Freethought Friday

Free-Thought Friday: Losing My Christianity: Part 2

For part one of Jennifer’s journey, click here.


 

We arrived home, shaken up, but alive, and went to bed. The next day, I told mom I had enough of this shit, and if we didn’t leave, someone was going to die, and I wasn’t kidding. She told me to be patient, and she had a plan – a remark that I had absolutely no faith in, but I nodded and told her she’d better follow through with it, because the situation with dad was getting so far out of hand that our lives were risk. A month passed before the plans actually fell through, which mom later told me was a tactic to assure that dad didn’t realize what was happening. She was on disability for a severe back injury she had suffered for over a decade, so every year or so, she had to be evaluated by a doctor to confirm she was still disabled. She told dad she had one of these appointments, so she and I were going to go to Texas so she could see her primary doctor. He didn’t seem to suspect any foul-play with this explanation, so it seemed things were going well. Mom gave me instructions to pack enough stuff to last us a while, but not too much that he would find it suspect, placing it little by little into the truck on the days before our trip. On the day we left, I couldn’t stop smiling. We loaded up into the truck, said our goodbyes to dad, before taking off. At some point between our getting in the vehicle, and pulling out the driveway, he seemed to realize we were leaving for good, and began to run after us like a madman. I turned around and gave him a nice, big smile, then waved like crazy at him. I never will forget the stunned look on his face. To this day it makes me giddy, which may be odd, but I really don’t care. I was free from the hitting, the degrading name calling, isolation, paranoia, and authoritarian household that had me in chains for my entire life. Things were looking much better, and I finally had a chance to be happy.

On the way, mom and I discussed many things, one being my doubts about god because of what we had been through. She assured me that god was still with us, and if he hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have survived or had one another. Now, he had given us the opportunity to be happy, and it was her and I against the world. I heeded her words, and thought she had a really good point. I never forgot when she said, “It’s you and me against the world…” I considered this evidence that god was real, and with us, holding us together against all odds and struggles. Such a wonderful new beginning! I prayed to god and thanked him for having helped us get away from the tyrant, and swore I would never doubt him again as long as he kept mom and I together.

After about 7 hours, we arrived at my granny’s house in Texas, which was exciting because I hadn’t seen her in years! My aunt was also living there to take care of granny after she had a stroke. It was so awesome to be around family again! Things were fine for a while, and I began school a couple of months after we arrived. It was scary to go to public school, since I had been homeschooled and isolated for so long. Lots of bullying went on, because I was socially odd, and didn’t quite fit in. All of that really didn’t matter much, as long as I knew mom and I were free and could spend quality time together. So I would walk home from the bus stop each day, expecting to see her there when I arrived, but for one reason or another, she rarely was. I would ask granny where mom went, and she said she didn’t know. At times my mom would show up, late at night with the smell of alcohol on her breath. I inquired where she had been, to which she replied she had been at the bar hanging out with friends she knew in town. This went on for about 6 months. Me going to school, and her arriving home late and drunk. I started smoking cigarettes at school due to the stress and lack of guidance at home. My granny caught me, and told me it wasn’t good for me. I asked her why it mattered? No one really cared. Then mom found out I was smoking, she pretended to be upset for a few months, but after a while, she began buying them for me, since she had begun smoking herself, and figured it would be hypocritical for her to tell me to stop rebelling in that way.

About January the next year, mom told me that she had found a place to live where dad wouldn’t find us, and it was a college town, so she had signed up for classes there. How wonderful! Maybe being away from her bar friends would allow for her to spend more time with me! I thanked god once again for helping us find a place, and giving us a real chance to grow closer together. I began school there, and actually started making friends. I loved the new place, but mom seemed very stressed when she was home, and on the weekends, of course, she still frequented various bars. She loved being back at college, and spent a lot of time studying, but we were fighting quite a bit. I began to feel as though she didn’t like me at all. It hurt my feelings, but at least she was actually there, and I had some friends to talk to. After her first semester ended, and to my utter dismay, she started spending more and more time at bars. By this time, I had turned 14, and was already quite rebellious and angry – especially after she brought home guys from bars that wouldn’t seem to go away. We had two different guys move in with us, one of which was a complete control freak that wouldn’t give me any privacy, and as ALWAYS drunk or high on something. One day, they left for the bar, and didn’t come back for a full month. There was barely enough food in the house for me to survive, and I had no idea where she had gone until she called me on the phone a week after they had left to let me know they were staying in Arkansas, and she didn’t know when they would be back, but would let me know. To say I was hurt by this would be a complete understatement. The woman abandoned me to vacation with a drunkard. I prayed and prayed for them to come home, at least before the food ran out. They finally did, so I assumed god answered my prayer, but there was still the matter of the additional drunkard flopping at our house.

 

He lived with us for 5-6 months, and after a couple of really bad, drunken fights between them, I advised mom to take that bastard back where he came from. She agreed, and he packed his stuff and they went back to his town. I waited for her to arrive back home until 3am, and to my utter dismay, she arrived with guy #2, whose name was Thomas. I was absolutely infuriated with her! I prayed to god that night that she would stop drinking. I pleaded with him, and bargained my life to him if he would just help me have a real parent that cared about me for once in my life.

A few days after Thomas had arrived, mom decided she wanted to vacation to Arkansas once again. I insisted that this time, they take me with them. She disagreed, saying she wanted to spend quality time with the guy she had just met. To my surprise, the guy agreed that I should go with them, and he was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know me as well. So off to Arkansas we went, and aside from my mom’s drunkenness, I actually had a good time! Thomas loved to drive FAST on the narrow highways alongside the mountains. It was exhilarating, and he was funny, smart, and quite an interesting character. One night after my mom had passed out, we spent some time talking about everything from life to music, only interrupted by the occasional animal that glowed their eyeshade with wonder at us as we tried to guess what species it was. I really liked this guy, and as I prayed later on that night before going to sleep, I thanked god for him coming into mom’s life, despite how they met. He actually was nice, and seemed to actually care about my feelings and well-being more than my own mom. Perhaps it would be a good influence for her, I thought.

Freethought Friday

Free-Thought Friday #5:

For last Weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.

Today’s article comes to us from the UK. Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his ideas on how to improve the healthcare system in the USA. I find it interesting, his take on our healthcare and the possible fixes that he proposes.


Repeal and replace Obamacare.

Trump.jpgThis is the Holy Grail that Trump promised (and he said he had a cunning plan during the electoral process). The cunning plan turned out to be “dump the problem on Congress”. And it all went downhill from there. They called it the “American Care Act”. The Democrats voted solidly against it, so it only took a few Republicans to think it didn’t go far enough, or it went too far, and the plan ended up in the “too difficult” drawer.

But it can be done.

First, a few prelimiaries. 

Medicare is a healthcare program, paid for out of taxes, that covers people who are 65 or more, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease, which sounds pretty dreadful and I hope I never find out what it is. Medicare comes in four parts; A is hospital coverage, B is … well, read it here. Part A costs you $451 per month = $5412/year. To get part B (which also gets youC and D), you pay $105 per month = $1260 per year. So the whole package is $6672/year.

But there there’s “deductibles”  (you pay extra if you actually go to hospital), and there’s coinsurance (co-pay). Yes, it gets complicated.

55 million people are on Medicare. The Medicare budget in 2017 is $709 billion

Medicaid is for anyone who is low-paid, if you feel low-paid, then google for details, maybe you qualify. 74 million people are on Medicaid; Obamacare expanded Medicaid as of 2014. Oh, and 9 million are on both Medicare and Medicaid. The Medicaid budget in 2017 is $553 billion.

And then there’s Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called the Affordable Care Act or ACA. After you’ve read that explanation, maybe you can explain it to me, because it’s much too complicated for my tiny brain, which probably means that it’s *far* too complicated for politicians, who often struggle to comprehend how arithmetic works. Obama said it would cost $94 billion per year, this is disputed. And I can’t work out who pays what. No wonder there’s controversy. The CBO, which is supposed to be non-partisan, say $134 billion per year. I’ll take that figure.

And finally, if you’re a Veteran, you can go to The Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  The Veterans (VHA) budget is $68 billion

So I added all these up. It comes to $1464 billion, which works out at $4531 per head, since there are 323.1 million Americans (I’m ignoring the detail that some Americans are older than others).

So that’s what the government pays – that means that this much comes out of taxation. In addition, there’s all the co-pays and deductibles, and additional insurance paymens made by people in these plans, and I haven’t even tried to estimate how much that adds to the total, because it’s just too complicated. And to that, you should add the money spent by Americans on the various privately-run insurance schemes. Aetna, for example has a revenue of $63 billion, Anthem takes in $85 billion and Met Life gets $70 billion. And that’s just three companies of many. I could have included those in my total, but I didn’t.  I don’t need to dip into the healthcare insurance company revenues to make the case I’m making.

How good is American healthcare?

Flag.jpg

How do you measure how good a healthcare system is? I don’t care how many CAT scanners you have, or how much profit is made by the healthcare companies. What matters to me, and what should matter to you, is the outcome. Are you healthier? But it’s difficult to measure “healthiness”. Do you live longer? Ah, now that we can measure. So I will.

It’s always tricky to compare countries, but there’s a few things that are comparable. The first of these is the mortality rate for under-fives. In the USA, that’s 6500 per million, in the UK it’s 4200. Please try to imagine a pile of 2300 dead toddlers.

And there’s also infant mortality; deaths per million live births. USA is 5800, UK is 4300. So now imagine a heap of 1500 dead babies.

My older daughter is about to have a baby. It’s all very exciting, and eagerly anticipated, but a couple of weeks ago we had a family discussion about “what if”. Because giving birth is not without risk. In the USA, there’s 21 mothers dying of pregnancy or complications, per 100,000. In the UK, that’s 12 per 100,000. So that’s 75% more in the USA – I’m glad that my daughter is in the UK!

And life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years. In the UK that’s 81.1, that’s 2.3 extra years. Nice!

And on average, 643,000 Americans declare bankrupcy per year owing to medical bills. You break a leg – you lose everyting you own. And each of those 643,000 has a family.

I’ve compared with the UK, but if you follow the links, you’ll see just how poor US health outcomes are compared with a great many countries. Look at the rankings, and ask yourself, why isn’t American healthcare the best in the world? Because it really ought to be. Because the USA is a highly educated, prosperous and technologically advanced society, that spends a lot more per head on health care than any other country.

Compare that with the UK.

UK

So that’s public healthcare in the USA. And I’d like to compare that with public healthcare in the place I know best, the UK.

The NHS budget is £124 billion, which is $161 billion, and works out at $2453 per head.
For that cost, UK citizens get healthcare, period. And pretty much everything is free (meaning, paid for out of taxation). A medication prescription costs $11, and if you’re getting a lot of pills, you can pay $38 to cover all the charges for three months. But there’s a lot of people get presciptions for free; I do, because I’m over 65 (also cancer patients, pregnant women, and so on). You also pay extra for dental work; $27 for routine stuff, $73 if you need a filling or root canal. Hospitals are free – I’ve never paid for any hospital visit. And there’s a thing called the “Small injuries unit” which I’ve been to for a nasty scalp cut and before that for a splinter under my fingernail that I just couldn’t get out. A nice nurse cleaned up the scalp cut and then glued it (apparently they prefer to use glue for small stuff). Another nice nurse got the splinter out while I shut my eyes and tried not to scream.  In my experience, you turn up and they just deal with it, 24/7. I get free spectacles and have for the last 60 years, although I can pay extra to get designer frames. And when my free biennial vision test discovered excessive pressure in my left eyeball, diagnosis and treatment has been free (a drop in my eye each morning seems to have fixed it).

Oh, and doctor’s appointments are free. And I don’t see how anyone in the UK could be bankrupted by medical bills.

And I don’t think that the UK is exceptionally good. Yes, the NHS is good, but I’ve heard very good reports of the French system, and Germany was the first country to move to universal healthcare, in 1883.

The American Health Service  

healthcare

So right now, Americans are paying twice as much as people in other countries, for an inferior health outcome.

So let’s imagine a service which I’m going to call the American Health Service, AHS. It’s free at point of need (with maybe a few exceptions, as above) and it’s paid for out of taxation. If it costs the same as in the UK (I’ll discuss this later) then that would be $2453/head, $793 billion per year. Which is a saving of $671 billion per year, and if you put that back into the pockets of the taxpayer, that’s $2078 per person, which would be $8312 for a family of four. Tax cuts!

So all Americans would get healthcare to a high standard, wouldn’t have to raid their income for health insurance, no co-pay, no deductibles, no cap on spending (sorry, you’re only covered up to $1m, your insurance ran out, please die quietly now). And no “pre-existing condition”. The way it works is, if you’re sick, then you get treated.

Sounds good. Sounds very good. In fact, it sounds too good to be true! So where’s the catch? How can you get univeral healthcare at cost of about half of what you’re already paying?

There’s two reasons why universal single-payer healthcare is so much cheaper.

The first is the cost of medication. 

medicine

A recent Trump tweet said “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” When Trump thinks that drug prices are too high, then maybe they are. Also, drug prices for the same drug in Canada are much lower. But why should Frazier lower drug prices? If there are people willing to pay his high prices, he’d be a fool to lower them.

The reason is monopoly and monopsony. If a company has a monopoly on something important, you can be sure that the price of that thing will be somewhat higher than a situation where there are several companies competing for your business. And, of course, that works the other way round – if there is only one buyer of a product then that buyer has tremendous leverage; that’s called a monopsony. So the American Health Service (which doesn’t exist, but ought to) would A) be buying in bulk, and that’s always cheaper, and B) would be the only buyer, so you sell your Epipen to us, or you you don’t make many sales. And here’s the price we think we should be paying … see above.

healthcare2

The second reason is insurance companies. 

In an UK NHS hospital there is no team of administrators working out the costs of treating each patient and filling in the necessary forms to claim on the insurance (and the insurance companies are not eager to pay unless it can be shown that the claim is valid). That team of administrators is matched by equivalent teams in each of the insurance companies, checking those forms. The entire cost of the processing of insurance claims is avoided, as is the profits made by those companies. You see, they aren’t non-profits working out of the benevolence of their hearts.

The pharmaceutical companies are, of course, aware of this threat and they will fight tooth and nail to avoid having to face a monopsony. No tactic will be too underhand, no “sponsored research” stone will be left unturned. But, you might ask, why doesn’t Medicare use its buying power to negotiate better prices? Because your congress won’t let them. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) included a ban on price negotiation. The pharma companies spend more than $100m on lobbying, seeking to persuade lawmakers by hook or by crook to maintain their high (or as Trump puts it, “RIPOFF”) prices. That $100 million is a wise investment of a small fraction of the $374 billion that Americans spend on medication per year.

And what of the insurance companies? They will see most of the reason for their existence wiped away. In the UK, there are a few medical insurance companies, but nothing like the American behemoths. And they too will fight like cornered leviathans to maintain their lucrative business. Currently, they’re spending over $10m per year.

So that’s why it’s possible to have a single-payer, universal healthcare system at around half of what the government is currently paying.

BUT … 

“But this is socialism”, I’ve heard people say. Yes, it is. And? It’s a service for the whole population, paid for out of taxation. Just like the fire service, the police service, the public school service and the military. I don’t hear cries from the anti-socialists “stop taxing us to pay for the military, we’ll defend ourselves”.

“But it’s unfair, I’ll be paying for a service used by other people”. That’s right. The rich will help the poor, the healthy will help the sick. If you’re a Christian, then you’ll probably approve of this because that’s what Jesus wanted. If you’re an Atheist, you’ll definitely approve of this, because it’s the Right Thing To Do.

“But taxes” you might say, if you’re Republican. Or also if you’re Democrat – no-one actually likes being taxed. Um, no. Because the AHS would cost half of what’s currently being spent out of taxes, that leave room for a tax cut once the system is in place. TAX CUT!

“But it’s untried, untested, how can we know if it would work?” Look at the 58 countries that already have a universal healthcare system. And these aren’t just Western countries like the UK, France, Germany and Italy. They include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Bhutan and Sri Lanka  (and I bet many Americans won’t be able to find any of those on a map).

The taxation will fall more percentage-wise on the rich; the sick will consume more of the healthcare that the healthy. And that’s a good thing.

So I do support the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, but only if it’s replaced by something like the American Health Service that this essay proposes.

And there’s even something for you, Mr Trump. You can call it “Trumpcare”, because as long as Americans get the healthcare that they need, I don’t care what you call it.

 

Freethought Friday

Free-Thought Friday #4: Losing My Christianity: Part 1

Remember, guest bloggers are always encouraged to submit articles for Free-Thought Friday. For last weeks post explaining the expectations, click here.


Jennifer is the love of my life. Though she practiced New Age Spirituality as an adult, she was raised in a very fundamentalist form of Christianity. I think you will find her story interesting, heartbreaking, and definitely eye-opening.

The following story is one of abuse and heartache. If you know of any child that is being abused, please be their advocate, speak out for them. Some of Jennifer’s pain might have been lessened if someone had picked up the phone and actually done something.

To report child abuse call the national child abuse hotline 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)


 

I was raised as a Christian in the deep south by two very strict fundamentalists. My dad was the stricter of the two, and did not allow me to cut my hair, pierce my ears, go to public school, listen to secular music of any kind, or wear blue jeans. He dressed me up like a cliché pentecostal girl, and it was quite embarrassing to go out in public. My mom was pretty much the stigma of the passive good wife, submitting completely to a husband who was emotionally and physically abusive. This man was a tyrant, and had ridiculous notions of reality. This was during the 80’s and 90’s, so the AIDS scare was in full force, and my father has fallen for the rhetoric of stupid the entire time I’ve known him. He was full of hatred for gays, and I recall an occasion where we had visited a fast food place where the server seemed slightly effeminate. This sounded alarm bells for my dad, and despite the fact that he, having been a mere cashier, didn’t even touch the food, dad threw the bags immediately in trash. Since we hadn’t had anything to eat that day, we were starving, so it was quite the outrageous overreaction. Before this, I hadn’t really questioned theism much, but having finally reached the age of reason (I was 11 at the time), I began to wonder if these beliefs were worthy of holding if they led to such irrational hatred for others who were different.

After having spent years being beaten and emotionally scarred by this man, mom and I started to feel as though the relationship wasn’t working out, so we made plans to leave him behind and go out in the world on our own. Still the good little god-loving girl, I prayed and prayed for mom to leave, and for him to be with us during these struggles so we would be safe. Well, that didn’t work out so well. We would leave, and she kept falling for his charms and empty promises of change. Each time they reunited, the abuse got worse for me. He felt I had betrayed him, and made his feeling clear every time I walked by with a pinch of my arm, a slap to the back of my head, or a hateful glare. He would do this to me, then go over to mom and whisper sweet nothings until she would giggle like a doe-eyed teenager. This made me utterly sick, and I didn’t understand why she had chosen to continuously to go back to him. I knew he would just hit, kick, and choke her again after he felt comfortable enough in the relationship to do so. In tears, I reached out to god, but it no longer felt as though he were present; instead there was a cold emptiness and sense of total abandonment, betrayal, and utter lack of regard for my life. I felt I had no one – for dad had isolated us both from other family members, and now it seemed there was absolutely no one in the world who cared about my well-being, especially my parents.

Of course, as it always did, the abuse escalated to the point where our lives were put at risk nearly every other day. To make matters worse, my parents started traveling hundreds of miles to see a psychiatrist for ADD medication. They even coached me on how to tell the doctor my “symptoms” so they could get me on these drugs, which to this very day baffles me. So anyway, we were all now on legal amphetamines, but my dad took it to a whole new level – crushing up his meds and putting them in his coffee. Of course, he started seeing shit that wasn’t there, and going even more insane with the paranoia. He had always been paranoid, in fact, he had moved us to the middle of nowhere Arkansas, since he felt the “leftist government” was after him because he was a prophet who got messages from god. We bought tons of food (and of course, lots of guns) to prepare for the inevitable apocalypse that would come as a result of the government allowing gays and non-believers to take over the country. All of that was nonsense, but I wasn’t really aware of how crazy it was until he started going off on these rants about it while high on the meds. By this time, I was almost 13, and completely sick and tired of dad’s bullshit. I told mom we had to leave, and she concurred, but argued the timing wasn’t right, and if we tried to leave with him acknowledging our plans, we would kill us. In heed of her warning, and under the influence of the drugs, I began carrying a pocketknife – just in case.

A few months passed in this same manner, until we had to take the long trip to the doctor to get more meds to fuel dad’s insanity. We went to the appointment, then dad decided he wanted to check out the electronics store, but told us to stay in the truck. It was the month of May, in the state of Texas, so it began to get really hot after a few hours of him lollygagging around in the air-conditioned store. I was in the bed of the truck, which had a metal camper over it, and a beanbag chair for me to sit on. Despite how hot it was, neither one of us dared leave the truck to find relief. If we had, dad would lose his mind. We waited for 6 hours while he bullshitted with clerks inside, and of course, had nothing to eat the entire time. Finally, around dusk, he came out of the store with bags full of electronic parts he would never use. He drove to a catfish place in the city, and ordered a huge amount of food, and proceeded to head toward home eating his food while we both sat there patiently awaiting a morsel. After he had finished what he wanted, he finally offered me a piece of catfish, when mom made the horrid mistake of asking if she could have some. He became extremely irate, proclaiming that she was too fat to eat any, and screamed at her for hours about it. He would brake really hard to express his anger, and swerve all over the road screaming at the top of his lungs, “I WILL KILL YOU BOTH AND ASK GOD FOR FORGIVENESS LATER!!” My mom cried and pleaded with him to stop, but he wouldn’t. I sat in the back, with the sliding window between the truck bed and the front open, witnessing this whole thing in a terrified but angered state of mind, tightening the grip on my pocketknife, and waiting for the right moment to stab him in the neck so we could get out of this alive. There was no way I was going to do it while he was still driving, though. He finally pulled over, and I contemplated whether or not the situation merited a knife, but it seems he had finally calmed down after several hours of the tirade, so I put my knife away. One thing I noticed, I no longer was praying to god to save us, I was relying on myself for preservation instead.

Freethought Friday

Free-Thought Friday #3: Guest Bloggers Needed

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.

Free-Thought Friday is your chance to have your voices heard. I am looking for guest bloggers who something to say but maybe don’t believe they have a platform from which to say it. This article is all about you. Have something that you think fits any of the themes of this blog, let me know and submit an article. You can do that through the contact page on this blog or by contacting me either on Facebook or Twitter.

So what are some of the things that I am interested in? I would love to read about your journey away from faith or your life in general. Have something you want to rant about, this is the article to let you do it. Interested in sharing a story about your life, including maybe stories about your autism and how it has shaped your life? I’m interested in those stories as well.

Basically, if you have something that you think is important and needs to be said. Let me know and say it. I look forward to anything that you have and are willing to submit. Every time I read one of your stories I enjoy it and look forward to reading many more.

A few topics of interest:

Atheism
Agnosticism
Doubts
Former Faith
Autism
Asperger’s
Stemming
Sensory Overload
General Science
Physics
Evolution
Biology
Paleontology
Archeology
etc…

These articles are about you getting to have your say in the way you want to say it. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you!

Freethought Friday

Free-thought Friday #2: I Was Always An Atheist

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.


Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his story and I think you will find it very interesting!


 

First, a definition. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods.

So.

I was born an atheist. When you’re a week old, you don’t believe in anything, except milk and poop. Then I was eight days old, my parents decided that I wasn’t quite as perfect as delivered, so they got a mohel to make a small snip. No-one consulted me about this, although if I had been asked, my response would have been either “milk” or “poop”.

0-5
Age 0 to 5 – my interests became more diverse. I had bricks, and stacking cups, and a thing you pushed things into whereat they came out the other end, and books. I’m told that I was starting to read at an age that I frankly don’t believe, mothers always exaggerate. But I do remember my first day at school, I was about 5, and I came home very disappointed. “All they did was play with water”, I said, although actually they were also doing “A is for apple”. Except I was reading books by then, and wasn’t even interested in “Janet and John”.

Age 5 to 10. As I grew up, no-one gave me any good reason to believe in any god. I enjoyed reading a *lot*, the local public library was within walking distance, I persuaded the librarian to let me borrow ten books per week, and I was doing well at school. There was some sort of “assembly” in the morning, and I do remember “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”, which is a great song, but the next line is “The Lord God made them all”, and I classified that along with Santa Claus, because I already had read about evolution, and that was so obviously the right answer.

ChederAt the age of 9 or 10, I had to go to Cheder. Because my mother told me I had to. At Cheder, I learned two things. A) how to read hebrew, and B) how long I could hold my breath. Hebrew is really difficult – it isn’t just a new language (and I found out later with French,  Latin and Russian that I’m really rubbish at languages) and it isn’t just that the pages are back to front and the writing from right to left. It’s also that the letters aren’t the A-Z that I already knew, and the worst thing is that the vowels are left out and you have to guess what they are from just the consonants. Holding your breath, however, is really easy. The clock in the Cheder had a second-hand, and in order to alleviate the excruciating boredom, I practiced breath-holding.

The purpose of Cheder was to prepare me for my barmitzvah, an ordeal that every jewish boy has to go through as a rite of manhood at the age of 12 or so. It’s a bit like being given a spear and being told to go out and kill a lion, except that you’re given a passage in hebrew, and you have to stand up in front of dozens of relatives and dozens of complete strangers, and not only read it, you have to *sing* it using the prescribed notes, which are, of course, not like the sort of music I was learning when learning piano – oh no, it was little marks amongst the hebrew that told you what pitches and lengths to sing. I would have preferred the spear and the lion. The only good thing about Cheder was that you got unlimited bread and strawberry jam beforehand.

I got through my barmitzvah unscathed. Because I got one-on-one tutelage, and more practice than I’ve ever used for anything else. Not completely unscathed; it was many years before I was willing to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of myself.

So now I was a mensch. When a minyan was needed (you need ten men for some prayer services) I could be one of them! But even better – I didn’t have to go to Cheder any more, and that was a real benefit; no longer was I in any danger of death by non-breathing. Also, I was in charge of the decision of whether to attend synagogue or not. I chose not.

The school I went to was all boys in gender, mixed in religion. Half jewish, half christian. Because of that, it would have been difficult for them to ram any kind of religion down us, but we still has a daily assembly, and I learned to ask for “forgive us our trespasses” which, at the time, I thought referred to that time in autumn when we would creep onto a field that we weren’t supposed to in search of conkers. No-one explained this stuff to me. The whole of that prayer just sounded like nonsense; even the words I understood were being used in a way that sounded daft. “For thine is the kingdom”? What does that actually mean? It was just words, and meaningless. But we had to mumble them, although no-one explained to me why.

The school I was at was the Grocer’s Company school (which I have to say was the best grammar school in the area, later called the Hackney Downs School, which isn’t nearly as elegant). The motto was “God grant grace” and the school hymn was also  “God grant grace” This was completely wasted on me, because no-one ever explained to me the meaning of “grace” in this context. To me, grace was the opposite of clumsy, and the hymn was all about not tripping over your own feet. And the tune was a dreadful dirge.

It was at this school that I first learned the terms “jew boy” and “yid”, which (judging from the tone of voice they were used) were supposed to be insults. But there were far greater insults, such as “cap crawler” (one who wears his school hat in conformity with the rules) and “swot”. I was, of course, all four. I also learned that although I was wretched at French and pants at Art, I left everyone else behind at maths, which turned out to be useful later.

Grocers was an all-boys school. That didn’t seem to be a drawback until I turned 15 or so, at which point the total absence of half the world’s population became an issue. So I joined Habonim. That’s a jewish youth movement whose objective is to get to to do Aliyah – emigrate to Israel. I had no interest in Aliyah, but a growing interest in that other half. And there they were.

British Bulldog

Religion in Habonim is of very minor importance. Dancing, a lot more so. and mixed games such as British Bulldog, all of which gave boys an opportunity to clutch at girls, and vice versa.  There were also summer camps, also mixed, and winter activities. But included in all this, was a certain amount of what I would call cultural awareness, and it was there that I first found out about the holocaust. No-one had told me about this before, at school we were up to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the syllabus ending in 1832. It’s impossible for me to describe the impact that this had on me. Thinking about it still makes me cry, and although I’ve read lots of books about the second world war, I try to avoid books about the holocaust. Except “Maus“, which I’d recommend.

Fiddler on the roof.jpg
My grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the century in response to the pogroms there (and no-one had told me about those, either, and “Fiddler on the roof” also makes me cry). They came from the part of Russia that became Poland, and if they hadn’t emigrated, then 40 years later they would have been murdered by the Nazis, along with any children and grandchildren. And, of course, if they’d converted to christianity (which almost certainly they wouldn’t have) that wouldn’t have saved them – the Nazis didn’t care about your religion, only your blood.

So between the ages of 15 and 17, I felt more jewish than I ever had, but not religious. I didn’t go to synagogue (except for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals), I didn’t pray, if you’d asked me I’d have said I was agnostic, but that was because I didn’t know the definition of atheist – I was actually an atheist.

If I had believed in god at the age of 15 (which I didn’t), then finding out about the holocaust would certainly have changed that. Some people say that you can’t prove the non-existence of something, but actually you can. If you specify the thing in question (for example, a full-size elephant in my room) then I can prove the non-existence of that (I leave the proof to the reader, it’s pretty simple). And I knew about this sort of proof from maths; you can prove the non-existence of a largest prime number, or that you cannot express the square root of two as a ratio of two numbers. I would very quickly have come to a strong belief in the non-existence of the god of the jews.

So I went up to university at 17 as an atheist to read maths, and soon discovered that I was the Only Jew in the College (if there were others, they were keeping a very low profile). There was Habonim in Cambridge, which was just as well because in student numbers, there were about 20 males for each female. In maths, more like 200. But in Habonim, five girls and two boys, which is small in numbers, but favourable in ratio, especially as there was already one couple paired off. But I’m not going to talk about my early sex life …

As the Only Jew in the College, I found that there were people who thought that I hadn’t heard the Good News, and that if only someone told me, I’d eagerly accept Jesus into my Heart and become one of God’s Army. This is something I hadn’t encountered before, and I was unpracticed at dealing with it. I fear that I was unable to sufficiently conceal my mirth at some of the approaches, which is not as well-mannered as I should have been.

My worst misdemeanor was when a good friend of mine, who went by the handle of Li(3) of 1 (that’s a mathematical joke) persuaded me to go to chapel, on the grounds that I’ve never been, and how do I know I wouldn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it, which is an argument that was also used on my to get me to start smoking (I didn’t) and drinking beer (I did, and still do, occasionally). So I went with him to chapel, and maybe the fact that he called it “chapel” tells you which brand of christianity it was, but I never found out, and we went through a service that was every bit as boring as Cheder, and worse, because there was no clock with a second-hand that I could use to practise holding my breath.holding your breath

I shall pass over the incident when I was asked to eat human flesh and drink human blood and refused on the grounds that cannibalism was against my atheistic principles, even if it’s symbolically, and skip to the part where Li(3) of 1 introduced me to the vicar (or priest, or minister, or whatever he was) with “This is my friend, he’s, he’s, er, er, he’s a, um, he’s of the Hebrew persuasion” at which I said, loudly enough for everyone in the chapel to hear, “No I’m not, I’m a jew”.

I wasn’t invited back.

Elliot 503

I graduated, and there was a ceremony, and people prayed, and since I’d worked hard for that certificate I wasn’t going to make a nuisance about that, and I got a job where they had an Elliott 503 computer, which I fell in love with, and I’ve been messing around with computers or the 50 years thereafter, and it turns out that if you like playing with the best toy ever invented, people chuck money at you, which is nice.

So for 60-odd years, I was an atheist, and thought nothing of it. I mean, it really is nothing, like “not playing football” or “liking brussel sprouts”. I don’t like football, but if someone else want to play, why should I care? And if someone else dislikes brussle sprouts, it’s no skin off my nose. But then I was rummaging around Youtube, looking for yet another production of the Mikado, when I came across Christopher Hitchens, which led to Matt Dillahunty, and I discovered that for some people living in some countries, atheism is indeed a thing. Because in some countries, religion gets rammed down your throat whether you want it or not. Some people don’t accept that other people’s sex lives are none of your business as long as it’s adult consensual.

I still go to synagogue for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funeral, but I’ve found that if I take a book with me and read quietly about such subjects as the “War of the Spanish Succession” while everyone else is either praying or pretending to pray, no-one seems to mind. Just don’t read a book that makes you laugh out loud. At Pesach, I go to the seder at my sister’s house (she does a great pesach meal with chicken soup, chopped liver followed by various Sephardi dishes (we’re Ashkenazi, she married a Sephardi and now mostly cooks in that style) and because there’s two seder nights, the other is at my sister-in-law (more chicken soup, chopped liver and then various Ashkenazi dishes). Because they both know how much I like chicken soup and chopped liver. And at the seder, it’schopped liver.jpg laid down that you should ask questions about the exodus from Egypt, and boy, do I have some good questions each year. So if you want to, you could say that I’m gastronomically Ashkenazi Jewish.

 

 

When my kids were small, we did Santa Claus and the reindeer each year, and I actually do not care that some Christians think that they have a monopoly on Christmas, nor do I care that this maybe comes from a Druid festival or maybe from the Roman Saturnalia. And one of them was the Christmas Elf, who oversees the Distribution of Presents on Christmas Day, although I suspect that we might be the only family that had our own Elf. And I’m still willing to be Santa for grandchildren, because I think it’s important for kids to learn that grown-ups lie about invisible people

Although in restrospect, I realise that religion has affected me, and not just the holocaust – I mean affected me personally. There was a thing in England called the Lord’s Day Observance Society which led to legislation about what I could and could not do on a Sunday. And their idea was that the only thing I should do on Sunday, is going to church, which in my case wasn’t going to happen. These days, the LDOS is pretty much a dead duck, and Sundays are full of activities.

But also the House of Lords (a total unelected anachonism in itself) includes 26 “Lords Spiritual” (bishops), which means that the cold dead hand of religion is infecting my government, although given the almost complete lack of power of the HoL, that isn’t as bad as it might have been and nowhere near as bad as it is in the USA. Oh, and one of the Lords Spritual is a jew. These jews get in everywhere. But no Roman Catholics, because ever since Henry VIII, they’ve been persona non grata in the higher reaches of government.

I read with great dismay, the stories of people (mostly American) who have been inculcated with religion and who have considerable difficulty getting free of it, of the nightmares that some of them still have about an imaginary hell. About how the people they thought loved them, turned out to love their imaginary friend so much more that they’d turn their back on the newly declared atheist. About how people in one of the many religions of peace turned out to be anything but peaceful when push came to shove. About how even though the religion preaches charity, the devotees practise malevolence. About how faith is preached as an ideal instead of as the polite word for gullibility.

And I can only thank god that I am truly blessed because I am, and always was, an atheist.

Freethought Friday

Freethought Friday #1: To My Theist Friends and Foes

Boris Ekner is a friend of mine who I met on Facebook a few months ago. He is a great freethinker and i think you will enjoy his article today as I have. In my mind this is the perfect choice for our first entry to Freethought Friday. If you are interested in writing an article for this weekly series, please use the contact form which can be found here.


To my theist friends and foes,

This is about flipping the coin and take a look on the other side. This is about what we can learn by looking at a topic by from a different perspective. This is about daring to do what you might not have done before.

There are many atheists in the world and the number is growing steadily. It is the fastest growing affiliation world-wide.

Religion.png
Most atheists were once theists. They did believe in a God just as you do. They did believe in a life after death, a Heaven and a Hell. I did too, but I never believed in a Hell. I did, however, believe in a life after death. I did pray to a God for guidance and advice. It brought me comfort even though I never saw any prayers answered.

As most atheist once were people of faith – what was it that made them lose faith? Have you ever looked into it? Have you ever been bold enough to look at it from the perspective of the former believer? What do you think you would find, if you did?
What do you think you would find if you added logic and reason to your faith?Let’s use the story of Jesus as an example and add some logical reasoning to it all.

“Do you dare to do this in order to increase your understandings…”

  • God impregnated Mary in her sleep. As she was asleep God impregnated her without her consensus. (That is the definition of rape, BTW.) God did this in order to make himself visible to humanity. He did it for a good cause though, but nevertheless it was rape.
  • As God is omnipotent (the all-powerful creator of everything) and created the entire universe, why the need of a woman to create himself as Jesus? He did create Adam out of dust and Eve out of a rib, didn’t he?
  • As he now did create himself as Jesus by impregnating Mary with himself, Jesus was, by definition, his own father.
  • As God is omniscient (all-knowing) he knew that he would be killed on the cross.
  • As God is the omnipotent creator of everything he is also the creator of his own killing.
  • God, the omniscient, knew that he as Jesus, would be killed for the sins he created in the first place. That means that God committed suicide on the cross. Suicide is a sin according to the Bible.
  • This means that God, according to the Bible, is a sinner just as you and everyone else.
  • If you disagree on this it means that your God is not omnipotent nor omniscient, and that means that God cannot be a God as it contradicts the very definition.
    Conclusion – God raped Mary. – Jesus was his own father.- Jesus committed suicide for the sins of humanity, sins created by himself. – Jesus resurrected after three days – so he never really died, did he? So what was it he sacrificed, three days?
  • On top of this, there is no independent sustainable proof outside religious texts that Jesus ever existed.

This is a simple example of the thought process that has taken place in every believer when they have questioned what the Bible has taught them.
This method can be applied on every subject the Bible tells us.

  • The creation of universe.
  • The creation of Adam & Eve.
  • The talking snake.
  • The burning bush.
  • The creation of Earth.
  • The creation of Christianity itself.
  • The 10 commandments.
  • The 7 deadly sins.
  • The story of Moses.
  • The story of Abraham.
  • The story of Noah and the Ark
  • …and many more

Do you dare to do this in order to increase your understandings of people like me, the atheist?


About the Author: Boris Ekner
Born in Sweden, 1962. Living in Guatemala since 2010. Married. Father of four.
Radar engineer. Former SOG Air Force officer. Freemason.

…and a full-time freethinking atheist, and anti-theist, since 2015.

In order to stay sane in an insane world I write. For the same reason I have taken up photography, as a hobby.

You can find links to Boris’s blog, instagram, and another photography site below. Check them out, they are great!

www.mrbaltazar.wordpress.com

instagram.com/borisekner

www.500px.com/borisekner