Friday, November 21, 2014

We Won the Lottery

When my Biology professor lectures about sperm and egg production through meiosis and the formation of a human embryo when the two combine, very few people in the room would call the experience “spiritual.” I, however, relish in the feeling I get when I learn more about these processes, as they remind me of how privileged I am to be alive. The professor explains the average man will produce about 525 billion sperm in his lifetime, and that the average woman will release about 450 eggs. I am reminded in these lectures that the DNA encoded in the 23 chromosomes in each of these cells is unique to that cell. No two reproductive cells (gametes) are the same. When these chromosomes from sperm and egg combine for a total of 46, you have an embryo with all the genetic information needed for a human to develop. Automatically, this embryo is also genetically unique and there will never be another exactly like it.
If only one sperm is needed to fertilize one egg, think of all the possible combinations the gametes of just two people could create. Just from all the gametes of one man and one woman in one lifetime, there would be about 236 trillion completely unique arrangements of DNA, each containing all the genetic information needed for one individual human being.
Of course, the incredible majority of these possibilities will never actually come into existence. Think of the number of children your biological parents have together. For me, that number is 2. Out of 236 trillion hypothetical people, only two - my sister and I - won the incredible privilege of being born. Out of all the world leaders, the dictators, the poets, the doctors, the artists, and the high school drop-outs that could have just as easily been born in my place, I won a lottery with odds 1.3 million times higher than the Powerball.
You did too, and you only won because your parents happened to procreate at least one time. If your parents had never met, the lottery you were lucky enough to win would have never even happened in the first place. Everyone you've ever heard of, in their ordinariness, exists in spite of overwhelming odds. Many go through their entire lives not realizing their incredible fortune. Even my peers in Biology class don’t seem to realize this, at least not as a majority. I never let on, but when someone tells me that the finite life they are currently living is not enough, and that they want - or even demand - an eternal one, I get very angry. We both won a few decades of sunlight when the innumerable majority won absolutely nothing. This is why I refuse to wish for a second life and chose to be content with the life I have. I would love to live forever, but knowing what I know, that would be a very arrogant request.


“We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

- Richard Dawkins

Monday, November 17, 2014

Atheism in the Military

Former US Military Chaplain William Thomas Cummings is famously attributed with saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes" and, up until recently, the United States military tended to agree. There is no real community for secular soldiers like there is for soldiers of pretty much any other faith. Military atheists have had no secular "chaplains" with whom to discuss their problems until recently.

At the beginning of this month, we saw an interesting turn of events as the United States Navy appointed their first ever atheist Lay Leader. A lay leader, for those unaware, is a non-ordained member of a congregation chosen as the spiritual leader (usually to give sacraments or perform certain portions of a religious service). This pivotal appointment shows a striking shift in the face of the military.

For years, our military has typically been a highly religious group. It make sense if you believe the same philosophy as Cummings. Men who are faced with death on a daily basis may be more likely to believe in Heaven (or some sort of afterlife) because it softens the reality of death, Active duty military members deal with death all the time and they have to reconcile the fact that: 1) they themselves have killed another human being and 2) any minute in a war zone could be the last. Religion gives a safe way to push these harsh realities under the rug for a while.

Military atheists have no such comfort. They have to tackle these realizations head on and still complete the job they are assigned. I know from personal experience that some atheist soldiers deal with killing other people by dehumanizing the enemy. Maybe an atheist "chaplain" can help change this mentality, or at least help support secular military members. The chaplains can discuss the harshness of working in an active war zone and how to face death on a daily basis. Maybe the chaplains can make atheism less of a stigma simply by existing.

This change is a small step on the road to acceptance for atheists. That may sound corny and overused, but it is true. Every institution that allows atheists an equal platform with any religious group opens the doors. It may take time, but improvements like these can help change the face of secularism and make atheism something people do not have to hide.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When Education Wins, Indoctrination loses

When I was little, I loved dinosaurs. I had all the toys, books and documentaries my parents could stand. I sometimes spent hours a day soaking up information, learning a significant amount for my young age. This kicked off a life-long interest in science and in how the natural world works. When I was a kid, if you asked me when the dinosaurs went extinct, I could have proudly told you without hesitation, “65 million years ago.” From this, I knew there had been a progression of life through time, with some species dying out and others coming into existence as the years passed. I am not sure when exactly I first learned about evolution, as it was simply the other side of what I already knew. I never even questioned it because it fit so well with my understanding of the past. I do know that I must have still been very young at that point.
Dinosaurs were not quite this cool, but to a little kid they are.

However, in addition to all this learning, I also sporadically attended church with my mother and sister. I also attended Sunday school and “vacation bible school.” I was even briefly enrolled in a Christian academy. I was given the basic, cookie-cutter version of Christianity that is often given to children: God made everything in 6 days, God loves you more than you can even understand, Noah built the ark, Jesus died for your sins, loving Jesus is the key to living forever, and if you reject this you’ll be on fire for eternity. This contradiction between knowledge and faith was something I thought about a lot from a very young age. My faith fluctuated strongly from the very beginning, even ceasing to exist for about a month’s time when I was about 6 years old. But to not believe was to be uninspired and empty. What’s more, it was to burn in hell forever. When it was time for my Lutheran confirmation, I had known for years that the world wasn't created in 6 days, I understood why the biblical flood simply didn't happen, and deep down I knew a lot of Christian teachings simply didn't make any sense, but I still believed everything that I could justify. I was in 6th grade when my confirmation started. Before I knew it, hard-line Christian fundamentalism was being drilled into my head. I recall my youth pastor making a point of why fearing god was just as important as loving him as to disobey him meant my worst fear - an eternity in hell. I can still remember the gut-wrenching fear I felt whenever a doubt entered my mind. This fear was what kept me from rejecting these teaching as a whole. My peers and I were instructed that the Bible was the sole authority of knowledge, and because of this, we had to infer that the Earth was between 6 and 10 thousand years old, no matter what anyone said or what evidence was given. I knew my pastor was lying to my face when he told us evolution was the theory that animals magically transformed from one another - and I knew he was wrong when he said evolution was “just a theory.” Despite knowing that my peers were being miseducated, the fear of hell still kept me as Christian as I could be. In desperation, I was almost able to accept contradictory aspects of scripture and science as both being true at the same time.


However, time went on. I graduated confirmation and was now free to sample cheap wine and stale crackers two Sundays a month. Now without the constant reinforcement of my beliefs, I swallowed my fear and began to question what I had been told to think. I started pulling threads, and the whole thing came apart very quickly. Learning about the dawn of civilization in History class was when my faith really started to unravel, as I was forced to focus on the time period when the bible was written and creation supposedly happened. Because I asked these questions, by the middle of my time in High School I knew I was an atheist, but I didn't admit it out loud until much later. 
But what would have happened without my early interest in science? What would have happened if I hadn't watched the Discovery Channel every day and had never been exposed to all of the knowledge that eventually broke the back of my indoctrination? Not every child is as fortunate as I was. Many children who go through the type of indoctrination I experienced are sheltered from scientific thinking by design. I am absolutely convinced that without this early introduction to science, I would be a lost cause today. This is why science education is so crucially important, especially in young children. When I was being told these things, I knew the same abuse was happening in every city and town in the country. I now know that to stop it, children have to hear the truth in school. They have to hear it from somewhere, even if they're told it’s a lie at home. Some children will still fall under the spell, but the ones that don't will become the great scientists, engineers, and thinkers the world needs.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I've Got Stucco In My Ventricles

Three years ago, I committed total apostasy. The initial shock made me feel like my heart was being yanked up and out of my throat. Hated. I felt hated. I felt hated as a woman. I felt hated as a queer. I felt hated as an intellectual. I felt hated as a child. I will never forget my father's words. 

"Arrogant! You're arrogant!" and he jabbed his finger so hard into my chest, I stepped backward. He said nothing else. He left my mother's town home and slammed the door. I waited a week for an apology. 

All I ever yearned for was to be comfortable with who I am- and who I was; to not be so extremely conscious of my so termed 'deviance' and how furiously I had to fight to blend in. As a consequence, I didn't ask questions I should have been able to about personal safety. I went on to persuade myself I liked the breasts of other women in the way artful nudes are admired. And based on how my parents were- before and after the divorce- I had a distorted sense of what was okay. 

I became tolerant. Tolerant is a dirty word. Let me tell you why. Tolerant, in my case, meant passive. 
Passive meaning: not reacting visibly to something that might be expected to produce manifestations of an emotion. Passive also meaning: I thought I had to accept anything strictly because of blood-lineage or a presupposed connection. 

In the secular world, you are not told you must love your father simply because he is your father. You are allowed the space to dissent and to be an individual. It took me too long to full-circle. I am a person. I am a person. Do you realize what you're doing to me? What you're saying? I am a person

God’s Laws, Our Mouths

Just to recapitulate, in case some of you don't know, the dogma I’d been raised with (in a nondenominational private school) was simple regarding relationships.

1. If you’re a chick, get with a dick.

2. Don’t date anyone who doesn’t have the exact same foundational beliefs and opinions as you.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? (KJV 2 Corinthians 6:14)

3. Here, have a veiled metaphor for your virginity and try not to be too angry when it’s insinuated by a teacher who openly mocked and marked you as “Goth” with the cool girls in class because you happened to be into black eye-shadow  that having many sexual partners in your lifetime makes you a heartless slut.

The equation:

Your Heart (vagina) / People You Love (people with penises) = Diminished Self

(e.g. verbatim: There will be less of you to give whenever you’re forced to move on). 

Translation: Whenever you 'love' (have sex) with someone, you are breaking off a piece of that Kit Kat bar, and letting someone else have it. It isn't returned. There are no refunds, here. Eventually, you have nothing else to give. Or at least, a fractal of something left to offer. That's the essential message I was given by a Bible teacher while we sat together, overlooking a lake at sunset in Wisconsin on a dock, when I was thirteen. She approached me because I wasn't making nice and social with the other boys and girls. Some people don't understand solitude, I swear.  

Regardless, by her logic it should be understood that you, as a woman, are meant to be paired with a man. But if you happen to care for more than one in a lifetime and marriage isn’t the end goal, you can no longer be a full person. Your capacity to love has been quantified.

I have lived my life as if sex and all the accompaniments are a sort of collective being given away. That's a faulty and serious framework to begin any relationship with, because it exaggerates the power exchange as being one sided. It emphasizes consummation and minimizes any duality.

It says: women show vulnerability, that vulnerability is intrinsic and limited, and that men receive.

It does not say: men show vulnerability, that vulnerability is intrinsic and limited, and women receive in turn.

It says: we believe we are protecting girls when we tell them to treat their xxx-hood as something like a trophy with an expiration date.

It does not say: this is poisonous.

For a majority of my formative years, I was required to wear shorts underneath my pleated plaid skirt when in uniform. I was not allowed to wear slacks, like the boys, until I was ten. This policy was eventually reneged, but all girls were required to wear either jumpers or sweater vests over their chests, especially those in junior high. Breasts, crotches, stomachs, thighs: restrict access, remove visibility; the flatter the top, the better.

As a woman, you could not slouch, even with coverings underneath. You could not part your legs. Even when wearing pants, it was frowned upon, though tolerated. As a woman, you were watched closely. As a man, your shoelaces were your most pressing concern. If they were untied, you were asked to tie them. That was it. 

In sixth grade, administration decided we needed help.  

They targeted the girls as subjects for group therapy, to take place during gym class. Without a parentally approved waiver, it was mandatory. I, and a friend to go unnamed, believed we were the only ones who got out of it. A week later, her mother found the note she hid in her backpack and that was that. So I became the only girl not attending, and for the rest of that year, it was mostly me and the boys shooting hoops and running and playing with the rolling carts that always jammed our fingers.

After sixth grade, we had separate PE periods. It was something we accepted. I didn’t understand the separation, but I didn’t ask. I intuited, maybe, it had to do with our bodies. I just wasn’t sure which parts. I wondered if maybe it was my leg hair. And then I was grateful.

Some of the girls, in response to segregation, rolled the waistbands of their pants up, to show a little more leg. Laugh. Hair toss. Sassy strut. Hallway performance. Look around. These girls read lingerie magazines during prayer. These girls were girls and they wanted everyone to know.

It made my modesty and silence all the more suspect. I feel like people saw me as this nun-like, shrouded figure. Occasionally they’d get a glimpse into my world, and I’d shut the door.

Let's Pretend It Didn't Happen

My family’s take on relationships and gender performance could best be described as laissez-faire, imposingly judgmental, or aggressively counter-culture. Depends on the year. Depends on the day. Depends on the circumstances.

At 12 years old:
           
1.         Me: Eh, I’m getting a little hairy. Should probably do something.
            Dad: Why shave? You don’t need to shave your legs. That’s ridiculous.
            Me: Oh. Okay...

At 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 years old:

2.         Me: I’m not really looking for something now.
            Mom: Good. You don’t need any man. You do what you need to do.
            Me: -blinking slowly-

At 19 years old:

3a.       Me: Well, _______ broke up with me. A couple days after grandma died.
            Dad: Did you have sex with him?
            Me: ... I don’t really want to discuss that.
           
            [one month later, at Chipotle]
           
3b.       Me: Do you remember ________?
            Dad: Yea.
            Me: He tried to pressure me through text to give him a blowjob.
            Dad: -laughs so violently that he begins choking on a bite from his burrito bowl-
            Me: ...You all right?
            Dad: -damn near whinnying in his giggles-
            Me: -staring-
            Dad: Why the FUCK would he do that?
            Me: I have no idea. We haven’t spoken to each other for nearly two years.

My mother bought me a bunk bed last year, claiming it would be useful if anyone, say my then partner, ever slept over. My father can’t seem to absorb information tactfully. They are in complete denial. They either want to know nothing, or everything. Because I am the girl.

I am the girl who had a strict curfew. I am the girl who was laughed at and ignored when angry by her mother because I was ‘on the rag.’ I am the girl who, at legal age, was chastised for talking about sex among friends I grew up with. I was the girl whose dad called her a ‘dyke’ for wearing pigtails. I was the girl who asked, ‘What would you do if I was gay?’ to hear the tearful reply, ‘I don’t know. That’s not how I raised you.’ I was the girl hoping these were all someone else’s mistakes, that my bisexuality wouldn’t be called a choice, that maybe it would stop.

Any perceived slight would throw one guardian into a martyr-complex fit of screaming.
Insubordination, or even disagreement, could get the other spitting and yelling in your face.

As a boy, you’d be smacked and called a ‘pussy.’ As a girl, you’d get about the same. Especially if you couldn't learn to square your jaw at the onset of such outbursts. 

At this point, the breaking point, maybe- it didn't matter. It ceased to matter.

Anyone could do anything to you. Anyone could say anything. Internalized bitterness. Isolation. Your closest comrade, your sibling, became your enemy, because the laws of the patriarchy and cyclical anguish are unfair and they always have been and you don’t know why. And it took you distance to repair wounds other people created. And it took you time to recompense for what you did instead of dressing those wounds. As if you should have known to.

My brother and I don’t talk about this, just as we don’t talk in detail about our childhood and the double standards and the abuse. We are, ourselves, glimpses. Of what we were. Of what we could have been.

You know how he is. I’m just sick of it. Shh. Let’s just drop it. I don’t want him to hear and get pissed.

And when my brother says this, I can see his lip quivering when he was nine. I can see the moment he wanted our father dead. 

But we don't talk about this. 

Act V: Curtain Call 

I have always been relatively private with my affairs. I once joked to myself that the highest compliment I ever heard (from a casual friend, at our hometown library) was that no one really knows anything about me.

My defense: How do you tell someone, “My parents are kind of horrible people sometimes, mostly, and they don’t seem to know it.” and “I have spontaneous breakdowns in church because I believe I am damaged and unwanted and horrible.” and “It’s everything. Everything has made me this way.”

That’s just it. You don’t. And you certainly don't say the breakdowns haven't stopped or slowed down or disappeared even though you desperately fucking want them to. 

As my experiences with people have remained steadily negative over the years, varying in intensity, I’ve become even more withdrawn. Perhaps more prone now to hide information about who I’m with and, by extension, how I feel. And though I have no empirical study to share, I can say it doesn’t matter whether or not the person has identified as secular or religious. I’ve been treated just as poorly across the board. I just happen to socialize and prioritize atheists over theists when it involves a companionable preference.

But I’m left wondering how much responsibility I should take in every scenario. Do I deserve to be called names, cheated on, yelled at, hit, or emotionally manipulated? The answer is no. Do I deserve to be told I am inherently sinful, that I am unnatural, that I should be held to a higher ideal because of my gender and orientation? No.

And I’ve learned to walk away. Easier done with exes and strangers than those who, well, reared me, obviously. Some obligations are inescapable. Some problems go unresolved.

But regarding dating, do I sometimes deserve to be left, and could my conflicted upbringing play a role in my behavior, which leads to ending after ending? Yes. Absolutely.

I have a warped view of closeness. I do not know how to be gradual. If I’m invested enough psychologically, it is high-octane, 0-50mph, all-in, I love you I love you I love you but I can’t say so yet because that would be insane.

Even if I’m not listing out every single manic thought that passes, it shows in my demeanor.

And somehow, I’ve romanticized this. I have erected a bridge between my anxiety and my artistic nature as a justification for dysfunction, hyperactivity, frankly: being too much.

I’ve tried to rationalize my obsessive tendencies as productive.

Look at my GPA! Look at how many manuscripts I’ve got going! Look at all the groups I’m active in, my volunteer hours! Dual degree with a minor! Planning a graduate school application four semesters in advance! All my professors enjoy my presence! “Katrina is a joy to have in class.” My cat hasn’t had a periodontal disease ever which is rare because I am rigorous about maintaining his health! I can bake for six hours straight after a full day of work and won’t feel the oven burns because I’m so in the mood!

Fact: Some manifestations are better than others.

I pretend I don’t understand kindness, and endearment, and charm- at too loud a volume- can be insufferable. I pretend honesty and fluid communication and adjustments as recommended can fix everything. Na├»ve.

NewsflashFools rush 

I struggle, and I’ve been struggling, because I’ve been taught for so long that my value is bodily, and that my value isn’t bodily. I’ve been told to be independent, but to also consider marriage as a viable option. I’ve been told that condemnation should be expected, but not assumed, so long as I renounce my disbelief. I’ve been praised for being ‘on my own’ and all at once pitied because my conception of a night in entails primarily a) spooning my cat b) binge eating cheese and honey c) dreaming of someone to appreciate this roller-coaster of an unplanned pregnancy. I can be whoever; I can’t be whoever.

Let go and let God.
But God is not real.

Follow one social script, and not another.

It's either or; can't mediate, can't find a balance.  

Black and white thinking. Similar to catastrophism. I fall into it every day. I am not in therapy or on medication I need. I am black and white thinking. Everything is a jump forward. There are no transitions. (Which honestly explains my pain in writing English essays). 

I do not accept change easily, especially if it conflicts with the reality I’ve structured in my imagination. You can’t possibly mean this. Two weeks ago you said the opposite.

This is what indoctrinated sociological fallacies do to a person after prolonged exposure. This is what fear of rejection, fear of Hell, fear of intimacy, fear of coming out, and fear of mortality can amount to: an extreme adverse reaction to theology and simultaneously an inability to extricate its toxicity. When coupled with a tumultuous and unhappy adolescence, it can begin to feel irreversible. I am attuned to judgment and power and melancholy and it’s overwhelming.

Before I had friends, I had a binge eating disorder. Ostracism, too, will so contribute. I don’t have her anymore. I don’t have the cognitive dissonance Christianity inspired, either.

Instead, in its place, I have some quasi-intolerable disquietude that I believe might lurk beneath often disliking my shape, beneath feeling disheartened at the number of people who have disappointed (or deliberately hurt) me, beneath feeling separate from all of my familial roots, beneath insomnia and starving myself when stressed (a subset of what I hope is a diminishing compulsion), beneath the uncontrollable crying fits, beneath, even, the general sense of discontent.

It is my former religion as a pathology. It is my religion not letting me be, though I said goodbye years ago. It is my old religion whispering, “When will you be empty? After five romances, or eight, or ten? That many? Hmm? Have you had enough? Do you know you’re a fucking whore?” It is my parents echoing the voice of my internal bastard. 

The truth of the matter is, I’m still slowly working through the trauma of a not-so-pleasant household, of horrible men, of religion and how, no matter how far away I am, their individual, tenebrous grasps on my psyche continue and are inexplicably intertwined.

The more apparent truth is, if I had a more stable and secular view to start out, I might not be this way. I might have been taught to protect myself, and to resist basing my worth on the delusion of an imaginary source of forever affection so long as, so long as, so long as.

I might have been warned that love, no matter how desired, should never be conditional.

From that, I might have known that any undue violence, in any form from a person, should be as equally unacceptable as God’s imminent fury and immortal judgment.

I might not have so many panic attacks, induced by certain subjects and events. I might not be so neurotic and sensitive. I might not be so quietly fragile.

I have been terrified and I have been alone, and I have been angry. Can I tell you?

This is retrospective, but also a place of blame.

When I could not speak, I wept.

I wish someone had known it was not the Holy Spirit.








Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Too tolerant of tolerance?

            Many people may have heard about the recent controversy surrounding Ben Affleck and Sam Harris’s “debate” (if you can call Ben Affleck shouting “racist” over every word that came out of Harris’s mouth a debate) regarding the criticism of Islam. Harris argued that we should be able to freely criticize Islam because Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas” and its doctrine supports many terrible things. Affleck claimed that Harris is racist and disgusting and that it’s Islamophobic to criticize Islam.


            There are a ton of articles that go in-depth about why Sam Harris was right or wrong, (including Harris's own response to the controversy) and I believe that Harris was absolutely correct that people should be able to criticize Islam (or any religion for that matter) and it’s not Islamophobic. Harris kept attempting to point out that he was in no way attacking Muslims as people, but only Islam’s dangerous practices, such as a death sentence for apostasy. However, Affleck obviously didn't understand that (probably because he refused to listen to a word Harris said) and claimed that Harris was attacking individuals for their beliefs, when that wasn't actually the case.
            There is a huge difference between a religion and its followers, and people refuse to see that difference once a religion is criticized. The second someone condemns an aspect of a religion, many people claim that person is condemning every person who follows that religion. As one online commenter stated, we should “hold religions responsible for those who do evil in their name, but don’t hold the practitioners of the religions responsible for what other practitioners do.”
            I think the uproar that arose from Harris’s comments regarding Islam stems from the widespread belief that we need to tolerate everything and everyone no matter what. While I’m all for tolerance of people and their culture and customs, tolerance can be a very bad thing when taken too far. There are many customs and ideas that we should stand against and not tolerate, but it’s ingrained in us that if we protest another’s culture or belief, we are being prejudiced.
            Last year Leyla Hussein conducted her own experiment to see how far people would go in the name of political correctness. She went around London and asked people to sign a petition in support of female genital mutilation (FGM). She would tell them that she was trying to protect her culture, tradition, and rights, and that “it’s just mutilation”. 19 people signed the petition in only 30 minutes. They told Hussein that they didn’t actually support FGM, but that they would sign the petition to protect her culture.
            We need to learn to differentiate between criticizing dangerous and harmful practices and criticizing the people that support them. It is never okay to discriminate against or hate someone because of what they believe. It is okay, however, to condemn and hate the belief itself. I’m not just talking about Islamic practices. The KKK is a Christian organization, which is a fact most people overlook. If we have groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church and worse running around doing and saying horrible things because of the Bible, maybe we need to take a look at their motivations. Obviously most Christians are not horrible racists and a lot of them are good people, but you can’t deny that the Bible has some pretty racist and terrible practices in it. That doesn’t mean that all Christians believe in these practices, but the fact that groups of people do is an indicator that we should at least critically examine the doctrine. In a free and just society, we should be able to freely critique any religious doctrine, and not be accused of being prejudiced against the people who follow that religion.

            Tolerance of individuals is a must. Tolerance of their belief system is not. Once we get past the idea that we must tolerate everything or else we’re being prejudiced, the sooner we can critically evaluate outdated ideas and practices and become a better society.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Suffering and Religion

I'll admit it. I found out about Brittany Maynard from a click bait title on my Facebook feed. Hers has all of the parts of a perfect viral story: beautiful 29 year old with lethal brain cancer decides to legally end her life through the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon. Maynard's story is bringing back to life the debate surrounding the idea of physician-assisted suicide and the ethics of terminal patients willingly ending their own life instead of suffering through their disease.

Ever since the announcement last week, people from around the world have weighed in on the subject. I have ignored most of the discussion on the topic because this is, and should be, a personal decision. However, a religious friend of mine posted about a plea to Brittany to continue to live and dispose of her pill. This response caught my attention because it comes from another terminal cancer patient.

Kara Tippets, the author, suffers from breast cancer that is slowly killing her. Naturally, she should have some valued insight on fighting such a terrible disease and staying strong throughout the difficult treatments. Tippets instead says that Maynard's choice of action is not "what God intended". She further implores Maynard to stay alive because her suffering will bring beauty to her life. Maynard's doctors fed her a lie about the pain and suffering in dying of terminal brain cancer. Additionally, Tippets states that Jesus died and overcame the death that these women are facing in cancer. Jesus only wants to shepherd her to death the natural way.

After reading this response, I was speechless. Tippets is asking a woman making the most difficult decision of her life to change her mind because of the big guy in the sky. Tippet seems to think Maynard should suffer through losing her ability to walk, talk, eat, and control her bodily functions because Jesus will show her beauty in a horrific death. My first thought was "where is the beauty in losing the one thing we value the most, our mind?".

As I tried to piece together Tippet's train of thought from her post, I noticed one overarching idea. The promise of paradise in a religion overrides every other option. Religion tends to make people think that suffering is the only way to reach the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. I am not saying that people who believe in a deity would not chose to end their life like Brittany or vice versa. I am saying that religion has a funny way of deluding people into thinking that suffering a prolonged and painful death is worthwhile to potentially see Heaven. It is hard for secularists to wrap their mind around this concept because we do not have a paradise at the end of our lives. We just have a wooden box buried under six feet of dirt. For us, there is no beauty in the suffering of terminal cancer, only pain and sadness.

Whether or not Brittany goes through with her end-of-life plans, one thing is clear. The decision a terminal patient faces in this situation is difficult and emotional. If the individual decides to forgo suffering for a dignified death on their own terms, I believe that is their right. Religious people should not condemn patients for valuing their life over a potential paradise.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Preacherman's Past

Tommy Nugent is coming to U of I on October 29 to perform "Preacherman", the hilarious story of his journey from a youth minister to an atheist. Before you see his show, you should know a little more about his experience, so here it is.




Tommy was born into a household where his mother was religious, but not his father. Even so, he and his mother attended Baptist churches semi-regularly. Later on, his mother enrolled him in a private Baptist school from sixth grade through high school. From his Baptist high school, he went straight to North Central Bible College in Minneapolis.

During his time in college, his fear for his father's soul grew, and he cried over the idea of his father going to Hell. But then, at the end of one summer, Nugent was given the opportunity to give a sermon at his church; his dad attended church to hear it. Then, during the altar call, his dad stepped forward and committed to faith, and Nugent's fears became joy.

Nugent started his ministry and his work as a youth pastor right out of college at age 21; he moved to Detroit with two other pastors, and he soon had a congregation of over 100. At the time, he thought the Holy Spirit was calling him to do this. However, just two years later, he de-converted, and he now believes that what originally drew him to become a youth minister was actually a combination of his desire to be onstage, his desire to follow in the footsteps of his youth minister, and to have a job that would help the world.

Tommy Nugent will elaborate on and continue his story on October 29, so stay tuned for the hilarious "Preacherman" coming soon!