Recently, I came across an article on Axios.com with the title “America is losing its religion.” In the article, the author (Bryan Walsh) opens by saying, “New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50% of the country belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque.” He goes on to list the Gallup poll results he rests his premise on and concludes with the following thought: “But conventional religion’s power is on the wane, and it might take a miracle for that to change.”
I can’t say I’m bothered in the slightest about this trend. Being an atheist, I have a somewhat dim view of organized religion, especially when it’s used to deny rights to others based on some cockamamie interpretation of words that were uttered thousands of years ago, when life, economics, and society in general were much different than they are now.
On the other hand, I understand, and empathize with, the desire for community that religious observance brings to those who practice, but belief in a supreme intelligence/being that literally created us and watches over us is, IMO, patently absurd. I find acknowledging and appreciating how physics, chemistry, and cosmology (in other words, science) explain where we came from far more compelling and beautiful than anything to be found in any religious text I’ve read. And to be clear, my general attitude toward religion is, “what you believe is none of my business … until you start telling me or others we are required to believe as you do or we’re damned.”
So … here’s the deal. If attending services at a “house of worship” is your cup of tea, and you attend with others who share your beliefs or your faith (however you define those) I say “zei gezunt,” which is Yiddish for “be well” or, as I tend to think of it, and somewhat more ironically “more power to you.” Just keep it to yourself. Don’t bring it to the commons. Enjoy it for you and those who you consider part of your fellowship, but don’t for one minute suppose you can tell others this is the ONLY way. Do that and you will richly deserve to be shunned by others who don’t feel as you do.
PS – You can read the article, which contains a bit more detail than I’m including, here.
I’ve been an atheist—meaning I don’t believe there is such a thing as God, i.e. a supreme being—since I was 15. I’m now 72. However, I was raised as a Jew and am bar mitzvah (a man of the commandments.) My ethics are fundamentally based on my Jewish background, especially given my four years of Hebrew school, with liberal sprinklings of Christianity and—later—Buddhism, primarily Zen.
I sometimes refer to myself as a Jewddhist, but my favorite designation—for fun—is Quantum Gestalt Humanist. Quantum for my belief in science and reality; Gestalt for my recognition of the totality, synergy, and systemic nature of the universe, and Humanist for my recognition of the beauty and value of my fellow human beings. Still . . . the ethics I recall learning, especially in Hebrew school, form the basis of these beliefs and feelings.
Even though I haven’t been to schul since I attended a very familiar, yet very uncomfortable, Yom Kippur service about 20 years ago, I will always be a Jew . . . and not just because my parents were Jews, but because the world—especially anti-Semites, but even the ignorant and those easily swayed by propaganda—will always see me as a Jew; nothing more. Besides, I was raised to respect and stand up for the oppressed and, despite the actions of the Israeli government, with whom I greatly disagree, there is no place for any kind of bigotry in my world, and that includes anti-Semitism. There is a world of difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Zionist.
I hope the United States is the enlightened society I’ve been led to believe it is, but my confidence level is not very high and my Jewish angstometer is slowly flashing a soft, pastel red. Donald Trump has been stoking the fires of hatred since long before he was “elected” president. Incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as attacks on other minorities, have risen rather dramatically and there appears to be a correlation in the rise of these acts following every one of his rallies.
So . . . I want to make it perfectly clear I will defend Jews, including Hasidic Jews with whom I share absolutely nothing save for a long, somewhat convoluted history. At the same time, my “faith” in the interdependency of the human race and all life compels me to stand with everyone, especially the oppressed and downtrodden.
Unfortunately, age is starting to wreak havoc with me. I lift weights and work at staying fit, but I’m approaching 73 and it’s quite clear things are slowing down. I haven’t the stamina, nor the strength, I once had. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the intellectual capacity I once had, but I must continue to fight in any way I’m capable.
I’m planning on attending this year’s Women’s March next Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, not far from the place of my birth. I’m bringing my 18-year-old and a friend of hers who’s in town from the Bay Area, where she’s attending her first year of college. They both went with me last year. I’m hopeful my 16-year-old, who was problematic last year and had to stay home, will also attend. I wish I had the ability to attend the numerous events taking place locally, some as protest and some for electoral politics, but I still have to earn enough to supplement my retirement income (not as easy as it once was), and I also have to help my troubled high school sophomore get through the next two and a half years.
During my activity against the War in Vietnam, as well as other Peace & Justice movement activities I was involved in, I really never thought I would see my thirties. I know now I was a dreamer and a bit too wrapped up in my view of what was happening in the country, but I thought we were ripe for a revolution and I thought I would be on the front lines. That was nearly fifty years ago and time has given me a new perspective on life, the universe, and everything (H/T to Douglas Adams R.I.P.).
Today, however, marks the mid-point in my seventieth journey around our home star, Sol. It’s my half-birthday! I know . . . aren’t I a little too old to be celebrating half birthdays? I suppose, but this day has some other significance for me. Today marks the thirty-seventh year since a man surprised me on my doorstep in Venice, California, where I was living with my soon-to-be wife. He held me at gunpoint*, threatening to blow my “fucking brains out.” I managed to escape when he went to get something with which to tie my hands behind my back, something I had no intention of allowing him to do. I was prepared to attempt attacking him as he tried, but I didn’t have to. I had been preparing by slowly getting my right foot behind the bedroom door. I was lying spread-eagled on the floor, and each time he looked away I inched my foot closer and closer to the position I wanted.
Fortunately, I was able to get away from him by slamming the bedroom door (well, almost. The landlord had installed new carpeting and neglected to plane the bottom of the door, so it was almost impossible to shut it without a lot of force) in his face, levitating myself from the floor (lots of adrenaline involved at this point), grabbing my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun from the closet where I had carefully hidden it and practiced this very thing, and suggested he leave before I killed him. The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted and involved numerous calls to three different police departments before the first one I called finally realized they were, indeed, the proper jurisdiction for where I lived; about 200 feet east of Carroll Canal, on Ocean Avenue. It was years before I was able to finally throw off the hyper-vigilance this episode generated in me.
Also, this coming April I will be ten years older than my father was when he shed his mortal coil. This past September marked thirty-two years since he died. If you’ve read some of my other posts, his death weighed on heavily on me for quite some time. I was always considered the spitting image of him and my mother used to say “You’re just like your father” so often I was convinced fifty-nine was the limit for me as well. I think it wasn’t until I passed the age where he had had his second heart attack, and I had nothing more than moderate hypertension to deal with, I finally convinced myself I would likely live longer than he had.
So, here I am on the downside of my seventieth year on the planet. I actually used Microsoft Project to determine exactly when I would begin the second half of the year, and it was midnight today. Now, in celebration of having made it this far, and because it’s “the season,” I’m sharing two pictures I just found of a couple of my earliest Christmases. Next year is going to be interesting, no doubt. Perhaps it’s been long enough, and I can fully retell the story of this episode some time soon. This was a start.
Not So Happy. Perhaps Wondering Why I’m Sitting on Santa’s Lap When I’m Jewish!
Much Happier. I Must Have Decided I Was An Atheist By Now & It Didn’t Matter.
* The link “He held me at gunpoint,” above, is to the decision in a re-trial the defendant won on one count of murder he was found guilty of. I was required to appear as a witness and, since he had become a jailhouse lawyer in the interim, he represented himself, meaning he was the one who questioned me when I gave my testimony. Two things – He was partially victorious on several other charges and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. Second, although the appellate court states he took three guns from me, he only took one; a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, with which he shot and killed two people. I carried a fair amount of guilt around for quite some time before I could finally convince myself those deaths were not at least partially on me.
Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.
“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.
“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.
“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”
You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?
The word “Amen” isn’t confined to prayer, though it’s generally closely related.
Yesterday I was inducted into one of several local Rotary clubs here in Simi Valley, CA. The name of this club is Simi Sunrise and, not coincidentally, it meets at 7:00 am every Thursday at the Grand Vista Hotel. I had some trepidations about joining an organization such as Rotary International, best explained by the question a friend asked me when informed of my desire to join; “Aren’t they a really conservative organization?”
Truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely sure they would accept me, especially since this is a fairly conservative city I live in and I’ve made it abundantly clear I am not a conservative – at least not politically. I didn’t really know a lot about Rotary and I knew an awful lot of the people who were in this club. Most of them were quite conservative – politically. At the same time, I live and work with them and know them to be good, decent people. Especially the ones in Rotary 1 and other service organizations.
Fortunately, I got to know a person who ended up convincing – and sponsoring – me to join. Due to an unlikely confluence of events I ended up being the guest who wouldn’t go away, and a process which normally takes a couple of weeks ended up taking a couple of months. Nevertheless, she insisted I continue showing up and, because she had to pay for my breakfast each week, I have offered to do some data input for her at her discretion. It’s the least I can do.
Yesterday was the culmination of two months of meetings and thinking about what I was getting myself into. Now that I’m officially a member I will not only have an ongoing financial obligation and an expectation of service in the form of volunteerism, I will also be expected to perform various duties at the meetings, e.g. greeting members as they arrive, checking attendance, etc. There is one duty I’m somewhat concerned about. Leading the invocation.
I have now heard approximately eight different invocations. I don’t recall any of them being identifiably denominational, though some referenced “our heavenly father”. I believe at least one ended a bit irreverently . . . and comically. They all end with “amen”, a word of Hebrew origin defined by Merriam-Webster online as: “used to express solemn ratification (as of an expression of faith) or hearty approval (as of an assertion).” Although used primarily at the end of a prayer or hymn, it is clearly not limited to religious expression. So it looks like an invocation avoiding the mention of God would most likely be acceptable, even if hard to author.
However, as an atheist I have a lot of experience with people who misunderstand my kind of “faith” and are likely to exhibit one or more of the following traits or attitudes in response to an expression they perceive to be anti-religion: Anger; disgust; defensiveness; dismissiveness; revulsion; incredulity; hatred; need I go on? When you think of invocation, you just don’t think of atheism now, do you?
So . . . my dilemma. I’m going to assume I will, at some point in time, be asked to give the invocation. I suppose I could respectfully decline, but I kind of want to do it. The issue for me is how to do so without offending anyone. Part of me believes that’s a tall order, precisely because of the responses I’ve experienced or observed for so many years, while another part of me believes it isn’t as big an issue as it at first appears. I’ll post the text . . . when I write it!
1 Rotary is very attractive to me as it espouses values I believe are important and progressive. I find it a little ironic so many of the members are staunch conservatives, yet the values they ascribe to can just as easily fit the most progressive agenda. If words are important, and I believe they are, then their foundational writings should matter a lot when determining what kind of an organization they (at the very least) aspire to be. For instance, there’s The Four-Way Test:
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Coupled with numerous other writings, which I will not get into now but will surely bring up as I gain more experiences with this new facet of my life, I think Rotary paints itself as an organization dedicated to the same things I am – Peace, Justice, Goodwill, Internationalism, Fairness, etc.
There’s likely an argument lying beneath the surface here as to the role volunteerism plays in an inherently unfair economic system, but – in my opinion – it is more a philosophical one and should in no way minimize the pain alleviated through the actions of Rotary and other organizations like it. More on this some other time.
This is a graphic I put together around eight years ago after seeing some bumper stickers declaring the driver (or vehicle owner) to be a native of California . . . or some other state. It seemed to be somewhat of a trend and I found it a bit stupid and offensive. Today I’m inclined to think it was also nativist, as in anti-immigrant.
I am a humanist and I believe we need to move toward a world that knows no political boundaries and respects all humans as part of the same family. I realize some may see this as a pipe-dream, but I believe it is part of the trajectory of progress that traces back to the days of primitive tribalism. Just as there are very few items remaining that can be made by one person, taking care of our planet and its ecosystems (both natural and human/social) is going to require recognizing our interdependence.
So that was my thinking when I created this graphic. Until such time as we discover life in other star systems, which I’m convinced we will some day; perhaps within my lifetime, I am of the opinion we are all part of the same race of beings and must conduct ourselves with that in mind. I was born in Los Angeles, California . . . but I consider myself a native of Earth and part of a very large and diverse family.
I recently was pointed to a wonderful TED Talk, which I’m sharing here, that brilliantly addresses an issue I have struggled with for years. This issue can best be understood in several concepts that Alain discusses in this talk, which I’ll leave you to in a moment. I’ll come back to this, and other, issues regarding faith, religion, morality, ethics, community, etc. in later posts no doubt.
I have what I think is a very simple, very open attitude toward religion or, more accurately (because religion is an entirely different animal from . . .), faith and how we should exercise it ourselves and respect it in others. What you believe in terms of a higher power is really none of my business and should in no way affect my relationship with you. It seems to me that how we live our lives, not what we say we believe or have faith in, is the most important discriminator in how well we can work together in pursuit of common goals. The only thing that can botch any chance of our having a relationship is if you insist that your belief is superior and, therefore, I must accept it to be truly worthy. Pull that on me and I become stone deaf.
A respected Law Professor of mine once said if he had to choose between someone without what he would consider the “right” politics, but who was nevertheless a good person, and one who had the “right” politics, but was lacking in the humanity department, he would always choose the former. I believe we can replace the word “politics” with “religion” and it is equally true. I am far more interested in how you treat other people and your relationships, whether business or personal, than I am in what you believe in.
Getting back to the video, Alain addresses his concept of atheists better understanding the good things religion has inspired people to create and bringing into our lives. He points out how community, art, and music – among other things – are lacking amongst atheists – as a group; and I think he’s right. As a group, I believe ethics and rational morality play a big role in how we see the world. I often say that if the only thing making you a good person is your fear of being punished in an afterlife, you really need to think about your priorities. For me, being a good person and living an ethical, honest life is reward in and of itself. However, we have few ways (I have none) of enjoying community in how we view our place in the cosmos . . . because there aren’t any.
I’ll let the video speak for itself. Check it out. It’s excellent on the subject. I plan on watching it again soon.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.