What Positive Message Would an Atheist Have for Kids?

I saw this picture shared of Facebook and it got me thinking about how I would answer the question.

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The question assumes that God is required to give life meaning, or in fact, to make life worth living. This assumption reveals a dearth of in-depth thought and a simplistic view of the world in general and human nature in particular. 

Let’s take Ken’s statement one by one.

“Kids, you’re just an animal” – Yes Ken, that is true. And kids love animals and most kids I know love the thought of themselves being animals. Ken is making another assumption here that being an animal is somehow a bad thing. This is due to the Bible teachings that humans are lords over the animals. Of course humans are animals, but we are thinking animals with a sense of self, something rare, but not unique, in nature. The idea that we share so much in common with other animals allows us to feel compassion and empathy towards them, where as the idea that they are brutes to be reined in allows for abuse and neglect. Knowing that they are animals allows kids to empathize with animals and to treat them humanely. It also teaches that we are as much a part of the natural world as any other animal leading us to be more likely to try to take care of nature.

“There’s no God” – While this is an important topic to discuss with your kids, I don’t think it really factors into if atheists have a positive message for kids. My kids know I don’t believe in God, and they know my reasons why, which are too numerous to go into here. But they also know that I have told tem that it is up to them to decide if they want to believe in God or not. That is far too personal and important an issue to be decide by someone else. I want my kids to be their own persons, and to do that, they need to find their own answers. My job is to give them the critical thinking tools, the confidence, and the love to do it.

“When you die you won’t know you existed: – True, as far as science can say. And so what? Why is this such a terrifying thought? Knowing that this is the only life we have, the only existence we will ever know, makes me want to make the most of it. To cherish every moment. To live every second to the maximum. It makes me appreciate those around me so much more because I know that life is short and I need to not take anything, or anyone, for granted, This is why I always try to tell those I love that I love them as often as I can. I want them to know that I love them so that if I am dead tomorrow, that thought is fresh in their minds.

“Decide your own rule for life” – I think what Ken means here is that non-believes feel that we can make up our own rules for life, contrary to the rules everyone else follows. We all decide our own rules for life. We decide if we will follow the laws of the places where we live. If we are religious, we decide what faith to believe in and consequently follow the rules of that faith. As a non-believer, I choose to follow the laws of where I live. I choose to do good things and avoid bad things because that seems to be the right thing to do. To quote Penn Jilette:

The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. 

“Treat others to benefit you” – I’ve always taught my children to think of others. To help, to share. I tell them that it is the right thing to do. And from a purely practical point of view, if you treat others well, help them, share with them, they will most likely do the same in return. It something that benefits everyone.

“Life is ultimately meaningless” – Only if you make it so. For me, life without God, without an afterlife, is precious. It is precious precisely because it is short and all that I have. Knowing this makes we want to live it to the fullest. It makes me what to spend as much time with the people I love as I can. It makes me want to find out everything I can about the universe. It makes me want to work to help those who are suffering here and now because I know that there isn’t something better awaiting them in another life. Here and now is where we need to take our stand, to make a difference. When here and now is all we have, we have to make the most of it in a way that makes things better for everyone. 

My kids may ask, why not just do whatever you want? I would say that I do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t hurt or take away from anyone else because that would be wrong. If they ask how I know that is wrong, I tell them the Golden Rule (which long predates the Bible and shows up in secular sources as well as religious):  Don’t do anything to someone else you would want them to do to you. Or the flip side of that, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I think I like the second one best because it assumes a positive action. Not just avoiding doing harm to others, but actively doing good.

Believers or not, we all act selfishly at times and do things that are wrong by the standards of others and our own. But, knowing there is a God who disapproves doesn’t stop believers from doing wrong anymore that not believing in God does. Considering that most people in the country are professed believers, there are a whole lot of religious people doing wrong and their belief in God isn’t stopping them so that tells me that it isn’t really that effective a deterrent. We all do wrong in spite of knowing it is wrong, not matter where we get that sense of wrong from. 

My knowing that this is the only life I have IS a positive message. It informs everything that I do. I love more deeply, engage in things more passionately, take nothing and no-one for granted. Everything is of vital importance because tomorrow may never come and there are no do-overs.

That is my message from this atheist to any and all kids. 

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Knee Pain, Writing Again, Yucky Carpet, Arizona, And Other Things

My knee hurts. Part of it is arthritis, both outside and inside the kneecap (thanks mom!). Most of it is an injury that I didn’t even realize I had.

About two months ago I pulled up the carpet in most of our house. It was full of dog fur and who knows what else. Last summer, we started the summer off with just one window AC and it got hot and humid early in the season. This resulted in temperatures in the mid 80’s inside the house plus humidity. We bought an inside, free standing AC and ran both of them constantly, but it took a good three weeks to cool off. The humidity never completely went away.

The humidity caused the carpets to become damp and they never really did completely dry out in places. Considering my wife and I both have pretty bad allergies, this spring we decided to pull up the carpet and put down tile. Fortunately for us, there was tile under the carpet in the living room and dining room. Sadly, not in the bedroom. But tiling that didn’t seem like too big a deal. Until, that is, my knee starting hurting.

It started about three weeks after pulling up the carpet. At first I just ignored it, taking Ibuprofen to help with the pain. After a couple of weeks, the pain was getting worse.

I work as a Unix Systems Administrator. My hours are Wednesday – Friday/Saturday, 7:30pm to 7:30am. It’s a shift I love. A decade or so ago, I work four tens on the night shift at Sun Microsystems for four years. I loved the flexibility the shift gives me in time off in the daytimes. Also, my wife has always been a night owl so now we are on the same shift. The 12% shift differential doesn’t hurt either.

A downside of working 12 hour shifts is sitting in a desk chair for 12 hours. Yes, I get up every 45 minutes or so and walk around a bit, but still, knee mobility is limited in that situation. The biggest issue is that I can never completely stretch my knee out for any length of time. Keeping it bent was causing agonizing pain.

Finally I had to admit that my knee was getting worse. I’m not one to shy away from doctor visits. I have a long and storied history with doctors, having been born severely premature and a lot of the health issues that go along with that, many that have plagued me my whole life. Still, I don’t see going to the doctor for aches and pains in my joints when I knew I likely have arthritis since my mom had it. I also know that at 57, aches and pains in the joints are starting to be more common that I care to think about, so I have tried to avoid doctor visits for things that probably can be treated with over the counter medications. Now, however, I was in serious pain. Sitting for hours like I was at work was starting to affect my ability to concentrate at work and my mobility was being affected as well. While walking and stretching had once helped the pain, they now made it worse.

So, long story short, my kneecap is pretty off-centered and there is some issue with my ligament on the right side of my knee. My doctor prescribed physical therapy, which I’ve been undergoing for about two weeks now. I haven’t seen too much improvement, but I have four more weeks to go and so hopefully it will help. Otherwise it’s off to the orthopedic surgeon and that treatment will not be fun.

One of the good things to come out of this is that I am able to work from home while I’m dealing with this. We have a very nice leather sofa and love seat set that both recline so I can keep my leg up and knee straight. I can also do most of my PT exercises sitting in this position and it makes icing the knee easy. Another benefit of working from home is that I get to spend time with my wife, stepson, and our chihuahua herd.

One other unforeseen benefit is that my wife bought me this nifty portable laptop table that I can use while sitting on the couch when I work.
Laptop Table
The unforeseen benefit in this is that I now have easy access to my beloved MacBook which I haven’t been using much at all since getting an iPad Pro a year or so ago.

While the iPad Pro is awesome (I have the 12″ one), it isn’t very conducive to typing long text entries, even with the Apple iPad keyboard I bought to go with it. That keyboard is too thin and the keys don’t have much give to them so that I don’t get much feedback as I type. I’m a pretty fast typist and I seldom need to look at the keyboard. This is a great benefit for a writer, but if you aren’t getting a good tactile response from your keyboard, it really slows down typing speed and accuracy, making typing difficult and frustrating. There is nothing worse for a writer than being frustrated with your tools. This, by the way, is another reason I stopped blogging.

Sure, I could have kept using my MacBook, but the iPad was so much more conveint when sitting on the couch or in bed. No power cords to run. Also, since my touchpad on my MacBook got messed up after a spillage, I can’t left-click and hold to select text or drag and drop, and right clicking is now a quick double-tap at just the right place on my touchpad so that means I need to use a mouse, which gets cumbersome when not at a desk.

Now, with the gift from my wife, I have a writing setup that is comfortable and easy. No more technical impediments to writing lengthy blog posts or whatever else I feel like writing.

So now I have access again to my favorite writing tools like Mars Edit for blogging, Scrivener for fiction or articles requiring research, BibDeck for citations, MS Word for final formatting, Photoshop for photo editing, and some other apps I’m probably forgetting. Writing and blogging just got much easier!

Returning to the tiling of the bedroom, this probably isn’t going to happen. We are planning to move to Arizona where my company has an office outside of Phoenix. We are have money stashed away so we are in the prefect position to find a nice house in the Mesa area, put down a nice down payment, and have moving expenses. Given our allergies and being fed up with the cold winters, this is something we are really excited about. Soon we are flying down there to find a house. My wife has been looking online for months now and we have a really good idea of what we want and what’s available.

Can’t wait!

It’s Been A Long Time!

I really don’t expect anyone to be reading this. This is something I am doing for myself. It may even be one of the most important things I have ever written. Why, because I haven’t posted anything here just over three years. Why? Depression, new job, depression, marriage, depression. Yeah, that last one, that was the biggie.

I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from depression, bipolar II and anxiety. I’ve talked about how these maladies affect everything I do and experience. I was a pretty avid blogger for about three years, but then mental illness hit hard. I stopped writing this blog because my bipolar II was getting to be just about at its worse and I hadn’t been diagnosed at that time. Fortunately I did get diagnosed and got on the right meds and therapy which finally allowed me to regain some semblance of control over my life.

One of the consequences that comes along with my mental health issues is ADD. This is really more of a byproduct of depression and bipolar than a separate illness. Other things that impact my attention, or perhaps I should say my inattention, are sleep apnea and shift work, both of which I deal with. So all of these things conspired to keep me from blogging when I really did want to, but just couldn’t find the energy or sustained interest to do so.

This affected my blogging at Grounded Parents as well. I just posted my first post there in a year and a half. 

I realize that this post is disjointed and not anywhere near the quality of writing that I am used to producing, but over three years of not writing will do that. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a trek back to blogging and writing, which has always been one of my first and truest loves. 

The Beatles “The Beatles – AKA The White Album” – What Might Have Been

George Martin really wanted the Beatles to release "The Beatles"  AKA, "The White Album", as a regular single album rather than a double album, picking the best 14 songs.  The Beatles insisted that they release everything they recorded as a double album.

There has been fan speculation since as to what a single album would have looked liked.  As far as I know, George Martin has never said what songs he would have put on a single album.

I have mulled over this for a long time.  I think I might have posted my list on Facebook a while back, but I can’t remember what songs it contained, so I’ve put together a new list, which includes rearranging the track list from the order of the songs on the original album.  I think it has a nice flow and feel to it and represents the best of the songs on the original.

I know that there will be plenty of people who won’t agree with my choices, but hey, I did it to please myself, no one else. 

There is one significant thing about my proposed version of the album that makes it something that The Beatles, had they decided to release "The White Album" as a single, would never had agreed to.  I challenge my readers to let me know the single most important reason why these song choices would never have been approved for "The Beatles".

So without further delay, here is my version of "The White Album".

Side 1
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Piggies
Blackbird

Side 2
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Don’t Pass Me By
Julia
Yer Blues
Sexy Sadie
I’m So Tired
Helter Skelter

Be Good For Goodness Sake

Religious belief, I feel, is an inherently selfish thing. You are lead to believe that if you do good things you will go to heaven. Do what God wants you to and you will be rewarded, either in this life, the next life, or both.

The end result of all this is that the impetus to behave well, to do good things for others, is driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?”. Of course, most people don’t think of it this way. They think that if they help with a food drive, or work in a soup kitchen, God will reward them. They are racking up points in heaven. But really, when you get right down to it, the real reason they do these things is because they are expecting a reward.

This isn’t to say that they aren’t religious people who don’t do good things just because they feel it is the right thing to do, of course there are. I would bet, however, if you asked most believers why it is important to help the poor or tend to the sick, they will say something to the effect that it is because the Bible tells them to, or it is what God wants. I doubt you will hear many give the simple reason, “because”.

From a humanist point of view, we do good things “just because”. Just because it is the right thing to do. No one tells us to do good things. We aren’t expecting any reward except, perhaps. the reward of feeling good about doing good.

I find it interesting that of all the Christmas carols that I can think of, it is a secular one that gets at the heart of why we should do good and be good: for goodness sake.

As a humanist, I am motivated to help others because I feel empathy. I see someone in need and I feel their pain, as the saying goes.

Religious believers have empathy too, certainly. Because the motivation to help others, for them, is reward based however, I wonder if the emotional connection, the empathy, is somehow lessened. When I see people who can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but then call all welfare or Medicaid recipients moochers I have to wonder how they can justify that stance. I think it is because they feel that they have done their bit of good by volunteering, but there is no emotional connection, no real empathy, for the people who they are serving. They aren’t being good for goodness sake, they are being good because that’s what is expected or required. In their eyes they did their good deed and will get their reward, but poor who they fed don’t really exist at all for them, they are just part of the scenery.

Some people will say that it doesn’t matter why people do good, as long as they do something to help others. I disagree.

We have a huge issue in this country today where there are millions of people who are living at or below the poverty line and there is a large group of Americans who honestly believe that these people deserve it. They don’t connect these millions of people with the dozens or hundreds they see at their soup kitchens. I suspect that part of the reason is that they haven’t made an emotional connection with these people because instead of doing good just for the sake of goodness, they are doing good in expectation of a reward. They don’t make the emotional connection that they might otherwise make because doing good isn’t about the other guy, it’s about them.

When there is no idea of reward, we do good because it is the right thing to do.

The Dumb “Duck Dynasty” Controversey

I don’t watch Reality TV shows and I’venever seen “Duck Dynasty”. A lot of people, however, haveseen it and obviously like it since there seems to be quite theuproar about removal of one of the main characters in the show.

Phil Robertson, the man in question,was interviewed by GQ Magazine. In the interview he made somehomophobic remarks. These remarks caused a backlash by LBGTsupporters and lead the A&E channel to remove him from the show.

Many people are upset about this, whichis fine and understandable. They have every right to be and canvoice their opinions to A&E. Some of these people, however, areclaiming that Mr. Robertson’s first amendment rights are beingviolated, that he is being censored.

This is plainly ridiculous. Phil didengage in his right to free speech when he was interviewed by GQ. The article is still on-line and available for everyone to read, sohe certainly hasn’t been censored.

Of course, his supporters are claimingthat he is being censored by A&E. This is also plainly false. A&E is his employer. As for most employers in the U.S. they havea right to terminate an employee for pretty much any reason, as longas it doesn’t violate the employee’s civil rights.

In this case, Phil Robertson’s civilrights have not been violated. As a public representative of A&E,his public speech and behavior can be considered to reflect uponA&E’s reputation. A&E is fully within their rights to removesomeone who, as they see it, tarnishes their reputation. There isplenty of precedent for this. Paula Deen was fired from her showafter racist remarks she made became public. Alec Baldwin’s show was canceled after some of his homophobic comments came to light.

The religious right are the group whoare clamoring the loudest. They want to make this a free speechissue. In reality, it is a perfect example of a corporation doingwhat corporations always do: whatever is best for them. It isironic that the people crying the loudest about this are the sameones who support unfettered corporate hegemony. You can’t supportunbridled capitalism and then cry when a corporation acts in it’sbest interest just because you disagree with it. You have to acceptcorporations wishing their customer’s “Happy Holidays”instead of “Merry Christmas”, since it is in their bestinterests to appeal to all of their customers. You also have toaccept when a corporation removes one of your favorite charactersfrom your favorite show because they feel his voicing of his personalviews alienates a majority of their viewers. The knife of freemarkets cuts both ways.

Those on the religious right need toremember that in a truly free capitol market, there is no place foran objective morality. In fact, morality has no place in a systemwhere profit is paramount because true capitalism is completely amoral. Phil Robertson wasn’t fired because A&E supports a homosexuallifestyle. He was fired because it was a business decision thatwas in A&E’s best interest. Period.