Department Of In Praise Of Religion
Yeah, I know – from moiself ?
It’s not what it sounds like, ma’am.
Confession: this post isn’t really about praising religion. As we approach the weekend of the most holy Christian festival (in which, as with most Christian holidays, the ancient rites and myths of paganism and other spiritualities were incorporated into the Christian myths) moiself thought it would be appropriate to write a wee bit about how I am, in some ways, grateful for the religious upbringing I had.
* I am grateful to have been raised in a moderate Christian family, whose parents were members of a moderate Christian church. And by my moderate I mean they were a members of a mainstream denomination (Lutheran), and not fanatical, tongue-speaking Holy Rollers. My church experiences allowed me an education into the dominant religious thinking of our country, of that time. Translation: I saw how the sausage was made, so to speak, which is why I became a vegan religion-free.
As soon as I was able to formulate such ideas to moi’s younger self, I was able to understand religious traditions (all of ‘em, not just my family’s own) for what they were: failed hypotheses originating from primitive/pre-scientific peoples who were trying to understand/explain their world. Although I had that understanding as far back as I can remember, like most atheists-skeptics-freethinkers in this culture, I did not “come out” until much, much later, when it was safe (well, safer) to do so: as in, when there was a critical mass of Freethinkers and their allies to provide a buffering from the, “You can only be good with (a) god/nonbelievers are going to hell, etc.” attitudes which religions are highly effective at promoting.
* Not only did my religious upbringing provide me with a good cultural education, I appreciate that it allowed me to experience and observe how nice, well-intentioned, and otherwise seemingly reasonable people can accept the unreasonable-ness of religion for a variety of reasons. I learned that people can note the logical flaws, improprieties and downright batshit crazy inanities of beliefs and practices of *other* religions, while *not* applying the same analytical skills to what they have been taught (i.e., they critique Judaism and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, et al on the respective scriptures, principles, teachings and merits of those religions, but accept the claims of Christianity on “faith.”).
* My religious upbringing allowed me to see firsthand the danger of the complacency of accustomization, which the adult moiself eventually formulated into this truism:
The ridiculous is no longer ridiculous when it is the familiar.
Favorite example: Decades ago I heard two (white, Christian) women talking about a new (to them) religious festival, which they’d read about in a newspaper article about local Hindus  celebrating the Hindu Festival of Holi. Among other activities, Holi celebrations involve adherents dancing in the streets and throwing colored dye and/or powdered paints on each other. One of the women offered a weak defense of the color-flinging (“Well…maybe…it’s kinda like dying Easter eggs?”), but both agreed that Holi seemed…ahem…rather silly, not to mention primitive and nonsensical for a religious rite.
Their comments indicated that they were totally oblivious of how downright bizarre and even grotesque their own Christian ritual of symbolic (or in the case of the Catholic flavor of Christianity, literal  ) cannibalism, celebrated in the Christian rite of communion, can seem to people of other religious faiths.
* My religious upbringing was an educational experience I tried, in part, to impart to my own children…which is why MH and I joined a Christian church (the most liberal denomination we could find – the United Church of Christ, aka The UCC). We remained active members for years, until MH and I were honest with ourselves about not being able “…to do this anymore.”  This coincided with our children (son K and daughter Belle) being old enough and comfortable enough – despite liking both their church friends and many of the church’s social activities – to send the same honesty *our* way:
“Why do we go to church when I don’t – and it’s obvious that *you* don’t – believe any of that stuff (i.e., Christian theology)?”
Footnote which deserves more than a footnote:  Looking back, K and Belle were both open about their views long before MH and I were. It seemed to me that their school peers talked about religion – read: regurgitated what they were taught in their parents’ churches – much more frequently than I could remember my peers doing when I was in grade school.  And while my offspring never initiated such conversations (they weren’t “afraid” of the subject; they simply had little-to-no interest in it) they would answer honestly any questions posed to them. Perhaps because he was older,  K was subjected to this more than his sister, and was subjected to denigrating comments from certain classmates who were obviously being raised by very conservative religious, creationist-leaning parents.
Although I was both happy with (and relieved by) my children’s inclination toward freethought, I wanted to be sure they understood that they must not be like their peers who criticized them – I wanted K and Belle to own their own viewpoints, and not just hold the same opinions as MH and I did, without considering the issues for themselves. When, for example, K shared a story about an outrageous and/or inane or just plain ignorant religious statement a kid had made, I would defend the kid (“He probably heard that at home/in church”), then question K further, trying to get him (and Belle) to practice the art of understanding a different POV:
“Why do you think someone would ____ (say/believe/think that)?
Can you think of any reasons why someone might ____ (say/believe/think that)?”
I did this consistently, until one day, K replied, with an insight (and sigh of resignation) beyond his years:
“The thing is, Mom, you know that *their* families are not doing the same.” 
When classmates made anti-science/pro-religion comments, K would respond with his own opinions….which led to him receiving the “godless atheist” label. I was proud of the way he handled himself, even as my heart cringed to see him mistreated by ignorant and mean-spirited Jesus bullies. What was worse, IMO, were the friends who didn’t join in the abuse but who also didn’t stand up for him (some of whom, I eventually surmised, felt the same way as K but didn’t want to become targets themselves, and thus stayed silent).
Belle had less school drama re her (lack of) religious beliefs. And there were two major incidents which made me realize that she was fully capable of standing up for herself in that regard. The first involved the last year Belle went to summer camp.
Both of our kids attended several seasons of the UCC’s summer church camp. Camp Adams is located in the temperate rainforest of Molalla (Oregon), with lots of fields and trails and creeks and a swimming hole – an ideal camp locale. For the younger ages, Camp Adams was more camp than church. For the older kids, starting around grade 5, the counselors and camp staff introduced more “churchy” things, including basic Christian theology (as seen through a liberal UCC lens). This gradual morphing from all-camp-fun to camp-fun-plus-Jesus-is-the-reason-we’re-here is a typical progression, as I remember from my own years of church summer camps. 
So: For several years in a row Belle had enjoyed going to summer camp – she even claimed to LOVE the camp’s food. But Camp Adam’s mashed potatoes weren’t enough, the last year she went to camp.
A preview of coming attractions for that last-year-of-camp: when MH filled out Belle’s camp registration form, after the requests for standard information about family, emergency contacts, medical concerns, food allergies, etc. there was an open-ended question asking parents to list anything they thought “ …the camp counselors and staff should know about your child.” MH wrote, “Belle will probably have little interest in the churchy or theological (religious) aspects of camp. And that is fine.”
Both MH and I drove Belle to camp; I picked her up at the end of the camp week. When I asked her how this year’s camp was she described a couple of amusing pranks the campers and counselors played on one another, then said that the rest of it was not the same fun as it used to be, and she wasn’t going back next year. When I asked her to elaborate, she told me the following story:
Unlike in previous years, the camp had fireside “churchy” services every evening, which Belle found irritatingly pointless. One day near the end of the camp week, the camp’s chaplain asked to meet with Belle privately. He told her she wasn’t in trouble; rather, he was concerned for her: the camp’s counselors had noticed Belle sitting through those services making little attempt to disguise her disinterest.  The chaplain flipped through the pages of a bible on his desk, reading aloud several scripture passages he’d marked, passages which told of the Christian god’s love for his people and the importance of loving that god in return. He then asked Belle what she thought about them.
I was surprised to hear this – throwing bible verses at a nine-year-old was not something I expected from a UCC chaplain (but I said nothing, and let Belle continue her story). And Belle simply but firmly disagreed with him. She told him (in her 9-year-old vocabulary) that she did not find those verses – or anything in his bible – profound or relevant to her in anyway. Despite being interested in all kinds of mythologies, she did not believe the stories about the Christian god were any different or factual than those of the Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, and other deities she was reading about.
“Good for you!” I crowed, as I concentrated on *not* driving off the road (I was dancing in the driver’s seat with delight). What an intimidating position to be in – for anyone, let alone a child – and she was able to stand up for herself.
The second incident occurred around the same season, when MH’s parents came to Oregon for their annual summer visit. MH and his father were out running errands; I was also out, driving MH’s mother and Belle…somewhere. Belle was in the front passenger’s seat; for reasons I cannot recall her grandma had insisted on sitting in the back seat, and then for reasons I really cannot fathom but remember as being totally out of context, Belle’s grandmother began talking to Belle about “god things.” I gritted my teeth but said nothing – my MIL was talking to Belle, not me. And Belle handled it with steely grace.
“I don’t believe in a god,” Belle calmy stated.
“You don’t believe in God?!?” Belle’s grandmother spoke with shock and dismay, and if Belle had just said that she liked stomping on baby hamsters. “I feel sorry for you.”
“Well, I feel sorry for *you,*” Belle replied.
Once again, I thought my seatbelt would burst with pride. That’s a difficult thing for a child, to stand their ground with a beloved relative who is criticizing and/or disapproving of you.
It was a long time ago and I’m unsure of the exact timeline, but at some point I thought, my work here is almost done, and I stopped attending our church. 
I had wanted K and Belle to have a religious literacy, because at that time, religious thought seemed to rule the world (or at least the US of A).
I wanted them to be familiar with the dominant religion of our culture, which had figured strongly in both of their parents’ backgrounds, so that they would know what it was that they were “rejecting” (to use their grandmother’s language), and also so that they might be inoculated against religious proselytizing.  But, I wanted them to be exposed to all of this via a denomination/church where they would *not* be subjected to abhorrent doctrines which taught that, no matter what kind of life they’d led, post-death they would be sorted into either a rewarding afterlife or one where they are subjected to anguish and torment, depending on whether or not they had subscribed to certain theological abstractions.
“…(religious moderates) claim that fanatics represent nothing more than a lunatic fringe. However, we nonbelievers repeatedly encounter…egregious behavior among the faithful. Often, those claiming to be among the Christian ‘saved’ are gratuitously rude and loutish. Sometimes it’s only their casual arrogance that offends. Or perhaps it’s the cosmic death threat. D’Souza writes (p. xi)
‘Death forces upon you a choice that you cannot escape.
You must choose god or reject him, because when you die all abstentions are counted as ‘no’ votes.’…
Implicit in this statement is the threat of eternal damnation, not based on whether or not you have lived a good life, but rather whether or not you have adhered to what my wife refers to as the ‘loyalty oath.’ According to the ethics and ideology of the ‘loyalty oath’ we’re all such wretches (as in the hymn Amazing Grace) that no amount of decency in how we live can make up for our unbelief. Conversely, any degree of depravity seems acceptable, so long as you’ve confessed your sinful nature and continue to affirm your belief in the (specifically) Christian god. It is surprising that we take offense at this?”
And so on this weekend Christians call Easter (even though most Christians have no idea why, and the word is not in their scriptures), I am celebrating the spring equinox, and reflecting on the ideas of renewal, and on the good fortune I had as a child and the even better fortune I chose to make for myself (and, I hope, model for my offspring) as an adult.
* * *
Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week 
* * *
May you reflect on an aspect of your childhood which was enlightening in ways you did not fully understand as a child;
May you detect the fine lines between the ridiculous and the familiar;
May you find an excuse to celebrate…something…which involves throwing colored paint on your fellow celebrants;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Several local high-tech companies employ a substantial amount of East Asian engineers, who brought their cultural and religious traditions with them and were beginning to be more “open” about their festivals and beliefs.
 As in, the intellectual dishonesty finally got to us, despite our wish to support a progressive, open & affirming congregation.
 Which is why it is there, and not here.
 Belle is three years younger than K, and from what I heard her classmates didn’t talk religion as much as the older kids did.
 As in, those kids were not being encouraged at home to understand K’s POV – they were just being told that peop0le like K were wrong and/or going to hell.
 and is why K opted out of camp several years before Belle
 And apparently ratted her out to the chaplain.
 It took MH a bit longer to feel comfortable with being open about his beliefs; he kept attending services for a few weeks after the kids and I stopped going (I told the kids it was totally up to them if they wanted to go to church or not – even if MH and I were no longer attending, we would take them to church – any church – if they wanted to go).
 In my experience, some of the easiest converts, whether to mainstream denominations or cults (and what are cults, really, except for religions with less money and PR than the mainstream denominations?), are people who’ve had no religious background at all and are naïve prey for slick proselytizing.
 “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.” Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org