Freedom from Religion

Loads of reasons why you should spend time living in another country: personal growth, career advancement and personal liberty.

Here’s another biggie: freedom from religion.

In countries like the US, Turkey, or Indonesia, religion is a vital part of the culture.  And for some people, like me, we need a little break away from that, to experience life on our own terms.

Now, for Americans, what I just wrote above might sound unpatriotic, immoral, or even blasphemous and illegal.  If so, see? …case in point.

Inseparable Mix of Politics and Religion

Outside of a church itself, religion is most tied up in politics.

Pretty soon, the US will vote who will be President for the next four years.  The two “choices” given to Americans are:  the incumbent, President Obama, and a challenger, Mitt Romney.

Ask the average American what religion Romney follows and odds are great you’ll hear the right answer: he’s a Mormon.  How does anyone know?  Well, aside from his stealthy wealth and charm, his religion is big news.  And, if/when he gets elected, Romney will become the country’s first Mormon president, even bigger news.

Ask the average Canadian what religion Romney follows and odds are good you’ll hear another right answer: who gives a shit?

Well, Americans do give a shit because it’s not just big news, but, to the average voter, it’s practically necessary.  The candidate’s religion is a prominent decision factor to liking him or not.  A candidate’s religious strength provides a measuring stick to his morale character.

To Canadians, the concern is almost non-existant.  For example, Bloc Quebecois party leader Giles Duceppe happens to be atheist.  I’m doubtful that even 5% of Canadians know that.  And fewer would care or weigh it against whether to vote for him.

Compare that to American politics, where a noticeable lack of mentioning God demands explanation and apology.

About the First Amendment

About now, readers in the US are screaming at me “Hey – we got the First Amendment!  We have ‘separation of church and state’.”  Not true, read on.

Yes, the 1st amendment guarantees the freedom of religion, among others.  But careful how you interpret that freedom.  Does it mean that religion can’t be intertwined with government (you can’t tie together church and state)?  No, not really.  It’s more correct to say the first amendment guarantees no laws can be passed to infringe on your freedom of religion.  So, we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.  And stemming from our historical roots, the US government passes laws to grant religious institutions the freedom to flourish and spread their word.

In the US, community meetings (often called Town hall meetings) often begin with a prayer.  Yes, that is totally normal and expected.  What the first amendment guarantees, is that you can’t exclude other religions from those Town hall meeting prayers.  Meanwhile, if a candidate were even rumoured to be atheist, that would make headline news in mainstream media.

UPDATE:

Now, in May, 2014, the Supreme Court just ruled in favour of allowing opening prayers at higher government meeting levels. Opening prayers allowed at Council and other legislative meetings. The Court’s decision was split 5:4 in the end, but check this out…

Most interesting:

  • ALL 9 judges agree religion can be in a government forum without endorsing a particular faith.
  • ALL 9 judges agree that such a public forum doesn’t have to be religion-free.
  • But, only 5 felt such prayers can speak to a certain religion (read: Christianity).

Not surprisingly, the deciding majority (the 5 judges for the decision) are Catholic, while the dissenters (the 4 judges against) are non-Christian.

This should alarm you if you’re American. The decision does 2 things, very plainly:

  1. Less separation of Church and State (more lenient on having “any” religious prayer, at legislative government meetings)
  2. More exclusionary to non-Christian religions.

I tell ya, the US is going beyond just allowing religion in state affairs. It’s encouraging those of faith (and only one faith) to feel supported by the US.

UPDATE #2:

Immediately famous as of minutes ago: the Hobby Lobby ruling.

June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court with another major ruling. Now, corporations are allotted the same “religious freedom” as individuals to the effect of denying its employees’ birth control coverage. Yes, if the company’s owners are staunchly against birth control, they can deny (otherwise) mandatory health care coverage to its employees.

WTF? Come on, really?

Read the whole ruling here

 

Millions of Years or Six Days? A Personal Story

How about evolution versus creationism?  Did Darwin get it right, or did it happen as the Book of Genesis spells it out?  Did animals evolve over millions of years or did it just take six days?  What’s your belief?  I’ll share my beliefs, then and now:

Back in 1997, when I met the beautiful girl who is now my wife, I was fairly religious.  I didn’t often go to church, but my faith was blind and strong.  I sincerely believed in creationism… that God magically created the Earth and all its creatures in just 6 days.  And I told my new girlfriend what I believed.

Well, luckily for me, she was one patient young lady.  Since she is a geologist (and btw, not American), you can guess that she doesn’t share the same belief that Earth was created in six days.  …I’ve learned a lot since then.  Thanks babe!

Before I draw the ire of many religious people … (too late), I only mean to highlight how important religion is in US culture.  And that there’s little a citizen can do to escape it.  For those religious people:  not everyone believes it as you do….or wants to be convinced otherwise.  And, as you travel the world …beware how strongly you argue your beliefs.

How do different religions accept evolution?
Side note: How Do Different Religions Accept Evolution?

Again, if you are religious and you are talking with others about it, then beware your convictions will be tested or debated.  Hey, who knows, you might be set free from them!

US Does Not (& Will Not) Offer Freedom from Religion

The US is one of the most religious countries in the world.  In one survey, the US ranks 5th among a sample 30 countries.

Back on evolution versus creationism, the US is second only to Turkey in how many people don’t believe in evolution!

Politicians are hell-bent on introducing “alternative theories” to evolution to biology class curriculums.  The latest new creationism law happened in Tennessee, when its governor sidestepped debate by avoiding both signing and vetoing it.  “Intelligent design” is just a new label for an old argument.

Evolution isn't just a theory
AP – Books against the theory of evolution are sold at an outdoor stand in Dayton, Tenn., 1925, scene of the John Scopes “monkey trial.“

Think of Your Kids, for Christ’s Sake!

Our kids inherit our future.  In 20 years, we expect (and will need) our children to run the show.  For the entire next generation, all things yet to be discovered, improved upon and manufactured, will be by our children.  Cool thought, right?

So, I ask you now: Do you want your kids to creatively think for themselves or blindly believe “God will see us through”?

Bill Nye, a.k.a. “the Science Guy” on TV, asks similar scary questions.  In a recent Youtube video, Bill Nye pleads parents to spare their children from the oversimplified world of creationism.  His argument is, if kids are forced to abandon all the evidence (fossils, astronomical distances and spans of time, minute changes in species), then those kids learn to abandon reasoning and scientific deduction.  I totally agree… do you?

 

Closing Thoughts

Like most all posts, I only ask to consider travelling outside your country.  Travel and explore the world.  Visit with others and get to know them, their way of life.

And, in the name of religion, why not go out to understand and appreciate all that splendour.  Don’t you owe that much to Him?  :-)

 

If you agree with these thoughts (or staunchly disagree), would you please share it?  It’s going to take a LOT of awareness to make any amount of change.  Thank you in advance for sharing this with friends and family.

If you have any additions, corrections or personal stories to share, I welcome all as a comment below.  Check out what others have said, and add your own.

best, -Jeff

 

What Is The Fountainhead About?

I’m hoping the novel “The Fountainhead” is about you, how you’re like Howard Roark.

Unfortunately, odds are good it’s not.

So what’s “The Fountainhead” about?  It’s about individualism.

Who is Howard Roark?

Howard Roark is the main character in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”  He’s an unwavering, uncompromising individual.

Roark stands for integrity, truth to one’s self, serving no one but himself.  He stands against mainstream thought and conforming to the whims of others.

Roark is an architect, but the farthest from a normal architect.  If you had to label him, you’d call him a “modern architect” because his designs run free of mainstream architecture, with no hint of borrowed qualities of classical work.  I originally wrote that his architecture was opposite of mainstream, but that’s not right.  He’s free from the influence of mainstream, not purposely opposite.

In short, Roark is his own man, and Roark’s work is his own work.  He fights this principle with zero compromise, despite almost certain obscurity and poverty.  (Spoiler: don’t worry, he wins)

The “Second-Handers”

The second-handers are the people around Howard.  While Howard strives to be an individual, it’s the second-handers that give him shit about it.  And each second-hander does so in their own way.

Second-Hander Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand appears to be a power-hungry newspaper boss, but secretly is a Roark-wannabe.  Wynand is the full individual minus the courage and integrity.  He’s “successful” much like some might consider Dick Cheney (a successful dick).  Wynand is tested to his ultimate edge, and almost wins.

Second-Hander Dominique Francon

Beautiful potential, but meek.  It’s harsh for me to call Dominique a second-hander, because she’s so close to great, but too scared to go for it.  Dominique reminds me of the famous Henry David Thoreau quote: “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Dominique quietly admires Roark, but rarely takes a stand.  Only until she’s built up courage from years around him does she ‘win.’

Other Second-Handers

Wynand and Dominique are the two figures most in Roark’s life, but there are others.  One is Roark’s old school chum, a soulless parasite, a borrower of ideas seeking the fast-track.  Another is a behind-the-scenes evil bastard who seeks to squelch independent thought.  There are more, but these two shine as second-handers.

stand up tall Roark

Our Own Second-Handers

See the connection?  All these second-handers are our own.  Naysayers, quiet admirers, and the power-hungry who’d rather you stay subservient.

How do you react to your second-handers?

  • Do you try to apologize for your beliefs? (Roark wouldn’t)
  • Do you conform to just the most important ones in your life?  (Roark wouldn’t)
  • Do you lead a life of quiet desperation? (Roark wouldn’t, nor would Thoreau)

The way you stand for your own beliefs (and strive to your own successes) is what defines you as a Roark, a Wynand or a Dominique.

What About You?  Are You an Individual?

Odds are good you see yourself as an individual.  We all do.  That’s what makes it easy to fantasize about living abroad.

Odds are better you’re more conformist than the ideal Howard Roark.  We all naturally conform to some degree.  That’s what makes culture shock what it is: difficult.

But to be a successful and happy expat, you must have a little “Howard Roark” in you.  You have be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable not having to be like everyone else, both at home and in your host country.  You must be an individual.

To find out, I’d recommend reading “The Fountainhead.”  Who do you sympathize with?  Are you closer to the ideal Roark or are you another second-hander?  Knowing this ahead of time will help you with living abroad.