Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Smoking Gun That Brings Down Trump

Sorry about the clickbaity title, but if I've learned anything from my years spent on social media, it is that reasonable behavior is ignored in favor of the unacceptable. Human nature, I suppose.

But with the inauguration in five days, I felt compelled to address the subject of Trump's illegitimacy as a U.S. President. If you're angry with me for expressing my anger over the election of Donald Trump, I suggest you consider these thoughts:

First: No, he did not win the election - by his own standards.

Before the election, it was well known that Trump had stated (and his fans & surrogates had embellished with suggestions of violence) that if he did not win the election, that said election would be illegitimate. The only way he could lose, he claimed, was if "they stole it" from him. Had the vote been precisely reversed - had Hillary Clinton taken the Electoral College victory while Trump took the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes - Trump supporters claim that they would have taken up arms and taken to the streets.

Since the results did fall the way they fell, however, I have had to accept the Electoral College results. I do this because those are the rules I agreed to by being a citizen of this country, even while knowing that if things had gone the other way, all of the people now gloating and telling people to "get over it" would not have been remotely as gracious in defeat as they insist we should be.

Second: My stance is not a mere "difference of opinion" for you to ignore.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words "we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal" he expressed an idea that was itself imperfect, but pointed towards the kind of society that we are still trying to build. Progress means ensuring that "all men" includes all people, and that "created equal" means equal treatment under the law. But Jefferson had to call these truths "self-evident" because he and the other American Revolutionaries were trying to create something that had never existed before, and which we are still trying to understand and define.

Our foundation was not actually based on any existing, widely accepted idea. It did not come from any existing tradition or pedigree that people of that time would have recognized. It was a direct and purposeful denial of the tradition of the "divine right of kings." Our democracy aimed from the beginning to place the power over the government into the hands of the people being governed, and not leave it in the hands of a king. And the only way for that founding ideal to be legitimate is for that power to be held and exercised by everyone who is subjected to it.

For me, supporting my country and my fellow citizens requires me to oppose anyone who seeks to take their power away and concentrate it in the hands of a king. I am required by the oath I took at the beginning of my career to oppose enemies "foreign and domestic" who attack that fundamental power.

I don't take that lightly, and I have lost friends over the years because they tried to dismiss what I had to say as a "difference of opinion." And my objection to Donald Trump's presidency is driven by his inattention to foreign enemies (specifically, Russia) as well as his tacit support for domestic enemies (specifically, the KKK and white nationalists using the label "alt-right").

If I have to, as my ancestors did, I will fight in any way I can to defeat those enemies.

Third: I will not throw flowers for Hitler.

Fore nearly a decade, the rhetoric I have heard from Donald Trump himself, and from people who now support him, has sought to indict Barack Obama's presidency as illegitimate, foreign, and monarchical. One of the friendships I lost during Obama's first term was that of a woman I knew in college who tweeted that the Obamas were behaving like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and that they should meet the same fate at the guillotine. I called her out on that, and she and her husband - a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, no less - attacked me for doing so. Another of the friendships I lost at that time was a colleague who declared me a "traitor" for voting for Obama. He and I did not speak from 2009 until his death a couple of years later.

I don't need friends who act that way.

Now I see a lot of parallels between that 2008 election and 2016, in that the same kind of people - and the president-elect himself - now want to claim a mantle of legitimacy that they tried to deny to a man who actually won his election. These are people who demonstrate daily that they have not read and do not understand our Constitution, even while they spent these past eight years running down a President who taught Constitutional law. I do not claim that President Obama's views and positions were always "right" — I think he made a lot of terrible mistakes regarding executive power and civil liberties — but I do assert that he was qualified to be a President. You might say I consider him qualified to make those mistakes.

But Donald Trump's behavior during his campaign, the policies he espoused, the people he chose to support, and his actions since the election have all proven him to be uniquely unqualified to be President. He has already declared himself to be above the law. He has already ignored foreign interference with our electoral process and demonstrated a pattern of putting his whims and his fortunes ahead of the country's needs. He is so ignorant of the law and of the consequences of his choices, he is unqualified to make the mistakes he is already making.

In short, he has so far behaved exactly like a monarch... and his defense of this behavior has not been to say, "No, I am not a monarch," but instead to say, in essence, "I accused Obama of behaving like a monarch, and you accepted him; so now you have to accept me."

After years of accusing a legitimate, sitting President of being a secret foreigner/sleeper agent and un-American dictator, Trump has demonstrated that he is going to behave like an un-American dictator while actual evidence of foreign manipulation of our media, our electoral process, and our president will be swept under the rug.

Last: Even you don't "agree with" Trump.

Over the course of my adult life, I have engaged in debates of various form and tone with any number of friends, family, and acquaintances. Individually, we share a lot of common ground when it comes to personal morals, integrity, and basic human values. We tend to disagree on "fundamental principles" which we struggle to understand, let alone defend. We are all pretty weak on economics; we all grapple with the philosophical purpose of laws; we have a hard time dealing with identity politics; and we differ on the existence of the supernatural.

I often complain about tribalism, and object to the loss of nuance that follows when we confine ourselves to addressing complex problems with oversimplified political talking points. I hate that many of you consider me to be "a liberal" and yourselves to be "conservatives" when those labels distract us from our commonalities. I regret how often I'm forced to rely on the dumbed-down shorthand of those labels.

Many of my so-called conservative friends and family are actually economic liberals, and their stated values of democratic government, individual liberty, and rule of law make them "liberals" by the standards of global history. But even those areas where you are truly "conservative" in a meaningful sense of that word are areas where Donald Trump promises to violate your values.

Where you and I agree that the economy should not be micro-managed by the government, Donald Trump has promised to personally interfere for the sake of "jobs." He has already claimed to do this several times, and as a conservative, you ought to be vehemently opposed to both his intent and his methods. He distracts from this by decrying "regulation," but again, he has no idea what those regulations are, or what they actually do, and if he fulfills his promises to eliminate them, our food supply, our air, and our water will all be put at risk. Let alone our jobs.

Where you and I agree that our political parties are corrupt and unduly influenced by money, Donald Trump has certainly shown them up. But instead of forcing reform, he has simply paved the way for an amoral "might makes right" form of political discourse. (Not to get side-tracked, but what he has done closely resembles what Vladimir Putin did in Russia during his first election.) His election has assured that those with power will be able to choose their electorate in order to keep power, instead of ensuring that the people have the ability to get rid of leaders who work against their interests.

Where you and I agree on morals, like "love your neighbor" and the Golden Rule, Donald Trump has demonstrated a complete lack of these morals. He is a bully who abuses the law in his business dealings, and cheats those who work for him whenever he thinks he can get away with it. He doesn't even conform to the behavioral norms that those of you I disagree with consider to be desirable. He is an admitted sex offender ("grab 'em by the pussy"), a serial divorcee, a failed socialite and B-list celebrity who embodies all of the things in our society that you consider to be gross and offensive.

And where you might be piously religious, he is most obviously not. "Two Corinthians"? Even I have more respect for the Bible than that. The fact that I, as an atheist, reject his amorality and his pretense at belief instead of embracing him as some kind hero of non-belief should tell you something disturbing about him. He does not, and will not, represent you or your values.

My hope is that those of you who don't really support any of the things Trump represents will "get over" your distaste for those of us you would rather write off as sore losers, and recognize the peril that we are both in. You need to recognize that this isn't about Hillary any more; she is off the table. But we are at a point where any alternative to the danger we are facing would be preferable. We just need a smoking gun to condemn the guilty party.

The smoking gun that will take down Donald Trump is you.

You need to contact your congressional representatives, particularly in the Senate, and let them know that you will not support them if they prop up a monarch and destroy our Constitution. For now, we still have the power to stop this; if we ignore the problem, it may be too late in just a couple of months.

And that is not just my opinion.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Take 6's "Spread Love" to my #AtheistEar

If you aren't a vocal musician from the 1990s, you may not remember the unexpected popularity of a cappella groups from that time. After Bobby McFerrin's hit with Don't Worry Be Happy, and the success of Spike Lee's Do It Acapella documentary, we seemed to have an explosion of vocal groups take to the airwaves with varying degrees of success.

My personal favorites were a six-part group called Take 6, who took home Grammy awards for their 1988 self-titled debut album. Here's my favorite track from that record:




(Lyrics are here.)

Take 6 were very definitely a gospel sextet. The opening track of their first album, a song called Gold Mine, is every inch a love song sung to God; they include traditional spirituals If We Ever, and Mary (as in "O, Mary don't you weep"), and Get Away, Jordan; they also turned in gorgeous arrangements of contemplative hymns such as A Quiet Place and He Never Sleeps. (which, honestly, deserves a minor cover by Disturbed so you can feel as creeped out by the lyrics as I do! But I digress...) They even do a sassy take on the story of David and Goliath.

But Spread Love is the only song on the album that doesn't quite cross the line into being a "religious" song. It goes right up to that line, but then it does something that I, as a humanist, really appreciate. See if you spot it:

Seems like everything we hear is just a tale
But I've got something that will never, ever fail
(It's called love)

Spread love, instead of spreading lies
Spread love, the truth needs no disguise
I've often said love could open any door
Oh, but I wish we had much more
More love is what we need

Christian theology is, at its core, supposed to be about love. A recurring theme in song and sermon is to equate God and love. It's such a deeply ingrained notion that when I was 17 and listening to this album, it never occurred to me that this song wasn't overtly omitting any mention of God or Jesus. But look again - where the "something" that will never, ever fail is implied to be Jesus, just because of the context of who the group is and their expected audience, the words only talk about love!

Adult Atheist me, looking back across not-quite-thirty years, can really appreciate a song like this that I can sing without internally editing in a footnote*. To me, as a humanist, these lyrics are exactly right: lies are hateful, and we are all better off with the truth. If you love the truth, you'd better be spreading love.

You don't have to be into the spiritual or supernatural to buy into the idea that boasting, gossiping, and wallowing in trash culture is a harmful waste of time. You don't have to be religious to value honesty and desire the real answers to our toughest questions. In fact, most of the atheist thinkers I follow - people like Libby Anne and Dan Fincke among others  - found that abandoning their childhood faith in the supernatural did not mean abandoning morals altogether.

Of course, I see plenty of people spreading the lie that because people like me don't believe there is some mystical, supernatural force about, we are without morals. Or worse, that we are moral relativists (talk about the Pope calling the kettle black). But the truth is that there is a lot of moral common ground between the core teachings of many faiths and the personal morals of non-believers.

So, I'll ask you to do me a favor - and don't spread that lie.

Not that you won't find just as many frustrating examples of non-believers behaving badly as I find of Christians (and Muslims, and Jews, and any number of other types of religious followers), but the point is to address the specific behavior, and not waste time reinforcing the stereotypes of the tribe.

And that's hard for me, too.

* Like, "Okay, the words say 'Yay, God' here, so I feel like an idiot because I don't think there is any such being...but whatever, I'm alone in the car with the windows rolled up."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" to an #AtheistEar

So we've put 2016 behind us, and we're looking ahead to 2017; but some of us are looking with unease and trepidation. This past year taught us that as a nation, we haven't put to rest the evils of the past. My theme song going into the year is one by George & Ira Gershwin from their opera Porgy & Bess.

Here's a performance by Cab Calloway - and it's remarkable to me that this was never pointed out to me as a song to avoid by all of the cultural gatekeepers of my youth:



(Lyrics are available here.)

The song was originally put in the mouth of a shady drug dealing character who draws criticism from his pious neighbors for his blasphemous attitude, and there were greater controversies surrounding the racial stereotypes in the show that distracted from the fact that one character was so blatantly casting doubt on the scriptures. I imagine its subversive tone was exactly what made the song compelling to later artists, though.

And these days, when "fake news" is suddenly a thing that people seem to be worried about, a song like this seems rather necessary. More than ever, we need to examine what comes through our feeds and question assumptions before we make decisions. That healthy skepticism that makes you question things that don't sound right is something you want to cultivate.

"But wait," you might say, "I was taught not to question the scriptures! And you telling me to do just that in a sassy, jazzy song is blasphemy!"

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. I really don't know what to tell you that will make you feel better about the things you believe that I think are silly fiction. Imagine what you would tell me if I told you that I believed every word of Doctor Who to be literally true - and if I condemned you to an eternity of torture for not believing it, too. You would be perfectly within your right to tell me, "Good luck with that," and not to trust my judgment on certain matters.

We're all in the same predicament. I'm not going to try to force you to see things my way. But you're not going to last long if you don't develop a strategy for figuring out what's real and what's not.

I recommend keeping this song handy - maybe make it the notification for your news feed. Depending on your sources, you may get more reliable meaning and guidance from the immortal words of Cab Calloway:

Wadoo, zim bam boddle-oo,
Hoodle ah da wa da,
Scatty wah !
Oh yeah !...

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Handel's Messiah to an #AtheistEar

Merry Christmas!

Yeah, I know, an atheist isn't supposed to say that. (Whose rule is that, again?) But my choral group performed the chorus "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" from Handel's Messiah this year, and since my regular post this week fell on Christmas, I thought I'd talk about that piece. As an artist, there isn't a more eloquent way to express what it means to me than to play it:





Hands down, this is one of my favorite pieces of music, and always has been. And here, it is performed here by one of the premier groups in the world. But, of course, I'm a non-believer (thus the idea behind the #AtheistEar series) and I approach a piece like this differently than a believer would.

Lyrics are available here...but they're basically Isaiah 9:6:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The tradition I was raised in taught that this verse is a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah, who lived about 800 years before the time of Jesus. Handel includes it in his Christmas oratorio because many Christian traditions hold that this prophecy referred to the birth of Jesus, and while that is certainly not how the Jewish people read that passage, it was considered to be a major argument legitimizing Christianity as a sect of Judaism in its earliest days.

Not being a person who believes in the existence of the supernatural, of course I don't accept the Divinity of this story as Gospel (get it?), but the evidence seems to indicate* that there was actually a human being at the center of the Christmas story. Who he was, when he was born, and what his name was are up for debate; who wrote the stories and sermons attributed to him may be an open question; but at the very least, it's safe to say that a small group with a dynamic leader did teach some pretty radical ideas in that corner of the Roman Empire about 2,000 years ago.

I've written recently about the darker, more gruesome side of the Gospel story (see "There Is Power In the Blood"), but for the sake of the Handel piece, I'm only going to focus on the uplifting side today.  From a secular humanist point of view, the core teachings attributed to Jesus Christ are pretty important ideas.

After all, he is supposed to have said "Love your neighbor as yourself," which is the essence of the Golden Rule. And his answer to the follow-up question, "But who is my neighbor?" is an undeniably important foundation of a peaceful society. (You might Imagine a more modern artist singing songs about that ideal, too!)

While Christians certainly don't own the original copyright on the idea of universal brotherhood, their influence on Western civilization had a lot to do with the way they championed the idea of using love and forgiveness as the central driving force of human life instead of power and wealth.

It is my opinion that Christians are at their best when they remember the ideals that they share with humanists and progressive or liberal elements of other faiths, and fight to protect the weak against the wealthy and powerful - as Jesus commanded them to do. Of course, I'd be happier if they did that because it is the rational and moral thing to do without the weight of a commandment from a divine character in their mythology... but these days, I think the side of decency needs all the allies it can get, regardless of why they're on that side.
 Remember, from where I sit, the entire Christmas story is pure mythology. Aside from the existence of Jesus, there is no reason to believe that any of the accounts given in the Bible are accurate or factual. I know the fact that I see it that way is offensive to some, and I don't say it to be mean-spirited. But I mention it because being fiction doesn't take away from the relevant parts of the story. Dickens only wrote fiction, so there was no actual Ebenezer Scrooge - yet the transformation of Scrooge is still something that I find inspiring. Dr. Who is wildly fictional, but I still take a great deal of joy in the humanist ideals expressed through those stories.

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6a8mbsaHc1qf7uh1o1_1280.jpg

Keep that in mind when I tell you that I enjoy singing a piece like this chorus from Handel's Messiah. I may not believe the same literal story you do, but I believe in the same goal. And I recognize that your intention when you celebrate is to glorify the person who you see as the source of the moral fabric that binds us together, whether I see him that way or not.

For all the pain and terror that can be pinned on Christianity in the course of Western history, Christmas is a festival that tries to focus on that message of love and hope. When Christians stay true to that message, they are at their best, and in our divided, diverse, and often combative world, it's important for all of us to be reminded of that.



* I recommend starting with Bart Ehrman's 2012 book "Did Jesus Exist?" for as neutral an assessment of the historical evidence as you are likely to find.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Paul Simon's "Proof" to an #AtheistEar

In 1990, I was caught in the grip of Paul Simon's incredible 1986 Graceland album. I wore out more than one copy of that cassette in the tape deck of my ancient Datsun while commuting to school. Then in 1991, Simon followed that album up with another.

Rhythm of the Saints was a clear attempt to build on Graceland by bringing together an eclectic group of musicians from around the world. Where Graceland had famously (and infamously) defied the international boycott on South Africa by featuring South African artists, Rhythm went to South America and the Caribbean to find inspiration. Simon also attempted to recreate the magic of Graceland's breakout hit video for You Can Call Me Al by recruiting his Saturday Night Live buddies, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin, to appear in his new videos.

Critically and commercially, the new album didn't quite reach the heights of Graceland, but I fell in love with it - and when it comes to songs that might work as "atheist anthems," this one seems to be a contender:


 

 (Lyrics are available here.)

Typical of Paul Simon lyrics, you could interpret the verses in many ways - but the chorus seems pretty clear to me.

(Proof)
Some people gonna call you up
Tell you something that you already know
Sane people go crazy on you
Say, "No man, that's not
The deal we made
I got to, I got to, I got to"
Faith
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone

When I really began to own my atheism a few years ago, I really felt like one of the participants in the conversation from that chorus. Sometimes, when people would realize that I no longer believed in the God we used to share, their shock would cause them to "go crazy on me" and withdraw. Sometimes, I am sure, they felt as those I was the one who had gone crazy. "That's not the deal we made...I got to, I got to...." In some cases, I have been able to talk to them and rebuild some sense of normal; with others, I haven't.

Even with those folks who have been okay with my non-belief, there is a certain delicacy required when speaking of matters of faith. As a rule, people don't consciously choose to delude themselves. The things that they believe tend to be a fundamental part of who they are and how they deal with the rest of the world. Sometimes the things that people believe - the things they put their faith in - seem trivial to me, but more often, their faith is how they deal with harsher realities.

I struggle when the things that people have chosen to believe are not only wrong, but also harmful. On occasion, the "harm" done by believing things that are not true is hard to explain. (If you visit What's the Harm? there are some tools for doing so.) Most of the time, I try to take a "live and let live" approach, but participating in society means talking to other people, and that is an activity that almost always leads to disagreement.

When that happens, I find it useful to understand the standards of logic and the burden of proof.





I'm sure there are times when I get caught up in the emotional baggage of an argument, but I try to stay open-minded enough to be persuaded by evidence. I hope you don't mind if I check that evidence before I change my mind, though - because proof, yeah... proof is the bottom line for everyone.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Faith of Our Fathers to an #AtheistEar

Here's a little holiday gem from crooner Bing Crosby, off his hit White Christmas collection, Merry Christmas. See if you can guess what I want to say about it while you listen!





(Lyrics are available here.)

Call me old fashioned, but if a number one hit holiday album can't reference death (4 times) and imprisonment (twice), then it just doesn't feel festive.

But seriously, this was a hymn we would occasionally pull out - usually around Father's Day - and plod through lugubriously in order to honor the fathers in the congregation. I was actually surprised to find it on a Christmas album, because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the birth of Christ. Then again, this was recorded in an era when doctors said smoking was good for you, so there's that.

The lesson I took away from this song when I was a kid was probably not the lesson intended by the "fathers" of the church. (Which faith? Depends on which fathers...) As we gloomily intoned verses about our fathers chained in prisons dark, we were living in the salad days of Reagan's "shining city on a hill," waking up from the Baby Boom years. For all of the references to "dungeon, fire, and sword," it occurred to me that this song didn't really apply to my family:

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free
How sweet would be their children's fate
If they, like them, could die for thee
Millenials probably recognize that notion - "you kids don't know how good ya got it, do ya?" But since my father hadn't suffered any of the things in the song, the message clearly wasn't directed at me. If anything, these words seemed to be directed at my father - "look at the sacrifices of those who came before," it sang. Not that I don't appreciate my father, but the most gruesome ordeal he had to put up with was me. That hardly fits the sentiment of the song.

I could almost see my grandfather, who had served in World War II, shaking his head at the relatively painless brush with Army life my dad had endured and putting that generational guilt trip on him. Of course, I've since learned that both of my grandfathers had relatively safe tours in their war, compared to what their Civil War grandfathers endured - so maybe this song was meant to put the guilt trip on them by their fathers... and so on, back to a time when Christians actually were persecuted for their faith. (Which raises the uncomfortable point that the worst persecutors of Christians on this continent were other Christians.)

Even at that age, though, this idea started to smell at bit off. For one thing, even though the American Revolution was painted as a war fought for freedom - particularly freedom from the state religion of England - that wasn't really the point of that war. If anything, you could make more of a case that the Revolution set the stage for our secular Constitution, which is something we quarrel about to this day.

The one takeaway from this song that I really could get behind, then as now, was this verse:

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

This idea gets a bit broken up by the rhyme scheme, but I read it as a statement of what the "faith of our fathers" is supposed to be, and I actually quite like it. If I may take the liberty of restating that verse:

"We will love both friend and foe as we all struggle along, and demonstrate our values 'as love knows how' - through being kind and true to our principles."

Call me a sucker for festive holiday tunes, but that speaks to this secular humanist. I won't be pulling this one out to sing around the tree, but at least with that interpretation, I can live with it.

But you can keep the guilt trips and the torture for another holiday.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

John Lennon's "Imagine" to an #AtheistEar

The Beatles were part of my parents' teen aged years, and they had an odd place in our record collection. We owned the early records - the ones that came before the "bigger than Jesus" remark. My favorite was the perplexingly psychedelic Rubber Soul, and while mom didn't mind me listening to them, if grandma heard it, we would somehow end up talking about how awful "hippies" were later that same day.

Culture warriors in the 1980's didn't know quite how to deal with John Lennon's continuing influence on their youth. I picked up on the fact that he made some of the older men in my church angry, but the picture they painted of the drug-addled, hippy-dippy revolutionary never seemed as compelling as the impression that I got from his songs; or at least from the songs I was able to hear. No radio station in Arizona would play "Mother" or "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," but songs like "Give Peace a Chance" and "Love" not only sounded like something Jesus might sing, but on rare occasions got played by visiting musicians or guest choir directors.

Not that those musicians or guests were invited back...

Strangely, there was one song that seemed to divide people more than any other. It was simple, catchy, beautiful, and threatening all at once. We couldn't accept its anti-religious message, but we couldn't ignore it, either. See if you can figure out why:


(Lyrics available here.)

Clearly, no one can deny what Lennon is saying about religion. The first line denies heaven, and that recurring idea of people "living for today" is exactly the opposite of what my church was teaching. In fact, my church repeatedly and forcefully blamed the problems of the world on people who were living for today, and not keeping God and heaven in their sights. And they could point at Lennon himself as the worst of that kind of person: the junkie rock star who did such bizarre things, kept such bizarre company, and spoke out against our traditional values.

"Living for today" was a phrase that I was taught to read a certain way. The hermeneutic in our white evangelical Christian tribe required us to read that phrase as a code for people who had thrown away their morality and followed the false god of doing whatever feels good. Pastors quoted Aliester Crowley - "Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law" - and denounced something they called "moral relativism."

In our church, we did not allow for the possibility that there was anything more to John Lennon or his type of people. And it seemed very important to everyone trying to teach me how to be a Christian that I never look at the phrase "living for today" as anything but another way of describing nihilism and spiritual death. Being a child, of course I accepted what they tried to teach me.

But then there's that third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

That was also a common theme in the Bible. Jesus said that repeatedly. He excoriated the rich, and all of us in the Christian faith were supposedly trying to build a brotherhood as Jesus commanded. That was compelling to me - that, and the notion that if I did set aside the fevered warnings of my elders, and stopped trying so hard to pin all of the world's problems on other people, maybe we could find a way to get along.

Everyone who has walked away from their religion has had to struggle with figuring out what to throw away, and what to keep. The most persistent idea, pounded into me from my earliest days, was that walking away from God meant giving up my morality. This notion that the only way for me to live if I wasn't a Christian any more was to wallow in hedonism - that turned out to be ridiculous. And I figured that out thanks to John Lennon.

As hard as religions of any type try to convince you that without them, you are nothing but an animal, the truth is that you not only are an animal, but you are an animal with a gift. You have the ability to reason; to see the world around you, to comprehend cause and effect, to predict outcomes. You have the ability to not only plan a way to attack the next guy over and take his stuff, but also to figure out that it isn't necessary to attack him when you can cooperate and share the benefits of working together. The choice is yours whether you're a person of faith or not.

In my case, I figured out that even after I stopped Being A Christian, I hadn't really changed all that much. There were things that I wanted to do that would have been considered "evil" and forbidden by my faith, but they were things that I had wanted to do when I was still a believer. I found that the important thing was not keeping my imaginary soul clean and pure, but had more to do with thinking about the consequences of my actions. Choosing to do or not do things according to whether they impacted others without their consent, and according to whatever choice would have the best outcome, turned out to be a pretty good way to make choices.

Today, I'm drawn to the simply expression of humanist hope in this song. I try to explain to people who react to it the way my grandparents and church elders did that it isn't an attack on them or their faith. It isn't a hymn to Communism. It's an expression of the Golden Rule - an invitation to think about the world from someone else's point of view. There are those who find that threatening; but that doesn't make it a threat.

If it is a challenge, it is a challenge to actually be the peaceful and noble people you claim your faith compels you to be. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did that?