I didnt know much about her, but I did know that she founded American Atheists, sued to get prayer out of public schools, and was a staunch defender of separation of Church and State. I had also heard that she was a bit crass and something about her and her son not getting along. So okay, I wasn’t completely clueless, but I’m an atheist and I have to know SOMETHING about the woman who started it all. But I wanted to know more and I was sure from the trailer that Netflix was going to knock this out of the park.

I couldn’t have been more disappointed. While I wouldn’t compare O’Hair to MLK as a person, the best way I could describe the movie would be if someone had made a biopic of MLK but only focused on his affairs and assasination. The impact of her landmark court case, the way she consistently fought for the rights of minorities, and her tireless efforts to make all faiths and people equal in the U.S. were barely and almost apologetically mentioned. Instead the movie focused on her horrific death with the director sporadically sprinkling in details which subtly insinuated that she brought it upon herself. They also, somehow, made her estranged son the hero. A struggling alcoholic, he abandoned his daughter and family and sought Jesus to maintain his sobriety. A recovering alcoholic myself I can’t judge the extreme measures people will go to in order to escape the terror of addiction. But the way O’Hair is silently blamed for her sons choices is one more example of the movies bias against an atheist.

She was a champion of human rights and the first amendment, but instead she was portrayed as nothing more than a publicity hungry crazy woman. Though I’ll at least commend the director for pointing out that her critics were just as hungry for public attention as she was. Madeline Murray O’Hair, for all her flaws and crass, had the guts to stand up to an entire nation and remind them of their own constitutional and historical roots. She insisted that the individual matters, and that in a country as diverse as America all cultures, religions and beliefs should be celebrated. But The Most Hated Woman In America is a movie that seems content to wash away yet another legacy under the tidal wave of Christianity.

-H

How to Create a Religion 

Tlacaelel figures out how to build an empire

I am a lover of history and therefore am prone to read any and everything concerned with the vast subject. I also have an Audible account and absolutely cannot wait each month until my new, “free” credit drops (is it really free if I have to pay $14.95 for a subscription that STILL charges me for each book? But back to my post). So this month I chose the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann, a historical and anthropological study of the people of the America’s prior to Columbus’s so called discovery.  A fascinating book that provides so much new insight on the ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. If you’re a fan of Native American history then you need to read this book.

As I was listening to the book, the author tells the story of a man named Tlacaelel who built the Mexica people into the mighty Aztec Empire. Interestingly enough when I was in 7th grade I did my final history report on the Aztec Empire. My sister had just returned from a missions trip (see story about my religious upbringing) to Mexico and I figured I could use some of the souvenirs she brought back as props. I honestly had little interest in Aztec history, but I had to turn in the subject of my project the next day and her maracas just spoke to me. Had I tried a little harder in my studies I would have stumbled upon this story and perhaps my journey of questioning god and religion would have started a lot earlier. You’re bored now and wondering if I’ll get to the point so I’ll keep you in suspense no longer.

Tlacaelel was the nephew of the Aztec king Itzcoatl and is most likely the most influential person in Aztec history. He is responsible for creating schools, a military, and a judicial system; as well as, redesigning the economic and social construct of the Mexica tribe, later to become the Aztec Empire. But in my opinion the most incredible thing Tlacaelel did was to change the thinking of the Mexica people by literally rewriting their history and religion. He realized that the defeated past of the Mexica people could only hold them back, so he persuaded the tribes leaders to burn their history. Once this was done Tlacaelel presented a new history, with a conquerors perspective, and with this history a new religion.

In his religion Tlacaelel told the Mexica people that they were the chosen defenders of the cosmos and their god, Huitzilopochtli. He explained that Huitzilopochtli was in constant danger of dying if he were not regularly quenched with the blood of men. If the god died, so did the Sun (some versions have the god as the Sun) and if the Sun died then so did all of mankind. It was the duty of the Mexica to insure the safety of humanity by supplying the god with daily human sacrifices. And in order to obtain these many sacrifices, the Mexica must conquer as many lands and people as possible. Tlacaelel was literally using religion to establish an imperialist state, and it worked. The Aztecs became the greatest civilization in Mesoamerican history. And while they were certainly no less brutal and bloodthirsty than their 15th century European counterparts, that’s not saying much. As Europeans crowded their town squares for a public and gory execution, the Aztecs flocked to their pyramid temples for human sacrifices. After one particular battle, it is said that the Aztec king Ahuitzotl sacrificed over 20,000 prisoners of war. It’s astounding what religion can motivate us to do.

But what I found so shocking about this story was that is was so transparent. While we can point to countless times in history when a person/persons have used religion to gain what they want, we cannot often find the origins of a religion so clearly detailed. And certainly not when those origins paint such a negative light on the beginning of that religion. Perhaps peoples ability to ignore this blatant political creation of religion plays more to our entitlement than to our love for all things holy. Had someone so crudely pointed out that Christianity had started this way the outcry would be endless. Yet the history of a “savage” people is not one that particularly moves us or motivates us to delve into the history of our own beliefs.

Just as Tlacaelel created a religion befitting his people, so all religion has been created. And just as his religion ultimately led to the suffering and discrimination of so many, so has all religion. It is sad that such a brilliant man chose such a rudimentary idea to stimulate the growth of his people. But then how many world leaders have been and continue to fall prey to the same thinking? I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight as much as I have and I strongly encourage you to look up the origins of your own faith (if you are not a faithless heathen like I am). I will periodically post the origins of different religions through history to build upon the truth.

-H

Resources : 1491 by Charles C. Mann :/:  www.aztec.com :/:  http://www.gmsdk12.org/Downloads/Tlacaelel.pdf