Atheism

God Bless You

How can I get people to stop saying “God bless you” after I sneeze?

I’m serious. Any suggestions?

I’m so sick of being blessed on a daily basis but society has made it rude not to say “bless you” after someone sneezes and so I get to hear it. All the time. What’s worse is I feel obligated to say, “Thank you” in response because, again, society has decided that it is rude not to.

I know that most people obviously aren’t saying it in a religious sense (anymore), more as a knee-jerk reaction to a sometimes startling bodily function, but I can’t seem to get over the religiosity of it.  Why can’t we follow the norms of non-English speaking cultures that wish health on someone when they sneeze? The Germans say, “Gesundheit” which means health, the Spanish say, “Salud” which means health and even the Irish say, “Sláinte” which means good health.  Why must we insert a reminder of god into every little thing we do?!

I know I’m not the first person to bring this annoyance up (you may remember Dane Cook’s when-you-die-nothing-happens joke) but why does it seem to go nowhere? Clearly, as shown by the joke, people are aware that atheists prefer not to be blessed, but how can we break the cycle of “god bless you”?

A quick read on Wikipedia will tell you that saying “God bless you” in response to a sneeze can be traced back to Pope Gregory I after he ordered “unending prayer” to ward off the bubonic plague. People thought that the sneeze was an early symptom and so they blessed everyone who sneezed in hopes that it would ward off the disease. Other theories suggest that we used to think that people’s souls were released from their bodies or their hearts would stop beating when they sneezed and a quick, “bless you” after the fact would help protect them from evil or encourage the heart to keep on keepin’ on. We know these fears to be ridiculous now, so why do we insist on repeating the phrase?

In my personal life, I have no problem letting people know that I don’t want to be blessed, but in my professional life, the issue is much more delicate. I have yet to come up with the proper response to my coworker, whom I know is just trying to be polite, as she blesses me after every sneeze.

Am I doomed to utter a thank you after every blessing I receive in the office or with a client while I silently resent their stupidity for using such an outdated phrase? Can I ever make it stop? Or, in the words of the famous David After Dentist, “Is this gonna be forever?”

 

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The Lord’s Army

Have you ever been to a military ceremony? I’m not just talking funerals – although, unfortunately, that is the most common event anyone not married into or born of a military family will go to – but, if you’ve ever been to a “Welcome Back ceremony” (the frustratingly long ceremony that precedes the big ol’ kiss your about to give your husband/wife/partner after he/she deployed for a year) or an awards ceremony or even a FRG meeting (which stands for Family Readiness Group and consists of mostly stereotypical military wives) you have experienced the prayer.

Ah, yes. The prayer that comes during a government-funded event by a government-funded entity. Nothing more constitutional, eh?

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While the US military is starting to do a better job at being more accepting and tolerant of their soldiers’ religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, they still seem stuck in Christianity and won’t seem to let it go. They hide behind the façade of religious tolerance by expanding the number of religions you can now state on your dog tags and by creating and allowing soldiers to wear military issued Yamakas  and other religious paraphernalia, and yet, they seem to only ever recite Christian prayers to a Christian god at any public event or even, as I am told by my husband, who served in the Army for 8 years, right before going out on a mission overseas. (As a side note, only up until recently have you been able to put “Atheist” on your dog-tags as opposed to just, “None” in the space dedicated to religious affiliation. It’s great that you can now state it, but a bummer that not only did it take a while to be able to do so, but also that it  was allowed around the same time you could state, “Jedi” as your religious affiliation as well… Seriously).

It is one thing to have a government funded military tolerant and accepting of all religions (as I think it should be) but it is quite another for that government entity to then endorse a specific religion by encouraging and leading its members in practice of it. I have been to a lot of military functions and not once has an event started or ended in a Jewish prayer recitation, a Muslim call to prayer, or a devotional Buddhist meditation. Not once.

So what is the point of doing it at all? Why not offer a moment of silence instead, in which anyone can pray or not pray to who or what they want? Or, better yet, why not just avoid the whole thing altogether and let everyone practice their religion on their own time? God forbid that happen. God forbid we forbid god!

Most people who I spoke to in the military never even thought about why they pray at these events or whether they were even OK with it. In fact, the only real reason anyone has even presented to me as to why it is done is that the majority of soldiers and their families (at least in the Army anyways) practice the Christian faith. It makes sense when you think about where, geographically, the majority of the US Army bases are located. They are all over the South and the Mid-West and typically nowhere near either an ocean or a big city (for obvious reasons). These places are known for being in the “Bible-Belt” and have sub-standard education requirements and despicable graduation rates. They breed small-mindedness and encourage ignorance. So, it makes sense that the majority of the people who spend their lives in these places would eventually, if they weren’t already, conform to the lifestyle.

I have never been for the notion or the practice that the “majority rules” and, politics aside, I don’t think that just because the majority of a country or a platoon or a company is one religion, that it should trump all others. You should either do something that pleases all and offends none (which is practically impossible to do) or just do nothing at all (again, not applicable to politics).

The point of not saying a prayer is to respect all people and their beliefs, not to suppress free speech and ideas. It baffles me how people, namely Christians, view the request to omit prayer as a persecution and not a call for respect and compassion. Don’t even get me started on the supposed “War on Christmas” conservative Christians in this country constantly complain about (if you are unfamiliar with this crazy phenomenon, let me know and I’ll enlighten you!).

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that my husband and I have to sit through a Christian prayer yet the military chooses not to practice any other aspect of the religion. Here are just a few examples:

1. Soldiers are often made to work on Sundays.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8-10

2. Soldiers in battle are as young as 18 years old.

“So all who were numbered of the children of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel—” Numbers 1:45

3. According to Wikipedia, there have been 848,163 deaths in war since 1776 and 1,531,036 soldiers wounded. (source) And that’s just in America.

“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” Numbers 10:9

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 20:1

4. Newlywed soldiers are not excused from deployment or long-term training.

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“When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5

However, when it comes to seeking guidance, they go back to the teachings of Christianity. When a soldier deploys and they have a personal issue they have two choices: 1) Talk to their boss, or 2) talk to a neutral member of their company that isn’t going to start treating them differently or holding what they discuss together against them. This neutral member, however, is the Chaplain. That’s it. Talk to your boss (yikes) or talk to the preacher. Now, if you were an atheist having trouble adjusting to your deployment and the facts of war, who would you go to for help and talk to besides your friends? Probably no one.

I’m completely against any and all endorsements of religion by the US government, whether intended or not. And I am especially against half-assing it. If you are going to endorse a religion, do it all the way. And, if you’re not, don’t even let the thought of any type of religion or religious practice come up in public events or affect others in any way. The same goes for individuals as well. If you are going to say you are a Christian or a Muslim or a Scientologist well then be one! Don’t pick and choose what parts of your chosen religion are convenient for you. And, if you do, don’t you DARE tell me or anyone else that we are in the wrong. That’s just hypocritical.

I do have to say that the ONLY time I enjoyed an Army prayer was during the “Welcome Back” ceremonies. Hundreds of horrible smelling guys (my husband was in the infantry so there were very few, if any, women attached to his units) all wearing exactly the same thing, walking in exactly the same way and standing in the exact same formation made it near impossible to spot my husband’s face in the crowd. As soon as they would announce the prayer though, all the sheep heads would bow in unison and there would be my husband’s handsome face. I could spot him in an instant and run straight into his arms when the ceremony was over. If there’s anything in the world that can get me to look forward to a prayer, that moment is it.

Evangelist Trash

photo (8) Earlier this week I came home to this. A doorknob flyer inviting me to the latest and greatest church in the area. It invited me to “Get a fresh start with a new church.” But, all I saw when I read it was, “Here, YOU throw this away.”

I recently moved to a huge apartment community and it must be the honey pot for evangelism because, let me tell you, I have never been evangelized more in my entire life. Every other day there is a note on my door, something on my car or someone either approaching me or knocking on my door. I see Mormons riding their bicycles throughout the community and I see remnants of discarded flyers blowing in the wind, polluting our streets and eventually, I’m sure, our ocean (I only live a few miles from it). Most of the time my husband and I welcome the face-to-face interactions– there is nothing funnier than the face of an evangelist when you tell them you are an atheist. I mean. they’ve heard of atheists before but they never thought they would be existing here, with everyone else, just like normal people! Hilarious.

But, alas, we rarely get the face-to-face interactions anymore and, instead, are subjected to throwing out expensive flyers purchased by tithes from the gullible and distributed by volunteers who actually believe that they are making a difference in the world. If only people would quit volunteering for their churches and started volunteering with non-profits that actually do make a difference in the world… but I digress.

Seeing these things infuriates me. They infuriate me because now I have to figure out what to do with it (which is even more bothersome if I come across one on my car and I am nowhere near a trash can. I can’t just throw it on the ground!) and, even more so, because of the presumptuousness of its distributor to think that it was OK to place their message on my property. I never gave anyone permission for that. How is it that we are supposed to respect other people’s property yet, placing your message on their property without their permission is not seen as disrespectful? Well, I think it is incredibly disrespectful. I don’t go around putting anti-theist sentiments on people’s cars and doors, nor do I approach strangers about my beliefs in hopes that they will agree with me and join my cause. It’s just rude. And, because I don’t do it to others, I expect that they not do it to me. So, when it does happen, as it inevitably does, it makes me just that much more mad about it.

But, how can I fight it? Obviously I’m not around to ask them not to litter my property. So how can I stop it? Can I complain to my apartment complex to have them crack down on solicitors? Can I complain to the city council and/or the mayor to sign an ordinance forbidding such marketing practices without express permission from the recipient? Or, does this fall under free speech? Will this impede on their rights to be able to express themselves? Can’t this be compared to SPAM emails? You must subscribe and/or give permission for people to send mail to your inbox, so shouldn’t the same permission be needed to place messages on other people’s personal property? Any sort of potential action is going to take much more research on my part regarding the laws already in place around this issue as well as a little more motivation to be able to handle the time commitment and follow-through I know this will involve. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to settle with bitching about it.

The Happy Atheist

One of the biggest stigmas Atheists face today (besides being devil-worshipers) is that we are cynical, loveless, empty sacks of people devoid of any true meaning in life. We are cynical and mean. We are grouchy because we have no belief in anything after life — and life sucks.  In fact, most Christians (and other religious folk) I talk to say that they feel sorry for me; that it must be hard and lonely having nothing to live for. Of course, we atheists know that this is far from the truth. Actually, most of us (myself included) found that life became much more amazing after breaking free from the shackles of religion. Once the oppressive, unrealistic expectations were taken away, I felt liberated, free and truly happy for the first time in my life. Instead of looking forward to an eternal life in paradise after death, I started living in the now and taking advantage of all the amazing things life has to offer. Time is limited and, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather live to live than live to die.

So why is it that religious people view Atheists in such a negative light (besides the obvious reasons)? If we are all so happy and carefree, how could they possibly perceive us to be angry and empty? Because of assholes like this:

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Let me explain what you are looking at here. I follow an account on Instagram that posts nothing but pictures of atheist quotes and funny atheist memes. On this particular day, however, the owner of the account posted a picture in support of gay marriage and LGBT rights, which I am not opposed to in the least. Unfortunately, there are still arrogant idiots out there that still believe they need to have a say in what goes on in a stranger’s bed and a debate ensued. The unfortunate thing about this debate is that this guy, who goes by, “theirateatheist” went on a rampage of bashing and shaming and name-calling instead of reasoning and logically arguing his point. This is merely one example of some of the fine things he had to say.

Now, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on two things, 1. He has already admitted via his screen name that he is irate — we were warned,  and 2. it’s practically impossible to reason with someone who still believes they should have any say in what other people do with their lives (as long as it does not negatively affect others, of course). So, I get it. I get the anger. And, frankly, he’s right — the guy he is referring to is in fact a “fucking retard”. The problem is that those on the fence about their religion and even those who aren’t, have now seen firsthand how atheists are angry, empty, hateful people. Comments like this perpetuate the stereotype.

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It’s a never-ending cycle and, the worst part is, we have done it to OURSELVES!

I propose we atheists fight the temptation and stop writing illogical, useless personal attacks on the religious and kill em’ with kindness instead. I mean, if religion has taught us anything, it has taught us that nothing recruits better than a comforting, judgement-free place full of like-minded and accepting people. If we can start showing people that atheists do in fact make better lovers, then I think we could persuade a lot more people to think twice about atheism and what life would look like without a god. We turn them away at the door before they ever even desire to peak inside when we call them names and act viciously to others. Personally, I think this world would be a much better place if there were fewer people in it that believed in a religion. The more we are able to show others how fulfilling and happy life can be as an atheist, the more people are likely to turn away from religion and, in the end, we would all end up winning.

Saved at a Chipotle

I was working some overtime hours a month or so ago on a Sunday afternoon and went to Chipotle to go pick up some lunch for the boss and I. Chipotle (for my friends abroad) is a fast food chain similar to Subway except you tell them how you want your burrito or tacos or rice bowls. I had just completed creating the masterpiece that would be my lunch and I was at the drink station filling up my cup of iced tea when an older man approached me smiling and asked if I had just gotten out of church. I was a little taken aback by his comment because, well, why would he assume that I had gone to church?? What a weird and presumptuous thing to say to a complete stranger.

I responded with a smile and a polite, “No”. To which he said, “Oh, no! Missed church this Sunday, huh? Which church do you go to?” To which I responded, “I don’t go to church, I’m an atheist.”

First of all, I just want you all to know that in that moment, I have never been more proud of myself. I am a very non-confrontational person and I also tend to be very private as well, so I typically do not tell strangers that I am an atheist (not to mention that I’d rather not endure the negative connotations that arise with such a confession and the inevitable Christian-like judgement that follows). For the first time in my life I thought, fuck that. It is not impolite of me to tell him that I am an atheist and screw him if it offends him. It is impolite of HIM to approach me about HIS beliefs. So, I said it. I said the ‘A’ word to a complete and total stranger.

His reaction to my confession was even more offensive than asking me about it in the first place. So when I told him that I am an atheist, he said, “Oh, no you’re not. Everyone believes in god, they just do it in different ways. I go to this really great church with a really great pastor that connects with young people like you. You should check out our website and… BLAH…BLAH…BLAH…BLAH…” At this point I am trying so hard to be politely offended that I zoned out and imagined myself slapping him in the face, telling him to shut-up, mind his own business and go back to enjoying his damn burrito (like I was fixin’ to do) and he started sounding like the adults that speak in those Charlie Brown cartoons: WAH WAH WAH WAH.

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3 things about his reaction that made me want to slap him in the face:

1. “Oh, no you’re not”

REALLY?! You know what I believe? You — a guy in a Chipotle that I have never seen before, know what I — someone who I see everyday and have a very intimate relationship with, believe in more than I do?!?! Interesting… What a BOLD thing to say. [SLAP]

2. “Everyone believes in god, they just do it in different ways.”

Amazing that this guy knows EVERYONE’S beliefs — that must be exhausting. Also, really lucky for him that everyone in the world is just like him, only different. That must make things really easy for him. Is it just me or does this seem like one of the most idiotic things ever said to anyone ever? I mean, even the most religious, orthodox, born-again person will tell you that there are people that don’t believe in god (or if they do, it’s the incorrect god) and that they are going to burn in hell for it! Now I don’t even get to enjoy the fiery depths of hell anymore? I am downgraded from a satanic non-believer to a naïve “different”-believer? Bummer. [SLAP]

3. “…a great pastor that connects with young people like you.”

As if to say that I am only stating I’m an atheist because I am young and I don’t know any better. Pfff.  [SLAP]

I am absolutely appalled by the double standard that people like that can approach people like me in public places and feel perfectly justified in their recruitment and expect me to be a willing and eager listener yet, if the roles were reversed, would be so incredibly offended by my attempts to de-convert them that they probably wouldn’t even hear me out. I don’t know why we atheists have to put up with this. We shouldn’t have to. Sure, we all have the right to free speech but we also have the right to not be accosted against our will.

The worst part about all of this, though, is that this guy went home feeling mighty proud of himself. Probably even bragged about it at church the following week. I leave feeling pissed off and violated and he leaves feeling like he did his good deed for the day. Damn evangelists.

It was a pretty good burrito though…

Donating Organs to Jesus

There is a Seventh-Day Adventist church near my house on our neighborhood street corner that has a giant message board for announcements and other religious proclamations. It rarely changes and the messages are typically not worth any mention. It will announce things their Vacation Bible School dates, or advertise its food pantry giveaway (free food for the needy AFTER they attend a service and get preached at), things like that. Occasionally, it will have something hilarious on it, like the time it said that the “most honorable position is on your knees before the lord.”

I think I almost choked on my bagel on the way to work when I saw it! (I know, I shouldn’t eat while I am driving… ESPECIALLY while simultaneously reading hilarious sexual innuendos on religious property)

Either way, the other day, the Adventists decided to switch up their message to something that infuriated me probably more than it should have. It now says:

“Become an organ donor, give your heart to Jesus”

How about you become an organ donor and give your heart (or any other part of you for that matter) to SOMEONE IN NEED instead?! To be fair, I don’t believe this sign is advocating against becoming an actual organ donor, however, I would argue that the message of becoming an actual organ donor is WAAAAAAYYYYYYYY more important than the message of giving your heart to a fictional, fairytale idiot of a “savior”.

Let’s look at some statistics:

  • Nearly 120,000 men, women and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants.
  • Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
  • An average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
  • In 2012, there were 14,013 Organ Donors resulting in 28,052 organ transplants.
  • 90% of Americans say they support donation, but only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor

Only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor” This statistic is remarkable to me because, literally, it is as easy as checking a box on your application for a photo ID or Driver’s License! So, wouldn’t the correct Christian thing to do in this situation be not to use a “clever” play on words in hopes of catching some poor, lost soul’s attention, but rather to take the opportunity to help your fellow human race and educate them about the shit that really matters? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t someone who is more alive be more effective in participating in your religion and tithing than a person that is… well… dead?

There is probably nothing on this Earth that pisses me off more than how the religious people in this world have such credibility, authority and such a HUGE platform to speak on with billions of blind followers and they abuse the opportunity to talk about things that really matter in this world. Instead, they brainwash, push ridiculous agendas and cover up crimes and misconduct, all in the name of god.

It’s absolutely disgusting.

God Will Save Us. Eventually. When He Gets Around To It.

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The city I live in has recently been on fire, causing the incredibly large religious population here to spew words of prayer, miracles and “it-was-his-time”s. While I am always happy to see a community come together to support each other, it is very interesting to me to see how god comes into play so much in the aftermath of natural (or man-made) disasters. For example, when a fire (or hurricane or tornado, etc) happen, people’s first response is to pray for people.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to ______”

“#prayfor_______”

“We are keeping everyone in our prayers”

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH

Now, obviously the fact that religious people turn to prayer right away as a coping mechanism in response to destructive events is not a new revelation; it’s a pretty typical response. My confusion comes when things start looking better.

We had 3 fires going on at the same time in different parts of the state. One was contained fairly quickly (a couple of days), one took about a week to be contained and the other is still currently at 85% containment. As these fires continue to grow in percentages of containment, people’s love for god grows too.

Emergency response personnel warned the residents of the evacuation areas to leave, sometimes even knocking on doors and helping people gather their most prized possessions and animals.

“Thank god no one was hurt.”

When people were nervously waiting on pre-evacuation status to see if they needed to flee their homes, the winds changed direction and the status was lifted.

“God is looking out for me, he made the wind blow the other way.”

After the first few days of our state being on fire, it rained.

“Thank god for the rain!”

When people were slowly being released back into their neighborhoods after evacuations were lifted, some houses were left standing while the ones next door sat as a pile of ash.

“God’s hand was in this. He protected my home!”

These are actual phrases I heard people saying in response to the heroic actions by (wo)man. People’s lives were spared because (wo)man went above and beyond to ensure their safety and well-being. They made people their priority and, as a result, there have only been 2 confirmed deaths as of today.

The winds changed because that’s what they do here… all the time… Every. Single. Day.

The weatherman had predicted the rain would arrive days before the fires even broke out. There was a system headed our direction and it was an almost inevitable reality.

But, the one that pisses me off the most is the response by those people whose homes were spared while their neighbors’ were not. Obviously, they aren’t going around boasting to their neighbors about that fact, but there was one instance in particular in which a woman’s son’s house was spared and she claimed that it was the hand of god. When asked how she could possibly think that way when so many other houses were destroyed she responded with, “Well, I had everyone I knew praying, my son had everyone he knew praying — there were a lot of people praying for this outcome. It’s just the power of prayer.” When asked to consider that maybe those who lost their homes had actually been praying too and could have possibly had even more people praying for them, she responded with, “Sometimes god does favors for people.”

This doesn’t look like a favor to me.

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Or this…

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Or even this…

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So, why is it that god is always credited with the happy ending, but never the brutal beginning? How can they honestly believe that he brought on the rain but not the fire itself? How can a lightning strike that ignites a tree that then annihilates a town be a freak act of nature, but the hardworking firefighters risking their lives to put it out are a gift from god? And why wouldn’t he/she/it quench the fires immediately instead of waiting a few days? Why not save ALL of the homes and ALL of the people instead of just some?

THIS is why it is so strange to me that people huddle closer to god in response to natural disasters because all it does is push me even further away.