Letting children go to church with strangers

Ask an Atheist is a local (Pacific Northwest) radio show out of Lakewood, Wa. I listened to one of their most recent episodes in which the topic was parenting and atheism. They brought up the issue of allowing, as an atheist parent, your child to attend religious services.

My take is the same as one of the hosts (who is currently raising a child): I do not mind my child attending a church service with a trusted family member or friend, provided my child wanted to go. But sending my child off to church with people I do not know is unacceptable. Yet, I was reminded by the conversation during the show, that this is pretty common place.

The same host described this situation that happened to her: her son plays with a neighbor girl in their apartment complex regularly. One Saturday, the girl’s mother, whom she had never formally met, asks to take her son to an event “tomorrow morning”. She had to drag it out of her that this event was church.

The host said she had two issues: 1) not being up front about where she was asking to take her son, and 2) considering that they were barely acquainted, leaving her out of the invitation and only inviting her son.

A caller recounted a similar situation with her daughter, but it was much worse. Every Sunday, a van would come to the caller’s complex to pick kids up and take them to a local church. When asked by a neighbor why she didn’t allow her daughter to go, she said, “I don’t know anyone at this church or where they are going.”  The neighbor is shocked and says, “But it’s a church!” As if bad things don’t happen to children at church.

The church where I grew up used to bus kids (in a van) from a nearby housing project to attend Vacation Bible School during the summers. While some parents might have had friends or relatives that were familiar with our church (or perhaps even attended a service themselves), I know there were some that knew nothing much about us. And they, I believe now in retrospect, carelessly let their kids go to a strange place with adults they never met.

It is striking, the assumptions we make culturally, when any event is associated with a religious organization. This can be very dangerous, especially when it comes to children’s safety.


Homeschooling: Two weeks into Kindergarten

It’s going pretty well!

We’re focusing on many of the same subjects that I outlined for my oldest son’s last year of pre-K: science, math, reading/phonics, art, social studies, cooking and handwriting. We do two subjects a day, one in the morning and one mid-afternoon, after little brother’s nap. Structured lessons are for an hour each, max. Many times, we’re at 45 minutes. DH does handwriting in the evenings, and those are only 15 minute sessions. We are also part of a group of other secular homeschoolers and we plan on meeting twice a week for group activities in the areas of science, language, cooking and anatomy. We had out first “class” Monday, for science, and the kids had a ball with a color changing milk experiment.

At home, the materials we’re using are:

1. Primary Mathematics

I really like this curriculum. For those unfamiliar, this is Singapore Math, which teaches kids to do mental math. We’re using 1A level. It is very organized and and includes a textbook and workbook for the kids and an instructor booklet. Very easy to implement. Right now, we’re working on number bonds and it was the first week where #1 son didn’t quite get it all the way; about 30 percent. The beauty of homeschooling, of course, is that you take as long as you want until your kid gets it. No timetable. The second lesson on number bonds, I did a review and we did a game using a 3-compartment plate, numeral cards and goldfish crackers. This isn’t original, I got it off the interwebs (just google it). He seemed to get it a lot more: that 5 is the same as 3+2, 0+5, and 4+1.

2. Science is Simple

Haven’t done much in this yet. One lesson so far: we borrowed Suddenly! from the library and read that together. It’s a book they suggest to help kids make guesses about what will happen next in a story. Basically, practicing the scientific method.  This can be done with any story. This is one of the first lessons, but it has tons of fun ideas for actual science experiments.

3. Beginning Geography (social studies)

Also have done just a few pages so far. Learning maps, direction (up, down, right, left, N, S, E, W), land masses, bodies of water, etc. Came with two huge colorful posters we hung up in the playroom. #1 son likes the activities and coloring the pages.

4. Explode the Code (phonics)

While the main focus of ETC is phonics, it is very writing intensive. After a couple of weeks, we’re now skipping the last page in each lesson because it’s JUST MORE WRITING. We already have a separate curriculum for handwriting so it’s feel redundant. I appreciate some writing practice, but in my opinion it’s a bit much. Other than that, the lessons are good and I am still happy using it (although we might supplement with Hooked on Phonics at some point).

5. Draw Write Now (art)

Right now, #1 son is taking a 5-week art class at Masterpiece Art Studio (which he loves), but when that is over we’ll be doing some different things for art and this book is one. It gives you step by step instructions on how to draw different animals and it’s great handwriting practice, too. My son likes following steps for things if it’s something he likes, like art. We’ll also be using project ideas from The Artful Parent.

6. Pretend Soup (cooking)

My DH found this book and I like it a lot. The recipes are made to allow the kids to do as much prep and cooking as possible independently (with adult supervision of course). There are also two versions of directions: one with words for parents and one with pictures and a word or two for the kids. We’ve made one recipe so far, “Green Spaghetti”, which is basically pasta and homemade pesto. The kids enjoyed making it. My younger son tasted some and liked it, and my older son (who is VERY picky) just ate plain pasta with butter, salt and pepper. It was actually really good and I added extra garlic!

7. Now I’m Reading (books for early reader practice)

So far, very happy with these. The illustrations are engaging and there is an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. We start each book with just looking at the pictures, then I read it a few times, then he reads it alone when he is ready to. If he can read it by himself with no help, he can put a sticker inside the book.

8. Universal Publishing Handwriting Series

Had a hard time finding handwriting curriculums. Weren’t sure what style to go with. At first, we thought maybe italics were the way to go and not even getting into cursive. There are so many choices. But we finally realized readability is most important, so regular old printing is best (and easier to learn), with cursive instruction starting in a few years.

Finally, at some point I will buying a children’s Bible to help introduce the kids to Bible stories. I think this subject can be called religious literacy or maybe mythology? The Christian stories and traditions are very much a part of American culture, down to the idioms or sayings people speak (read here). The great part from our perspective is that DH and I don’t have to convince our kids that these stories are true. They are free to think whatever they want to think about them. And we’re not focusing on just Christianity; we will delve into other religious traditions as they get older.


A look at Ezekiel 16

One of the many books I am currently reading is called God against the gods: The History of the war between Monotheism and Polytheism, by Jonathan Kirch. In the first chapter, he quotes some passages from Ezekiel to illustrate the extreme fidelity the Old Testament Yahweh requires of the Israelites, and the pretty uncontrollable rage and resentment he feels when he doesn’t get what he wants from them. As most people know, lots of different imagery is used to describe Israel’s “waywardness” in the Old Testament, but one that is  very common is that of a husband and his bride, a bride who eventually turns into a “whore”. The passages quoted in Kirch’s book are from Ezekiel 16.

Here is a brief breakdown of the chapter:

1. Right at the beginning of the chapter, Israel is likened to an abandoned baby, a girl presumably, left to die. God (who I suppose can be likened to a rich, noble man) finds her and takes care of her, much like a father. But things get creepy because when the child matures, this father-figure all of a sudden wants to marry her. In this culture, at the time, most women had little to no choice in whom they married. And men with means saw most women and girls as potential wives or concubines. Using that imagery makes sense in historical context; but it is disturbing as hell.

2.  So the girl complies when offered marriage. But she is strong-armed and manipulated into the relationship. This rich man (God) saved her (Israel) from a perilous fate and made her beautiful and attractive (by his standards). Never mind that she didn’t ask to be saved or beautified. Or how questionable it is to do something for someone and use it as a means to control them. But in his mind, she owes him. And the payment he wants is her total fidelity to him only, no matter what. However, what happens when one is under someone’s complete control is that eventually, you get tired of it and start asserting your independence. That is what Israel does. But that independence is interpreted as “whoring”.

3. So because of all this “whoring”, he punishes her. By causing her lovers to jump her and hack her to death. Metaphorically, of course. But when she is down and out again, he’ll come back to her. What a gentleman.

In a relationship with anyone: it’s not normal to do something for someone and then expect them to be in a constant state of owing you. When someone asserts their individuality, unique personality and tastes, it’s not normal to shame them and force them, by emotional manipulation (remember what I did for you???), to conform to your personal  or preferred standards.

But, this is totally normal if God is doing it. 

This is one of the problems I have with Christianity: total abdication of “self” is seen as a virtue. Your wants and desires have to align with God’s wants and desires. You have to “be like” Jesus. You are commanded to love him. You are, in effect, expected to be a robot.

In addition, this “gift” of salvation being offered to you must be taken with love and gratefulness. Declining it is not an option, because you will be punished if you do so.

To me that seems tyrannical and controlling, not loving.

Religion and freethinking in the Islands

This interview was a treat to listen to. Local podcaster Alan Litchfield interviews Joy Holloway-D’avilar, a Barbados native who has been living in the U.S. for 20 years. She talks about her experience as an atheist/freethinker in the Caribbean community. I was especially tickled because my maternal great-grandmother was from Barbados.

One of the many excellent points she made were how reliant, and one might say co-dependent, the black community, particularly in the States, is on the various colonial religions, be it Christianity or Islam. She also talks about the basics of Rastafarianism; it is a good example of how people often exchange one set of mental slavery for another.


Black moms with biracial kids

I recently read an older blog post from Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. She brought up the issue of how black moms encourage their biracial (or multiracial) children to embrace their identity. What are their perspectives? As a side note, she published that post when I was pregnant with my first son, :). Now, with two mixed-race sons, I have some experience  in this realm.

It seems, she says, that the multiracial agenda is largely set by white moms of biracial children. I think there is definitely some truth to that. In my experience, some black women who have mixed-race children are not particularly invested in their children embracing a mixed identity beyond acknowledging the biological fact that one parent is non-black. They are very adamant about their children largely claiming their “blackness” and other cultural heritages, while not invisible, are secondary; in fact, I’d say the black community at large generally carries this mindset. The fear is that if one doesn’t claim their blackness, then that means something is wrong with being black.

As a society, we’ve definitely internalized the one-drop rule, which, it should be said, has zero scientific evidence to back it up. But even though this social construct is not based on biological facts, the idea of “race” is still a powerful force in our culture. And that is why some black moms of biracial children feel the way I described above. I, however, don’t share that opinion.

As a secular humanist, I despise tribalism or nationalism of any kind. At the end of the day, we have to all get along and someone’s family or country of origin should be a point of respectful interest, not division. I am not invested in how my children racially identify. I do want them to be compassionate, empathic human beings, so they do not have to be considered part of a group before they feel moved to support or fight injustice against that group. That might be another fear some black people have: if you don’t consider yourself black, you won’t be invested in our cause.

These discussions are interesting and definitely needed as more and more people identify as mixed-race.


Caring for fine, natural hair

So I’m at a crossroads with my hair. After battling post-partum shedding in 2011-2012, I’ve realized I have seriously neglected my hair by not putting enough protein in it.

Many naturals have gone through this: why are so-and-so’s two-stranded twists so thick and yummy and mine are scalpy and sparse? Come to find out, after researching, you got thin or fine hair. Either low-density, which is the number of hairs per square inch on your head, or fine strands, each strand being thin in diameter.

Some have both. I just have one: my hair is quite dense, but the strands are fine.

There are various breakthroughs each of us go through on our natural hair care journey. Sometimes, it feels melodramatic. But for anyone who isn’t a black woman, you have to understand that hair is an important part of our culture. Unfortunately, those of us that had our hair relaxed from an early age, have absolutely no idea of what our chemical-free hair is like. Hence, all these aha-moments and realizations about our hair every few years.

A year or two ago, I realized I had fine hair. However, I didn’t realize that the diameter of your hair kind of dictates how much protein you should be using in your regimen. The smaller the diameter, the less natural protein you have in your hair. So you have to add some now and again. Or maybe a lot, on the regular, if you have very fine hair. In all the natural hair spaces online, I feel like this information gets lost among the desire to keep our moisturized. In fact, you can damage your hair by over-moisturizing.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done a protein treatment. All things considered, I’m surprised my hair has held up this long. But after the postpartum shedding wasn’t an issue anymore, I was still losing a lot of hair during the detangling process. And it seemed limp and lifeless. I needed to change things up a bit, at least short-term. First thing I did was look for a shampoo and conditioner. I chose these:


Pantene’s line for fine hair. It’s inexpensive. Won’t hurt to try. It was somewhat of an epiphany for me to realize that shampoos and conditioners that add volume are probably ok for me. Again, you’re conditioned as a natural to focus on super moisturizing and taming that fro.

Even though I haven’t done a protein treatment in a while, I’ve got a protein conditioner sitting right under my sink, Aubrey’s Rosemary Peppermint. I’m going to use this to detangle tomorrow (wash day!!), wash and condition with Pantene, then moisturize with Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I’ve been using this for a while; it has silk protein in it but it’s listed in middle of the ingredient list. I haven’t been super impressed with it. Not sure if my hair likes shea butter. But if I have been dealing with damage from lack of protein, no product is going to do well in my hair.

I’ll do an update soon!

Annoying questions for atheists

This was a pretty good article from Alternet by Greta Christina on questions that some atheists may find annoying or downright insulting.

Our family has only recently become secular. With the exception of my mother and brother, we haven’t had many discussions with our other religious family and friends about that change. I imagine it’s a fairly uncomfortable subject for most. But I’m certain some of the questions on this list have occurred to those that know we are not religious anymore.

What stood out for me were the the questions about being moral without god and finding meaning in life apart from belief in a god. Both take a great deal of personal responsibility. It can be scary to know that it is solely up to you to make life decisions for yourself and to create meaning in your life. But, as many atheists who were formerly religious can attest to, coming to grips with that reality ends up being quite liberating. It feels like chains have been lifted from your neck, as you do not have to be guided by guilt trips to think a certain way or to make a certain decision. You can use reason, logic and true compassion, while looking at each challenge in life on a case-by-case basis. You can be comfortable changing your mind about something once you get new information. Which makes perfect sense!

Ca school district sued over yoga classes

A family has brought a law suit against the Encinitas, Ca school district over a yoga program. You can read the AP article here.

The lawsuit claims that these classes violate the separation between church and state. Why? Because yoga’s origins come from Hinduism; and this is true.

So, the question is this: are the teachers proselytizing Hinduism? Are they promoting the religious tenets of Hinduism?

According to the article, they are not. Teachers are simply teaching the children the movements of yoga, but not talking about Hinduism at all (which is the case with almost all Western yoga classes).

Based off that, it doesn’t seem to violate the separation of church and state, but we’ll see where the case goes. If this family is Christian (and the article does not state that), I suspect the problem they have with yoga is the belief that doing the movements means you are worshipping Hindu gods, thus sinning against the biblical God (or whatever god they worship).

My opinion, of course, is that movements cannot injure the pride of a god that does not exist. However, if the case rules that the yoga classes are legal, children whose parents don’t like the class will have to sit it out, like they have done since the classes started, apparently. But the parents complained that their kids weren’t getting the required amount of exercise set by the state. In that case, I suggest they do an alternative form of physical activity during the classes (such as walking around the school or something) with another teacher.


Taking a stand…for what exactly?

By now, you might have heard of the wedding cake drama across the river from me in the town of Gresham, Oregon. Same-sex couple goes to a bakery there in preparation for their wedding and when the owner finds out the cake is for two brides, he refuses service, citing his religion (Christianity).

A lot of people are outraged and there are high emotions on both sides, those that support the gay couple and those that (inexplicably) support the cake shop owners.

I will come back to this.

Today, I read another story about a man who refuses to file taxes and went so far as to quit his job, when he received his W-2 form with the number “666” on them. He says accepting that number means “selling your soul to the devil.”

I’ve noticed that some Christians have this tendency to take a stand for, frankly, extremely petty things. Situations they blow up in their minds to be of cosmic consequence, that also causes them to make irrational, illogical conclusions.

In the instance of the Gresham bakery, providing wedding cake services for a same-sex couple means you support gay marriage, when it means nothing of the kind. It’s simply a business transaction, that in no way changes your mind about anything. No one is forcing you to agree with anything. Yet, they have convinced themselves they are “taking a stand”.

With the man and his W-2 form, it’s a case of silly superstition that led him to quit his job, jeopardizing his livelihood. Again, he thinks he is taking a stand against…what exactly? Demonic forces that will attack him through paperwork, I guess?

While ridiculous, and probably only causing some minor inefficiency (I hope), the W-2 man is not hurting anyone or denying them rights.

However, the bakery could find themselves in legal trouble for denying service to the same-sex couple: they may have violated Oregon anti-discrimination laws and the state is looking into it.

This is what gets me: supporters say they are simply expressing their religious freedom. But when the act of expressing your religious freedom violates someone else’s civil rights, that is, first, immoral, and second, illegal.

Again, no one is telling the owner of the bakery what to think regarding homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Again, baking them a cake for their wedding does not mean you now agree with their life choices. And there is also the matter of this: no has asked you to have an opinion about a strangers life choices that do not personally impact you.

When you have a public business, you have to follow the laws of the land, provided they do not harm anyone. And it’s also disingenuous to act like a martyr and cover your bigotry with a pseudo-righteous cloak.

Book Review: Disintegration, The Splintering of Black America

Journalist Eugene Robinson tackles what many African-Americans have noticed for a long time: the common interests of black America are becoming increasingly fragmented.

Why? According to Robinson (if I may sum up), it is mostly due to desegregation and social progress.

Desegregation opened up opportunities for individuals to seek personal success. Social progress led to more positive attitudes towards black people.

These changes created the fragmentation into what Robinson calls four black Americas:

1. Abandoned (those in poverty)

2. Mainstream (living the “American dream”)

3. Emergent (Black immigrants, mixed-race)

4. Transcendent (people like Oprah)

Obviously, the stakes are different depending on which group you fall into.

My thoughts:

In the beginning of the book, Robinson summarizes life for black people during segregation. One feature of life then was being unable to frequent any business, attend any school or college, and live in any neighborhood of your choosing.

This environment created the need for black people to create their own businesses and schools/colleges. It was not a love or desire to own their own stuff or to buy from our own, but a practical need.

Once the threads holding segregation together began crumbling, naturally black businesses started crumbling as well. Because we had choices.

I’ve heard many black people lament this change. And it was real. Desegregation had a negative economic impact on both black-owned businesses and HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).

However, segregation created one horrible reality and desegregation made that reality obsolete.

And that is Robinson’s main point. That in the past being oppressed and black held everyone together towards common goals. Now, because of more opportunities, both economically and socially, the goals and interests of individuals within the black community often differ. Sometimes drastically. Robinson offers his solutions on how to deal with these changes.

One thing Robinson did not touch on at all was this: a world free from racism, or any “ism”, will be filled with people that put a priority on their humanity above race, sex, or culture/religion/philosophy. Taking pride in, or representing your group, will take a back seat if it interferes with your ability to treat another human being with love, respect, and acceptance.