Sunday, 7 June 2009

Right-Wing Craziness

As pointed out by the Redheaded Skeptic I too want to make a comment on this.

Anne Coulter recently weighed in on the murder of Abortion provider Dr. Tiller:
"I wouldn’t kill an abortionist myself, but I wouldn’t want to impose my moral values on others. No one is for shooting abortionists. But how will criminalizing men making difficult, often tragic, decisions be an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the shootings of abortionists?"
Seriously WTF? So she says that while she wouldn't kill someone she has no problems with others doing it? And thinks that criminalizing the murder of abortionists is a waste of time? WTF is wrong with this woman.

We all know she is crazy, at least all of us with any reason, but come on this is just sick. "They", and by "They" I mean the religious right, say that us Atheists have no moral compass because to be a good person and do the right thing requires a belief in God. Well I say that is totally wrong.

Lets look at the facts, now, and in recent history:
  • Christians oppress free speech (when it doesn't agree with them).
  • Christians oppress the right to choose
  • Christians oppress those of different sexual orientation
  • Many Christian groups oppress those of different races and beliefs
  • Christianity has, in the past, and in the bible itself, condoned slavery
  • Christianity has, in the past and present with backing from the bible, oppressed women's rights.
  • Some nutty Christians murder law abiding people in the name of God because they do not agree with the way they lead their life or the job they do.
  • Other Christians empower these murders by saying they have done nothing wrong or inciting the hatred by delivering sick twisted hateful messages in church and in the media.
  • Christianity constantly tries to suppress knowledge of science and reason, doing everything within their power to stop human progress.
  • Recent studies show that the more evangelical the Christian the more they support the use of Torture.
I am not painting ALL Christians with this brush, however the number is growing rapidly thanks to the hate filled messages from people like Anne Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Dr. James Dobson, Pat Robertson and countless others.

The fact is that most of us Atheists lead much healthier, morally just lives than these people could ever hope to achieve with their Religion.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Background & History Part II

Continued from Part I.......

In 1991 my father was offered a great opportunity to work and live overseas. Several months ahead of my mother and I, he moved over to Indonesia to start work and get things ready for us to move.

In early 1992 my mother and I packed up everything we could, sold off, stored or gave away the rest and boarded a plane for Singapore. For me it was the chance of a lifetime. At the time I gave little thought to what I was leaving behind. This was an adventure. Before this I had gotten to spend a little bit of time in Kuwait when my father worked there, but that was more of a holiday visit, this was different.

We spent a few days in Singapore before heading to Batam, a small Indonesian island off of Singapore, to stay for a few weeks. This is where my father was working at the time. The plan was we would move down to Jakarta, the capital, eventually, but for now we were staying with my father as we hadn't seen him in several months and he was too busy with work to go with us to Jakarta.

After some time though we did move to Jakarta. For the first few months we stayed with friends from the US who had moved over a couple of years before. It wasn't long before I started school. This was quite a shock. I had been hanging out with the son of our hosts at his school, Jakarta International School (JIS), which was primarily an American School. This school could put many US university campuses to shame. I was looking forward to attending such a school. But that wasn't to be.

JIS charged, and still does, insane fees for attendance. If my memory serves me correctly it was something along the lines of USD $2000 per month plus a USD $150,000 bond to get in. This was way more anything my dad could afford as he was working as a contractor. Families that were brought over from the US as employees of big companies had schooling and housing paid for, but we didn't.

Instead I went to an Indian run school, known as Gandhi Memorial International School (GMIS). The man that was responsible for getting my dad the job in Indonesia sent his kids there and recommended it. It was somewhat more reasonable at USD $300 dollars a month. Dad broke this news to me in stages. At first I thought it couldn't be all that bad, surely it was like JIS. Nope. Then came the news that I had to wear a uniform. Not Cool! As a student from the US, uniforms were a big turn off. I know other parts of the world have always worn uniforms but for me this was a new thing.

First day of school was a shock to my system. The school took hours in traffic to get to, was on the other side of town in a dirty polluted area. The whole area stank of sewerage. The school was a single four story box shaped building; lime green paint peeling off everywhere. The students were not American, I was the only one. I was surrounded by Indians, Phillipinos, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians and more. I was one of the only white kids in the entire school.

To top it all off we had to gather in the foyer, in front of a statue of Gandhi, every day and pray. No, we were not praying to him, it was a non-denominational prayer, but this still struck me as odd at the time. I was surrounded by religions I did not know or understand. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and more. Add to that the crappy uniform, the ugly school, being the only white kid, and picked on for it, and the new and strange country, the most popular Muslim country in the world, and you have one messed up kid.

As any good international school should, we all learned about all religions and participated in events dedicated to all religions, particularly Hindu ones. This too freaked me out.

So, as one may expect, I rebelled. I did everything I could to get kicked out of that school, I even took the blame for things that I didn't do. It is very likely that I still hold the record. I was suspended and expelled 27 times. My father was usually away working during this period so it fell on his friend, whose kids I went to school with, to beg the school to let me back in. I made his life hell for a while I am sure.

In the end I accepted my situation and while I didn't always agree with the school, and thought the facilities were horrid, I made great friends with both the students and teachers. In fact I went on to lead the student body, giving some teachers who were not sure of my rehabilitation nightmares! All in all I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. I had a great education and made great long lasting friendships.

Growing up in Indonesia I was surrounded by religion, everywhere. Being a highly Muslim country there are Mosques everywhere and the practically shuts down during Ramadan and comes to a standstill during Idul Fitri. The government in Indonesia even mandates that you believe in God, so long as it is a government recognized one. This included Muslim, mainstream Christianity, Buddhism and Hindu, but not Judaism, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses.

It took little time after moving to Indonesia for my family to find an English speaking Church. It was run by missionaries from the US. At first it was a rather large congregation, but over time it dwindled down to just a few people.

When I was about 15 I started catechism classes. This is a bible study class that is supposed to prepare you to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This class went on for about a year. Each week we would meet, discuss what it meant to be Christian, what it meant to partake of Holy Communion and read our bible. We had to memorize the Apostle and Nicene Creeds and all the books of the bible. We were encouraged to do a lot of reading on our own and ask questions etc. Even at that age I found many inconsistencies, contradictions and so on in the bible. I questioned a lot. As much as I liked the pastor I have to say his responses were not too good. I know I put him through hell when it came to explaining the holy trinity, Father, Son & Holy Ghost. This is not discussed anywhere in the bible, it was concocted by the Roman Catholic Church. A lot of my questions were answered with "it is not our place to question God", a response that I cannot accept.

I am the kind of person that needs to know WHY. I always have been. When I arrived at School in Indonesia my Math skills were so far behind the other students, due to the weak US educational system, and I struggled with Math. It didn't help that the teachers were impatient and felt I was holding up the class. In math, as with religion, I was often told when I asked why an equation worked the way it did, "Because it does". That is not an answer, not one I am willing to accept. I am curious by nature and I need to know WHY! I know I will be punished by having a child that asks "why" about everything but I will accept that and encourage them to keep doing it for their entire lives. A lot of things would be better if people would throw a fit and say "BUT WHY?"

Needless to say the pastor's responses to my questions never really improved my already rather basic faith. I played along because it was expected of me. I played along because I was told that I would be punished in hell if I didn't. Often I played along because I was scared, scared of hell, scared of questions without answers and scared of disappointing my parents. Scared is not something that should be associated with religion. Not a good one anyway, or at least not in my opinion, but I will get into that in the future.

During this time my parents got my brother Roger a job at a school in Indonesia. He had recently graduated University and was looking for work. The administrators for the school went to our church and wanted a young, single Christian coach for their athletics department. They met him in the US and interviewed him and he got the posting.

Roger and I have never really been close, there is too big of an age gap and too much differing interests for us to really have much in common, but it was good for a little while to see him again and have him around. I know it made mom really happy to have him over here, which was good. Living overseas away from your family is not easy.

After a time though his interference started up again. I know he meant well, but I still didn't like it. Again the usual stuff was at the center of it all, my choice of music (by now I was playing in a rock band), my interest in movies and, of course, my dating activities.

I was a huge fan of Nirvana, I loved their music. I can't say I really listened to the lyrics much but I loved the music, especially since I was learning to play guitar. All of the sudden my mother is told that certain lyrics mean certain things, or say certain things. Which they did not. I could list many examples of out and out lies but that is not the purpose of this post. Yet songs the two of them liked that were mainstream often had very bad hidden meanings to them, this is not to say I didn't like the songs, but they certainly didn't realize what they were listening to! The list of musicians I wasn't supposed to be listening to grew, Nirvana, Guns and Roses, Metallica and Kiss were a few. I ignored this and kept on listening and kept on playing. To me it was all about the music, if I could rock it on my guitar I was going to listen to it and learn how to play it. Eventually the complaining stopped, though every now and then there would be snide comments from Roger.

Then came my teenage girlfriend, this was really a bone of contention. I met Sally when I was 16 and I was "in love". I could write a book on this relationship but suffice it to say the biggest problem was that she was 20 at the time and Indonesian. It wasn't that she was Indonesian, but that she was 20 AND Indonesian. One would have to live in Indonesia to understand, but it is very common for expats to get local girls, way younger and way more attractive than the expat may otherwise get, all because these girls were looking for a step up the ladder. It was for money and position in society. Not all mind you, but it is very common. Many expats would be married and have honeys on the side and in the Oil Industry this was very very common.

As we were apart of that community due to my dads work, this is the opinion my mother had of many Indonesian women, especially an older one dating her son and Roger shared this opinion. There was all the usual concern about sex, her getting pregnant and trapping me in a marriage and so on and so forth. My father, thankfully, trusted me, as he always has, to do the right thing and stayed out of that part of my life. I admire him greatly for letting me make my own mistakes and learning from them. In this instance however I made no mistake.

Sally and I had a rocky relationship, often caused by the age gap and also concerns from her family, they didn't like her dating an expat. However none of my mothers or brothers fears were ever justified. She was a Christian and wanted to save sex for marriage and I didn't plan on doing anything stupid. That is not to say we didn't engage in your standard fare of teenage hanky panky, but we were not having sex. On top of that, she did not date me because I was an expat, or because I had money, I didn't. She dated me because we had genuine feelings for each other at the time.

My mother however struggled to deal with this and I was given a couple of frank discussions about the whole thing by my brother. I think they both breathed a sigh of relief when Sally and I broke it off.

More to come in Part II..........

Background & History Part I

I would like to use these first posts to give a little bit of history about myself, where I come from, how I was raised and where I have been. Moving forward through my posts this will help any readers understand how I got to where I am and how I have developed my belief structures. Please also understand that to protect my family and friends that names have been changed.

I was born and lived the earlier part of my life in West Texas. My father works in the oil industry and that has taken us all over the world. I spent my early years, until the age of 12, mostly in a small town.

My father was thrice married with 2 children (son and daughter) from his first and me from his second. I never really knew my mother, thankfully I have to say. She was a drug addict and all that the description entails. My father was granted sole custody of me when I was about 3 after which time I had almost no contact with my mother. His third wife, who had also been married two times before, became my mother. She legally adopted me, and raised me as her own. Unless stated otherwise when I speak of my mother in any subsequent posts you can assume I am referring to her.

She brought 3 other children into this union. 2 older daughters and a son. They were all somewhat older than myself. My new-brother Roger, for better or worse, shaped a lot of my views on religion is about 12 years older than me.

Both of my parents are religious. They are very moderate, I think in part due to our opportunity to live in various parts of the world and in part to my fathers intelligence and common sense. I am quite thankful that they are moderate, I would hate to imagine where I would be today if they had been right-wing conservatives.

We attended church every Sunday, and, when we were not late for services, I attended Sunday School. Growing up I attended church camp regularly during the Summers. Sometimes this was out of town at various camps, other times it was locally, spending the day doing arts and crafts and bible studies at a local church.

The church we attended was also quite moderate, looking back. We had, from my memory, some very kind church leaders who genuinely cared about their congregation, though as an adult looking back I am sure some things were going on outside of my realm of understanding at the time.

During alternating summers and winters my 2 siblings from my fathers first marriage, Gabe, my brother, and Mary, my sister, would come and stay with us. They were being raised somewhat more open to other religious possibilities than I was so they were somewhat reluctant to go to Church or bible study etc. I cannot attest directly to their home upbringing as I never lived with them, but I have met their mother, on several occasions, and found her to be a very lovely woman. Gabe was an avid fan of role play games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes. He was also a big fan of rock and roll, in particular Kiss at one point. He used to, with great patience, teach Mary and myself how to play D&D and we would sit in the room and play all day, it was great fun and he, thanks to a great imagination and ability to tell a good story, really brought it to life. We treated it as a fun way to pass the time, using our imaginations and just enjoying.

We often did the same thing elsewhere without the game. We would play Cowboys and Indians out in our fort or play like we had a spaceship built into the ladder against the house with big plastic buckets. Once we even made an airplane out of two sawhorses, old dinging table chairs and scrap wood and would play like we were flying around. Good old fashioned imagination play. The kind of thing you don't see any more.

Mom took an exception to us playing D&D and any other role play game that used dice. She had heard some stuff about it and thought it was evil. It was really popular at the time so, as with anything popular to kids, the church and religious groups would bad mouth it.

Not long after this all the kids in church were kept back once after services to watch a special movie. I don't remember the name of the movie but it was 100% religious propaganda. It was telling us how D&D and other such games were evil. They were from Satan and he was using it to train us for his army. They showed all sorts of disturbing images about hell and how players wound up there. For a kid of no more than 7 or 8 it was quite scary. Then the film started attacking rock music. How it was the devils music and Kiss, worst of all, emulated Satan by wearing makeup and using the two lighting bolts for S's at the end of the name. These lighting bolts were supposed to symbolize their worship of Satan because when God cast Him out of Heaven He was sent to hell in lightening bolts just like these. They said that this shape was shown to us in the Bible as being evil (I never knew the bible had pictures).

As a kid, in awe of my older brother (even though I am sure he found me to be an annoying bastard at times), I found this quite unsettling. I thought about it long and hard. I think this is the first time I ever started to question, to reason and to think for myself.

I knew that I listened to this music with him, sang along with him and my sister and played our imaginary games all the time. I did not feel evil, nor did I feel as if anything I had done was wrong or something that I should be punished for. That started my questioning of religion that has continued to this day.

During the same period my other brother, Roger, was going through his own issues. He was never an easy person to live with. I think my addition to the family gave him someone on whom he could take out all his pent up frustration about being the youngest. His/our two older sisters were pretty hard on him growing up and this was kind of his chance to get even, in his own way. Being so much older than me and me be being so young I don't have a lot of memory about all the things going on in his life. We have never been close, and certainly were not close during that time. I know he was a typical teen though, going through the typical issues. He had a collection of nudie magazines that would make a prostitute blush, that much I do remember! I can also say that while he walked the family line on religion, going to church and the like, he wasn't what one would call a "true believer", but that was soon to change.

During his last couple of years at High School, sophomore or junior year, he and a lot of friends took a road trip. From memory of the incident a number of his friends had a lot to drink and while coming home there was a vehicle accident. His best friend at the time was in the affected vehicle, just in front of the one my brother was riding in. My brother held his best friend in his arms as he died from his injuries. It is safe to say that this would mess anyone up.

Shortly after this incident my brother "found God". He went away to a bible camp and while there had a religious experience. I no longer remember all the details of it, but for him it was a very powerful experience that converted him fully. While he was away I was in an accident of my own, I lost control of a four-wheel quad and went through a barbwire fence. It cut my throat in several places and missed my jugular by mere millimeters. It was a scary experience.

When he returned from Bible camp, basking in God's glory, he wanted to pray for me. I remember this rather disturbing experience vividly. Roger, if you ever read this, don't be insulted, but it was quite weird. He called me into his room, which was something he never did. If I wanted to enter his room he would expect me to rightfully knock, no problems there. He would ask "Who Is It" to which I would give my name. "Author Who" would come the response. To cut a long story short, I would have to give him my full name, middle as well, before he would consider letting me in, often times the answer was to go away.

So, he calls me into his room to pray for him, but he is sitting on the toilet, taking a crap. He calls me into the bathroom and asks me about my accident. At this time I am still unable to really move my head much, my neck was all bandaged up, almost like wearing the padded brace whiplash victims wear. He then places his hand on my head and begins to pray. Apart from the location, and the smell, the prayer goes along as one would expect. Then he starts jibbering. Christians would call this "Speaking in Tongues", something he evidently picked up at bible camp. That freaked me out. It went on and on and finally when he finished I was able to leave.

I bring this up not to spite him for caring, but as a funny anecdote about my experiences with religion. Regardless of my faith now or then, I found the whole speaking in tongues fairly odd.

The problem I had was with his new faith, was his interference the interests of Gabe, Mary and myself. This included our music interests, movie choices and activities, such as D&D. The further he fell into this faith the worse it got, and where more of my direct problems with religion stem from, but that is much later in my story.

After he moved out of the house prior to, and during, University I didn't have to deal with this interference near as often. Life was, in a way back, to normal.

More to follow in Part II.......................