This is a guest post by Noah Nez:
Generally speaking, life on a Native American reservation isn’t easy. There are many hardships that are rarely mentioned in our society, which heavily impact the lives of all of those living on tribal land. There is a misconception that these are isolated incidents that are only found on tribal land, but quite often these issues are found spilling out into the collective consciences of American society.
From the research that I have done on indigenous culture and religion, I have noticed many commonalities between various tribes from around the globe. From the structure of societies to the mythical stories and worldviews, there are many similarities amongst all civilizations of people found throughout history. Not unlike any of those other groups of people there is distrust, misunderstanding, and demonizing of the non-believer found within Native American communities.
I grew up around a collective mix of different religions that I was discouraged of questioning. From the earliest recollections that come to my memory, I asked too many questions for the adults around me to answer. To be more precise, I was scolded not to ask such things or speak in such a way. The instant that stands out in my mind as the “Road to Damascus” moment which lead me further down the path of skepticism, came from a piece of artwork sitting on the mantle inside one of my relative’s homes. It is not clear to me why it never struck me odd before, but one day I was gazing at a statue of the Mother Mary and took notice of the Native American design running down her back. At that moment, the thought rang through my head, “How did that happen?” I wanted to understand how that was accepted. It almost seemed sacrilegious. To which belief system I wasn’t sure, but it definitely didn’t seem acceptable. This provoked me to stay on that line of reasoning and I began to look toward the tribal beliefs that were stitched into this complex tapestry of worldviews. My family would attend Pow-Wows and practice tribal traditions regularly. Many of my relatives were heavily involved with organizing such events and some participated in the ceremonies themselves. So, the question that was begging to be asked was clear to me, “How do we reconcile all of these very different religious views? How is it that we go to church to pray to Jesus or Mary of Guadalupe one day, and then go down below to the campsite to dance for the mountain spirits? Where do Mother Earth and Father Sky fit into all of this?” To make matters even more confusing, as if they weren’t already, my different tribal affiliations each had their own viewpoints that were just as diverse as the Christian one’s. Not only did I have family members that were Catholic, Christian, and Mormon, but I also had to deal with the fact that I am Navajo, Hopi, and Apache. Some might say that it was inevitable I would become skeptical about religion from all the confusion. However, if that was the case, I would think that there should be more Native American non-believers.
It wasn’t really until college that I began to be properly critical and analytical by learning how to research things more scholarly. I had to be taught how to think first. Classes like critical thinking and psychology were easy for me to pick up because I could see the importance and potential use in learning about personal biases and other cognitive pitfalls in order to efficiently and effectively sift through information with a more objective eye. A big part to learning anything is finding a way to relate to the content, and I found that building a familiarity to logical fallacies and other forms of rhetoric was my cup of tea, so-to-speak. In the beginning, these mind games were like mental exercises that would eventually become a sort of self-defense training for my brain. This served as the foundation for what would later become a fascination and love for science. I really got into philosophy after writing a paper on Socrates for my ethics course. My ethics and advanced composition professor fed this curiosity of mine and helped refine my research skills by pushing me to engage in topics that were not as familiar and less commonly chosen by most students. So, I went further down the rabbit hole by exploring and becoming acquainted with the Socratic Method, and trying to find the answer to, “What is knowledge?” Digging through the answers I got from religion, philosophy, and even metaphysics didn’t satisfy any of my initial inquiries. I didn’t find any of the answers to all of the bigger questions that I had been searching for until I came across what is known as, “scientific skepticism.”
There is somewhat of a burdening amount of information with the advent of the internet. Nowadays, if someone wanted to find something to back up nearly any claim, you may find it through a quick search online. This is where the need for establishing a standard to distinguish what constitutes as evidence becomes ever apparent. I found that gold standard after putting together the pieces that made up the process of scientific method.
It did take some time for me to realize all the parts to the process of science; it wasn’t by any means overnight. I feel like it took the accumulation of all those different ways of thinking that crossed my path to get to that point. Even with after I graduated with one degree of applied sciences and another in a bachelors of science, it wasn’t until a few years later that I became scientifically literate. Like many people out in the world today, I thought I knew what science was early on through my formal education. However, much like the majority of the population, I still did not have a firm grasp on the methodology and wouldn’t consider myself as being scientifically literate at that point. While I might have passed all of my science courses to earn two degrees, that did not mean I could differentiate the difference between pseudoscience and science.
Ultimately, I feel that is the biggest factor and the major fundamental difference that contributed the most to me feeling comfortable and confident in my atheism. Being able to formulate my own arguments formally and establishing the best way to attain knowledge that I could ever conceive of came through finding my understanding and love for science. To be clear here, I am an atheist not because of my skepticism, but I am merely a skeptic who happens to be an atheist. While it is common for people to wrestle with their faith from time to time, after being taught how to think critically and analytically, I went through my own intense internal struggles by seeking out different religions and ways of thinking through vigorously researching aspects with a more scholarly point of view. Up until then, I did not have a means to determine what was plausible from that which had little to no evidence supporting it. An unfortunate part of the human brain is that we can formulate elaborate reasons to support almost any preconceived notion, including god. But, I believe that attaining that knowledge partly comes from recognizing what we know through hundreds of years of scientific advancements and through many personal trials and tribulations.
While I still feel like an outsider amongst my family, friends, and ethnic group like a minority amongst minorities, I am still more than grateful to have found my way to reason and scientific thinking. Now, I feel that sense of awe and wonder that I was always looking for in acknowledging that I belong to something greater than me called the Universe. I found my humanism and a different spiritual view for my ever-present love for life in understanding the way the world really appears to be. As the great astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “We are all connected; to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the rest of the universe atomically.”
Noah blogs at Native Skeptic.Read More
I will be resigning from my job today. Why? Well, I was having a conversation with KLJ, an acquaintance of mine that happens to be a comedian. He has a boring day job that he doesn’t care for much. He said “The problem is, my day job NEEDS to suck. A creative day job takes my focus away from comedy.” I get that I guess. What he doesn’t know is that comment really got to me. My day job does NOT need to suck. Wouldn’t it be great to pursue our passions full time? He has several reasons for staying at his job. I asked myself why I stayed at mine when I’ve been miserable for a long time. When I got my masters in public administration (strong focus on nonprofit management) I never, for one second, saw myself as a social worker, but somehow I fell into it. I’ve tried to convince myself over the last few years that I feel fulfilled because I am helping people… which I do love.. helping people that is, but not in this fashion.
I am an HIV medical case manager and my primary clientele are pregnant. The stress level is very high, but it’s my job to help ensure that no baby in the five county area is born with HIV and luckily that has only happened once since I started at this position. Still, my days are punctuated with emergencies that need to be fixed right away but can’t. On a typical morning, I might have one woman show to my office with her child because the homeless shelters are full. Right after that I might have another client contact me to let me know that her Medicaid has been cancelled and she can’t afford her $3000 HIV medication and it’s Friday and she can’t go 2 or 3 days without it because she’s already 37 weeks pregnant. Right after that it’s not unheard of to have a frightened mother, in the hospital about tot give birth all alone because she doesn’t want her family to know that she is HIV+. Most days I work through my lunch and I go home with the weight of it all. I don’t sleep well. I think about all of the things I didn’t accomplish during the day. My caseload is too big and I feel that I have to neglect some in order to focus on the ones that are really bad off. How is that fair to them? How is it fair to me?
And then I have Foundation Beyond Belief where I am the Development Director and I love it. I honestly see myself at this position for many, many years to come. I love the organization. I love its mission. I love the staff. I love everything about it. It’s a humanist charity so it’s exactly what I’m looking for. It’s where my passion lies. After bouncing around other secular/atheist organizations, I’ve finally found a home and it’s been a refreshing experience. In addition to this position I am writing a book about the effects of disownment in adulthood, which I really want to concentrate on and complete. I’m also helping to get a new digital atheist magazine off the ground: The Celestial Teapot. Lastly, because I miss school and because I want the promotion of humanism to be a central part of my life, I will be applying to the Humanist Institute in a few days which exists to “equip humanists to become effective leaders, spokespersons, and advocates in a variety of organizational settings, including within the humanist movement itself”. I’ve talked to a couple of the instructors and they guarantee me that the experience is life-altering. Also, my blog. I enjoy doing this, but it takes a surprising amount of time and I want it to grow.
I keep thinking about the fact that this is the only life I get and there is little reason for me to stay at a job that I dread going to everyday. My husband supports my decision to work on the things I love and we can afford to do it.
Still, I’m scared. At 34 I’ve never really gone after what I want like this. It’s a risk. financiall, emotionally, etc.
I want to leave you with this, my favorite poem. I hope I’m taking the right path. Wish me luck!
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.Robert Frost
Warning: This might not be safe to watch or listen to at work.
A few months ago after being scheduled to speak at Reasonfest 2013 on the topic of being a Black atheist, Greta Christina and David Fitzgerald asked if I wanted to participate in the Godless Perverts Story Hour GPSH. Before this, I had never talked openly about sex in front of a crowd, so I jumped at the opportunity! (I think we should do things that scare us from time to time.) I was raised in a sex-negative environment and I was very ignorant about human sexuality until I became an atheist (still learning more every day). Participating in this event awakened in me a real desire to promote sex-positivity.
So, without further ado, I would like to share my GPSH reading with you. Ignore my shaky voice and listen to my story. Like I said before I had never spoken about such things with such a wide audience, so I was nervous. Nevertheless, enjoy “My Orgasm”.
Transcript (some minor edits made on the spot):
It starts with a warm, tingly feeling in my toes. As I stand here trying to think of an accurate way to describe it, the only analogy that comes to mind is electricity. Then, if the proper sensation is maintained, the warm tingle quickly moves up my legs until the current hits the fuse box and then waves of electricity cascade through my body.. all the way to my fingertips and the top of my head. On a lucky day, this will happen multiple times. In very simple terms that’s my orgasm.
Why am I talking about this? BECAUSE I CAN. I was raised in a very religious, high control group. You’ve probably heard of them- Jehovah’s Witnesses. When sex was brought up it was about the DON’Ts of sex. Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t masturbate. Don’t have gay sex. Don’t have oral sex. Don’t have sex with someone you are not married to which of course excludes threesomes, orgies and the like. And then they quoted disturbing scriptures like Ezekiel 23:20 which says, “She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of and whose semen was like that of horses”. So yes, one of my first lessons on sex involved donkey balls and horse semen. I remember having the “birds and bees” talk with my mother but all it really consisted of was “boys have penises and girls have vaginas”. I don’t think she even touched on the actual mechanics.. how the penis and vagina worked in concert to achieve this thing called “sex”. Not to mention how vaginas worked with vaginas, penises and anal sex any type of oral sex… you catch my drift. Of course gay/lesbian sex was not discussed except to point out that that was sinful. I was also told that masturbation is a no-no, but I didn’t get a clear explanation of what masturbation was. I was so sheltered that I didn’t even know until I was a teenager, that I even had another hole down there and had no clue the joys of the clitoris. When my mother had The Talk with me she did say not to touch down there except for when I peed or bathed and NEVER let anyone else touch me down there. I actually was too young at the time to even know why a person would touch down there if not to pee or bathe so I accepted it with no questions… but it wasn’t even my job to ask such questions. It’s a parent’s job to preemptively address the feelings that will eventually come up. Unfortunately when I got older and started have urges.. I was completely ignorant as to what I should do about those feelings both physically and psychologically. This is what religion does to a lot of young people. We’re taught to wait until we get married to have sex. Then we go into the situation completely unprepared for what’s going to happen. I’m not just talking condoms and bodily fluids, but also the emotions. Lots of us aren’t exclusively heterosexual or are sexually fluid with our orientation.
I was a devout Christian. I wanted to “save” myself for marriage even though at age 21, I found myself very horny. I moved out of my parent’s house that year and I remember seeing my first porn. (Hallelujah to the internet). Sadly though, aside from the horse semen scripture and my mother’s inadequate sex talk, porn was my first real sex education. I don’t know if it was my age or the freedom of not living with my parents or if it was the fact that I started college that year and found myself around “men”, but my libido shot through the roof! Along with secular education (biological anthropology, cosmology, etc.), my sex drive is another big reason I became an atheist. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that at the end of 2001 I was more concerned with sex than I was with God, but, I assumed I could repent later and all would be well.
So.. I did it and it was fabulous. Orgasms were fun and I wanted a lot of them. As luck would have it, I met a nice Atheist man. He was cute and also brilliant. I wasn’t concerned with his disbelief in God, I was a Jehovah’s Witness after all, I’d just convert him. That obviously didn’t work out as planned. We ended up taking several classes together and I suddenly had someone who helped make concepts like evolution plausible! And I got to have sex with him! I felt like a very lucky girl. I ended up marrying this Atheist man (to my parent’s dismay) and we’re still together 12 years later and I’m still in awe of him. Even after I shrugged off my god-belief, I still had sexual hang-ups. I didn’t masturbate until several years into my marriage because I thought it would be “icky” and I was embarrassed by the concept. Luckily, I got over that. I now consider myself “sex-positive” which is “an ideology which promotes and embraces open sexuality with few limits beyond an emphasis on safe sex and the importance of informed consent. Sex positivity is ‘an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation’ [...] The movement makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference”. Growing up in a restrictive religious environment where sex was only spoken of in hushed tones or as sinful, while also putting absolute restrictions on masturbation is unacceptable and unhealthy. I’m happy that as an HIV medical case manager I am able to provide safer sex education on a regular basis.
So in closing, I’m thankful for my libido and orgasms helping to override my concern with “God”. They ultimately helped lead me to my Atheism.Read More
In human context, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence.
Sunday was Mother’s Day, one of the worst days of the year for me emotionally, and not because my mother has died (although I still grieve for her). My biological family disowned me because I rejected the religion that they chose for me at birth. When I talk about this with others, especially those that haven’t been through it, they usually say, “Get over them. They don’t deserve you. Make a new family“. If you have a recipe for making a new family, by all means share!
This “make a new family” is not a simple feat, especially while you are grieving the old one. When a person loses a child, you wouldn’t tell them to “get over it, make another child”. Family is not an easily replaceable group of people. Because of the abandonment I felt from my bio family (which is still a pain I experience daily), I go into every new relationship expecting them to reject me. I feel fear about connecting with people on a deep level. I know that’s illogical, but it’s how I feel nevertheless. Recently, a couple of people I know via Facebook have reminded me “I have reached out to you and even given you my number, but you never called”. It’s not because I don’t want them in my life, I think I have developed some kind of phobia. I constantly ask myself why this new person even likes me. We evolved to have a preference for the organisms most closely linked to us genetically. Our parents are the source of our DNA. As children we are literally a part of them. As I grew up, my parents expressed deep love for me. My mother always had an endless supply of hugs. My father was an excellent provider. My older brother never picked on me and even let me live with him for a while as an adult. Those people rejected me. So, I feel I rightly have trepidation adopting a new family, even if it is more logical. So, I can’t just “get over them”.
log·i·cal: Reasoning or capable of reasoning in a clear and consistent manner.
I imagine a “logical” family as one that comes about with few expectations of love and acceptance but does happen after much time and effort. There is more reason involved to get to the point of love. More time is taken to determine if pursuing the relationship is worth the effort. I heard my mother’s heartbeat. I knew her smell. I bonded with her and didn’t have a choice in the matter. With new friends, we aren’t already connected on that deep level (although at times it feels like it). Friends, the logical family, takes time. We tend to have common interests and worldviews. We grow to love each other. I believe it takes a lot of time and a large emotional investment to build a relationship as close as the one we have with family. I never forget that my bio family rejected me despite the odds, despite their natural inclination, so the fear of rejection after I’ve bonded with my “logical” family is a real one and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to not get that close to anyone again.
I should probably flesh this out this topic more, but it’s late and naturally my mother and family have been on my mind. A blog of mine wherein I write a hypothetical letter to my estranged mother was widely circulated yesterday and a common thread in the comments was, “make a new family”. I want to. Recently I hooked up with some fabulous ladies and we are starting an internet show that’s just 5 atheist chicks hanging out. I feel an instant bond with them and I will try to cultivate more relationships like this in the future.
I’m not sure what my primary thesis is. It’s mostly that, I was born into love with my bio family and they rejected me. I understand that making new friends and “family” makes logical sense. Still, I’m afraid of being hurt. I don’t want to be rejected by my logical family either. It’s not so easy to “make a new one”.