Guest Post: Phillipa Gilbert

I have been so fortunate to be able to connect with other atheist women out there, many of whom have traveled similar roads as me on their journey. Some with entirely different stories. All of them interesting. Today’s post comes from one such woman who was kind enough to share her experiences with not only me, but with all of you as well. Reading her story reminded me of my own. Her dedication to her faith, her search for truth, and her painful moment of clarity felt all too familiar. I hope the words of Phillipa Gilbert ring true for you and bring encouragement to those who may find themselves walking a similar road. 

Roman-Catholicism

Being born in the ’70s in one of the most prosperous and traditionally European-like countries of South America, you could guess correctly with a 96% of certainty that I was brought up as a Roman Catholic Christian. I was so proud of my heritage. But what I was most proud of was that I used to keep my faith intact against all odds, all except one.

The first odd thing was that I never ever went to any mass of any type with my whole family. I just can’t remember doing that. My dad or mum drove me to the church and left me there and waited patiently outside the building. However, I was regularly in front of the Altar receiving the holy communion almost every Sunday and some Wednesdays, by myself, since I was an eight-year-old school girl until I was at the university. They didn’t ask me to. I made them do it.

At UNI, I went to mass or stood around the tabernacle maybe twice, three times per day between database design workshops and discrete math classes or any other time that I could have. No one asked me to. No one taught me how to do that stuff. I just did it. I was sure that I felt the Call.

Everything started when my Mum and dad diligently enrolled me in all-girls catholic school run by conservative Italian nuns. I can’t complain. I was happy there. I was shy and never got into trouble… oh wait, once. That time, I was boxing with one of the girls that was weirder than me. Just one punch, and one of her molar teeth flew over to the other side of the room. After that, my favourite nun, locked us in a bathroom without saying a word. Odd. Years later, I talked to my, now, best friend about the incident. We have been laughing about those school years and realize that in a way, the incident was the reason for our strong friendship. In the middle of the jokes and laughs, she turned very serious and told me that she lost her faith after that because “nuns are bad people”. I guess I didn’t get it because at that moment I laughed harder than before. I couldn’t grasp the possibility of someone losing their faith. That’s just impossible.

rosefrench_1295021220_pope_john_paul_ii_2005John Paul II, the pope, had a lot to do with keeping my faith stronger than ever. No doubts. He was the first pope to visit Venezuela and all the young Christians were more excited about his coming than any rock star alive. I went to one of his concerts, I mean, one of the gatherings and it was mesmerizing. I couldn’t talk about anything else for months. I was invited to enter a youth association and I got so involved that even being just a 19-year-old, I was appointed as a Youth Leader of Religious Education. First, I was my local group leader, one year later I was the regional leader and couple of years after that, I was the National Leader of Religious Education of this youth group. Those years were the most prolific of my young religious career. I organized several workshops and camps. People travelled great distances to get to one of those. The most memorable was a five-day retreat for thirteen and nineteen-year-old boys and girls and the main and only topic was: The power of praying. No one taught me how. No one asked me to. I was totally sure that I was called by god to do that.

I was never a religious fanatic though. I talked about god and religion just with people that were on the same page. At the same time, I was another student. One that did aerobics, swam at the uni swimming Olympic pool, went to classes, was enlisted in her first political and rights debate, walked around the place as if she owned it and had a whole group of male fans of her own. They could smell virgin blood wrapped in a very innocent looking 20-year-old girl in a mini skirt. Not knowing that when no one was looking, she went to the small room of the tabernacle, knelt with her face between her hands, bent down as close to the ground as possible to meditate and could stay like that for hours.  No one taught me how. No one asked me to. I just was trying to listen.

One very odd day, I couldn’t find one spot in the technology section of the library so I went to the humanity section. I sat down close to a guy that was reading another type of book: Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mercea Eliade. Every word of the title was a puzzle to me. I couldn’t help but ask the reader what it was about. That moment of curiosity changed my life forever. He photocopied that first chapter for me and gave it to me right there. I kept seeing him for a whole month and every meeting he brought me another photocopied chapter. That was my first book other than technology or Catholic Books. Hinduism? What was that? I started reading, and breathing, about other religions, history of religions, comparative religious ideas, sacred books of every major religion and some minor too, cults, different divisions inside major religions, biographies of the religion founders and cults, philosophy of religions, spirituality, new age, angelology, theosophy, anthroposophy (I think I read all that Rudolph Steiner wrote about this one), all against or pro. Maybe, this time, I thought by comparing what I have learned for so many years with everything else I could prove to others that my faith was the right one.

Years after years passed and everything was growing old or comfortable enough to consider it as part of my conscious being, until a couple of events that are odd enough to mention here.

The first one, the realization that the only way that I could use all this religious knowledge was being a priest. A female priest? Yes. Maybe. My admired John Paul II had said in an encyclical letter: “no way” for now and for ever. I was so disappointed. Probably, another Christian church, then. Conversion was never my plan. It would be a failure. “The Holy Catholic Church was the right one”, I repeated to myself, I don’t know how many times. All other churches were a posterior modification of that glorious first one. Or, should I pretend that I could convert and be an Anglican and forget all about the Anglican Kings and Queens killing thousands of innocent Catholics just because I want to properly and lawfully preach? It didn’t sound right. So, what to do with all this knowledge? I just want to be one of those people that people would like to listen to.

And the last and definitive event was the passing of a little innocent baby. Abraham was my in-law-nephew’s very sick baby. I didn’t have the opportunity to hold him or kiss him, not even once, but I felt how a part of my life went to a very dark place with the losing of him. I’d prayed for him not to die for months. I prayed to god, to virgin Mary, to Jesus and to all saints. Even other deities were called for their intervention. I performed every ritual or praying position that I knew. I said every single prayer known to religious people. I explored the meaning of the words and I know the intentions were the right ones. I prayed in different languages based on different traditions. I just wanted to be heard.

The day he died I wanted to die too, and in a way, I died. Someone called and my husband repeated the words he was hearing. His voice was extremely sad and he was in disbelief. He cried. I felt like something was leaving me and it did. I went down to the floor crying. Midway, I stopped crying for him and started to cry for me. I was so desperate, hopeless, betrayed and alone. How silly and innocent I have been. I heard my own voice saying “there is no one listening”.

In a split second, all the pain in the world made perfect sense: there is no one listening. So: paedophilia, human trafficking, foreign occupation, killing, raping, murdering, terrorism, horrible politicians, nationalisms, totalitarian regimes and all religions are just man-made acts based on one-sided opinions. There is no one who knows it all and at the same time is present and does nothing when things like these happen.

There is no one listening. So, natural disasters are just that – disasters that are natural – or even man-made sometimes. They are not signs of something different. They are not punishment for one or another convenient reason. They are not abominations of an all-knowing omnipresent but impotent god.

There is no one listening. Life has no intrinsic meaning. And, this is not the voice of depression. This is the voice of someone that is not looking for immortality anymore… just freedom.

Finally, I freed myself from my own search for meaning. No one taught me. No one asked me to. I just stopped that and it feels so liberating.

 

If you would like to share your story, email me at wonderlandatheist@gmail.com.

The Bible: Fact or Fiction?

I recently wrote about how the Bible no longer seems to be a requirement for today’s Christian. Many have rejected it, often because of the cruelty contained within or the fact that we now know that evolution by natural selection was how human beings came into existence (as opposed to creation from dirt, breath and a rib) or any number of other reasons. The one common theme among those that reject the Bible either in part or in whole, is having READ it. Not just the verses displayed on church walls and discussed in Sunday sermons, but the difficult parts, the passages nonbelievers often quote. Many christians who still view the Bible as the perfect word of god are often surprised to hear what it actually says. It is easy to view the Bible as holy when you haven’t fully read it. There is no need to accept or reject what you are not aware of. However, the fact that so many who have read it have left the faith should arouse some serious questions for you as a believer.

The reality is that the Bible (and Christianity) are quickly going out of style. As a Christian, this should trouble you. No doubt it is the work of Satan leading people astray. Even if it is, wouldn’t it make sense to understand how or why so many are leaving? Why are your fellow brothers and sisters in christ rejecting the foundational text of your shared religion? I would think this would be a pressing area of inquiry for all members of the church right now.

Let me quickly point out that there are in fact believers who have fully read the Bible and are content with it. In the words of a reader earlier this week – the Bible is “living and active” revealing new bits of information to the reader like a magic tide of insight washing up different treasures each time you read it. This is actually a great rationalization because it points to mysticism instead of fact, an explanation that helps the believer to avoid asking questions about veracity because that is not the point. The point is the ebb and flow of personal messages from god to individual. This explanation helps keep doubt at bay.

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? 

This is an important question to start with because if this is true, many of us are horribly misguided. This question is not a question of opinion. This is a question of fact. Either he inspired it (either in full or partially) or he didn’t. Something happened or it did not happen. This leaves us with a few options here.

The Bible was either . . .

  • fully inspired by god as a whole and complete communication to humans
  • partially inspired as in god had a hand in only parts of it and humans were solely responsible for other parts (meaning some of the Bible is the work of humans alone) or
  • god had no part in it at all and it was entirely the work of humans.

If the Bible is not the work of god (because either god doesn’t exist or he had no hand in the writing of it), then it is just a story written by humans. This would mean that heaven, hell, the garden where god cursed Adam and eve (with original sin), Jesus as god or a part of god on any level, the entire concept of SIN, would all be completely imaginary because the Bible is the ONLY evidence we have for any of these concepts. This would mean Christianity is mythology as all the religions before it have since become. Read this sentence as many times as it takes to sink in: Sin does not exist outside of the Bible. People do bad things that we deem immoral but there is no cosmic judge to punish eternally for them. Not unless the Bible is true.

If the Bible is partially true and was part god’s message, part humans putting in stuff that had nothing to do with him – how would you discern which parts were his and which parts were human’s? The Holy Spirit? That seems plausible. However, if the Holy Spirit is the way humans are supposed to detect the god parts and the Holy Spirit is given to every christian, every christian that asked would be able to discern the same parts at different times without every having spoken to each other directly. They would all come to the same conclusion because there would only be one conclusion to come to. We would not see any disagreement because they were simply shown which were the correct parts. Obviously, this is not the case. There are a ton of interpretations and not only different but COMPETING interpretations – as in for one to be right, the other must be wrong. It is fairly safe to assume that the Bible is not some parts god inspired and some parts human writing only.

This leaves us with one final option. The Bible is fully inspired by god. Now, if this is true, then every disgusting act, every instruction, all the rape, murder, instructions for keeping slaves, incest, instructions on animal sacrifice, people being mauled by animals, blood spilling violence – ALL of it was penned and put together upon his instruction. Even if you believe that some of it is not relevant today (because many of the instructions given are morally wrong and could land you in jail if you followed them) – even IF he knew he was giving instruction to only a select group in a select time of history, even IF he was using metaphors of unspeakable things to illustrate a point – the fact is that HE THOUGHT IT PERFECTLY APPROPRIATE AT ONE TIME. The Bible says God does not change and yet if he does not hold you to live by his instruction as he held the men in the Bronze Age to live by, then how do you explain him changing his position on slavery, animal cruelty, etc? Why does he accept prison now when he commanded stoning then? Is your mind already going back to the but the Old Testament doesn’t count thing? I would suggest rereading Matthew 19 where it says not one word passes from the law and whoever obeys the law will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. But, even if it does NOT count now, but counted at one time – it still counted and not only that, but he knew you would one day be reading it, yes? That millions would be seeking wisdom within its pages and would not only be confused but horrified at the position he used to take? Why would he choose to make things clear in the Bronze Age and revolting in the 21st century? Does that make sense?

The Bible Must Be Read in Context

I have been told many things about the Bible, but none as frequently as the phrase that the Bible must be read “in context.” Do you have to read The Odyssey in context? No, because you are not trying to say that there really was a cyclops in a cave or that supernatural stories really happened or are metaphors for our lives or that we can read any line of it and Poseidon will speak to you through it. Of course we don’t. That would be ridiculous. Instead, we read it and enjoy the stories, the adventure, the gods, and characters. There is no pressure to apply it to our daily lives or garner strength from it. However, the Bible must be read in context in order to make sense. Of course you don’t just READ it and UNDERSTAND it. You must study it, read books that others have written dissecting each and every word of it. Take entire classes in apologetics designed to teach you to how to respond when people point out inconsistencies, contradictions, or cruelties. You must memorize lines of text and repeat them in prayer, recite them in groups, sing them in songs, and commit them to memory.

So, let’s explore the context theory for a moment. What context are we talking about exactly? The time period? The culture? Why would an all powerful god be bound by the customs of one particular group of humans at one particular time in history in a tiny blip of the earth?

Seems silly that of all the time periods to choose from God chose to show up in the Bronze Age Middle East. Why not show up after the invention of the printing press or the camera or the internet? Isn’t it interesting that he is the most active in history the further you go back and the height of his appearance was at a time when people still didn’t know where the sun went at night? And that his appearances have strangely tapered off as we develop into a more and more intelligent, rational and technologically advanced society? No doubt some believers will say that this is because we have left him behind and that is our sin, not his absence. Think for a moment. Isn’t it at least POSSIBLE that it is because we understand that magic is not real and so have less cause to be amazed by things that happened thousands of years ago? If you came upon Abraham today putting his son on a concrete picnic bench in the park and raising a knife to bring down and kill him with – would you not intervene? Call 911? If he said god told him to do it, would you be satisfied with that answer? I’m willing to guess you’d want him thrown in jail just like any other parent that has attempted to murder their child. But WHY do you believe the Abraham story but don’t trust someone to hear the voice of god telling them to kill in present day? He has given kill orders tons of times in the Bible. Why wouldn’t he still be issuing them today if he truly does not change? What changed? You understand that hearing a voice telling you to kill someone is INSANE and delusional. THAT is what has changed from your Bronze Age brothers and sisters. We have evolved in our capacity for empathy, understanding, and morality well beyond the Biblical era.

God’s Word is Timeless, Therefore Compatible with 21 Century Understanding

Some believers argue that faith is fully compatible with science (it is not) and they contend that they can believe in god and still fully accept scientific discovery and evidence as fact. Science is simply the means by which God accomplished his work. I tend to think this is an arrogant position even though I once held it myself. Any new discovery is simply ‘claimed’ to be the work of God with no evidence to back up that claim. Either god did it or he didn’t. Something is there or it is not. These are facts we are talking about. Truths. And in order to assert a truth you need some sort of evidence to indicate that it is, in fact, true. I could just as easily say that there is a complex fairy society that orchestrates the creation of everything on earth. Is it true simply because I said it was? Do you believe it? No. Why not? Because I have given you no REASON to believe it because there is absolutely no evidence of a fairy society.

However illogical, let’s grant the premise that god did it (or Allah or the fairy society). In order to accept both faith and science in the way some believers suggest, they must minimize the value of their holy text.

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Christians must acknowledge the many inaccurate claims related to science or math in the Bible, such as classifying a bat as a bird or the fact that the dimensions given for Noah’s ark are far too small and create a structure that would be impossible to house 2 of every species. Not to mention, how did they separate predator from prey? What did the animals eat for 40 days? Did they bring extra animals to serve to the large carnivores? Insects to serve to the ant eaters? Where is the fossil evidence of a great migration of different animals from the Middle East where the ark was to all the rest of the continents of the earth where they are found today? How did penguins make it there and withstand the heat of the Middle East? The more you think about the logistics of the ark, the more it is absolutely absurd.

The ark is only one example. There are many, many more. In order to reconcile these inaccuracies or statements that conflict with reality, the believer must then look at these stories, not as literal fact but as allegorical fiction. Little by little, as we grow in our understanding of the world around us, the literal truth of the Bible keeps growing smaller and smaller. Think about that for a moment. Doesn’t that seem to suggest that perhaps the entirety of the Bible may be reduced to metaphor in our lifetimes? If it can move from what was once considered fact (the garden of Eden, talking snake – completely accurate) to metaphor (the snake just represents the devil, it wasn’t actually the devil in snake form), is it really that difficult to see that the possibility that it may be entirely fiction that we have held on to but seem to be outgrowing? Egyptians fully believed in Horus and Ra and Anubis. They were fully committed to these gods. We see evidence of their devotion to these gods in images, relics, and magnificent tombs. And yet here we are in the 21st century and we know their gods are not real and their belief system is classified as mythology, not religion? Is Christianity different?

Accept or reject it, but READ it before doing either

Today, the Bible continues to shrink into metaphor. Fewer christians are picking it up and the ones that do either leave the faith, reject the text as a christian (as I mentioned here), or are considered fundamentalists for adhering to it because it requires commitment to what are seen as outdated and oppressive views that seek to deny the rights of others.

I remember the first time my husband made the suggestion that the Bible was actually written by primitive men. I was so offended. I didn’t think about what he was saying, only that I couldn’t BELIEVE he just suggested that the Bible may not be the word of god. It is hard to think about the Bible not being a holy text. It’s scary to think that the words on the pages are barbaric because the men who wrote them were barbaric. That there is no greater mystery contained within them than in the Odyssey or in the images inscribed in an Eqyptian tomb. But there is great comfort in acknowledging this. It is intellectual relief and moral freedom. Not freedom to go out and be immoral, but to associate morality with suffering rather than rules that are centuries old. This means that what causes others harm or suffering and makes your heart hurt for them is immoral. It is simply the acknowledgment of the moral principles you already live by that are completely independent of the Bible. Freedom comes when you realize that you don’t have to worry about what choices other people make in their lives as long as they are not inflicting suffering upon others. You can accept them and love them without having to judge them at the same time. It is a beautiful feeling when love doesn’t carry conditions. It is freedom to embrace knowledge without worrying whether it conflicts with an ancient text. You can read philosophical ideas from so many great thinkers throughout history. You can study science and feel completely at ease acknowledging what we know to be true, what you can observe with your own senses. There is freedom in learning all that you can without worrying about whether that knowledge is too ‘worldly’. 

In closing, despite all of these things, there are still some believers who will not bother themselves with questions about inconsistencies or contradictions. Instead, they are content with the old standby of “you gotta have faith.” Faith used to mean believing without evidence, but now has come to represent belief in spite of evidence. I was guilty of inserting this stopper when something didn’t make sense and I remember feeling bad for people that had less faith than I obviously did, because they felt the need to question rather than just accept. Faith is a virtue after all. For the faith-ful christian, the Bible is not meant to be analyzed and dissected. It is “god’s love letter to humanity” and we may never be able to fully understand his wisdom. End of discussion.

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Are Christians Even Christian Anymore?

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I can’t be the only one who sees that present day Christianity is just more and more of a watered down ego stroke where every Christian is loved, is god’s favorite, is blessed, and god is their own personal force in the universe orchestrating every tiny detail to make them happy. Excuse my language, but this is total bullshit and completely unbiblical. Today’s Christian does not have to go to church to ‘know Jesus’. They don’t have to have read their Bible cover to cover before teaching their kids from a biblical homeschool curriculum. They know just enough to feel like god has their back, but not enough to be revolted by the biblical god. After all, Noah’s ark themed Christmas ornaments and nursery decorations are just precious, aren’t they? It’s hard to think about the extermination of like 99% of the human race as well as most all of the animals on earth (who did nothing sinful). Nope, the little zebras and giraffes walking in two by two are just too cute. Christianity is ‘comforting’ and the imagery familiar. There’s no need to question it.

And yet, many ARE questioning it. Christianity is losing numbers every day and the ranks are shrinking. Personally, I would attribute this to casualties of the war between the religious right in Washington and the growth of progressive ideals in popular culture. It becomes more difficult as time goes on to stay aligned with a religion that actively works to oppose the rights of others. It think it is this tension has caused many to take a look at their faith and distance themselves from it. Some individuals, like me, reject the faith entirely. Others reject only the “church” as a corrupt organization, but keep on loving Jesus because it’s a relationship, not a religion. Others adopt a “New Testament only” mentality wherein they just completely ignore the Old Testament or actively reject it because Jesus eliminated it for them. They are no longer bound by the law. Many have and continue to “cherrypick” the Bible, just focusing on the happy verses while explaining away ones that we know to be untrue, immoral, or bizarre as contextual or a product of the time period. (Why would god be bound by cultural norms of a specific group of people in a specific region of the earth at a specific time in history?) But, the oddest adaptation yet that is entirely new to me is people who categorically reject the Bible in its entirety, but still call themselves Christians. I won’t address what is theologically and logically problematic about these various approaches here. I simply want to acknowledge that while at one time, it would be unheard of to take any of these approaches to Christianity (except cherrypicking, that’s been around for a long time) – there is a new breed of 21st century Christian that is a stark departure from the fundamentals of Christianity.

I think it was easier to accept the premises of the Bible before the advent of the internet. Now, our understanding of the world around us far surpasses that of the Bible. So much so that many of us have been able to ‘break the spell’ so to speak and see it for the primitive text it is.

21st century Christians are the exact type of followers the Bible warns will be spit out of his mouth – lukewarm Christians. But if you are a Christian who has never fully read the Bible, you never have to face this reality. If you spend all your time repeating Jeremiah 29:11 type of verses to reinforce the idea that somehow this whole world and everything in it are all for you his most precious and wonderful child – then yah you aren’t going to see it.

Instead they may attend church on Sundays and hear over and over that they have been chosen by the one true God who loves them and provides for their every need (to the degree that their socio-economic status can provide for those needs). They are all to happy to hashtag #imhisfavorite or brag about god showing off for them by providing a beautiful sunset while completely unaffected by the suffering and torment in the world. Now, of course no one is going to walk around thinking about the world’s suffering every minute of every day and yes we are going to have moments of appreciation in our lives, but the idea of being god’s favorite speaks to a level of narcissism that is disgustingly arrogant. WHY would god ignore the pleas of a child asking that her mom’s boyfriend not find his way into her room again tonight or the heartfelt prayers of a million kids at that very moment asking that god end their suffering due to war, abuse, hunger or any number of unthinkable situations they may find themselves in. Do you not think that children who have been abducted, raped and murdered did not PRAY for help? Why would god ignore them and yet rearrange the sky to look like a beautiful canvas just for his one little favorite white middle class American adult? How do they reconcile all the cruelty going on at the very moment that god is making their day just a little bit brighter? It’s simple. They don’t. If confronted with the question, they content themselves to say the horrors of this world are a product of free will. After all, they can’t help it if there are sinful people out there doing sinful things. God doesn’t intervene because he respects the free will of his children, even the bad ones. Wait. This logic suggests that god respects the freewill of the rapist more than the body, dignity, or life of the child he is raping. (Funny how these are often the same christians that would do the opposite and deny a woman her free will but prioritize the life of a blastocyst to ‘save’ it. Weird.)

Either god intervenes or he doesn’t. Does he only intervene to bring about the good fortune of a happy Christian’s life but doesn’t intervene to save a child (even a christian one)? What kind of god would pick favorites like that?

If the christian god, the god of the Bible is up there watching all of humanity, what does he think about the partial or entire rejection of his holy book by those that claim to worship him? Do they actually worship him or the idea that the earth and everything in it has been created for them and that this all powerful being does them special favors precisely because he loves them soooooo much? Today’s christianity really is more like a security blanket, a stroke of ego, a constant reminder that each individual is truly the center of the universe.

If the Bible is no longer a requirement for christianity because it is wrong, unnecessary, or has gone out of date, what does that say about the god contained within it?

That is probably not a question that today’s Christian would waste time thinking about.

 

Conservatives Seem to Be Motivated by Fear of Facing a Reality Without God

I really and truly think the underlying root of all the discord and division in the U.S. lately can be attributed to one thing. Things like the rejection of science, mistrust of colleges and the public school system, increased # of families homeschooling with a religious curriculum. All of it comes down to a genuine fear of secularization.
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Ask yourself if any of this sounds familiar . . .
God is on the chopping block in this country and there’s no way we’re letting him go without a fight.
Public education teaches evolution which is in direct conflict with what the Bible says. If I homeschool, I can make sure my kids continue in the faith without being exposed to false theories. Then my kids can just associate with other kids at the same church and we’ll make all of their social events about keeping them closer to god.
College teaches liberal concepts that make young faithful kids turn away from god. They teach them to reject their beliefs and turn liberal. They limit free speech and teach kids to think things like a man dressing up like a woman is ok when really it’s an abomination.
Gay marriage and abortion are categorically wrong and voting left would mean being partially responsible for allowing all these people to sin freely with government support. It’s not what god wants. Obama was a Democrat and he desecrated the sanctity of marriage when he legalized same sex marriage. God will punish us for this depravity.
The only real choice politically then is to vote Republican only. I can pretty safely go down the docket and tick all the Republican boxes and trust that I will be in good hands, that they will be fighting against abortion and gay rights and preserving our right to think these things are wrong. We don’t have to endure them forcing their worldly views on us. Plus the church supports the right. Religious leaders vote republican. The left is too worldly. Too many unbelievers.
It is what fuels the fervor for Trump even though it means laughing off insults of about women/other races/politicians you may have respected, ignoring environmental concerns, looking the other way while groups espouse hate, not stopping to think about Heather Heyer’s death, ignoring those moments that just feel wrong. That is likely Satan trying to trick me into voting left and compromising god’s power in this country. There’s too much at stake here.

Kids raised without religion are more caring, generous, and ethical than their religious counterparts.

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An article from Patheos just popped up on my newsfeed that indicates that children raised in non-religious households tend to be more kind and empathetic than their religious counterparts. I know this may seem counterintuitive, but it is entirely true in my experience and other friends that have left the church and are raising their kids without religion.
Based on my experience, here are a few reasons that is so.
  • No guilt / sin / you fall short of the glory of god – so the child doesn’t ever look at themselves as a failure or disappointment in need of forgiveness. When they do wrong, they take responsibility for it and ask forgiveness of the person they wronged.
  • Others are not sinning. Kids just see people, not life choices to agree with or not. There is actually no thought to what category someone belongs in. They ONLY see the person, no judgment. I also find that they are the first to stand up when they hear people being put down.
  • Girls are equal to boys. There are no messages of women need to submit to men, let their husbands make decisions or speak for them. So both boys and girls just respect each other as equals and stand up when they see others being devalued.
  • The only truth is what is real and observable. The kids have no problem discerning fact from fiction or understanding the role that evidence plays in identifying reality. They do not believe in magic but absolutely love keeping magic alive in their imagination and pretend play.
  • No prayer means that when someone is in trouble, the kids think of active solutions to help the other or ways that they can support someone by listening to them, hugs, whatever. It also means that if they have a problem, they brainstorm and figure out the best way to solve it.
  • No angels and demons, god and satan always fighting over them. No figures standing over them while they sleep. No invisible eye that sees everything they do every moment. When we first stopped speaking as if there was, the biggest change I noticed in my kids was they were sooooo much less fearful of things.
  • No heaven or hell means that life right now has meaning. That every day is precious. Kids take much less for granted. There is no cosmic do-over. They have today to make a difference in this world. This also means that they do not have the burden of thinking that friends, family, people just walking about the earth doing their lives are going to hell. So they don’t feel compelled to intervene or invade others to make sure those others believe what they do.
  • No bible means no stories that conflict with reality. No cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile a loving god with slavery, rape, animal sacrifice, wiping out of the human race, a man sleeping with his daughters, a man willing to kill his son on an altar or any of the other atrocities in the Bible. We still have bibles in the house and the kids can read them whenever they want. They do on occasion and come to me in disgust or confusion because it doesn’t make sense.
Kids are naturally empathetic and without an us/them distinction or being told they are not part of this world and to avoid worldly things or others that may try to lead them astray . . they are free to interact with others that are different from them without fear. They can listen to the ideas and opinions of others with an open mind and consider what they are being told. They are confident in their own evaluation of information and in their own abilities. They don’t count on an outside invisible influence to intervene – they problem solve and take responsibility for their own actions, accept that those actions have real consequences, and actively work to make things better because they know the work of humans can change the world.

Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense – Part Two of My Deconversion Story

In my last post, I touched on some of the things that were unsettling over the years that inevitably led me to question my faith. I didn’t walk through the actual dismantling that occurred over that final year. Because this blog is really about me working through the departure from religion, I think it’s worth sharing.

So, let’s begin our descent . . .

#1 – Teaching My Kids About Ancient Cultures

I began a book series with my kids that covers the entirety of human history. I believe the author is christian, but I may be wrong. It was recommended me by christian homeschooling friends who believed in a classical education.

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised Edition

It is a really good series that was not overtly christian and discussed early human history based on historical drawings and writings, not the bible. As we progressed through the book, I also got additional books to go along with whatever ancient culture we were learning about. We read about mythologies in Ancient Egypt, Greece, China, and all over the world. What was fascinating to me was that many of the stories were all too familiar. We came upon story after story that could have been straight out of the bible. I remember telling my kids “Wow. That sounds just like the bible, doesn’t it? Maybe they were reaching out to our god and just calling him by a different name.” or “Wow. A baby floating down the river? That is familiar. Maybe at some point these things happened but different religions all interpreted the events with different names and details.”

But it didn’t make sense.

Why would stories written earlier than the bible contain bible stories? The only reasonable explanation is that the bible borrowed from ancient mythology. But, that would mean . . . the bible may not be original or even accurate. No. No. No.

I pushed that out of my mind.

#2 – My husband, the scientist, ‘believed in’ evolution. 

My internal dialogue went something like this – “Well of course evolution is true, just not the origin of the species. Evolution happens all the time. We can see the effects of it everywhere, but God still created life. Hmmm. Well maybe God USED evolution to create the first humans. But then Adam and Eve must’ve been cave people? Or Adam and Eve didn’t exist at all and the story was just allegorical. Then which parts are true and which parts are just illustrations? Was the flood real?” and on and on.

The story of creation did not fit with our modern scientific understanding.

#3 – We tried to find a church. 

We had just moved to a new area. We absolutely LOVED the church where we were living. It had taken us years to find it and the teaching was excellent. Now, we had moved because my husband got a new position and in this new area we tried a few of the ‘best rated’ churches around. Each one was more uncomfortable than the last. The preaching was boring or extremist and one church was so deeply offensive and hateful that I wanted to run out of the doors. The pastor was speaking about how we are in the end times and sharing a LOT of anti-Muslim sentiment. After that one, we laid off trying to find a new church for awhile and just adjusted to the area without attending church. It’s funny how your mind can wander when you are not having the same beliefs reinforced every week, multiple times a week if you are attending bible study. This period of ‘rest’ from a steady flow of christian messages allowed us to discuss and question and think outside the jesus box. Of course, we could do that while still attending church, but that quieting of constant messages was helpful.

#4 – Songs popped in my head

I don’t often listen to music in the car. I usually drive in quiet and spend the time thinking. When we were attending church faithfully and hearing worship music every week, this was often the only music I listened to. Then if I was driving and a worship song popped in my head, I would be touched that God was ‘speaking’ to me by bringing up that particular song. I would pay attention to the lyrics and try to apply them to my life or just spend the rest of the drive thinking on and worshipping Him. But, a funny thing happened after a few months of not attending church.

Katy Perry songs started popping in my head. Randomly. Just as the worship ones did. Either God was trying to tell me that California Girls were awesome or the reality is that music just pops in our brains at random based on what we are listening to most at the time. But, this would mean that all those worship songs were not really God speaking to me, but instead just songs from the week popping in my head during the silence.

It was right about this point that I was ready to say ok I will acknowledge that I am agnostic and I don’t exactly know what I believe, but it is not Christianity.

#5 – Time

There was no atheist conversion experience. The transformation was gradual and the further I moved and was able to look at religion, as a whole, objectively – the more it seemed . . well . . . crazy! I started a Pinterest board called Religious Detox. I took Christian off my Facebook profile. I slowly started to become a bit more vocal about my questions on my FB page. Predictably, the more extreme christians I knew got very ruffled by this and vowed to pray for me and were sad that I was leaving the faith, etc. Eventually I decided to blog about this journey and in the middle of it all, I have found story upon story about similar experiences. I only recently began self-labeling as an atheist. I did so for 2 reasons –

1) The Dawkins Scale

The reality was that I was a weak or de-facto atheist.

2) Atheist was always a repugnant term and it evokes entirely the wrong perception. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in Gods. I think we need to stop vilifying this word so more people can ‘come out of the closet’ and stop hiding. Words like secular and humanist help, but at the core they point to the same lack of belief.

So, there you have it. The little sparks that finally changed my label from Christian to Atheist. My move from Dawkins’ 1) Strong Theist to 6) De-Facto Atheist took about a year. It was hard to admit that everything I had dedicated my life to was just a fairy tale and superstition with no grounding in reality. But, again, once I entertained the supposition that God did not exist, suddenly all the inconsistencies didn’t require lengthy explanations. They simply made sense.

Christianity Doesn’t Make Sense – Part One of My Deconversion Story

img23I think it’s time to share my deconversion story. Before this week, I had no idea that was even a thing. Apparently, there are a ton of people, like myself, who were highly religious and finally just could not reconcile the belief in their mind anymore. They embraced rationality and left the faith.

It sounds so awful when you say that you’ve left the faith. It sounds like you have chosen evil over good, but in reality, you simply stop believing in fairy tales and decide to grow up. I am simplifying, of course, but that is really what it is like. It’s more peaceful than any moment of experiencing ‘the presence of God’. It’s the mind in a relaxed state. There is no need for cognitive dissonance. No need for ridiculous rationalizations. The world just makes sense. The only logical explanation is finally your accepted explanation for the inconstancies of faith.

So, let me walk you through the moments of doubt I had over the years and the various points that have led me here . . .

I should first mention that I came to christ as a sophomore in high school. I went to youth group with my best friend in order to check out a boy she thought I may like. I found him and jesus all at the same time. I dedicated the next 20 years to living right in god’s eyes, reading the bible, praying, being a good christian. I memorized my verses, went to church, tithed regularly, attended bible studies, met and married my christian husband at church. I was devout all through college and the early years of raising children.

But, I began to notice some differences between myself and others in the faith . . .

  1. I was a politically liberal.
  2. I was a feminist.
  3. I was educated.
  4. Condemnation of LGBT always bothered me.
  5. I was pro-choice.

Why were all my christian friends (with the exception of one couple) conservative republicans? Why was feminism and equality continually downplayed in the church? Why is the prison population so highly religious? Why had I heard story after story of people losing their faith in college? What was it about college that had the power to take it down? Why were we supposed to oppose and ‘heal’ the LGBT community while calling it ‘love’? How could we really love them if we didn’t accept them? Why is a fetus so much more valuable than the rights of women, so much so that the issue of abortion is supposed to rule my entire political perspective?

I looked at the spokespeople of the faith and there was so much judgment, so much hate. I wondered why I was aligned with the group that advocates bigotry rather than love and acceptance. Why was the KKK a religious organization? Why was slavery rationalized with the bible? Why were all my professors in college non-religious? Why were the scientists we knew in my husband’s field non-religious? Why did such brilliant minds reject religion and the ones that seemed to embrace it so strongly were the extremists, the uneducated, the hateful? Of course, not every religious person fit those requirements, but I remember going to our ‘cool’ church full of college age kids just like us and amongst them the idea of not needing a college education because you are ‘wasting your life on Jesus’ was highly praised. They would literally use those words – wasting your life. It was as if the more the world thinks you are crazy, the more Jesus loves what you are doing. It didn’t make any sense.

My husband and I ended up leaving that ‘cool’ church shortly after we were married because we honestly didn’t agree with the pastor being uneducated and leading the congregation. It didn’t feel right. We shouldn’t have more biblical knowledge than the pastor. We had congregates who had higher theological degrees and yet this guy was leading because the spirit told him to. Large decisions were made about the structure of the church based on dreams, callings, and ideas that supposedly came from God. When those ideas completely flopped, it was the ‘person’ who was irresponsible, not the idea or following it blindly that was to blame. Not to mention, every week was increasingly experiential – washing each other’s feet, nailing pieces of paper with your sins written on them to the cross, and other such activities. People would lay down on the ground during the worship music. It was becoming increasingly charismatic and increasingly uncomfortable.

Even after our departure from that church . . . in the years that followed, more and more things didn’t sit right with me. So, I stopped to think . . . and actually take a look at what was making me feel uncomfortable.

#1 – Worship music lyrics

They made NO sense and people were singing them as though their souls depended on it. I thought, there is no way that each and every person singing in here fully understands these metaphors. It seemed as though you could write a song about a river and some water washing you, maybe a tree swaying or a fire purifying and BAM you have a worship song. The ones that really scared me were ones that claimed ‘if god is for me, who can be against me?’. I remember looking around the congregation and thinking, “you know people are using this rationale to justify their racism, their dislike of the president, their frustration with their boss, etc” It all seemed so self-absorbed and futile. It was actually a couple years ago that my husband and I just stopped singing along in worship because we couldn’t do it with authenticity. We thought the songs were just fluff. Self-medicating fluff.

#2 – The Religious Right

It was increasingly unpopular to be christ-like on a political scale in the christian church. I remember receiving a “voting guide” from Focus on the Family when I was a teenager and my boyfriend’s mom at the time telling me I should just go down the list and vote for each one. That didn’t sit right with me. Wasn’t I supposed to research the candidates and make an informed decision? Why did my entire vote need to be based on abortion and denying gay rights? It didn’t seem to make any sense. I registered Independent and after George W. Bush, I became a Democrat and never looked back. To me, it was the only logical choice for a christian – caring for the poor, the needy, these goals were more aligned with the teachings of christ.

#3 – The Rapture & Hell – Interchangeable beliefs

For a year or two, we used to get together every other weekend with another couple in the faith. He had his Masters of Divinity and they led bible studies for years. They pride themselves on being well-versed in the bible. I often looked to this couple to help me sort out my uneasiness. I will never forget the night they told me that The Rapture was a bunch of bologna. He shared how it was developed by the church in whatever fairly modern year but it is not biblical in any way, etc. It completely blew my mind. All these years, I had learned that as a staple of the christian faith, but it was not accepted by a number of scholars in the faith around the world. Then he shared his views on hell. Instead of eternal torment, it was simply an end to existence. Annihilation. He even acknowledged that this view would be labeled heresy by many, but he had all these theological reasons for it. Of course, his arguments were convincing. But, it occurred to me that if these things I believed fully for so long were not real, who’s to say any of it is beyond scrutiny?

#4 – Fanaticism and Doomsday Preppers

I remember in high school, my best friend’s mom was absolutely convinced that her son that had Hurler Syndrome would be miraculously healed. She was so sure. I began to believe it too. Of course, it made sense that God would heal him to show the world how awesome he is. She was convinced and her enthusiasm was contagious. Sadly, he died. I remember being surprised by this and thinking that God must’ve healed him by taking him home. I rationalized it to make it fit with my view of god.

It hit the mother very hard and it was shortly after that, that she moved to a remote location in the midwest in anticipation of Y2K (remember when the world was supposed to erupt into chaos in the year 2000?). She left her 16 year old daughter in CA living with a friend. Let me repeat that – she left her daughter . . . because of Y2K. She was convinced Y2K was going to bring devastation. Of course, it didn’t. And yet she stayed and has lived states away from her daughter every since.

In the years since then, she has set up somewhat of a survival compound, had a number of prophecies that she has believed were marking the end of the world, and after every single one comes and goes and we’re all still here, and yet she STILL refuses to give up her delusion that the world is ending. Over the years, it really struck me that even in the face of scientific evidence that completely disproved these emergencies, she still believed wholeheartedly – so much so, that she continually tries to convince her daughter to move to the midwest for safety reasons.  It is this blind delusional commitment to something that is known to be false that had me wondering – how do I know that I am not doing the same thing with my faith? Surely it is worth examining.

She was not the only ‘fanatic’ I knew. People that I went to church with had abandoned their jobs to do ministry and were participating in more and more charismatic movements that honestly made no sense to me at all. They moved from one type of ministry to another, each time with a new calling, that really seemed more like drifting to me. Not to mention, they were always asking for money to start up each new thing. Something didn’t sit right. This, in tandem with the anti-vaccination movement, was unnerving. The only anti-vaxxers I knew were christian and they were CONVINCED they knew what was right even in light of all the evidence. Coincidentally, the individuals I knew that homeschooled because they had a mistrust of schools and the educational system, particularly science education were all Christian. The ones that kept having child after child because they were convinced each one was being sent to them instead of using any form of birth control, were Christian.

Of course, not every member of these fringe groups are christian and not every christian subscribes to these ideas. Yet, in my experience each and every member of these fringes was indeed christian. This unsettled me. WHY was this the case? How did they KNOW that God was with them on this particular issue when the majority, even the majority of their own faith, did not agree?

#5 – Hate

I just could NOT wrap my head around the anti-LGBT sentiment. I am so ashamed to have been judgmental when my cousin came out as lesbian. I actually have a lot of gay family and friends. I remember thinking how absolutely unfair it was that they were not able to experience love, but had to reject that part of themselves. The more years went on and the more LGBT students I taught, the more the idea of condemning them just seemed absolutely ridiculous. I began discussing this with my christian friends. Why did we adhere to anti-homosexuality sentiment in the bible and yet when the verses that surround it are ludicrous, such as women covering their heads in worship or being sent away when they are on their periods – why do we not adhere to those commands and yet the sexuality we are concerned with? It didn’t make sense. Why were some things contextual and others were not? Some items were historical and based on the time period and other things were supposed to apply today. It makes no sense. Who decides what is continually relevant? I point back to the religious right and even my progressive christian friends would argue that they’d rather not vote on it, just to be safe. Others were voting against LGBT rights just to be safe – in case God was against it.

I can’t believe it took me this long to entertain the idea that perhaps the bible is filled with pro-slavery, anti-LGBT, women are lesser beings, the earth was created in 6 days and a number of other outdated beliefs because it was written by primitive men that had only the knowledge of their current culture to work with. Why had that not even OCCURRED to me? It was completely outside the realm of possibility for me because the bible was holy. It was simply off limits for questioning.

My journey has been a slow and gradual one, giving up one outdated belief after the other but clinging to the major ones until finally I was ready to admit I was agnostic. I could no longer claim to be a christian. Once the hard part was done and I distanced myself from the hold christianity had on me, the more it ALL seemed ridiculous. How could I have believed this for so long?

What is amazing is that if you suppose that the answer to all the irreconcilable problems with the faith is the fact that god does not exist – suddenly it ALL MAKES SENSE. Every last bit of it. Goodbye cognitive dissonance and unsettled feelings. It is all human invention, human drama, human bigotry, human fairy tales. For the first time in my life, I felt free to just enjoy it and be grateful for each day. I will never go back to that clouded and deluded way of life. I choose intellectual freedom and logical consistency.

**I must credit the amazing freethinkers on Twitter, bloggers who had the courage to come before me (such as https://nancydrewpi.wordpress.com, http://theplaydoughpoem.com) and declare their journey to disbelief as well as http://godisimaginary.com for helping me break out of the prison of dogma.

Continue Reading Part Two of my story

How to Tell Your Christian Kids That You No Longer Believe

Our journey to disbelief was reasoned, highly discussed, and a gradual process. My husband and I would discuss theology and existence somewhat in secret. We even made a secret pinterest board called Belief & Existence that we shared little snippets of contradictions and other perspectives. In the end, the only thing that made sense – real and true sense – was that it was all mythology.

Then came the question of what to do with our kids. After all, we prayed before every meal, said night time prayers, had crosses hanging in their rooms, bibles all over the house, and religious icons everywhere. How were we going to share with them that all of this has been meaningless?

I will share with you our process with our 4 and 6 year olds and it has been so beneficial. Now at 5 & 7, they are becoming less afraid of imaginary things and more empowered.

Here is what I suggest based on the success of what we did. I say success in that no one is traumatized or hurt and we are a stronger family because of the shared honesty.

1. Confront your own guilt. 

It feels cruel at first. How can we tell them this invisible protector is not real? Will we be taking their hope away? What will this do to them? It’s quite scary and raises a lot of self-doubt when you solidify your departure from the faith by sharing it with your family, your kids. Then it is real. But the farther you step outside of the Christian bubble, the more cultish and damaging and scary it all sounds. The alternative of reasoned reality is actually quite peaceful. My husband, in particular, wrestled for years with not wanting to go to hell if he was wrong. He was raised in church and that was what he was told from an early age. It messed with him. I converted as a teenager because my best friend brought me to youth group. I wasn’t raised in a religious home. It was easier for me to let it go. Address that guilt it raises not only in yourself but in the thought of ‘leading your kids astray’. The reality is that you are simply going to stop indoctrinating them and teach them to think for themselves and decide for themselves what they believe. There is no shame or guilt in that. 

2. Stop the religious rituals. 

We first stopped going to church, which was easy because we had moved to a new area and when trying new churches, we found extremism and anti-Muslim sentiment that was downright scary. We couldn’t find a church in our area, so stopping attendance was an easy task. Then, we simply stopped praying together. When the kids noticed we weren’t praying over dinner, we began the discussion. We told them plainly that we no longer believe. They were a little confused at first but we told them if they’d still like to pray, that was their choice. They held to prayer on their own for a short time. 

3. Answer questions honestly.

We did not beat around the bush. Every question that came our way, we answered. We had been studying the history of the ancient world and had stumbled upon so many mythologies that were similar to Christianity. When my 6 year old son asked me why I didn’t believe anymore, I told him I wondered why we said Zeus and Amun Ra were not real, but our god was. Why did I reject all these other gods that people were just as passionate about and devoted to, but somehow mine was real? There is no more evidence for belief in the christian god than these ancient gods. At this, my son decided he was a universalist. He believed in ALL the gods. My 4 year old daughter did not discuss much but she still said she believed in God because God made her (a message we had told her 100 times). 

4. Discuss death plainly. 

When asked about heaven and hell, we simply tell them we don’t believe there is a heaven or hell. Even some christians we know do not believe in fire and brimstone hell but rather an end of existence. Death does not need to be feared. It is a part of life and will happen to everyone. To reduce the sting of death, we share the comfort of knowing that we will NOT know when we are dead. We simply cease to be. That’s it. Fortunately, we have had the benefit of living on a ranch the last year so they have seen animals born and die over and over. The more they are exposed to death, the less they fear it. Of course, I am not suggesting you take your kids to a funeral home, but when the goldfish dies, talk about it. Let them see it and say goodbye. And then life goes on. 

5. Encourage critical thinking in all areas. 

 In everyday situations, we question thinks and encourage examination of evidence. With every question of WHY that comes up, we work through the process of finding an answer. Recently, my son surprised me by sharing his hypothesis about why he and his sister fought more around the end of the day (because they were tired then). I asked him how he might test this. He suggested observation and data collection essentially – keep track of how many times they fight and what time of day the fight occurs as well as how much sleep they got the night before. This is a kid who is thinking logically.

 6. Come Out as an atheist. 

Atheist is a horrible term that incites more hate and fear than many other labels. I remember being told never to date an atheist, be close friends with an atheist, let an atheist work in government, etc. However, if we are to change this fear-based animosity, we have to claim it and stand up for it. Initially, I labeled myself as a humanist. Then a secular humanist. Then an agnostic. Finally, I realized if I ever want them to be safe as ‘an unbeliever’, we need to normalize the term atheist. It is not evil. It is simply lack of belief in god, not a blasphemous rejection of God’s invitation for holy redemption. It is simply acknowledging that christianity, islam, and the world’s many religions have no more proof for their god than the egyptians or ancient greeks had for theirs. No one shames us for not believing in ancient gods. And yet it is ‘evil’ not to believe in whichever god the person you are speaking to believes in. As our kids saw us share with friends and family, it removed some of the fear involved (that we had put there ourselves). 

7.  Always let them choose for themselves. 

To this day, they are still free to choose for themselves what they believe in religious or spiritual matters. I have cautioned them to be careful when speaking boldly about our lack of belief with kids at school, because it may not be well received. We have discussed some of the fear and irrationality that comes with the highly religious. That is to say, when asked “why do Christians not like ____?” or “how come some people say _____?”, etc – we have discussions about what people think to be ‘evil’. We have honest dialogue based on our own experiences. My son is actually fascinated by and thinks it humorous some of the superstitions held by various religions. Slowly, he is becoming less fearful himself and much more empowered. If there are no demons in my room fighting to get my soul, I can just rest and relax.