Friday, March 18, 2011

Jesus Camp, Apostasy Begins

It's about time I retold my apostasy story.  Here's how it all began.

I attended a private Catholic high school. Once per year, in an environment similar to this, we would have “revivals” to enrich our spiritual lives. My senior year was most impressive, as this “Christian Awakening Retreat” was a three-day event. I went to Jesus Camp.

I’d like to share with you my experience at the Christian Awakening Retreat. First, the retreat was shrouded in secrecy. The entire senior class could not all participate at once, so sections went at a time. Although the participants would come back obviously rattled, not one would speak of the activities. All was left to rumor and speculation, which at a high school can produce very imaginative images indeed. The only real evidence that one could see was the Jerusalem Cross everyone wore after going to the retreat. This must be something of great importance. I still have mine. I’ll describe it more later.

One main difference in my retreat and this one was we did not speak in tongues. It was an emotional rollercoaster, though. I remember the first thing we did was sit down at a bunch of tables. A box of Kleenex tissues had been placed on each one. We all felt this was a bit weird. One by one, a letter from our parents was read. Each letter told the child how much his/her parents loved him/her, and how proud they were of their child’s development as a Christian. Each letter left the recipient in tears. Many cried just listening to the outpour of love from these letters. I admit I was moved by my own, for a moment. Later that evening I felt the whole thing had been a bit too orchestrated, but I dismissed this, and looked forward to the next day’s events.

I should point out that one of the main themes of all these retreats was, “You get out of this what you put into it.” I was determined to get the most out of this; after all, participation had cost a few hundred dollars. I really wanted this to get my money’s worth, and I felt this was a great opportunity to ask some of those bugging questions I had about my faith. I went in knowing this was going to make or break me as a Christian. If only I had known how right I was.

The next day was rather uneventful, except for one of my teacher’s story about his son. His son was a few years behind me, but I knew how he was. He was hard to miss. I wasn’t aware of the circumstances of his birth, and his father described it in grueling detail. He had been born with serious defects. At birth, he had no lower jaw, and his face seemed to just disappear beneath his nose. It required numerous surgeries, all performed while he was an infant, just to get him to look human. All these procedures had left him looking a bit different, so you can see why I’d be able to pick him out of a crowd. But I knew he was a good kid, even if we never spoke.

What grabbed me most about this teacher’s story was how the birth of his son threw him for a spiritual loop. He admitted to leaving Catholicism for a while to explore other options. He explained that after looking into other faiths, he found Catholicism to be the best choice for him. This was exactly what I wanted to hear. Someone had taken the journey I was about to begin and had some to the conclusion I thought I wanted. This was very encouraging.

That evening was also an opportunity for Reconciliation, or Confession. For those of you who don’t know, Catholics believe that not only does God have the authority to forgive sins, so too do priests. To have your sins forgiven by a priest is called Reconciliation, or Confession. You tell the priest all your sins, and they are forgiven. Sometimes, a penance is required. This is some prayer or action that you must do to atone for your sins. Something like, “Say five ‘Our Fathers’ and ten ‘Hail Marys’” and you’re golden again. You may know that the priest cannot talk about what you confess. To do so would be a violation of their sacred vows. And we all know how seriously all priests take those vows.

Fresh from the story of how one of my teachers had left the faith only to return, I asked the priest in Confession about some of my problems with faith. The priest told me that these questions came from Satan, and that I should simply pray that God would give me the strength to fight them. Normally, Confession left me with a sense of peace; this time it left me with a sense that I would not be returning to the Confessional. I was right. I never even completed my penance.

On the final evening, we received those Jerusalem Crosses. This is a cross with four smaller crosses in each corner. This cross was worn in the Crusades. It symbolizes the spread of Christianity to the four corners of the earth. My retreat leaders, however, encouraged each of us to find our own meaning for our cross. When I spoke with friends about what meaning they had assigned to their cross, I was stunned to find that without consoling each other, we had all assigned the same meaning: this cross represented me, and all that I am and all I ever will be. I realized that the cross was insignificant. I was already me.

I left the retreat knowing this was to be the last big Christian thing I would ever do. I think even my parents understood this. When everyone else ran bawling to their parents, I kept thinking, “But parents are SUPPOSED to love their kids. This shouldn’t be some great revelation. Why is everyone acting like this has changed something?” Clearly, I “didn’t get it”.

Today, I look back on this Christian Awakening Retreat as a truly awakening retreat. It was here that I realized I would never accept this faith as my own. So while Jesus Camp is revolting, keep in mind that I went there, and began revolting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parents vs.Children

I originally wrote this for my MySpace blog a little over 2 years ago.  If anyone is aware of the current status of the US ratifing this treaty, please let me know.

I’d been hearing a lot about this Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) thing. Apparently, the United States and Somalia are the only two nations that have not ratified this UN treaty. This treaty proposes that we give children rights, and this has some Christians angry and scared. I looked at treaty and this is what I think.

When I started reading up on this topic, I really had no idea why the idea of children having rights was so scary to believers. I didn’t know if this was based on some weird scripture passage, (like when Christians oppose gay marriage) or if it was based on dogma (like when they teach abstinence only sex education). I mean, even Christians want what is best for their kids, right?

Let’s talk about the criticisms of the CRC. These come from Lead by Michael Farris, this group outlines the following as the perils of giving children rights. I respond in italics. Original text is bold.

“Ten things you need to know about the substance of the CRC:”

• Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children.

o I can’t find this language in the treaty. Maybe I am not reading it properly, but I really tried to find this, because I think making spanking a federal offence is silly. But that might be why I don’t actually see this in the treaty. Because it is FALSE. If someone can point out to me how the treaty bans spanking, please let me know.

• A murderer aged 17 years and 11 months and 29 days at the time of his crime could no longer be sentenced to life in prison.

o I’m okay with this.

• Children would have the ability to choose their own religion while parents would only have the authority to give their children advice about religion.

o Oh, yeah! I REALLY dig this!

• The best interest of the child principle would give the government the ability to override every decision made by every parent if a government worker disagreed with the parent’s decision.

o If a parent is unwilling or unable to make decisions that ARE indeed in the best interest of the child, someone has to do so.

• A child’s “right to be heard” would allow him (or her) to seek governmental review of every parental decision with which the child disagreed.

o This is a bit of a stretch. I mean, the treaty DOES say they the child will be heard and given consideration based upon the age and maturity of the child. I highly doubt you will see court case where 4-year-olds are questioning an 8:30pm bedtime.

• According to existing interpretation, it would be illegal for a nation to spend more on national defense than it does on children’s welfare.

o Awww. You mean we would have to make children a bigger priority than war? Well that’s just a terrible idea!

• Children would acquire a legally enforceable right to leisure.

o I’m okay with this. Are there seriously parents who would refuse to allow their children to play? I’m not talking about discipline. Neither is the treaty. It acknowledges that play is vital to a child’s growth.

• Teaching children about Christianity in schools has been held to be out of compliance with the CRC.


• Allowing parents to opt their children out of sex education has been held to be out of compliance with the CRC.


• Children would have the right to reproductive health information and services, including abortions, without parental knowledge or consent.


So these are the complaints, eh? I hardly see a threat here at all, but Farris is terrified. He has drafted an Amendment to the Constitution to block this. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen. We’re going to amend to the Constitution so we don’t have to protect our children. Right.

I’d like to propose why Farris and those who agree with him are so scared. We see more and more parents refusing to give their children medical treatment and praying for them instead. This treaty would obviously put a quick end to that nonsense. When parents want to indoctrinate their children with creationist or intelligent design foolishness, this treaty would keep such discussions outside the science classroom, even if that classroom was the child’s living room. It would abolish the death penalty for children. Yes, Texas likes to put children to death. The United States has more children on death row than any other country in the UN. This treaty would solve that problem. It would also end abstinence only sex education for good. Our tax dollars would finally be paying for real, honest and comprehensive sex education.

As a parent, my first instinct is always to protect my children. But we all know there are parents out there that just plain suck. If you pray for a cold to go away instead of giving a child a hot bowl of chicken soup, you’re the parent that sucks. If you feel threatened in any way by your child learning about evolution and science, you are a sucky parent. If you think children deserve the death penalty, you REALLY suck. This treaty is designed to protect children from you.

Fortunately, we are close to ratifying this treaty. Hillary Clinton was a big supporter of the treaty when her husband signed it as president. Now, she, as Secretary of State, is responsible to present it to congress. I look forward to its presentation soon, and expect it to breeze through the process. President Obama said it was embarrassing for the US to find itself alone with Somalia in not ratifying the treaty, calling Somalia a lawless state.

Giving rights to children should not threaten us as parents, unless we know we suck and recognize this treaty will force us to admit it and change.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Apathy, Agnosticism, and other synonyms

For those of you who may be new to my blog, I am not one of those “agnostic atheists”. Those would be people who say they don’t know if there is a god, but do not believe there is a god. I am an atheist, and I know there is no god. If you think that makes me a Bad Atheist, then so be it.

The other day I got into the whole agnostic vs atheist debate again. This time, the agnostic was not a weenie theist nor a weenie atheist, but an apathetic weenie. He wanted me to believe that he couldn’t care less about the existence of god to call himself either a theist or an atheist, and was therefore an agnostic. I asked him if believing things that are true mattered to him, and he said no. He didn’t care. So the conversation ended. If you don’t care if what you believe to be true is actually true, then conversation is meaningless.

Now, I get some slack for being critical of agnostics. Generally, these people understand and fight for the separation of church and state. They understand what science is and why intelligent design is not science. They get how dangerous religious belief can be. They don’t indoctrinate their kids; they value freedom. So of all the people I could criticize, why the people who agree with me 99% of the time? Well, because no one likes a moderate.

Most of the agnostics I’ve met are trying to sit on a fence that does not exist. They don’t like the adversarial nature of the “hard atheist” and want to appear neutral. But they are not. Look, I think people should have the right to believe whatever they choose. I think the SCOTUS did a good job when they ruled in favor of the Westboro nutbags right to say outrageous things at soldiers’ funerals. But that does not mean that I do not have the right to call their hate speech despicable. And I feel obligated to do so, because they are an example of how faith harms everyone.

And no one is apathetic to the Westboro nutbags. They show us how high the price for free speech is. No one just shrugs a shoulder when they hear they intend to picket a funeral of a loved one.

So, to the self-proclaimed agnostics out there: there is no fence. Either you believe, or you don’t. Like the “true neutral” in D&D, there are no agnostics. Are you agnostic about Thor or Zeus? What about dragons, leprechauns, basilisks, or chimeras? Are there other mythical creatures you claim you don’t know if they exist or not? How do you “know” anything?

Another word synonymous with agnosticism? Disingenuous.