Friday, February 09, 2007


Moxie: drive, arrogance, brawn, competence, enthusiasm, passion.

Moxie, unlike chutzpa, is a phonetically simple word. It's two syllables. It sounds like a 1950's soda product...and, I'm not sure that it wasn't. It's a sassy little word. :) Yet, it conveys a variety of emotions.

Writing essays that challenge the norm takes moxie.
This guy's got it:

While I don't believe in ANY God(s), I respect this guy's position and I like his style. It's worth a read.

In other news... all has been fairly quiet. He-who-shall-not-be-named hasn't been heard from. And, I'm not talking about Voldemort.
I outed myself to another family member last night. It went over like a ton of bricks: a cold, hard thud that fractured into mini-thuds. My cousin reacted much like Fred Schneider of the B-52's: "You're whaaaaaaaaaat?" I swear it took everything I had in me not to respond: "Tin rooofffff...rusted." But, I swallowed my inner love for "Love Shack" and said, "Yep. I'm an atheist." Now... this normally leads to one of two responses:
1. "Since when...?"
2. "I'm not surprised."
LOL. It's the combination of the two answers that makes me laugh. When I told a former catechism student, who became a priest, that I had crossed over into atheist territory, he actually laughed and said, "I'm not surprised." It makes me wonder if all of the priests and nuns, of my childhood, had me marked. Maybe they were just placating my parent's dreams of having a "good Catholic child"? Making calm reassurances ("Oh yes...she's certainly a bright little girl and knows her Bible.") while simultaneously going, "Ah, shit! She's screwed,...just let her take communion and push her out the door." My priest-friend said, "I could've called that in eighth grade."
What I struggle with is the fact that I really THOUGHT I was a good little Catholic. I really THOUGHT I believed in God...even if I didn't believe in the Bible or the whole transubstantiation thing. Obviously, I was quite transparent. *shrug*


Allyson said...

My parents sent me to preschool at a Lutheran Church, and I was quite obviously athiest, even at age 4, when I didn't even have the cognitive skills to know what an athiest was.

It first became apparent when I came home one day and told my mother I was tired of hearing stories about God and Jesus, and wanted tales with different characters.

PerpetualBeginner said...

I'll be keeping a close eye on this one. As an agnostic/secular humanist, who is somewhere vague in the discerment process for becoming an Episcopal priest, what they choose to do about Fr. Cook is of riveting interest to me.

Paul said...

It's the critical thinking. There are numerous questions that young people sometimes ask for which the clergy generally have no answers. When they hear one of those questions from a student, they know. Here's one who thinks for herself. We're going to lose this one some day. It's inevitable.

Matt D. said...

PM wrote:
1. "Since when...?"
2. "I'm not surprised."

I've had similar reactions from friends, but fundamentalist family members have been a bit different.

The first response from them is usually one of disbelief. While this has been followed by sorrow, grief, guilt or anger, eventually they manage to rationalize it away and pretend that they knew it (or suspected, or knew "something" was up) all along.

If they knew all along, why the initial shock and disbelief?

They've simply applied cherry-picked memories to stereotypes and caricatures, so that they can have their "aha" moment.

darrell said...

What I struggle with is the fact that I really THOUGHT I was a good little Catholic. I really THOUGHT I believed in God...even if I didn't believe in the Bible or the whole transubstantiation thing.

Heh, sounds kind of familiar. I was brought up "Catholic" in the sense that my mom took me to church a few times a month and signed me up for Sunday school. I'm not sure she ever believed in any of it, and I know my dad doesn't. I enjoyed studying the Bible and thought of myself as a good Catholic well into high school. A lot of the magic parts really didn't do it for me, and I didn't believe in sin or transubstantiation or any of that.

What finally pushed me over the edge into atheist territory? One of my youth ministers once told me I had to believe in Satan. Even as a kid I thought he was only a metaphor or a story to scare children (like Santa). But here I was, 16 years old, and some 30 year old was telling me Satan was very real and that he was always trying to "get me." I stopped believing everything else right then and there. Satan is ridiculous...and any god that would choose to have a "Satan" (or a guy he can blame everything bad on) is equally stupid. It blew my mind that all this stuff I'd taken as parable and metaphor and symbolism was actually what some people believed to be reality.

(As GOB Bluth would say)

Anonymous said...

They've simply applied cherry-picked memories to stereotypes and caricatures, so that they can have their "aha" moment.


Anonymous said...

But here I was, 16 years old, and some 30 year old was telling me Satan was very real and that he was always trying to "get me."

What's more... Satan doesn't kill as many people as God does. Satan really isn't all that threatening.

Sean the Blogonaut said...

I was raised catholic and went to church until I was 18.

I was an Alter boy and even considered becoming a priest - then I hit puberty and found out about girls :).

What, Priests can't get married?

On the subject of coming out, I have been about as subtle as a sledge hammer with my parents. I wear a shirt saying "Godless", so they either think its a phase(perhaps not at age 32) or they really are okay with it.

Complete said...

I can't remember a time I ever actually believed any of this. I even have a memory of Lutheran kindergarten singing, "Jesus loves me this I know" and thinking the kindergarten equivalent of "whatever." I even went to church every Sunday until I was 9, but it never caught. It was probably because my parents didn't push it. They were not terribly fond of organized religion, but we were quite poor and my grandparents would take us all out to lunch afterwards if we went to church. It was a bribe. We took the bait and spit the hook back out.

In fourth grade I got caught in the experiment some schools ran with bible classes in trailers out in the parking lot. (yeah, I'm that old) This was an attempt to get around the recent court rulings on using school property. I went to one session and declared this bogus. I told my parents that I didn't want to go anymore so they told my teacher. She was careful not to pressure myself and the couple of other kids who didn't choose to join that activity, but she did appear displeased. We had to sit quietly in the room while the rest of the kids trooped out to the trailer to, I kid you not, give a public disclosure of the sins they committed the previous week. In fourth grade. Oh, lots of sins, and big ones too. sheesh. I look back and am proud of myself at that young of an age to make that decision for myself. I really never bought any of it.

BTW, Mamma-P, I just wanted to say that I enjoy very much your blog. I'm an atheist with a not-quite-two-year-old and working through my own thoughts on how to raise him. It's been helpful to read your and others' experiences in this area. Keep it up. You sound like a great mother (the proof is in the possums) and a good person. Keep it up!


ang said...

I attended church off and on throughout my life (for various reasons including guilt and extra time to see the boyfriend) until around age 25. I made the final break as I was going through a divorce and finishing college. I couldn't reconcile what I'd learned in college with my "faith" (or lack thereof). I also often questioned the Bible, even questioned the pastor and in Sunday School class both as a child and an adult. I have talked only briefly about my atheism with my mom - she nearly equated it with satanism but I explained that I didn't believe in satan either. My parents did not go to church altho we kids were encouraged to go to Sunday school. Surprisingly, mom refused to allow me to be baptized around age 10 at the local Freewill Baptist Church, mainly because they believed in dunking in the creek. I have been married to an atheist for over 13 years. We have raised two sons who are now 22 & 17. The oldest went through a couple of church periods (the first was right after 9/11 and he was 17). The youngest went to church once to satisfy a girlfriend and refused to ever go back. Her mom picked him up at our house before I got home from work. The girl's mom also threatened several times to not allow them to see each other because he didn't believe. I often think people don't know what to think about our non-beliefs. I am a social worker type - I worked with abused children for years. I volunteer alot with my sons' marching band boosters. I don't lie and I rarely gossip about others. I probably act more "Christian" than most who claim to be one. My kids are good, although I would like to see both be a bit more "giving" on their own accord. But they are young men and help others when asked. It has been trying at times raising free thinking children in the Bible belt (Appalachia no less!!). Both of my sons have faced "prejudice" from other friends' parents. On the other hand, I've had numerous teens tell me over the last few years how much they appreciate being able to talk to me, my husband and my sons about religion and god and all those other things. Several have even commented that they wish I was their mom, which I consider a compliment but always remind them how much their mom loves them. I have enjoyed reading this blog because I have often felt like the only non believing mom around. While I have had several close friends who are atheists, none are parents. A topic I would like to discuss soon is prayer in schools and the atheist parent response to it.

Jake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake said...

Chutzpa is only margnally phonetically more complicated than moxie. Moxie has 5 phonemes in 4 timing slots, chutzpa has 6 phonemes in 5 timing slots. The real difference is that moxie doesn't have any phonemes or consonant clusters that don't exist in English. So it's not simpler, it's just easier for English-speakers to say.

</linguist geek>

R Nicolas said...

When I admitted my beliefs, most of family took the position of "Well, Duh I kenw that." Like the priest in your experience. (I have found since then that priests do seem to be good at that.)

But, my father was quite shoked, and confused. He had made it a point throughout my childhood to constantly drill God, Hell, and damnation into my skull.

My two younger sisters, and two younger brothers were spared the hardcore indoctrination I recieved. So, Dad figured that I would be the Hellfire spewer and the others would follow suit.

As it turns out, my sister turned out to be the one wrapped in Evangelical theology, and I the one who married a Catholic, and was atheist--to my father one is just as bad as the other.

But to Dad's credit, he treated my late-wife with more love and respect than I ever thought him capable of, and eventually accepted my position on things and quit trying to "save me."

As a quick nod to one of "Ang's" statements: I too discovered in high school that churches were a wonderful source of girls, many of whom were quite promiscuous. The hypocrisy of which, I have many times felt guilty about.

Anonymous said...


In your post you said, "While I don't believe in ANY God(s), I respect this guy's position and I like his style. It's worth a read," which implies to me that you don't seem to believe that he is an atheist, a real non-theist in good standing. Let me share a few excerpts from some of Harry's other weekly essays to make the point that Harry is indeed an atheist Christian minister, and, then, to make a point even more important to atheists and the atheist life.

"It would say further that the baseless assertions of theistic religion are suddenly taken seriously by the governments of a secular democracy. Can you not see what an abyss that is yawning before us?"
By Harry T. Cook from "Dear Gov. Granholm: An open letter to the governor of Michigan" Nov. 13, 2005

"I have been able to say from the pulpit these words - “I am an atheist in that I am not a theist” - and there is scarcely to be seen the blinking of an eye among those in the pews. They get it. What I am certain they do not get and are in wonderment about is how the church hierarchy so blithely ignores this heretic in its midst. A possible answer to that unspoken question is that the hierarchy is as unsure about the veracity of orthodox beliefs as it is vigorous in its continued promulgation of them."
By Harry T. Cook from essay "Not All That Many Little Pieces: A Preface to My Memoir" Feb. 12, 2006

"Just as people like Sen. Russell Feingold are in the vanguard of a movement to “take back the country,” so those who are repelled by religious expressions of unwarranted certitude need to stand their ground in the defense and promotion of non-theistic empiricism."
By Harry T. Cook essay April 2, 2006

I provide these quotes in part to more clearly lay out Harry's position, but more importantly I want to reinforce that Christianity is not anywhere near as unified a whole as many theists would have us believe. The conceptual slurry that constitutes what is called Christianity even includes atheists.

This truly changes religious discourse in general. For instance, since we know that there are atheists who participate in Christianity, we no longer need assume that a Christian is a theist. Therefore, for us it is appropriate to ask Christians the question, "Are you a theist?" It tells them that not all Christians believe in a god, and more specifically that they don't need to either.

Another reason for mentioning this particular Christian clergyman on this blog, is that I think that increasing the number of atheists in our population would benefit us all and the only source for new atheists is theists. Atheists in general don't reproduce even at the replacement rate necessary for sustaining their current numbers(exception noted P-Momma). So, theists who have seen the light will be the source of atheists for the future.

People like Harry Cook, who present the Bible as mythological metaphor as opposed to fact are laying the groundwork for a broader social acceptance of atheism as a personal worldview. Social acceptance will mean that more people will feel comfortable identifying themselves as atheists, regardless of their religious upbringing.

I think the atheists among us would agree with Harry about "the baseless assertions of theistic religion." We can sense his fervor when he says, “I am an atheist in that I am not a theist.” We know how important it is for atheists to, as Harry suggests, "stand their ground in the defense and promotion of non-theistic empiricism." But, almost none of us, can walk into a church, where it is crucial for these ideas to be promoted, and be allowed to voice these ideas.

Harry can and he's one of us.

aiabx said...

I was quite a religious kid until my teenage years when I went off to a boarding school with a 15 minute Anglican service every morning. It was a bad idea; I had 15 boring minutes to think every morning, and the subject of religion was right there for me to chew on. One day, I wondered why God would care about our tired lackadaisical morning prayers, and all the other questions came tumbling out after it.
My hypothesis; proto-atheists are more religious than the general public, because they see the cracks, at least subconciously, and try harder to cover them up.

Lifewish said...

aiabx: interesting that you should say that. I've been noticing in recent years that the most true-believing evangelicals are actually slanted towards the high end of the intelligence scale.

My working hypothesis is that this is because they, having greater reasoning abilities, are more able to spot the clashes between reason and faith. Thus, whichever method of knowing they prefer, they're more likely to go all the way.

Which is pretty much exactly what you're talking about. Interesting little contiguity.

Anonymous said...

I *heart* Love Shack. *grin*

Glad to see you back to blogging about non-scary, normal people. :)

Sara (sassy)

...still crackin' up about "the proof is in the possums." Am I the only one it struck as funny? Totally not laughing in a mean way, it was just amusing b/c it sounds so much like "the proof is in the pudding". Get it? Okay, maybe I'm just a dork. :)

snarly said...

Moxie was a soft drink in the fifties and sixties. It was a regional drink centered around NYC and tasted like sasparilla. What You've never tasted sasparilla? That's what we get living in this Coca Colonized world.
The drinks trade mark was a running gag that would show up in many panels of Mad Magazine in the fifties and sixties
I enjoy your blog.