Sunday, October 16, 2011

Coming of Age

Recently, several teenagers (not my own) have expressed to me some interest in discussing or learning more about atheism (mine act as though they've heard more than enough).  

When do people come of age, or reach an age of reason? 

Many faiths seem to tie religious maturity to sexual maturity, as their rites of passage coincide with the onset of puberty. Jewish girls bat mitzvah at age 12, while Jewish boys bar mitzvah at 13; Mormon boys can achieve priesthood at age 12; and Catholic children are confirmed as early as the sixth grade (age 11 or 12). A quick Google search reveals that Islamic kids undergo a change in religious responsibilities once they show physical signs of puberty, though no ritual is performed.  

It is my sense that many people at that age are still well under the influence of indoctrination and the gravitational pull of parental and social approval, while others are merely rebelling against it. They might not have learned much about cultures and belief systems different from those around them. My own mom claims that I've always been an iconoclast, but I never voiced an objection to doing those things that were expected of me in the Catholic Church. 

On the other hand, by that age most kids are in the process of gaining independence of thought and forging their own identities, values, and judgments--ideally, a process that lasts a lifetime. Maybe this is an appropriate age to present an alternative to theism, particularly to someone who has shown a curiosity about it. 

I have no interest in "converting" anyone, but I am happy to discuss and debate what I believe. I also hope that by increasing others' knowledge, I could increase tolerance (ooh--there's that bad word again!) and understanding for non-believers such as myself. 

Back to my initial point: would it be OK for me to talk to someone else's teenager about atheism? Should I seek permission from a parent? If you think so, do you hold the same opinion for more mainstream belief systems? Do you have a problem with people handing out copies of the new testament as kids leave their elementary schools?  

I truly would like to hear your opinions, so I'm posting this jointly on my blog and as a note on Facebook, where it is easier to comment. Please weigh in. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Evolution of an Atheist

I attended the Texas Freethought Convention over the weekend. It would be impossible to summarize the experience in one (readable) post, so I won't even try. I loved it so much, yet it has left me conflicted in a number of respects. 

Perhaps that is a sign of growth--or evidence of mutation. 

The first conflict is that I have the first stirrings of a compulsion to become more active as an atheist. Such a prospect makes sense on the one hand, but it also makes me uncomfortable. Unfortunately, many people distrust atheists--probably not you, Reader, but after viewing online comment boards following local stories about Giles County schools' posting of the ten commandments and new regulations designed to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics, I was pretty surprised at the level of anger and hatred toward atheists here in southwest Virginia. In my mind, I responded: "You don't even know me. I have contributed, and continue to contribute, a lot to this community--why would you want me to move away?"--because that was pretty much the stock advice for atheists.  

I am a timid person. Before the conference, I liked the idea of being just a normal, everyday person, involved in a variety of interests and activities, who just happens to be an atheist. There are so many of us, you know--or really, you might not know that, because how would you? And I also write this blog, partly for catharsis, partly for therapy, but also in an effort to increase understanding for at least one atheist and in the hopes of dispelling at least a little xenophobia. 

Anyway, after repeated exhortations at the conference for us to GET INVOLVED, I'm wondering if that is sufficient.  

The second one is that I've become more anxious about the effects of sharing my thoughts, feelings and information I'm learning with others around me, who for the most part are religious to one degree or another. My husband grew mildly defensive when I shared with him the quip, available on t-shirts and elsewhere, "Science flies you to the moon; religion flies you into buildings." We all hate terrorism, right? He felt it came across as too superior. 

He also took umbrage at this video of Richard Dawkins in announcing Christopher Hitchens. I thought it was brilliant (to be read with a British accent, of course); he took umbrage.

Here's a picture of me with Mr. Dawkins--thanks again to Gary from the Skeptic Wire Podcast:

I tried to explain to my husband that the focus of the weekend was on theocrats who wish to infuse our secular government with fundamentalist Christianity--at the expense of women's health, civil rights for the LGBT community, scientific advancement, teen pregnancy prevention, and liberty to practice any religion other than fundamentalist Christianity--as well as biblical literalists who wish to deny the fact of evolution and attempt to disrupt our kids' science educations based on a literal reading of the creation myth. Everyone in the audience (I think) was united in opposition to those forces; I didn't think the barbs in the speech were aimed at people like my husband, good people who are religious. 

Well, upon another listen, and another reading of the text, I get his point; it is rather offensive to any theist. Yet I still find it brilliant.

This is what's known in atheist circles as a mixed marriage. One of the presenters at our conference was Dale McGowan, executive director of a humanist charitable and educational foundation called Foundation Beyond Belief, and author of The Meming of Life, a blog centered on secular parenting. This page should provide a good starting point for me to consider as I try to work out this issue (and wait for the publication of Mr. McGowan's upcoming book on mixed marriages).  

So, now I've got some disruptions in how I interact with other organisms in this complex environment. Mutations, if you please. Will selection, natural or otherwise, prove them to be beneficial? 

To quote the Magic 8-Ball, "Cannot predict now."