Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dick Dawkins is a cool dude

I'm the "DEVIL'S SPAWN"... and joined Atheist Blogroll

That reminds me....the woman who started me out playing cello, Gladys Helland, was my orchestra teacher from fourth grade through high school. I remember particularly in about eighth grade (the time I wrote about below), those few bouts of my rebellion against repression appeared in the form of rebellion in orchestra class, because it was the one place I felt comfortable around others. I was the principal cellist and a star musician. Ironically, it was also the one place where I was also being judged by my teacher, for my combination of Judaism and naughtiness. In particular, one day I grabbed a bunch of water bugs from a sink backstage, and released them onto the stage during orchestra rehearsal! Ms. Helland called me a "heathen" and "the Devil's spawn"!!! She was a religious Lutheran from Minnesota, who was trained in music as an expression of her religiosity, not trained in religion in order to have an outlet to express her musicality (like I was, somewhat.)

I knew that Ms. Helland needed me in her orchestra, and I was not in the slightest fazed by her insults. They did not hurt me, because I was, in fact, an atheist. I marveled at her weirdness, because those statements revealed someone more religious than I had ever met. But, I didn't tell my parents, and even if I had, I am sure they would have sided with her. After all, I released bugs onstage during rehearsal!

My confidence remained high and the experience was in no way traumatizing, because Ms. Helland and I had a good working relationship through the years. I am sure she had forgiven me by the end of high school, when she awarded me a music scholarship. It's all just a frame of reference....we had a different frame of reference-- hers was religious, mine was not. Since then, I have become a teacher, and in a similar situation, I would have reprimanded a student, but not using such colorful language! I would have been a bit tougher, and probably gotten the student suspended! So, in fact, her words were quite harmless and amusing to me.

Yet, the hidden danger in this story is that rhetoric like "devil's spawn" comes to be interpreted so literally by some Christians. It's ideas like this, or calling Jews "heathens," which resemble the idea that Jews are evil because they killed Jesus, or so the story goes... It's ideas like this which cause violent tendencies of some religious adherents to express themselves quite literally against the objects of the insults. Witness what is happening in Iraq! I feel this is an expression of Christian paternalism and general self-righteous sentiment against "heathens," or non-believers in Christianity. Therefore, in this way, any such religious rhetoric is dangerous.

The focus of many of these blogs seems to be that religion is dangerous, because religions (like, say, Catholicism), will never freely admit hypocrisy. Clearly, my teacher, Ms. Helland, was a sort of hypocrite. Institutions which create policy and set a tone for their adherents are largely responsible for violence by members, whether by direct cause or by negligence.

Well...I joined the Atheist Blogroll....hence the list of fellow atheists' sites at right. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I just sent an e-mail requesting to join the atheist blogroll. This is because I'm about as devout an atheist as you can get. The whole topic of religion has always fascinated me, and I believe that some people who are religious are actually good people. I am a good person....but I just am not religious, and never have been.

The Blogroll lists the Atheist Jew blog. That's not me, exactly, but sort of. I wasn't raised in a Jewish home. My father was Jewish (his family came here in the early 20th century from Germany), and my mother was a Holocaust refugee, who fled Austria for New York in 1938. She was half-Catholic, on her mother's side, so technically, I am not Jewish. The Atheist Jew blog defines Judaism: "A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew, or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism." I would add that a "Jew" could be any person who would have been so defined by the Nazi race laws. There are those Jews that do not consider themselves Jewish, but would have suffered persecution nonetheless. That anti-Semitic persecution is very real to me, because I've experienced a minor version of it, and I am aware that my mother's family experienced the most intense version.

So, I have no problem with people that identify with a certain religion because, like them, I am not a practicing Jew but see value in identification with that religious group. In this way, to me, religion is mainly a social institution. All religions strike me thus. Even Fundamentalist Christianity seems like a fairly logical life choice if you live in a place like the Deep South, where there is better socialization for religious Christian people. Indeed, a lot of the dialogue and culture focuses on religion. So, if that were my whole frame of reference, I may have felt the same way.

That is the conundrum of religion. Religion provides the most banal, mundane social institutions for humanity. That is the dark secret of religion, which religious people rarely freely admit.

Growing up, I never regretted being an atheist, but I regretted not understanding the religion of those around me. I learned several languages by high school, and had traveled around Europe. I felt as though religious people were just like foreigners, whose culture was yet to be understood by me. This understanding was especially important to me because the great majority of those around me were religious Christians, at least to some extent. My friends and other peers were mostly nominally Christian. The idea that people like me were motivated by religion baffled me. I also felt excluded from social institutions, and wanted to understand how to manipulate them.

As a young child (like when I wrote the blogs below), I was musical. Church was a great outlet for my musicality. I actually sang in a Catholic choir at St. Catherine of Siena church. Church music has always deeply affected me, and it was exhilarating to sing in a choir. I frequently played cello in church musical performances like Messiah and Noah's Flood.

More later......