On Right, Wrong, and High Horses

Edited March 22, 2013, 6:45 PM: Well, I’ve got egg all over my face, thanks to someone posting a comment with my niece’s email address. Thinking the comment came from her — and getting upset by the thought that she’d write such a thing — I said some things here that I now regret. I’ve since modified this post to remove the passages she might find offensive. My apologies to her. I only wish that we were closer; I would have called her to discuss the comment attributed to her before referring to her in this blog post. I would have also called to apologize for my error and any pain it may have caused her. – ML

An explanation for those who don’t understand.

I’ve been blogging a lot lately about my divorce and the emotional turmoil it’s putting me through. Although it’s not easy for me to do, it’s something I feel I must do. It’s part of my healing process, recommended by my grief counselor; writing out my thoughts and feelings help me to understand them. The blog posts not only help me (obviously) get things off my chest, but they document this difficult part of my life. And as I’ve discovered lately by the outpouring of supportive blog comments, email messages, and even Twitter and Facebook responses, other people have also been benefiting from the way I’ve been revealing and discussing my open wounds here in my blog.

I was surprised and saddened the other day, however, to get the following comment on my blog post, “On Marital Infidelity,” posted by someone using my niece’s email address:

get off your horse and smell the roses.You and only you and him can work it out, not by blasting away.Stop and move on like you always do.

It turns out that the comment was posted by my brother-in-law — my niece’s father — for reasons I’ll never understand. It seems truly idiotic that he used his daughter to get under my skin. He should know better than to post such a thing without expecting a response. He knows firsthand how the ordeal of my divorce is affecting me. His comment was hurtful and uncalled for; pinning it on his own daughter was inexcusable.

But rather than go on and on about that, I want to focus on what he said.

My High Horse and the Roses I Need to Smell

The Urban Dictionary offers several definitions of “high horse.” I’m pretty sure my brother-in-law means the first:

Arrogantly believing oneself superior to others, often by putting down large groups of people. In usage, such a person is described as “on a high horse” or may be told to “Get off your high horse.”

Apparently, my brother-in-law believes that I’ve taken a superior attitude in the situation of my divorce — that I think I’m better than others. I’ve given this a lot of thought. The only way he could possibly interpret my thoughts and feelings — as expressed in my blog posts — as evidence of a superior attitude is because he doesn’t understand the simple concept of what’s right and what’s wrong.

That made me wonder whether this is something (1) my brother-in-law doesn’t understand or (2) today’s society doesn’t understand.

In any case, it’s worth explaining; I’ll get to that in a moment.

My brother-in-law also apparently believes that I’m putting down my husband. My recent blog post, “Wanted: A Strong Man,” can probably be seen as a put down — although that’s not the post he commented on. It was a difficult post for me to write, mostly because of what I said near the middle of it: he wasn’t always a weak man. But I think I was honest. And I think the people who know him well — including, ironically, my brother-in-law — would agree with many (if not all) of my observations. Instead of looking at it as a put down, perhaps my brother-in-law should think of it more as a diagnosis of a problem — something my husband could fix if he wanted to, probably with professional help.

But I don’t believe anything I said in the post commented on — “On Marital Infidelity” — could be considered a put down. That is, unless my brother-in-law believes there’s nothing wrong with marital infidelity. More on that in a moment.

The Urban Dictionary also defines “slow down and smell the roses“:

this means stop stressing out, overthinking, or complaining. put your troubles in perspective and try to enjoy the short time you have on earth.

I’ve been getting versions of this from several people who don’t understand the gravity of my situation and the way it is affecting — and will affect — my life. It’s easier said than done.

Try, for a moment, to put yourself in my shoes. I’m 51 years old. I spent more than half of my life with a man I loved, someone who I trusted implicitly with my life. I have 29 years — now nearly 30 years — of memories with this man. Nearly seven years ago, I made the ultimate commitment to our relationship by marrying him, standing before a judge and witnesses to recite vows — promises — that actually meant something to me. I thought they meant something to him, too.

Oddly, things with our relationship started going bad not long after we made those vows. Perhaps he thought they would change our relationship? I don’t know. He never told me what he expected from me. He never told me what I was doing that he didn’t like. Instead, communications shut down and, after 29 years together, he actively sought a replacement for me — while leading me to believe, through actions, lies, and misleading statements, that he wanted to fix the problems with our relationship. He hooked up with the first woman who would take him and, after less than a month with her, dumped me on my birthday.

And since then, he and his new mommy have been fighting me in court and harassing me, trying to take away everything I’ve worked so hard for all my life.

And I’m supposed to “smell the roses”?

I don’t see any roses here. Do you?

Working it Out

The comment also included this cryptic phrase: “You and only you and him can work it out…”

I find this particularly painful because I’ve been trying since June to work this out with my husband. I can even argue that I’ve been trying since last March when I went to the marriage counselor at his request, hoping to fix the problem.

Although my husband’s initial request for a divorce came over the phone, it also came with lies about why he wanted the divorce. And since then he has agreed to meet with me in person only once — two weeks after that initial request. That lengthy meeting — full of tears on both sides, was also full of lies from him. And since then, he refuses to meet with me.

Do I need to share each of the long email messages I sent him, pleading with him to understand my feelings and explain himself to me? The mournful texts — like the one I sent him after dreaming about having sex with him? The angry texts — like the ones I sent after he left me copies of email messages I’d written that he’d been saving since 2008, apparently to take them out of context and use them as ammunition against me? Do I need to share every single attempt I’ve made over the years to try to get him to talk to me?

My brother-in-law should understand this. After all, I spent 90 minutes sobbing over the phone to him just a few weeks ago. Why the hell does he think I now cry every single day of my life? Why I can’t have a simple conversation with my lawyer without bursting into tears? Why I’m crying now?

So tell me: how am I supposed to “work it out” with my husband when he’s failed to be honest in any of our discussions so far and now refuses to talk to me? How am I supposed to get closure on this when I still don’t understand why he was willing to throw away everything we had together? Why he cheated and lied to me?

How can I get past this when I can’t get answers? When I can’t understand how a man who was so good and honest and loyal could do this to his partner of 29 years?

Right vs. Wrong, Good vs. Bad

Let’s step aside from all that and get back to the main topic of this post: my “high horse.”

It all comes down to my feelings regarding right and wrong, good and bad.

Throughout my life, I’ve developed a very strong sense of moral and ethical values: a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Simply said, I believe people should do the right thing, the good thing. I believe that the world would be not just a better place, but an amazing place, if we all did the right thing whenever we possibly could.

I touched upon this briefly in a December blog post that I wrote when I was trying to understand why my husband had lied to me: “What is Truth?” Honesty is right, honesty is good, honesty is something we owe to each other — especially the people who trust us. Lying is wrong, lying is bad, lying destroys trust and lives.

How about marital vows — you know, the “love, honor, and cherish until death do us part” stuff people recite when they marry. Doesn’t that mean anything to anyone?

Is it right to make a vow like that and then lie to your spouse? Is it right to make a vow like that and then cheat on your spouse? Is it right to make a vow like that and then lock your spouse out of her home and business property? To fight her in court in an attempt to make her homeless and keep her from her possessions? To subject your spouse to harassment week after week and month after month, hoping that she just gives you what you want and goes away?

Am I the only one who thinks that’s wrong?

And no, “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right, so stop feeding me — and yourself — that bullshit line. It’s wrong, pure and simple. No one can deny it. There is no excuse.

In my blog post about truth, I considered the fact that I might be naive. My brother-in-law’s comment on my blog post gives me reason to think about that again.

Am I part of a small minority of people who understands the difference between right and wrong? Or maybe just a minority that cares?

Have today’s societal values degraded so far that people no longer care about what’s right or wrong? To the point where someone who is being wronged is considered to be complaining from a “high horse”?

Have things gotten that bad?

Fighting for What’s Right

The Apparent Irony of An Atheist Fighting for What’s Right

I have to digress for a moment and a sidebar is the best place to do that.

As some people know, I’m an atheist. That means I don’t believe there’s a god (by any name) who oversees the universe, makes things happen, answers prayers, and punishes those who “sin.”

A lot of religious folks who don’t understand atheism think that atheists are bad. They think that it’s impossible to conduct yourself morally without the fear of God’s wrath when you do something bad. Oddly, these are often people who demonstrate low moral standards by lying, stealing, cheating on their wives, breaking laws, hurting others, etc. I’m not sure why they think this is okay — perhaps they don’t but are relying on God’s forgiveness to get into Heaven when they die. It’s almost as if their belief in God and their willingness to go to church and/or confess sins has given them a free pass to do whatever they want, no matter how wrong it is.

I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can speak for myself. I try hard to do what’s right and good because it’s right and good. I try to avoid doing what’s wrong and bad because it’s wrong and bad. I don’t have a god — I have something far more powerful: a conscience. My conscience is with me every day and it guides all of my actions. When I do something wrong, I pay for it immediately — with a sense of guilt: a guilty conscience.

Isn’t that more effective than relying on some supernatural being to reward or punish you when you die?

A handful of my friends have advised me to “give him what he wants and get on with your life.” Those people don’t understand me or what’s driving me. And apparently, neither does my husband.

Because although my husband seems to have forgotten the difference between right and wrong, I haven’t. And although my husband apparently thinks that I don’t care about what’s right and wrong, he’s very much mistaken. (I guess it’s just another example of how we’ve grown apart over the years.)

My good friends and most family members understand why I’m still dealing with all of this nearly nine months after my husband made the call that ruined every single birthday I’ll have for the rest of my life.

I have been wronged. I cannot simply walk away without fighting for what’s right.

I was discussing this with a friend a few weeks ago. He said he understood completely. “You have to be able to live with the person you see in the mirror,” he told me.

His words triggered an epiphany. It’s not about being difficult or seeking revenge. It’s not about putting people down or making judgements from a “high horse.”

It’s the simple fact that if I did not fight for what I thought was right, I’d never be able to live with myself. I’d never again be able to respect the person I see in the mirror.

I knew it all along but didn’t understand it until my friend made it clear.

And I think that’s why I began blogging more frankly about my situation. I wanted to clearly state my case. I wanted make it clear what I was dealing with. I wanted to make it clear why I was suffering so badly. Why I still cry so much — sometimes over the smallest things. The pain of being wronged is so incredibly fierce within me.

I expected readers to connect the dots — to see that I’d been wronged and draw the conclusion that I was fighting for what was right.

And then my brother-in-law’s comment appeared. That’s when I realized that not everyone understood my situation and what was driving me. I realized that although right vs. wrong is important to me, it’s not important — or even of concern — to everyone. Including, apparently, my brother-in-law.

And that makes me sad.

A Bit More about the Republican Party

It’s the science, stupid.

The 2012 Presidential campaign — and its aftermath — continues to weigh heavily on my mind. The other day, I finally got around to blogging my thoughts on the Republican Party, aided, in part, by yet another excellent blog post by Jim Wright on Stonekettle Station. I thought that would be enough to get it off my mind. But no, I still had some more mulling over to do.

You see, it bothered me that I really didn’t clearly indicate why I have such bad feelings about the GOP. I mentioned that I thought certain elected representatives and senators were “batshit crazy” and gave some examples. But I didn’t really connect the dots to explain exactly what bothered me personally about these people.

Thinking a little harder about Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s comments about the age of the earth helped me better understand what was going on in my subconscious about this. From the GQ interview, “All Eyez On Him,” where they were first made:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

This is, of course, outrageous. Scientists have accumulated enough evidence to estimate the earth’s age at 4.54 million billion years old. There are not “multiple theories” that dispute this. There’s only science and religion. Science is based on research, facts, and analysis. Religion does not have “theories” about anything. All it has are sacred texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sacred text that believers, by definition, must believe.

So when I read about this, I used it as an example in my post of the craziness of certain Republicans.

And then an article by Daniel Engber in Slate Magazine, “Rubio and Obama and the age of Earth: Politicians hedge about whether universe was created,” suggested that Obama had made a similar statement in an interview back in 2008, when he was running for president. The quote:

Q: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you—and maybe they already have—“Daddy, did god really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?

A: What I’ve said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.

The article goes on to compare the quotes from these two men, claiming that they’re not very different. The argument is compelling — at first. But bloggers at the Maddow Blog had no trouble picking it apart and zeroing in on what made the comparison fail. In “Those Who Celebrate Science (and Those Who Don’t),” Steve Benen says:

Rubio was asked a scientific question in a secular setting, offered an ambiguous response as to whether he believes the planet is billions or thousands of years old, and suggested an objective, scientific truth may be unknowable, though reality shows otherwise.

On the other hand, Obama was asked a theological question in a religious setting, offered a response that rejected young-earth pseudo-science, and suggested spiritual, philosophical truths may be unknowable.

That blog post then went on to give good examples of how Obama embraces science.

Paul Krugman’s article in The New York Times, “Grand Old Planet,” takes this news tidbit to the next level:

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence. (emphasis added)

Mr. Krugman goes on to point out several other examples where Republicans have suppressed hard facts that challenge their faith-based preconceptions. I won’t repeat them all here; go read the article. It’s short and very worthwhile.

Republican War on Science(By the way, Mr. Krugman also mentions Chris Mooney’s book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality. He doesn’t mention Mr. Mooney’s earlier book, The Republican War on Science, “the New York Times bestseller that exposes the conservative agenda to put politics ahead of scientific truth.” I think both are worth a read if you care about science and how politics can affect our future.)

And this is why I’m so opposed to the Republican way of thinking. These people are, for the most part, putting their religion before science and everything else. They’re trying to force a faith-based educational and political agenda on everyone in this country — no matter what everyone else believes. They seem to forget the doctrine of separation of church and state. They’re willing to sacrifice our ability to lead the world in science and technology so as not to offend a god that their fellow Americans may or may not believe in.

Personally, I’m horrified at the suggestion that creation (or “intelligent design”) be taught in public schools alongside evolution. I think it’s tragic that people are still trying to deny that climate change is real and likely caused by man. And it pisses me off to no end that public proceedings such as Town Council meetings often begin with a prayer and that I’m asked to “swear to God” in court. As if nothing can be done in the legal world without acknowledging a supreme being that has the power to guide or punish us.

(Let’s not forget that the original Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God” until 1954.)

And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of a political party that’s constantly whining about how our freedoms are being compromised wanting to regulate what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes.

Anyway, I think this post finishes the thought I started in my previous blog post. I think it connects the dots to clearly state what bothers me most about the Republican way of thinking.

I’m willing to bet that this way of thinking is turning off a lot of otherwise conservative people. I think that if the GOP would stop its faith-based crazy-talk and get back to reality, it will likely attract a lot more voters in the future.

Again, I’ll leave comments open until moderation becomes a chore. If you want your comment to appear, keep it civil.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses at My Doorstep

And the reason why I spent 30 minutes talking to them.

The other day, a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up on my doorstep. I knew they were Jehovah’s Witnesses when I caught sight of them on my driveway, walking up to the house. Two women, one older carrying a book and pamphlet, one much younger. Nicely dressed, looking very out of place.

Understand that I live at the end of a road — actually, beyond the end of a road. To get to my house, you need to drive at least a mile past where the pavement ends. The last stretch is a very steep — think 10% grade — and deeply rutted because one of my neighbors (and his family and friends) doesn’t know how to drive up a steep dirt road without spinning tires. One you get past that, you’re in a dry wash where there are three driveways, one of which is mine.

Because of this, we don’t get many strangers stopping by. The folks who do make the trek are either paid to do so — UPS, FedEx, USPS, repair guys, etc. — or very motivated.

Perhaps motivated by God.

I opened the door just as they rang the bell, prepared to tell them how not interested I was and send them politely on their way. Although a lot of people are very rude to Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t get rude unless they get stubborn. Although I’m an atheist, I respect people’s rights to believe whatever they want to believe — as long as they don’t use my tax dollars to spread their religious word. (And yes, I don’t think churches should get any kind of tax break; they should be operated like businesses and pay the taxes at the same rates that my businesses do. But that’s another topic for another blog post. Save your comments, folks.)

I got right to the point without even looking at them: “Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I don’t even think I gave them a chance to reply. “I’m sorry, but I’m really not interested at all. You’d be totally wasting your time with me.”

I really don’t remember what the older woman replied, because by that point, I’d gotten a good look at the younger woman. Woman is being generous. She was a girl, perhaps in her late teens. She had an interesting round face that reminded me of the actress that played Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family movies. She even had the long, straight brown hair, parted in the middle. (The IMDb tells me it’s Christina Ricci; if you follow the link, be sure to look at her Addams Family shots, too.) Of course, she didn’t have Wednesday Addams’ glum features. Instead, her face looked more non-committal.

And my heart was instantly filled with sadness.

Here’s my reason — which took quite a while for me to figure out afterwards: Here was a young girl, perhaps just getting started with her “mission” of spreading the word of God (or whatever they say their mission is). She’d be knocking on doors, likely facing rude, obnoxious people every day she hit the streets. People who would ignore her knock (if she was lucky) or people who would answer the door, curse her out, and then slam the door in her face. How often did Jehovah’s Witnesses actually score a “hit”? Get a door answered by someone who wanted to listen to their line? Judging by the people on Twitter who chided me about talking to them for 30 minutes, not very many.

I thought about these two women, going door to door in rural Arizona on whatever schedule they might need to keep. And I thought about all that time utterly wasted. Life is so short — why don’t people see that? — and it can be snatched away at any time. In fact, during our conversation, I suggested that they might better spend their time doing something more interesting together, like going shopping or learning to knit. My words were directed toward the girl, even though I said them to the woman. I was hoping to plant a seed.

And I guess that’s the reason I spoke to them for 30 minutes. I was trying hard to plant seeds in her young mind, hoping to give her real food for thought. Our conversation covered my beliefs — or lack thereof — and some of their standard line about prophecies. I was pleasantly surprised when I gently told them that I didn’t believe God existed and they didn’t get offended or angry.

We talked about the Bible and I told her what I think of it: It’s a collection of stories written by normal people who may have been inspired by faith. I did not believe it was the word of God — how could I if I didn’t believe there was a god? The older woman, who did most of the talking, tried to convince me that the Bible was more than I thought, using Ezekiel’s prophecy regarding Tyre as “evidence” (her word) for the Bible being God’s word.

I was not familiar with the prophecy, which surprised me. Despite being a non-believer, I’ve done a considerable amount of research into the bible — although, admittedly, mostly New Testament material. Because I looked at things with a skeptical eye, if this prophecy was such strong evidence in favor of the Bible, I thought I might have heard of it before. It puzzled me that I hadn’t.

They went on to tell me that the prophecy, which was given by God to Ezekiel, had come completely true — that the Island of Tyre had been destroyed and no longer existed. Not having any facts at hand, I was not willing to debate their claim, yet I told them that I still did not believe the bible was the word of God.

That’s when the young girl chimed in, asking if I believed then that it was just a coincidence that the prophecy had come true. I told her that if it had indeed come true, I did believe it was a coincidence since I did not believe in God. To their credit, they took that with ease. I suppose they must hear all kinds of things from the people they talk to.

The WatchtowerThe older woman tried to give me references to the Prophecy of Tyre, but I assured her that I didn’t need them and that I would Google it later on. She also tried to give me a copy of The Watchtower, which she had with her, but I wouldn’t take it.

We talked about what’s going down in the world — how everything seems to be “going to hell in a handbasket” — my phrase; not used in the conversation, but you get the idea. They apparently believe that it’s a sign of the end of days. I obviously don’t. I told them that most of the world’s problems are caused by greed and selfishness. We agreed that if people would consider the consequences of their actions as they affect other people before taking them, they might think twice about taking those actions. We talked about some local and national level examples — for example, the scraping clean of the desert to build huge housing subdivisions that, because of the housing bubble bursting were never built. The natural landscape destroyed because of greed, with no consideration for others. I told the girl that I felt bad for young people like her who were inheriting this mess.

Then we talked a little about the young birds accompanying their moms to bird feeders and letting their moms feed them seeds. The older woman was amazed that the fledgeling chicks were nearly as big as their moms but wouldn’t feed themselves.

They were nice people and I felt bad for them. When we said goodbye, I told them to have a good life. My words were addressed primarily to the young girl, who still had her whole life ahead of her.

When they left, I went back into my office and Googled the Tyre Prophecy. I found two kinds of articles. One kind were created by believers to support their claim that the prophecy had come true, thus proving that Ezekiel had basically written down what God told him. The other kind were created by skeptics, like me, which presented detailed analyses about the facts of the prophecy, actual history, and the current situation. I found this one by Dave Matson that takes the prophecy, point by point, and details how it differs from reality. It is supported by actual bible quotes and a multitude of documents that are all cross-referenced at the article’s end.

In short: Ezekiel’s prophecy did not come true. So, as “evidence,” this particular prophesy falls far short of what I need to be convinced.

Did I waste 30 minutes of my day? I don’t think so.

I admit that I am fascinated by true believers — and these people — especially the older woman — definitely fell into that category. Why else would you go door-to-door relentlessly, getting the foul treatment handed out by people who simply don’t want to be bothered? These people have true faith — which is something most people claiming to be Christians don’t really have and something I definitely don’t have.

They didn’t convince me — although they did get me to do a bit of research and expand my knowledge of the Bible and religion. I didn’t convince them — although I demonstrated that a non-believer could be reasonable and share some of the same non-religious views. We had a nice discussion and perhaps — just perhaps — I planted a few seeds of reason in that girl’s head.

And, by the way, if you’re tempted to use the comments feature to blast me for my religious non-beliefs, don’t waste your time. After “The Bible in the Refrigerator” debacle, I no longer allow any personal attacks on anyone to appear on this blog. If you feel compelled to show your un-Christianity, show it elsewhere.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

Remarkable reading for the holidays!

The Atheist's Guide to ChristmasA month or more ago, someone on Twitter tweeted a link to the Kindle version of The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for just $1. Like a lot of people, I consider a buck “why not?” money for anything that interests me. I followed the link and downloaded the book. It sat on my iPad for a while, half forgotten.

Sometime later, while I was eating alone in a restaurant in Phoenix, I cracked the cover (so to speak) and began reading it. It wasn’t at all as I expected. It was so much better.

You see, I expected some sort of anti-religious rant against Christmas and everything concerned with it. Not sure why I expected this — perhaps it’s got something to do with the conservative media’s perceived “war against Christmas” that crops up every year here in the U.S. If you believe the conservatives on FoxNews, etc., anyone who is not Christian hates Christmas and wants to destroy it. Following that line of reason, the folks who should hate it most are atheists, since they don’t believe in any religious doctrines at all.

But that’s not what this book was all about.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a collection of 42 stories and essays from a variety of atheist scientists, comedians, philosophers, and writers. They include reminiscences (eg., Phil Plait’s “Starry, Starry Night”), celebration suggestions (eg., Josie Long’s “Things to Make and Do at Christmas”), scientific information (eg., Brian Cox’s The Large Hadron Collider: A scientific Creation Story”), historical information (eg., Claire Rayner’s “How to Have a Peaceful Pagan Christmas”), and tall tales (eg., Nick Doody’s “How to Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview”).

Sure, there was the takeoff on Jeeves and Wooster by Richard Dawkins in which Woofter and Jarvis engage in a conversation about the existence of God, Jesus’s part in the Holy Trinity, and bible inconsistencies. But that was just one small chapter in a very large book. Most of the book is very positive and uplifting, encouraging non-believers to enjoy the Christmas season the way most believers do: with decorations, big meals, gift giving, and gatherings of friends and family members.

The book makes it clear that you don’t need to believe in God or religious doctrines to enjoy a holiday that just happens to coincide with the winter solstice. (Not exactly a coincidence, but try to explain that to a believer.) It also offers plenty of helpful tips and advice for getting along with believers during a holiday that may have some serious religious significance to them.

I’m about halfway through the book — although I do admit that I began reading by using the interactive table of contents to pick and choose among the essays I wanted to read first. While some chapters are better than others as far as their relevance to my personal thoughts about Christmas, I’m certain that any atheist would find something of value in its pages. Likewise, I don’t think any believers would be offended by its contents. As the book’s introduction states, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is an “atheist book it’s safe to leave around your granny.” Indeed, I’m certain that even believers would find a lot of content in this book to help make their Christmas celebrations more enjoyable — without threatening their beliefs.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas was edited by Ariane Sherine and published by Friday Books. All book royalties are donated to charity — how’s that for the spirit of Christmas giving?

Some Concerns about Home-Schooling

Is it an excuse to teach religion instead of science?

I’ve always been concerned about the quality of education kids get these days. Underpaid teachers, peer pressure that rewards bad behavior, high drop-out rates. As I reported back in November 2008, kids are graduating the local high school without knowing how to tell time on an analog clock. It’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation with most teens; they seem absolutely clueless about anything that isn’t on television or the Internet — and I’m not talking about PBS or Wikipedia here. They can’t spell because they have spelling checkers that do that for them. They can’t do math without a calculator. While I’m obviously not talking about all young people here — there would be absolutely no hope for America’s future if the problem affected every kid — it’s certainly more than half of the ones I come in contact with.

And “No Child Left Behind” just made the situation worse. It forced teachers and schools to teach just so kids would pass exams. Teaching by rote rather than ensuring that kids understand what they’re being taught is not doing the next generation any good.

These days, concerned parents are taking an active role in their kids’ education. While I personally believe that working together at the end of the day on homework and even just discussing what was learned in school each day is enough, many parents are going the extra step: they’re home-schooling their kids.

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about home-schooling. I don’t have kids; I decided early in life not to take that path. I don’t regret it. I sometimes wonder how my kids would have turned out — whether they’d be smart or lazy or interesting or dull. I’d like to think that they’d know how to tell time by the age of 18 and aspire to something more substantial than stocking shelves at the local supermarket.

I do know that if my kids weren’t getting the education they needed at school and I couldn’t help them by being part of their nightly homework routine, I’d likely consider home-schooling. After all, if you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

My neighbor home-schools her kids. She has four of them ranging in age from about 5 to 12. She and her husband are either Evangelical or Born-Again Christians. I don’t know which and I don’t care. The last thing I want to do is have a discussion about religion with people who scratched religious slogans into the wet concrete of their driveway.

And this brings up my concerns about home-schooling. While browsing the news with the Associated Press (AP) mobile application on my BlackBerry (while waiting for a notary public at the bank), I stumbled upon an article titled, “Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution.” It reported:

“The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians,” said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program.”

It went on to say that, “Two of the best-selling biology textbooks stack the deck against evolution,” according to educators who reviewed the books.

And this is the root of my concerns. I believe that science textbooks and science lessons should be about science. Evolution is a widely accepted component of the science of biology. The alternative — creationism or its disguised alter-ego, “intelligent design” — is not. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to back up evolution; there is no evidence to back up creationism.

Clearly, the failure to teach accepted science as that — accepted science — is a serious shortcoming in the home-schooling textbooks that shoot down evolution. The children being taught that evolution is “only a theory” are being given an inadequate education — one that could put them at a serious disadvantage if they go on to college or attempt to pursue careers in science or medicine.

One of the books doesn’t hide its intent:

“Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling,” says the introduction to “Biology: Third Edition” from Bob Jones University Press. “This book was not written for them.”

The textbook delivers a religious ultimatum to young readers and parents, warning in its “History of Life” chapter that a “Christian worldview … is the only correct view of reality; anyone who rejects it will not only fail to reach heaven but also fail to see the world as it truly is.”

The Christian worldview is the only correct view of reality? In whose world? I don’t think the millions of Jews, Muslims, or Hindus in the world would agree with that statement. I know the atheists wouldn’t. Does that mean that Christian children should be taught a different version of reality than the rest of the world? To what benefit? Certainly not the benefit of the children.

And what of the home-schooling parents that don’t want religion to be part of their children’s curriculum? The AP article discusses their struggle to find appropriate science textbooks.

Evolution Book(Might I suggest starting with Daniel Loxton’s excellent book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be? It’s not a textbook, but it’s a great introduction to evolution for kids and parents.)

So here’s my question: if a school board has to approve textbooks that are used in public school classrooms and home-schooled students have to take and pass standardized exams, who is approving the textbooks used in home-school “classrooms”?

And then I recall this, a piece of “Hate Mail” that was sent to Bobby Henderson of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find it here, but to save effort for the folks too lazy to click, I’ll repeat it here in all its glory, as an example of home-schooling gone terribly wrong:

wow you people are crazy i pray to my LORD jesus christ that you people wake up God created man in his own image and im sorry but if you look like noodles with meatballs growin out your BUTT you need to go back to SPACE or get back in the pan where you’ll be somebodys dinner!

people will believe anything!!

i am verryyy happy i was well homeschooled becuase i would be in jail for punching a teacher in the face when she tried to tell me about this so called spagetti monsterr!

i hate to be the breaker of bad news but when you look around when u die u wont be with your master meatball you’ll be burning in the pits of HELL and i am a REAL christian and that hurts to know that so many people are gonna be in hell! over a random guy that started a joke and has nothing better to do besides make up some god for fun then see how many people are loving this idea.

God bless you wacked out meatball loving freaks!

-christy

(I recommend Bobby’s site if you’re interested in seeing where reason and faith collide.)

Christy is right about one thing: People will believe anything. But is it right to teach it to their kids?