Religious Persecution—in America? by Christina Knowles (Republished from 2015)

If you are listening to Christian radio or Fox News lately, you may think religious persecution is running rampant in America right now. But is it really?

Snagged from Media Matters for America

If you think you are being persecuted for your religious beliefs, ask yourselves these questions: Is anyone trying to stop you from praying, reading your holy book, or worshipping in your own home? In your place of worship? Is anyone trying to stop you from imposing your religious views on others publicly? If you can honestly answer yes to the first two, then perhaps, you are experiencing persecution. However, the latter is not persecution. It is you trying to persecute others, and is therefore, not protected under religious freedoms. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Here are some examples of actual religious persecution.

  • Jesus Christ’s crucifixion based on his religious claims and those of his followers.
  • John the Baptist’s beheading based on his belief in Christ as the messiah.
  • Constantine’s destruction of pagan and Roman temples and his intolerance of all non-Christian religious practices.
  • Mary Tudor’s slaughter of Protestants who refused to convert to Catholicism, which earned her the name of Bloody Mary.
  • Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and the slaughter of 6 million Jews under his leadership.
  • Joseph Stalin, who was against all religion and demanded atheism be embraced by all. He killed thousands of people because of their religions, destroyed temples, and outlawed Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and more.
  • Charlemagne persecuted the Saxons, insisting they convert to Christianity.
  • Martin Luther was killed for his reformation of the Catholic church, but was also, himself, a controversial figure for the anti-Semitic sentiment in his writings.
  • On-going persecution of Christians in China, which includes, beatings, imprisonment, confiscation of religious materials, and executions.
  • In Africa, there is much Christian vs. Muslim persecution erupting in violence and death. For example, the recent Islamic terrorist attack at a Kenyan college, killing 147 Christians.
  • In the Middle East, Christians are persecuted by Muslims, Muslim groups persecute each other, and then there are the devastating effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which many believe is rooted in differences in religious ideology.
  • In America, today religious persecution may exist on a very small scale. Individuals are discriminated against in work environments or at school, but it is not widespread. Probably the most persecuted group in America today would be the Amish, who are frequently attacked when venturing out of their communities. But even these are isolated events.

Many people believe that Muslims are the most hated or persecuted religious group in America today because of the association of terrorism with Islam in the Middle East and because of the attack on September 11, 2001. But while the sentiment of many Americans may be anti-Muslim, actual persecution is also limited to isolated events.

Merely being discriminated against or even hated does not constitute religious persecution. Religious discrimination is against the law and people on the receiving end of discrimination in America have the opportunity for fair legal redress, which in itself, shows that this is probably not at the level of persecution.

Individual people will always discriminate and infringe on the rights of others, but when this is sanctioned by the state, no protections are in place, and no justice is available, then it can truly be called persecution. One might question if isolated incidents of hate crimes constitute actual persecution in the academic sense or just criminal activity by a prejudiced few, which will not go unpunished. If so, no one in America can claim to be persecuted on the basis of religion.

If your idea of religious persecution is that you are not able to infringe on the rights of others to practice your religion, then you are mistaken, and frankly, that’s just too bad.

In the news recently, there have been a variety of groups suing the government and petitioning for laws to protect religious freedom, when in fact, religious freedom already exists and is protected by the Constitution. If refusing to serve someone based on his religion appeals to you, then opening this can of worms is likely to backfire on you. Already, we’ve seen cases of signs appearing refusing to serve Christians on the grounds of “deeply-held religious beliefs.” All one has to do to see the inherent discrimination in these types of protections for businesses is to replace “Christians” or “homosexuals” with “blacks” or “Asians,” and we immediately become incensed with righteous indignation, saying, “They can’t do that! That’s illegal!” What’s the difference? Do you really believe that your religious freedom entitles you to discriminate against others in a public place by refusing to offer goods and services? No one is trying to prevent you from exercising your religious freedoms. But you cannot, in America, run a business open to the public, and then discriminate against people based on your religion or theirs. That sounds a lot like Nazi Germany. Saying you can’t do that with your business, does not mean, you are being persecuted.

Try being an atheist in a country where atheists are prevented from holding public office in seven states (West). Can you even imagine our country electing an openly atheist president, or imagine the ridicule a sitting president would incur if he refused to say a prayer at the Prayer Breakfast or at the National Day of Prayer? Yet, the very religious folk who are so vocal about religious freedom have no issue with religious tests for public office, using religion to campaign, or to freely criticize the lack of religion in candidates and politicians.

Unfortunately, the inability to “put the shoe on the other foot” is at the root of this ridiculous controversy over religious freedom. Instead of demanding your right to deny others rights, try to imagine what you would feel if that happened to you. I believe that most people do not want to hurt others or treat them unfairly, but when our sense of justice and our fear of losing our own rights cause us to treat others unfairly or unkindly, then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are really trying to accomplish. Maybe by remembering what real persecution looks like, we can more realistically look at our own fears. Fear seems to be at the heart of this issue, and decisions made on the basis of fear are rarely rational or effective, and are often divisive. Really, can’t we all just get along?—Christina Knowles

PS Note: I republished this post on this site because of discrimination and harassment I received from publishing this on my mainstream blog, which is why this secular blog exists.

Sources:

West, Ellis M. (2006). “Religious Tests of Office-Holding”. In Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. CRC Press. pp. 1314–5. ISBN 978-0-415-94342-0.

The Four Types of Trump Supporters and Their Political Motivations by Christina Knowles

Fed Up with Tribalism (Republished from September 29, 2020)

I think every American is fed up with the political chaos we are enduring in America. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such division and contention. It’s exhausting and leaves us wondering if tribalism is so bad. Maybe it would be better to stay in our own little tribe, so we don’t have to believe that there are people who passionately believe the exact opposite of what we believe. I face this question every time a new scandal in the Trump presidency hits the news. Every time Donald Trump is caught doing or saying something illegal, immoral, or just plain stupid, I wonder how his supporters, some of whom seem like nice people otherwise, are able to so easily brush it aside and dismiss it, even excuse and defend it. There is a level of cognitive dissonance that is not easily explained by the “They’re all racists” justification. It seems like there is a daily influx of new evidence of Trump’s inadequacies in the area of basic human decency, but the support from his base does not waver, even from those who would not normally condone this behavior themselves. This led me to consider Trump supporters and their motivations, and I discovered that I could identify four different kinds of people who seem to think Trump is a good choice to run our country despite how terrible he’s doing at it and in spite of how repugnant of a person he is.

The Four Types of Trump Supporters

I believe there are at least four distinct types of Trump supporters, and this is why we scratch our heads in dismay when we find out someone we really like is a Trumper. Let me explain my theory. 

  1. The Power-Hungry Bandwagon Follower: These people attach themselves to anybody who seems to have power, popularity, and influence; an example would be Michael Cohen. They are seduced by the ability of Trump to get his way and command seemingly irrational things, openly lying and committing ethically questionable acts without losing favor or suffering consequences. They too want to have this power and think they will get it by their association with Trump. We’ve seen many of these people cast aside by Trump after they have served their purpose.
  2. Racists and Misogynists: The second type of supporters are ignorant racists who admire an old white guy who can get away with voicing openly prejudiced and misogynistic rhetoric. They seem to think he’s their ticket to stomping down anyone getting in their way of being the dominant race. They see Trump as the great white savior who will defend their privilege and give them a platform for their hate. Clearly, extremists and white supremacists like the Boogaloos, the Proud Boys, and the KKK all seem to find Trump appealing; perhaps, because he calls them “very fine people.” The scientifically illiterate and gun-toting militia wannabes often fall into this category as well. 
  3. The Conservative and/or Religious Right: The third type of Trump supporters are the conservative and/or religious right who swallow their innate disgust at his racism, at his crude remarks about women, at his clear disdain for the handicapped, at his stupidity regarding pretty much everything—in order to advance what they see as the greater good. Many of them fool themselves into believing that God chose Trump, however ungodly he is, to accomplish his work of stacking the Supreme Court with conservatives who will outlaw abortion, protect religious freedom (which is not in danger, by the way), overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, slow immigration, and ensure a minimum of gun restrictions. Several previously ethical and principled people have locked away their morals and swallowed their objections in order to ensure a generation of protections for these conservative goals. (Read Bob Woodward’s Rage for several firsthand confessions of this type of Trump follower). These supporters need to ask themselves to revisit the question, “Do the ends justify the means?”
  4. The Victim of Conservative Pundits: The fourth type of Trump follower is the heavily brainwashed Fox News viewer, or perhaps, a victim of other conservative media. These Trump supporters are always in an indignant rage about the evils of the Democratic party and are indoctrinated by a variety of conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate, which is on par with flat earth conspiracy theories. They live in fear of losing the America they have always idealized. Many of these victims are elderly or otherwise cutoff from diverse views in the community. Because they are only getting information by heavily biased sources designed to manipulate them, they live in fear and disgust of anyone on the “radical left.” Even though they may know a few Democrats that are “good,” they believe there is a conspiracy by Democrats to destroy the foundations of American exceptionalism, and even worse. They fear riots destroying the suburbs, the abolition of the police, losing their economic viability, and their American way of life. They, in fact, seem to believe that there are no moderates or right leaning Democrats or left leaning Republicans at all. They are sheltered and have a skewed view of the other side.

Lies Trump Supporters Believe about Democrats

The average Trump supporter never hears that many Democrats own guns and only support moderate gun restrictions like background checks. They never hear that many Democrats abhor abortion and want to have as few as possible, but think that banning abortion isn’t the way to solve this problem. They never realize that many Democrats believe in capitalism and hard work and paying taxes, and getting something for their money like the Social Security and Medicare they paid into their entire lives. They don’t know that many Democrats are Christians and believe in protecting religious freedom and that they believe the best way to do that is to honor the separation of church and state. They never hear that many Democrats don’t believe in getting something for nothing. Many Democrats want humane immigration laws, they want a social safety net that lifts people up and doesn’t encourage a freeloading society, they want affordable college so that the entire country can rise economically, and so that they can all realize the American dream regardless of the circumstances of their births. They never hear that some Democrats don’t believe that these things should just be free and are perfectly willing to attach conditions, such as work requirements and/or giving back to the community that helped them. They never hear that while Democrats want a system of justice that is fair and equal to all, they still want law and order. They still want violence stopped and criminals prosecuted. 

But they won’t be hearing that on Fox News, Glen Beck, or the 700 Club. It’s not in their interests to let them see the nuances and the similarities we all share. It’s not in their interests to let them see Democrats as good Americans or even human beings. We are all guilty of our tribal associations and our preference for confirmation bias. If you want to understand how you are being manipulated, please watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It’s time to look beyond all that and talk to our neighbors, our family members with different views, and the people we’ve avoided because we think we know who they are. I just stereotyped four types of Trump supporters. Prove me wrong. Let me know who you really are and why you really support Trump. Let’s have a conversation, and maybe we will learn a little about who we really are beyond what we are told to believe.

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

      Numerous political scientists and historians have identified Trump and his obvious dictatorial tendencies as an existential threat to our system of government and our very freedom. I get why some Republicans put away their objections and followed Trump through that door, but by now, you should be realizing that some doors shouldn’t be used. It’s time to get back to governing. We need a government that represents all of us, a government that knows how to compromise and work together and create unity. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and every other political group need to compromise. Living in a pluralistic society means none of us gets everything we want. We all should get something we can live with. That’s what it means to live in a country like ours—Out of many, one. We need to stop justifying bad methods of achieving our important goals. Instead, let’s talk, negotiate, and find something we can all accept, and in the process, we can accept each other, rather than accepting more and more bad behavior from our leaders.—Christina Knowles

Afterthought: If you are really interested in practical ways in which all of our political parties can work together, cooperate, compromise, and have a fair voice, please read Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. The first half of the book is an explanation of how we got here, but the second half is full of intelligent ideas of how we could all have a more fair and productive relationship with those of opposing views and how our government could get back to effective governing.



An Open Letter to Jeep in Regards to the Super Bowl Ad “The Middle” by Christina Knowles

After viewing your recent ad, “The Middle,” which aired during the Super Bowl and claims to be a “healing message,” I was left feeling repulsed and excluded. I found your ironic attempt at “unifying” the country while airing the most divisive anti-inclusive ad possible, extremely bigoted and tone deaf. Your ad assumes we are all Christians and seems to embrace Christian Nationalism, the movement responsible, along with the former president, for the failed coup attempt and the storming of the Capitol on January 6th.  As an atheist, I felt as if the ad negated my existence as an American citizen, at least in your eyes. The religious iconography, especially the cross on the flag, is extremely divisive and promotes the idea that religiosity is our way forward to reconciliation. I would argue the opposite, especially in regards to government. Government should be inclusive and not promote any religion, or religion in general, over secularism. As a private company, your response to a divided nation is inappropriate if creating unity is your goal. You’ve merely taken sides and added to the divide.

At the very least, this Jeep ad was in particularly poor taste after the attack on the Capitol by a MAGA cult in a religious fervor. There is no “common ground” to be found with religious terrorists. If you are attempting to reel them in to find common ground with the rest of us, validating their bigotry is not the way forward. I, as an atheist, won’t be visiting the little chapel where liberals are accused of being vampiric pedophiles, where faith is valued over reason, where science is dismissed as conspiracy theory, and where homosexuals are considered an abomination.

With this tone-deaf advertisement, you have alienated both non-religious people and those of other religions, and even those religious individuals who honor and respect the beliefs, or lack thereof, of others, and you have continued to tear at the fabric of our fragilely held threads of unity. Your ad is not a healing message.

I do not own a Jeep, and if this is your view of what America looks like as a group, I won’t be buying one in the future. I don’t believe in cancel culture, but I am choosy about where I spend my money, and I choose to support companies that do not exclude me or others as a group and do not promote Christian Nationalism as the American way of life.

Tired of the Bullshit?

I’ve seen enough false claims and heard enough lies during this election season to last a lifetime, but there is too much at stake, and this one is too incredulous for me to go idly by without addressing a few things. Out of respect for my very sweet friend who posted this, I chose to rebut these issues in a blog, rather than engage on her social media page. The following are my layman responses to this meme.

Business owner: Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, Joe Biden will not shut down the country, at least not unless scientists say there is no other option, and it is much worse than it is even predicted to be. Biden wants to listen to scientists’ recommendations and open everything safely. Yes, there will be required masks, but I’d rather wear a mask than have the country shut down again, and masks have absolutely been proven to be the best defense against the virus in public spaces. Also, Biden takes science and the health of our citizens seriously. Even young people who recover quickly from Covid 19, often have lasting damage to their lungs or hearts. This disease should not be taken lightly as Trump encourages. Biden also has many plans to jumpstart the economy following the devastating economic downturn due to the coronavirus.

Taxpayer: Trump has done a very foolish thing that will help no one. He has frozen the federal taxes from being removed from our paychecks. This isn’t a tax break. We will owe it back when we file our taxes at the end of the season. Unless you are putting several hundred dollars a month in savings to cover your taxes, this will be a major strain on Americans. Additionally, Biden will only raise taxes on those who make more than $400,000 per year. The middle class has carried the tax burden too long. The rich are only rich because of the middle class. The middle class are their workers and their customers. The poor don’t consume a lot of products, and the rich are too few to keep themselves in business. Destroying the middle class by having them carry the majority of the tax burden is biting the hand that feeds them. From the 1930s to the 1980s, the rich have paid more than 50% taxes, and they still prospered hugely. They’ve had forty years of not paying their fair share, and it’s time for them to step up. Under a Biden/Harris administration, the middle class will not have their taxes raised except to end having their current taxes deferred.

One thing that should always be funded and protected is Social Security. It is the single most important thing that has protected the elderly in this country and kept them from starvation, homelessness, and poverty. It is not a handout, but is an investment you pay for your entire life, and no one should have the right to put it in jeopardy.

Christian: I don’t even know why people think Biden and Harris would be a threat to Christians. They are both Christians. The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution is meant to prevent what Trump is currently trying to do, and make no mistake—Trump is not a Christian and doesn’t care about Christian issues. He’s pandering to a group who is scared of losing privilege based on unfounded rumors and direct lies. I’ve been an educator for 18 years in public schools. Prayer, reading the bible, and talking about your beliefs is allowed in all schools. The only rules are that teachers or school officials cannot endorse any religion or appear to favor any religion (The Establishment Clause) by leading prayer or requiring prayer or bible reading, etc. Of course, students can’t read the bible when the math teacher is explaining fractions, but they certainly can in their free time. They can have after school bible studies on campus and choirs often sing religious songs as cultural education. This is true across all government institutions. Keeping religion out of government protects Christians as much as anyone else. Without the Establishment Clause, if the current leader favored Islam, Christians might be forced to kneel to the east, wear head coverings, and celebrate Islamic holidays. It is short-sighted to want your own religion favored because your preferred religion may not always be the most popular, and there is a multitude of evidence that the founders wanted to avoid this mixing of religion and government. Also, no one is against Christmas. I’m an atheist and Christmas is my favorite holiday. If there ever is a war on Christmas, I’ll be the first to defend it.

If you want more hard facts about the founders wanting to ensure a religion-free government, check out this wonderful book. The Founder’s Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American by Andrew Seidel.

Parent: I really don’t see where this criticism comes from, so I’m not sure how to address it, so I’ll just guess. Raising your kids, sending them to school, keeping them fed and safe, not separating them from their parents are all at the forefront of Biden’s plans. One thing about Biden is that he has a great deal of empathy and compassion for the American people and that certainly includes children.

Police Officer: As Biden has stated many times before, he is against defunding the police. In fact, he believes the police need more funding for training and to add social workers and counselors to take some of the load off of them. Biden and Harris are both strong on law and order and want to improve the system without abolishing it. They take a strong stand against looting and rioting, but also do not defend racist militia groups who want to antagonize and create violence or add to violence.  They intend to work on systemic racism within the force, rather than throwing it out and starting over. They also take a hard line on national defense and love and appreciate our military, giving them the respect they deserve, unlike Trump.

Gun Owner: Biden and Harris support the 2nd Amendment and do not want to abolish gun rights, collect people’s guns, or put gun owners on a list. They only support common sense legislation that requires background checks to prevent the mentally ill or violent criminals from owning guns and would only support restrictions on paramilitary-type weapons. Almost every American agrees with this. Fully automatic weapons are already banned. It’s true that restricting sales of paramilitary-type weapons won’t stop all mass shootings, but it would make them more difficult for the un-savvy troubled youth or mentally ill to get one. If restrictions stopped one mass shooting, it would be worth it. Biden and Harris support the rights of Americans to defend their homes, to hunt, and to shoot for sport, and do not want to take your guns.

Unborn Baby: This seems pretty much a moot point right now since it appears the new justice will be confirmed before the election in the biggest display of hypocrisy ever seen in the Republican party. However, even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the states would make the decision about whether or not to allow abortion. It is true that Biden and some Democrats support a federal law allowing abortion that would supersede state intervention, but legal or not, abortions will likely not stop, but just become more dangerous. 

I have never met any liberal or Democrat in my life who likes abortion, thinks it should be used as birth control, or thinks there shouldn’t be restrictions on late term abortions. Late term abortions are not abortions at all. They are surgical procedures to save a mother’s life when the health of the baby is unquestionably compromised and the mother’s life is in danger. Choosing to save the only viable life capable of being saved at that point is no different than triaging patients in a hospital. You treat the ones you can save first. It is also a fact that free and accessible birth control and education are the most effective ways to reduce abortions. Most Democrats and progressives are perfectly willing to have common sense restrictions on abortions, such as when late term abortions would be denied. The Right to Life movement is largely a religious movement and legislation that affects others cannot be made on the grounds of religious preference. No one likes or wants abortions, but physical autonomy over one’s own body is probably the most important freedom someone can have, and thus makes this issue, and whose rights are maintained, a complicated one, and wherever you stand on this issue, it can’t be the only deciding factor for your vote. Is anyone else’s life less important than unborn children? Pandemics, economic crises, healthcare, and Social Security are all life and death issues. Without Democracy, which Trump is quickly eroding, we won’t get a say in anything.

Immigration: This meme did not mention immigration issues, but this is a common talking point among conservatives. Biden supports Dreamers and so do the majority of Americans. The United States has a long history of immigration, and all of us descend from immigrants at some point. Immigration has only helped America throughout our history, and there are so many myths about it. For one thing, immigrants pay more taxes and Social Security than Trump, yet they don’t collect anything from it. Biden and Harris support legal immigration, help for political and religious refugees, and a reasonable and compassionate path to citizenship for those who were brought here through no fault of their own. They do not support open borders and unlimited immigration.

I hope I dispelled some of these mistaken ideas regarding Biden and Harris, but don’t take my word for it. Visit BBC’s “Where Does Joe Biden Stand on the Issues”or Joe Biden’s website to see what he and Harris stand for. There are so many other issues and lies involvingTrump that are not covered here, such as Trump’s claims of the illegitimacy of science, his tax evasion, his collusion with foreign powers, his use of the office of president by his family as a business opportunity, healthcare issues, his negligence regarding global warming, our status in the world and our relationship with other countries, and so much more. Please go beyond social media and visit some sites that don’t just validate your own bias. It’s just too important this election year.–Christina Knowles

Stranger in a Strange (Sexist) Land: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

HeinleinI assumed I would like this book. I mean I’ve been told that it’s critical of religion and conservatism, that it was edgy and relevant. Bah! What a joke! This is literally the worst book I’ve ever read in my life.

Heinlein’s wordy novel is at least a hundred pages too long even if you like the content of his philosophical rant. I’m not going to bother to recount the plot, or more truthfully, the lack thereof, but I will summarize the main premise just so you can understand what I’m talking about. Heinlein’s main character, a human raised on Mars, returns to earth and starts a religious sex cult in which he is the savior. He doesn’t believe in religion, but he thinks it is the best way to get people to live their best lives—and the author actually promotes this view at the same time as denying the truth of religious belief. Sorry, Heinlein, but I’d rather have truth than happy fantasy.

A happy fantasy, that is, if you are a 15-year old boy. While the characters struggle to understand the meaning of grokking, the reader is subjected to countless tedious examples of young male fantasies that would explode the heads of any modern Me-Too-er. Women are constantly slapped on the butt and told they will be spanked in a jovial manner by people they work for or leaders of the cult. Even kindly old male friends love to threaten the corporal punishment for girls that sass or move too slowly. And before you say that he was just a product of the times he lived in, let me point out that Ray Bradbury managed to not be sexist in his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451. In Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel, Brave New World, he managed to criticize the men in his dystopian world who treated the women “like so much meat” (67). Yet Heinlein’s most memorable treatment of women is a line spoken by a woman cult member saying, “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her own fault” (511). This was said in all seriousness. I’m not kidding. Even so, the members of the group prance around naked, have sex with each other, share their money, and are never ever jealous. Of course, it’s not all loving acceptance. Although we are exposed to plenty of free love among women, we are told in no uncertain terms that male on male action is just not cool. I guess we know what was going on in Heinlein’s mind in his middle age.

But beyond the repetitive sex scenes, we are forced to endure long-winded philosophical dissertations on living free without jealousy and eating your friends to honor them when they die, and the secrets to living in peace—basically not giving a shit about anyone including yourself. The characters are two-dimensional and predictable. It’s way too long (Really, fifty pages would be too long), it’s preachy, it’s incredibly sexist, and it’s boring. And to all the people out there giving this book four and five stars, I now look at you differently. You’re a little creepy.—Christina Knowles

Have a Healthy New Year, or Else . . . by Christina Knowles

I’ve been counting the days until 2019. Why, you ask? Because I’ve been in extreme pain for five months, and I naively thought I’d get treatment once the new year kicked in, and my meds would count toward my deductible. How idealistic I was.

I have no cartilage in my knees and have had four knee surgeries throughout my life, beginning when I was just 22 years old. In the past, I have been able to manage my knee problems with spinning, yoga, and had even worked my way up to walking for an hour three times a week. But then, I pulled something in yoga class in July and haven’t been able to walk (for exercise) since. I’ve been to physical therapy, got a cortisone shot that only helped for a few weeks, and have been faithfully doing my exercises at home, but sometimes the pain is so bad that I can’t sleep. When I stand up after sitting for any length of time, I can barely walk.

My doctor wanted me to get shots of hyaluronic acid to lubricate my knees and relieve some of the pain. Eventually, I will need knee replacements, but I’m trying to hold off as long as possible. With these shots, the doctor says I will be able to work out again, building muscle that will help me when I finally get my knee replacements. I told my doctor I needed to wait until January because I figured the procedure wouldn’t be cheap, and I have a high deductible plan, so I wanted to take advantage of meeting any deductible for a longer portion of the year. I had no idea that the prescription for the injections alone would cost $2900.00. This is not something I can make payments on either. It’s due up front before the injection. I was told that if I had a copay plan, the copay would be $684. Even that is insane.

One month ago, I was talked in to trying CBD oil to treat the pain and inflammation. This oil, which you can hardly find any information or studies on, at least in the United States, is not cheap–$100 for one ounce of full spectrum 1000 milligram tincture. I was very skeptical and did not want to put out that kind of money for something that is not approved or recommended by the general medical community, but while in excruciating pain, I decided it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t expect it to work, but within 10 minutes of taking one dropper of the tincture, I was walking almost pain-free and without a limp. It lasted a few hours, getting progressively worse and wearing off completely in about five hours. I don’t think it helped me enough to go hiking or on a long walk, but it relieved the worst of my pain and allowed me to get around without looking like an old lady. Of course, this one hundred dollars a month I will be spending on CBD oil does not count toward my insurance deductible. Our government would rather approve opioids and deal with the epidemic of addicts than legalize and research CBD or any cannabis related medicine.

But what bothers me the most about this whole situation is that I work a full-time job with benefits and so does my husband; we have insurance, and I even have additional income on the side from teaching college classes and writing, and I still can’t afford to buy the medicine I need. At this point, I’m wondering how the United States is even considered a first-world country with its barbaric health care practices. At 17th in health care quality, it isn’t worth the price. I’m starting to consider medical tourism or even emigrating to a country that has single-payer nationalized health care. I’m not even retirement age yet, and I have perfect blood pressure, low cholesterol, and no sign of diabetes. I’m in good health now, but what in the hell am I going to do when I am old and need lots of medical care and am on a fixed income?

Even if the Affordable Health Care Act survives the Trump presidency, it does not go far enough. Drug companies need caps on what they can charge, insurance premiums need to be affordable to everyone, and doctors should make a reasonably good income like other professionals in a public service position, like say–teachers. Well, maybe a bit more than that.

If working two jobs, having a professional degree, and medical insurance is no guarantee of receiving adequate health care, it may be time to dispel the myths and get on board with Medicare for all.

For now, I’ll wish you, and me, a healthy, hospital-free new year.–Christina Knowles

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover Reveals the True Horrors of Religious Fundamentalism by Christina Knowles

Educated

This real-life account of a young woman who grew up in the mountains of Buck’s Peak, Idaho, who was denied a basic education, forced to work hard labor, refused medical treatment for life-threatening injuries, and left unprotected to defend herself against a violent and mentally ill brother, is an intimate look into the world of religious fundamentalism.

Tara Westover, grew up the child of religious fanatics. Her parents, who also happened to be mentally ill, were paranoid and ignorant. Tara’s father refused to allow her to go to school, or to go to the hospital after sustaining a head injury and a debilitating flesh wound, and did not even register her birth. Tara was raised believing the government would send in snipers to kill them at any moment because of their refusal to participate in the great conspiracy.

The reader follows Tara through her eye-opening journey from an ignorant child, who believed everything her parents told her, to a Harvard-graduated Ph.D. We see, through Tara’s eyes, the humiliation of being the only one in her college class who had never heard the word, holocaust, who had learned from her father that it was all made up by the Jews to gain sympathy. To be so completely unknowledgeable about the most common of knowledge was to navigate a sinister world in the dark, armed with nothing but hope.

Tara never gave up. She educated herself, studied on her own, and took the SAT until she got good enough scores for a partial scholarship to BYU, who took “home-schooled” kids with no school records. She went on from there to win a fellowship at Oxford, and then to Harvard for grad school, all while struggling to keep her family’s love. Her family, who believed she was lost to Satan and was possessed, gave her an ultimatum, their world or the real world she was just discovering. After years of abuse, and struggling with her own mental issues as a result of the abuse, Tara chose to let them go, while graciously keeping the door open if they chose to accept her, which is more than I would have done.

This book broke my heart. The fact that children of religious fundamentalism all deal with trying to live in two worlds, while not being given the tools to even distinguish between truth and fiction, is a danger, not only to them, but to the rest of us. But how different is this from any family who raises their children to believe in fairy tales? Any indoctrination of blind faith results in an intellectual disability, the ability to abandon reason, living in a false and tumultuous world that is never truly safe.

While Tara found education, and thus, her escape, she was forever scarred by the experience and still suffers today. Many are not so lucky, even those who had less crazy circumstances. They go through their lives expecting miracles and blaming themselves when God doesn’t answer their prayers. They ignore medical advice, refuse their children a good education by home schooling with books designed to indoctrinate them into a particular religion, they teach their children not to trust science, and to fear those who are different from them. Many are unable to shake off these chains of religious abuse and educate themselves.

I’m glad Tara insisted on her right to find truth and to be educated. We all benefit from the education of all children. Religious belief is a dangerous thing. For example, why follow your conscience and the law if God tells you to go against it? Why take care of this world when God is going to make another one to replace it anyway?

Tara was taught to fear and hate, all based on lies. She had no defense. She came into this world with no other resource for truth than her parents. Even when Tara questioned the beliefs of her parents, she risked losing everything, even her home as a minor child. Religious indoctrination is child abuse, plain and simple.

I highly recommend getting this book on Audible. Julia Whelan, the narrator, gives life to the voices of Tara’s family, especially her father. You will be drawn in immediately. Five out five stars for this one.—Christina Knowles

Book Review: Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright

BuddhismMy bad. I should have noticed that this book had “Philosophy” in the title. I don’t have anything against philosophy in general. In fact, I really enjoy Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Nietzsche, and many more. However, with this book, I was hoping for just some science-based evidence to back up the claims of common Buddhist practices like meditation and non-attachment, etc. Instead, I got a head-splitting treatise on how the self does not exist. My mind hasn’t hurt so much since I took “The Philosophy of Mind and Reality.” The only discipline more aloof from clear-cut answers than psychology is philosophy, and that’s entirely what this book is–philosophical psychology. In fact, psychology is the one science where there is so much disagreement between sub-disciplines that I have no idea what is truly accurate. As a non-religious person who is completely open to the benefits and lifestyle of Buddhism, I did not agree with even half of what Wright explains in this book, at least the part I could even wrap my head around. It’s quite possible, the mind-numbing coma his arguments induced in me contributed to my lack of comprehension.

If you are looking for a secular view of the benefits of Buddhist practice, I recommend anything on the subject by Sam Harris, especially Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. Don’t torture yourself with this one, unless you want to feel like a freshmen in Philosophy 101 again.–Christina Knowles

A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

Manual for Creating AtheistsIn A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian makes a great case for street epistemology, or attempting to create atheists, whenever we engage someone stuck in a faith system in our everyday lives. At first, the title comes across as a little too “evangelical” for even my taste. I mean, what about “live and let live?” Should we actively try to spread our take on things just like the religious do? What about respecting people’s views if they’re not harming anyone?

Well, Boghossian points out what many of us are aware of already. Faith, or “pretending to know things you don’t know,” as Boghosssian defines it, hurts us all. It dumbs down our society, causes us to deny science, create laws that inhibit the rights of others, and feeds radical fundamentalism. At any rate, he is not advocating for bringing this message door to door, but merely engaging in Socratic questioning when we find ourselves in a friendly conversation with those of faith. Basically, he wants us to stop backing down out of “respect” for ridiculous beliefs, distinguishing between respecting the individual and pretending to respect their beliefs, thus legitimizing irrational thought.

Where I disagreed with Boghossian was that we should always target the epistemological process of faith, rather than specific beliefs or contradictions in “holy” texts. While I agree, blind faith is the problem, and as he puts it “all faith is blind,” many will be more willing to question the “virtue” of having faith if you put a crack in the specifics of what they already believe in their particular religion. It’s a lot easier to expose the fallacious elements of faith, in general, if you can show how beloved personal beliefs fail. This often leads to questioning everything. And this is the ultimate goal, questioning—examining everything with critical thinking. Skeptical thinking is the epistemological method that leads to finding truth. In my experience, it seems that many people progress through many steps toward skepticism, and that the first step is admitting that their own holy book has undeniable errors.

My favorite part of this book was how eloquently and logically Boghossian makes his case for getting back to Classical Liberalism, rather than the modern liberalism we see so much in higher education today. Boghossian explains that in an effort to promote tolerance and acceptance, we fail to attack bad ideas and bad thinking out of a misplaced politically correct sense of diversity. While cultural diversity is a good thing, we still have to point out, question, and attack logically the ideas that cannot be true or that are harmful to freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. Boghossian discusses how certain topics are considered off limits in our educational institutions today, religion being primary. Boghossian says that liberalism today has “favored” groups that are protected, while the rules against intolerance for these groups do not apply to other groups who are not favored. For example, one favored group currently is Muslims. Boghossian states,

“Contemporary academic leftists don’t withhold making judgments entirely, as do cultural relativists. Rather, they withhold judgment to the degree that a culture seems foreign and/or alien, or to the extent that they perceive a culture to be misunderstood or victimized by the West. Islam currently occupies the top rung on the contemporary leftist hierarchy of beliefs and practices that should not be criticized.

“Leftist academicians fervently judge elements in Western culture. For example, academic leftists take great pride in condemning Western institutions, Western financial systems, and Western corporations. One might see a leftist academic withhold judgment, regarding a clitoridectomy in Northern Africa, but loudly decry a gender imbalance in the headcount of speakers at an academic conference” (Boghossian 205).

This type of hypocrisy is all too familiar. Sam Harris often points out what he sees as the dangers of the Islamic faith, as well as other religions, and I have always appreciated his willingness to come out with these issues publically, realizing this dialogue cannot be “off limits,” just because it will offend someone. Open and intelligent civil discourse requires that we can engage these issues. And as both Harris and Boghossian point out, religion is not race. People choose to change religions every day and cannot be born a certain religion even if they are born into a religious family. As Boghossian points out, Islam is the favored protected group at the moment, but we don’t have any trouble pointing out flaws in Christianity, Mormonism, or Scientology. What is the difference?

Boghossian, by no means, advocates for discriminating against the rights of anyone based on their religion, but merely states that no religion is off limits for critical examination and civil discourse.

This book is filled with wonderful references for further reading and resources to help the concerned atheist spread critical thinking, and I look forward to reading many of them; however, I will still attempt to point out specific problems with specific doctrines, rather than only targeting the faith fallacy. Overall, Boghossian conveys some very good strategies and makes his points well. Four stars out of five—Christina Knowles

Here is a link to purchase Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

 

 

 

Give Me Peace by Christina Knowles

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Photo via livescience.com

The world is falling apart around me, but all I see is her

She doesn’t see me

Her mind is showing her different things

Her eyes are dim and fogged

Over with images she doesn’t want to see

The pain she feels is real

Real is the fear I feel

Looking into her eyes full of visions

Induced by a dying body

Misfiring synapses, remnants of past sights

A simulacrum of visual forms

Meaningless electricity

The pain in my heart sears

Wanting to hang on to her

And wanting to let her go,

Wanting the pain to end

She doesn’t deserve to suffer like this

And I don’t deserve to sit here

Screaming silently

Listening to the delusions of those gathered around

Their talk of visions of angels and going to meet those

Who’ve gone on before

Yes, she sees angels

She also sees angry eyes

And attackers tearing at her clothing

Is that from God too?

You stupid, gullible people

Let me grieve in peace