First Atheist Christmas, First Hanukkah

This is my first holiday season as an atheist. I live with a theist who is Jewish by heritage. So, this is also my first Hanukkah.

First of all, where has Hanukkah been all my life? I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be fun, but it is – at least how my boyfriend has introduced me to it. He simply lights the menorah while saying a prayer in Hebrew, with a little part in English, and then he hands me a gift. Yes, please. If sermons had come with gifts, my evolution as an atheist might have been delayed by quite a few years.

In all seriousness, the holidays have caused me to appreciate the difference between religion and tradition. Just to be clear, I do not believe in the supernatural. The natural is already fascinating enough for several lifetimes. There is no need to fabricate stories that defy every ounce of reason that we have. Whether or not the historical Jesus existed, the two different versions of his early years both take leave of logic, and they contradict each other. Any god worth the title would not need to sire himself, then (temporarily) kill himself in order to save humanity from himself. Huh? Nevertheless, the holidays are an important time of friends, and family, and reflection.

The Getty 004_white_flower

What I’ve learned this year is that life is not under my control. Things don’t happen TO me; they just happen. I get to choose how I respond. Life is not always fair; it’s not always fun; but it is always interesting if we see ourselves as the main characters in our own novels. We don’t know how long or short the novels will be. Some people’s lives are only a few lines of poetry; while other’s live long, fancy novels a la Tolkien. All we can do is love as hard as we can, make as big a positive difference as we can, take nothing personally, and try to have as much fun as possible without getting into any inconvenient trouble.

And, along the way there are sweet traditions like Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve to make the journey a little more special. Especially Hanukkah. Love it. Eight gifts. Whaaat?

Healthy Humanist

Today is the first day I’m chronicling my move towards a more compassionate and healthy lifestyle. From the evidence I’ve seen, there is no denying the fact that the meat and dairy industries are doing more damage to our environment than the oil industry. There is also no denying that a plant-based diet is the healthiest one. It is also the most conducive to preventing and reversing disease.

I have known this for years. But it wasn’t until health challenges touched me personally that I decided to give a vegetarian diet another look.  I have tried vegetarianism two other times in my life. One time I lasted a year; another time I lasted two years. Each time I was starving all the time and gained weight. However, both times I only focused on not eating animal flesh. I never worried about consuming fruits and vegetables nor avoiding sugar and refined products. This time, because I am actually trying to reverse a medical condition, I’ve changed my approach.

This week was my first shopping trip since making this decision. Not knowing what I was doing, I simply dumped a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables into my cart. I bought a veggie steamer and a strainer. I’ve started every day this week with a veggie smoothie and have thrown random vegetables into whatever I’d planned on eating. For example, I bought some pasta and a simple pasta sauce. Then I stir fried a random combination of vegetables and dumped them into the pasta sauce. It. was delicious!!!

I’m hoping that, by blogging about this and making videos, I am going to stay on track and successfully change my diet. I am easing myself into this lifestyle, being diligent during the week and letting up on the weekends. I had originally decided I was going to eat whatever I wanted on the weekends. However after only three days, I found that I really didn’t want “whatever” – meaning junk. For example, on Friday I was in a food court and – with every temptation surrounding me – ended up eating a falafel sandwich. It was divine.

I am noticing that, as a humanist, I am taking things like my health much more seriously. Prayer does not save people from their terrible habits. Prayer doesn’t do much of anything other than make people feel better. My approach is to take action, and then document the results for anyone reading to see. It will also help keep me accountable. For better or for worse, this is an experiment worth conducting.

Stay tuned!

Raven

The End of My Faith

“For anyone with eyes to see, there can be no doubt that religious faith remains a perpetual source of human conflict. Religion persuades otherwise intelligent men and women to not think, or to think badly, about questions of civilizational importance. And yet it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in our society, or to even observe that some religions are less compassionate and less tolerant than others. What is worst in us (outright delusion) has been elevated beyond the reach of criticism, while what is best (reason and intellectual honesty) must remain hidden, for fear of giving offense.” –Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2005). W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 236-237.

I just finished the above book and loved it. I am new to exploring the idea of “no God.” I have been moving in this direction for years, but never understood enough about the origins of the universe to feel comfortable eschewing God completely. I acknowledge there is a lot we don’t know about the world and about ourselves. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that none of the extant religions have a coherent narrative to explain much of anything. Also, if there were a personal, omniscient (and decent) God who demanded that we know and serve him on threat of eternal punishment, there would be no ambiguity. There would be no “interpretations.” No all-knowing God would rely on hearsay to get his message out, and then torture people who don’t get it.

No, religion was created to help us explain our surroundings, to comfort us when we are afraid, to give us that sense of awe that feels so great, to provide a sense of law to keep our communities in order, and to give us a sense of family with one another. The good news is that religion is completely unnecessary to experience any of these things. Reliance on any church, guru, or institution to tell you what to do with your life is an abdication of your responsibilities as a human being. It is also a waste of a perfectly healthy brain.

It is not easy to live free of god/religion in our society. Skeptics make people uncomfortable. People think the only way to have morals is to sign up for a religion, or, more likely, to stick with the one imposed on you from birth. However, the reality is that religion encourages tribal thinking – us vs. them hatred, condescension, and animosity – not peace. It also encourages passivity, magical thinking, and superstition. It only encourages peace and love between those within one’s religion – those with whom one already agrees, or those one can convince to sign up. I fail to see what is impressive about that. Although I have no desire to make people uncomfortable just for the heck of it, or to impose my lack of belief on anyone, I am unwilling to force myself to believe in things that aren’t real.

There is enough true beauty in the world to celebrate without having to bother with fictitious beings in the sky. Loving one another is a humanist idea that transcends man-made religion. My goal is to make this world a better place because there is no evidence of any others.

Love and peace,

Raven