humanism

So this one's for the friends

"So this one's for the friends
If not so for themselves
And this new life's directing us
Remind us in a town
You made us feel at home
We broke our backs on floors of stone
But I'd rather wake there any day
Than wake up here alone"
-The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

Today is World Mental Health Day. although this year the focus is on older people, I am in a nazel-gazing, emotional kind of a mood, and have found myself thinking a lot about my friends.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, I know a lot of people with varying degrees of mental health problems. In fact, I would say that I probably know more people with some sort of mental health problem than those who don't. I find myself thinking of how much I wish I could change how they feel, draw out some of their pain or anxiety or depression for them and lighten their lives a little bit. I think of how wonderful and individual they are, and how amazingly brave and strong they are. The reasons for their problems are as diverse as they are- if there are reasons. I think of how badly they are treated by others, of the stereotypes that are applied to them, and want to shout from the rooftops about how wonderful all of these people are.

The other aspect is how my friends treat me. Its not big, sentimental gestures, nor is it anything to do with the length of time I have known someone. Its the bunch of flowers and bottle of wine that arrived in the post a few days after my marriage broke down. Its lending me an oil-filled radiator when the heating in my flat has broken and fixing my DVD player. Its letting me sit on the sofa in their house in silence because I don't feel like speaking but I don't want to be on my own. Its the rushing round to my flat to remove a spider because I'm too scared to do it myself. Its the constant sarcasm and good-natured banter at work. Its the tweeps who always cheer me up and check how I am when I am in a self-pitying mood, and the patient soothing of my drunken self via WhatsApp at 3am. Its the afternoons of laughter and the knowledge that, if I need to cry hysterically I could, and no one would think any worse of me. Its the quiet, unthinking hug when I am struggling to smile during someone's wedding, or the amazing poem written for my birthday.

These are the sort of things that I have built into my little emotional fortress. There are people out there who can't understand where I derive meaning from in life- I have no god, no children and no husband after all. But all of these little gestures, and all of these wonderful people form the basis of my meaning. Without them, I really don't know where I would be, but I'm pretty sure it would be an awfully dark place. This, for me, is the foundation of my humanism.

I don't tell my friends this kind of thing enough, but I'm so thankful and lucky to have them.

Hxxx

The Home Office can go back to where it came from, if you ask me.

Immigration is all over the news today. The last few days have seen a very, very uncomfortable atmosphere developing, which has been widely likened to that seen in Nazi Germany. In a bid to curry favour with UKIP voters (for which read either bigots, or just sadly ill-informed people), the Home Office have begun gleefully posting pictures of people of colour being shoved into the back of vans, along with bragging about how many illegal immigrants they have rounded up in that particular day. And then there is that bloody van driving around too.

Now, dear readers, I am going to sort of write something vaguely political. I'm going to do so in my own, incompetent, ranty way, so do forgive me if it ends up having very little to do with anything except for my thought. I've had very little sleep last night, and am grumpy as anything already. There might even be some mild swearing. There will almost definitely be terrible typos. Just stick with me, though, eh? 

Can a white, British girl like me get angry about such things? well, in short yes, and there are many, many similar angry people out there. All it really takes is to have a heart, and some empathy for other humans, to realise that what is going on out there is very, very wrong. Okay, so people might be in the country illegally, and they should have done it by the books ideally. But its easy to see that these people are hardly lying on a bed of solid gold rose petals, being fanned by the poor, downtrodden white folk who have lost their proper job because an unspecified European could do it cheaper. They're probably working crappy jobs for little pay and long hours, and probably living in shitty places. They're dealing with constant shit from ignorant white people.  And they're here because its a better life than what they left behind.

If you were to switch the TV on at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, you will probably find a programme on called A Place In The Sun, or similar. In such programmes, white, middle class, British couples tramp around a foreign country looking for a quaint little 6 bedroomed villa with an olympic sized swimming pool and a simply darling, quaint, local little village just down the road where there are all the amenities *they* need to suit *their* needs, and all for a charming price of £5000. "oh, well its a different way of life", they say. "The pace is so relaxed over here. We don't even mind if it takes 20 mins for Betty down at the Dog and Duck to bring us our steak and kidney puddings- there are plenty of other ex-pats for us to talk to in the meantime" 

Why is this sort of immigration not such a problem? Why do we as a country not think that actually we are in no place to criticise, when we merrily trample the globe and plonk ourselves down wherever we like, safe in the knowledge that we can merely speak up to overcome the language gap?

Immigrants to the UK might use our free healthcare system. They probably use it because they're sick, and given that they are humans, and  I don't like to see anyone feeling under the weather, I'm pretty cool with that. What of our English acquaintances over in Spain? They'll be paying their way, right? They won't be discussing ways to get round recent changes to the country's healthcare systems on Expat forums, oh no of course they wont. You might also be interested in this article in today's The Lancet, which looks at just how much UK Health Tourism there actually is compared to what the papers say. The implications of UK citizens buggering off to Mexico for cheaper plastic surgery, then returning with a nasty infection that needs to be treated by the NHS don't seem to be shouted about in the Daily Mail quite as much as they probably should be.  

Well, but they are at least there legally. It's not like British people would be in a country illegally now, would they? And its not like there would be a massive outcry if the Australian government decided to start doing random checks on anyone wearing a bowler hat just in case they happen to be evil British illegals. 

I was nearly an immigrant once. I was going to move to Canada. I studied for nearly two years and passed the PEBC Evaluating Exam (7 hours and a 72 page syllabus, including questions on High Performance Liquid Chromatography, if you please). I kept going back there for holidays and interviews and the like. I was welcomed warmly wherever I went, and was able to freely explore the cities without fear. I knew that, had I moved over there, I wouldn't have had to spend my life having to justify my place there, or defend the fact that I had a job which could have gone to a Canadian citizen. We British folk have that privilege and it is the very scraping-of-the-barrel-least that we can do to at least acknowledge it.

As for stopping people of colour on the street to see if they are an illegal immigrant... Its somewhat of a revelation to me that in this day and age anyone can look "a bit foreign". Believe it or not, Home Office, but there have been black people in this country for many, many years. Some of them were even born here. And then some of those have gone on to have children too. I know, right? What a revelation that British people aren't all pale. Some of us don't even wear socks and sandals with our cricket whites. People just look like people, and unless they happen to be walking around with their noses stuck into a copy of The Illegal Immigrant's Guide To Avoiding Detection By The UK Home Office, there's really no way to judge.

Are we really that insular an (Anglo-Saxon) nation that we can't see our own double standards? Are we really that unable to see people as people, and look past their colour, nationality, and creed? Yes, we are wired to want to stick with people who are similar to ourselves. But it really doesn't take that much effort to overcome that and look through minor differences and just take each person on an individual basis. I know I have generalised horribly in the words above, but I am doing so to demonstrate a point- that the double standards in this country are really quite horrific. And yes, there are many facets to the whole thing that I haven't considered here, blah blah blah. In the end, all I am trying to say is that I'm very saddened, ashamed and disheartened by this whole nonsense, and that I'm a firm believer that immigration is a beautiful, enriching thing that should benefit everyone. Its not scary, its not negative, and it means that we are a better, more versatile and robust country because of it. 

If you're reading this and thinking 'hmm, well maybe, but there needs to be limits, and UKIP's immigration policies seem to make sense', then this is a plea for you to dig a little deeper into what those policies are, the evidence that they are based on, and who they benefit. 

If you're reading this and thinking 'naive lefty silly girl', then get lost. If, however, you're reading it and thinking 'naive lefty silly YOUNG girl' then by all means go right ahead.

Hxxx

The Godless Matinee

A while ago I- with the help of all of you lovely lot- collected together a little playlist of songs with an atheist theme. It was a great post to write, and what I love about it is that I still get suggestions now, or will be absent mindedly listening to something and will think "ooh, I must add that to the list". I love very much that many of you now have atheist playlists on your MP3 playing devices, and that I've had a tiny part to play in that.

Its been at the back of my mind for a while that a similar list for films should be in existence, then I was kicked into action by the same suggestion from the lovely Alom Shaha. Great minds and all that, eh? So here we have it, a humble list of films with an atheist or godless theme.

Some House Rules first. Be warned that I am the sort of person who will get up halfway through a film to tell someone off for talking, or having their phone on during a film. Even minor rustling of food packaging drives me crazy. So may I politely request that you follow this Code of Conduct, and we'll all get along fine.

So, phones off? Right, well settle in, get comfy, and lets watch some films. 

Remember guys, let me know if you want anything added. email me at healthydoseofskepticism@gmail.com, tweet me @SparkleWildfire, or leave a comment. I'd love to include your reasoning for choosing the films too.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) as suggested by @krypto: "All about the goodness of people. Polar opposite of religious remake"

Winter Light (1963) as suggested by @eyeswideshut75: "Bergman was tormented by atheism all his life.  i wouldn't say he was a one who celebrated it - to him one of the great pains in life was the silence of God, and this is never more evident than in Winter Light, Bergman's most unflinching and searing portrayal of personal, emotional and spiritual suffering.  the main character is a country priest who has lost his faith, but continues the rituals and tasks of his religion out of servitude, fear, a lack of anything else to do, out of service to his (ever dwindling and hopeless) congregation, and out of any cowardice to actually face up to this.  that Bergman's father was a strict Lutheran pastor adds whole new dimensions to the film." There you go, Ian, I did use more than two sentences after all.

The Wicker Man (1973) I recently rewatched this as part of an all-nighter at my beautiful local cinema, and it struck me how differently I viewed it now, as a more self-aware atheist than the first time I saw it. It seems like an odd choice at first glance, given it is entirely about belief of one form or another. But from an outside observer's perspective, its really interesting. Staunch catholic Sergeant Howie seems utterly repressed by his Catholic faith, whereas the paganism of the Summerisle residents initially seems full of freedom, but soon becomes a clear example of cargo cult science. In the end, all parties end up looking daft- the residents useless singing  in the face of failing crops whilst Sergeant Howie cries out in vain to Jesus, who can't save him from a fiery death. Oh, and sorry for the spoiler, but lets be honest here- the title is a spoiler anyway.

Carrie (1976) I only watched Carrie for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Not the most flattering depiction of religious families really, is it?

Life of Brian (1979) "He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!"

Star Trek V (1989) as suggested by @_TheGeoff.

 

Chocolat (2000). i add this on a Friday night of what has been an exhausting week. I've just watched Mother, a Korean film which is not what one would call a laugh riot, so I figured I had earned a sugary sweet, mindless film. (Mindless films are actually quite rare for me, with the exception of zombie films. I tend to shy away from anything that even vaguely resembles a rom com.) Its been over ten years since I saw this, so I had completely forgotten how atheist it is. And you can't beat a bit of Binoche.

Touching The Void (2003) as suggested by @damonayoung

Kingdom of Heaven (2005), as suggested by @JPSargeant78

Conversations with my Gardener Dialogue Avec Mon Jardinier (2007). This film has been chosen by North East Humanists as one for their film night next year. I haven't seen it yet, but am happy to take their word for it that it contains many of the sorts of values held by humanists.

Religulous (2008), as suggested by @epparry. I'm watching this as we speak, and crying laughing at the Holy Land Experience bit.

The Invention of Lying (2009) As mentioned in Alom's book.

A Serious Man (2009) as suggested by @Buster_Bear

Whatever Works (2009) I'm sure I saw somebody suggesting this but I can't find who it is, so my apologies

The Infidel (2010) in which a lapsed British Muslim finds out he is actually Jewish. Its not godless as such, but it does call into question the ridiculousness of hatred between the different factions of religion.

Four Lions (2010) because one if the only ways we have of dealing with the horrors of terrorism and religious freedom extremism is to make black comedies and laugh at it. When I saw it at the cinema I was left uncomfortable at the riotous laughter going on around me: its a film of hilarity mixed with deep sadness, but many appeared to be missing the sadness bit. Through the humour, the dangerous ridiculousness of violence based on religion is addressed, along with the manipulation it involves. In the end, you're left feeling that when it comes down to it, a belief in god is about as valid as a belief in rubber dinghy rapids.

The Ledge (2011) as suggested by Alom Shaha

Paul (2011) as suggested by @Alex250175. "beautiful moment of revelation"

Side Effects (2013) as suggested by @Dilip_Modhvadia. In his words "a good film apart from Jude Law's nauseating performance".

Philomena (2013) as suggested by the ever wonderful @obsolesence

 

Anything by Michael Bay. Because any merciful god would surely not allow such atrocities to exist.

 

Hxxx

Apostasy: a Heathen's perspective

Sometimes, you come across things in life that really open your eyes and you find yourself gazing into a world that you had no idea about. The Apostasy Project is one of those things. 

Being a lower-middle-class-ish white girl with a loving, secure, and easy-going family, I've never really had to think about a lot of the things I am. I can breezily make declarations about my lack of faith and no one would really bat an eyelid, even those that are more religiously inclined. Not everyone has access to this privilege. 

I know I've said this before, but I really can't thank my parents enough for their laid back -some would say lackadaisical- attitudes to my religious upbringing. They purposefully didn't force any religion on me as a child, their conviction being that it was my choice-when I was old enough to make that decision- what to believe in. They gave me the gift of a neutral baseline on which to impose my own beliefs, or lack of them, as I wished.

I went to a Christian school, but all that really meant was sitting through a couple of minutes of prayer in assembly. There were no consequences of not praying- it was just another boring part of assembly to accept and get through before the more interesting bits of the school day started. School plays were religiously themed sometimes, (but also, on one notable occasion, Neighbours themed) but none of this really had any effect on me or the rest of my life decisions and was viewed by most of us kids as vaguely ridiculous and uncool.  I have very little knowledge of any religion, to be honest, because I just don't really need it in my life- I'm a modern day heathen, in the unruly, uncivilised sense of the word, you could say. 

So I've been pretty much oblivious to the sorts of issues that people who have to walk away from a religion can experience. Recently, thanks to The Apostasy Project, I've been reading with interest the accounts of people who have walked away from their religion. It had, to be honest, never really occurred to me that 'coming out' as an atheist is potentially just as traumatic an experience for some as the more traditional version of 'coming out' that people would think of- as being gay. Like some gay people, apostates also risk losing respect, family, friends, and their whole communities simply for stating that they no longer subscribe to the same belief system. What I'm realising too is that these sorts of issues can apply across the board religion-wise too: it's not just those that people assume to be more fundamentalist.

 

Given all of this, it's amazing really that anyone ever does come out about losing their faith. But, when the alternative is living a lie, why should people have to keep their lack of faith secret? The more apostates speak out, the more normalised it becomes, and hopefully a more open, civilised and accepting society follows. Making the decision to question and walk away from a religion which shaped your childhood is an incredibly brave thing to do, and those of us who are lucky enough not to have to do so might not appreciate that.

 

The Apostasy Project has been set up to support people in this position, and its an important role to play. If any of you lovely people can help them out, please do. 

 

Atheists are, by definition, a ragtag, diverse bunch. Some would say that with only a lack of belief to unite us, it's impossible that we could build the sort of religious community one would find in, say, a church. But I don't think that's true, and I think it's important that we build a sort of atheistic extended family in order to be more visible and frankly, just because its much nicer for us all to feel that we belong somewhere. This is my little chunk of solidarity to apostates everywhere, then, for what it's worth.


Hxxx


P.S. Be sure to also read John Sargeant's account of leaving Jehovah's Witnesses, which are beautifully written: Part One and Part Two

Take all of it, every scrap

There are many things in life that are not black and white. There are many arguments in which I can see where all sides are coming from, and I can understand the root of why people would disagree with me. Yet there is one area which is consistently contentious, and yet my brain can genuinely not comprehend the other side of the debate.

I'm talking about organ donation.

The news yesterday was good: there has been a 50% increase in organ donation since 2008. And yet there is still a long, long way to go.

"Last year, 125 families overruled an individual's intention to donate."- BBC News

I really, really struggle to understand why anyone would object to organ donation. I just cannot get my head round it. And overturning an individual's decision to donate their organs seems particularly bizarre to me. I understand that in the acutely shocking and devastating situation of a death you might not be thinking clearly, but... I really just don't get it. 

Maybe its my atheism. Maybe its the fact that I see death as just that and no more. I don't see it as the start of a new journey into the afterlife, or the first step on my way to meeting my maker. You just die and that's that. So I suppose its easy for me to disassociate myself from the shell that's left. I don't feel creepy about the idea that there could be bits of me in other people: in fact I feel positively proud that I might be able to help in any way.

Religions offer us a legacy. They give us the promise of a new beginning after our death, and so go some way to assuage the fear of nothingness that might follow. But it's a legacy that, in my opinion, is pretty useless. It might be comforting to our loved ones, but in the long term view of things on this planet, that doesn't mean a great deal when there are people whose lives could be made better by a chunk of my flesh being implanted into them when its no longer any use to me.

Not that I think every objection to organ donation is on religious grounds, but I suspect it may be a fairly important part of it for some people. Atheists are often told that we're evil, that we have no morals, and that we are going to hell, but to me it seems that organ donation is clearly the more morally good choice when the alternative is wanting to keep a dead person intact for ceremonial reasons. 

Some people just think its icky: the idea that a bit of you will be in someone else. I had an ex-boyfriend who thought organ donation was wrong "because its just weird" (he's an ex for a number of very definite reasons, and this is quite a prominent one). Well, I think a lot of things are icky, but they still get done because they have to be done. I can think of more pleasant things than having a smear test, for example, but I do it because it is a necessary evil. And, one has to remember a key point: you're dead. Things don't seem so icky or weird to you any more because you no longer exist. 

Fig 1. Handy flow chart for deciding whether to sign up for organ donation

Fig 1. Handy flow chart for deciding whether to sign up for organ donation

urely there is no better legacy than giving parts of ourselves to allow other people to go on living healthier, longer lives.  

And so, your homework is to (if you haven't already), think about it, speak to your loved ones about it, and sign up to the Organ Donation Register 

Hxxx

An Atheist's Mixtape

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is undoubtedly one of my favourite books. I have a very dog-eared copy which I have read many, many times, to the point where each time I re-read it I'm often surprised to find a line which I had assumed was actually my own thought, its so ingrained into my being. Yes, I'm the kind of person who cries at live and recorded music, and I'm one of the "people of a certain disposition (who) are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at twenty-six" (except for I had the same fear at much younger ages as well). Of course I've always wanted to be in a relationship with a musician so I can be mentioned in sleeve notes, and I have no idea what came first- the music or the misery, but I know that my love of music is probably responsible for my (now rather repressed) tendency to be hopelessly romantic.

So, when there was a bit of a conversation about atheist songs on Twitter this morning, it seemed the obvious thing to do to attempt a Barry-From-Championship-Vinyl-Style Desert-island, All-time Top five list of Songs for Atheists.

Of course I've failed miserably at this task: I've had so many suggestions that I can't bring myself to agonize over which should be cut, and in what order they should appear in. So instead, I give you a compilation, a mixtape of all your atheist suggestions.

"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter- there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again... You've got ti kick off with a corker, to hold the attention... and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and... oh there are loads of rules."

So stick these songs onto on your generic fruit-based MP3 player device, press shuffle, and enjoy.  If  you've made any of the suggestions, do  with your reasons so I can add them in, and I'll obviously be happy to add anything else you lovely folk care to suggest too.

God's Song by John Martyn: It may be controversial, but I'm going for the John Martyn version, mainly because I love pretty much everything that he has done. He is indeed one of the artists who have made me cry seeing them live. I think his tone and voice are particularly suited to this song.
 

Don't Fear The Reaper: Any version really, I tend to lean towards the one by Caesars, just because.
 

This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads: I'm not entirely sure why, as its not particularly atheist-based, but it sprung into my head and I have found myself listening to it a lot. I guess I just think its about being grounded in this life, by love rather than any vague notion of an imaginary god. I could, of course, be completely wrong, but its probably a bit safer than trying to shoehorn Psycho Killer in somewhere instead, as that would really annoy the Christians ;) I guess I should throw Heaven in there somewhere too.
 

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Churchhouse Blues by The Dodge Brothers: because why not throw in a bit of skiffle? And whilst I hate to see gin wasted, it would seem that burning church houses down with it could be seen as a worthy cause for many atheists.

God by John Lennon: as recommended by @deep_anchor

What If No-one's Watching? by Ani DiFranco: as recommended by Alom Shaha. It makes an appearance in his book and all, don't you know :)

I Don't Believe In You by Talk Talk: as suggested by @spiderkemp

Gone to Stay by Freakwater: as recommended by @kzelnio

Glory Hallelujah by Frank Turner: as recommended by @MarkRTurner and @jackpot73

Everything Alive Will Die Someday by George Hrab: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest

Intervention by Arcade Fire: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest

Blasphemous Rumours by Depeche Mode: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest

Eternal Life by Jeff Buckley: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest

Allow me to intervene again at this point to also put in Hallelujah, the Jeff Buckley version. And no, not just because I was-and probably am still- utterly in love with him, but that line:"And it's not a cry that you hear at night/ It's not somebody whose seen the light/ It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah'... The way Jeff sings it has a devastating note of bitterness which...resonates. And yes, it is also about rude things which God would no doubt not approve of.

Wake Up by Arcade Fire: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest. by his own admission it may not be strictly atheist, but if I'm allowing myself This Must Be The Place, I'm allowing Joe his amazing songs also :)

No God, Only Religion by Spiritualized: as recommended by @astrotomato. Oh, and by the way, the pharmacy nerd in me loves Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. That album packaging was just fantastic.

On and On by Tom McRrae: as recommended by @RespectMyCrest

Imagine by John Lennon: as recommended by @helgestad, @kasilas and @deep_anchor. It's true, it needs to be in the list. But I can't help but hear our old friend Barry from Championship Vinyl scathingly declaring that it's simply too obvious. 

Thank God I'm An Atheist by Al Baker: as recommended by @jackpot73

I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie: as recommended by @jackpot73

Enjoy Yourself by The Specials (or any other version you fancy): It occurs to me that this could be the quintessential atheist/humanist anthem.

Epitaph by King Crimson: as recommended by @rupagulab

I Could Build You a Tower by Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly. People who know me well will know that I think GCWCF (is) are one of the most consistently perfect bands (person) around nowadays. I therefore nominate this song, which isn't entirely about atheism but does address the age old problem of evil, fundamentalism etc. It's also very beautiful, as is the whole of the album Searching For The Hows And Whys, which I think is as close to an entirely perfect album as I have found. 

Dear God by XTC: as recommended by @PublicSerpentOz and @j2blather

God is a Spider by The Cherry Poppin Daddies: Not strictly an atheist song I guess, but one expressing a painful dissatisfaction with a god. Also: great band name for this sort of a list. And everyone needs more ska-swing-big band-punk in their lives.  

A Rational Response by Greydon Square: as recommended by Alom Shaha. Some welcome rap for our list. I must admit that despite a flirt with hip hop in my younger years I've never heard of Greydon Square, but a quick glance at his Wikipedia page suggests he's pretty interesting. And apparently he's also known as The Black Carl Sagan, so who could argue with that?

Had To Thank Someone For You by Nev Clay. Nev is a local folk singer who I first discovered when I was a teenager, and love his witty, beautiful music with a passion. I've just stumbled across this gorgeous little ditty and knew it was just perfect for this list- "but last night i knelt and prayed like a little kid again - i had to thank someone for you. and i don't know or care if anything was listening. i had to thank someone for you."

Atheist's Lament by Aidan Moffat  as recommended by @Jon Mendel. He's right, I'm not entirely sure how this has been left off the list for this long!

And clearly, no self-respecting atheist song list would be complete without a bit of Tim Minchin. As recommended by @obsolesence we're going with Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins and, of course The Pope Song.

So there we have it so far. Clearly, this is the sort of thing that I will lie awake at 3am thinking about ("OMG I need to put <insert obscure song> in, why didn't I think of that already, its so obvious. but not too obvious, obviously")

Thoughts on a child-free life

In my initial post, I said that I would mainly be blogging about skepticism in healthcare. Well, it turns out that I'm actually more able to churn out random nonsense about other -occasionally rather deep- aspects of my life more easily. And, as i'm getting more involved in skepticism as a whole, it's amazing to me how it's touching all the other aspects of my life as well, reinforcing vaguely held ideas and making me much more able to express my views to other people.

The other night I was at a bit of a 'do at a friend's house, and I had a conversation with one of my friends who I think is absolutely brilliant but I don't see that often in which I found myself employing some skeptical skills unexpectedly. The conversation was about the thorny issue of children.

So, here we go. I don't want children. Here is the standard conversation that I am used to pretty much every time these words leave my mouth:

Other Person:  "Oh.... OH?! REALLY?"
Me: "yes, really"
Other Person: "what, ever?"
Me: "no, never. At least I can't see myself ever having a space or need in my life for them in the future"
Other Person: "But you don't know what you're missing!"
Me: "yes, yes I do, thank you very much."
Other Person: "but it's different when it's your own"
Me:  "I'd rather not take the chance that it isn't"
Other Person: "oh, I knew someone (or alternatively, I used to be) just like you. And they (I) went on to have 20 kids and they (I) love them to bits."
Me: "umm, right. Well I don't think that's going to happen here"

And so it goes on, time after time, as if one day, during one of these generic conversations, I'm going to go "actually, do you know what, you're RIGHT!, I'm off to procreate RIGHT NOW"

I actually believe that the idea that you'll have children is very similar to religion, in that it sadly often doesn't even occur to people that there is an alternative option. It's just accepted as routine that you'll grow up, you may get married, and you'll have kids. I doubt many people ever think to challenge this notion, and as a result I think a lot of people don't address their own concerns about becoming parents before they do, and I'm sure this is a source of great angst and sadness in the world today.

I'm often confronted with a momentary look of blatant hatred when I confess that I don't want kids to people, before they get the chance to rearrange their face.  I sometimes get the feeling this may be a "hey, damn, I wish I'd thought of that!" reaction. Sometimes I see people over-enthusiastically posting on Facebook about how marvellous their kids are and I really can't tell who they are trying to convince.

My friend has found herself having to think about whether or not she wants children, because other people are constantly forcing her to think about it. Because she's been with her boyfriend for a prescribed amount of time, the "when are you getting married, when are you having kids" conversation is being thrown at her regularly. We talked for a while and it seems she's inclined to think she doesn't want them, but its such a social norm that she almost can't believe that this could be an option for her.

As you'll know from my previous post about atheism, I agree very much with Alom Shaha's notion that atheism needs to be more visible as an option to stop a lot of misery. I think similarly about not wanting children. I'm told I'm selfish for not wanting them, that I'm abnormal, that I'm somehow doing my gender and humanity a disservice. And I am selfish, but is it not more selfish to have a child because its simply what you do, then potentially spend a lifetime suppressing low-level regret and resentment? I could start on about overpopulation, blah blah blah but that's usually just too much effort for these types of conversation.

It strikes me that, like a lot of things in life, most people take this decision on face value instead of examining it with skeptical principles. And, after questioning yourself and your deeply held beliefs and societal norms, you still want to go ahead, then fine, I sincerely wish you all the best. It seems to me that a healthy dose of skepticism- in all aspects of life- is always worthwhile.

Like atheism, I've confronted my lack of desire for children, and I accept and embrace it, even in the face of some moments of fairly serious pressure to the contrary. I have no need or space for a child in my life, and I can make my own purpose and legacy without having to create and drag a new life into the equation. I'm comfortable with my decision, I just wish that everyone else was as comfortable with it as I am. Comfortable enough that the sort of conversations above- that I and many other child-free people (by which I mainly mean women) have to go through all the time- don't have to happen anymore. Comfortable enough that its an accepted life decision and not seen as an eccentric quirk.

I could rant on for days about this subject, and I may well revisit it in future posts. I hope that's not too boring for you.

Hxxx

 

On thinking about God.

I think I have probably always been an atheist. I can't remember having any revelatory moments in which I realised the idea of God was dead to me, and I also can't remember ever really, truly having a need for a god. I remember a few occasions, in those awful dark moments that pounce on you in life, that I wanted a church to go to. A physical place of comfort, which would surround you with warmth and love and knowledge that everything in the world would get better eventually. But I don't think that really had anything to do with an actual wish for a god. And in actual fact, I feel really quite uncomfortable in churches, like at any moment i'm going to be found out and burnt at a stake. 

What I realised quite recently, though, is that this has never actually been a conscious decision to not believe in God. And how could I have been reasonably living as an atheist for so long without ever really confronting how I came to be this way?  I was actually quite startled about how little I knew about atheism (or agnosticism, for that matter)

I was so, so lucky in my parents, who I think both had a Catholic upbringing (I say think because I have literally no idea what religion my Dad is. We've simply never had that conversation). Their attitude was very much: "let her make her own mind up when she's ready". Though my Mum believes in God, she thinks that if he is so omnipresent, there's no need for her to traipse to a church when clearly she could be getting on with something more interesting. I'd never say it to them, but I'm so thankful to them for letting me just drift along pretty much ignoring anything religious. I went through a bit of a phase of deciding i might be Buddhist as an early teen (yes, yes- I was a bit of a hippy-goth type creature, and I refuse to be ashamed of it), and my Dad in that way which is typical of him showered me with leaflets for the Newcastle Buddhist Centre and even bought me a book about being a buddhist. Even now I'll claim occasionally to be a Buddhist, but this is only when I'm grasping for an excuse to make someone else kill a creepy crawly because I'm too scared to. 

I'm also utterly unknowledgable when it comes to religions, including Christianity. I'd just much rather find out other stuff about people than their religion. I want to know if they're nice people, if they're funny, what they do for a living, and who they think will win the Great British Bake Off, rather than which church they go to or whether they believe in the right god or not. I figure my ignorance is bliss, provided I spread it liberally over all religions. Although offering a Jewish vegetarian some bacon brownies may not have been my best moment. 

There is a reason that I've been thinking about my own lack of belief, and that reason is a Skeptics In The Pub talk by the (exceptionally charming) Alom Shaha. His talk was brilliant, and I found I was sat there thinking 'why have I never thought about any of this before and yet it all makes SUCH SENSE'. (I'm really not going to go into every thought I had during his talk, except to say... *swoon*). I bought his book, The Young Atheist's Handbook (whilst attempting and failing to not blush and make a stupid joke about only buying it so I can feel young) from him and voraciously read it over the following week. I found myself doing all sorts of thinking about my lack of belief.

YAH


Now, I would absolutely love to write an eloquent, concise review of his book but I doubt I'd do the genre of book reviewing justice. I'd just like to say that it's very beautiful, and that you all should buy it, if you haven't already. I've found that since reading it, I'm a whole lot more confident and vocal about not needing belief in god now and in discussing this with other people without having fear of offending anyone. At least I know my own lack of belief now stands up in the face of my own questioning. And, in the face of that, I started reassessing a fair bit about the rest of my life- how I feel about love in the wake of my divorce, for example. It sounds a bit far-fetched that one little purple book can do that sort of thing but I guess sometimes the most profound moments appear very unexpectedly.

Anyway, all of this is a very long-winded way of saying: I have thought about it, and I'm now very confident that I just don't have room or need in my life for a god. I'm fine (and actually weirdly comforted) by the thought that this is it: there's nothing beyond, no afterlife, no higher being, no destiny... Just this, and this is what we make of it ourselves.

Oh, and if you're wondering: I think Danny will win this year's Great British Bake-Off, but Iwant Brendan to win.

H xxx