PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In a Jewish family, religion comes through mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

marilyn baker 2

Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.

 

How sweetly they sing …

From Wild for Wildlife and Nature.

Our fur kids like to sing along with “Amazing Grace.” And it seems so appropriate for them!

And then she said …

I have a very dear friend who is going through the most terrible time of her life, yet her Christian faith has never wavered. She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other, even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and took a sip from her cup.

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe especially then.

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Angels and Oxymorons Abounding

I love this time of year. The holidays bring out the pious hypocrite in us. It’s delightful watching people mouth platitudes in which they obviously don’t believe. There we are, deploring the crass commercialism of the holiday season, how they have become nothing but a huge excuse for everyone to spend too much money. Then we jump in the car and race to the mall to buy those last-minute gifts.

Truth is as bright and flashy as the trees we love to decorate: we adore commercialism. Our national sport is shopping. Christmas is one humongous discount bargain bin and everyone accepts credit cards. All that glitters is not gold, but we don’t care.

What we deplore is not commercialism. We just hate not having enough money to dive into the season and pile those gift boxes high. To quote Tom Lehrer, “Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy.” If you live in the U.S., it’s inescapable.

When I was a kid, I so envied my Christian neighbors. They had Christmas trees and lights and presents to open. They had Santa Claus. I wanted it too.

Which makes this a perfect time for me to annoy you by pointing out what everyone already knows: Christ was not born at Christmas. Current thinking is probably sometime in the spring.  The Yule celebration predates Judaism and Christianity. Our most beloved seasonal  symbols — Christmas trees — have no religious significance for any living religion. It’s a symbol of a faith long since faded to fable. We love the trees, the lights and those stacks of boxes wrapped in pretty paper and bows. Let the games commence. The holidays are upon us. Spend today and figure out how to pay it off tomorrow. Holidays bring out the pagan in us. Just admit it already.

Not being brought up with Christmas has given me a running start on understanding the spirit of the season. I got to celebrate Christmas because my first husband, may he rest in peace, was not Jewish. He wasn’t much of a Christian either. To the best of my knowledge, his family had never attended any church, but identified themselves as vaguely Protestant, though which denomination they could not say. But they were very big on Christmas. It was my introduction to nominal Christianity and non-denominational Christmas. It was years before I realized that there was more to Christianity and Christmas than stringing lights and making killer eggnog. They really did make killer eggnog. Unimaginably lethal.

So indulge me for a moment on the subject of faith. I have been accused of being anti-religious, anti-Christian, unGodly and on the fast track to Hell. How ironic when I am boringly obsessed with religion and have been for my entire life.  I’m not unGodly, just anti-dogmatic and not Christian. Jews consider me un-Jewish so I am out of step with everyone and everything. I am very far from atheistic or anti religious. Au contraire, I’m just not your coreligionist. No matter what you are, I’m not that. I’m something. If I had a label, my problems would be over. I could answer that aggravating question: what are you?

So what’s with the whole faith thing? How dare I say you can’t prove God‘s existence?

When I say faith is not proof, I don’t mean to imply that faith is bad or wrong, only that you can’t prove anything by it. It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, but it would never hold up in a court of law. Any judge on any episode of Law and Order would throw your case out of court. So my advice is to stay out of the court. Keep government out of religion.

Faith gets us through the day. We  have faith that the world will keep turning on its axis, that the car will start, that our computers will do what computers do. There are people who believe it’s faith that makes our technology work. Because we believe in it, it works. Should our faith in technology flag, it will no longer work. It’s magic. Or God. One way or the other, it’s faith in action.

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...
Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create this illustration in 1881.

As for religion making us good or bad people, poppycock. We all know right from wrong whether we receive a religious education or are raised by wolves. Education and family values will provide a coherent belief structure, but only sociopaths have no conscience. That’s what makes them sociopaths.

The rest of us know it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie and cheat. You don’t have to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or subscribe to any special set of rules. We can argue for eternity about the details and we probably will, but the basics are the same across the centuries, cultures and continents. Don’t kill, don’t steal, tell the truth, take care of the poor, widows and orphans, and be nice to old people, especially your parents. (Unless that group of people over there call God by a different name — them, you can kill.)

But I digress.

That being said what you believe is what you believe. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You can’t prove or disprove anything — which is why scientific “laws” are called theories, like the theory of relativity, for example. When a theory works, it’s a law. If we make a breakthrough and our previous theory no longer fits, we devise a new theory which we’ll hang on to until something else comes along. At which point we’ll revise it again. That’s why I say that all belief is all faith-based. It can’t be proved or disproved. It just is.

Then there’s doubt. Skepticism. Disbelief. Imperfect faith.

Whenever anyone tells me he or she has no doubts, I start to twitch. Doubt is normal; absolute faith with never a trace of doubt? That sounds more like brainwashing than faith. I’ve talked with ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, Wiccans, wackos, one self-declared reincarnation of Jesus and a Cardinal with strong Jesuit leanings. I’ve talked with born-again Christians and born-again Jews (it isn’t a solely Christian phenomenon). Everyone wrestles with doubt. Life tests faith. I think it’s supposed to. We all have to find our special path through doubt and difficulty to whatever floats our spiritual boat.

I am tired of asking politely for everyone to let me be myself, whatever that is. So I hereby demand the right to do my own thing, make my own decisions, and find my path through the thorny thicket of life. I’m happy to share this freedom with everyone and their Uncle Bob. If perchance I don’t wind up walking down the same road as you, it’s a big world. There’s room for all of us. No one owns the truth.

No one has all the answers.

Except me. I have all the answers. If you want my answers, please enclose a check and a stamped self-addressed envelope. I will send you a key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe. The bigger the check, the better the key.

I need the money to spend on Christmas presents.

God, Faith, and Freedom

The never-ending election of 2012 has given me pause to think about God, faith, and freedom. I have felt since the beginning of this campaign that the religious Christian right is out to get me. Not me personally. I’m too old and insignificant to be worth paying any attention to at all … but anyone like me and certainly, anyone like me still young enough to bear children.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this for a great many years and after all the years and all the thinking, I’ve come back to where I began: I don’t know the Truth and neither do you.

Therefore, I will let my conscience be my guide and do what feels right.

You can believe whatever you want, but you don’t know a single thing more than I do. You believe in God, but you have no proof there is one. What you have is faith.  Faith is not proofit is opinion dressed in fancy clothing. It doesn’t matter how many people believe the same thing you do. A few or many, faith is neither fact nor proof. You believe what you believe because you believe it. You can’t prove anything.

You want certainty, but all you have is faith. You’d like me to buy your faith and accept it as proof, but as it turns out, I’m a hard sell.

UU Church 47


We know nothing. We are the proverbial blind men analyzing the elephant. We think whatever piece of the elephant we feel is the whole elephant but it’s just a piece.
I’ve been dancing around that elephant for years and at one point, I came really close to accepting Christianity. Then wham, along comes this campaign and the bullies from the Christian right decide to try and take all my freedoms away. They figure they can push their agenda through, get a President of their own and whatever I, and people like me want doesn’t matter.
Turns out, we do matter because they lost. Big time.  Not that losing has made them give up. Oh no. They battle on, good Christian soldiers that they are, pushing and shoving and complaining that they are persecuted because they lost. They call it a conspiracy; I call it an election.
Meanwhile, Jesus Christ, the guy on whom the entire Christian thing hinges, wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew. Not only was he a Jew, but he was a Rabbi. One of my guys. If he dropped back to visit, I’m betting he’d play on my team.

A little history

That being said, when Christians decided that they were special and different from the religion that gave them birth, they proceeded to slaughter us at every opportunity.

Christians have a special enthusiasm for killing in the name of Jesus, who was a pacifist. Never mind the contradiction; it doesn’t have to make sense. During the Crusades, the armies of God marched across Europe murdering every Jew they found, often by rounding up a whole village, locking them in their synagogue, then burning it down with every man, woman, and child inside. When these fabled romantic heroes ran out of Jews, they began to slaughter their fellow Christians with no diminution of enthusiasm.

Marauding Crusaders wiped out entire Christian villages and depopulated provinces while on their way to save Jerusalem from the Infidels. By the time they got to the Holy Land, between their various squabbles and disease, they were significantly reduced in number and didn’t get to kill very many infidels . No matter. They had racked up impressive kill numbers of Jews and other Christians. It’s easy to kill unarmed people. It was harder when they actually encountered Saladin and other leaders who fought back.  Then, blood-lust quenched, and Jerusalem still firmly in the hands of the infidels, the victorious armies wended their way home, raping, pillaging, and killing as they went.

This is the kind of history that has made me wary of embracing Christianity. Forgive me if I detect a degree of ambivalence in how Christians feel about me.

Back to the present

This election was the last straw. I believe everyone should be free to practice their religion and customs in peace. But it’s time to stop worrying about everyone else’s rights and start giving some thought to my own.

When I add current attacks by right-wing fundamentalists to several thousand years of  historical persecution by Christians, I don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I realized today that I’m weary of the endless war. I’m tired of being bullied. I’m tired of explaining patiently over and over that yes, I believe in choice for women. No, I don’t believe that a 4 week old embryo has the same value or rights as a starving five-year old.

I don’t want prayer in public schools. That’s what churches and other houses of worship are for. I encourage anyone who feel a need to pray to attend one.

People who would refuse food stamps to hungry kids have no right to claim the moral high ground and lecture me on the morality of abortion. Moreover, anyone lacking a uterus should really just shut up. Women do not need to be instructed by men in what do about their own uniquely feminine health issues.

I grew up in the world before Roe versus Wade. I remember the terror of coat hanger abortions, sepsis, and deaths. Lives were lost, lives were ruined. In my opinion, if you don’t have a uterus and a vagina, you have no right whatsoever to tell any woman what to do with her own body. I’ll believe that God opposes abortion when God tells me Himself.

I’m weary of being bulldozed by a Christian majority. I’m tired of having my beliefs belittled and my concerns dismissed.

Fundamentalist Christian bullies have done their co-religionists a serious disservice. They pushed until they drove a lot of us from a passive, relatively sympathetic neutrality to active hostility. Even though their agenda has been soundly rebuffed, they keep pushing. It isn’t going to work. Those of you who are pushing should stop. You are not advancing your cause; you are hurting it.

I want my freedom. Keep your religion out of my life, out of my email, and off my website. Believe whatever you like; I will never interfere. Pray in your own schools. Keep Christ in your Christmas; I’ll try to keep fruitcake in mine.

Did you sell your freedom? Did you get the check yet?

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s not by accident that in the Bill of Rights — the preamble to the U.S. Constitution — is the first amendment. It concerns the three fundamental freedoms on which we base our society. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press and  freedom of assembly — including the right to complain and petition to the government — are basic to our way of life. These are the bottom line. If you take them away, it changes everything.

Our Last Freedom: Wave Bye Bye

Welcome to the new world, because two out of those three freedoms are already gone and we’re working on getting rid of the last one.

Freedom of religion was the primary reasons most Europeans settlers came to North America. Most were looking for a place where they could practice their religion in their own way … not that it stopped them from oppressing anyone who didn’t like their version of religion, but I digress. Hypocrisy is as American as apple pie. The very first settlers came to escape religious oppression, so first and foremost, we guaranteed the right to practice — or NOT practice — religion. This right is absolute. No interference is acceptable. But if all you very Christian fundamentalists have your way, we won’t have religious freedom either. You’ll move your version of God into our classrooms, courtrooms, and bedrooms. Those of us who aren’t Christian or just don’t like your version of Christianity? Tough. You have God on your side, as has every oppressor throughout history.

It doesn’t matter how right you believe you are. You have no right to impose your religious beliefs on me. I have the right to not agree with you, to practice something completely different than you do, and if I so choose, to practice nothing at all. But you’ll never understand that.

The Lost Freedoms

Freedom of speech and of the press has kept this country from losing itself many time throughout the years. Those nosy reporters determinedly seeking truth then telling the world what really happened or is happening have always been our first and best line of defense against oppression.

That protection is gone. It no longer matters what the constitution says. Virtually all media outlets are owned by big corporations whose goal is to sell whatever version of “truth” will make the most money for them. News is company policy. It has nothing to do with truth, right, or wrong.

We have lost that protection — and ironically, we didn’t lose it to the government. The law protects the press from government encroachment. What our founding fathers never considered was that we would sell our freedom to the highest bidders. We didn’t need protection from our government; we needed protection from each other.

The press is owned by corporations made up of people for whom money is everything. Journalists are gone. Now, we have stooges whose job it is to make sure whatever their parent corporation wants, they get. Advertisers have final say on whether or not a story is released. If news makes a major advertiser look bad, it disappears.

Movie and book “reviewers” don’t bother to offer real opinions. Why bother when you can rewrite press releases provided by the studio or publisher? The same thing happens in the world of technology. Writers enthuse and praise hardware and software they’ve never seen or tested. Their “reviews” are based on corporate public relations packets.

Freedom of Speech from the Four Freedoms serie...
Freedom of Speech from the Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

Our “free press” is gone. Don’t blame the Democrats. Don’t blame the Republicans. Blame yourself because you were too lazy to fight to keep your freedom. You let them hoodwink you, believe whatever you are told like good little sheep.

We are lied to, propagandized, and intentionally misled by politicians, so-called writers, and talking heads who cannot be trusted. If we catch them lying, we say “Oh, everyone does it” and let them get away with it.

If we don’t care about truth, why should they? A lot of us wouldn’t recognize truth if it banged us over the head and many of our most upstanding citizens don’t care whether or not something is true. As long as it agrees with their prejudices and preconceptions, it’s okay with them.

Freedom of assembly? What’s that? Remember Kent State? How about Occupy Wall Street? How freely have they been allowed to assemble?

We aren’t free. We sold our first amendment rights and I never even got a check. Maybe it’s in the mail.

Can we reclaim our freedoms?

What do you think? We the people have been brainwashed. We think freedom of religion means freedom of MY religion, the Christian religion. We don’t care who we trample as long as we win. We don’t protect anything but our own interests and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process. If freedom means you get to do whatever you want and what happens to anyone else is not your problem, then it’s not worth much anyway.

Americans don’t want to see how thoroughly they are owned. Big business bought the press, the electoral process, and you. Me too, though I’m going screaming and kicking. People really think Fox News is news. If they read it in a newspaper, or hear it on TV, it must be true. Whatever anyone proffers as  truth, they believe it without corroboration, despite there being unlimited versions of truth all competing for their allegiance.

Corporate America will never allow we the people to run our own lives again. We will never be allowed to assemble or ask for redress of grievances. There will be SWAT teams to make sure we disperse.

Though we still have freedom of religion, a lot of people are eager to take it from us and plenty more seem more than willing to help them.

We have the Internet, but for how long? We kept that by the skin of our teeth just last week. Don’t think the same corporate interests who tried to push SOPA and PIPA through congress won’t try again. Next time, they’ll wait until you aren’t looking.

Every day, another piece of our freedom gets chipped away. We let it happen. We buy lies. Hate overrules common sense. We vote for anyone who says what we want to hear, even if these are people from whom we would normally not buy a used car. It’s easy to lose your rights, harder to get them back.

At least I grew up in a free country. Do you care whether or not your grandchildren have the same opportunity?

Maybe it’s just as well I’m getting old. I don’t want to see what it’s going to be like in this country in another 50 years. It’s too awful to contemplate.