Monday, February 4, 2019

Your Long Journey- Goodness and Grief without God

Last week I was listening to, Raising Sand, the 2007 duet album by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. It had been quite some time since last I listened to this.  It was an album that both my wife and I loved very much. It came out when our son was 3, and our daughter 22 months. Listening to it brought me back to those early times, the 4 of us singing and dancing in the living room. It was nostalgic, happy moments, singing duets together and laughing at the ways our kids were dancing to the music. It also brought the reality that my singing partner and Love is no longer with us.

Then the last track of the album, Your Long Journey, written by Doc and Rosa Watson came on. Its a beautiful melody, a beautiful mood, but the lyrics rather than bringing comfort and nostalgia felt hollow and empty. 
God's given us years of happiness here
Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart 
Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey 
Oh the days will be empty
The nights so long without you my love
And when God calls for you I'm left alone
But we will meet in heaven above
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
I reflected for a moment on how readily available grief consolation exists for people of Faith, It is such a default setting for most citizens in our nation, that lyrics like this are readily accepted and deemed spiritually uplifting.  But it is rare indeed to hear expressions of grief, to know the experience and means of consolation for those of us who no longer believe, those of us who are agnostic and practical atheists.  

As one who allows myself to experience the full and multiple emotions of grief as they wash over and through me, reliance upon Faith is not helpful for me. The lyric "And when God calls for you I'm left alone, But we will meet in heaven above" seems to push the full emotional impact of that experience aside, sweeping it under the rug to avoid the pain, with a promise of reunion in an eternal paradisaical afterlife. 

So, I wrote a few posts on Facebook expressing my grief as an atheist within the context of my own journey from Faith to atheism, My spiritual journey to study ways of thinking, feeling, knowing -- ultimately earning degrees in Philosophy and Classical Languages for this very purpose. I described this in order that people know that I have put a lot of deep and dedicated thought and reflection to arrive at my views. In these posts, I also intertwined the latest push by the Executive Branch of the US Government to teach the Bible in all schools, this after 2 years of policies of stripping away my human rights for the sake of certain religious reasons, but then trying to convince us that this is Good and Moral.

Perhaps I was a bit clumsy in my words. Perhaps it is because I rarely post anything other than unedited stream of consciousness epistles which are longer than the average FB post, providing  the average reader with many opportunities to be sidetracked. But I received some negative reactions both in public and in more than a few private messages.

These types of negative reactions were not new to me. 

The offense the authors of these reactions took reminded me much of my experience when I first became a vegetarian. It was as if my reasoned, well researched, personal choice not to eat flesh was an attack upon them. Just by stating "I am a vegetarian" prompted all sorts of needless responses from omnivores who took it upon themselves to make me defend my choice, then they proceeded to cite all sorts of bogus statistics about vegetarian diet being worse for the body, worse for the environment etc etc. Some would even try sneak meat into my food or say, just pick the meat out of this cooked dish. THEN they would go off and talk about how they hate how preachy and confrontational Vegetarians are as if they think they are better than omnivores. To which I'm thinking [????, "I just want to eat and live in peace."]

When I revealed have always been female, the same sort of reaction. Many responses from offended people who have not really thought that deeply about gender and sex, trying to convince me that I'm wrong, as if somehow they knew more about my 49 years of personal experience as a closeted woman better than me. Often stating false assumptions that I can never be a 'real woman' because, "...you were born a man, cannot bear children, never experienced mood swings, never experienced harassment, don't know how hard life is for 'real women', this is just an identity crises provoked by the problems of a Post-Modern worldview etc etc." 

In both of these cases, me simply stating my true identity and my meal preference - just me being me - dismissed my real experiences and elicited attacks which then put me on the defense.  This is sets up the conditions for an adversarial 'debate' which is wholly unnecessary. It compels people to 'take sides,' to compete, to defend.  

Adversarial Competition fails to promote Engagement through Empathy and Inquiry.

One cannot express Love if they are constantly defending their position.
One cannot Love and Learn if they are 'taking sides.'

So when it came to my posts last week, a common reaction I received from people of Faith was one which did not demonstrate Love, Empathy or Understanding toward me, but rather one which defended their position of Faith. Sharing with me why they believe, some suggesting (again) that I should really just try to open my heart and let God's love in, some going off and mis-characterizing atheists as close-minded and judgmental, thinking that they are smarter than everyone else.

Xenia & Krista in 1992
What they missed was the core of my message, my own experience - the rarely acknowledged expression of grief by an atheist.  

If they were trying to demonstrate the Love inherent in their Faith, they weren't doing a very convincing job. What they did was add more evidence that Love is independent of Faith, independent of God.

I am a widow, a single mother raising two teenagers, who misses her wife with whom she shared 26 years of her life.  It does not mean that I am perpetually morose and despondent.  I am actually in a good place in my life, and I experience such intense joy, happiness, and hope, I also live with grief, the reality that my wife is no more.  I will get into these periods where I just allow the sense of loss, sadness to wash over me, to envelope my whole being, but I also remember the Love, the happy and joyful moments of our lives together. The reality that all living creatures die.  That is how I deal with my grief, sometimes its nice to have a hug or some other expression of Love from others 
- what I do not like or need is pity.

January 31
Speaking only for myself, I do not see how resting on one's Faith enables one to effectively engage with emotions, empathy, loss of a loved one. It seems the relief is only illusory and discourages one from truly engaging with the real and visceral pain of loss and the True feeling of Love, True Empathy, True Selflessness. Religion and reliance on the Bible for the most part Hinder Love for others, personal growth and maturity. - I will expound upon this at a later date, but for now:

I think about this more and more often especially when considering the latest move in the 'Project Blitz' Christian Nationalist movement embraced by our current Government Executive and Judiciary Government in their recent overreach to teach the Bible in schools.

I did at one time seriously plan on becoming a Lutheran (ELCA) Minister. I studied the Bible, read the texts (I earned a degree in Classical Languages (Latin and Ancient Greek)), the commentaries, how it was put together, how it was transmitted down through the ages, the continuous ongoing scholarship, and multiple traditions and reception histories, and despite my ongoing questions, concerns and doubts throughout my childhood and teenage years, I for a long time rested on my Faith.

Now I am an Atheist / Humanist and have been since I was 20-21. I have multiple copies and various translations of the Bible. Three weeks ago, I pulled out one of them and read through Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, by most historical accounts one of his earliest. And while there are certain passages I really enjoy (Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." being a favorite in the whole Bible) - for the most part his writing style sucks. 

And I believe any Junior High or High School English or History teacher would probably get out their red pen and Challenge Paul on his assumptions and poor use of citations, let alone his poor capacity for logic. And then his redundancy as if he was given an assignment to write a 1,000 word essay and all he could muster was a 250 word essay and then just stretched the same theme over and over and over to complete his four pages.

Anyway, I am not saying this to dismiss the value that any Loving human being of Faith has in the Bible, but for me (as also with the Founders of the United States) There are much better works in Classical Literature, especially Philosophy, and continuous investigation into the workings of the Natural World from which to glean a moral, ethical and Loving life. True Love and Empathy is not dependent upon Faith in God.
--My Reply to a comment
I am familiar with quite a few, of the non-canonical Gospels -- but I haven't delved seriously in them - mostly through the works presented by Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels and I have a few other editions of texts and I do own a scholarly critical edition of Codex Tchacos which contains the extant fragments of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas which was known about - but lost for 1700 years.

ANYWAY - It is important that we understand these texts within the context of the communities when they were written. That is, History isn't "linear." Then as today, there are many differing viewpoints, religions and religious sects. But there was also Science & Philosophy where we find how some of the ancients were tackling issues in natural, ethics, morality, etc. without need of a divine cause. That's really were my interest lay and thus I don't really bother too much with reviewing the Theological and mystical literature.

When I was studying New Testament Greek at Luther, the prevailing view of historians is that of the 3 Synoptic Gospels, Mark was probably written between 70 C.E.; And Mathew And Luke (written around 80 CE.) both seemed to draw from both Mark as well as another lost Gospel, "Q." And John as a Spiritual Gospel was written around 110 C.E. - The Letters of Paul are believed to have been written starting around 50-60 C.E. -- The Acts of the Apostles seem to be written in the same style as Luke - so its thought to be by the same author.

With regard to the Catholic Church cutting away certain Gospels and books. It isn't because they were trying to "hide the true origins of Christianity" It is primarily because those books originated from a different tradition of Christianity and they were attempting to unify Christian Practice. In addition some of the books they banned were written by those who were trying to destroy Christianity during its early development. --- But that is a huge long history. And Catholic Church then was quite different than it was 500 years later with Charlemagne who also tried to unify Christian practice by eliminating the unique liturgical practices that had grown up in particular regions throughout the growing Holy Roman Empire (and thus the origin of Western Music Notation). Notwithstanding there are other Christian traditions still practiced today which are just as old as the Catholic Church- Ethiopia and the Eastern Orthodoxy comes to mind - though up until 1056 C.E. the East and Western Traditions were unified.

Despite all of those attempts to Unify the Church under a Catholic tradition, that has never really been a reality - I mean yes it was a dominant confederation of nation states in the West, but its not like the German nations weren't always shrugging off the "authority" of the Pope. At least in the 12th Century where my interests lay. 

ANYWAY - if you want to get some insight into other sacred traditions around the time of the development of Christianity - there are a few decent lay people oriented documentaries. "From Jesus to Christ" is one.

And I also (albeit hesitantly and not without caution) believe that some of the YouTube presentations by Richard Carrier do provide context and reveals a number of other sources - including other divine origin stories by virgin birth which pre-date the Jesus divine origin story --- BUT I am not entirely convinced of all of his conclusions (but then again, I am not an expert in his field). - And it really doesn't help (IMO) that despite his credentials with a PhD in Ancient History from Columbia University, that he seems to only lecture on the "lay-Atheist Circuit" rather than presents at Academic Congresses - maybe he does, but I kinda get a feeling that he is really pushing to sell his books. That could just be me and my skeptical nature though. 

Nonetheless he has some rather entertaining videos - There is a two hour presentation he has on YouTube called, "Why the Gospels Are Myth." Thats all I got for now.

February 2nd
I did not write this to criticize people of Faith. I wrote it to provide understanding as to how I (and many of the worlds atheists) have arrived at our lack of belief AND more importantly how we manage grief and live a life of Love and Authenticity. Yet presumptions of faith in a deity and an afterlife is so pervasive, that saying anything which disrupts this status quo is often dismissed, mis-characterized, and can really be a dangerous act. 

I am a widow who misses and grieves her wife, best friend and mother of her children. 

It is often communicated to me by others, that there exists a loving God who has welcomed her in Heaven, a loving God to whom I can turn for comfort. While I often simply say thank you, and I know they have good intentions try to pass along comfort and condolences to me, the act itself feels hollow—empty. I cannot fool myself into believing in God or an afterlife as a means for comfort and assurance. I would much rather have the Love, Comfort and understanding of a living breathing human being. A people who genuinely and selflessly care, and are tied into the reality of Nature, the life cycle, the impact of our actions upon each other and the world. I am fortunate that I have so many friends who have demonstrated just this.

I shared a bit of my history with my hardcore religious studies because as atheists we are often accused to having rejected God and God’s Love without due consideration. That if we just open our hearts and let him in, turn our lives over so that he can guide us, we will find peace and comfort. But when placing this idea within the context that there are certain sects of Christians who feel that the problem with society rests in that people have rejected (their interpretation of) Scripture – regardless of the negative impact that has upon Nature and reality… is that really selfless Love? Who then, is the voice of God? – 

There are many different interpretations of Scripture, of God, if God is in your heart, if God is Love. Then There is no need for a Bible, there is no need for an Afterlife, and no need for God. Just live in Love. 

I would much rather experience (as I have) the Love, Comfort and Understanding of humans who Live each day out of genuine selfless Love and Empathy for the known World, for their communities, their neighbors—than the stated love of those who are motivated by the promise of a paradisaical eternal life or feel that true love is dependent upon belief in a Deity.
February 2nd
Thinking of "triggers"

My major triggers now which I am struggling to overcome pertains to My first love: Western Art Music, and while I am getting myself back into it, seeing events and images of the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale, SPCO , Opera - They all remind me of Krista. Our lifetime of singing together, chatting backstage at Orchestra Hall with each other, our friends, driving to and from chorale practice together, her secret free parking spot on concert nights, singing together as we warm up, practicing together at home. And then sitting back and listening to her float these beautiful pianissimo tones above high C with her coloratura then sing down into her contralto almost tenor range. At our 10th wedding anniversary party we sang the Pappageno, Pappagena duet to announce that we were pregnant with our first born.

It just really sucks that she was killed the same night, we had our Minnesota Chorale re-auditions. She never made it to her 7:00pm audition, and I showed up to my 9:00pm audition - when I learned she never showed, I was worried but still sang through my audition, not knowing what happened to her. That whole experience is seared in my mind, my heart, my soul.

The Minnesota Orchestra / Chorale was working on Mahler's 2nd for the season finale, and we were saving up for the South Africa trip the following year. The last time I set foot inside Orchestra hall was at the season Finale. They gave me a special place all alone to experience the concert undisturbed, and they placed flowers and a spotlight on her empty chair throughout the performances.

I Love the Orchestra, and the Chorale and all of my friends in both,-- I just cannot bring myself yet to return to either - and that pisses me off greatly.

The other piece I cannot bear to hear ever again is A Case of You, by Joni Mitchell. Krista and I performed that together many times, again remembering us rehearse it in our music room - I did try overcoming that a few weeks ago by trying to play it on bass...I got through it, but not without drenching my bass in tears. -- Anyway I'm still working on all of these.

Related posts regarding my views on Religion and how it has impacted me:
CS Lewis is Not a Great Thinker: Or Why Apologetics is Unethical and Immoral http://www.xenmcguire.com/2019/01/cs-lewis-is-not-great-thinker-or-why.html 
And Yet She Moves
Authenticity, Love and Strength

Grief Beyond Belief
The aim of Grief Beyond Belief is to facilitate peer-to-peer grief support for atheists, Humanists, and other Freethinkers by providing spaces free of religion, spiritualism, mysticism, and evangelism in which to share sorrow and offer the comfort of rational compassion.

One last word I was thinking back to my retail management days.  Occasionally, I would have an unhappy customer talk to me about their bad service or product experience. My response was, "Tell me more, how would you like to see this resolved." Then I would listen to them tell their whole story and we'd come to an agreed solution.  
It is that same attitude which I am describing with regard to Loving Responses toward those who are grieving and hurt.
Do not dismiss their experience by reacting as if you were attacked.  The, "I Love you, but..." response falls into this category. It is often found in the form, "I Love and Pray for you even though your behavior is sinful." "I Love you but you did this first."  These responses discount the griever's experience and seeks to assign blame when in fact there is nothing to blame. They do not generate true empathy.

A few other examples of unloving responses:
When a hurt single mother expresses anger at her deadbeat husband
 do not respond: "Yeah, but there are dead beat mothers out there too."

When person of color expresses their most recent negative interaction with a police officer. 
 do not respond: "Blue Lives Matter!" or "All Lives Matter!"

If a woman who is transgender expresses her most recent experience with harassment.
 do not respond: "Welcome to Womanood"
  or if the harassment is from a TERF
 do not respond: "TERF lives matter too!" 

None of these responses give any indication that the respondent cares at all or is willing to offer any understanding. In fact they promote adversarial stances, and shut down the person who has been hurt.  There may indeed be dead beat mothers out there; yes there are good cops; and yes there are other women who are cisgender who have also experienced harassment - But in the very moment the grieving / person is expressing their experience, it is not the right, empathetic and loving response she needs.

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