What I Miss About Being a Christian by Christina Knowles

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Photo via deviantart.com

Since I’ve become an atheist, I have had to give up a lot of things I was used to. When giving up religion, God, an entire belief system, of course, there are going to be major changes.

For example, I gave up some prejudices. It’s not like I had obvious prejudice in my life, but I remember feeling sorry for people whom I thought didn’t “know” the truth like I did. When people asked why so many horrific things happen to good people in a world with a supposedly loving god, I thought they just didn’t understand God like I did. After all, what about free will or helping us to grow our characters? I ignored how in the bible, God didn’t really condone free will at all. I mean, is it really free will when you are condemned to everlasting torment if you refuse his commands? That doesn’t even fit our legal definition of free will. At the very least, it would be considered coercion or extortion. And I tried not to think about how a child getting cancer could possibly have a positive purpose. After all, to a Christian, this life doesn’t really matter as much as the afterlife.

Speaking of the afterlife, I had to give up ignoring this life in favor of an unknown possible life after death. As an atheist, I have to face that this life is all I have, so this makes me appreciate each day, see the beauty of now, and make the most of the time I have here instead of dreaming of a day when I get to die and go to some better place. To be honest, heaven never sounded that appealing to me anyway. I’m glad this is the only life I have, and I’m going to make the most of it.

Without God, I also had to give up being a child, being told what to do and how to do it. And without the hope of heaven, I had to give up selfish reasons for being good. Now, I have to decide for myself what I believe is right and wrong and how best to live out my ideals. When I do something for someone, I don’t think there is some invisible father watching me, counting up my good deeds in order to lavish reward upon me in the afterlife. I do it just because it is the right thing to do, it is kind, and I want to live in a kind world with the least amount of suffering for my fellow inhabitants of the earth. And who really wants to remain a child all her life? Aren’t children supposed to grow up someday and think for themselves? Apparently, not God’s children.

I also had to give up a lack of self-esteem and guilt. Being told you are nothing without God, a seemingly cruel and vindictive tyrant, can damage your self-image. Worshipping anyone, including an imaginary being, takes a toll on your self-perception. I’ve always had an issue with the idea of worship anyway. If there were a perfect being, wouldn’t he be too perfect to have an ego problem? If pride is a sin, then the god of the bible, if he existed, would be the biggest sinner of all. Why would he feel the desire to strike people dead and send them to hell for not bowing down to him? Does he have a self-esteem problem? He sounds worse than any monarch I’ve ever read about. But now, I don’t have to believe that something is inherently wrong with me just for being born human. I don’t have to tell myself that I deserve hell when, really, I never did anything to deserve eternal torment. If God created me and chose to make me with flaws, what gives him the right to judge me for it? And expect me to bow down and thank him for the privilege of not being tortured for eternity?

So, I had to give up fear of punishment, especially for thinking. I can’t make myself believe something so flawed and unbelievable. I can’t make myself believe something which has no basis in the reality I experience every day, and I can’t force myself to have the faith God supposedly requires to avoid his wrath. Now that I don’t fear my doubts, but instead embrace skepticism, the world just makes more sense, and I sleep just fine at night. People ask me, “What if you’re wrong?” Good old Pascal’s Wager. The common atheist answer is “What if you’re wrong about the particular religion you chose; what if you chose the wrong one?” But my answer is that if I’m wrong, God will have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do, and if his answers aren’t good enough, I probably won’t even offer him my forgiveness.

Furthermore, I had to give up pretending I don’t have a mind. I don’t have to pretend that the earth is six thousand years old, and that women were created as an afterthought, just to keep men company. I don’t have to pretend to believe that two of every animal on earth fit on a boat, or that we have different languages because God confused them because he was afraid people could actually build a tower to heaven, or that a man lived in a fish for several days because he refused to be a missionary (where’s his free will?). I don’t have to believe that it was a good thing for God to impregnate a barely pubescent, scared virgin teenager or that it was right to accept the blood of an innocent to atone for the sins of the guilty. Now, I can use my brain to think and say that it is actually silly to believe the unbelievable.

But the most important thing I’ve given up is confusion. The entire time I was a Christian, I was completely confused. When I first became a Christian, I wanted to learn all I could. I read, and I studied, but that’s the worst thing you can do if you want to stay a good Christian. The more I learned, the more I realized that the bible was full of contradictions, the god of the bible was a lying, self-centered villain with a maniacal ego, and that Christianity was just another cult like every other religion, based in no more reality than Scientology or the worship of Odin. Now that I am not a Christian, the world seems to make more sense, and I am not constantly in a state of anxiety over trying to figure it out.

So, I gave up my stress over making sense of religion, and with it, I gave up my conditioning—what I was taught from birth to accept without question or logic, what my culture decided I should believe, and I learned to see the world without the blinders of indoctrination. I’ve given up the chains of blind belief, and I feel truly free for the first time in my life.

So what do I miss about being a Christian? I miss out on wasting my life on a delusion. I miss out on forcing myself into a box in which I never fit, and I miss out on overlooking this life while I fantasize about the next, which probably doesn’t even exist. What I’ve gained from giving up on God is the whole world and the ability to be a grown up, making my own decisions, and living this amazing life as I see fit.—Christina Knowles

Morals Change–And It’s a Good Thing by Christina Knowles

scalesI hear a lot of people complain that morals are changing. Shouldn’t they evolve as we learn more? This leads to the inevitable debate of objective morality vs. relative morality. Morality seems somewhat subjective, but not completely relative, at least among thoughtful and intelligent beings. For example, we tend to believe that things are right or wrong on a standard of well-being. If the well-being of living creatures, for instance, is the standard, then we can develop an objective morality based on this even though circumstances will always dictate shades of gray in individual situations. So it must change as we change, right?

Over time, morality does indeed change. For instance, we now have more liberal views on things like punishing children, working on Sunday, considering a menstruating woman unclean, and understanding that homosexuality is not a choice. Certainly, we can acknowledge that most people now view slavery as immoral, genocide as evil, and democratic societies obviously have a different morality than totalitarian ones. At one time, great majorities of people considered these things right for one reason or another, so we know that morality changes.

Religious people tend to think we get our morality from a divine being, but this does not make sense if morality changes unless they are acknowledging that their god changes his mind as well. However, many do not admit this is the case. I would submit to them that they are more moral than the god they say gave them the basis for their morality. Even most bible-literalists in the Christian faith are far more moral than their god by today’s standards.

For example, the god of the bible told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar to prove his obedience. Abraham was willing to go through with this until God stopped him at the last moment, satisfied in his allegiance. When asked if they would be willing to sacrifice their own child on an altar if they thought their god had commanded them to, most Christians find the idea repugnant, which is a good thing. They often try to circumvent the point by saying that God would never ask them to do such a thing. I’m not sure why they think he would ask this of Abraham, but not them. Perhaps because their god, apparently, no longer shows himself to anyone. At any rate, they would not do it, which reveals that modern morality is more in line with well-being than the god who supposedly distributed this morality.

Another objection to this example is the contention that God would never make Abraham go through with it because God is good. However, Abraham seemed to have a close relationship with God, having direct access to God on more than one occasion. It seems he knew God and his character well, yet Abraham seemed to believe it was within God’s character to demand this sacrifice. He believed God would make him kill his son—and again, he supposedly personally knew God. And if modern Christians are right in thinking God would never ask them to do something like this, then at the very least, this is another indication of God’s changing character, or in my opinion, that he was just a creation of a harsh and cruel society of ancient men whose ideas of morality and what a divine being would be like are much inferior to that of modern man.morality-quotes-3

This is just one example of the numerous detestable and immoral things the god of Abraham demanded of his people. He also demanded genocide, rape, slavery, and the oppression of people based on race and gender. To say we get an objective morality from a source like this is ridiculous. We are much more moral than that. Their god seems to have the morality of an ancient Middle Eastern, patriarchal, and scientifically uninformed people group. I wonder why. –Christina Knowles

This Beautiful Life by Christina Knowles

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“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left. 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books.
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

“There was never any more inception than there is now,
nor any more youth or age than there is now;
and will never be any more perfection than there is now,
nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”– “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

These are some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard, and they embody my worldview. The beauty of the honest search for truth is the most exquisite gift we can give ourselves. The realization that we do not have to “look through the eyes of the dead” and believe in the myths of old, do not need to listen to the ghosts of ancient men and their antiquated notions, do not need to listen to our conditioning, but we can read, investigate, think, and dialogue all ideas and decide among them for ourselves is true freedom. And my conclusion that this world is all I will ever know, that this is both my heaven and my hell, has given me appreciation for every sweet breath I take, joy in every moment with those I love, and the perspective that allows me to live, really live, taking nothing for granted, and noticing every lovely thing in this beautiful life.—Christina Knowles

Photo via weheart.com

 

The Truth Behind the Tarot by Christina Knowles

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All my life I’ve been fascinated by the Tarot. I started reading cards many years ago, and although I’ve had great experiences with them, I’ve given them up over and over, just to pick them up again. First, because I thought that the idea that these were somehow magical cards that could tell us truths about ourselves was ridiculous, and later because when I was a Christian, I was told they were evil—full of Satanic power. I thought this was a little crazy too. After all, they seemed pretty innocuous to me. But now, without religious dogma dictating my actions, I decided to pick them up again—just for fun.

 

Why would a skeptical atheist want to mess around with cards that supposedly predict the future? Well, for one thing, that’s not what they are intended to do. They are supposed to get in touch with the “higher self,” the divine self who knows things that our regular self does not. I don’t believe I have a divine self or a “higher self,” but I do have a subconscious mind. Much as dreams may signal internal conflict or reveal unconscious struggles symbolically, reading the cards is a way of unlocking some of our stored away issues of which we are not fully aware.

 

Having taught literature for a number of years, I recognize the power of story—the connections we make, the epiphanies that occur when we relate automatically to a certain set of circumstances or events. Each Tarot card tells a story and can represent many things symbolically. How we relate to these stories at any given time is a clue to revealing our inner desires, our worries and fears, our secret feelings. Some people interpret these feelings when reading cards as intuition. I recognize intuition as our subconscious coming to the surface momentarily, allowing us to have realizations about ourselves that may previously have been blocked, sort of like the anecdote about making decisions. If you really want to know what you want, flip a coin, and when it’s in the air, you will realize which side of the coin you were hoping to see. Sometimes we need a little help figuring ourselves out, and the Tarot can do that—there’s nothing magical or mystical about it.

 

As for those who are really adept at reading cards for others, this is also easily explained. Whenever I read cards for others, I would “sense” a feeling or an interpretation of the cards from my own experiences, biases, and personality. When I repeated my impressions, the person for whom I was reading, reacted. I, in turn, would perceive from their reaction which way to take the story’s interpretation. The person receiving the reading is also influenced by both the cards and my interpretation, essentially being led down a road simultaneously by me and themselves, still reaching the destination of revealed truths about their own struggles and desires. The reader is not necessarily a charlatan. They really believe they are having mystical insights into this person’s life. It does feel like that. I’ve felt it many times, but I assure you I am no psychic.

 

Removing the illusion of magic from the cards doesn’t have to ruin the benefits of card reading. With my imagination, I can immerse myself in their symbols and stories, relax, and let my subconscious tell me what I need to know. As I’ve learned many things about myself through dream interpretation, I continue to use the Tarot as a tool for problem-solving and clarity. After all, it’s all in my mind anyway, so if the goal is understanding my own behavior or decisions, what better place to find answers?—Christina Knowles

The Terrorism of True Religion by Christina Knowles

atheism-it-cures-religious-terrorismI know that right now is the wrong time to say this. I know there never is a right time according to the politically correct mandate we all live under today, but I’m sick of being politically correct. I’m sick of worrying if someone is going to be offended. I’m probably going to get hate mail for this, but I can’t be silent on this any longer.

The heinous infection that is Islam is spreading across the world. And don’t bother telling me that it is a religion of peace. If you are Muslim, and you think your religion is one of peace, then you are doing it wrong. You don’t even believe your own holy book.

But I won’t stop there. It wouldn’t be fair. Judaism is not a religion of peace. Christianity is not a religion of peace. These three main religions have their roots in violence, their gods are violent, and their people are violent if they literally follow the rules of their holy books.

The fact is, fortunately, most of these believers don’t follow their religion, don’t listen to their holy words, don’t accept the hatefulness of their gods. Why not go one step further and dismiss the whole religion? If you need to reinterpret your holy book to raise the standard of your religion to the higher morals you already have, then dump the whole thing. You are more moral than your god, unless you are a terrorist, in which case, you are doing your religion correctly.

Many people fall back on the ideology that the Old Testament or the Quran are to be taken figuratively, or that the New Testament overrides the old. But this is just an excuse. Jesus condones the horrific acts of God all through the New Testament, and if you have to twist the words of the Bible or Quran to make them more palatable, then it’s not a book worth following, or even reading, for that matter. By the way, these books were supposedly taken literally by the people living in the time they were written, so apparently, they were written to be literal.

And being against the acceptance and practice of ridiculous belief systems is NOT racism. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with faith. I find it hard to fathom that in this day and age, we would praise the ability of blindly accepting that which makes absolutely no sense, is contradicted both by science and its own words, and is supported by zero evidence, as a trait worth aspiring to. It’s time for religion to come under the same scrutiny and criticism allowed in every other claim of knowledge. It is not exempt because you may be offended.

It’s true, the end of religion won’t be the end of all violence, but it would be a great start. It’s time to grow up and realize that Santa is not coming. Your parents, as well-meaning as they were, lied to you. Only when we embrace facts and science can we end religious terrorism. Every prayer you send up for the victims of terrorists validates the idea of fantasy creatures who command the eradication of those who do not believe and encourages this notion that faith is a good thing. It is not. It most definitely is not.—Christina Knowles

All the Heaven and Hell by Christina Knowles

“All the Heaven and Hell”

Lightly falling snowflakesFlowers in Hair

The loving eyes of my old dog

The smile of a baby

Red and gold leaves scattered on the ground

Glistening wet petals in the morning sun

This is all the heaven I will ever know

Holding the hand of my mother as she leaves me

Burning tears of loss, the indescribable pain in my chest

Holding my best friend as she takes her last breath

Angry words from a trusted mouth

Grave news from a doctor’s chart

This is all the hell I will ever know

The soft glow of a crackling fire

Holding hands with the best man I’ve ever known

The swell of love his gaze makes me feel

The time spent with my closest friends

Laughing until my stomach hurts

This is all the heaven I will ever know

The anxiety of deadlines

The crushing weight of responsibilities

Debts to pay and artificial worries

The helplessness of age

The loneliness of loss

This is all the hell I will ever know

Pain and depression

Joy and the sweetness of love

Anger and frustration

Comfort and peace

Gratitude for all of this life

This is all the heaven and hell I will ever know—Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo snagged from Pinterest

Failing at Meditation? No, You’re Not by Christina Knowles

hippie-girl-in-nature            Recently I’ve returned to practicing meditation. I only stopped because I thought I was a failure at it. I thought I had to empty my mind and think of absolutely nothing, and I never could accomplish this. I thought I had to feel nothing but calm, and if I could not think of nothing, then I had to focus on just one image. Well, after succumbing to a stress-related heart attack, I decided I needed to give meditation another shot. This time I joined a meditation group that meets on weekends at one of our many beautiful and natural parks in Colorado Springs. The one where we met the first time I attended, was in a large mountainous park, full of rocky cliffs and pine trees, dirt trails, and wildflowers. We sat in an open pavilion in the shade and let the cool breeze flow over us. We wrote down our worries on pieces of scrap paper and ceremonially put them in the Universe Box to symbolically let the universe take on these problems for us. Then we went inside ourselves, eyes shut, quiet, breathing smoothly, and let our thoughts float in and out. I felt the breeze, I listened with gratitude at the birds chirping, and I went deeper into me. It was like my unconscious mind woke to put her arms around me. Occasionally I’d hear a dog bark or a siren in the distance, but it would gently float in one ear and out the other not even disturbing the serenity I felt. It was like I was one with everything, a part of each thing happening around me, yet above being affected by it.

What happened next was somewhat unexpected. My mind gently drifted to images that I call my “happy place.” Usually my favorite happy place image is a wintry Christmas scene in a room only lit by the softly blinking lights of a small Christmas tree and the warm, crackling of a fire. Looking through the window into the night sky, I see big fat snowflakes falling slowly and gently, no wind to divert them from their path. The light from the moon illuminates them just enough to be clearly seen through the glass. My hand rests on my dog’s back. She is lying next to me with her head resting on my lap. I look down at her, and it’s my beagle, Mulder, who passed away several years ago. She looks up at me with love in her soft brown eyes. I notice that the gifts piled haphazardly under the tree, the tree with homemade and personalized ornaments from my childhood, are all wrapped in old-fashioned Christmas paper, reds and greens with pictures of kids dressed in snow gear that look like they’re from the 1950s. All around me I feel love, not just any love, but the love and wonder of my childhood. I felt like I was me back then. I just sat and let the love and memories wash over me until tears streamed down my face, happy, poignant tears; the coolest thing was I felt such love for me—that little girl. I thought, Is this what they mean by visiting your inner child? At that moment I had an epiphany, that child, her feelings, her hopes, her fears, her personality, they are still me. This was profound to me because I usually feel like such an adult, not in touch with what I always considered my old self. Just realizing that this was still me, that I am still she, gave me a strange kind of understanding of how to take care of myself, how to live a life that I need to live for my good. It was so beautiful. I went home feeling lighter and filled with pure joy.

When I told my meditation group leader about the experience, he told me that what I did was meditation, and it was just fine. I hadn’t failed. I didn’t need to blank out my mind. I can just let my mind drift, go deep, and let my unconscious tell me what I need to know. This was so freeing, and now I am excited each day to visit myself, which ever part of me that decides to show up, and relax, be comforted, and learn whatever I need to learn or let go of. It has been so much easier to make time for my meditation each day. It has never been just like this first experience again, but it is always good. It centers me and I let my mind drift to anything positive it wants to, gently pushing away any other distractions. Sometimes it is just sweet images, sometimes it’s only the sound of nature, or the feeling of a fan blowing on me, but every once in a while, the little girl me, will make a small appearance just to remind me she is still there, we need each other, we love each other.

I’m still working on giving things to the universe, but I’m getting better and better. It’s not like I’ve become a spiritual person though. Well, I guess it’s how you define spiritual. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a spirit—I mean the kind of thing that survives death and somehow contains my personality and essence of who I am. I believe these things, things that make me me, live in the brain, and the brain does not survive the death of the body because it is part of the body. But if you want to call the essence of who I am, the sum total of my experiences, feelings, and personality, maybe even the unconscious or subconscious mind, spirit, then okay. I can deal with that. Meditation for me is getting to the heart of who I am and visiting this calm place where I can be with the inner me in a totally intimate way, a way that I can’t be in touch with myself during the busyness and chaos of the day.

Being exactly who I am on every level and loving that person despite my flaws through meditation has been a freeing experience that I never imagined. I’ve never had a problem with self-esteem, but it’s a different thing to really feel love for who you are, fully acknowledging every flaw. I’m not talking egocentricism, but just really loving and accepting yourself despite not being perfect and not caring if you are perfect to anyone else. Through meditation I understand who I am and can completely accept myself without the pressure of any performance. During those 15 minutes, the world disappears, and I am just a being, worthy of love and tenderness, with no expectations at all. So when I return to the world of constant demands, the responsibilities seem lighter. I am refreshed, rested, and ready to set boundaries to protect the value of myself as a being on this earth, a being with an expiration date. I won’t let that time be used to harm me anymore. So if you think you are failing at meditation because it doesn’t fit some description in a book, don’t listen. If it helps you, if it calms you, or benefits you in any way, you’re doing it right. Do it however you need to do it. Your subconscious you knows what you need. Peace—Christina Knowles

Photo snagged from aquarian.es