Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Robert Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic"

A. B. Simpson called him "a daring blasphemer".

A Texas town named in his honor changed its designation to Redwater after a Christian revival swept the town a decade later.

He lectured in every state except Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, using humor and education to open minds.

Robert's father was a preacher. Though strictly religious and an adherent to the Bible, he was a kind man and a devoted father, willing to make any sacrifice for his children. He acknowledged they had as much right to their own opinions as he did to his own. "He was great enough to tell me to read the Bible for myself, to be honest with myself, and if after reading it I concluded it was not the word of God, that it was my duty to say so." Over the years, the senior Ingersoll maintained a rich dialogue with his agnostic son, and himself came to give up the doctrine of hell.

Robert Ingersoll was an outspoken critic of religion and superstition, and an equally outspoken advocate for science, reason, racial equality, women's rights, children's rights, and free speech.

In this speech, he takes on the Old Testament God, quoting from Deuteronomy 20:
"And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thy hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself, and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies which the Lord thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these people which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth."
Is it possible for man to conceive of anything more perfectly infamous? Can you believe that such directions were given by any being except an infinite fiend? Remember that the army receiving these instructions was one of invasion. Peace was offered upon condition that the people submitting should be the slaves of the invader; but if any should have the courage to defend their homes, to fight for the love of wife and child, then the sword was to spare none—not even the prattling, dimpled babe.

And we are called upon to worship such a God; to get upon our knees and tell him that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is just, that he is love. We are asked to stifle every noble sentiment of the soul, and to trample under foot all the sweet charities of the heart. Because we refuse to stultify ourselves—refuse to become liars—we are denounced, hated, traduced and ostracized here, and this same god threatens to torment us in eternal fire the moment death allows him to fiercely clutch our naked helpless souls. Let the people hate, let the god threaten—we will educate them, and we will despise and defy him.

The book, called the Bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!

Strange! that no one has ever been persecuted by the church for believing God bad, while hundreds of millions have been destroyed for thinking him good. The orthodox church never will forgive the Universalist for saying "God is love." It has always been considered as one of the very highest evidences of true and undefiled religion to insist that all men, women and children deserve eternal damnation. It has always been heresy to say, "God will at last save all."

Excerpt from The Gods, The Complete Works of Robert Ingersoll (1900)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Faith, Facts, and Fossils

A Matter of Life and Death
In my family's religious subculture, judgments were frequently made about a person's eternal destiny (i.e., heaven or hell) based on that individual's affirmation of evolution or creationism. Our dear grandmother was known to accept evolutionary scientific theory and to enjoy PBS nature specials, therefore we besought God to change her heart and save her soul before it was too late.

As children, our reading material was closely monitored for Darwinian concepts which would be exposed as false and countered with the truth of "God's Word". We were indoctrinated with publications and videos from ICR and Answers in Genesis in addition to our science textbooks from A Beka, Bob Jones University Press, and Christian Light. The sciences never interested me as much as history and language arts, anyway; I only learned enough to get by.

When I began raising my own kids, though, I found that smugness was a poor substitute for understanding. My son loved to find picture books about dinosaurs and astronomy at the library and I felt intimidated by the pages that referred to "millions of years ago". I began to encounter references to evolutionary history in an assortment of unrelated contexts and my curiosity was piqued. I'd never actually learned what scientists meant by "evolution", only that it was factually and morally wrong. As a homeschooling parent, I felt obligated to clarify and fortify my own understanding of science so I could better direct my children's curiosity.

The Biblical Record
A closer look at Genesis revealed two distinct creation accounts. In the first, men and women are created together, on the sixth day in God's image to rule over the other creatures and everything is good. The earth is shapeless and empty; light appears, and darkness, and day and night (preceding the rest of the galaxy). Photosynthetic plants show up on the third day, the sun and moon are added the next day. Men and women (or man and woman?) are created at the end of the sixth day to be the dominant life form and they are specifically instructed to eat the plants. Everything is good, and God takes a break.

Chapter 2 offers an alternate version: there are no plants yet, and no rain. God molds a man out of the earth and breathes life into him to give him a soul. God plants a garden near some rivers and puts the man in charge of it. The man is permitted to eat from all the trees save one. But the man is too solitary and that's not good, so God sets out to make him a helper. He forms the ground, like play dough, into every kind of animal and every kind of bird, and sends the new creatures to Adam to see what he will call them. When none of them prove satisfactory, God puts Adam to sleep and surgically removes a rib which he shapes into a woman. Adam is thrilled when he wakes up--since neither of them have heard of clothes--but "the woman" goes unnamed until the end of the next chapter when she starts bearing children.

For centuries, intelligent men attempted to organize the Bible's many stories (Creation, Noah's Flood, Abraham, the Exodus, the Promised Land...) into a workable historic timeline. One of those men was James Ussher, Archbishop of Ireland, who in the days of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth coordinated the biblical accounts with the best known history of other cultures to determine that the world must have been created in 4004 B.C. As scholarship advanced through the Enlightment and beyond, scientists (many of them Christians) began to talk about the age of the earth in much longer terms, and many in the Church kept pace with these new discoveries. At the same time, however, Ussher's calculations were printed in the King James Version as standard reference notes, where they remained for 200 years and eventually featured in America's Scopes Trial of 1925, a defining moment for  fundamentalist Christianity.

Christianity and Evolution
I first heard Dr. Francis Collins on NPR. A Bible-believing Christian who accepted evolution? I had to learn more. His book The Language of God opened a new world to me. Real scientists, he explained, are "anarchists", always seeking to revise theories and overthrow old research. One of the great revisions of the last century was the conclusion that the universe began at a single moment (14 billion years ago). To Dr. Collins, "The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation."

Dr. Collins writes frankly, kindly, and convincingly. He patiently answers the common creationist arguments ("the watchmaker", entropy, fossils) while pointing out that three types of radioactive carbon dating yield concordant results: 4.5 billion years for Earth's oldest rocks. He summarizes current scientific understanding about the descent of Homo sapiens. And as the director of the Human Genome Project, he includes some information that was most definitely not in the materials from Answers in Genesis or ICR twenty years ago.

As it happens, humans have 46 chromosomes while chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have 48. Interestingly, the second human chromosome has the appearance of being fused (parts midway in the chromosome resemble what are usually the telomeres, or ends) and the genes on that chromosome share the order of the genes in two smaller ape chromosomes (2A and 2B). Denisovan hominids had the same fusion we have, suggesting this change in chromosome number occurred previous to the first human. Scientific genetic evidence now strongly indicates a fusion of those two chromosomes took place a million years ago or even more. A rare mutation would later have reduced the number from 47 chromosomes to 46. Human life is no less amazing for having evolved--if anything, the wonder seems greater! I had to keep reading.

"You cannot get to Young Earth Creationism without throwing out the fundamental principles of geology, of biology, of chemistry, of physics, of cosmology, of paleontology."  
               --Francis Collins

  "No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life."   --Francis Collins

Scientific Evidence
In A Natural History of Time, geophysicist and researcher Pascal Richet traces mankind's attempts to determine the age of the earth, our solar system, and the universe. Beginning with mythology, religion, and philosophy and culminating in geology, astronomy, physics, and the discovery of radioactivity, the curious kept imagining, exploring, calculating, and reaching ever closer to an accurate chronology. Richet brings the names to life: from Aristotle to Isaac Newton, from Lord Kelvin to Percival Lowell. This book took me months to get through, but by the time I reached the end I was cheering each new scientific discovery and was convinced that our planet really did form 4.5 billion years ago.

Even if one does not accept that fossils can be dated by their location in the rock strata, there is the inescapable issue of "missing links". I was taught that there were none, that the fossilized skeletons we find today are simply extinct species, or variations of the same species that exist on earth today. Turns out there are plenty of transitional forms in the fossil record: a manatee with legs, serpent-like whales with tiny feet, walking whales, the Tiktaalik fish, the Dimetrodon which looked like a dinosaur but wasn't, toothed birds, a flatfish with an intermediate eye position, the early bipedal dinosaur Eoraptor, the mammal-like reptile Thrinaxodon, and so on.

Additionally, there is the beautiful and predictable sequence of life forms, from most simple to most complex, that unfolds through the rock strata. Mammalian fossils are not found in the oldest rocks, nor are flowering plants. The sheer number of fossils is staggering. If all fossils were formed during a single flood, the pre-flood oceans would have been crowded with an unsustainable number of creatures! Fossils remind us that humans have not always been Earth's dominant species. We are only the latest on the scene, at the top of an ancient and elaborate tree.

Ken Ham and other evangelical creationists have been emphatic in their interpretation that there was no death until after "the Fall". Nothing died until the woman first disobeyed God. Therefore, Adam and Eve and all the first animals, fish, birds, and insects were originally created to be vegetarian. The ignorance of this simplistic explanation came to mind when I took my first college course in biology and realized that plant cells are every bit as alive as blood cells. Life and death are so much more complex than eating forbidden fruit and suddenly beginning to age.

Facts and Faith
I gradually embraced evolution--not as a "worldview" that allowed me to do what I want, but as an evidence-based way of understanding the world I live in. Which is probably why the following blog post by Libby Anne resonated so strongly with me last year:

"If my parents had not elevated creationism to the same importance as the virgin birth, I would never have had my crisis of faith. Doing so gave my faith an Achilles heel. I’m not saying this happens to everyone raised to equate creationism with Christianity – it doesn't. What I am saying is that elevating things like capitalism and spanking to the same level of truth as the trinity creates a Christianity in a box. It shuts off questions and exploration. It closes the door to differences of opinion. It creates a situation where you are either in, or out. And, more importantly, it creates a situation where questioning something as simple as capitalism means rejection and changing your mind on something as little as anti-gay rights means potentially throwing everything from the trinity to the divinity of Jesus into question."
"My parents reacted negatively to me not because I had rejected Jesus but because I had rejected creationism."    --How Creationism Drove Me Out of the Church

Young earth creationism no longer makes sense to me. The universe is too immense to be contained in 6,000 years of history. Starlight finds us from millions of light years away. Fossils give us clues to secrets that are millions of years old. Rocks bear silent testimony to billions of years of atomic energy. Antarctic glaciers record over 8 million years of history in their frozen hearts. Life is a mystery, a puzzle to tease out bit by bit, each of us adding to the random but intricate and kaleidoscopic pattern that will cause future generations to marvel.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


People always said that I'd see things differently when I was a parent myself.

The implication was that I'd see things from a parent's point of view, an angle more lenient toward parents in general and perhaps more in line with my own parents' perspective.

The opposite has happened.

Nobody warned me that when you become a parent, you find yourself reliving each stage of your own childhood from your own child's perspective, feeling that experience again as if it were happening to your own son/daughter. Reflecting with an adult's understanding, but a child's emotions. This can be traumatizing.

This year has been physically and emotionally difficult for me: grief, anxiety, tears, pain, panic attacks, PTSD triggers, reactions to medications that were supposed to help. So I'm back in therapy. I've started practicing yoga. I've cut more negative people and influences out of my life. I walk out stress on the treadmill or outdoors. I am forging new supportive and nurturing relationships. Like a healthy child, I'm developing the ability to self-soothe.

I'm learning a new dance-step for life these days: two steps forward, one step back. Some days I definitely see progress. I feel brave and take risks and instead of disaster, good things happen! Each time builds my confidence for the future.

My children help me more than they know. When they express their own feelings and stand up for their own opinions, I'm proud. When they want to be close to me, to listen to me, to snuggle with me, to ask how I'm feeling, to tell me about their play or their favorite stories, I feel a wound inside being healed. Knowing that they feel nurtured and safe with me gives me hope and joy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Library Shelf: Losing My Religion

From his failed marriage and his "born again" conversion to evangelical Christianity at a men's retreat to his search for truth and his anguish over the pain of abuse victims, William Lobdell's story is intensely personal. At the same time, it is a professional story, intertwined with his career as a journalist.

A good book deserves to be talked about. Mark Oppenheimer has an excellent review here. Heather King has written an equally wonderful piece here. And Hugh Kramer's review can be found here.

I took this book along on vacation a couple of years ago and read bits aloud in the car. I remember driving through the hills of West Virginia and asking, "Do you think we'll end up like this guy? Will we ever lose our religion? Is that the direction we're headed?"

We looked at the kids in the rearview mirror. "Maybe when they grow up and we're empty-nesters," my husband replied. Until then, he figured, we'd stay in the church.

"I don't know," I said. "I can imagine it happening sooner." I didn't know then that it would only be a matter of months before my faith faded completely. And when I looked at my kids after that, Lobdell's words about his own children gave me courage.

Lobdell writes about harsh realities and glaring inconsistencies. Yet his tone is mild, as comes through in this talk:

"But the current of truth had me and wasn’t going to let me go. When I decided to stop fighting it, I felt relief — even serenity. I decided to ride it out — past the surf line — and see where it would take me." --William Lobdell

Film Favorites: Away We Go

One of my all-time favorites

We saw this film at the theater when it came out in 2009 and now it seems to represent several years of my life. We like to think our cinematic tastes are discriminating, and back then we were still hesitant about R-rated art, so that date night broke daring new ground for us. And I still laugh and cry every time I see the movie. Just watching the trailer again (for this post) made me happy inside.

Away We Go is an offbeat post-modern dramedy, with a side of realistic romance, in the road picture tradition. Burt and Verona are thirty-somethings living in a trailer with a cardboard window and taking life as it comes, until they learn they are expecting their first child. When Burt’s parents announce that they are moving to Belgium for the next two years, the young couple feels abandoned and unmoored. So Burt and a very pregnant Verona set out on a cross-country trip, visiting relatives and old acquaintances in hopes of finding a supportive setting in which to start their family.

Away We Go is full of quirky humor played directly to Generation X. Most of the characters are written as caricatures and I laughed out loud at the cast’s over-the-top renditions. The script and performances have the feel of a play, relying on dialogue and performances that almost seem too exaggerated for cinema. Still, many Gen-Xers will relate to the uncomfortable social situations. Our parents may not have moved to Belgium, but they have let us down.We laugh at Lowell, L.N., and Beckett’s mother not because they amuse us, but because we all wonder how to deal with pessimists waiting for the Apocalypse, parents who take themselves too seriously, or zealous proponents of fringe theories. When Burt shouts, in perhaps the best line of the film, “And I renounce your unbelievable bullshit!”, we cheer him, envious of his freedom.

John Krasinski plays a sincere, blunt, and clumsy Burt Farlander. Verona (Maya Rudolph) is reserved and thoughtful, but she and Burt have a comfortable relationship and are constantly communicating. Together, they face their fears and inadequacies head-on. Their optimistic quest for parenting role models and kindred spirits takes them—by car, plane, and even train—to Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and Miami.

Retro clothing styles, older cars, and a subdued color palette make this film seem like it could be decades older than it is. The story values things and places and people that have weathered life. We feel conflicting values as the camera lingeringly contrasts rugged landscapes, beaches, trees, and sunsets, with luxurious buildings, stately townhouses, and nighttime cityscapes. Burt and Verona are clearly comparing the distinctive “feel” of each stop on their itinerary. The film’s soundtrack is moody and introspective, featuring many songs by Scottish singer/songwriter Alexei Murdoch. The music is beautifully haunting, the lyrics pregnant with  hope.

This screenplay was a first for husband-wife team Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Dave, a satirical novelist once called “the J. D. Salinger of Generation X”, has written characters whose experiences mirror many of his own. Like Verona, he lost both parents while he was a college student. Like Burt’s brother, he felt the burden of raising a child alone. Burt’s sister-in-law disappears, abandoning her daughter and husband. Eggers’ sister committed suicide. Dave found that parenthood dramatically changed his lifestyle and the way he approached his career, and Burt and Verona are willing to embrace the inevitable changes that accompany pregnancy and new parenthood.

The meaning of parenthood, family, and commitment is a poignant and continuous theme. Verona is committed to Burt, but refuses to marry him. Burt’s brother wonders how his daughter will fare without a mother. Burt’s parents pursue their own European adventure, leaving their youngest son feeling rejected. Verona’s sister wonders how to know if she and her boyfriend are compatible. Both girls have to deal with the absence of their deceased parents. LN, a well-heeled New Age feminist university professor and “lactivist”, and her seahorse-obsessed husband smother their children under their notion of familial devotion. Tom and Munch try to protect their adopted family from sad reality, though their own hearts are bleeding. Lily and Lowell ignore or put down their children, while the lady at the hotel is raising a well-informed brat. After each encounter, Burt and Verona reflect on their observations, establishing their own values while considering the long-haul demands of parenting and realizing that there is no guarantee of success.

I feel a kinship with Burt and Verona every time I watch this movie. I appreciate that they want to live on purpose. Like them, I often feel lost in a sea of choices and even conflicting desires; I love the way they analyze their options. IMDB quotes director Sam Mendes as saying, “[All my films are]  about one or more people who are lost and trying to find a way through. It’s no different with this one, it just happens that they do find a way through.” While Burt and Verona find some of their friends’ homes more appealing than others, they ultimately realize that they must find their own way and create their own unique family. When they finally choose a place to be their own, Burt tells Verona, “This place is perfect for us. Don’t you think?”

Verona smiles through tears, “I hope so.”

I hope so, too.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brave New Thoughts

Another courageous testimony for this Tuesday!

Megan Phelps-Roper is a brave woman who dared to think for herself.
“For nearly all of her twenty-seven years, Megan believed it: believed what her grandfather Fred Phelps preached from the pulpit; believed what her dad Brent and her mom Shirley taught during the family’s daily Bible studies…”
I remember feeling personally affronted when Phelps' Westboro Baptist picketed my friend's funeral. They didn't know him; their protests were steeped in the deepest ignorance.

Now, Megan's story is one of questions and library books, love and loss, tears and exploration, support and accusation. I find I can identify with Megan, especially with her insistence that she really did want to do good, even when she was part of her family's cult. Eventually those good intentions drove her to look outward and discover a whole new world.

Good luck on your journey, Megan and Grace!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Library Shelf: Triumph

When Texas raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in 2008, I followed the news stories for months. I felt an emotional connection with the secluded FLDS children who had been suddenly thrust into an environment they had been taught would threaten their eternal souls, separated from their families, faced with unfamiliar food and clothing, trying to make sense of a culture foreign to them. Having grown up in a cult myself, I was ready and willing to be a foster parent to any of those kids, had it been possible!

So I was thrilled to discover this book by Carolyn Jessop, an ex-wife of the YFZ cult leader. During the proceedings in Texas, she became an adviser to state authorities about what they were dealing with in the FLDS. And by the end of the first chapter of this book, she became one of my favorite heroines.

I cannot recommend Triumph highly enough. This is the story of a brave woman's determination to leave the patriarchal, abusive, totalitarian Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints cult and her struggle to create a brand-new life for herself and her eight children. Read an excerpt here.

I love that Carolyn takes the time to recount how her mind slowly changed along the way, the radio programs that gave her a new perspective on healthy relationships, the secret trips to work out at Curves,  how she experimented and waited until she was ready to thoroughly leave patriarchy behind. Hers was no sudden decision but a methodical plan based on new beliefs and thought patterns that gradually overwrote the old.

Carolyn with her sister-wives

"But the men were onto something: exercise is dangerous. Once women start getting control over their bodies, they think about getting control over their lives. After a woman loses fifteen pounds and likes the way she looks, having that ninth or tenth child is less appealing. Getting in touch with her body puts her in touch with other areas of her life, like sexuality. Women who claimed sexual power were as threatening to the FLDS as women who claimed any other power. We weren’t supposed to have sexual needs; we were merely the breeding stock that kept the cult replenished."
Carolyn's story has its disappointments and setbacks (her oldest daughter later returned to the cult), but it is overwhelmingly inspiring. And the chapter on homeschooling should be required reading for every state legislator.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Library Shelf: Fleeing Fundamentalism

I usually enter the library on a mission, but occasionally I browse the shelves or the computer catalog. That's how I came across this woman's story.

"Then, like someone blithely boarding a bus without brakes, I raised my hand and said, 'It's beginning to strike me as strange that God would cast most of his children into eternal hellfire when, even as mere mortals, we would never throw our own kids into a burning pit for disobedience.' 
"David looked at me in disbelief. . . ."                  

Carlene was a teenage convert, attended Bible college, and found herself a minister's wife at a fundamentalist Baptist church near Seattle. And then it all rotted from the inside out. Her memoir is full of darkness, pain, and shame. And that's before it details the struggle of a single mom fighting for a new life. But the book ends on a hopeful note with a new start, gradual healing, forgiveness, and peace.

Honestly, I wondered at first if Carlene's story was exaggerated. This was no mild "but things weren't as good they seemed from the outside" story. The hypocrisy seemed "over the top" for a Baptist preacher's family. But then I thought of some other Baptist preachers... and Catholic priests... and my doubts evaporated. This isn't an easy read, but it's an honest one by a very strong woman.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tim Minchin

Without further ado, here is Tim Minchin's "Storm".


Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I usually trace my journey by the books I've read over the years. But music and movies hold a lot of meaning, too. Here is a roughly chronological playlist of some songs I've returned to over and over along the way. They've made me angry, they've made me sad, they've kept my chin up, they've expressed what I couldn't say, some even make me laugh.

A Heart That Knows You--Twila Paris    "...is a heart that can wait, die to the dearest desire..."
Sometimes by Step--Rich Mullins  "on this road to righteousness, sometimes the climb can be so steep"
Maker of Noses--Rich Mullins
Everyman--Rich Mullins
Missing Person--Michael W. Smith "There was a boy who the faith to move a mountain and like a child he would believe without a reason. Without a trace he disappeared..."
Smell the Color 9--Chris Rice "Maybe I don't truly know You, or maybe I just simply believe"
Could You Believe--Twila Paris
Live Forever--Michael W. Smith
Weeping--Josh Groban "It wasn't roaring, it was weeping"
From a Distance--The Byrds 
Vincent--Josh Groban "...how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free"
Judas--Lady Gaga
Brave--Nichole Nordeman "the way it's always been is no longer good enough"
Casimir Pulaski Day--Sufjan Stevens "we lift our hands and pray over your body but nothing ever happens"
Breathe--Alexi Murdoch  "Don't forget to breathe... just breathe..."
Let Me Fall--Josh Groban "I won't heed your warnings, I won't hear them"
Wait--Alexi Murdoch "Feel I'm on the verge of some great truth..."
Him--Lily Allen "Ever since He can remember, people have died in His good name"
Imagine--John Lennon  (performed by Jack Johnson or April Lavigne) 
Heal the World--Michael Jackson "make it a better place for... the entire human race"
Fuckin' Perfect--PINK
Jesus He Knows Me--Genesis (Phil Collins)  "and He knows I'm right!"
Firework--Katy Perry
Don't Get Me Started--Phil Collins
Strangers Like Me--Disney's "Tarzan" soundtrack (Phil Collins) "It's all so close and yet so far"
Hair--Lady Gaga "I want you to love me for what I am"
I Am What I Am--Gloria Gaynor "...and what I am needs no excuses..."
I Believe--"Book of Mormon" soundtrack "...that Satan has a hold of you..."
Two by Two--"Book of Mormon" soundtrack "...'cause God loves Mormons and wants some more"
I See the Light--Disney's "Tangled" soundtrack
Great Spirits--Disney's "Brother Bear" soundtrack

Monday, March 4, 2013

Former Fundamentalists

It's Testimony Tuesday, and you can read the double-testimony of two former Christian fundamentalists at this website. One is now an atheist, the other an agnostic.
"There are as many variations of Christianity as there are people who call themselves Christians, and a close reading of the New Testament bears out the fact that it has been that way since about 33 A.D. If you have managed to find or create a version for yourself that emphasizes kindness to your fellow man, tolerance, and a feeling of peace and goodwill with yourself and all beings, that's fantastic."    From Losing My Religion 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Outgrowing Faith

As I've made my "spiritual" journey, I have been surprised to discover how very ordinary it is to leave the God of one's childhood. Perhaps I shouldn't be startled, considering what resilient and adaptive creatures we humans are.

So many passionate artists have painful experiences with religion woven into their past lives. Stories of changing their belief, of trying to make it fit better, or of abandoning it altogether.

Below are a few names you might recognize.

Brad Pitt, raised evangelical, is now an atheist/agnostic. He was "brought up being told things were God's way, and when things didn't work out it was called God's plan."
“I had questions about Christianity that I could not get answered to my satisfaction, questions that I’d been asking since I was in kindergarten. I realized it didn’t feel right to me, that one question just led to another.  It was like going down a rabbit hole, each answer provoking another question.”
Madonna, third of six children, lost her mother to breast cancer when she was only five. The cancer was diagnosed, but could not be treated because Madonna's mother (a devout Catholic) was pregnant. By the time Madonna's youngest sister was born, it was too late. "My mother was a religious zealot," Madonna said in an interview. Madonna now practices Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish mysticism.
"There was a time I was happy in my life
There was a time I believed I'd live forever
There was a time I prayed to Jesus Christ
There was a time I had a mother
It was nice"
                                (Madonna's "Mother and Father")
Michael Jackson had a contradictory childhood in the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower). Much has been written about his confusion, his guilt, and his faith. His tense and unhappy relationship with the group ended in the 1980's when they shunned his sister.

Ryan Gosling grew up Mormon. In his words: "My mother admits it: She says, you were raised by a religious zealot. She's different now, but at the time, it was a part of everything - what they ate, how they thought ... " In another interview, Gosling marvels with gentle sincerity "that somebody can say, yeah, it doesn't make sense but I'm going to believe it anyway."

Amy Adams' family was Mormon when she was young. She says that early exposure to religion shaped her values (and created lasting religious guilt). From an interview on her blog:
"I don’t think a child’s brain can really grasp religious concepts without being indoctrinated a little bit. I remember being really upset because my grandfather drank coffee. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Grandpa’s going to hell for drinking coffee!’ I cried in Sunday school. But religion can be a positive thing in people’s lives. It provides an amazing support system if you embrace it. There’s always that part of me that wishes that would have been enough, that I could have been happy with that."
Anne Hathaway left the Catholic Church because of the way it excluded gay people, like her brother. Anne, in an interview with Terry Gross:
"Faith is important to me. You know, being raised with one faith and having to go out into the unknown and try to cobble together another, that was hard. But I wasn’t really leaving something because I realized I couldn't have faith in this religion that would exclude anyone, particularly my brother, for the way he’s born and for loving someone."
Hugh Jackman grew up attending Billy Graham's Australia crusades after his parents were "born-again". "But ultimately, the Christian religion didn't really click with me - it left too many questions unanswered," he said in a British interview. "I couldn't get past the fact that 95 per cent of people on the planet are going to hell because they are non-Christian. I believe more in cause and effect."

Katy Perry couldn't eat Lucky Charms as a kid, watch the Smurfs on TV, or call eggs "deviled". She has rejected her evangelical charismatic upbringing and her parents' intolerance. She told Vanity Fair in 2011:
“In my faith, you’re just supposed to have faith. But I was always like…why? At this point, I’m just kind of a drifter. I’m open to possibility…. My sponge is so big and wide and I’m soaking everything up and my mind has been radically expanded. Just being around different cultures and people and their opinions and perspectives. Just looking into the sky.”
And lastly, a hero of mine,
Alan Alda was raised, schooled, and married in the Catholic Church, but ultimately found science much more compelling than faith. (Believe that a priest can turn bread into God? Really?) Alda has written about his religious upbringing, and his response to it, in his memoirs Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.