Why I Don’t Call Myself an Atheist, Even Though I am One

When I chose to not believe in God, I actually didn’t know what an Atheist was. The first time I heard the word “Atheist” was when I told my dad that night that I didn’t believe in God. I was 14.

“WHAT?!? Are you telling me you’re an ATHEIST?!?”

(sorry Dad, if that’s not how you remember it. That’s how it seemed to 14 year old me)

After that… pleasant… conversation I called myself an Atheist for quite a while. I mean, I did (and still do) disbelieve in the existence of supreme beings.

Honestly, I should give my parents more credit than that. I didn’t have to worry about them disowning me or not loving me anymore. I didn’t have to worry about being kicked out of the house or punished in any way. I was also never one of those… angry Atheists. My rationale was that I had only believed in God because people had told me that God existed – so I decided not to believe until I had another reason. I didn’t know at the time that I would never find a reason to believe, and instead find lots of reasons not to.

But in the past few years I’ve come to think of the label of Atheist as quite narrow. Imagine if you asked someone what color their hair was, and their reply was “NOT BROWN!” That… doesn’t tell you a whole lot, really. Especially since hair dye is a thing. That’s the way I relate to the word Atheist these days. Buddists are atheist for the most part, I’ve met quite a few Wiccans who describe themselves as Atheist. There are so many people who describe themselves as spiritual, not religious. Some of them are probably Atheists, some definitely are not. Most Indian and Chinese religions are atheistic, or not explicitly theistic. Just going around saying you don’t believe in God(s), which is what you’re doing when you say you’re an Atheist, doesn’t say what you do believe – if anything. It doesn’t say how you approach the world or what moral framework you look at reality through.

I guess, functionally, when someone describes themselves as an Atheist they are saying that they are not a believer in one of the major western religions. I’ve found that most Atheists that left a major religion retain most of the moral precepts that went with that religion. In fact, many Atheists I’ve encountered left because they saw too many members of their religion ignore their major teachings. I think for many people it would be more accurate to say that they were Christian, Muslim, or Jewish and are now Atheist. That’s going to tell the listener a lot more about how you view the world. But after years, or decades, of not following any religion, I don’t know if that would be very effective either.

I do think it’s important to have an Atheist community, whether or not some people want to call organized Atheism a religion. When I first discovered that I was an Atheist, I had no one to talk about it with for years. I felt totally alone in my lack of belief, awash in a culture that was predominantly Christian. Finding other Atheists and hearing and reading about their experiences was definitely a comforting experience for me (even if the organized Atheist culture can get going on some strange tangents).

As of now, if it comes up, I refer to myself as not religious. We could argue about whether or not that tells the listener any more than saying “I’m an Atheist” does, but at least the phrase “not religious” isn’t as incindiary for some people as atheism is.

Consent at Work

Consent isn’t just for sex. It’s great that we’re all finally realizing that without consent it isn’t called sex, it’s called rape. But limiting our conversations about consent to just intimate relations really limits the power of the conversation that we are having about consent as a society. I’m going to argue that sex is the third most powerful thing that we can apply consent to. The second most powerful thing is work. The first… well the first thing we’ll get to later.

How do I mean?

-Mandatory overtime is not consent. Telling someone that they have to work extra hours then they planned, even if it’s just a few minutes, with the threat of some sort of consequences if they don’t, violates whatever trust your employees have in you.

-Mandatory holiday work is not consent. It’s one thing if you hire someone specifically to work the holidays. But it’s another to tell your staff that they have to work on holidays or face consequences.

-Suddenly changing job descriptions is not consent. You can certainly get consent about changing a job description, but if you are simply announcing to your employee that their job is now going to be different – you are not getting consent.

-Dictating job performance metrics is not consent.

-Ignoring your employees input is not consent.

-Limiting time off from work is not consent.

-Being told who to hire and who to let go is not consent.

We have a word for performing labor without consent: slavery. I’m not saying that everyone who works is a slave, but I am saying that anyone who works in an environment that does not respect consent experiences a similar level of shame and disempowerment.

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here. This might become an ongoing series as I flush out the topic. Stay tuned…

Our Views Have Been Weaponized. Or, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

In America we don’t actually talk about immigration, really. We talk about loosening immigration or tightening it. We talk about where immigrants should or shouldn’t be from. Or what kind of people they should or shouldn’t be. A conversation about immigration would be much different than the conversation we are having.

If we were going to have a real conversation about immigration we would start by answering the question of; how many immigrants do we want at once? What is the ideal mix of new and old residents that preserves the original culture while being enriched by the culture of the immigrants? How do we ensure that immigrants enmesh themselves in our society instead of forming their own little enclaves of like-minded people and not interacting with the culture as a whole? Are there certain kinds of people that we want to actually recruit to come to this country? Doctors, for instance? Temporary workers? Is there a percentage of the overall number that we want to reserve for refugees?

So that’s step one, determine how many immigrants we want in our country at once. Have a nationwide conversation to get some sort of agreement around that. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to choose that America can manage an immigrant population of ten percent. I don’t know what an actual ideal number would be, but ten percent makes the math easy. Ten percent of our current population, according to the population estimate on Wikipedia, would be 32 million people. But it probably takes more than 1 year for someone to acclimatize to living in America, to “become American.” Let’s say it takes an adult five years. We divide our 32 million by five and get: six million, four hundred thousand people.

So, let’s imagine that we decide 6.4 million people can immigrate to the country each year. The next question is, how long do we want it to take for someone to get approved to immigrate to the US? The actual immigration process rarely gets the coverage it deserves in this country – but it seems that an underreported issue is that the reason we have so many illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central & South America is due to the insanely long wait times for residents of those regions to get into our country legally (check out this post to get started on your research). If you have to choose between being able to feed yourself and your family, or waiting to get into our country legally, well I don’t really begrudge anyone for breaking the law in those circumstances. Once we pick a timeframe that someone has to wait (say, a month), then we staff the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to meet the demand.

There are a few more questions to answer. Are there certain types of people we want to weed out of the immigration process? Serial killers, serial rapists, people who habitually commit crimes and aren’t going to change with a change of scenery, people who are going to blow stuff or people up…. Then, do we have reliable ways of identifying those people and removing them from the immigration pool? If not, can we create ways to do that? I personally think that if we haven’t developed means to do that, it is well within our capabilities. If you don’t think so, I would assert that you aren’t talking to the right people.

So that’s a framework. Develop some consensus around answers to those questions, and in this country we will be well on our way to winding down immigration as the hot button topic that it is today.

I’m going to assert something here, something that may sound like a bit of a stretch but that I think is worth considering. Or, it maybe old news to everyone reading this. I really am not going to be able to tell until I post this and see how you all respond: If the politicians/political parties/pundits/”news” outlets that you follow are not working to answer the questions above, they’re not interested in actually resolving anything for this country. Politicians are using the fact that you are for or against open immigration as a rallying cry, to easily and effectively motivate you and people like you to take action. The great majority of politicians are mediocre at best, and don’t have great speeches that they can pull out of their back pocket. So they use political footballs like immigration to get people excited about them running for or staying in office. The pundits and media use your passion about issues, like immigration, to generate clicks and views. The more they inflame people on both sides the better their ratings are. Issues that become political footballs are divisive, so as politicians drive supporters to them, they are also driving detractors away and widening divisions in our country. But in the short term, people get elected by using political footballs. That’s why they stick around. This is why everyone keeps talking about immigration, but rarely do people talk about specifics.

As soon as you start talking about specifics, you start talking about things that actually affect people’s lives. Hopefully I’m not losing too many of you here with this metaphor, but our political footballs are about scoring points. Not about actually affecting people’s lives. It feels good to “score one for the immigration team” to beat the “anti-immigrants.” Or vice versa. They are about winning and losing – yet not about people who actually win and lose because a policy has been enacted – winning and losing for your ideological team.

So am I saying that we could solve all the world’s problems if we were just able to give up beating the other guy that’s different than us?

Well yes, apparently I am…

I guess the important distinction here, after writing all of this, is that it’s time to call out our leaders on this behavior. It’s time to say “hey, if you were really motivated to resolve this you wouldn’t be talking about Muslims or sanctuary cities or immigrants stealing our jobs. You would be talking about how many immigrants we want, how we make sure they contribute to society, and how to make sure people aren’t foregoing the immigration process because they simply can’t wait through it.” Or instead of asking “how are you going to make ‘what we think’ into the law of the land?” asking “how are you going to lead our people to a solution that will work for a large majority of the population?” Or however you want to say it. Don’t use my words, use your own. To be fair to our politicians, and most people who are talking about the issues in general, is that most probably don’t realize that how they are talking about these issues simply perpetuates them. They don’t realize that by taking a side in the fight they simply further entrench both sides. So I suggest… be nice when you’re calling people out on this stuff?

In any group of people there are always going to be interests that pull people into conflict and interests that drive people apart. A capable leader is someone who gets people’s interests aligned where possible, and gets them out of conflict when alignment isn’t possible. It is not an easy thing to do – but it is the opposite of what our elected representatives and our media have been doing. They have been inflaming our differences and driving us apart for political expediency. Because conflict is more invigorating and motivating in the short term than resolution. Nevermind that constant conflict has a negative effect on our country, and on the ties that bind us together as a people. Nevermind that it affects everyone in their daily lives whether they notice it or not. Nevermind that the issues that we have been wrestling with for years remain unresolved, and that we are not moving on to new challenges as a people.

My friends, our views have been weaponized. They are being used against us.

 

PS: I would love if there was research on the effects of constant “perceived conflict” have on people within a society. If you are aware of any research like that, please let me know.

PPS: Until I get a graphic designer to work with me for my posts, they are going to continue to feature pictures of my animals. I hope you like the unrelated sleepy cat 🙂