Atheism is not a choice

Picture this: your colleague is in a wheelchair. She broke her back years ago, and is completely paralyzed from the waist down. There are some nasty people who claim she is not paralyzed after all, she can walk. You scoff at this: haven’t you seen with your own eyes how helpless she is? Hasn’t she explicitly said she is totally incapable of moving a muscle from the waist down? Then you go for a run one day and come across your supposedly paralyzed colleague doing the same. You’re stunned, shocked to the core, question your senses. Convince yourself you were mistaken. But you see her running again, and again, and again. You come up close to her and talk to her, question her in hope that it’s a case of mistaken identity. This is definitely the same woman you work with every day, who goes around in a wheelchair claiming to be paralyzed. She can walk, in fact, she can run, and this is not a doppelganger.

Your belief that she can walk – is that a choice?

If you were to claim my belief no gods exist is a choice, you would be making the same kind of claim. Where choice comes in, is if you’re faced with evidence and choose to run away, to stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalala instead of facing the truth and its implications. Choice also comes in where you choose how to interpret what you observe. This is a complicated and delicate aspect of choice, which deserves a thorough examination of its own. Suffice to say that there is a difference between taking a certain perspective and living in denial. In my case, I lived in denial for at least a year before finally accepting the truth.

Let’s hope Lou will one day turn around at just the right moment, and do the same.


Oprah’s cringe-worthy gaffe

There’s a good bit of attention generated by part of an interview Oprah Winfrey had with swimmer Diana Nyad. Winfrey questioned Nyad on her statement to producers before the show that she is “not a God person”. On Nyad’s reply that she’s an atheist, but in awe of the wonders of our world, Winfrey then took it upon herself to redefine God so as to dismiss Nyad’s statement and declare her a God person after all.

I was just thinking about this, putting it in other terms. Imagine the person she was interviewing was Barack Obama, the topic whether he identifies as African.

“You told our producers you’re not an African, but you’re deeply aware of your African roots?”

“Yeah, I’m not an African person [this could have happened in real life, if it was Whoopi Goldberg in the interview]. I’m an American.”

“But you have African roots?”

“I don’t understand why anyone would find any contradiction in that. I can stand in a hall with people who have African roots and think of themselves as Africa, I can marvel at the strength and beauty of our shared cultural influences…”

“Well I don’t call you an American then. I think if you can accept and love your darker skin, the history of your ancestors, then that is what African is. It’s not being born and raised in Africa.”

I don’t get that this woman felt it’s okay to redefine someone else according to her dictates on what’s what, when in any other context that would have been outrageous.

Never mind even African identity, what about religion? What if Oprah spoke to someone who was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity, but still appreciates the beauty in Jewish culture. What if Oprah told that person that then they are not a Christian? Would that have been okay?

It bugs me that people are so insensitive and feel such a right to dictate when someone else declares no belief in gods, when in any other context such liberties would not be tolerated.


Syrupy sweet, and not true

I just saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall:

When you have faith in yourself, you don’t need others to believe in you.

That’s simply not true. We’re interconnected creatures, we need each other. It’s only the most exceptionally exceptional among us who could keep having faith in themself when nobody else does. We don’t like hearing this, but unfortunately a truth doesn’t become untrue if we dislike it hard enough: you need people to affirm you, to believe in you, to give you positive messages about yourself. Sometimes, it only takes one, but more likely, you’ll be your best if you find friends who see the best you can be.

The flip side is true: we all need to understand just how crucial our role in others’ lives is. You can affirm, build up, encourage, or break down and kill spirit. Which will it be?

I remember watching a documentary about Karen Carpenter years ago, and I wish I could find it now. What stands out in my memory is someone, it might have been her brother, remembering how during her teens, Karen overheard someone say to a friend: “If only she wasn’t so fat.” From that point onward, Karen became obsessed with her weight. Of course there’s a myriad factors involved in a disease such as anorexia, but who knows? Maybe if Karen had heard: “What a beautiful young woman that is,” it might have set her on a different path. So much rests on us not so much believing in each other, but seeing and highlighting what’s good.