An Atheist on Morality

Einstein did not believe in God, as many [mistakenly] claim.

Albert Einstein said, “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic.” He clarified with, “I am convinced that the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”

Atheist don’t believe in God, either. Not any god/s. Ever. Unlike Agnostics, open to the possibility of a ‘higher power,’ or ‘collective, sentient being,’ Einstein believed in neither.* Agnostic is more politically correct, less threatening, especially during his time, born a Jew, and existing on federal funding.

As an Atheist, I do not recognize the Old/New Testament and related works illuminating the adventures, restrictions, reprimands or absolution of a divine being as anything more than fiction—parables by some wise, some ignorant, partisan scribes with an agenda to dominate and regulate human behavior. (The introduction of organized religion being necessary when Human was still running around in small, warring tribes is arguable.)

So, when I need money, why don’t I go rob a pedestrian. Or shoplift?

When I’m attracted to my neighbors husband, why don’t I just hit on him, get intimate if he’s into it?

When I get pissed at the driver on their cellphone that just cut me off, why don’t I shoot her?

Snatch & Run, even drive-by’s these days, and the odds of getting caught for either crime is somewhat nominal if I’m discreet. Fear of being busted, going to jail is not the main motivation that prevents me from committing these, and ‘lesser’ crimes like lying, cheating and others most would agree, religious or not, are moral infractions.

If I believe I answer to no higher power, where do I get my morality, much of which is similar (often seemingly the same) to that of Judeo/Christian doctrine?

Einstein said, “We have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.”

Believer or not, what is your ‘Moral Obligation?’

Mine, as an Atheist and Human, is to support our continued evolution. It is my Moral Obligation to nurture reproduction—to extend the magnificent, wondrous, glorious feelings of being alive to someone else, as it has been gifted to me.

I am born owing Humanity that existed before me, and this planet that supports us. We all are. My moral conscience asserts we all must work at insuring life continues long after our own time, and that humans evolve to our spectacular potential of creativity, ingenuity, kindness, and learn to fully embrace our amazing capacity to love.

Notable Facts:
Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious
nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).

Within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008).

Rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006).

The top fifty safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).

 

* “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” —Albert E.

United We Stand?

It was early November in 2001, two months after 9/11, when I went down to the end of the cul-de-sac to meet the new neighbors. We had just moved into San Ramon a few months earlier ourselves, a semi-upscale San Francisco suburb in the east bay. It promised good public schools, and gave the impression of a safe, friendly environment in which to raise our children. That afternoon several of the local residents were hanging out at the end of the block with the new neighbors, sharing beers and casual conversation, watching their children play together in the street. I joined them, introduced myself, and my [then] one year old daughter and three-year-old son, who both ran off to play with the other kids.
 
The new neighbors asked me about my children, their ages, where we had moved from, and the like. Then the woman asked me to repeat my last name.
 
When I told her again she said, “Oh, you’re the Jewish couple then? I heard that there was a Jewish family that had moved in recently.”
 
It was clear that she was tickled by the idea of living near Jews. Unlike L.A., or New York, the Bay area has little Jewish population to speak of. Suddenly, the three other couples standing there plugged into our conversation. Though our last name was often mistaken for Jewish, it’s derivation was German, and isn’t always a Jewish moniker. The woman’s assumption was ignorant, but typical, especially in an area where Jews were such a novelty.
 
“Actually, we’re Atheist. We don’t practice any religion.” I tried to sound casual.
 
Blank stares. Total silence. It was like I had just said that we were registered child molesters. My words hung like lead in the dead air until one of the neighbors we’d previously met broke the silence.
 
“You know,” she tried to sound casual too. “I heard this broadcast on NPR the other day about Atheists. They’re actually very non-violent, friendly people. The Atheist on the air pointed out that you never hear of Atheists blowing up buildings.”
 
The vacuum that followed her comment made it clear that the new neighbors would have preferred we were practicing Jews, or Mormons, or even Muslims at that point. “You mean you don’t participate in the holidays?” the new neighbor asked, mystified. “Not even Christmas?”
 
“No. Not even Christmas.”
 
“Well, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday.” As absurd as her comment was, I hear it all the time. I refrained from reminding her that Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ, the very foundation of Christianity.
 
“We have five nights of winter presents which compensates quite nicely,” I explained. “And we celebrate birthday’s, special occasions, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and so forth.”
 
She bobbed her head up and down, but I could tell I’d already lost her. I was the anti-Christ, the infidel, the soulless she was so afraid of. And though her fear was unwarranted, there isn’t a religious person I can recall that I didn’t get the same bounce from when I revealed I was an atheist. No God? No values. It’s common wisdom, right?
 
I didn’t set out to set myself apart. My brief stint in Sunday school was forced upon me until I was 13, when my parents had to acquiesce to my unshakeable conviction that there was no God. My mother spent the next 30 years convinced that I would come back to religion when I grew up, got married, had kids. But the certainty of a godless universe, one ruled by entropy, not empathy, still resonates with me. The values I question are those that focus on an afterlife instead of on the life at hand, and the contributions we each can make to insure the survival of our race.
 
At the start of every December several of the families in the cul-de-sac adorned their front lawns with small cement statues of The Mother Mary and Baby Jesus. They are subtly placed, though clearly visible in clumps of bushes and at the base of towering Redwoods. Christmas lights go up early, and stayed up well into the new year.
 
Since that first encounter, the new couple has gone out of their way to avoid our family. To date, she and her children ignore us, even my kids casual waves in passing. They do not acknowledge us at the store, in restaurants. The other neighbors do not include our family in their neighborhood parties, nor have they asked my husband to join their Sunday golf group.
 
When we moved here, I didn’t stop to consider the religious leanings of the community. As an atheist, in a monotheistic society, wherever I live I’m on the fringe. I am deeply saddened that my children are being ostracized because of our beliefs. In allowing them to define their own spirituality, I fear I have inadvertently set them up for rejection, condemned them to the fringes, which is a very lonely place to live. But I do not foresee bringing religion into my home. I cannot teach them what I do not believe.
 
This last holiday season, in a brief lapse of reason, I thought of throwing a Hanukkah party and inviting the neighborhood. If they needed us to be something, we could pretend to be Jewish. But, the thing is, I am proud of who we are and our spiritual choices. And I am proud to be an American, where we are free to practice any religion, or none at all.
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Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Hope

My mom was a born again Jew—her response to my brother’s conversion to Christianity, and my unwavering commitment to Atheism. In her continuing effort to have me meet and marry a Jewish man, during my vagabond years she suggested I to go see Israel. She said it was the most beautiful place on earth, an oasis they’d turned from desert wasteland into paradise. She had taken the guided Hilton Tour. My mother never really saw Israel.

The moment I got off the plane I knew something was wrong with the place. Bullet holes riddled the walls of Ben Yehuda airport, which had plaques commemorating this or that war or terrorist encounter. I had traveled much of the world by then but had never seen anything like this. Military men and women, some no older than teens were armed with Uzi’s; grenades hung off breast belts lined with bullets. On the ride to Tel Aviv, the public bus was packed with soldiers. The French girl next to me leaned over and whispered, “Are those guns real?” Clearly even she thought it odd.

I rented a flat in the heart of the city for a month, and used it as a base to travel from. Using public transport and walking, I explored most of Israel and Egypt, spent hours on buses and in cafes watching and listening. A lone traveler, I was continually invited to join diners, and occasionally even into people’s homes to partake in authentic meals and enlightening conversations. Most everyone spoke English, and after a while an image of the people began to emerge. However, it was my strange encounter with a Islamic man that brought into sharp focus the plight of the Middle East, and ultimately, the world.

My last full day in Israel I took a bus north, toward the Lebanese border to explore the beach town of Naharia. I felt him staring at me from where he sat a few rows back. He was in his early 20’s, dark curly hair, swarthy, handsome. He was dressed in jeans and a Hard Rock Café t-shirt, but wore the traditional Islamic headdress with a black cloth band crowning a red and white checkered bandana that cascaded over his broad shoulders and down his back. The intensity of his gaze unnerved me. I assumed he was on his way to Lebanon, or the West Bank, but when the bus finally got to Naharia he go off too, and I got scared.

I tried to convince myself he wasn’t following me. I window shopped and then got some lunch in a very public café. I saw him meandering around town, often stopping to chat with small groups of men, but almost every time I caught sight of him he looked over at me. Eventually he went into a shop and I ran across the street and tried to disappear into some woods. The low pine forest was only a few hundred meters thick. The blue/green Mediterranean glimmered beyond the trees. When I finally sat down on a log at the edge of the forest I was sure I’d lost him. I dug my toes into the warm sand and looked out at the dazzling sea. The deserted beach was silent. Then I heard twigs breaking underfoot behind me as someone approached.

The Arab man came out of the woods a few yards from me. The thought of running seemed absurd. He could have caught me in a flat second if he wanted to. I stood up, spun around, and tried to make myself as tall as possible. Then I looked him straight in the eye and said in my harshest tone, “What the fuck do you want?” Cussing, speaking before spoken to, and looking a man in the eyes are things I’d been told Islamic women do not do.

He stared at me, startled, but didn’t respond. He probably didn’t speak English. And I didn’t speak anything but.

“Leave! Or I will.” I pointed back through the forest. He didn’t move so I started to walk away. I was scared out of my mind.

“Please don’t go.” He spoke softly, his voice deep and throaty. “You’re an American, right? I just want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“I’ve just come back from the States.” His accent was English, but richer, more sultry. “I was two years in Boston, at university there. I’ve been back in country three weeks now, and I am missing the hell out of good conversation.” He smiled then, thick ruby lips curved into a gentle grin.

I don’t know if it was his tone, his easy manner, or his striking green eyes that made me stay. He kept distance between us, and slowly sat cross-legged on the sand in the spot he had been standing. Curiosity overrode every other feeling. I’d never spoken at length with an Arab. An opportunity to speak freely without the prying eyes of others could be educational, to say the least.

“I’m from Lebanon, but in my heart I’m an American. What about you? Where are you from?”

“L.A. Hollywood,” I clarified, since many outside of the States had no clue where L.A. was, but everyone knew Hollywood. The conversation spun from there, unraveling like a well worn sweater, venturing down the road of trust, slowly revealing ourselves.

He’d recently graduated from Harvard—not just for the prestigious MBA, and the connections to society’s elite, but also to study our people. He’d returned home to take his place beside his father, a wealthy statesman of some note, and it was going to be his job to advise on how best to “work with the infidels,” meaning the U.S, according to dad.

Strange mix of anger and fear. “I’ve never considered myself an infidel as an American. I thought that title was meant for Israel, or Jews in general.”

He laughed, but not like he thought it was funny. “And that’s exactly what Islamic leaders want you think. They will say anything to get media support. They ask for a little of the West Bank here, a little of Jerusalem there. After all, who can deny them since they’ve been there for thousands of years and have no where else to go?” He shook his head in shame. “Historically, Muslims have been ruled by tyrannical fundamentalists. The wealthy few distort and then push their twisted brand of religion to keep people ignorant. They preach from birth that in order to be faithful it is the duty, the responsibility of every Muslim to convert or kill all infidels. Through killing, the individual becomes divine, and will thus spend eternity in heaven basking in Allah’s glory. All who don’t believe as they do are targets, so the ultimate goal is the annihilation of everyone who cannot be converted.”

The sun set as he spoke, and murky twilight replaced the light. Again he shook his head. Profound sadness filled the space between us. In the States, he’d become agnostic, a humanist, he told me. Integrating with our mix of cultures and beliefs taught him we all basically feel the same things, want mostly the same things—a safe, supportive environment where our needs are met so we can thrive.

“My fanatical father insists it’s business as usual—finance the current regime and whatever one replaces it. But how can I support ideology like this and sleep at night? How do I stay here and marry into a faith I no longer believe, and raise my kids to rise above the ignorance that surrounds them? Reason, logic, sanity are all washed away with the fanatics who will sacrifice their children, or raise them to hate, and the killing never ends.” He sighed heavily, his despair visceral.

I sat against the log, not three feet from him, tears streaming down my face. I had no idea what to say. I was there because of my fanatical mother. She blindly believed Jews had imminent domain to Israel, had single-handedly turned a desert into a flourishing country, and chose to see only the beauty there.

“You’ve seen a different world,” I said to him softly. “You’ve become a different man. If you can change, you can help others change.” I shut up then. Platitudes at best. I sounded like my pollyanna mom. I had no idea if change was possible with religions talons buried so deeply into the psyche of his people.

We left the beach a short while later, as it was getting dark. We both had buses to catch to take us home. He told me to leave first, walk back without him, as it wasn’t safe to be seen together. A Muslim prince alone with a white western woman in public wasn’t proper, yet, he said with a wink.

I knew I’d never see him again, and was surprised by a stab of regret as I stood to exit the scene. Only a few hours in his company, and I felt certain I could love this man. Without embracing or a parting cheek-to-cheek kiss we said goodbye, and I ventured into the small pine forest towards town.

Unfamiliar with infatuation, I had the surreal sensation of missing him on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv, and still the next day on the plane home. He’d given me a view into the plight of the Islamic people, and a deeper understanding of the struggle of Israel, and ultimately the world against our fundamentalist neighbors. And he unwittingly gave me a profound sense of hope, knowing he, and others like him were out there.

Republicans, Religion and What’s Right

The Tea Party rally was just breaking up when I picked up my daughter from her day camp at Central Park. A woman standing at the fringe of the crowd held a big poster that read: “Gay Marriage is a SIN! God said NO on Prop. 8! God says preserve DOMA!” On the poster was a huge cross. My nine year old daughter asked me what her sign meant. I told her it was against human rights and the woman was a nutcase.

DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, was signed into federal law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1997. It basically said that legally valid marriage is limited to opposite sex couples, absolving individual states from extending the financial benefits and tax credits to which only heterosexual couples are now privy. And who supported this unconstitutional Act denying civil rights?

–Republicans for Family Values
–The Tea Party (Republicans)
–Focus on Family  (Republicans)
–Proposition 8 [banning gay marriage] supporters (And who were they? Proposition 8 got on the ballot backed by millions from the Roman Catholic Church, and the Mormon Church, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, and, well, you get the picture.)

The foundation of this nation is based on a separation between church and state. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.

Our civil rights should not, MUST NOT be a determined by the church, or be beholden to any religious sect or organization/s. I am an atheist. I don’t recognize the Bible, Old or New Testament as truth, and as an American citizen it is my federal civil right NOT to believe according to our constitution. Christian morality doesn’t apply to me, or the many gay people who wish to marry. It should be in their civil right to do so. Yet senators, congressmen, presidents still choose religious ideology over constitutional laws that guarantees every U.S. citizen equal rights and protections.

Regardless of their religious persuasion, our elected officials have sworn to uphold our constitution, including The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and have no right to push their religion’s morality onto every American. Millions of our tax dollars have gone and will go to lawyers and court time over DOMA, absurdly prejudicial and preferential legislation originally meant to limit states financial liability, without understanding, maybe even acknowledging the cost to civil rights. Right-wing extremists like the Tea Party and Focus on Family have adopted DOMA as a monicker, preaching biblical text that says homosexuality is a sin and it should never be recognized as legitimate. But I don’t believe in the bible. And I don’t think being gay is a sin. Sin is a religious construct meant to control followers. I believe indifference to suffering and willful ignorance are the greatest evils.

DOMA was repealed, as unconstitutional, in 2013 under President Obama and a Democratic congress. The Republican Reich fought it out in court after court, appeal after appeal, blowing many more billions in tax dollars over a law that should never have been written, yet alone endorsed and enacted. If the right-wing had its way, DOMA would have stayed the law, limiting marriage and the benefits that come with the union to only heterosexual couples.

Who cares? You’re not gay. Doesn’t really effect you? Not your fight? There are bigger issues out there of import…

Watch out! Yesterday, it was denying gay rights, and today, it’s banning transgender from military service. Tomorrow our Republican government may outlaw a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, or interracial marriage, or maybe Jews again, or Muslims this time, or… You and your ideology may be next on the chopping block of the religious Republican Reich.