On Thanksgiving and Other “Holy Days”

This week someone asked me how my Thanksgiving “holiday” went. I replied. Well, I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but of course I did eat, and I did enjoy the break. In reply to that she said, “Well, what about your family, did you go over to see them, etc., etc.?

 

Here is the thing. When I say that I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving that is what it means. I don’t celebrate it. That does not mean that my family member or friend doesn’t celebrate it, it just means that I don’t celebrate it. Period. Just because I go over to a family member’s house, or anyone’s household for that matter, does not mean that I celebrate it, or that by being there I must have celebrated it by association.

 

It is what I say it is. I don’t celebrate or recognize Thanksgiving no more than I would celebrate Christmas or Easter or any other holy day deemed important by any government or organizational entity. If I am over to someone’s house who celebrates a “national holy day,” it is often, quite simply, to spend time with that person at a time and on a day that is good for the both of us.

 

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

After the Election of 2016: Disappointed, But Not Discouraged!

We live in a world and in a country that has been deeply compromised by violence, inequity and injustice. And, there are many reasons for that – not just one. I cannot and will not think that I have arrived, or that I am better than others just because I can pay my bills, and enjoy a fairly decent “good life” because of my accomplishments or because I am not white. I am not a good person merely because of the things that I have accumulated in life or due to the fact that I am black. Black is not synonymous with being good or better than white. It is not the binary opposite of white. I do not need white people or whiteness to be or know blackness. I am good because I believe that goodness is an essential part of being and becoming human. And, I happen to be both black and woman, yet neither one of these identities gives me the right or the privilege of saying that I am good. I am good because good is who I am.

 

Some humans, however, do not believe that they are good. They believe that to be human is to live in depravity or in what many have identified as “sinfulness,” or “wickedness.” For many to be human is to be cursed, damned and without redemption that can be obtained or gained on one’s own terms. For many, only a god – something or someone outside of themselves – can bring them true goodness or liberation. Indeed, I used to think this way because of the religious indoctrination of my childhood and youth, but I have spent the last decade or so trying to undo that destructive, self-sabotaging, anti-human way of thinking and being. I suspect that I will continue to unlearn those teachings and any others like them until the day that I die, which is fine with me. This is what it means to me to become human: to evolve, grow, and change.

 

The reality is that we live in a world that is very complicated and very monied. For most of us, if we lost the ability to pay our bills, or if we experienced a life-changing event like a terrible car accident (and I saw a couple today out on the road), or if we were given the terrible news of an unwanted diagnosis, our whole reality would change instantly. Being aware of that common problem – of the fragility and temporality of life – should bring us together, not divide us.

 

After the 2016 Presidential election, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in the people and in the systems that have made it possible for Donald Trump to be in the highest leadership position in the United States. I was also very disappointed in so many women, predominantly white women, who voted for a man who is unabashedly patriarchal, abusive and sexist. Apparently, Trump’s obscene behaviors did not matter to them. Their votes for him condone his contempt and offensive treatment of women, including many white women. Yet, because of the world in which we live, I can understand why this many white women would vote for a man like Trump. I can understand what it means to participate in one’s own oppression, because I too have done it; many black people have done it. And, these white women are not totally to blame for Donald Trump’s election; we live in a world of systems that teaches peoples to deny and oppress themselves and their truths, rewards them for doing it, and then sits back as if it were innocent when those very people are isolated, hurt or destroyed.

 

I have difficulty imagining Donald Trump as “The President” because of his many hateful behaviors and opinions, which he himself made vocal during the presidential campaign of 2016. President-Elect Trump has judgments for many people, he calls them many derogatory and awful names, and he bases his opinions on inaccurate and incomplete information, especially when it comes to black and brown peoples. He dehumanizes and demonizes brown immigrants, but he does not do the same for white immigrants, which would implicate his many wives and their children. Was Hillary Clinton much better when it came to her behaviors during the campaign? For me, yes she was, because I believe that at the end of the day she is conscientious and that at the least she has the ability to show regret and remorse. I also believe that she is pro-human, which is more than I can say for Donald Trump. I have not understood any U.S. President as perfect or as a redemptive figure, and that includes President Barack Obama, but I do believe that when the lights are off and the cameras have stopped rolling, the person who is President of the United States should not be anti-human. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is good for the country because his behaviors and his opinions demonstrate that he is arrogant, uninformed and so very, very anti-human. And, unfortunately, what this election revealed to many is that there are many Americans who think and act just like him, which is very, very disappointing.

 

On the other hand, I am not discouraged. Yes, it is going to be rough, and yes, many people will suffer under this new administration, but it will not be without a struggle, and it will certainly not be the first time that the American people and immigrants have suffered under a governmental regime that is working against them. With the exception of those who were stolen from Africa and other countries across the Atlantic and put on plantations, and the First Peoples of this land who were forced from their ancestral lands and placed on another form of plantations – called reservations – this country of immigrants has always been at odds with the idea of immigration. And, since the arrival of this country’s first European immigrants at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, many of these immigrants and their descendants have apparently been engaged in a vicious cycle of inclusion and exclusion, competing for social space (as in Ernest Burgess and Robert Park). It’s a damn shame that it is like this, but this is the truth: over time a good majority of the American people have become hateful and resentful of “others” who are not like them.

 

Nevertheless, in the wake of such a disappointing election, we owe it to ourselves and to the people around us, even those in far away countries, to believe in the good and the power of our humanity. History has shown us, time and time again, that we can and we will fight for ourselves, our dignity and for the right to be free. Indeed, that fight and that freedom never comes without a price; it is a price that every freedom fighter has and will reckon with sooner or later. And just like those who went before me and for those whom I have known in my lifetime, I am more than willing to pay the price for freedom because 1) I believe in the goodness of humanity; 2) I believe in the power of the people to resist; and 3) I refuse to become like human beings who have decided that they are better than the rest of us.
© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

Shoulda Been Gone: When Is Enough Enough?

Certainly, there are times when I have asked myself: why did I stay in that place, that job or that relationship as long as I did? Weren’t there signs or events that happened that should have made it easy for me to move on or move out? I suppose that out of a genuine need to feel that I did all that I could do in a certain place or in a relationship that I have struggled with timing an exit or an ending. Like many, I have struggled with drawing a line in the sand and letting it be. Leaving that line there or saying enough is enough in a place (such as a city) or even in an employment situation is especially difficult when others don’t want you to go or when they expect you to stay (perhaps stuck and unhappy in a city, a job or a relationship like ~ ahem ~ they are). Detaching, particularly where human relationships are concerned, is not always an easy or pleasant thing to do.

I don’t think my struggle with detachment is all that unusual. Compassionate, healthy, loving human beings want to make good decisions, and they worry about others’ feelings, not just their own. On the other hand, selfish, unhealthy, or worse yet, narcissistic, dishonest and delusional human beings could care less about how their decisions affect others; they want and justify what they want no matter what and no matter who suffers in the process, and they frequently inflict a lot of emotional pain and confusion upon themselves and others. How I appreciate displays of compassion and mindfulness. When it is a personal decision (and not the result of emotional or physical intimidation or violence), I respect that sometimes we as human beings keep trying or hoping for better situations or better behavior in people (all the while as we too are doing our best to improve or address our behaviors). Committing one’s self to gaining the best possible outcome is a very respectful, humane effort.

Nevertheless, back to my question: exactly when does one pack it all up and move on down the road? When is it time to let go of a place, a job, a person or even an idea (like a god or a religion) that is no longer fulfilling or that has run its course? There are times when people, places or things are only temporary; when they no longer provide us with a sense of meaning or safety. When that happens, it is time for me to let go, and I have learned that saying “enough is enough” is, at the end of the day, my decision. On the one hand, in making decisions of whether to stay or go, I often talk it out with others ahead of time, but it is not up to the situation or the person or the idea who is no longer enough for me to determine whether I should stay. A conscious movement away from a place, person or idea (especially one that is causing me unhappiness, stress, confusion or misery) is never easy, and to be sure, the act of severing ties with anyone or any thing can be accompanied by unbelievable grief, anxiety and loneliness. But, moving on, no matter what others might say or do to keep you from leaving, or pressuring you in to not doing what you want because they are afraid to end or bring closure to undesirable or outdated relationships with people, places or ideas for themselves (which is something I have personally experienced when exes and/or children are in the picture…and when it comes to gods or religion), is a very powerful act of self-love and self-affirmation. In a world that is constantly abandoning us and encouraging us to abandon ourselves and our agency and to conform to the status quo, it is important that we learn how to 1) take ultimate control of our own lives and choices, and 2) exhibit that power when necessary. When should you be gone from people, jobs, places or ideas that no longer work for you? Be gone when you have had enough, and only you can be the one to say when that is. The others, the ones who are left behind and not happy with you for moving on and taking charge of your own life and destiny will just have to get over it. Or not.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

On the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: From an Atheist

On occasions, I am asked if I would date a believer, or a person who believes in a god or supernatural being, such as a Supreme Being. Being an atheist, there was a time that I said unequivocally no to that question. But, about two years ago I began to soften my response. For example, in 2012, in an NPR interview with Jamila Bey, I said openly that I was “flexible.”

Recently, I met someone who is a believer, and we connected. Although he is not what I would call a religious enthusiast or fanatic, at times he talks about his god and his faith with subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to inform me that his god is real. Because of my feelings for him, I overlook it, and there are times when I engage him gently with questions about his religious thoughts and philosophies. I am willing to be in this kind of critical engagement with him because 1) I understand his actions; I once did the same kind of thing – used every opportunity to “witness” or share my faith (often when it was not requested) with others; and 2) because it is another way for me to get to know him and the basis for his everyday actions or behaviors in life. And, I have yet to encounter a Christian who does not feel compelled to be vocal about his or her faith. It goes with the territory.

So, what did it for me? How could I allow myself to be in an intimate relationship with a man who believes in something that I don’t? On what grounds is it conscionable that I get along or share myself with a man who does not share the same ideas or philosophies that I hold? These are questions that I am contemplating at length on the 29th anniversary of the Martin Luther Kr., Jr. national holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who challenged the white racist ideology or philosophies of his time. By the 1950s and 60s, those white racist philosophies and socio-political expressions of whiteness were incorporated into federal, local and state policies and institutions, such as urban renewal, which was a federal housing policy that had a disparate impact upon former urban Negro communities, and at a time when urban blacks were fighting institutional oppression at an alarming rate. Throughout my lifetime, I have come to understand Dr. King as a man who stood against social division and exclusion on political and personal grounds. I have also come to know him as a man who believed wholeheartedly in achieving a peaceful coexistence despite everyday unjust behaviors and inhumane practices, here in the U.S. and beyond.

With regard to my political and personal commitments, I have come to realize that I do not want to section myself and my life off to only those who think or behave like me. I want to meet and know others whose lives and philosophies are different from mine and without the compulsion or the need to willfully mock or dismantle their thinking or beliefs, just because they are different from mine. On the other hand, there will be times when I will be openly critical of ideas or philosophies (including religious ones) that are expressed in public that I reject or disagree with; that is something Martin Luther King Jr. did with the power of the spoken word, and he did it mainly from the pulpit, as an American preacher. Likewise, I am fundamentally empowered by the freedom of speech as we know it in a Western way. And, it is that freedom of speech that I rely on, as an atheist, to say publicly that I do NOT believe in gods of any kind. I have that right, even though the majority may respond to that statement or position with hate, rejection or discrimination.

In addition, what I have come to learn is that I am not responsible for the thinking or the belief of others, which, I think, is one reason that I can spend my personal time and person with a man who believes in a supernatural god or ideas. I am not his keeper. I am not responsible for what happens to him when he dies or really at any time for that matter. I do not choose an intimate partner on the basis of what he believes, but on the content of his character. In other words, my being with a man is essentially not predicated on where he lives, or how much money he makes, or how supportive he is of my thinking or behavior. My decision to be intimately involved with a potential partner is not determined by whether or not he believes in a god or whether he shares my worldview. Rather, my being with a man, or being with any person for that matter to accomplish any goal, is rooted in a healthy engagement of ideas and critical thinking. At the end of the day, I want to know who a man is overall. I want to know if he is committed to doing good; to being the best person he can be; I want to know if he is willing to use his talents and skills to help and empower others; and, is he a peaceful, loving person, even when his ideas are not supported or he does not get what he wants.

Indeed, this is not the kind of behavior that I have seen from many atheists or theists who use their positions and philosophies like weapons to discredit those who don’t ascribe to their ideas or theories of reality. These are extreme and unjustifiable attitudes that I cannot support, because the truth of the matter is that others may not choose to walk in the paths that I have taken. We each have our own paths to attend to. When I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I don’t worry about whether he was a Christian believer or not. I respect and honor him because he was a great human being who courageously endeavored to bring about fairness and equality, and not exclusively for his own clan or Christian friends. Of course, I know that there will always be those who choose to remain divided over philosophies and ideas, but I have lived long enough to know that there is no future in divisiveness, and fortunately I know that there are those who have found the wherewithal to accept those who are different or divergent in thought, word and deed without resorting to contempt, hate and violence, but they are also not willing to let injustice and hatred go unconfronted. This kind of boldness and willingness to speak compassionately and thoughtfully, I think, is a significant part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is, in my humble, atheist opinion, one of the attributes that made him one of the greatest human beings who ever lived on the face of the Earth.

© 2015 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.

Who Are You? My First Experience as a Humanist Celebrant

I have been certified as a Humanist Celebrant for a little over a year. Humanist Celebrants, who gain their status through the American Humanist Society, which is a part of the American Humanist Association, are legally qualified to perform weddings and any other special ceremonies throughout the fifty states and beyond, just as any traditional preacher, rabbi, imam, guru, or spiritual leader does so amongst their membership or community. It has been an awesome privilege for me to recycle or reuse skills that I once developed as a United Methodist Church (UMC) clergywoman but now as a Humanist Celebrant, and to be there in an official capacity to celebrate with those who prefer to leave the idea of god, or even the mention of a god, out of their most memorable moments. Though it is quite different from what I experienced as a UMC pastor, and I am in the process of developing new skills and creative new ceremonial formats and languages, it is a great way for me to support other atheists, freethinkers, humanists, agnostics and to stay grounded and in community with others. A few months ago, I was surprised when a reporter from CNN called me to inquire about my experience; the reporter claimed that CNN was “documenting atheism” and trying to learn more about it. At that time I had not yet been invited to officiate a wedding as a Humanist Celebrant.  

All that changed on Monday, March 24th, 2014, and I officiated my first wedding  as a Humanist Celebrant here in Atlanta, in Piedmont Park. On Monday, July 28th, 2014, an article that I wrote about my subsequent experience with the Atlanta Fulton County Probate Court was published and featured at The Humanist. Here is an excerpt from that article, but feel free to click the link in this blog to read all about it. And, if you are looking for a Humanist Celebrant in your city or state here is how to find one.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who openly identifies as I do must expect public scrutiny and possible rejection. People in the United States still discriminate against atheists, even though more and more people are using the word “atheist” to self-identify. In other words, just because one uses the term openly and proudly, doesn’t mean he or she will be accepted without question or won’t face rejection. In addition, the religious bigotry and social entitlement here in the South is so pronounced—by people of every color and background. Many, including African Americans, openly discriminate against or exclude other black people from social and professional circles when they learn that those others are atheists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!”: Learning From Alice Walker (How to be in the Middle)

Alice Walker’s courage is something that has always inspired me. An atheist and a womanist, I am often in the middle, even among some of my so-called family and friends. There are “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right!” Being openly atheist has put a whole new spin on my experience with social exclusion and isolation. Many feel entitled to hate or discriminate on the basis of religion, and many do not comprehend the social significance of religion, especially when it is used to uplift and fight for freedom (as opposed to a vehicle used for “personal salvation”). Neither, belief or non-belief, is without flaw and complexity. Yet, for now, I would rather be here, visibly, in the middle – atheist and womanist – than anywhere else, because the middle is the place where I have learned to be at my creative best. And this, how to be in the middle, how to accept my being in the middle, I learned to do, in part, by watching and reading the works of Alice Walker. Great film tonight about a woman who has situated her life, consistently and courageously, in the middle!

To learn more about Pratibha Parmar’s film, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, please go to this link (which is not mine in any way shape or form) on PBS.