Friday, August 15, 2014

What do little freethinkers believe in?

My eldest daughter started at a new school this year for third grade.

As with most schools, she spent the first few days setting up her desk, meeting new friends and getting to know her teacher.

Her teacher passed out a 'getting to know you' type assignment that was decked out with conversation bubbles that had prompts and empty lines for the students to fill in their answers.

The topics covered most topics that these things tend to do. Favorite color, favorite food, favorite animal, pets in the home, family members, etc.

But something on this mundane, average assignment stood out to my daughter. One of the bubbles had the phrase, "I believe in..."

While it didn't strike her as odd at first, when the class gathered to share their answers, it was clear that she was in a room full of theists. Almost every single child in her classroom had followed the above prompt with 'god' or 'Jesus' or 'god's love' or other various religious type things.

This struck her as odd. She herself had written down the word 'myself'. But the first thing that her classmates thought of was 'god'.

I am not saying that third grade theists don't believe in themselves, or that the third graders didn't honestly feel like that would be the best thing to write down. I just found it wonderful that my child believes in herself over a pseudo-higher power.

The surprise in her voice while telling me this quip led me to think about the things I teach my children to believe in as freethinking children of an atheist mother.

I have taught my daughters to believe in themselves, to believe in love and to believe in me and their daddy. I have taught my daughters to believe that people are good, that life is beautiful and to believe that no matter what happens, there is always a silver lining.

We believe that even though there is no thing as literal magic, that magic surrounds us in the form of 'karma' or 'fortune' or 'souls', those feelings and forces that are difficult to describe, but easy to feel. We believe in forgiveness, strength, and bravery. We believe in Science, not because we really want to, but because it is transparent and we can question the validity of hypothesis and understand the basis of theories.

We believe that good people will do good and bad people will do bad, not because the devil or demons, but because of life experiences, and poor decisions. We believe that kindness can conquer all and that in order to be wonderful people we need to exude that love and understanding onto others. We believe in loyalty, friendship and honesty.

We believe that this life is all we get, so we take care of our Earth, of each other, and of those less fortunate than ourselves (it's their only life too). We believe that after we die, our energy will continue on, as energy never ends. We believe that through everything, we are stronger with each other and that we need to fill this life with as much wonder as we can because before too long, it will be over.

We believe that there is more to life than politics, religion, and hate. We believe in people and the inherent goodness in people's hearts.

I know a lot of people want so desperately to believe that atheists don't believe in anything, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I believe in so much more now that I have shed Mormonism. I don't just believe in a god and doubt the sinners around me. I believe in the people who surround me and doubt the existence of mythical creatures.

Not all atheists are alike, just like not all theists are alike. And it makes me so happy that even though my third grader realized just how many children in her class are theists, it didn't stop her from finding three new friends in class during the first week of school.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Parts of Mormonism I Kept

Writing a blog about being an Ex-Mormon will lead me to write about negative experiences more often than not. With that said, I wanted to take a moment on Pioneer Day to make a list of things and loves that growing up Mormon has given me, that I may not have had otherwise.

~ 52 cousins. (On my Mormon side.) I know that isn't necessarily a uniquely Mormon thing, but with 7 aunts and uncles (some of whom remarried and brought in more cousins), it was bound to produce a larger family. (I only have 4 cousins on my Catholic side.)

~ Canning. Mormons aren't necessarily the only folks that are dooms day preppers, but they definitely perfected it. I still keep gallons of extra water, I can my own food that I rotate, and I get nervous when we hit a hard time and the cupboards start to get bare.

~ Appreciation of 1800's clothing. Especially bonnets. I know it stemmed from all the Pioneer Days I celebrated growing up. I even made myself a homemade bonnet and dress for Halloween when I was 15, which leads me to my next point.

~ Sewing. I can make my own clothes, though I still need a pattern usually. I made my own prom dress and cape when I was 17, with the help of my aunt. I have a sewing machine that I have already taught my 8 year old how to use.

~ Crocheting. I was taught by my mother at 12. I have made multiple blankets, hats and scarves. I have taken that skill and moved to knitting as well, which I taught myself this past year. Without the focus on homemaking, I am sure this wouldn't be a skill I picked up on my own.

~ Baking. When I get stressed, I bake. Cupcakes, tarts, pies, cookies, etc. And I know this is something I picked up from my Mormon upbringing. Once again, I know this isn't a uniquely Mormon thing, but with Young Women's and the kitchen at church, I know that this was something that I learned as a direct result of being Mormon. My husband isn't big on sweets, but up until I went back to school, my coworkers loved this little quirk.

~ Patience. I am able to 'stay sweet' as my mother always put it. I have the patience of a well trained dog and I can tolerate a plethora of mind numbing conversation topics with a genuine smile on my face. I can speak up for myself when necessary, but prefer to sit and watch and witness, all while being neutral and sweet. I learned this from 3 hours of church every Sunday.

~ Speaking in public. Getting up in front of the entire congregation from a very young age has given me for confidence when speaking to a large group. Bearing my testimony or giving a talk at the pulpit is a voice shaking experience for an 8 year old, but I know that even though I am not the best public speaker, I definitely am able to do it because the chances I had at church.

~ Party planning on a budget. I own my own waffle cone maker, two crock pots, a three partition party warmer, a food dehydrator, and snow cone maker. If I had to throw together a last minute missionary farewell party, I am all set. (I still want a cotton candy machine.)

~ The ability to share like a champ. Growing up knowing one day you were going to have to share your husband with sister-wives gives you a brand of sharing talent set apart from most.

~ My music talents. I can play the piano, clarinet, alto saxophone and I had started to learn violin. The reason why I did this was because I was taught that a worthwhile future husband would want a well rounded wife. That is the only reason I ever picked up a musical instrument. Now, I couldn't imagine life without it.

~ My knowledge of the bible and BOM. I was the champion of the lightning round of the annual scripture hunt. I have read the bible all the way through twice and the BOM thrice. I know my shit. I memorized, highlighted and studied while in high school and went to seminary every morning through my junior year. (My mom got sick my senior year.) I know the bible better than a lot of my religious friends. The knowledge I have of the bible and BOM led me to questioning the viability of a god.

~ My knowledge of the 'unknown' verses of hymns and Christmas songs. Our music director was never one to cut a song short, even if it had 8 verses. So when others struggle with the second verse of Joy to the World or Away in a Manger, I can keep going... usually off key and alone.

~ My love for camping. Maybe this would be something I acquired if I had been born into a different family, as my parents never seemed to enjoy our camping trips. But being in Young Women's, the youth group of the Mormon church, led me on overnight backpacking trips, camping on the beach, camping with the Young Men's group (we were being pioneers), and a week long camping trip every summer.

~ Cute songs to sing with my children, that their peers probably do not know. Our favorite is Popcorn Popping. Though I know we have had enjoyment from, Daddy's Homecoming, and Mother Dear (which I always change to their names), and My Heavenly Father Loves Me (which I change to Mother Nature). It reminds me of my childhood and happy memories I have with my grandmother.

This is by no way a comprehensive list, I know there are more wonderful things Mormonism gave me. But nothing compares to the freedom and happiness I have found ditching all forms of organized religion. I am one of the first of my Mormon family to walk away from the religion, so I am a pioneer in my own right. Happy Pioneer Day!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Diary of Four Women Essay


                 Having been raised in a conservative Mormon household, I wasn't taught to look to my fellow females unless it was to find an example of how to stay sweet, be a peacekeeper, a worthy wife or a mother. My childhood heroes were princesses and females who were mothers of multiple children. Poised, behaved women who put motherhood first, put everyone’s needs before their own and anyone else’s feelings above their own were what I strived to mimic. I was raised to be obedient, first to a god, second to my father and brothers, third to my mother and one day, my husband.  Being raised to believe certain things weren't meant for women, like the priesthood, or church leadership, or even having a voice, didn't set me up to succeed in life on my own; I had to have a husband to achieve the goals that were set for me. Naturally, my first goal in life was to find myself a husband; preferably a return missionary before I reached the ripe old age of 22.

            With my goal of tracking down a husband on the top of my priority list, my first role model became my maternal grandmother. She was married by 16, dropped out of high school at the end of 10th grade to be with my grandfather and had 8 children in a 12 year span. She did the unthinkable and married a non-Mormon, but showed her strength and faith by converting him to the gospel. My grandparents never separated, never spoke of divorce and had a love for their children and grandchildren that was palpable. My grandmother could do all the things I hoped to do one day. She had her fair share of children, she had a home, a husband, was overly maternal, and was the best story teller I have ever had the pleasure to know. She had her priorities straight and kept to them like the woman of god that she was. She was everything to me. She taught me how to bake, how to cook, how to play the piano, she told me stories that enveloped my soul, and she taught me how to be a peacekeeper and the art of ‘staying sweet’. She had the voice of an angel and she had the opportunity to share her talent at Carnegie Hall in the 1980’s. She was my very first role model, my very first example of all that a woman should be. She was the epitome of love and I miss her every single day.

            I looked up to my mother for a very brief time in my youth, and I am hoping that I can be more than she was. I learned a lot from her, but not in a good way. I learned how not to treat daughters, how not to behave in a relationship, how not to constantly be the victim. Though learning through a bad example hardly makes a role model. My world was shaken at eighteen years old when I found out the man who had raised me as his biological child, was not my biological father. My parents had lied, a ruse that was supported by the church, in order to prevent me from finding out that my mother was not married when she got pregnant with me. It was more shameful to get pregnant out of wedlock, than it was to lie to a child their entire life about their genealogy, about their heritage, about who they are and where they came from. My world turned upside down, and the final soul crushing fact that my little brothers were not my full siblings, but half-brothers, and that I had two older half-brothers and a younger half-sister, sent me on a soul searching mission that ended up somewhere I never thought I would be: An ex-Mormon.

            Once I had started to shed my religion, I lost my role models, my source of examples of what I, as a woman, should be. I no longer could look up the Joseph Smith’s wife (wives) or to the Relief Society President, as I no longer identified with their struggle or goals. I floundered to find conservative ‘proper’ women who I felt could give me a good footing in what I should strive to be. I failed in that endeavor. It was a feeling akin to being thrown into a swimming pool, first the feeling of panic when you have no control, a moment of freedom, and then a cold, enveloping feeling that takes a moment to get used to. You know you will survive, but it’s not going to be pleasant. The women who are my role models now, have only been so for a few years. They are women who I would have mocked and judged as my younger self. They are women who I didn't feel were ‘real’ women, because they weren't 100% selfless. They didn't set their priorities the way that ‘proper’ women did. And I know my younger pre-adolescent self would stare at me slack jawed if she could meet herself as I am today.

            My second female role model is my Aunt Andrea. When my high school boyfriend broke my heart, a year after I found out about the lie that up-heaved my world, she invited me over for pizza and ice cream. We watched movies until midnight and talked until the wee hours of the morning. She married into my dad’s side of the family and she was a good housekeeper, as well as had a job and career of her own. It was wonderful to see how she had both a career and a marriage; I was awestruck. She let me know that I was still worthy of love, even though I had given my high school boyfriend the one thing I was supposed to hold onto until marriage. She showed me what strength was to her, and it was so different than what I thought strength was. She became a nearby confidant until she and my uncle divorced. My heart broke for her, and I was devastated when she moved to Arizona, but the fact that she didn't let the end of one relationship get her down inspired me. I was astounded by her self-respect. I was raised to believe that if your husband cheats, you stick it out because it probably your fault to begin with. She taught me that if your husband cheats, you get to decide if he is worth staying with. She still is someone who I turn to if everything is falling apart around me. She reminds me that ‘staying sweet’ isn't always the answer.

          I had tried to fit into the parameters set by my mother, and even though I was still so hurt that she lied, I still sought after her love and approval. I got married as an ‘old maid’ at the unforgivable age of 23. I knew that if I wanted to make my mother proud of me, I had to hop on the ‘as many children as god will give you’ bandwagon and start making babies. I had my first daughter at 25 and when she was 8 months old, I got pregnant with my second daughter. I was on the road to true motherhood, when I hit another bump in my life journey: finally getting rid of my religion permanently. It was a weird feeling, every goal I had ever set for myself was no longer relevant to who I now identified as. I still looked up to my grandmother and aunt, but I searched for examples of strong mothers, outspoken women, independent wives, and women who did good things because they wanted to, not because they had to.

            I was raised to put the quiet, obedient women at the top of my proverbial list of female epitomes. As I grew in my own feminist way, I searched deeper within people to find things that I could relate to on a deeper level. Where before I wanted to be a girl who fit into the patriarchy perfectly, I then found myself outside the patriarchy, searching for idols, and finding them in places I was already familiar. I loved watching the movies and shows that were made before I was born. As an elementary aged child, I loved watching I Love Lucy, Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, and every single Doris Day movie ever made. I fell in love with the idea of Audrey Hepburn at a young age. She was the perfect candy coated shell of what a female should be. Everything that a woman should look like, and behave like, came through in just her looks. Her voice was perfect and she was breathtaking. As I went through the changes that life placed so kindly at my feet, I developed a new love and respect for Audrey Hepburn. The more I learned about her humanitarian efforts and her goals as a person, not just a woman, the more I wanted to be like her. Audrey was a mother, a wife, a partner, a humanitarian and she did all those things while working. She believed in inner beauty and strength. And as I lost my identity, I looked to her example. I learned that life wasn't about being an obedient, subservient female. Life was so much bigger than that, than me, than the person I used to be. She sent home the point that divorce doesn't ruin you as a woman, it doesn't ruin you for other men, it doesn't ruin your children and it doesn't mean you failed. Femininity doesn't require a masculine man to be present in order for it to exist.

            It was hard for me to find four women to write about, which speaks volumes for the kind of world and culture I was raised in. I could easily name off four to ten men that are strong examples of what men ‘should’ be, but I wasn't raised to single out women based on their own merits. I still pull strength from the women who I have mentioned. But lately I have found myself finding guidance and respect from a different set of women. Women like Hillary Clinton, Sally Ride, Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis, Marie Currie, Ellen DeGeneres, and even my two young daughters. The women who I look to now have fought to make a difference in the lives of so many other women and children.

Elizabeth Warren is my role model right now. She fights for working moms, struggling students, and lower class families. She is everything I hope to one day be, not necessarily a senator, but a strong mother who doesn't stop her passion at her children; a woman who fights for everyone. She struggled as a working mother, and I can relate to that, but she didn't let it stop her from achieving her goals and finishing her education. She stands strong against the patriarchal standards of our society and she continues to fight against all forms of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination. She has brought light to so many topics that have been hidden from the people and ignored by our government. Like her, I am not going to view my children as my life’s magnum opus, life is much more vast and open to explore. And though it is true, that my strong girls will be the closest to magic that I will ever come, it doesn't mean that I can stop now. There is so much in the world to fight for, to hope for, and to improve.

        I know that the women I look up to and idolize will continue to change as I change and grow as a woman. I am hoping that no matter what, I will still be able to find the strong, independent, kind women in the masses of who society tells us is worthy of the title of role model. I hope I am able to raise my daughters to find people who inspire them, women who the would like to emulate, and I hope I am worthy to be one of them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Ah, the drunken display of mock-Irishness is upon us.

The man many people think they are celebrating wasn't actually Irish. He blasted down Ireland's doors to shove his religion onto the native folk.  Maybe not literally, but I envision it was very Mormon-esque. Elder Patrick went door by door, with his companion, asking the gentle Pagan folk if they would like to change their religion; he had a free book written by Jesus.

I have spoken before about why an atheist would ever celebrate a religious holiday. So the fact that my family celebrates something like St. Patrick's Day isn't too big of an announcement. We just do it a little differently. A little background on the holiday that I double checked with the Catholics via their website-o-saints.

We will start off with Mr. Saint Patrick's story:

He was born in Scotland in 387. At fourteen he was kidnapped during a raiding party and taken to Ireland to herd sheep. At twenty he escaped and made it back to Britain by sailors, where he was reunited with his family.

At home, he started in the priesthood of Catholicism. His father was a Catholic deacon and his grandfather was a Catholic priest. So he was following in the footsteps of his family.  He spent about 40 years in Ireland, converting the Irish from Paganism to Catholicism.

Pretty basic. 

We all know that the only way a mere mortal can become a saint is through documented miracles. I am not going to break them down. But I do want to touch on one that may not be a legit miracle, but one that he is known for nonetheless.


Rumor has it that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The only problem with that is that there were never snakes in Ireland.  Snakes are not native to the island and at the time of Patrick, they hadn't been introduced. There were literally no snakes for him to banish after they allegedly attacked him during a 40 day fast on top of a hill.

Some people may offer a different interpretation of the story of the snakes. Snakes have been a long standing symbol for the Pagans, specifically the Celts. So Patrick never drove out serpents, he drove out the Pagans.

Now, what is wrong with that? For what seems like eons people have been bringing their religious beliefs to the people they have conquered, or people who are different or people who are poor. Funny thing about religious beliefs is that people aren't usually so quick to give theirs up. Usually it takes force, persuasion or syncretism. And even though Patrick himself didn't subjugate an entire race of people, the many missionaries that followed in his name did.

It's important to remember that Patrick himself didn't walk around the Emerald Isle with his mighty walking stick, slaying dragons and Druids and anyone else he didn't agree with. Saint Patrick has fallen prey to the mythos that comes with being more of a symbol than the person you once were.

So today is the day where I make sure my children have some kind of green on, as to prevent the mean children at school from pinching them. I smile as my children bring home colored sheets of rainbows, pots of gold, and three leaf clovers. And I try to plan a meal at home, as to not deal with the college kids who are one green beer away from vomiting.

I also take it as an opportunity to teach my children a few important things.

We learn about Ireland.  We learn about different beliefs and why pushing beliefs that have no backing is wrong. We learn about the Celts and Pagans and their rich history and tales. We learn about the symbolism of the snakes. We learn about accepting others for who they are and doing our best not to cast judgement on others. We learn about Irish folklore. We learn about leprechauns and the little people. We learn about fae folk and banshees.

Today my girls and I are going to make snake wreaths to celebrate the real snakes of Ireland, and enjoy the Pagan stories that were almost forgotten due to the way Christianity tries to snuff out every other religious practice.