Friday, August 18, 2017


So many of my friends are sending kids away to school this week. Many of the kids that Elizabeth and John have grown up with are heading out on their own journeys. Some on road trips, some to jobs, some to colleges... Many transitions all over the place going on...and I'm feeling it too.

Elizabeth has been in college for about three years, off and on, and John is starting full-time college in about a week. Yes, he has been taking a class or two here and there at the community college, but we've been homeschooling too. This week starts my first official week as a non-homeschooling parent.

Enter my own issue: empty nest.
I'm feeling it.

I feel on the verge of tears often, though I haven't mentioned it to anyone (except for the dental assistant My last baby is growing up. 
He is...growing up...

The boy who wore costumes, who played superheroes, who pretended well and fully, who played and played, who left toys everywhere, who made friendship look easy, whose sweet words made me speechless, who laughs, who pulls me tight for a hug, who always says You look nice, Mom, who has a life outside of me, who is preparing dinner for the family as I speak, who sometimes still sleeps with a rather large stuffed animal, who winks at me when he teases, who makes plans entirely independent from me, who has his own set of keys, who never forgets to kiss me goodnight, who looks to me for lesson plans, the boy who is my littlest one. 

What does this mean for me?
What will I do?

When I think about these questions the days seem to yawn ahead of me. I know it's just the beginning and I know that parents all over the place deal with this...but now it's me...

What will I do?

You might also enjoy:
Ninja Freak!
Small Things that are Huge
He Sees It: How the World Treats Women
A Letter to my Son

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Smart People

I think of my dad as a very smart man. I thought he could do anything. He read and continued to learn for most of his life. When I was a kid he was the person I went to with almost all of my questions. As a kid I enjoyed reading Dad's Popular Science magazines, all of his magazines, really, and all of his books. 

So when I wanted to understand a thing, Dad was my go to guy. He nearly always knew the answers or he knew where to go for answers. And that included questions about God and religion.

Dad was raised a Catholic and considered himself a Catholic all of his life. And I find that curious, you know? When I would ask Dad about religious quandaries he would have answers. From my questions as a small child to my questions as I got older, Dad  had answers. ANSWERS to questions like, How could God ask Abraham to kill his beloved son. What about the people who lived before the Savior was born? What is Limbo? What is the difference between a religion and a cult? Why can't women be priests? How does transubstantiation work? Do we have a soul? How does that work? Why don't other religions do communion the way we do? What does it mean to be Jewish? Why should I avoid people who are different from me? Why can't I read that? Why is going to that church wrong?

He fed me the hardline religious answers to all of these questions. When I think of it now, I wonder how someone smart like my dad could believe such nonsense. 

As I became an atheist and it seemed so obvious, I felt certain that Dad, too, smart as he was, had figured it out. But he had not. He was very upset with my apostasy, very upset. And now, his death several years ago, I must ask the question How can smart people believe this stuff? How could Dad, with all of his reading and science knowledge hold on to the fairytale stories told in childhood?

I know you are thinking of Michael Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Times, as well as some of his other books on skepticism. I've not read any of Shermer's books, though I've heard a few talks by him. Something I listened to recently on The Thinking Atheist podcast attempted to offer some answers to the question Why? Why would otherwise smart people continue to believe religious dogmas?

One interesting idea is that very smart people tend to fall prey to  confirmation bias because they are so smart and are better able to come up with explanations for their weird beliefs. I can see that Dad might fit into that category. Maybe.

You might also enjoy:
The Hideous Dance Between Faith and Critical Thinking
Your Life Has No Meaning
Growing Up Godless

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Should I Let My Mom Take my Child to Church?

It seems like such an innocuous request, they will say.
How petty are you?
Why can't Grandma just take your baby to church and and let her friends see her grandchild?

It's nothing!

But it's not nothing.
And it's not simple.
It's the mind of your child we're talking about here... and you know how great the church is at indoctrination and brainwashing. That is the fact that makes a church the most frightening place on the planet for our children's minds. The insidiousness aimed at the sweet, sweet hearts of our children.

Nothing I or anyone can write can address every possible scenario so I'll have to speak in generalities. But I stand by these words regardless of age, race, religion, etc...any characteristic.

Does Grandma have any rights here? Of course not, though we love our family members and we want to preserve our relationships as much as possible. The problem is that when religion is added to the mix religion causes our family members to lose perspective. They lose their ability to think, our beloved relatives. Their fear and emotions get extraordinarily twisted and our loved ones get mired and inflexible in their dogma. 

You're going to read lots of people saying to you that it's OK and that there is a compromise. I would love to believe this. However my experience shows the opposite. One allowed visit leads to more and more requests, more and more pressure to challenge your stand on the issue: just a few days of VBS, just a nice program of children's music, just a quick visit for donuts, Christmas, Easter egg hunts. One visit will never be enough. It is truly a slippery slope...the entire time with you feeling like an ogre for standing on your sincerely-held decision to shield your children from indoctrination, indoctrination that is specially-designed to net children.

You want to be nice, who doesn't want to be nice?, but the cost is simply too high.

The church has set up an us vs. them paradigm and your beloved mother or father is, in their mind, fighting the good fight for their deity. It's extremely painful in the family dynamic, and a middle ground doesn't exist, sorry. I wish there was a compromise.

Let The Kids Decide
YES, let them decide... once they have the ability to recognize propaganda, false claims, logical fallacies, a general appreciation of basic science principles, and as soon as your family has had MANY conversations about religions and deities and our country's culture of religion. Otherwise your children might be attracted to the sweetness and treacle that is designed to appeal to good and sweet children who mean well and who want to do the right thing.

As in all things, trust yourself and your instincts.

I do take a hard line here. I know.
But the battle is, unfortunately, real. Our children's minds and hearts are at stake. We owe them.

What do you think?

You might also like:
My Gift to You

Ghosts and Bedtime
Atheist Parenting: Talk About Sex

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My G2R Talk

Are you wondering how my talk went at Gateway to Reason, the atheist convention we held here in St. Louis about two weeks ago?

It went GREAT.  😌

The convention itself was super-exhausting because, as a part of the organization team I had a number of roles that kept me busy. 
Good busy. For several weeks. 
And I'm glad it's over. But it was GREAT.  😊

It started out with me giving a talk about being a first-generation atheist parent. I was happy with my talk and several people kindly stopped me later to tell me that they enjoyed it. Then I had two other parents and my two kids for a panel discussion. We did some general discussions with the people on the panel then we opened it up to questions from the audience. We were inundated with questions! And very well-received.

Overall I was on stage for an hour and a half and someone told me that they'd wished we'd have had more time! It was fun up there. The audience was very involved and it was fun to manage the panel and crowd at the same time. 

Just today my son was telling me that he was proud of me, that he thought my talk was really good, and that he hopes that others who put on conventions will ask me to speak. I think I'd like that too.  🙂

MANY thanks to the readers of my blog who were at the convention. It was neat having you there. I also appreciate Sally Hunt, Elizabeth, and John for being on the panel. I especially THANK Kaleesha Williams for being a part of the panel and for doing everything that she did to get up enough courage to get on stage.
GOOD FOR YOU, Kaleesha!

Back Row: John, Elizabeth, Kaleesha
Front Row: Me, Sally Hunt

Monday, July 24, 2017

Penny Lane

One of my favorite Beatles songs is Penny Lane, that song about nostalgia, about a small town, about missing what once was. The working class family and the row houses. The firehouse, the bank, and the barber. The gazebo in the town square. 

This afternoon I was visiting my mom. After dinner we decided to take a little drive around town, my hometown. It was our version of Penny Lane. So many things had changed in our little Midwestern town, one small thing at a time, and we felt so nostalgic. In a good way.  

We drove past our old family home, admiring the new fountain on the front lawn under that tree I planted one Arbor Day in the early 1970s, wondering how we had ever lived with six people in such a tiny little house. I enjoyed remembering playing in the school yard behind our house, how that school felt like home to me, how that school yard belongs to my family as much as it belongs to anyone. I could almost almost smell the chlorine and honeysuckle as we sat there in front of the fading white house. We headed away from our old neighborhood, remembering the many friends who used to live there, what was that boy's name I used to babysit, Mom asked? The one who is a policeman in town now? We couldn't remember.

We drove past the hospital where my sister Linda was born, the same hospital where I worked while an undergraduate social worker. We passed the park where my husband and I got married in the early 1990s, right there at the little outdoor brick bandshell as children and their dogs ran across the grass. We drove all of the way down Main Street, talking about old friends, seeing our old dentist office and remembering how scary his nurse was, pointing at old places of employment, wondering who was still alive and who wasn't...

We drove around the fountain in the center of town, saw a little concert going on at the city hall building. There we saw the notorious townie person who is known to dress up at city events and dance to music. Mom was telling stories about the dancer and I told her that years ago that guy was a mental health client of mine; what a tortured young man he used to be. If the guy could be happy and dancey and dressed in a pink tutu with white tights rather than tormented as he used to be, more power to him. I'm happy for people to laugh and make fun of him if he, now considered a she in town, was no longer living in mental torture.

We passed the corner in town that used to have buildings all tight up to the four corners that, now, is open and light and not congested. I remembered having a burger at that restaurant on the corner with my dad right after having my hair cut in high school. I went from super long hair to an shoulder-length Olivia Newton-John hair cut. And wasn't that little shop cool that used to be there...

It was a truly lovely drive with Mom. After dropping her off at her house I drove around the fountain once again for good measure. As I was driving out of town Mom called me twice, once to tell me she loved me. A second time to tell me she remembered the name of the boy she used to babysit:  Jonathan!


Friday, July 21, 2017


It was a hundred years ago, back in my twenties, I was in a class where we were talking about guilt. Everyone in the class was talking about their various experiences of guilt, telling their stories, talking about the times they felt deep senses of guilt and shame. I remember sitting there in that moment racking my brain for times when I felt guilt. But I couldn't come up with one.

Weird, right?

When I was asked for a response I essentially reported that, that I couldn't think of any significant guilt. The response I got from the class really stuck with me.

My peers in the class reacted with doubt, essentially saying Of course you feel guilt, that's bullshit. One guy even looked right at me and said, Maybe you're a sociopath. Sociopaths don't feel guilt
Well, I heard that, sat, and waited for the class to be over.

A hundred years later, and something sparked that moment for me today. Of course  I'm not a sociopath. And I still don't experience guilt much. Or shame. And there is a good reason for that. 

According to one online definition I found Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.  Reread that. Compromising one's own standard of conduct. Guess what, I just don't do that. I know I am weird; I talk about things like this and I run the risk of coming across awkwardly, like one who is kind of self-centered. But it's really more the opposite. I simply think too much. I have the need to pick apart my own authenticity, my own ethical standard. It's fricking exhausting sometimes.

The thing is, I know that I try hard to do the right thing. I make mistakes. I definitely do the wrong things sometimes. But I can not carry guilt around. When I do things wrong, I do as much as I possibly can to learn from it, to correct it, to make amends. So why oh why should I feel guilt or shame about errors? Why should you? What is the use of guilt?

Learn from your mistakes.
Make amends.
Forgive yourself.
And fricking move on - because carrying guilt around helps no one.

What is the value or benefit of guilt?
Religions often use and abuse the administration of guilt to control people. Other institutions often use guilt to motivate or shame. But I am here to go out on a limb publicly to say that I find guilt POINTLESS. I REFUSE to wallow in it. I refuse to act like it is a useful emotion. I refuse to condone anyone carrying it around. And I encourage you to let your guilt go too.

Am I a sociopath?
NO, of course not. I simply don't accept the absolute bullshit and weight of guilt. About anything.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Let Them Eat Voice

WHY, Karen?
Why do you focus so much of your blog on atheism? Is it really so important to you? 

You have a fixation, I think. What is your fascination with GOD? If you don't believe in God then why are you so fixated on Him? 
It's all your problem, Karen!

Well, guess what, People, I focus so much of my blog on atheism because its antithesis is EVERYWHERE. I can't walk out of my house without seeing the presence of religion everywhere in this culture. I walk along shaking my head at the absolute nonsense and massive anti-intellectualism that this beloved country of mine is swimming in.

At the grocery, at the pool, in the library, on the news from the radio in my car, billboards, advertising, in politics...
Don't you see? It is everywhere.
I am a microscopic voice in the din.

You may think that I an fixated or obsessed on religion. I assure you, I am merely responding to the continual force feeding of religious messages in this country. And I, in my temerity, have the nerve to disavow myself from the din. I have the nerve to stand alone if necessary. I refuse to ignore the sickeningly false claims and beliefs of the majority in this country. I will not be quiet.

This small blog of mine has the decibel level of a flea on a mouse in a crowd yet people still come here and comment to me that my blog is too vocal, too skeptical, that my fight suggests some unhealthy and laughable preoccupation with religion on my part. My response to these claims and accusations is that those comments are among the reasons why I must keep writing. If a minuscule voice such as mine reaps the caustic accusations of believers, what does that say about this culture?

That free thought is rare.

That openness about reason and rational thought is unusual.
That the voice of the majority believes their own fable stories and feel privilege from those stories. 
That my small murmurings are a threat.

They have the bread. I have my voice.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Great Scott!

During the 2016-2017 school year, while Elizabeth was busy on campus of her community college and while I took a class myself, the two of us became involved with a group on campus that was originally called the Freethinker's Club. I mentioned it here on my blog one time (just once because I was on my blogging hiatus at the time). The club soon became a member club of the Student Secular Alliance, SSA, a national group that, according to their website, empowers secular students to proudly express their identity, build welcoming communities, promote secular values, and set a course for lifelong activism.

Because of our involvement with the SSA on our campus, my daughter Elizabeth and I were recently asked to be interviewed by a young journalist named Scott Jacobson who likes to write for an international online publication called the Humanist Voices

Here are links to our interviews if you are interested.
 You didn't think I would write some short, dinky one-part interview, did you?  🙂

 Thank you to Scott Jacobson for doing his part
 to promote Humanist values.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Virginia Satir

Have you ever heard of Virginia Satir?
She is often referred to as a pioneer of family therapy.

In my social work training back in the 1980s I was always looking for something, someone to feel attached to. I was always looking for something that felt truly meaningful to me. I found that centering when I was introduced to Virginia Satir late in my undergraduate work.

It wasn't until I was in grad school that I was able to read significant amounts of Satir and to figure out the way I wanted to move forward. One of Virginia Satir's most novel idea of the time was the idea that the presenting problem of an individual or of a family system is seldom the real problem, but was, rather, unhealthy coping attempts by the members of the family. Satir, further, offered insight into the problems that low self-esteem could cause problems in the relationship. We in the biz consider much of her work as Neo-Freudian.

Individual and family therapies were all undergoing major changes and better understandings of clinical treatments and interventions during Virginia Satir's career and she was a major player in some of these major moves toward modern psychotherapy. In her practice, Satir tried  to help people to accept life as it is and to reach peace of mind. She encouraged clients to meditate, use breathwork, and visualize positive results. She also suggested using affirmations to boost self-esteem.

Self-esteem! This was a new focus of therapy.
Now imagine how improved self-esteem and better personal power would change the entire business of working with a family. It was a switch from thinking of a sick family system to a positive, health-focused view. What a shift! 

I loved Virginia Satir then and I love her now. 

Satir introduced so many new concepts and ideas to family therapy that truly transformed and made hopeful the field of family therapy. 

It's been awhile since I practiced in the field of social work or since I did anything in the therapy field, but when I think of the best of that field, I think of Virginia Satir. My hero.


Here are just a few things Virginia Satir said:
  • Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference..
  • We need 4 hugs a day for survival.
    We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance.
    We need 12 hugs a day for growth..
  • We must not allow other people's limited perceptions to define us..
  • Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem..
  • Over the years I have developed a picture of what a human being living humanely is like. She is a person who understand, values and develops her body, finding it beautiful and useful; a person who is real and is willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, to change when the situation calls for it, and to find ways to accommodate to what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.
  •  Adolescents are not monsters.
    They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves..
  • What lingers from the parent's individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting..
  • I want you to get excited about who you are, what you are, what you have, and what can still be for you.
    I want to inspire you to see that you can go far beyond where you are right now..
  •  I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging, join you without invading, invite you without demanding, leave you without guilt, criticize you without blaming, and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you, then we can truly meet and enrich each other..
  • Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is sad that so many parents don't realize what messages they are sending..
  •  In the nurturing family...parents see themselves as empowering leaders not as authoritative bosses. They see their job primarily as one of teaching their children how to be truly human in all situations. They readily acknowledge to the child their poor judgment as well as their good judgment; their hurt, anger, or disappointment as well as their joy. The behavior of these parents matches what they say.
    Can you see why I love her?