Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Trial with Prayer

I've never been a fan of prayer. My reasons being:

1. Ritual prayers delay feasting on holidays. It is torture when I haz the hungries. 
2. It's so hard to keep my eyes closed when I'm not sleeping. It makes me feel dizzy. 
3. Sometimes the prayers just stretch on and on and on, like that one time this woman at my cousin's school (who seemed to be punctuating her sentences with "Jesus" "Father" "Lord" and "God" and permutations of those titles instead of normal speech pauses) said the closing prayer for a service. It could have been a drinking game. It was that bad. 

Nonetheless, I thought I'd revisit prayer. To see what I might have missed. My experience as a ten year old feeling alone was likely an isolated incident. Results skewed. Need more evidence. As a college gal, who knows? My capacity for self-reflection at this point, I presume, is at a higher level. With the idea that something could be different, I started a week long, mental journey, and kept a log as I went. 

--

February 17th
I've decided to pray. But to whom, or what? As George Carlin had it, Joe Pesci's the go-to-guy but results will still be 50/50. I'm wondering what could happen. My therapist (before our sessions were cut off prematurely) prescribed me a thought and breathing exercise. Ten steps. A bit hard to remember. Mainly because I don't want to walk through ten different paragraphs about what I should do and think about to reach a state of calm. That just induces more stress. 

I want to take this seriously, but I can't conceive of a 'god.' The only life force I actively know is me. I guess I could start each one with "Dear self," and go from there. 

--

February 18th
Just finished a night-time mantra. I tried to combine silent prayer with slow, repetitive breathing exercises after a hot shower. It might just be my blood pressure is low because of my hypothyroidism. It might be due to the temperature shift from hot to cold. 

In this, so far, I still can't seem to feel connected to a deity, or spiritual ether. The word 'god' feels empty in my mouth. I say it, and it's a whisper. I think it, and it's a shelved thought. 

I recanted an altered version of the serenity prayer. It felt... familiar. I first encountered it on a floral bookmark I found in the "Large Print-Fiction" section of my hometown's library, and tucked it away into my tote, a long time ago. I might still have it. I was later informed it's often introduced to recovering alcoholics in AA meetings. I don't find that wise, but, oh well. 

"Lord, grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

I've had it memorized for years. There are only a few I can still recall without error. Just one of those things, I guess. The piece feels like an exercise in complicity, but prayer itself is not entirely distasteful. Psychosomatic or not, it's becoming a time for me, in my head, to externalize rather than internalize. Which is likely more healthy. 

I don't ask for forgiveness. I don't ask for family members' health to improve. I ask myself to be more careful in what I say, to be more kind. And then I tell myself life will turn out fine. I think of how big the world is, how transient my presence, the insignificance of my issues. I tell myself, "Don't worry." I follow with, "At least, not so much." 

--

February 20th
I am wondering today where spirituality began. The concept of it, I mean. I'm wondering as well how prayer got paired with it. And when was the hand-folding introduced? I always thought it weird, and a little intrusive. It doesn't feel like a natural thing to do. Then again, the way people pray varies from culture to culture (or society to society), and I guess I never paused to think, "Gee, why is that done?"

I find myself falling into a sort of living sleep, when I pray to my self. I'm comforted most when repeating, "Nothing really matters." I wonder why. Does it free me from responsibility? 

--

As it stands, prayer seems like a much more complicated thing than I had initially assumed. Mainly because, in my own personal quest, I had to first identify why I was praying, how I would pray, what the prayers were for, and what the expectations would be. As an atheist, I had no expectations of divine intervention or miracles, enlightenment or visions. But, prayer isn't just an act of worship, or a 'hello' or a list of wants and concerns. 

As Rabbi Steven Weil defines tefilah (the root of which is reflexive, take, for example: l’hitpallel) prayer is an act, on some level, for the individual.  In a speech at the Orthodox Union World Headquarters, he said, "We're analyzing and judging ourselves." 

Prayer, while also used as a supplement to meditation and physical activities such as yoga, appears to have a function beyond engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Regardless, I've discovered that writing in a journal, reading a really good book, running for long periods of time, and relaxing baths of a borderline-unsafe-temperature-leaving-me-pink provide a similar effect. 

Prayer (or, more appropriately in this case, self-reflection and analysis) might not cure depression, societal ills, or my mother's anemia, but it does allow me a conduit of clarity and focus I otherwise have difficulty achieving. For me, it's not a a connection with 'god' but self-generated and self-perceived purposefulness of thought. That's what does something for me.

In the future, I likely won't call this prayer, mostly because of the connotations. But there is something about directly addressing my self, my essence, which forces me to think differently about meditation, why I meditate, and why I meditate alone.

Maybe everyone needs a kind of release. An unfettering. Even just for a moment.




Monday, February 24, 2014

The Real Scandal


                So there's a scandal at Duke University. Everyone is titillated. The gossip mills are running wild. Polite society is aghast...at the wrong thing.



                A freshman at Duke *gasp* makes porn. Not amateur, boyfriend posts your pictures online after a breakup porn, but legitimate lights-camera-action porn. She's a consenting adult paying her way through college. And since being recognized this semester, she's been the target of slander and gossip. In a well written blog post, she describes some of it:

                 "...[I was] brutally bullied and harassed online. I did not expect that every private detail about my life would be dissected. I did not expect that my intelligence and work ethic would be questioned and criticized. And I certainly did not expect that extremely personal information concerning my identity and whereabouts would be so carelessly transmitted through college gossip boards. I was called a 'slut who needs to learn the consequences of her actions,' a 'huge f***ing whore,' and, perhaps the most offensive, 'a little girl who does not understand her actions.'”
               
                She goes on to say that she knows exactly what she's doing, and discusses the importance of treating sex workers like people and not demeaning them. And she is absolutely right. Sex workers are in the sex trade doing various things, for various reasons. Some of them are like her, happy and in the industry consensually. Many are not. But if we treat all sex workers like the scum of the earth and dismiss them as whores with daddy issues, we're not helping anyone. If we treat them all like slaves doing this against their will, we're demeaning those who choose to be in the sex trade. We need to approach the sex industry with an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism. The people coerced into the industry need help, but they also need to be treated well and with respect. Elizabeth Smart, the girl who was kidnapped and raped for 12 years, never tried to run away because she thought she was worthless for having been raped. How many unwilling sex workers no longer try to escape their hellish reality because they feel the same way? The Duke girl is in porn willingly and happily, but what kind of example is the Duke community setting for all those girls and guys who aren't? They're being told that anyone in the sex trade, ever, is worthless. If the girl who goes to university and pays her bills with porn is worthless, what is a prostitute trapped in a dirty brothel worth?

                I think a lot of hate directed at sex workers stems from a religious background and culture. Having sex outside of marriage, much less on camera for money, is condemned, especially for women. Maybe if we get rid of some of the stigma surrounding enjoying sex and focused on treating people like people, we would have a better shot at tackling some of the real issues in the sex trade. Like human trafficking and sex slaves.

                The girl at Duke shouldn't be the scandal. The people harassing her and making her life miserable should be. I can only hope she keeps her head high, and enjoys graduating college debt free.





For anyone who's interested, here's a link to her blog post.

Friday, February 21, 2014

How Reliable Are The Gospels?

Many Christians I’ve talked to say that the reason they are Christians is because of the validity of the Gospels. They claim that the Gospels are clear proof of Jesus’s divinity and of the resurrection because the Gospels are four firsthand, eyewitness accounts of these things. Furthermore, these accounts were written by different people in different places, and yet they agree with each other on many key ideas. This is clear evidence of their reliability and truth.

This is a popular belief and argument among modern Christians, but it’s simply not true.

The Gospels were written by anonymous authors who never actually claimed to be eyewitnesses. Furthermore, the Gospels were written decades and even lifetimes after Jesus’s death. Mark was written ~40 years after Jesus’s death, Matthew ~60 years after, Luke ~70 years after, and John ~80 years after. Some sources put these dates even later.


Furthermore, and here’s the real kick in the teeth, the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel written, and then Luke and Matthew were adapted from it as well as the theoretical “Q document”, and possibly some oral traditions as well. This theory of the origin of these Gospels is the most widely accepted theory among Biblical scholars. 

Illustration of the Mark-Q Theory

The Gospel of John is written very differently from the other three Gospels, and no one is sure who wrote it, although there is evidence that John is a composite work. The Gospel of John also contains many gnostic elements, that is, ideas that arose around/in response to the formation of early Christianity, well after Jesus’s death, which is interesting given that other Gospels have been rejected by ancient and modern Christians alike largely because of their gnostic elements.

All that being said, it should now be clear that the Gospels are NOT four inter-confirming accounts of Jesus’s life and death; two of them are simply copies of and additions to one original account that was written by a NON-eyewitness who wrote his account 40 years after the events it describes. The remaining Gospel, that of John, was written anonymously at least 80 years after Jesus’s death, contains many gnostic elements, and may also be a composite work.

And finally, the original manuscript of Mark does not say anything about Jesus appearing to anyone after his resurrection. It simply says that Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away, and a young boy sitting in the tomb told her that Jesus had risen. And then it ends. Remember, this Gospel was the first one written, and it originally contained no account of Jesus’s postmortem appearances.

One more thing: over the course of history, the Gospels have been edited, added to, reworked, and reordered for various social and political reasons. For example, that line in John which says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, that was added 300 years after John was first written.

And yet, despite all these problems, Christians believe that the Gospels are clear proof of Jesus’s divinity and of the resurrection.

As a thought experiment, imagine your friend comes up to you and says that she and three other friends of yours saw aliens flying around, and then the aliens landed their spaceship and walked around. Would you believe her? Maybe.

Now imagine that she actually didn’t witness the event herself, and neither did your other friends. Instead, they read eyewitness accounts of these events in two different books, one from the 1840s, and one from the 1880s. Well, not eyewitness accounts, in fact, your friends don’t really know who wrote the books, nor do the authors ever claim to BE eyewitnesses.
Now imagine that the aliens are said to have landed in the year 1800, which means the first book was written a full 40 years after the event, and the second book was written at least 80 years after the event.

Now imagine that the part of the story where the aliens landed and walked around was added in the 1850s, and was not part of the original story.

Now imagine that your friends didn’t actually read the original books. Instead, they read copies of copies of copies of the original books, and was well known that these copies underwent many changes throughout the years, most notably, the landing of the spaceship being added later.



If all this were presented to you, would you believe that aliens really did land their spaceship and walk around in the year 1800? I don’t think so. So why do Christians believe this exact same story when you simply replace “aliens” with “Jesus” and “walked around” with “performed miracles”?

It is for these reasons that the Gospels are not good evidence of the divinity of Jesus, or of the resurrection. 


Sources:

1 - Gospels are anonymous.
http://www.christianbiblereference.org/jintro.htm

2 - Gospels are anonymous.
Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.

3 - None of the Gospels claim to be eyewitnesses.
http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2012/09/15/gospels-anonymous-or-not/

4 - A timeline of the authorship of the Gospels.
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html

5 - A timeline of the authorship of the Gospels.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/gospels.html

6 - Mark-Q Theory
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/485332/Q

7 - The Mark-Q theory is the most widely accepted theory. 
http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/q.cfm

8 - Mark verses 9-20 were added later.
Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 123. 

"Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them."

"The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (? and B), 20 from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, 21 and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written a.d. 897 and a.d. 913)."

9 - Mark verses 9-20 were added later. 
Bible Gateway
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+16&version=NIV

10 - Mark verses 9-20 were added later.
Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus.HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Empty Tomb, Appearances & Ascension" p. 449-495.

11 - Shorter AND Longer endings to Mark were additions to the original text. 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/theoldestbible/pip/9vwi1/

12 - John is different and possibly a composite.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/304610/Gospel-According-to-John

13 - Edits to John, "He who is without sin cast the first stone". 
http://www.nola.com/religion/index.ssf/2011/03/changes_to_the_bible_through_the_ages_are_being_studied_by_new_orleans_scholars.html

14 - Adulterous woman story was added later.
http://www.rationalskepticism.org/christianity/historical-jesus-t219-33520.html

15 - John is a composite work not intended to be taken literally.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/gospel-of-john-what-everyone-knows-about-the-fourth-gospel_b_3422026.html

Sunday, February 16, 2014

All in 'God's Plan'?



When people turn to a god when a death occurs, I can’t help but to wonder why. I mean, I can see the supposed comfort in picturing this person to be in a ‘better’ place, but overall—wouldn’t the false promise of religion be a negative concept in the mess of the situation?

            So, theoretically speaking, your friend, family member, or classmate dies and you suddenly ‘see the light,’ feeling a connection to your god like never before. But why? This god—this creator, controller of all—just made the conscious decision that your friend, this person should die. All excuses aside, he plotted and planned this person’s death, or at the least did nothing to prevent it. Why run to some higher being who is at best a very guilty bystander or at worse a glorified killer?

            Then arises the theory of “God’s plan”—that there is some reason behind this terrible situation in the larger scheme of things. Yet, that idea seems pretty hard to swallow blindly. Two girls get in a car wreck—one lives, one dies. Haha! It’s all just part of God’s plan. You see, God wanted this girl to never experience anything past high school, and for her family—especially her 5-year-old sister—to feel the devastation brought on by her death. As for the girl who lived, that’s right—God planned for her to think back on that day in agony, to wonder why it wasn’t her and often wish she were the one who died. Yes, It was all just a plan to make countless people suffer and to suddenly kill a young girl fresh out of high school. Makes sense.

            A third popular claim is that this person sends ‘signs’ from their new better place. Yes, instead of God allowing this person to live, he decided to send very vague signals of him or her for us to cherish. The girl who died lost her phone at the side of the road, and the family considered prayers answered when they found it—the phone a sign from God. Wonderful, it was a great thing that God did, being careful enough to place that phone while the young girl was dying. And, he was even nice enough to send ambiguous signals such as sunshine or a passing butterfly for us to interpret as more ‘signs.’ Because instead of giving us a tangible person to interact with, God thought it’d be neat to send fleeting signals of their former selves.

            Over the summer, shortly after my high school graduation—exactly this happened. Two of my classmates, my friends, were in a car wreck together. Speeding to make curfew and for some reason, not wearing seat belts, they were ejected from the car while swerving to miss a deer. One of them survived and the other was killed nearly instantly—leaving friends and family, including—yes, her 5-year-old sister, in shock. While my friends bonded together and professed their love of God, I couldn’t help but to feel sad and alone. I wasn’t happy that she had gone to a better place, I couldn’t accept the idea that it was all part of a plan, and I definitely couldn’t see the signs of her ‘watching over me.’ I was pissed—confused. I could never attribute a situation like this to a higher power because I could never swallow the idea that a controller of all—this pure and good being—would cause this death and all the pain and suffering that came with it.

            This awful, real situation essentially ‘sealed the deal’ for me in my atheism. As I struggled with the death of my friend and the immensity of the situation—the pain it had caused others—I couldn’t help but to think that if there was such a higher power, it was too horrible to comprehend. Concluding that no higher power—no all-righteous being—could have consciously caused this detriment, I came to the conclusion that there was no such being. That this was just a shitty situation and that life took a terrible turn for this young girl  and that she was gone forever and that I was sad. While I don’t abhor people for their coping mechanisms nor disregard efforts to grasp this terrible situation, I can never truly understand why so many turn to God. If I were a believer, trying to put this into religious perspective would only bring blame and contempt. For if there were a higher plan, it would be the source of the death and the pain.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Atheist Portrayal in Fantasy

     For those of you who watched the Nye vs. Ham debate this week, you might have heard that there's a book that quite a few people really enjoy reading. It's not for me, but a lot of attention was paid to this book...especially by Mr. Ham. In his way of thinking, this book (hint: it's the Bible) was so absolute in its authority that it was both the beginning and end of most of his scientific questions. The Science Guy disagreed quite strongly, arguing that no one book from that long ago, translated dozens of times, etc. could truly be correct. All this discussion over the validity of the Bible got me thinking...what examples of atheists are there in every atheist's favorite fantasy novel? What did modern fantasy books say about atheists?

     It might come as a surprise to most of you who have not read the books, but religious significance in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe is very, very minimal. Really, check it out. Unlike certain other dead white dude authors (here's looking at you, C.S. Lewis), Tolkien not only doesn't include any overt nods to the power and/or righteousness of Christianity, he doesn't include any semi-familiar "good guy religions" that act as a surrogate for the books' "good Christians". Other than a very few vague mentions of Il├║vatarism when he assures us that the main characters all worship the same deity (who might be an actual person and/or Silmaril), there's no religious content to the books at all--the main characters don't seem to care much about religion, and the Bad Guy likewise. The most popular fantasy series of all time is all about secular characters.

     Some modern fantasy series, like A Song of Ice and Fire, have a lot of religious (or maybe just supernatural) stuff, but even these novels don't hold themselves to a particular standard of always enforcing Christian morals or whatever else. The Red God in the books definitely [SPOILERS] actually has magic powers [END SPOILERS], but besides that particular interesting case, the world seems more or less non-magical. Although one of the themes of the books is definitely the slow introduction of magic and supernatural stuff to an otherwise mundane world, the Christian analog in the books, with the septs and the Stranger and the rest of the gang, actually does pretty poorly for itself most of the time. What a win for the characters (and there are lots of them) in the books who don't believe in the gods--they were right the whole time. This kind of portrayal is good stuff--let's not forget that Game of Thrones was the single most pirated thing last year.

     A few other fantasy series of note, such as The Wheel of Time, the Riddlemaster series, Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials do their best to mention religion as little as possible--despite being thoroughly fleshed-out, people in these books just don't devote a lot of time to matters of spirituality. Even in The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan doesn't really ever teach us much about the Creator (good guy deity) or the Dark One (duh) other than letting us know we should probably not trust somebody who's known as the Dark One.

     Literary analysis isn't my bag, so I'm not going to attempt to find any trends or get excited about a lack of Christian overtones in my favorite novels; let other people do all of the read-between-the-lines and Christian literature conspiracy stuff. But, for those of you out there who still manage to have time to read books for pleasure, not business, once in a while, don't worry too much about Ken Ham's book...there are lots of cooler ones out there to read.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Women and Atheism and Anthropology Oh My

In Jen McCreight's article on the launching of a 'Reverend' Barbie, thanks to Ohioan Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, she announced, "Man, why should religious people get to have all the fun? I want an atheist Barbie!" 

I am on board with that. It would be great to see something aside from Princess-y dolls in Toys R' Us. 

But... what does a female atheist look like? According to this image (courtesy of Blag Hag), she looks like a critical thinker. Aside from the overtly humorous aspects (the lunch being a baby, and the no-pants-ready-for-orgies thing), it raises a wider question about women and atheism and our collective image. 

The field is, much like the world of science, a bit flooded with men. 

I'm sure most of you can tell me Bill Nye was just on Dancing with the Stars. I'm sure most of you can tell me that Neil deGrasse Tyson was likely the first African American physicist to be interviewed as a specialist on television. I'm sure you can tell me about Bill Maher's documentary Religulous. I'm sure a good number of you can also tell me more about Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Darwin, and Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton than you can any crucial female atheists. 

Honestly, I had to do some digging myself too. It was an excruciating ten second session with Google.

Women just don't receive the same amount of attention. And it's not that the information is not out there. It just seems that the interest in women as strong, feminist, atheist figures isn't. 

Take, for example, Madalyn Murray O'Hair (who founded American Atheists and the first issues of the magazine). She is the reason the Supreme Court ruled to end official Bible-reading in American public schools, as of 1963 (which began as the Murray vs. Curlett lawsuit). She was deemed by Life magazine the year after the ruling as "the most hated woman in America." 

And yet, most individuals of our generation have never heard of her. Even after she, her son, and granddaughter were kidnapped for ransom and then gruesomely murdered in 1995 by an employee of the foundation she started after O'Hair caught on to an embezzlement scheme. While the case made headlines, Madalyn Murray O'Hair's legacy didn't. It seems as if America attends more to the overdoses of celebrities than people who care and subsequently affect national politics. 

Well, that's 'old news' people said. She was from a different 'era' according to some articles. Perhaps that's reasonable, but I could only understand the silence if she had passed away from cardiac arrest or something. The nature of her death could be classified as  borderline hate-crime. But women's safety- especially atheist women's safety- has yet to be a major discussion in our community. 

What about someone who had more public reach? Diana Wynne Jones, the author of Howl's Moving Castle (which gained much popularity due to the 2004 animated film adaptation), openly stated in her autobiography, "In fact I had little to do with the church otherwise because I settled my religious muddles by deciding that I had better be an atheist." 

It's not like we're sneaking around about our atheism. There are many who've made their lack-of-beliefs public knowledge. 

So, pardon me, but why the focus on males? 

Where's the discussion on female atheist feminists and the varying types? Where are the panels highlighting atheist women's opinions on current issues like insurance for contraception, legalizing abortion, relationships, pregnancy leave (or the lack there of in the United States), sociocultural debates and research, public and private education, the advancement of women in fields which claim them as minorities, and so on? Where are the books on this stuff? 

I have no trouble finding feminist literature. I have no trouble finding books on the aforementioned topics. I have trouble finding feminist/atheist literature that goes beyond describing what atheist feminism is. I also have trouble finding literature on the perspectives of women who identify as atheists, but not feminists. 

When it comes to being women and atheists, if we're vocal and no one listens, what's the point? On top of being relatively ignored in literature and the media, often we're forced to closet ourselves or tip-toe around friends and family about our convictions. It has an effect on our mentalities, our general outlooks, our sense of political efficacy, and how we express ourselves. And I think, perhaps, gender is part of that. 


It's hard to be powerful women when our role models are turned into temporary heroines who, in the end, haven't been able to change much on a large scale, and get very little credit when they do. 

When it comes to the stereotypes, who's going to combat them but us? (Although, to be fair, that Snopes detail is spot on and I am not ashamed). And when it comes to remembering the women who have paved the way for what could be classified as the "Atheist Movement" if you will, who is going to give women commendation where it is due? Maybe a few men, but clearly, the majority of men in positions of power have not deemed it part of their agenda to honor and reference seriously bad ass ladies of the past and present (unless it's for some form of political gain). 

What binds us as a culture, among all the other various life factors? When it comes to 'evangelical' atheism, how might women differ in the approach? 

We could hand out "God and Satan Aren't Real: Tell Your Folks" cards with candy on Halloween, but that's a little forward. (I would totally do it though, despite the ominous egg-ings).  

Maybe we need to call up a few resident anthropologists and propose that we, as a society, are worthy of their research and subsequent studies on our specific demographics. 

Of the forty interest groups of study classified by the American Anthropology Association, none involve atheists. But there's always SAR: the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. 

As a woman, as a feminist, as an atheist, as a writer and aspiring anthropologist: I'm getting real tired of this shit. If it's true that anthropologists tend to focus on indigenous cultures or 'minorities' (partly for preservation, partly due to interest) then how in the world have atheists been swept like dry bread crumbs off the table? How is it our own community is lacking in terms of recognition and remembrance? (Boo, the patriarchy!) 

Overall, the indifference with which we are treated is beyond irresponsible. It's disrespectful. It says we, as atheist women, don't matter enough to be part of the conversation. It says we, as humans, are apparently not worthy of in-depth research. 

I'm all for changing that. 




Sisters in Faith


While the relationship between sisters can almost always be categorized as—unique, I like to think that my relationship to my sister Michelle is a special entity in itself. Like many siblings, we do socially unacceptable things in public together. Our 'pet' names for each other are expletives. We are best friends. However, the strangest part about our relationship is that although I am 3 years her senior, I look up to her. She is mature, level-headed, and sure of ALL of her opinions nearly to the point of bull-headedness. Even further, at only 15 she is able to do something I am still afraid of doing at 18: she is open about her atheism.

Growing up—as we both did—in a town of 1500 people, judgment is the norm, a source of entertainment even. This judgment—or fear of judgment—is learned, passed down from generation to generation. And sadly, it has been engrained in me that it is better to keep quiet rather than disrupt the peace, the social order. I can overcome this fear and go against the grain in situations I deem small—such as protesting my hatred of the beloved country music. However, in a town with 7 churches where religion is a known, defining factor and being catholic is a source of discontent—I am yet to overcome the fear of being honest about my atheism. So engrained, I even carry it into my large, liberal college life—afraid of my peers being as close-minded as those in my hometown. Maybe because she is obstinate, or maybe because lying would inconvenience her—Michelle has never even let the fear of judgment touch her. Despite still living in this small, critical down—she really doesn’t give a shit.

At 15 I was more worried about keeping the peace and doing the 'acceptable' thing than about exploring my own growing doubts with the church, often denying my skepticism even to myself. Michelle, on the other hand, openly questioned the religion she was raised with long before that. Now—at her 15—she is emboldened in her non-belief, in the skepticism that feels right for her. In a town where religion is a defining pillar of social status, she is open about her atheism to anyone who asks. She lays it out on the table, expecting—as she should—for people to accept her no matter her beliefs. Speaking with conviction, she does not back from her opinions when faced with disbelief or opposition. Michelle is amazing, brought up in a town where social pressure--particularly religious pressure—is so great, she is open, honest, and opinionated about her atheism—a feat I still cannot conquer.

At 18—I still often fear others' opinion of my atheism. Although I now am comfortable enough to mention the subject, I cannot muster the courage to talk with conviction. Rather than expecting people to accept my atheism even if they don't agree, I expect the worst—holding back my opinions. In other words, I strive to be more like my sister. To be open and honest about my atheism. I endeavor to worry less about others judgment and expect my peers to accept me. I want to let go of the meekness I use when speaking to others about my atheism, and to hold my opinions with conviction. I strive to be more like Michelle, an open, honest, opinionated atheist.

Sisterly Shenanigans