Driving to work today I heard a report about the victims of the recent Philippine typhoon. The story was about the role of the Catholic churches in the recovery and the lives of the victims.

One of the women was talking about her trust in God. The typhoon reminded her that we can’t rely on our own powers, that what we can accomplish is nothing compared to God’s help through prayers. Another woman spoke about how material things are secondary in light of still being alive after such a disaster.

The priest was telling the congregation to take strength through the suffering of Jesus.

This is a phrase that has never been accessible to me. I understand accepting ones suffering because the other choices are railing against the elements or fate or allowing your circumstances to make you bitter. What I don’t understand is the minimizing of ones personal suffering because it cannot compare to Jesus’s suffering on the cross for all mankind.

Someone will always have it worse than you and Jesus is the ultimate trump card.

“Offer it up to Jesus” was one of my mother’s go to phrases when faced with a complaint from any of her children. Along with “Some people don’t have any legs.” Same difference – I wonder if she had criteria for when a complaint qualified for one or the other?

The problem I have with “offering it up” is that it seems to demand that you stop feeling what you are feeling because someone else has it worse. Maybe that is my interpretation.

I think you can always find perspective when you consider the scope of your problems or suffering (the first world problems meme covers this handily), but its okay to own feeling bad for a minute before you get perspective.

I recently read an article on Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter actor) who mentioned that whenever he would complain his father would say “You’re not down in the mines.” Granted there is a lot to say for knowing that your worst day will be better than some folks best day, but everyone is entitled to grouse once in a while.

Suck it up, do what you need to do, don’t wallow in self-pity. I agree with and use this philosophy with my daughter, but I find it more powerful if there is a moment of comfort where her father or I acknowledge “Yeah, its sucks, wish it weren’t so.”

I hope the Filipino’s find a moment of comfort when the priest reminds them of Jesus’s suffering. It is a deeply Catholic country. I hope they find grace and God’s love in the aftermath of the typhoon and the ongoing national disaster.

And for what its worth, I wish it weren’t so.

Learn about climate justice here

It is spring where I live which means there is snow on the ground and several more inches threatening this week. This time last year it was 80 degrees and sunny. Two weeks ago it was 65 degrees and sunny. Mother Nature is obviously menopausal.

As I drove my daughter to school she and the car pool kids were complaining about the weather because its almost spring break etc, etc, etc. I told them I remembered many an Easter Sunday with snow on the ground when I was a kid. Part of that is the magical liturgical calendar, which I am sure is calculated in a sub-basement of the Vatican using the phases of the moon and cast chicken bones, and part is global warming which causes the lake effect snow by us.

When I was a kid every Easter we would get a new dress, hat, gloves and Patten leather shoes for church. Invariably the dress was made out of some sheer material with cap sleeves guaranteed to leave you with goose bumps the whole day. Even the leg wear was thin – ankle socks with lace rather than tights.

My brothers on the other hand got a pair of dress pants, long sleeve button shirt, jacket and tie. They were warm, we were cold. And so began the lessons of women needing to suffer to look beautiful.

As I was relating the unfairness of the Easter clothing to my captive car pool audience I remembered the purse we would make in Girl Scouts every year. First we would spend several meetings crocheting a square. The square would then be made into a tube by lacing a piece of ribbon along two edges, with another ribbon laced through the top to create a drawstring. We would then cut images out of magazines and decoupage them them to plastic margarine tubs. Once the tub was sufficiently decorated and dry, we would punch holes around the edge and use another ribbon to lace the crocheted tube to the tub.

Found this on Etsy. Mine never looked this good.

Needless to say the kids in the car thought this was hilarious. I tried to explain that it was the 70’s and we decoupaged everything, but I guess you had to be there. I just found the instructions for Margarine Tub Purse in the 1972 edition of a “Polly’s Pointers” column. I was not the only one subjected to this craftiness!

This endless “craft project” produced what was now called a purse, intended to be used for church on Easter Sunday. A purse just big enough for some folded up Kleenex, some money for the collection plate, and a lip smacker. Bonne Bell Lip Smackers was a home town company and a big craze for a while. Originally they were as big as glue sticks & with a hook and a cord so you could wear it around your neck. Orange Crush, 7-Up and Strawberry were my favorites.

The smell of Spring.

I am really bad at uncertainty.

Change I’m good at, emergencies, bring ’em on, but uncertainty makes me understand the Catholic concept of Limbo a bit more than I would like. Technically Limbo is the edge of Hell. You know right away this is Catholic because, between Heaven and Hell, Limbo sits “on the edge of Hell”, not the edge of Heaven.

The concept of Limbo got reformed a bit over the years to allow unbaptized infants to occupy a Limbo of “natural happiness” (thank you Thomas Aquinas) despite their lack of baptism. The best part about Aquinas’s version is that the infants don’t know that they are being denied salvation in Christ. The rest of the un-baptised who have not sinned enough to go suffer the tortures of Hell are eternally tormented with the knowledge that they will ever be separated from God.

If I had my druthers I would go with the ignorant infant model.

For the past month I have been sitting in Limbo as my husband is considered for a position that would require a long-distance move. There are many moving parts to that potential future (my work, my daughter’s life, buying & selling houses etc.) so I started a “Rumsfeld List” to try and wrap my mind around the Known Knowns the Known Unknowns, the Unknown Unknowns. Because that’s what you do in Limbo – plan the planning of a plan.  At least that’s what I do.

If my mother was here she would first advise “offering it up to Jesus” and then she would pray to one of her go-to Saints. St. Therese (to accept Gods will) or St. Jude (lost causes) or St. Christopher (safe travel, generically for her kids, sort of like Mrs. Weasley’s clock).

For now I think I’ll stick with the patron saint of project managers, St. Franklin-Covey, until the uncertainty, no matter the outcome, turns into certainty delivering me from Limbo.

It is oh so tempting to let myself get caught up in the posturing and brinksmanship of the fiscal cliff (non)negotiations – I think Jon Setwart’s “Cliffpocalypsemageddonacaust” says it all. However, it reminds me too much of other things I worried about to no avail (the manufactured debt crisis, the endless house votes to repeal ACA,  Occupy Wall Street), so I am trying to be more detached.

Instead of obsessively reading news sites when I need to “take a break” at work I’m going to attempt to get up from my computer and walk around the block. This will be my Hanukkah gift to myself. Which allows me to start obsessing again on December 17th (post-Hanukkah), the date Nancy Pelosi said a deal would have to be inked by in order to get the paperwork done so politicians can leave DC by the 23rd. We’ll see if getting home to Church services with family (and constituents) is a motivator.

I’m glad we have a week break between Hanukkah and Christmas this year. We celebrate both in our little atheist household, so it gets to be a bit much when they overlap. My husband is not big on decorations, although he does tolerate the tabletop Christmas tree because it means something to me. Because he was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic our daughter gets an amalgam of holiday traditions as we both choose only the bits we like and make up everything else.

For Hanukkah we light the Menorah and put out eight small presents for my daughter. I know non-Jewish kids get all jazzed about the idea of 8 nights of presents, but in our house at least it is not the major haul of their fantasies. I think the excitement for her is that they sit wrapped on the buffet so she can touch, shake and choose what to open each night. One is always a “gift certificate” to our local independent bookstore where we all choose new books, and then go for french fries & milkshakes at a favorite restaurant.

To her dismay I have a rule about no Christmas decorations overlapping with Hanukkah decorations, unless the calendar forces me, so we will not put up the tree until the 17th. And down it comes on New Years day. And of course, like all good Jewish/Catholic/Atheist families, we go to a movie & get Chinese food on Christmas day.

That reminds me, I don’t think I have 8 presents yet. 48 hours to finish my shopping, find the blue wrapping paper and see if the leftover Menorah candles melted over the summer.  Then I can start working on the Christmas gifts.

Since I only have a few minutes, I am only going to focus on a few minutes out of the Vice Presidential debate last night.

If you put aside all the “malarkey”, distortions and ideological nuances, what the debate last night gave us was a very clear picture of two forms of government. Answering the question asked by Raddatz, “What role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion”, the candidates gave voters a fundamental choice between systems of government. Continue reading

Had another close encounter at my gym today. The facility I use is owned and run by Orthodox Jews but is also heavily populated by black Baptist women. This means its not only closed for Simchat Torah but for Good Friday too. Holiday closings can get irritating and I am always on the verge of quiting and finding a new gym.

This morning, as I was leaving, a Christian woman (evidenced by the cross necklace and church group sweatshirt) flung “Have a blessed day” at me. The problem is that not only is this a religious ambush, but its also insistent. Not “I hope you have”, or a request like “God bless you today”, but a command –  “Have A Blessed Day”. When someone says it to me my impulse is to say something snappy in return like, “Make me” or “Not if I can help it”, but that seems unnecessarily antagonistic. It is after all a casual religious intrusion rather than a formal one. The kind we are supposed to ignore in the polite society. I may have to write Miss Manners about this one so I can get one of her socially appropriate, cheeky answers.

If you follow the standard that you are the religion of the vagina that expelled you, I would be considered a lapsed Catholic. I usually just say I was “raised Catholic” because that’s where it began and ended, but even when I participated in all the functions and folderol, I would never impose my religious beliefs on anyone else. That’s downright rude if you ask me.

That brings me to another bizarre moment. Some people higher up on the food chain than me were going on about how impressed they were that Romney did his mission work in France and had to speak French to try and convert people to Mormonism. As if it is somehow remarkable that he could be annoying in more than one language. Didn’t speaking French help label John Kerry an elitist? I sense a double standard in play – its OK to speak another language if you will use it to bend others to your will.

I am glad Mitt Romney speaks more than one language, everyone should as citizens of the world, but I draw the line at admiring his proselytizing for the Mormon Church. We are constantly being subjected to formal religious ambush. Our house is regularly visited by the “elders” from LDS that would like to engage us in hearing the word. And the Jehovah’s. And the Baptists from the church a few blocks over. You’d think we were a bunch of heathens or something to attract so much attention.

I do my best to get us off their lists by informing them that we are Jewish (my husband and daughter), and by stringing Tibetan prayer flags across the front porch. But in the atmosphere of the election, with Mormons living across the street from us and Pre-Vatican II Catholics on the other side, I can’t predict how long it will be before I counter-attack some hapless bearer of Good News with a big ole Sez You.

I’m sure my manners and religious tolerance will return on November 7th.

The fragment of ancient Coptic papyrus that contains the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” has already left the news cycle but I can’t let it go unremarked upon. It may seem like a kooky bit of esoteric flotsam, but I predict it will boomerang back many times over the next 10 – 20 years in the  form of good old-fashioned, no one’s going to care about it, won’t get you a job, dissertations. Accompanied by religious tracts, conspiracy theories and quasi-intellectual books a la “The Secret” and “DaVinci Code”.

The people who care about things like this care very, very much. I’m not talking about just your garden variety religious nut (an unkind shorthand, but you know what I mean), but legions of academics, theologians, followers of all things Knights Templar, conspiracy theorists, and other “off the grid” kinds of folks.

Once upon a time, when I thought my life would go in a different direction, I took classes in Latin, Ancient Greek and Aramaic. I’m not a natural at languages but I worked hard and kept up. Ancient Greek was my favorite and I fantasized about reading The Trial and Death of Socrates in the original one day. (Failing that, I continue to reread it at least once a year, the Jowett translation, because it recharges my thinking and makes me happy, even in English.)

So in an advanced Greek seminar, when I was starting to get an inkling that I was not going to master this, the professor decided to mix it up and have us start translating the Old Testament rather than poetry or philosophy. Three weeks. That’s how long we spent on the first sentence. Why? Because not only are the copies of copies of copies suspect, the copies of copies of copies from multiple locations do not align. And then there issues with translation to the Greek from the Hebrew and debate about which century of Greek was used.

Why does the century matter? Not to go too far off on a tangent, lets take a look at the 21st century word Gay, meaning homosexual. During the 19th and early 20th century the word meant full of mirth, carefree, joyful. By the last third of the 20th century Gay meant male homosexual, by the last decade and bleeding into the 21st century, it not only describes a homosexual but is also used by some as a euphemism for “lame”. Now imagine explaining the sentence “…and God was gay” without knowing the century of origin. Century matters.

Last but not least, once we have determined what the actual words are that we are translating in the Greek Old Testament, we discover that there are some verb issues that make it possible that Genesis doesn’t say “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth” but may instead say, “in the beginning God separated Heaven and Earth”.

BIG difference if the Bible is your go to book. Creationism, or maybe not so much. See the problem? Now what does this have to do with a scrap of ancient paper no bigger than a business card? The rumors and theories about Jesus being married have been around for years, not just among the Dan Brown crowd, but with reformists who want proof that the Catholic Church was never intended to be a male hierarchy, or celibate. And here comes the conspiracy theory – many believe that through the years, beginning with the burning of the Serapium library at Alexandria ~390, the Mother Church confiscated and/or destroyed all evidence to the contrary. Except for this bit of Coptic papyrus.

The good news, if you will pardon the pun, is that anyone who believes Jesus was married will continue to do so. Anyone who does not will continue to do so. Usually evidence is not only unnecessary, but redundant when it comes to faith or the Catholic Church.

History is fascinating, religious or not. It is a living breathing thing, and anyone who thinks its static isn’t paying attention. We reshape the living record all the time when we admit alternate perspectives (women, people of color, whoever is not in power) and additional information (see Records, Suppression of.)

Churchill said “History is written by the victors” but that doesn’t mean that particular version is permanent. Even if you do try to burn the copies, delete the files or scrub all the servers.

Sometimes the republicans just make it too easy.

Todd Akin cannot back pedal fast enough to make up for his idiotic comments about “legitimate rape” and abortion. Its not an error, or foot-in-mouth disease, its only the truth leaking out.

Hyper conservatives are being forced to condemn his comments as indefensible and Karl Rove’s PAC is pulling ads. All in all a good day for getting people on the record trying to distance themselves from stupidity. Take Rep. Jeff Flake, who I picked for a random spot check because of his name. Flake is running for Senate in Arizona, tweeted “I oppose abortion, but exceptions must be made for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother”. You don’t say! Lets look at Jeff’s record for a minute:

That would mean that Jeff has now made his first ever exception to his 100% pro-life record. Kudos Jeff!

Fish in a barrel.

Now that abortion is front and center in the public discussion again, I want folks to remember that this whole “its not really rape” issue exists solely to prevent an exemption for abortion. The crazy talk about women being raped secreting “special secretions” – I wish I made this shit up – so they can’t get pregnant, means that if they do get pregnant, they weren’t really raped. It wasn’t a legitimate or forcible rape, the made up terms that Ryan and Akin favor.  Get it?

I really hope we can get deep enough into the topic to hear about Ryan’s position that the definition of life is tied to economic freedom. It is essential that people understand that when Ryan advocates for fetal “personhood” he fundamentally opposes human rights for women.

I have a slightly different view than Ryan in that I believe economic freedom also belongs to women and is truly possible if and only if they have agency over their reproduction. If, when and how.

It should be a human right for a woman to access any medical procedure that stops conception, interrupts conception or aborts conception for any reason, at any time in their reproductive lives, and up to 24 weeks of gestation of the fetus. This is not a moral decision, a group decision or anything that Anthony Comstock ever should have had his filthy hands on.

Remember when republicans are talking about rape they are always talking about abortion.

I have been writing and re-writing this post all week.

I started when the prosecution rested, then when the defense rested then again after closing arguments. Now the jury is out and Sandusky’s adopted son says he was also abused.

This case has been heartbreaking to watch unfold. The testimony alleged that this man molested, raped and betrayed the trust of young boys who were in his care, who looked up to him. His behavior fit what is known as the molester pattern of grooming a vulnerable kid, escalating touching and ensuring silence.

The defense was the same lame character witnesses who say things like “I know he didn’t do it because he is such a nice guy” that you get in any trial like this. As if one persons experience of the accused somehow invalidates the possibility of another persons experience. No one really know what people are capable of. Wait, I take that back. We DO know what people are capable of.

We have seen hundreds of Catholic clergy accused of child sex abuse. They of course have a better system for protecting abusers so it has been going on for more than the 15 years Sandusky is accused of. Right now the jury is hung on the Monsignor Lynn case, also a case in Pennsylvania, which is the first time a church higher up has been accused of child endangerment because he allowed pedophiles to stay in the ministry. Its not clear what the implications of this trial will be no matter what the verdict. The status quo cannot be acceptable, and yet sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy rose in 2011 by 15%.

I think part of what has kept me from writing about this again (I wrote about it back in November) is a pessimistic belief that nothing will change. These trials are awful for the vicitims because there is  such a prevailing fear of pursuing false accusations. I know this is an innocent until proven guilty system, but what fuels that fear? Denial? If we pretend that this didn’t happen we don’t have to take responsibility for preventing or stopping it? The idea that anyone would put themselves through a public trial about being sodomized as a child because they thought they could make money off the story is beyond cynical to me, its more like insane.

I think more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching average people how to intervene if they think some abuse is happening and then convince them that they will be supported, as opposed to vilified or doubted, for reporting. We are not nice to whistle blowers in this country.

Whenever friends talk about the case they are outraged that McQueary went to his Dad and then reported to the Coach when he saw Sandusky in the shower molesting a boy. What was his better choice? If he called the police would they even show up? If they did would a report be filed or would Sandusky have talked his way out of it with the same defense used at the trial? Better there was an actual trail of people that he kept telling. It didn’t stop that act, and for that he will likely feel eternal shame, but it might be enough to put a predator in jail for life.

I think it is naive to assume that abuse reported is abuse stopped. Because of this trial (and all those Catholic clergy stories) do people now know how to intervene and make a child safe if they think there is sexual or other abuse happening? Do people know that child services should be called? Is it now clear if you should call 911 for child services or do you call the police and they call child services? It might be helpful if every online story about Sandusky ended with the National Child Abuse hot line 1-800-4-A-Child.

I hope someone learned something from all of this. Not feeling too optimistic at the moment.

There is something insidious about instructions.

I made the mistake of opening the box and looking at the installation instructions for a new ceiling light I bought. Whenever I read instructions my first thought is  “How hard can it be?”. A quick cost-benefit analysis of installing the light myself vs waiting for the handy man leans heavily toward the side of Wheres that ladder? Ultimately it comes down to available time, no matter how strong the siren call of the easy-to-install instructions.

I don’t know how other people manage so many home improvement projects. We can barely keep up with the usual cleaning/shopping/cooking/yard maintenance let alone improve anything. Last year we had to scrape and paint the garage because we were cited by the city. I understand the inspections and citations are a necessary evil to maintain good housing stock, but boy did that task suck up any and all “free time” for the entire summer.

I know it comes down to priorities, and trying to integrate both work & play into the hours after you leave your paid job, but some of us are better than others at figuring that out. My family knows that I’m incapable of lounging in my pyjamas. In fact I only leave the bedroom in my pyjamas once a year on Christmas morning for the coffee, cookies and present opening part of the day. I have a hard time relaxing if there is work pending. And there is always work pending.

Unless I am in full escapist mode, or on vacation, there is a certain number of tasks that have to be completed before I can chill. The number and complexity varies according to an obscure, internal algorithm that exists independent of my will (e.g. the day before our wedding I had to re-pot all of the house plants).

I want to relax, and I am getting better at it, its just not yet my immediate response to exhaustion or unstructured time. Blame Catholic guilt, or my parents obsessive work ethic, or the fact that I always manage to see dust that my husband can ignore, how ever you slice it – My name is Amanda and I have a problem.

Meanwhile that new light fixture is sitting there taunting me…

Had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone I don’t know very well. This woman was coming to me for advice on a sticky situation and so spent some time defining herself and giving me a thumbnail of her personal narrative.

This is always fascinating.

I have a habit of sliding into a meta analysis of what and why people reveal certain kinds of things in conversation. Probably should have trained as a therapist or done less Lit Crit in college. It is also a trick I used to use at parties when I wanted someone to go away:

Them: “What do you do?”
Me: ‘I study feminist epistemology as it intersects with ancient Greek philosophy.’   Them:  “I need to freshen my drink – can I get you anything?”

Works every time.

So a key part of this woman’s narrative was how she came from money on the Upper east side of New York and rejected her WASP roots by converting to Catholicism and joining Catholic Worker. Both the action and the telling of it spoke volumes. Because I have run around the edges of the lunatic fringe I knew all about Dorothy Day and understood what the woman was trying to convey about her perspective on the world. Serving the poor and oppressed is how she defined herself.

She was both surprised and delighted that I was familiar with Catholic Worker which also told me, a) what opinions she had formed about me and, b) that she generally expected this to be “outsider territory”. I refrained from sharing my rejection of Catholicism and embracing of Atheism as this wasn’t about my belief system.

The part I don’t get – and its not the first time this has come up – is rejecting inherited money in order to stand in solidarity with the poor. I am not attacking her choice, but having been poor and knowing poor people, I am flabbergasted when I hear something like this. The person seems to expect to be congratulated because of their sacrifice for solidarity.

Every poor person I have ever known would love to get out of poverty, the bad neighborhood, the deadend jobs, and here is someone who had all that and rejected it. Makes no sense to me. Why not stay rich and use your money for good? No one needs to know you can write big fat checks, you can be an anonymous donor and still serve soup at the shelter.

This idea that poverty is somehow noble, or poor people have such dignity because of adversity, smacks of objectification if you ask me. I am not implying she has no true regard for poor people or that she is faking her commitment to social justice, but I do wonder if her act of rejecting her wealth planted a corrupting seed of self-righteousness.

Like I said, I find it fascinating to consider what people tell you and what they leave out.

It might be useful for folks to remember that the moral high ground doesn’t come equipped with safety rails or any other protections. Those cost extra.

Political decision making is such a mess.

My neighbors across the street have a Romney sign in their yard. Now maybe they like his fiscal policies or they want gun laws expanded. Or perhaps they want abortion eliminated and marriage defined by law as “one man, one woman”. But I suspect their choice is motivated by a more mundane reason than any of Romney’s policies/values.

He is Mormon and so are they.

I can almost forgive this kind of thinking, but then again not really. Mormons (like Jews) are roughly 2% of the US population. I understand the excitement, but if we (continue to) make decisions about who to vote for based on religious affiliation, race or gender then I believe we as a nation are sunk.

I am a big believer in representation but never, ever to the exclusion of qualifications and someones religion, race or gender is not a qualification for political office. If you want a good example of everything that is wrong with this kind of thinking, take a good look at Josh Mandel.

Mandel was and is incredibly well financed by the Jewish community for his GOP political races. This is the same Jewish community that supports/supported liberal democrats including Senator Brown that Mandel is trying to unseat. Mandel is also a creepy guy who changes positions, breaks campaign promises and is using his current public office to further his political ambitions

The point is:
Mandel’s Jewishness is not sufficient reason to support or vote for him.
Romney’s Mormonism is not sufficient reason to support or vote for him.
President Obama’s race is not sufficient reason to support or vote for him.

And yet I fear these reasons are often the deciding factors for the voting public. I do not believe it is a case of “all things being equal, I would like to see [Jewish, Mormon, Female, Black, Gay] representation.” Its all been downhill since Kennedy & Catholicism. I used to think it was awful that most folks just voted their party line. Now too many people start and stop with surface information, vote for the name they recognize, the person that looks like them, and act like they are doing something.

Is that representative government? If you look like me does that mean you will work for my best interest? Is there a crabby, middle-aged, white feminist progressive in the House or Senate voting just like I want them to? Doubtful.

This fall I will not be voting for the Mormon or the Jew, I will be voting for the black man. And hoping we get around to reforming our political system (voting, electoral college, funding – don’t get me started) before the US looks like The Hunger Games or Idiocracy.

I really thought Newt Gingrich would be gone by now.

I also thought the loony-bird called Santorum would have flown back to PA by now (btw typing rick santorum is batshit crazy into google brings up 195,000 results). But here we are.

Still listening to people debate – and I use that word very loosely – things like evolution, the personhood of sperm and whether or not god hates fags.

Maybe Jon Stewart can start a campaign “Opinions are not Facts!” to help people understand that just because you believe something it doesn’t make it true. You can clap your hands until they bleed and the fairies will not arrive to take you to Neverland.

Every time I think the political dialogue can’t possible sink any lower, I am proved wrong. I no longer believe the class divide the Occupy folks are bringing to consciousness is the biggest problem in the US. The intellect divide is more troublesome because it cuts across socio-economic lines. Not intellectual, which often implies academic and abstract, but intellect, the ability to use the mental process of reasoning. Emotion is trusted more than reason. And the rhetoric of emotion plays well in sound bites.

Why do we allow emotion driven opinions to dominate every political discussion? Is logic anti-religion? I must have missed the moment when logic was denounced like science as an evil tool of the liberal, elitist New York Times reading, NPR listening, atheists.

We need a new political system. A year-long presidential campaign is surely cruel and unusual punishment.

Just finished Penn Jillette’s book “God, No!: Signs you May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales“, a rambly, often funny interpretation of the ten commandments. This is not a book review, but some editor should have persuaded him against the constant swearing. Swearing in comedy or conversation doesn’t bother me but after twenty pages of reading “f*****g” every other sentence it interfered with the ideas.

He really started to lose my interest when he got to his hard core atheist arguments. I don’t care that he is an atheist, but how he goes about it.

I am an atheist, no bones about it, but I find fundamentalism in any form hard to take. I see no reason to proselytize or try to shake anyone’s belief system around religion. Sometimes life is so shitty the best someone can hope for is life after death, so why mess with their faith even if you think its all fairy stories?

I know organized religion was the catalyst for a tremendous amount of historical atrocities as well as a boatload of current strife and misery. It is a social construct simultaneously responsible for preserving ancient books and knowledge as well as burning the library at Alexandria. I just don’t see how proselytizing about atheism is any better than proselytizing about Jehovah.

At our house we discuss which conversations are appropriate to have at home and which you have in public and believe me saying you are an atheist freaks people out more than anything.

When my daughter was around four she decided that Santa Claus didn’t make sense and that it must be me and her father. We never pushed Santa, she never sat on his lap and we didn’t contradict her when she told us what she thought. We did say she was not to share this information with her friends.

When she was five and decided that the idea of God didn’t make any sense either, we did not contradict her, but we did say she was not to share this opinion with her friends. The idea that you don’t have to tell everything you know is new to children and many adults.

When she was eight and asked what abortion was, we told her about the medical procedure and why it was important for women to have access to this procedure, and to not share with her friends. We learned a lesson about specifying “at home” when she shared with her five year old cousin. No harm done as he couldn’t really follow it.

Are we wrong to not declare our atheism when ever others speak about God? I don’t think so. I never back down from it when someone asks, but I don’t feel the need to discuss my moral compass or belief system casually. When possible I will err on the side of social politeness even when not provided the same courtesy by the faithful.

My husband and I talk to our daughter about why its important to know what you value and what you find intolerable and why. What comments or behaviors are unacceptable to you no matter what the circumstances. Seems like if you know “why” its easier to know when to stand up and when to sit down.

Our “why” stems from a habit of rational thinking (+ emotions, experience & a little Socratic dialogue) rather than scripture. Its hard to raise a child who understands how to make decisions about when to be vocal about beliefs and opinions. Its not just choosing your fights (the implication being ones you can win), but also understanding that your own good opinion of yourself is at stake.

Unfortunately, I lack Penn Jillette’s certainty that this approach is not equally dogmatic.

As we inch ever closer to Christmas and Hanukkah I confront the age-old problem of how to conduct religious rituals without religion.

I was raised Catholic, my husband was raised Jewish and we are both Atheists. Our daughter identifies very strongly with the Jewish side of her family and considers herself Jewish for all intents and purposes. She intermittently makes noises about a Bat Mitzvah, but that goes away as soon as she is reminded of the amount of study involved and that she would actually have to attend Temple.

She likes the ritual of the Hanukkah candles, eating latkes, and of course the eight (small) presents she gets.

She likes decorating a Christmas tree, eating the cookies and All That Music! She keeps asking where her Advent calendar is. I forgot to get one. I can usually find one for $1.99 at CVS, but didn’t see them this year. In her mind that cheap, graying chocolate from the advent calendar is part of the Christmas ritual. Maybe I’ll try Walgreens.

This morning she negotiated the date for decorating the house. I am usually very firm about only 14 days of visual chaos, but Hanukkah and Christmas overlap this year so the house will be blue & white and red & green for 19 days.

So like people all over the world, we will open presents Christmas morning, go for a movie & Chinese food, and then light the Hanukkah lights Christmas night. If folks don’t know us they might even think we were religious.