On Gods and Higher Powers: Why I Don’t Believe

I often meet people who say that they believe in gods and higher powers

But rarely do they follow the teachings of those gods or higher powers

Instead, they do what they want when they want

And they use their gods to support their own longings, desires and shortcomings,

While their actions (or inactions) reveal what they really believe and what they really value in life

Which is usually contrary to the gods they say that they believe in

That’s one reason why I don’t believe in gods or higher powers

Because those gods only seem to exist in the mirrors of those who say that they believe.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

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Women Have a Right to Love, Not Hate

Recently, I read an article published on Medium written by Anthony J. Williams. The title of his article, on the subject of women, was (smallcase intentional): women have a right to hate men. Indeed, there were many parts of this article that resonated with me. I thought that Williams did an awesome job of unpacking patriarchy and how harmful it is to us all, including men. And, I thought that Williams’s definitions of entitlement and male privilege were accurate and right on. However, in the end, I could not agree with Mr. Williams’s conclusion: that the hatred of men, also called misandry, is justifiable.

Yes, we, women, can walk around with hatred for the men who have hurt us, but where will that get us? What good is it to hold that hate in our minds and bodies? Feeling entitled to hate is a very patriarchal and primitive way of thinking. The idea that one has a right to hate anyone (as far as humans are concerned) has been articulated in the Bible through the concept or philosophy that most of us know as “an eye for an eye.” And, look around: hatred has been the dominant way of being as far as societies and governance are concerned. And yet, as dominant and even popular as this idea is today, the assertion that we are entitled to hate and thus revenge has rarely brought relief to those who have been wronged by others. Hatred is not a corrective measure; it is a feeling that often generates even more pain, suffering, destruction and even death. So, while it may not be all that popular to say this (because there are many people who think of the Bible as an authoritative source), it is nonetheless crystal clear to me that the idea that one is entitled to hate, which can be supported with early human and primitive knee-jerk philosophies, is maladaptive human behavior. Such a consciousness or mentality does not take us forward, rather, it takes up backwards (in time and in thought). No one who walks around with hate in her heart can heal. It is a heavy, heavy burden; and, as a way of thinking and being, it can and will have debilitating consequences for anyone who embraces it. 

My grandmother had every reason to harbor hate in her heart. She was rejected by society because of racism, and she was rejected by members of her husband’s family because she divorced him, my grandfather, who beat her. In the 1950s, it was very rare for a black woman to divorce a black man for domestic abuse, but she did it anyhow. And her relatives by marriage, her children’s own flesh and blood hated her for it. She could have easily returned their hate by claiming “an eye for an eye,” and she could have displayed a hateful disposition to those who despised her for standing up for herself. She could have also hated the many whites who despised and hated her simply for being a black woman. People hated her for escaping her abuser, and people hated her because of the color of her skin. 

This grandmother was my only living grandparent, and though we did not spend as much time together that I would have liked, the thing that I remember most about her was the love that she always displayed for herself and for her children, especially for her son, who is my father. In my mid-twenties, I became very aware that they loved each other very much. Now that I am in my late forties, I have come to realize that the love that she had for him laid the foundation for the love that he has for me and my siblings, and his love informs the how and the why I am able to love others, especially the men that I choose to love intimately.

I was a young adult before I really had an opportunity to spend time one-on-one with my grandmother. I remember driving out of town to spend the weekend with her; it was a lovely drive. My grandmother was a great cook and on that trip we sat down at the table together and talked alot, and then we finished our conversations in her living room, while she sat rocking in her favorite chair (which is something that my father does to this day). I also remember that she didn’t wear her dentures very often at home. That always amazed me, because it looked like she had them in nevertheless. But I digress. Not everything I learned from my grandmother was learned because of our personal visits. I learned a lot from my grandmother from my father, who despite our disagreements, has always given me his unconditional love. 

Because of my grandmother’s teachings, which came through my Dad, I learned that it wasn’t useful to hold on to pain and hate. I didn’t realize it then, when she was right there in front of me, but years later, I understood that pain and hate have their place. These emotions are a part of the human experience. Of course we all feel pain in life; it is normal. Likewise, I think it is normal that we acknowledge and express our emotions, wisely (and sometimes in a support group or with the help of someone who is trained in the management of human emotions). But, the good news is that bad emotions do not last forever, nor do they need to consume us, catapulting us into a downward, depressive spiral and perhaps into hatefulness or rage. Yes, it is important to be resolute and just in life, but, it is equally important to let go of the need to or the desire to dominate and hate those who have harmed or hated us. The longer we hold on to feelings of hate, the wounds deepen and the scars do not come because the hate keeps festering and in turn that hate prevents us from actually healing. And, in some cases, it is a sign that we have not truly let go of the person or persons who have harmed us (i.e., we still want or need something from them).

So the question for me is: how do women face their enemies? How do we women find the strength to trust and perhaps love men again when we have many or even every reason to hate them? Well, as I have just expressed here, I think black women, especially elder black women, have a lot to teach us when it comes to the subject of men (and hate). In fact, I’d say that they have much more to teach us than men have to teach us about how to respond to the harmfulness and the hatefulness of men via patriarchy. I don’t have time to hate men or even a few of the men who have done horrible things to me. I also do not have time to hate men for all the horrible things they have done to women, historically. It is too costly to hold misandry in my heart and mind. Of course when someone has done something to take away your power and autonomy in life, it is normal to feel hate and to want to make them suffer or to make them pay for what they have done. In response to pain or violence caused by a man, especially when it comes to verbal, physical or even sexual abuse, I would say that hate is a very natural human response. However, another thing that the elder women (and a few elder men) in my life, including my grandmother and elder cousins, have taught me is that going with my first response is not always the best or most expedient thing to do. Sometimes it is best to go with the second or third feeling or thought.

By no means am I saying that one shouldn’t feel angry or hateful emotions; it is always important to feel (and name) our emotions. On the other hand, I am saying that it is not productive to feel entitled to anger or hate, because the sense of entitlement or a right to harbor these emotions can and often does lead to destruction. This is what I learned from the elder women in my life who were despised, abused, mistreated, and hated in their lifetimes: even though they could have justified their hateful and rageful feelings, they did not let those feelings own or consume them. They managed the emotions that they felt; and, they redirected their emotions in a way that enabled and empowered them to live their lives on their own terms, as much as possible. Although they read the same Bible that I have read, they usually did not return an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. Had they listened to the Bible’s 2000+ year old (patriarchal) advice they may have acted on the hate they felt for men and for whites, yet they probably would not have been justified for doing so (as women and blacks are often not perceived as “justified” for acting on their emotions). It was the love and the wisdom of black women (and a few black men) who knew what hate could do to the human psyche that helped me to sort this out. Although I was raised to revere Christianity or the ideas promoting the presence of the supernatural, it was not religion, faith, the Bible, or even an alleged god that taught me how to manage my feelings. Rather, it was black women (and a few black men) who taught me how to get through pain and adversity. By their example, I learned the value of standing up for myself by living life on my terms, regardless of what others might have to say (negatively) about it.  

Without a doubt, we may succumb to hate, we may cower and feel like nothing because of the hatefulness of others. But, in the end, I also know that hate has never sustained anything good in the human being and not for any civilization. It is only love that has changed us (and the world) for the better. As a result, I cannot agree with Anthony J. Williams, who claims that women have a right to hate men. When it comes to men, and what women have endured at the hands of men, my position is that women must be much more concerned about feeling entitled to love than they are to hate. Hatefulness has permeated the patriarchal world that we live in. We see hate expressed every day, especially these days, through the rhetoric of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump and his staff. Every day they do something to remind us that they are  entitled to hate and hatefulness. On the contrary, I have no desire to behave like Donald Trump, his staff, and definitely I will not behave like his fans and followers, which includes the people who voted him into office. Even when wronged, I would rather not claim a right to hate because I know it will destroy me inside. I’d rather respond to the the hatefulness of men towards me and other women in the way that my grandmother responded to the hate she experienced in her life: with the resolve to stand up for myself and for women, and with the commitment to call attention to the destructiveness of patriarchy to the extent that it causes others to divorce themselves from patriarchal and hateful ways. My grandmother had six children to raise and when she divorced her husband, she did not have the luxury of feeling entitled to hate. She did what she had to do to distance herself from her haters, and she went on and she lived her life with as much joy and love as she could muster. She refused to let the hate and alienation she felt in life possess or consume her thoughts, her time, and her children, and thus, she taught them how to love themselves and their children. And love is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give to her children.

Similarly, when it comes to men, and what they have done to me or to women, I do not feel that I have the right to hate them. I do not feel that I have the right to hate anybody because it is not worth it to hate anyone or anything that is just going to hate you back. If women are entitled to any emotion, I would say that women have a right to choose love, and we have a right to choose to be loved as we want and need to be loved. This is, of course, just my opinion, but I am totally convinced that one of the best ways of doing justice, according to Martin Luther King, Jr., is finding and embracing the strength to love yourself, regardless, when hate is all around you.

 © 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Kim Socha for Writing Such a Liberating Book!

Every now and then I am asked to support the work of other writers and artists, and most of the time I am thrilled to do it when the author or the artist is actively engaged in promoting freedom and ending oppression, domination and abuse. Recently I was asked by Dr. Kim Socha, who is an educator and an activist, to write a blurb for her forthcoming book, Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed, which will be available on Amazon on October 7th, 2014 (published by Freethought House).

About a decade ago, I was a vegetarian, but it was primarily for health reasons; I wanted a healthier diet, which today is a very popular idea to embrace. In recent years, I hadn’t thought much of vegetarianism or veganism, but, after reading the advance copy of Dr. Socha’s book, I must say that I am seriously reconsidering my food consumption habits from a whole new point of view, and with atheism in mind – as an ethical/conceptual framework. Upon receiving the advance copy, I found many similarities between Kim and myself, but I also came to respect her for being a scholar-activist in her own right in spite of the challenges and the hostilities that she has encountered from loyal meat (flesh)-eaters. In addition, I was keenly aware and appreciative of the way in which some academicians and some of us with PhDs are not hiding in the shadows. We are making our ideas and voices heard in the public square and articulating education as “the practice of liberation” (Paulo Freire).

Thank you Kim for giving me and all those who will read your book so much to consider about the narratives and ethics we employ to justify human domination over non-human animals. Although I have much to learn about veganism, I support your efforts to stand up to the myths that have enabled us to do harm to non-human animals in the name of human survival and nutrition. And, I am inspired that you are challenging the treatment of non-human animals as an atheist! Indeed, there are many who cannot fathom that one can be morally good and atheist at the same time, which is often an attitude exhibited by religious narcissists and fanatics who are gripped by fear, paranoia and an unrelenting desire for immortality (when, in fact, most violent and abusive crime in the U.S. – and beyond – is committed by theists).

For those of you who follow my blog, it is without a doubt that I recommend Kim Socha’s bold, new book, and I applaud and stand in solidarity with her for daring to dismantle the myths that have informed and dominated our eating habits to the point where we are not really as free as we think we are. This book is a reminder that liberation is something that we must strive for each and every day for ourselves and on behalf of others, and especially for those who cannot defend themselves against violent, malevolent powers . For more about this book, or to learn about it on Facebook, please follow this link!

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Richard Dawkins: Articulating Atheism and Giving Atheists a Bad Rap!

By now, most of you know that I don’t condone bigotry in any name! Not racism, not sexism, not heterosexism, not ableism, not any position that diminishes the humanity of another. It is really a shame to me that Dr. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent atheist advocates (or maybe I should say anti-religion advocates) goes to great lengths to characterize Islam as the epitome of evil. Do I think that religion – as an ideology – is oppressive? Yes. Do I reject the practice of worshiping or revering any supernatural world or gods whatsoever, and am I openly critical of such religious expressions and activities? Yes, but what is in it for Dawkins (or anyone for that matter) to claim that Islam is “the greatest force for evil today“? And why would Dr. Dawkins put Islam at the top of the “evil” hierarchy when he writes that he has never read the Qur’an?

If I were to spend that much time labeling a religion as evil but I had not taken the time to read that religion’s most revered text, then I suspect that I might come across as a pompous, presumptuous, and arrogant person. In that case, I could totally understand why my lack of critical engagement with the other might also suggest that I felt that I had the ultimate power and privilege to characterize or define the other as evil not because I had taken the time to inform myself about the inner thinking or theories held by that religious group and their followers, but because I held an opposing position. Indeed, I think that any subsequent accusation, that I was caught up in my own position, privilege and power, would be very legitimate and justified.

This is what entitlement to others’ ideas, narratives, cultures, and persons looks like; and it is most acute when the entitled one is making claims about others without taking the time or the effort to know them or their positions. People who feel entitled to certain positions, behaviors or even the thinking of other human beings often make faulty assumptions. Unfortunately, for example, I have come into contact with many white atheists who assume that they know what it is like to be black and Christian in the U.S.; they assume that the white experience with Christianity is just like the black experience with Christianity. Wrong. There is no essential one-way to be Christian (and definitely not in the U.S.). And, even beyond religion and color, many people are truly clueless as to the historical construction of a traditional black Christian identity. It is painful to hear so many white atheists claim to have some sort of superior position or thinking over black Christians. Conversely, more and more, I am seeing some black atheists make faulty assumptions and unsubstantiated arguments against black Christians, which is also very troubling to me. Perhaps some (black atheists) are doing this in an effort to be accepted by white atheists who have made similar claims and who are at the helm of what is referred to as the secular “movement”? I don’t know. Anyhow, just because one is black and atheist does not mean that one is knowledgeable or aware of the complex ways in which Christianity and blackness are intertwined; some black atheists have deep-seated and personal issues with religion that they have not taken the time to sort through. Nevertheless, blackness and Christianity are identities and expressions that are socially constructed and culturally relative (as are Jews and Judaism, and Indians and Hinduism, and Japanese and Shintoism, etc). It is, in my opinion, critically important to understand this.

Ironically, I believe that it is these human characteristics: entitlement, privilege, arrogance, and presumptuousness, that might be the greatest forces or threats to our existence on this planet, because on the one hand, while it is religion or orthodoxy that have given these behaviors greater social currency and legitimacy, on the other, it is human behavior and the destructive aspects of human behaviors (most of which are learned) that are expressed and circulated in popular scriptural texts, such as The Torah, The Bible and The Qu’ran. Thus, destructive human behaviors are legitimized by religions and their texts, which have enabled human beings to act out of violent supremacist and xenophobic thinking, which are at the root of racist, sexist, misogynistic, capitalistic, and imperialistic actions that have destroyed humans, nonhuman beings, land and environment. Based on what I have learned about religion and religious practices, human beings invented or created myths or narratives of gods and those narratives (expressing belief) became the bases for religious, social and political practices. It is not the other way around; religion did not invent people, human behaviors or human institutions. I find it very disappointing that the more popular that Dr. Dawkins becomes, the more he exhibits the kind of thinking and behaviors that say, “I am a better human being than others because of my atheism.” This is a very nasty, flawed, unjustifiable and “religious” position, and he seems to be using atheism (and his definition of it) to justify his thinking and humanity above that of others. In the brief time that I have known of him and read his works, I am appauled to find that Dr. Dawkins always manages to come back to this idea or ideology (that being atheist makes one morally superior to others). We are all capable of making errors in judgement and thinking, but Dr. Dawkins appears to be unwaveringly committed to this idea. And each time that he returns to it (for example, he has recently attempted to define rape on behalf of others on Twitter), it is, in my opinion, to his detriment. Doesn’t he know, that if not addressed, any compulsive, morally superior thinking and behavior will eventually cause problems; and in some cases it can bring you down, way down? Perhaps he does not know.

Well, I too am an atheist, and I find Dr. Dawkins’s positions on Islam, on racism, sexism, and of course, on rape to be the embodiment of white male privilege and entitlement. Do I support the central and traditional teachings or claims of Islam, Judaism or Christianity? Not really. Have these teachings reinforced bad and destructive human behaviors? Absolutely! And do I critique Christian beliefs and behaviors? Yes. But, being atheist does not make me or anybody a good person or a smart person, and that is something that I have never claimed. Being an atheist (and coming from a Western-context), I advocate for atheism as a position and an idea that deserves to be articulated. More importantly, atheism should be heard in a world that is dominated by religionists and believers who support and worship alleged gods who called for the innocent and arbitrary killing of people. In this respect I see the three most dominant religions and belief systems as oppressive and potentially violent. And there is evidence for this claim. No matter what justifications can be made on their behalf, Christianity, Judaism and Islam support violence and that against women, children and anyone who goes against the constructed order of their patriarchal hierarchies. Articulating atheism in this light will include a critique of those who believe and of the tenets or expressions of their beliefs, but, critique is one thing, especially when it is accurate and grounded in actual knowledge, information and evidence. An uneducated, essentialized, simplified rant or claim about a specific religious group or sect and the humanity/intelligence of its followers (as good or evil) is entirely different. So when any atheist engages in disparaging the humanity of believers (as opposed to offering valid critiques of the beliefs they hold) while simultaneously promoting atheism as the smarter and thus more superior choice, then he is, in my book, what I would call religious and “the pot calling the kettle black!” This kind of behavior gives atheists and atheism (as an expression) a bad rap.

Like Owen Jones, whose recent article in The Independent, inspired this blog, I too follow Richard Dawkins on Twitter and I have often seen Dr. Dawkins send out tweets that diminish the humanity of others; and he often does this without a complex understanding of what he is talking about, especially when it comes to racism and sexism. Yes, Dr. Dawkins knows a whole lot about evolutionary biology, way more than I do, but he lacks a critical and complex understanding of the factors that contribute to racism and sexism in particular (and he probably fails to understand how religion has been used by some cultural groups, such as African-Americans to fight injustice and oppression). Therefore, despite his contributions to our understanding of evolution and the genetic development of the human being, Dr. Dawkins does not mind articulating his disdain for Islam as “the greatest force of evil,” and that on grounds that he is an atheist and an evolutionary biologist. On the contrary, I would like to say that being an atheist does not make one essentially superior to or better than others, and any atheist who thinks this, including Dr. Richard Dawkins, needs to take several seats!

So, on this issue (calling Islam “the greatest force for evil today”) I am definitely in agreement with Mr. Jones, and would like to challenge Dr. Dawkins by saying, “Dr. Dawkins, don’t be a bigot in the name of atheism; you are giving us (atheists) a bad rap!” I don’t know how anyone can rank “evil” accurately, unless one has an intimate and personal knowledge of evil, but I totally doubt that Islam is the greatest force for evil today. In my opinion, from my standpoint in life, all “forces” of evil work together at varying and intersecting points to make evil what it is: evil.

As a non-believer, I want the atheist case to be made. I want religious belief to be scrutinized and challenged. I want Britain to be a genuinely secular nation, where religious belief is protected and defended as a private matter of conscience. But I feel prevented from doing so because atheism in public life has become so dominated by a particular breed that ends up dressing up bigotry as non-belief. It is a tragedy. And that is why it is so important that atheists distance themselves from those who undermine our position. Richard Dawkins can rant and rave about Muslims as much as he wants. But atheists: let’s stop allowing him to do it in our name. ~ Owen Jones

Hear! Hear!

© 2013 annalise fonza, Ph.D. [Please note that this blog was first posted on August 10, 2013, but was updated on August 1, 2014]

Podcast Interview with Michael Harriot!

This week I sat down with Michael Harriot who is a writer, and definitely (what I would call) a freethinker! This interview is somewhat long, but it will give you a good sense of who I am and how far I’ve come. Of course, truth be told, I’ve still got a ways to go! Day to day, it’s all about growing and evolving and that’s how I try to live my life. Well, enjoy this podcast and please feel free to share! Here is the link to Michael’s site where you can find the interview: http://www.michaelharriot.com/#!news/chw0

My Interview with Black Freethinkers – September 2, 2012

Conducted on September 2, 2012, this interview with Black Freethinkers (Chicago) was really fun.  Definitely a highlight of my experiences in 2012.  I hope that you have time to listen.  Enjoy!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/blackfreethinkers/2012/09/02/freethought-history–conversation-with-annalise-fonza